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Welcome to my blog! This is my journey, my first steps into the world of fictional writing. This blog is an online journal of sorts, where I share the progress of my work as well as what I have learned along the way. I hope you enjoy your time with me and that my experience may be of some use to you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

En Garde! Conflict in Literature

Welcome Back!

As I was looking for the fundamental elements of storytelling in my original post, “Making a List and Checking it Twice”, the seventh point I mentioned was Conflict. I have found quite a few interesting points on this subject during my research, and I wish to share them with you today.

What I have learned recently is that Conflict is not just about pitting two forces against each other and seeing what happens. There are multiple levels to Conflict that must be addressed in order to make a story not only believable, but interesting.

Conflict in literature is the interaction between two opposing forces that have incompatible or contradictory objectives. In a storyline, this phenomenon is observable when the protagonist is confronted by a conflicting force or an antagonist, which hinders the progress between them and their goal.

The Conflict is an essential element of a storyline. Previously, I explained how the Plot was a series of events within a story, and that Characters were responsible for taking actions in order to progress through those events. The purpose of the Conflict is to motivate those Characters, in order to give them a reason as to why they wish to take action. The possible resolution of the Conflict is the goal of the main Character, and the reason why the audience keeps reading. It also suggests the protagonists may not succeed in achieving these actions, thus creating uncertainty and tension. Without Conflict, a story has no purpose other than to be informative.

A story is also not limited to a single Conflict, although one often takes center stage over the others. Conflict in narrative comes in many forms and can usually be identified by one of the six basic types of confrontation:

  1. Person against Person: In this category, conflict involves stories where the central character is challenged by another character. This type of external confrontation is very common in traditional literature and can manifest itself in various forms (physical combat, competition, rivalry, etc).

  2. Person against Self: A “person vs. self” conflict happens when the main character battles him or herself. They may find themselves plagued with doubt or are faced with a difficult choice. Though this struggle is internal, the conflict is usually associated with an external issue, and may involve other characters.

  3. Person against Society: This category is when a person confronts a man-made institution (such as law, tradition, government, slavery, etc). In stories where the conflict is against society, the main characters are forced to make moral choices against social rules that prevent them from reaching their own goals.

  4. Person against Nature: A “person vs. nature” conflict is an external struggle placing the main character against an animal or a force of nature. These types of stories usually involves survival against the elements, such as natural disasters, storms or harsh living conditions.

  5. Person against Supernatural: This type of conflict involves the protagonist fighting forces that typically defy the laws of nature and are beyond scientific understanding. The Supernatural is a very broad category, and can include anything from ghosts, to monsters, to aliens. Some sources I have come across also include God and religion in this category.

  6. Person against Technology: Here, the main character must face some form of technological obstacle. These stories can vary between a villain using technology against society, robots attempting to take over the world, or the main character struggling to deal with the new technology of a changing world.


        Identifying the type of conflict is pretty straightforward, and finding a solution for how the characters will resolve the issue is essential to any storyline. However, after studying the notion of Conflict even further, I discovered that it can be expressed through different perspectives, giving the story a well-balanced and complete feel to it. I learned that this technique has been used in movies and books for years, but have only now made the association.

There are four areas that help define Conflict: Situation, Fixed Attitude, Activity and Thought Process. If all four perspectives are covered and linked together, then the confrontation will be exposed in its entirety, allowing the audience a better understanding of the Conflict. These four elements can be used in many different ways, and depending where the focus of the conflict is, it can change the feel of your story.

Four Areas of Conflict
  • The Situation: Refers to the fixed state someone or something finds themselves in at the beginning of the story. The situation may be good, bad, or neutral, but the focus must be on the exploration of said situation, not on how it is changing. The Situation can be anything from where a character is in their life or how a certain institution functions. If we were to connect these to a conflict, we could show how the character is unhappy with his life, or how an institution is going out of business.

  • The Fixed Attitude: Refers to a fixed mindset or attitude, that can be represented in the story by either a single person or a group of people. The Fixed Attitude is usually a given and not re-evaluated, and can be negative or positive. An example of a problematic Fixed Attitude in a Narrative could be a father’s condescending manners towards his child or a company that refuses to modernize its technology in order to compete in todays market.
  • The Activity: Refers to an event or endeavour, which brings (or forces) change to the current Situation. Whereas the Situation is fixed, Activity is dynamic, causing things to evolve and change. An Activity can be the cause of Conflict, examples could be illegal smuggling in a neighborhood or a rebellion against the Government.
  • The Thought Process: Represents the process of consideration, debating between logical and emotional aspects of a problem, in the hopes of arriving at a conclusion. The purpose of this process is not to focus on the decision, so much as to examine it from all perspectives. A problematic Thought Process in the Narrative can be seen as conflicting ideologies or one party attempting to manipulate the other.

           When balanced properly, an effective story can deliver substance and meaning to the Audience. The patterns of conflict, as explained by Dramatica, allows the writer to broaden their imagination, to explore the different angles, thus reaching a level of originality difficult to obtain otherwise.

In closing, I enjoyed this lesson, as I learned a lot in the process. A story would be boring without conflict, which is probably why all stories worth telling have a problem to solve. While conflicts may not always be resolved by a story's end, the resolution of a conflict creates closure, which gives the reader a sense of accomplishment.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson! Until next time.


Patrick Osborne.

(edited 03-08-2016)

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