Internal vs. External Conflict: Create Epic Story Battles

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As an avid reader and aspiring writer, you’re likely familiar with the importance of story dynamics, conflict in literature, character development, and plot tension. While crafting a memorable tale, the skillful deployment of narrative conflict stands as the cornerstone of your storytelling techniques. In this article, we’ll uncover the pulsating heart of tension that lies in internal and external conflicts, offering valuable insights into their subtle nuances and how they forge unforgettable story battles.

Dive into the world of narrative conflict and learn how these combatting forces shape your characters, propel your plots, and keep your readers engaged from beginning to end.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding internal and external conflicts in literature
  • Elements of narrative conflict and character development
  • Integrating internal and external conflicts for balanced storytelling
  • Notable literary examples of internal and external conflicts
  • Essential storytelling techniques for crafting engaging story dynamics

What is Conflict?

Conflict, a crucial element in literature and storytelling, can be defined as the narrative struggle that characters must navigate. At its core, conflict creates dramatic tension by placing opposing forces and desires in opposition, producing the friction necessary for a compelling story. In this section, we will explore the significance and purpose of conflict in literature and how it serves as a catalyst for storytelling.

Understanding the nuances of story conflict is essential for writers who wish to captivate their readers and make their stories both memorable and engaging. Conflict provides the backbone of any narrative, with countless variations and layers that propel the plot and shape character development. The main conflict is typically the most pronounced, serving as a central point around which the rest of the story revolves.

Experts in conflict theory in literature have delved into diverse ways through which conflict can manifest in a story, be it through internal battles or external challenges confronting characters. By carefully selecting conflicts that resonate with the readers’ emotions and develop intricate storylines, authors can craft immersive narrative experiences that leave lasting impressions.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most critical aspects of conflict in literature:

  • How it generates dramatic tension and suspense
  • Its impact on character development
  • The role it plays in advancing the plot
  • Methods for integrating various conflicts within a story

As we examine these key factors of conflict in literature, you will gain valuable insights and learn how to harness the power of narrative struggle in your own writing. By effectively integrating various forms of conflict and resolving them in a meaningful manner, you can create stories that are not only captivating, but also thought-provoking and emotionally resonant.

Internal vs. External Conflict

Man reflecting on sadness in mirror, dual expression illustration

As the driving force behind engaging narrative arcs, understanding the distinction between internal and external conflict is essential. While internal conflicts represent the psychological and emotional struggles within a character’s mind, external conflicts arise in the form of various interpersonal and environmental obstacles. These two concepts intertwine and push each other, creating rich and complex storylines that captivate audiences.

Let’s briefly explore the key differences between these two types of conflict:

  1. Internal conflict focuses on the character challenges that originate within the character’s thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Often, these conflicts stem from moral dilemmas, personal desires, or self-doubt, primarily developing the character psychologically.
  2. External conflict centers on the character overcoming challenges posed by external sources. These can range from interpersonal conflict with other characters to more substantial issues such as environmental dangers, societal norms, or even supernatural forces.

In stories with a dramatic struggle, both internal and external conflicts often coexist and intersect, influencing one another as a character faces both personal and external challenges. These interweaving conflicts foster the development of dynamic, three-dimensional characters and offer intricate narrative structures that keep readers engaged.

Internal Conflict External Conflict
Psychological conflict Interpersonal conflict
Emotional struggles Contact with antagonistic forces
Moral dilemmas Struggles against societal norms
Character development focus Conflict resolution through action

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” – Robert Cormier

Ultimately, the balance between internal and external conflicts is a crucial factor in creating compelling tales of adventure, drama, or romance. As you continue to explore, remember that combining these elements effectively will allow you to produce intricately woven, captivating stories that leave a lasting impression on your audience.

What is Internal Conflict?

Shattered profile of a man concept, mental health abstract

Internal conflict refers to the psychological struggle a character experiences within themselves, as their desires, beliefs, and emotions clash. This type of conflict plays a crucial role in character development and storyline depth, often providing the foundation for introspective journeys that characters undertake. Some of the common aspects of internal conflict include moral dilemmas, emotional conflict, inner turmoil, and self-reflection in literature.

By delving into a character’s moral dilemmas, their thoughts and actions become more relatable and believable, making readers more emotionally invested in the character’s journey. These dilemmas generally arise when a character must make a decision that conflicts with their established moral code, resulting in an internal battle between what they believe is right and what they want to do.

Similarly, emotional conflict arises when a character grapples with their feelings toward a particular situation or another character. When characters face such emotional challenges, they not only develop a deeper understanding of their own emotions but also reveal their vulnerabilities to the reader, fostering genuine connections.

