How to Find a Major Conflict in a Story
One of the primary elements of any story -- from a short story to a many-volume novel -- is conflict. Conflict refers to any aspect of struggle in a story, whether it be internal (within one character) or external (outside of the character). If a reader can recognize the primary conflict of a story, then the meaning of a story can be much more evident.
Read the story with a focus on the main character or protagonist. The protagonist is always going to be the focus of the conflict. Note the story's point of view: whose thoughts and primary actions do we get? This can indicate who the protagonist is.
Identify what the protagonist wants or is most preoccupied with. The conflict is any kind of opposition against the protagonist's primary goals or desires.
Determine if the conflict is external or internal. Internal conflict is primarily within the protagonist: the main character could be torn between conflicting desires. External conflict involves some outside force coming between the protagonist and his or her desires.
Decide how the primary conflict is set up in the story. There are four major kinds of external conflict that appear in a story: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Circumstances, Man vs. Society, and Man vs. Himself/Herself. If the conflict is Man Vs. Man, then you might also be able to identify an antagonist, which is the primary character who works against the protagonist.
Ann Trent has been publishing her writing since 2001. Her work has appeared in "Fence," the "Black Warrior Review" and the "Denver Quarterly." Trent received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Ohio State University and has attended the Macdowell Colony. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in counseling.