How Does an Author Use Conflict in a Story?

An engaging story draws the reader into a new world, distracting him from his everyday life. Authors use conflict to keep a reader's eyes glued to the page, to keep a reader wondering "what next?" In fiction, conflict typically consists of obstacles or antagonizing forces that stand in the way of a character achieving his goals.

Types of Conflict

Man-versus-man conflict occurs when one man stands between the protagonist and her goals. Man-versus-self conflict occurs when a character's conflict lies within her personality, habits and wishes. Man-versus-society conflict occurs when a protagonist is at odds with society as a whole. Man-versus-nature conflict occurs when characters struggle against powerful forces of nature. Typically, authors explore one type of conflict in a short story and several types of conflict within a longer story. In most stories, authors impose a conflict closely related to the theme. For example, a story with the theme "be true to yourself" typically contains man-versus-self conflict.


The plot of a story essentially charts the progress of a character facing and overcoming obstacles. Each obstacle, also known as a plot point, functions as a new conflict. In a story wherein a man wishes to save his wife from kidnappers, the conflict resides foremost between himself and the kidnappers. If he is in a rush to overtake someone and a wrecked bus forces him to slow down, the bus adds a new conflict. Typically, the plot of a story starts with the major conflict and each obstacle thereafter adds to the total conflict.

Tension and Pacing

As conflict in a story builds, tension builds. Though tension typically accompanies conflict, tension also increases alongside rising elements of mystery, dramatic irony, and suspense. A reader feels tension when he worries that the protagonist will not reach her goal, due to a series of conflicts, or that the protagonist faces danger, because of a specific conflict. Typically, a story with excellent pacing consists of steadily rising conflict that culminates in a climax. The climax, which occurs near the end of the story, brings the resolution to the major conflict. In a story wherein a man wishes to save his wife, for instance, the climax comes when the man succeeds in saving his wife.


A fully developed character - one who functions not just as a distinct individual but as a part of society - exists within a framework of relationships. As in real life, even the best relationships contain conflict. The specific conflicts that arise within a relationship help an author define a character's personality and his relationships. For example, a character that engages in a fight with his wife over the well-being of their children is different than a character who fights with his wife because she talks to another man. The first character acts in a positive way, and thus is likely a good father and a moral person, while the latter character is jealous and possessive.

About the Author

Breann Kanobi has worked as freelance writer since 2010. Kanobi regularly submits content online to Gamer DNA. Kanobi received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in film and television from New York University in 2010.

Photo Credits
  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images