Conflict 101: An Overview - article

Conflict by definition is some sort of turmoil. Whether that’s internal conflict or external conflict doesn’t matter because every story needs both. Conflict is what makes drama, and drama is what makes a reader want to read.

Conflict is what drives your characters forward. It’s what makes them into those ever so entertaining positions that force them to grow right before our very eyes. Without conflict what are we left with? Nothing. A scene where everything is just fine, nobody is in trouble, is b-o-r-i-n-g.

Essentially there are two types of conflict that go into a story. There is internal conflict that happens inside our characters heads and hearts. For example, a lead may struggle with her desire for something she knows she cannot have and should not want. That thing she wants may violate her own ethics and she is in conflict over her decision to pursue it or not. External conflict affects our characters as well but is outside of their own heads. For instance, if the character is in love with someone, he may have no moral or emotional reasons (internal conflict) to avoid pursuing that relationship. But if the person he loves is a student in his college class… there are rules against them getting involved. The rules create an external conflict. 

Both types of conflicts take place throughout three basic parts of any story’s main conflict structure: exposition, rising action, and the climax.
The exposition is the beginning of your story. It will probably make up the first two or three chapters. Here is where you introduce your main characters, including your hero and your villain. And this is where your audience learns the main problem that these main characters face.

The rise in action is the meat of your conflict. This part is actually made up of several smaller scenes in which the hero and the villain battle back and forth. Introduce additional mini-problems at this point that can be solved along the way, giving your story the depth that’ll make it an entertaining tale.
Finally, it all leads to the climax, that pivotal point in your narrative that tells the audience who finally wins the conflict. It can be imagined as the big shoot out at the end where all the odds wind up, and she finally lands in her true love’s arms. Regardless, this is what you’ve so carefully built up to so dramatically and now you’ve got the big payoff.

The basic structure of exposition, rise in action, and the climax can also be thought of as acts one, two, and three of a theatrical production. The storyline is like a graph. It starts as a flat line that gradually peaks like a mountain top and then declines to an end. Some authors like to break up their stories into at least nine parts forming the mountain, or story arc, just like a staircase heading up to that peak and then even taking a few steps down to a completion. It helps to envision all of those mini-problems that take place on the way to the climax.

Regardless, the purpose of your writing is to entertain, so when it comes to conflict, every single page has to play into it. Indeed, every page must be involved with your story’s conflict to some degree. And every scene, every spoken word, and absolutely everything about your story must be fused with this ever-so entertaining element we call conflict.

For additional information about conflict, see other articles on this site, including Conflict 101: Internal Conflict and Conflict 101: External Conflict.

Share this story
Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn