Conflict: A brief introduction to fiction writing

Fiction writers are storytellers. They come up with an idea. Something small and minuscule at first that eventually grows into a plot, then an outline then an actual story. I’m not saying that everyone needs to have a fancy degree in literature or creative writing to be a good story teller, but to write fiction or any form of writing that’s more than your first and last name, you need to know the basic formula. You need to know that there are steps that fiction works have to take before they are even remotely readable. Anyone who passed the eighth grade can tell you that stories have three major parts, a beginning, a middle and an end (A climax). Those who developed a passion for writing will tell you that there’s a whole lot more to story telling than that if you want it to actually be a good read and not the underdeveloped fantasies of some twenty one year old who’s never even heard the word plot. Let me break it down for you.

Along with the beginning, middle and climax you have to take into account setting, Character, Dialogue, action, Conflict, Plot, Foreshadowing, Exposition, Theme, Style, Symbolism and Metaphor. Today I’m only covering conflict.

There are five (Or more depending on what year you live in) types of character conflict and there is typically only one conflict per story, as is common with western fiction. And each of these types of conflicts will tell you what type of story you’re reading.

There are five basic types of conflict. In ancient cultures Person vs. Fate often constitute the conflict of the story; however, so many people today believe they are in charge of their own destiny that few stories of this ilk can be found. In modern times, Person vs. Machine, also known as Person vs. Technology, has become another one.

Person vs. Self is the theme in literature that places a character against their own will, confusion, or fears. Person vs. Self can also be where a character tries to find out who they are or comes to a realization or a change in character. Although the struggle is internal, the character can be influenced by external forces. The struggle of the human being to come to a decision is the basis of Person vs. Self. Examples include the titular character of Beowulf. More recently, the Academy Award winning movie A Beautiful Mind has been posited as an application of Person vs. Self. Faulkner in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech noted that the great stories are those of the human heart in conflict with itself. With that in mind the other conflicts enumerated here can fade into the background as part of the setting rather than the conflict-in-itself of any given story. A simple, ready example may be Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” wherein we can see that the conflict is not Man vs. Nature but Man vs. His Own Nature.

Person vs. Person is a theme in literature in which the main character’s conflict with another person is the focus of the story. An example is the hero’s conflicts with the central villain of a work, which may play a large role in the plot and contribute to the development of both characters. There are usually several confrontations before the climax is reached. The conflict is external. An example is the conflict between Judah and Messala in Ben-Hur,as would be the conflict between a bully and his victim.

Person vs. Society is a theme in fiction in which a main character’s, or group of main characters’, main source of conflict is social traditions or concepts. In this sense, the two parties are: a) the protagonist(s); b) the society of which the protagonist(s) are included. Society itself is often looked at as a single character, just as an opposing party would be looked at in aPerson vs. Person conflict.This can also be one protagonist against a group or society of antagonists or society led by some antagonistic force. An example in literature would beWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

Person vs. Nature is the theme in literature that places a character against forces of nature. Many disaster films focus on this theme, which is predominant within many survival stories. It is also strong in stories about struggling for survival in remote locales, such as Gary Paulson’s Hatchet or Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire”.

Person vs. Supernatural is a theme in literature that places a character against supernatural forces. When an entity is in conflict with him-, her-, or itself, the conflict is categorized asinternal, otherwise, it is external. Such stories are often seen in Freudian Criticism as representations of id vs. superego. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a good example of this, as well asFrankenstein by Mary Shelley and Christabel by Samuel Coleridge. It is also very common in comic books.

Person vs. Machine/Technology places a character against robot forces with “artificial intelligence”. I, Robot and the Terminator series are good examples of this conflict.

My point for posting this is simple. No matter how many characters you have in a story, the focal points are the conflict between your protagonist (Person) and your antagonist (Fill in the blank, Supernatural, Person, Machine etc etc). Everyone can’t be the beautiful princess heroine, and everyone can’t be the sexy captain save a hoe hero.


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