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.

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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.

Step 4

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.