Inner turmoil is another essential aspect of internal conflict, as it leads characters to question their actions, motives, and beliefs. Such turmoil ensues when the characters’ core values are challenged, prompting them to reassess their thoughts and behaviors. Moreover, this internal struggle allows the reader to engage in self-reflection as they consider similar situations they may have or could encounter in their own lives.

Authors often use these elements of internal conflict to explore deeper themes and profound questions of human nature. Ultimately, this introspection enriches both character development and the overall narrative by creating multi-layered stories that resonate with readers on a personal and emotional level.

Types of Internal Conflict

Multiple faces emerging from shattered profile, identity concept

Internal conflict takes various forms, each providing unique opportunities for character growth and plot progression. By recognizing the diverse types of internal struggles, you can craft engaging narratives that resonate with your readers. In this section, we delve into the multiple facets of internal conflict characters face, from self-discovery to overcoming addiction.

Character vs. Self

Characters often face an internal struggle between their own desires and inhibitions. This battle between opposing self-interests reflects a character’s need for self-discovery and growth, culminating in the ultimate choice between competing aspects of their personality.

Character vs. Faith

When characters grapple with their spiritual beliefs and question the validity of their faith, they embark on a journey that often leads to profound revelations. This ethical dilemma confronts characters with difficult choices, provoking them to reevaluate their religious beliefs and their role in the world.

Character vs. Morals

As characters confront personal desires that clash with their moral principles, they engage in an internal tug-of-war between their conscience and impulses. This struggle is central to their emotional development, forcing characters to address the consequences of their actions and reassess their values.

Character vs. Desire

Conflict arises when characters attempt to reconcile their personal desires with reality, societal norms, or the expectations of others. These emotional struggles challenge characters to weigh their ambitions against the potential consequences, ultimately shaping their personal growth.

Character vs. Addiction

Characters often face the trials of overcoming addiction, be it drugs, alcohol, or unhealthy habits. Mental health battles associated with addiction are integral to the narrative, as characters learn to confront their dependencies, overcome temptations, and forge a new life independent of their vices.

Character vs. Mental Health

The battle against psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression, signifies a character’s internal struggle to manage their mental health. This portrayal allows readers to empathize with the character’s turmoil, offering realistic depictions of mental health battles faced by many in real life.

Character vs. Identity

Characters confronting an identity crisis can be enthralling for readers, as they witness the emotional struggle of self-discovery and personal transformation. These narratives allow characters to come to terms with their true selves and embrace their newfound identity.

Character vs. Emotions

Emotional struggles present a character’s need to understand, manage, or accept their feelings. These conflicts often center around grief, love, guilt, or anger, compelling characters to confront their emotions head-on and reconcile with their inner turmoil.

Examples of Internal Conflict

Silhouetted profiles of two men facing opposite, contemplation theme

Let’s explore some iconic examples of internal conflict in classic literature. The following literary characters’ intricate personal struggles serve as pivotal elements in their respective narratives.

Hamlet in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

Hamlet’s inner turmoil is one of the most famous examples of internal conflict in literature. Torn between avenging his father’s death and questioning the ethics of such an act, Hamlet’s psychological analysis reveals a complex internal battle. His profound contemplation on life, death, and morality in his famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be,” provides readers with a deep understanding of his character and the challenges he faces throughout the play.

Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

Elizabeth Bennet’s internal conflict stems from her emotional growth and personal biases. As the protagonist, her journey depicts the struggle to reconcile her feelings for Mr. Darcy, the man she initially loathes, with her evolving realization that her initial judgments might have been misguided. Through this character analysis, we witness how Elizabeth learns to overcome her prejudices and accept her true emotions, resulting in her eventual happiness and personal growth.

Raskolnikov in “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Raskolnikov’s character in “Crime and Punishment” showcases a powerful portrayal of internal conflict stemming from moral dilemmas. After committing a murder, Raskolnikov is plagued by guilt, paranoia, and the subsequent psychological turmoil. His journey is one of internal battle as he grapples with justifying his crime, facing his guilt, and seeking redemption. This psychological analysis of Raskolnikov’s complex character provides an engaging illustration of how internal conflict can drive a narrative forward.

Literary Character Work Author Type of Internal Conflict
Hamlet “Hamlet” William Shakespeare Morality and revenge
Elizabeth Bennet “Pride and Prejudice” Jane Austen Emotional growth and prejudice
Raskolnikov “Crime and Punishment” Fyodor Dostoevsky Moral dilemmas and guilt

What is External Conflict?

Two knights in combat, historical reenactment illustration

External conflict is an essential element of storytelling that shapes protagonists’ journeys and propels the plot forward. It is centered around a character’s struggle against antagonistic forces, be it another character, society, or nature. Such conflicts often involve a physical struggle or confrontation and may require the character to overcome societal norms, nature’s adversity, or predestined events. Let’s dive into how external conflict adds dramatic tension to the story and the different ways it can manifest.

