This Saturday I think we should go a little further on that plot diagram, don’t you think? Well, after the exposition would come the conflict. If you look at the plot diagram below, you will see a circle with the word “Conflict” Next to it is an arrow linking the conflict to the words, “Protagonist vs. Antagonist”. Underneath there is a blank vs. blank.*
A conflict, technically is a struggle between two forces. Allow me to explain.
Okay. This is one of the most important parts of your story. I say that about everything I have in this story, but it’s true. The conflict is where you introduce a problem in the story, introduce the thing that the character has to go after, or the thing that makes things change.
This can be confused with action that wouldn’t normally occur in daily life, and that could be true, but not always. Say, for example, the first chapter starts out with a gun-to-your-head scene. Now, for most people, this is something that they don’t exactly see everyday. This could be part of your conflict, but not necessarily. This could be an everyday thing for your character.
The conflict is necessary to drive the story forward. How about a real text example? Yeah? Well, if you insist.
In The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, the conflict is introduced very early. In the beginning of her character, Clary’s, story, someone breaks into her house while she is away and kidnaps her mom. This isn’t something that happens everyday, true, but that’s only a part of the conflict. She goes on to unravel truth after truth, so that the conflict continues to grow bigger. This would be helpful if your story is part of a series, so that the conflict is so big that it can span over several versions of trying to solve it.
If you are writing a single book, though, you might not want your initial conflict to lead to more and more conflicts.
Anyway, here’s the meat and potatoes of conflicts: there are two types of conflicts.
Internal conflicts happen within the character, the things that cannot be seen. There is really only one kind of internal conflict:
Character vs. Self
This is when your character has a problem inside that other characters can’t truly see. They may see that the character is sad, but they wouldn’t know what is really going on. This could be them trying to make a tough decision, trying to figure out who they really are, or something else that they are struggling with inside.
They are things that would cause things to change because they make the character act a certain way. If your character had just found out that they were adopted, their internal conflict would be trying to figure out if she can still trust whoever didn’t tell her, who she really is, or even trying to figure out what to do next.
External conflicts happen between things that can be seen. Like your character finding out that they are adopted, for example. This would be external because anyone could see it, and it is a visible cause to change things.
There are some things that you need to know about external conflicts. There are three general kinds that are well known, and each of them are different in how they can drive your story forward:
Character vs. Character
This is when one character in your story struggles against another character, or even groups of characters struggling. When your character found out that they were adopted, there could be arguing between him or her and their adoptive parents. This would be character vs. character because they are visibly struggling against each other.
How can this drive your plot forward? Think about it If your character has an argument, the things that were said could lead them to acting differently, or doing things that they would regret later. This moves them from emotional point A to emotional point B, and the story just keeps on moving.
This is also what the plot diagram means by protagonist vs. antagonist. The protagonist is your main character, and usually the good guy. The antagonist is who they are struggling against, who is usually the bad guy.
Character vs. Nature
This is when your character is pitted against some sort of natural problem, like a snow storm keeping them from leaving their house, or a wild animal attacking in the woods. If you’ve ever seen Jaws, then you know what I’m talking about. Shark attacks are a good example of nature and your character struggling to coexist peacefully.
This can move your story forward because it will force your character into something they wouldn’t usually do. They could lose an arm in a shark attack, or have to take cover during a tornado in a place they wouldn’t usually go. These are things that could push things forward because it is a chain reaction, starting with a tornado and leading to something that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
This is a great way to manipulate your story, too. If you need to get your character somewhere or have them run into someone, but don’t know how, add in some kind of natural problem that would get them where they need to go. It is a lot more interesting than having two people randomly run into each other coincidentally, or making something happen that wouldn’t usually happen just because.
Character vs. Society
This is when your character is running into problems because of where they live, or the beliefs of people around them. I have two great examples for this. In Footloose, one of my all time favorite films, the main character runs into the problem of the laws in Beaumont, a small town where he just moved. These laws restrict playing loud music and public dancing, and the characters all band together to abolish the laws.
The Hunger Games series. Do I even have to explain? I will anyway. The characters in this series stand together against the capitol to change things. This can drive your plot forward because it could be a main conflict that gives your character a goal to work towards, or it could change the way your character acts and what they might do, based on their surroundings.
What to do on the plot diagram
Since there is only one blank on your plot diagram, and I do recommend printing it out and filling it in, then just write your main conflict in the blank. This could be internal or external, but chose the one that drives your plot forward the most, the one that REALLY changes your character’s life.
I keep a notebook were I plan out my books. What I did, and maybe this only works for me but I would recommend it too, is make a list. For each story I’m writing, I have pages and pages of conflicts. If you look closely enough at any story, there are conflicts between side characters, little things that aren’t important but still have to be there, or even in the main character that you don’t notice. There are also other kinds of conflicts, tons, but I’m only providing you with the basics right now. Character vs. machine, for example is a common one too, but I couldn’t possibly name them all.
I write down a phrase that makes me remember what I’m talking about, and then I label the conflict. For example, I might write “She never knew about him.” That would only make sense to me, but it would help me remember what part of the story I’m talking about. Then I would fill in a blank vs. blank beside it. Finally, I would write a brief description of the conflict and what or who is involved in it.
This is very helpful for planning out stories so you don’t forget anything, and I literally have pages and pages and pages for even just one short story.
I hope this helped and that this is something that will make your story better. Thank you for all of the support!
*The link from which the plot diagram photo was found is here: http://www.portnet.k12.ny.us/Page/10210 . I don’t any rights to this photo so I’m giving this website the credit, but you should check out that site for more things like it that can help with writing:)