6 Conflicts to Use in Your Novel | Writing Tips

Six types of conflict for your novel

Let’s talk about conflict! It probably isn’t news to you that conflict is essential to writing an effective story. (And if it is news to you, now you know! 😉 But including conflict consistently isn’t always as easy as it sounds. There may be times where you know a scene is lacking conflict, but aren’t sure what to add. Other times, you may find yourself struggling with what the bigger, overarching conflicts should be.

In order to work conflict into your story, you first have to have a good understanding of your options. To help with that, here are six types of conflicts you might find useful in your story.

Character vs. Self

I think most of us can point to a time that we’ve been at war with ourselves about what to do in a given situation. You can let your characters experience the same feelings. This conflict is particularly handy if it doesn’t make sense for your character to be in conflict with someone else or if they’re on their own for some reason.

This conflict can be as big or as small as you need it to be, depending on what’s going on in your story. If you want to include a book-length arc, your character can be struggling with something life-changing or character-defining. Maybe they’re struggling with doing the right thing versus doing something for personal gain. Or maybe they’ve found themselves in a situation with an impossible choice to make–one that will take the whole book to work out.

If the conflict only needs to last a scene or a few chapters, you can consider similar situations to the ones mentioned above, but on a smaller scale. Your character can also struggle with when to keep and share information, the right and wrong thing to do in any given situation, and who to trust and guard against.

Character vs. Character

This is perhaps the easiest and most common type of conflict to include. All you need is two people who want different things in any given moment. This is where majority of the conflicts in our lives come from. Everyone has their own goals and interests. Sometimes they line up, but a lot of the time, they don’t. Any time our wants differ from someone else, it lends itself to a natural conflict. Your characters should operate in a similar fashion.

On a larger, book-length scale, you could have two characters in competition with each other or at odds over something big. Maybe one character wants to take over the world and the other doesn’t want that to happen. Or maybe your protagonist and antagonist are running against each other in an election.

On a smaller scale, the conflict could be as simple as two characters disagreeing over the best course of action to take, or maybe one character is a bit of a bully to another. It can be particularly interesting if two characters who usually get along have a reason to argue.

The key with this type of conflict is to be sure that it makes sense for both characters involved. If it doesn’t make sense for your characters to be on opposite ends of the argument, your conflict will fall flat.

Character vs. Environment/Society

This conflict comes up whenever a character has an issue with their immediate surroundings or society. Any time you’ve had an issue or disagreement with a rule or reality placed on your by an outside source, you’ve likely had a conflict with your environment or society.

On a smaller scale, it can mean that your character doesn’t fit in at school/work or their community. It may be a source of discomfort for your character, but it doesn’t dominate their every thought or overall goal. There can be areas in the story where this is more of an issue than others, but it isn’t the driving force behind the story.

On a larger scale, it can mean that your character is attacked for who they are or what they believe. It could also mean that they are at odds with a controlling government. Dystopian book or books with a rebellion/uprising often have a character vs. environment/society conflicts at the heart of their plot.

Character vs. Nature

Character vs. Nature occurs anytime the natural order of the world threatens your character. This can mean weather, a natural disaster, or any kind of predatory situation or animal encounter. This type of conflict can be particularly useful because you don’t always have to justify why this natural occurrence is happening. As long as it’s feasible for the occurrence to happen in your story’s setting, you can probably get away with it.

And again, these natural occurrences can be as big or as small as you need them to be. If you need a small conflict, maybe your character finds themselves face to face with a hungry wolf they have to escape from. Or if you want to force two characters together, they can be snowed in somewhere.

If you need a bigger conflict, maybe there’s a hurricane headed your character’s way. The countdown before a natural disaster can also lead to a great source of tension.

Character vs. Machine

This conflict is growing in popularity with the growth of technology. The problems we encounter with technology can range from the mild inconveniences to the more serious, life-threatening issues.

If you need a smaller problem, consider technical malfunctions. This can include a GPS that proves to be less-than-accurate, a cell phone that’s dead or lacking reception, or a computer that won’t connect to the internet. For a contained mid-sized problem, something along the lines of a car crushing someone after an accident or any kind of large machine malfunction will get the job done. A gunfight could also fall into this category.

On a larger scale, bombs and missiles about to go off and level entire towns, or any machine that your character has to stop, or alter is worth considering.

Character vs. Fate/Supernatural

And lastly, we have fate and the supernatural. This is the one conflict that may not have a place in your story, depending on what you’re writing. On the other hand, if you’re writing a supernatural story, it may be your biggest conflict.

On a small scale, your character may find themselves with a brief ghostly encounter. It’s also possible that your character might have an encounter with a psychic or a ouija board. On a larger scale, your character may be handed a destiny they’re trying to outrun or be haunted by some kind of ghost, curse, or other supernatural creature.

Paranormal and supernatural books will shape their primary plot around a conflict of this nature, but even books that aren’t centered around this theme may include some supernatural conflicts if you have a character who believes or if it’s relevant to the story.

I hope this helps you add some killer conflicts to your novel!

These are just some possibilities! What your specific story will need may vary, but hopefully, this gives you a good idea of each type of conflict and how to use it in your story.

Now it’s your turn: What’s your favorite type of conflict to write? What’s your favorite conflict to read? Tell me about it in the comments!

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