External Conflict Definition and Types


In literature, we encounter two broad categories of conflict within the plot: internal conflict and external conflict. External conflicts arise as outward roadblocks to the main character's success and often provide the motivation for relationships, struggles and the primary action of the plot. Every good story features some kind of internal conflict as well, even if it’s not large, because this effectively defines a character arc. The following are the 5 main types of external conflict, often used to advance storylines and enhance a literary work.

1.Character vs. Character

The most common form of external conflict is character vs. character which showcases the kind of character conflict that exists between two people. This is an example of external conflict. Many protagonists (main characters) must face down an adversary or antagonist (character who causes conflict) that stands in the way of them achieving their goals. The conflict could quite literally be physical combat, or a more emotional or psychological standoff between characters. An example of this can be seen in the Harry Potter series, as Harry Potter and Voldemort face off in multiple of the books.

2. Character vs. Nature

Literature often relies on the force of natural disasters or natural phenomena to thwart the protagonist, which is what we call nature conflict. This form of external conflict could involve floods, fires, storms, or severe winds---all of these forces are commonly used to symbolize the conflict between man and the universe or man's struggle against God. Forces of nature may test a character’s physical abilities or emotional strength as they bounce back from damage the external forces have caused.

3. Character vs. Society

Protagonists may feel alienated or are treated as outcasts of society. They may feel trapped, paranoid, or have a sense that something is tragically flawed about the world around them, which is often what takes place during society conflict. To their dismay, the majority of people are unable to see their point of view. The protagonist struggles to change conventions or institutions like government or religion, often without success. This type of external conflict is known as man vs. society and has a wide range of situations a character faces in all kinds of stories. Romeo and Juliet is a classic example of characters facing the trials and ridicule of a society and having to navigate those opposing forces.

4. Character vs. Technology

Common within science fiction or dystopian literature, a person finds their enemy within machines. Technology runs awry, evolving past man's control over it. This type of external conflict presents a worst-case scenario of a world dominated by its own inventions.

5. Character vs. Animal

Man and animal have been formidable foes dating back to Anglo-Saxon myths such as "Beowulf," or Homer's "The Odyssey," a classic Greek tale of man vs. beast. The beasts of popular myths often exhibit supernatural strength, but are ultimately defeated by the cunning and bravery of their human foe. This external conflict is often used to show the symbolic struggle between good and evil. This is one of the different types of external conflict that is not as common, but can be found in many stories still. An example of this takes place in The Hunger Games when Katniss Everdeen must fight off the genetically mutated mutts at the very end of her trial to win and save her life.

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