One common form of external conflict is the battle between characters. This type of conflict often includes a protagonist and antagonist, with each side fighting to achieve their respective goals. Antagonistic forces can make the central character’s journey more challenging, heightening readers’ emotional investment in the story.

External conflict can also arise from a character’s struggle with societal norms and expectations. In this type of conflict, the protagonist must navigate and challenge the societal system, often to pursue justice or personal happiness. Such confrontations can drive stories with themes of social change and the fight for individual freedom.

Nature’s adversity serves as another primary source of external conflict. Characters often find themselves at the mercy of natural calamities, wild animals, or inhospitable environments where they must utilize their skills and resourcefulness to survive. These stories focus on the timeless theme of humanity’s struggle against the elements.

Lastly, conflict with fate, destiny, or supernatural forces can produce gripping external conflict. In these scenarios, characters grapple with preordained events or spectral foes, pushing their limits to rewrite their future or defeat seemingly insurmountable odds.

Type of External Conflict Key Elements Examples
Character vs. Character Protagonist, antagonist, physical struggle William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”
Character vs. Society Challenging societal norms, social change, individual freedom George Orwell’s “1984”
Character vs. Nature Surviving natural disasters, battling against weather, wildlife, or harsh environments Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild”
Character vs. Fate/Supernatural Fighting against predetermined events or supernatural forces J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series

Understanding the different types of external conflict allows writers to craft narratives that engage readers and evoke a wide range of emotions. By incorporating external conflicts skillfully, you can create a dynamic story that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

Types of External Conflict

A person standing defiantly in front of a large crowd, symbolizing societal confrontation

External conflicts play a significant role in narratives, presenting characters with various challenges and obstacles that shape their journeys. From traditional protagonist-antagonist rivalries to the struggle against supernatural forces, these conflicts form the backbone of stories, connecting with readers and allowing storytellers to explore creative avenues. In this section, we will delve into the different types of external conflicts and their role in narratives.

Character vs. Character

The most common type of external conflict, character vs. character, features a protagonist-antagonist conflict. This battle, which is at the heart of countless stories, pits the main character against a rival, often highlighting their opposing values and goals. Examples include Sherlock Holmes versus Professor Moriarty or Batman versus the Joker.

Character vs. Nature

Man versus nature conflicts center around characters facing environmental obstacles or natural disasters. This type of conflict emphasizes human vulnerability and resourcefulness in the face of nature’s adversity, challenging the readers to question their belief in humanity’s ability to conquer and persevere. Think of “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway or “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer.

Character vs. Society

In character vs. society conflicts, individuals struggle against societal norms or authorities that seek to control, oppress, or influence them. Examples include “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins or “1984” by George Orwell. These stories often critique social structures, urging readers to question authority and strive for change.

Character vs. Technology

As technology continues to advance, so do the challenges it presents to characters in stories. Conflicts involving technology focus on the consequences of humanity’s continuous pursuit of advancement, with narratives such as “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley or “The Terminator” films.

Character vs. Supernatural

Supernatural struggle pits characters against otherworldly forces, such as ghosts, demons, or mythical creatures. These conflicts add an element of otherworldliness, capturing the human fascination with the unknown. Examples include “Dracula” by Bram Stoker or “The Shining” by Stephen King.

Character vs. Fate/Destiny

Predestined conflict involves characters grappling with their predetermined fate or destiny, shifting the focus from external influences to the character’s internal struggle with accepting or altering their future. Classic examples of this conflict type include “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles and “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare.

Character vs. Machine/Artificial Intelligence

With the growing significance of AI in storytelling, characters face scenarios where they must confront machines or artificial intelligence. This conflict type often examines the ethical implications and potential dangers of developing powerful technologies, such as in “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov or “The Matrix” films.

Character vs. Environment

Lastly, character vs. environment conflicts revolve around characters navigating challenging environments or adapting to new circumstances. These stories may blend elements of man versus nature and societal struggles, showcasing how individuals adapt to survive. Examples include “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel or “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.

Type Conflict Description Examples
Character vs. Character Protagonist-antagonist conflict Sherlock Holmes vs. Professor Moriarty, Batman vs. Joker
Character vs. Nature Man facing environmental obstacles “The Old Man and the Sea,” “Into the Wild”
Character vs. Society Struggle against societal norms or authorities “The Hunger Games,” “1984”
Character vs. Technology Confronting technology’s consequences “Frankenstein,” “The Terminator”
Character vs. Supernatural Battle with otherworldly forces “Dracula,” “The Shining”
Character vs. Fate/Destiny Struggle with predetermined destiny “Oedipus Rex,” “Macbeth”
Character vs. Machine/AI Confronting artificial intelligence “I, Robot,” “The Matrix”
Character vs. Environment Navigating challenging environments “Life of Pi,” “The Road”

Understanding the various types of external conflict empowers writers to craft dynamic and engaging stories that resonate with readers while effectively exploring the full spectrum of human experience.

