How would you define your story’s central conflict?

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Your story should revolve around a central conflict. There are various ways to explore conflict on the page, whether through a screenplay, a novel-length piece, a poem, or what have you.

The central conflict should be clear, specific, and relevant to the characters and story. Your story’s heroes and villains should be affected by the conflict long after we leave them. There should be a long-term consequence of the conflict that alters how people think and act in the long run.

There are many types of conflict, from internal struggles to clashes of ideas to battles between two forces to discovering one’s self. The conflict could be a powerful event or a shift in the balance of power between the heroes and villains.

Experiencing the conflict should move the plot forward in some way, and it should be the story’s focal point. Conflict should be something that impacts the characters personally, has deep roots, and will have them fighting to the death.

Your plot’s conflict is essential to understanding what you are trying to convey as an author. The conflict will drive your story, both for your reader and yourself.

Storytellers should use conflict to make their stories memorable and impactful.

The 6 different types of literary conflicts

There are names for the different conflicts that exist in literature. Here are some famous examples:

Type of ConflictGenreExample
Person vs. environmentThrilling adventureThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Person vs. personRomance, intrigueThe English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Person vs. selfPsychological angstThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Person vs. societySocial critiqueA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Person vs. paranormalGhosts, zombiesMacbeth by Shakespeare
Person vs. technologyFuturistic dystopiasThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

How you resolve your story’s central conflict depends on the genre you’re writing in. Conflict resolution provides the story’s climax.

The central conflict should also be exciting and engaging for the reader, potentially creating an emotional connection. For example, in a suspense thriller, the protagonist and antagonist must be motivated and capable of achieving their goals and thwarting the other.

You have to have a conflict that will give you a reason to tell the story you want.

There is no requirement that the conflict is over the top or bombastic. The characters could be going through a minor encounter, but it could be enough to carry the story to the end.

4 questions to ask about your story’s central conflict

Your story’s central conflict should be based on the protagonist’s main goal or desire. Here’s a quick checklist to determine how to closely examine it during an editing phase to help assess where you need to take the story:

  1. What’s your story’s conflict right now?
  2. Is that conflict working for you as the person writing the story?
  3. Is there something you can do that would change that conflict to something fresh?
  4. Is there any room for you to do that and have it make sense?

The central conflict should be challenging, create tension and suspense, and make the reader want to know what happens next. The protagonist should have to struggle and make difficult choices to overcome the obstacles in their way.

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