Last Updated on July 20, 2022 by Dr Sharon Baisil MD
Conflict is at the heart of any story, and without it, there is no tension, no suspense, and no drama. But what are the different types of conflict that can drive a plot? And what do they mean? This article defines and examples 15 different types of conflict, from man against nature to love triangle. Whether you’re a writer looking to spice up your plots or just someone who loves reading about drama, this article is for you!
What is conflict, and why does it matter in a story?
Conflict is the struggle between opposing forces within a story. It drives a plot and creates tension, and it makes readers want to read on so that they can figure out what happens next. There’s no drama or suspense without conflict, and stories feel dull and pointless.
Examples of Conflict in literature
#1. Person vs. Person
The most common type of conflict is person vs. person or man against man; it’s the classic struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark. Some examples include:
• Aladdin (person vs. person) must defeat the evil Jafar to win the princess, Jasmine.
• Hamlet (person vs. person) – Hamlet must avenge his father’s murder by killing his uncle, Claudius.
• Romeo and Juliet (person vs. person) – Romeo and Juliet fight against their families to be together.
#2. Person vs. Self
The internal conflict between a person’s desires and external actions is known as a person vs. self. Some examples include:
• Hunger Games (person vs. self) – Katniss must learn to survive the Hunger Games while staying true to her morals and values.
• The Scarlet Letter (person vs. self) – Hester must choose between her desire for freedom and her responsibility to raise her daughter in this Puritan society.
• Frankenstein (person vs. self) – Dr. Frankenstein must cope with the consequences of his actions when he creates a monster that threatens the lives of everyone around him.
#3. Person vs. Supernatural
A person struggling to prevail against the supernatural is a person vs. supernatural conflict. Some examples include:
• Dracula (person vs. supernatural) – Jonathan Harker must find and kill Dracula before Mina or Lucy are attacked by this vampire.
• Carrie (person vs. supernatural) – Carrie has to fight against her telekinetic powers to survive high school.
• Pet Sematary (person vs. supernatural) – Louis Creed must learn to accept his daughter’s death, even though he knows there is a way for her to come back.
#4. Person vs. Society
When a society interferes with the main character’s personal goals or moral beliefs, you have person vs. society. Some examples include:
• The Great Gatsby (person vs. society) – Nick must decide if he wants to turn his back on the American dream or be sucked into this world of money and greed.
• To Kill a Mockingbird (person vs. society) – Atticus Finch has to defend Tom Robinson, an African-American man accused of raping a white woman, against public opinion and social norms.
#5. Person vs. Nature
The struggle between human beings and nature is person vs. nature, which usually involves surviving in the wilderness or coming across dangerous animals during their journey throughout life’s many challenges. Some examples include:
• King Kong (person vs. nature) – Ann Darrow is captured by King Kong and taken to his island, where she must find a way to escape.
• Castaway (person vs. nature) – Chuck Noland must survive on the deserted island alone with only Wilson for company.
• The Revenant (person vs. nature) – Hugh Glass goes up against nature to return home safely to his family.
#6. Person vs. Technology
When a character faces technology obstacles, you have a person vs. technology conflict. Some examples include:
• Jurassic Park (person vs. technology) – Ian Malcolm must survive against dinosaurs brought back to life by science and technology gone wrong.
• Metropolis (person vs. technology) – Freder must escape the city before its evil ruler, Joh Fredersen, uses an army of machines to destroy it.
• Wall-E (person vs. technology) – WALL-E must fight against a robot who wants to keep humans away from Earth for their protection.
#7. Person vs. Machines
When one character struggles against machines or computers, you have a person vs. machines conflict. Some examples include:
• The Terminator (person vs. machines ) – Kyle Reese has to survive against the cyborg sent back in time to kill his mother and prevent him from ever existing in the future.
• The Matrix (person vs. machines) – Neo has to discover what the matrix is and why he is living inside it if he wants to break free.
#8. Woman vs. woman
A woman struggling against another woman is a common theme in fiction, particularly in romance and psychological thrillers. Some examples include:
• Gone Girl (woman vs. woman) – Amy must learn the truth about her disappearance if she wants to escape from her psychotic twin sister.
• The Girl on the Train (woman vs. woman) – Rachel must figure out why Anna killed herself or watch as her husband falls for his killer’s twin sister.
#9. Person vs. God/Gods/Religion
When one character struggles against a religious deity, you have a person vs. god/gods conflict. Some examples include:
• Noah (person vs. god(s)) – Noah has been charged god to build an ark before a great flood destroys the Earth.
• Star Wars: The Force Awakens (person vs. god(s)) – Kylo Ren has to fight against his dark side and become a better person to take down Snoke and save Rey.
#10. Love triangle
A classic in every fiction genre, a love triangle is when three characters are romantically linked and fight against each other. Some examples include:
• The Great Gatsby (love triangle) – Daisy has to decide between her cheating husband Tom and her ex-lover, Gatsby.
• The Hunger Games (love triangle) – Katniss has to choose between Peeta and Gale if she wants her life back.
#11. Love square
A love square is when four characters are romantically involved and fight for each other’s affections. Some examples include:
• Twilight (love square) – Bella has to choose between Edward, her vampire lover; Jacob, her werewolf friend; and Renesmee, the child she gave birth to after having sex with both men in Breaking Dawn.
When two groups of people are at war because of political tension, greed, or another cause, you have a war conflict. Some examples include:
• War for the Planet of the Apes (war) – The apes must fight against an army that wants to destroy their civilization because they see them as a threat.
A criminal running from the law or police after committing a crime is part of this type of conflict. Some examples include:
• The Godfather (crime) – Michael Corleone has to escape the mob life and go into hiding if he ever wants to regain his family’s legacy by taking down Don Barzini with his son Fredo’s help.
