Episode 101

7 Types of Conflict in Literature

Whether or not you seek to avoid conflict in real life, avoiding conflict in your writing will make for a boring book.

For the first half of this season we are covering conflict as a literary device and taking a close look at the seven different types. I’ll offer examples, I’ll discuss how conflict should guide your story, and I’ll explain how more than of these conflicts can be at play within your manuscript. 

Music licensed from Storyblocks

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

It is a good summer for reading. The Atlantic reports that there is more diversity among newly released books, and the Wall Street Journal reports that the Kindle is once-again a must-have accessory. I’ll have more publishing news for you in a couple of weeks, but for now we are kicking off Season 6 with an overview of what we’re diving into in the next seven weeks.

The Writing Break cafe is open, so how about we rendezvous on the Overthinking Couch?

For the first half of this season we are covering conflict as a literary device and taking a close look at the seven different types. I’ll offer examples, I’ll discuss how conflict should guide your story, and I’ll explain how more than of these conflicts can and probably should be at play within your manuscript.

Whether or not you seek to avoid conflict in real life, avoiding conflict in your writing will make for a boring book.

The seven types of conflict we’re discussing this season are: Character vs Self, Character vs Character, Character vs Nature, Character vs Society, Character vs Supernatural, Character vs Technology, and Character vs Destiny

Out of these seven, Character vs Destiny and Character vs Self are internal conflicts. The rest are external conflicts. We’ll discuss the difference in the coming weeks, but I thought first we needed to review the difference between plot and story, which is important to keep in mind when we talk about conflict. Understanding these three terms and how they are interacting within your manuscript will make the writing process clearer for you.

So, here is a clip from Season 2, Episode 2 wherein I discuss plot vs story.

While we often use plot and story interchangeably, strictly speaking, plot and story in literature are not interchangeable terms.

An easy way to remember the difference is that story is internal and plot is external.

Going further, story tells us about the characters, their backstories, and their current conflicts. The book’s setting is also part of the story.

Plot consists of actions that take place during the book.

Let’s take Romeo & Juliet, for example. Warning: spoilers ahead.

The protagonists are a teenage girl and a teenage boy. Their relevant backstory is that their families have been feuding for generations. Juliet’s conflict at the beginning of the story is that her family wants her to marry Paris, but she isn’t interested. Romeo’s conflict at the beginning of the story is that he wants to be with Rosaline, but she isn’t interested in him. The setting is 14-century Verona.

That is the story. Secondary but still important parts of the story are the friends and relatives they care for and who care for them. All of the characters have personality traits that are part of the story and drive the plot. For example, the protagonists are passionate and impulsive. Their personalities cause them to react to the plot in certain ways, and their reactions are the story, not the plot.

So, what is the plot? Plot is the meaningful action that happens during the story. We don’t need to know about every meal or wardrobe change in Romeo and Juliet, but we do need to know about the upcoming ball during which the protagonists meet, the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, the secret marriage, and the delayed messenger.

it did if you read it before:

Getting back to plot versus story:

When Juliet awakes and sees Romeo is dead. That is plot. Her reaction, which is to decide she no longer wants to live, is story. Her action, stabbing herself, is plot. The families learning of the deaths is plot. The families deciding to end the feud is story.

Remember, plot is your character's physical journey and story is your character's emotional journey.

Now, we move on to the premise. When people ask you, “What is your book about?”, you should be ready to respond with the premise.

This week, I want you to work on the premise of your work in progress. This is an important part of the brainstorming process we began last week. As you get further into your novel writing, you’ll be able to look back at your premise and make sure that you are keeping true to what you want your work to be about.

So, what is the premise of a book? This is the summary of a story’s main plot. We know that story is internal and plot is external, so is the premise a summary of the internal’s external? Mmmm, let’s figure this one out.

Start by writing one sentence about the plot.

Then write a second sentence about the story.

Now edit the two sentences into a paragraph until the relationship between the plot and the story makes sense.

Bonus points is you can edit the paragraph down to a one-sentence premise.

Going back to Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare gives us the premise in the prologue:

A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

In modern English, Two doomed lovers commit suicide, thereby ending their parents’ feud.

Before we depart, if you’re writing a screenplay or if you turn to movies and TV shows for writing inspiration, indulge me in a moment of overthinking about how the weight of plot and story in visual media is different from that of print media.

Now that we are clear on plot versus story, I want to point out that books are more story-oriented than movies. If you’re a screenwriter, then you know story can be hard to convey visually, and the last thing you want to do is write a screenplay that is heavily reliant on voiceover. This is why plot takes over in visual media. The audience is looking at the screen, so it wants to see things. As Marshall McLuhan taught us, “The medium is the message.”

If you’re writing a novel and watching movies but not reading books, it’s possible that you’re going to struggle when it comes to filling the reader in on the story. You might have an action-packed book that doesn’t have enough heart or you might put in too much story not knowing when it becomes a drag to read. Get inspiration wherever you can, but if you’re writing a book, you should be studying other authors. And if you’re writing a screenplay, you should be studying other filmmakers.

Whether you’re writing a screenplay, a short story, or a full-length novel, you can come up with a premise that includes both story and plot.

Develop your story’s premise this week, and I’ll be back next week to take a look at your protagonist.

Next week we’ll discuss character vs self. Until then, thank you so much for listening, and remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.