Types of Conflict in Literature

  • What are common types of conflict in literature?
  • How do writers create conflict in literature?
  • What is the purpose of conflict in literature?

There are five main types of conflict in literature. Conflict is drama between two opposing forces in a piece of literature. If you have sufficient conflict, you will be able to move the plot forward and keep the attention of your reader. If your writing lacks conflict, it will lack tension and will fall flat.

The five most common types of conflict used in literature are as follows:

  1. Character Struggling Against Another Character: This is the most obvious form of conflict, when a character in a book struggles with another character in the book. This can be in the form of arguments, conflicting desires, opposing goals, physical confrontations or emotional dilemmas. A book like Kramer Versus Kramer is full of conflict between a married couple in the throes of divorce and a custody battle.
  2. Character Struggling Internally With Self: Sometimes conflict is internal. When a character struggles with moral dilemmas, emotional challenges or desires he or she deems unsavory, the conflict is with the character's own soul or conscience. In Sophie's Choice, Sophie must decide which of her children to save and which of her children to sacrifice to the Nazis, a conflict of the soul. In Crime and Punishment, the main character struggles with his inability to forgive himself. Just because conflict is internal does not make the conflict any less compelling or exciting.
  3. Character Struggling Against Forces of Nature: Sometimes all the characters in the book are the good guys and the conflict in the book is between all the people and forces of nature that are out of the characters' control. In The Stand and The Andromeda Strain, the people are pitted against viruses that rage out of control, wiping out large portions of the population.
  4. Character Struggling Against Society: When the character is repressed by society and not by a specific character, the conflict takes place between that character and society. One example of conflict between society and the main character is Frankenstein, in which the monster has no respite from the judgment and horror expressed by all of society, leaving him loveless and despondent. Sometimes conflict between character and society is reflected through literary metaphor, as in Animal Farm. The main conflict in this story is between the exploited classes and the segment of society that exploits the main characters.
  5. Character Struggling Against Fantasy/Supernatural/Technology: This type of conflict is usually found in specific genres of literary style, such as fantasy, science fiction, horror and supernatural books. When the character comes up against poltergeists, robots, aliens, divine forces or supernatural villains, the main character must call upon his or her strength to defeat the fantastic enemy confronting him or her.
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