When the protagonist and antagonist compete against one another, whether for a position, a job, or even the love of a third character, you have a rivalry conflict. Some examples include:
• Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (rivalry) – Harry is forced to face off against Draco Malfoy in Quidditch matches as part of his first year at Hogwarts.
• The Hunger Games (rivalry) – The tributes are forced to compete against each other in the arena until only one victor remains.
#15. Conflict of wills
This type of conflict occurs when the protagonist and antagonist disagree and fight over an idea or concept rather than a person. Some examples include:
• Lord of the Flies (conflict of wills) – Ralph and Jack must separate their differences and cooperate to save themselves from the approaching threat.
• Wuthering Heights (conflict of wills) – Heathcliff and Catherine have to navigate through a web of deceit, anger, and social class if they ever want to be with each other again.
#15. Conflict of duty and desires
Similar to conflict of wills, this type of conflict occurs when a character is torn between doing what they are supposed to do and doing what they want to do. Some examples include:
• Les Misérables (conflict of duty and desires) – Jean Valjean must find a way to escape his past as he tries to give his daughter Cosette a happy life.
• Gone with the Wind (conflict of duty and desires) – Scarlett O’Hara must decide between staying loyal to her home or trying to survive by joining the Confederate army.
Conflict of duty and desires is distinct from conflict of will because, even if one does what they are supposed to do, they still have to struggle internally.
#16. Conflict of races/ species
This type of external conflict occurs when a character is forced to fight against – or joins forces with – a person from another race, species, or group. Some examples include:
• The Hobbit (conflict of races/species) – Bilbo helps the dwarves reclaim their home from Smaug while simultaneously fulfilling his own quest to help them get their gold back.
• Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (conflict of races/species) – Jen Yu fights against the forces that killed her mother while trying to protect the life of a man she’s fallen in love with.
#17. Conflict of gender and sex
When one character must fight against societal expectations and deal with gender and sex norms, you have a conflict of gender and sex. Some examples include:
• Mulan (conflict of gender and sex) – Mulan disguises herself as a man to fight in the Chinese army while trying to protect her father’s life.
• The Handmaid’s Tale (conflict of gender and sex) – Offred is one of many handmaids indentured to the commander and his wife, struggling against her submissive nature every day.
#18. Conflict of generations
When one generation must fight to protect another or show how they are different, you have a conflict of generations. Some examples include:
• The Land Before Time (conflict of generations) – Littlefoot and his friends must escape the Great Valley to save their families from the Sharptooth.
• Teen Wolf (conflict of generations) – Scott has to learn how to control his werewolf abilities to protect himself and his best friend, Stiles.
#19. Personal conflict
This type of self conflict occurs when characters face a problem within themselves rather than with another person or thing. Some examples include:
• The Awakening (personal conflict) – Edna spends the entire story trying to reconcile her duty towards others and her need for self-fulfillment.
• My Sister’s Keeper (personal conflict) – Anna must decide between allowing her family to use her body parts to save her elder sister, Kate, from leukemia or letting go and accepting the consequences.
#20. Social conflict
This type of conflict occurs when a character is forced to fight against – or join forces with – the society they live in. Some examples include:
• 1984 (social conflict) – Winston must fight for personal freedom while also fighting the power of Big Brother and the Party.
• A Raisin in the Sun (social conflict) – Mama must decide between settling for the life of poverty she’s known all her life or fighting against societal norms to give her children a brighter future.
#21. Cultural conflict
This type of conflict is when a character must fight against the cultural norms they are brought up in. Some examples include:
• Uncle Tom’s Cabin (cultural conflict) – Eliza flees with her son across the ice to escape their owner, while Uncle Tom refuses to leave his good master.
• The Joy Luck Club (cultural conflict) – Jing-mei tries to figure out how she fits in with the traditional Chinese family, even though she’s resentful of their “old world” values.
#22. Physical conflict
When a character is forced to fight another person or thing that poses a physical threat, you have a story of physical conflict. Some examples include:
• The Shining (physical conflict) – Jack Torrance seeks revenge on the family that took away his job, even as he tries to protect them from being possessed by a ghost.
• War of the Worlds (physical conflict) – Ray and his family fight for their lives against vicious aliens who want nothing more than to destroy humanity.
#23. Psychological conflicts
This type of conflict occurs when a character must fight against the mind games and illusions employed by another person or thing. Some examples include:
• Fight Club (psychological conflict) – The Narrator fights not only his own mind but also Tyler Durden’s to regain control over his life.
• A Clockwork Orange (psychological conflict) – Alex is forced by the state to take drugs that make him ill at ease and obsessed with sex and violence.
#24. Conflict of words
When characters are fighting through their words instead of physical force – either through dialogue or an argument – you have a conflict of words. Some examples include:
• Romeo and Juliet (conflict of words) – Juliet is forced to make a choice between her family’s wishes and her love for Romeo.
• Hamlet (conflict of words) – Hamlet must choose whether or not he will kill his uncle to get revenge for his father’s death, the king.
#25. Intellectual conflicts
This type of conflict occurs when two characters fight through logic rather than force. Some examples include:
• Frankenstein (intellectual conflict) – Dr. Frankenstein must fight against his monster to defend humanity from the evil creature.
• The Stranger (intellectual conflict) – Meursault is forced to choose between protecting himself or caring for the man he killed.
Conflict is one of the most important elements in a story. Without it, there is no tension, suspense, or drama – and readers won’t be able to connect with your characters on an emotional level. But without knowing how to write about different types of conflict and what they mean, you might end up doing more harm than good for your stories. These twenty-five examples of different types of conflict will help you transform your plot into something readers can deeply connect with.
So what do you think? What other types of conflict are there? Do you agree with these definitions, or is there another way to look at them? Let us know what you think in the comments!
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