What Are the Four Major Types of Conflict?

A strong conflict moves a story's plot along and gives characters a chance to develop. Conflicts can take on many forms; they may be external obstacles, carrying the threat of physical harm, or they may be internal struggles, forcing the character to make an important decision. Longer stories tend to present the characters with more than one kind of obstacle. Whether you're a writer or a reader, understanding conflict will enhance your enjoyment of storytelling.

Man versus Man

Characters may come into conflict with other humans, often leading to violent showdowns. For example, in William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the main characters' families are engaged in a rivalry that occasional escalates into physical confrontations. In one battle, Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, kills Mercutio, Romeo's close friend, in a duel. Man versus man conflicts do not always end in bloodshed. Two characters gambling against each other or competing for the love of a third character are further examples of man versus man.

Man versus Nature

Characters in conflict with nature may be trying to survive natural disasters or other adverse environmental elements. For example, in Gary Paulsen's "Hatchet," a plane crash leaves a boy stranded in the wilderness. The main character faces wild animals, dangerous storms and the looming possibility of starvation. Man versus nature conflicts also include instances when characters are battling disease.

Man versus Society

Characters in conflict with society are usually outcasts who harbor beliefs that don't match those of the general population. In Lois Lowry's "The Giver," the main character lives in a utopian society that demands restrictions on emotional awareness and individuality. After experiencing these aspects of life, the boy rebels against the insensitive society. Similarly, in George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," a disillusioned protagonist quiet rebels against a mind-controlling government.

Man versus Self

When a character comes into conflict with his sense of self, he struggles against his own insecurities and psychological hang-ups. For example, in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," the main character vows to take revenge on his father's killer; however, he spends much of the play wrestling with self-doubt. He wonders if he can really carry out his plan. Man versus self conflicts are common in most stories, because these conflicts can encompass all psychological obstacles that lead to character development.

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