What is Your Story’s Central Conflict?

Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash

The central conflict is the driving force behind your story. It drives the plot forward, and it acts as a key to understanding what you’re trying to say as the author.

You may have seen a version of this table in the past.

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

The conflict is what will drive your story, both for your reader and yourself. The narrative should move the characters personally, deeply rooted, and something that will fight to the death over. It should be something that will have an effect on for many years to come.

How you resolve your story’s central conflict is dependent on the genre you’re writing in. 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 that you will want to tell. It doesn’t always have to be an over-the-top, bombastic conflict. It could be something minor but it should be enough to carry the story to the end.

What’s your story’s conflict right now? Is it working for you? Is there something you can do that would change it? Or would you even want to do that?

I’ll tell you why revision is the best part of writing in your complimentary 15-minute consultation.

Guilliean Pacheco, your friendly neighborhood creativity concierge


Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of Filipino heritage and the host of the City of Writers podcast. Her work has appeared in TechTarget, Nevada Humanities, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco and is an Anaphora Arts poetry fellow. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally, if one could call living there normal, on Southern Paiute land. Follow her on Twitter.

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