Examples of External Conflict

Sailor confronting a large whale in stormy sea, stylized illustration.

External conflicts are the driving forces behind compelling narratives and add depth to a story by challenging the protagonist and assisting in their growth. In this section, we’ll examine some iconic examples of external conflict that showcase character struggles, overcome adversity, and exemplify the hero’s journey.

Harry Potter in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

In J.K. Rowling’s first installment of the bestselling series, Harry Potter discovers he’s a wizard and embarks on a journey that takes him to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. One of the major external conflicts he faces involves thwarting the return of the dark wizard, Lord Voldemort. Harry, along with his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, must navigate through life-threatening obstacles to protect the Sorcerer’s Stone, the key to Voldemort’s resurgence. This conflict propels the narrative forward and sets the stage for the hero’s journey.

Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo’s monumental novel, “Les Misérables,” showcases the life of ex-convict Jean Valjean as he grapples with society’s expectations and his own troubled past. Valjean faces numerous external conflicts throughout the narrative, including evading the relentless pursuit of the law in the form of Police Inspector Javert. Another significant conflict arises from Valjean’s decision to care for and protect the young orphan, Cosette, amidst the backdrop of social unrest and revolution. These conflicts play a critical role in shaping Valjean’s hero’s journey and eventual redemption.

Ishmael and crew in “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville

Herman Melville’s iconic novel, “Moby-Dick,” tells the story of the whaling ship Pequod, led by Captain Ahab on a vengeful quest for the titular white whale. The primary external conflict centers around man’s struggle against nature, embodied by the massive and elusive Moby-Dick. The secondary conflicts arise from Ahab’s obsession and the crew’s efforts to survive the hardships and dangers of the sea. This epic adventure serves as a prime example of characters confronting overwhelming odds to weave an unforgettable tale.

In conclusion, these narrative examples illustrate the profound impact that external conflicts can have on a story, effectively driving the plot and contributing to the hero’s journey. A skilled storyteller will craft a tale full of intricate internal and external conflicts, creating a captivating narrative that resonates with readers.

Balancing Internal & External Conflicts

Person standing at a crossroads inside a time hourglass, life choices metaphor

Mastering the intricate art of integrating conflict is essential for dynamic storytelling. The key lies in striking the perfect balance between internal and external conflicts. By harmonizing these story elements, you can create intricate plot and character arcs that captivate readers and lead to narrative satisfaction.

Begin by identifying the primary internal and external conflicts, their origins, and how they affect your protagonist’s growth. Ensure each character faces sufficient challenges from both types of conflict, letting them tackle their struggles while grappling with external forces. This adds depth and complexity to your narrative, keeping your audience engaged throughout the story.

Examine the pacing of your narrative and consider how it’s affected by the presence and resolution of conflicts. With a well-balanced blend of internal and external conflicts, your story will maintain its excitement and intensity, leading to an unforgettable journey for both your characters and readers alike. Remember, balancing these vital elements in your storytelling will result in compelling, satisfying narratives that stand the test of time.


What is the key to creating epic story battles?

The key to creating epic story battles is the masterful deployment of conflicts, both internal and external, as they shape characters, propel plots, and engage readers, providing the cornerstone for unforgettable tales.

Why is conflict important in literature?

Conflict is important in literature because it introduces the central struggle that characters must navigate, creating dramatic tension and serving as a catalyst for storytelling. It is essential for character development and plot progression.

What is the difference between internal and external conflict?

Internal conflict unfolds within a character’s mind, represented by their personal challenges, desires, and beliefs. External conflict, on the other hand, occurs between characters and outside forces, such as antagonistic forces, nature, or society.

How does internal conflict contribute to character development?

Internal conflict contributes to character development by illustrating the introspective journeys characters undertake, providing insight into their emotions, beliefs, and decision-making processes. It also adds depth to the storyline, making it more relatable and engaging for readers.

Can you provide examples of internal conflict in literature?

Examples of internal conflict in literature include Hamlet’s complex inner struggle in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Bennet’s emotional growth in “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, and Raskolnikov’s moral dilemmas in “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

How does external conflict affect plot progression?

External conflict propels plot progression by presenting challenges and obstacles that characters must confront and overcome, shaping their journeys and the overall narrative.

What are some examples of external conflict in literature?

Examples of external conflict in literature include Harry Potter’s battle against Voldemort in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling, Jean Valjean’s struggle with Javert in “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo, and Ishmael and crew’s pursuit of the great white whale in “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville.

How can a writer balance both internal and external conflicts in a story?

A writer can balance both internal and external conflicts in a story by integrating them effectively, managing their impact on pacing, and utilizing them to craft compelling character arcs and engaging narratives that satisfy readers.

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