For the past few weeks, I have been working on a short story for my creative writing assignment, which is due next Monday. Before, I could have submitted the assignment. I re-read the story and just deleted its existence from my folder. For a moment, I sat aside and wondered was the story really so bad and if yes, then why? The answer was very clear. The story didn’t have a conflict.
Conflict in a story involves the disagreement between the two opposing forces. In simple terms, conflict is the obstacle between the character and his/her goal.
Conflict is an element that moves the story forward and engages the reader to turn the page of a book or audience to watch the movie. As Kurt Vonnegut said: “People love the story, where the character gets into trouble and get out of it”.
Conflict is used to reveal, what the character wants? And how further the character will go for his goals or desire. This also gives the character a better arc.
Conflict can be external and internal. Both the conflicts helps in creating the tension between the character and the goal. Without tension, the story is like a body without a soul.
External conflict refers to problems caused by an external factor such as another person, society, technology, nature and supernatural. However, internal conflicts refer to the problem caused by self desires or belief, and it results in the development of a character.
Think for a moment, How boring Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge would be if Raj (Protagonist) and Simran (Raj’s love interest) didn’t have obstacles like Chaudhry Baldev Singh (Simran’s Father) and Kuljeet (Simran’s Fiance). The tension of Simran is getting married to Kuljeet, made Raj follow Simran in India and win her father’s heart.
What are the types of conflict in a story?
There are six types of conflict in the story. Let’s begin by looking at the type that comes within the internal category, along with some examples.
Person vs Self:
Person vs Self is an internal conflict which a character faces when he/she faces the problem with their morals or belief. Self-conflict helps in creating a better character arc. Many stories have used this type of conflict.
In the movie Jab Tak Hain Jaan, the character Meera Thapar broke up with Samar Anand because of her belief that she has to give up her most loved thing (which is Samar) to save his life. This created the huge plot for the movie and after they broke up Samar joined the Indian Army as a bomb disposal expert to deal with life and death situations every day.
Person vs Self can be used in many aspects and raised the question of what will a character do if the situation is against his or her belief? The best example which I know is the anime movie Perfect Blue. In the movie, Mima Kirigoe (protagonist), faces her identity issue after the decision to leave her career as a pop idol and focus on acting. This raises an internal conflict within her and questions herself did she made the right choice of choosing acting over her singing career.
Person vs Person
Person vs Person is an external conflict, which a character faces when they have an opposing person who is an obstacle between their goal. Earlier in India, this concept was only about hero and villain, but now as the time is changing this concept is moved to the protagonist and antagonist.
Protagonists and antagonists do not necessarily mean one is good or bad, they can be persons who just have their own desire or goal and battling each other for that goal.
J.K Rowling is the master of creating Person vs Person conflict. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 11-year-old, Harry Potter has many obstacles. Before knowing he is a wizard, Harry’s biggest obstacle was his uncle (Vernon Dursley) who didn’t want him to go to Hogwarts. After getting in Hogwarts, Harry has to face Draco Malfoy and later the Lord Voldemort.
Person vs Society
Person vs Society is another type of external conflict in which the opposing force for the character is society or cultural belief. In this, the character rejects or is against society’s belief. Many of the woman-centric films are based on this conflict.
For Example, The movie Lajja is based on society’s belief toward women, how the woman should behave? And how they should live there life?
The conflict starts when Vaidehi ran away from her husband as soon as she knew that he is gonna divorce her after the child is born. Vaidehi returns to India and on her journey, she made many friends and came to know about their story and fight against society. Vaidehi saw:
- Janki (a pregnant, unmarried dancer) is facing society’s hatred.
- Maithili and her family faced embarrassment because the father of the groom wanted more dowry.
- Ramdulaari is battling Gajendra (a rich and high caste Thakur of the village) because she belongs to a lower caste.
Person vs Nature
How would you face an obstacle which is out of your control? Person vs Nature is a conflict in which the opposing force is nature.
In this type of external conflict, in which character faces natural obstacles such as climate change, global warming, volcano eruption, heavy rainfall, flood, drought, etc. There can be many natural reasons where the character or society has to face problems of life and death.
In Life of Pi, after surviving from the terrible storm and losing his family, the protagonist Pi Patel has to fight for his life along with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker on a lifeboat.
There are many other examples, which used the natural conflict to drive the story forward: Lagaan, Kedarnath, Tum Mile and The Day after tomorrow.
Person vs Technology
Person vs Technology is one of the conflicts which is mainly used in science fiction. In this, the opposing force is machine or technology.
Think of a story that has machines being an obstacle for humanity to survive. Yes, the first movie which can come in mind is Terminator. In the movie, a cyborg is sent from the year 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Conner to stop the birth of John Conner, the future rebellion leader against the Skynet and the army of machines.
Person vs Supernatural
Person vs Supernatural is an external conflict in which the character has to face the opposing force which is supernatural. Almost every horror film is based on this conflict.
For example, in the movie Conjuring, a family faces the supernatural activity and hence, they contact demonologists, Ed and Lorraine, to help them get rid of the evil entity haunting them.
Can we use multiple conflicts in a story?
Multiple conflicts can be used in a single story. Look at the movie Lagaan, it starts with:
Person vs Natural Conflict: The villagers were asked to pay taxes to the British government but because of the drought, villagers were unable to pay any taxes
Person vs Person Conflict: Bhuvan accepting the challenge, to win a cricket match against Captain Andrew Russell team for complete waive off on taxes for the next three years.
Person vs Society Conflict: After accepting the challenge, Bhuvan has the obstacle of creating a team. Not only that Bhuvan also has to fight against villagers for including Kachara (Low caste man, who cleans garbage for a living) in the team.
How to use multiple conflicts in a story?
Well, this differs from writer to writer. You can use conflict to lead to another type of conflict.
In the above-mentioned example of Lagaan, you can see that the story starts with Person vs Natural Conflict which leads to Person vs Person Conflict and then to Person vs Society. And the best part is that all the conflicts are resolved by the end of the movie. Person vs Society Conflict is resolved when Bhuvan had his team ready for a cricket match, Person vs Person Conflict was resolved when Bhuvan’s team won the match against Captain Andrew Russell’s team and Person vs Natural Conflict was resolved when it rained at the end of the film.
Tension can be raised through these conflicts, which makes the audience care for the character. You may include as many conflicts you like, however, keep in mind to not include too many obstacles that are not relevant to the story. A conflict that does not contribute to the development of a story does not excite the audience.
Sandeep Semwal works as a digital marketing intern by day and as a writer by night. He writes short stories and loves to unearth the stories through observation and imagination. He is the brains behind the writers crunch to share his writing experience.