Types of Character Conflict
Any good story has conflict. Without conflict, nothing happens and the story dies because the reader won't care enough to finish the story. Even true-to-life stories revolve around conflict of one type or another. Conflict and struggle can be either internal or external in nature. Either conflict leads to moving the story along to a resolution or acceptance of the conflict or reason for it.
Conflict in a story means struggle between opposing people, wills or forces. While many think of conflict in terms of fighting fires or military operations, conflict may be something else entirely. Inner conflict means that a character is struggling with himself in some tangible or intangible way. For example, the character may have two choices. One choice lines up with the character's inner morals, feelings and values or is simply the present life pattern. The other pulls in another direction with new choices that may be either right or wrong.
Yet each choice has barriers until the choices get confusing. Will choosing values or the present situation, mean that the loss of a friendship or even harm to another? Inner conflict may also include struggling with mental illusions or illness of some fashion with which the characters must deal with or overcome. Conflict may involve dealing with feelings of inadequacy or intimidation. The film “A Beautiful Mind” is an example of an inner conflict with self.
Character conflict includes conflict with others outside of self. External conflict means that the character may deal with a relationship that doesn't always go smoothly. A female character may struggle with choosing which man she truly loves and who truly loves her. A male character may struggle with commitment issues in a love relationship. But conflict with others is much broader than love relationships. Political leaders or other leaders may struggle for power, prestige or wealth. Any conflict between individuals or groups falls under this external character conflict type.
With the Environment
Another type of external character conflict is conflict with the environment. This isn't just about conflict over environmental or “green” issues. Conflict with the environment includes a story of triumph of climbers climbing, despite problems, to the top of a mountain or divers struggling to discover strange, new places and creatures under the sea. Character conflict with the environment or nature includes the young boy gentling a semi-wild horse. “My Friend Flicka” is an example of character conflict with the environment in the ranch setting and the horse and an example of character conflict with others in Ken's conflict with his father.
Another type of character conflict is a spiritual conflict. Because a spiritual conflict presupposes a greater being, this type does not fit with the conflict of character with self. The character would be in conflict if he feels that his family or church thinks he should a missionary, while he has a passion to act and sing. The struggle might be about walking away from his roots. It might be going against his family and church, while still embracing his faith. It might be finding a way to mesh the two. It might mean doing what his family/church desires, but consequently suffering resentment. Ultimately, these are struggles and conflict between the character and the place faith takes in the character's life. “Chariots of Fire” is an example of a spiritual character conflict.
Carolyn Scheidies has been writing professionally since 1994. She writes a column for the “Kearney Hub” and her latest book is “From the Ashes.” She holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she has also lectured in the media department.