What Are the Types of Conflict in Literature: Exploring the Essence of Narrative Tension

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Have you ever wondered what makes a story captivating and enthralling? The answer lies within the artful portrayal of conflicts in literature. Conflict serves as the driving force behind narratives, injecting them with tension, drama, and emotional depth. In this article, we will delve into the various types of conflict that permeate the literary world. So, let’s embark on a journey to unravel the secrets of conflict and discover how it shapes the stories we love.

Understanding Conflict in Literature

Before we dive into the different types of conflict, it’s essential to grasp its significance in literature. Conflict, in the context of storytelling, refers to the struggle between opposing forces that fuels the narrative progression. It serves as the catalyst for character development, plot advancement, and the exploration of thematic elements. Without conflict, stories would lack the excitement and depth that keep readers engaged.

External Conflict: Personifying Struggles

Person vs. Person

One of the most common types of conflict in literature is person vs. person. This type of conflict arises when two or more characters clash due to differing goals, beliefs, or values. Think of iconic rivalries like Sherlock Holmes vs. Professor Moriarty or Harry Potter vs. Lord Voldemort. These conflicts heighten the stakes, intensify the action, and offer insight into the characters’ motivations and personalities.

Person vs. Nature

In person vs. nature conflicts, characters find themselves pitted against the forces of the natural world. Whether it be battling a treacherous storm at sea or surviving in the wilderness, these conflicts emphasize the vulnerability of individuals in the face of nature’s power. Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” exemplifies this type of conflict, as the protagonist struggles against freezing temperatures and harsh conditions in the Yukon.

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Person vs. Society

When a character confronts the norms, expectations, or injustices of society, a person vs. society conflict emerges. These conflicts shed light on social issues, political ideologies, and cultural customs. Literature often portrays individuals fighting against oppressive systems or striving to bring about change. Works like George Orwell’s “1984” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” exemplify the struggles characters face against societal structures.

Internal Conflict: The Battle Within

Person vs. Self

Internal conflict, person vs. self, delves into the emotional and psychological struggles within a character’s mind. This type of conflict often involves decisions, moral dilemmas, or conflicting desires. Characters may grapple with their own fears, insecurities, or past traumas. By exploring these internal battles, literature provides a profound understanding of human nature and the complexities of the human psyche.

Person vs. Conscience

In person vs. conscience conflicts, characters are torn between what they desire and what their moral compass dictates. These conflicts explore the internal struggle between right and wrong, often forcing characters to confront their own ethical dilemmas. Novels like Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” masterfully portray the torment of a character’s conscience, leading to introspection and personal growth.

Person vs. Fear

Fear is a powerful motivator and often serves as the driving force behind person vs. fear conflicts. Characters face their deepest fears, whether they be physical, emotional, or psychological, in a battle for survival or personal growth. Consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” where Frodo Baggins contends with the fear of succumbing to the power of the One Ring. These conflicts resonate with readers, as they reflect our own encounters with fear and the triumphs that arise from conquering it.

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

How does conflict contribute to character development?

Conflict plays a pivotal role in character development by presenting challenges and obstacles that characters must overcome. It forces characters to make choices, face their fears, and reveal their true nature. Through conflict, characters undergo transformation, growth, and self-discovery, making them more relatable and multidimensional.

What are the primary functions of conflict in a story?

Conflict serves several crucial functions in a story. It drives the plot forward, creating tension and suspense that captivate readers. It reveals the true nature of characters, their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Conflict also explores themes, societal issues, and moral dilemmas, engaging readers in thought-provoking discussions. Ultimately, conflict breathes life into narratives, making them memorable and impactful.


In conclusion, the types of conflict in literature are as diverse as the stories they inhabit. From external conflicts that pit characters against each other, nature, or society, to internal conflicts that delve into the depths of the human psyche, conflict is the heartbeat of storytelling. By understanding and appreciating the various types of conflict, we gain insight into the human condition, foster empathy, and embark on enriching reading experiences. So, immerse yourself in the world of conflicts, and let them transport you to new realms of imagination and understanding.

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