Types of Conflicts used in Storytelling.

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The single most factor that defines the depth and height of a certain story is the underlying Conflict in it. Writing a well-graded conflict is always a challenge for a writer, yet it’s the key to making your story memorable in the minds of the audience forever. Today we are going to cover the Types of Conflicts used in Storytelling with tons of related examples from films. At the end of this piece, I am sure you’ll be having a deep understanding of it and will be able to employ both internal and external conflict in your own stories.

Joseph Campbell, one of the most prominent contributors to Art of Storytelling said,

“If you’re going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all.”

So, Let’s explore how to make our story big, by plotting interesting and unique conflicts.


Conflict drives Narrative

As humans, our curiosity builds up when two forces oppose one another, for example, two people may resort to war due to their differences in ideology, culture, or psychology. This clash in two opposing forces is called Conflict.


Internal Conflict

Internal conflicts are internal issues like mental, emotional, or spiritual struggles a character faces. In simpler terms, there are conflicting ideas, a character has within himself. Remember the famous line from Hamlet, “to be or not to be, that is the question” is a perfect example of internal conflict where a character is on the pathway and confused about which road to pursue.

Examples of Internal Conflict in Cinema

Examples of Internal Conflict in Cinema

Though it’s hard to weave a cinematic story only around internal conflict, still there are some perfect examples in the history of Cinema where just the use of Internal Conflict has been used as a foundation for a great story.

  • The internal struggle of Indiana Jones mending his relationship with his Father.
  • Frodo fights against the power of the ring in Lord of the Rings, deciding whether to throw the ring or keep it for his selfish gains.
  • Most rom-coms are examples of internal struggle.
  • Buzz Lightyear in the original Toy Story. He is conflicted because he thinks he’s Buzz Lightyear and not just a toy.
  • Other classic examples could be depression, alcoholism, fear of commitment, or even the evolving personality like the James McAvoy character in Split.

Inner conflict in a story can be plotted in a scene where two people are talking as dynamic (or maybe even more dynamic) than a scene of two people fighting. This clash of ideologies often provides ground for more depth and thought-provoking writing. The Sunset Limited is a perfect example of this clash.

Incorporating internal conflict in your screenplay will enhance the layers of your Characters. To achieve this, first recognize your characters’ virtues and then instill an engaging inner conflict in them to create a more vibrant character.

However, sometimes internal conflict is just not enough to weave a ratting story, and for that, we employ a compound conflict consisting of internal and external conflicts.


External Conflict

In simple terms, External conflict is the opposition a character faces in his pursuit towards his goal. The friction between the character and external conflict creates drama and moves the plot forward. In an external conflict, the character of the story may be struggling against another character, nature, or society.

External conflicts are often defined in contrast to internal conflict, in which the struggle is between a character and themselves—for example, between selfish and selfless impulses.

External and internal conflicts aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they can often play out simultaneously.


Examples of External Conflict in Cinema

Sometimes struggling on the outside is what causes the battle on the inside. Basically all good stories start when something goes wrong. No one wants to read a script or watch a TV show about a bunch of happy people.

When things go wrong, usually they become conflicts on every level of the character’s life. This kicks a story into gear.

  • Nazis chasing Indiana Jones to the ark enhances his struggle.
  • E.T. needs a way to go home.
  • Aliens invade the Earth in War of the Worlds
  • The authorities declare Batman a fugitive

The size of the external conflict is subjective. Even a small opposing force can have a grava impact on the character and can torment it deeply.


Blending Internal and External Conflict

Combining both internal and external conflict is a perfect blend for a great story. Simultaneous use of both these conflicts enhances characters’ struggle and psychologically, Audience loves to see a character suffering.

Blending Internal and External Conflict

Example of these blends are visible in the following

  • When Titanic is sinking, Rose has to decide whether she loves Jack or not, and wants to leave with him. The sinking of the Titanic is the external conflict while Rose’s own confusion demonstrates her internal struggle.
  • When in The Matrix, Morpheus has been abducted by Smith’s agents, Neo is conflicted to look inside to see if he is the chosen one or not.

A mix of both internal and external conflict leads to different types of Conflict in Storytelling.


Types of Internal and External Conflict

  1. Character vs. Self

As the title suggests, this kind of Conflict relies on the internal struggles of a character and subsides into the Internal Conflict Category.

In Character vs. Self, we traditionally follow what happens in the mind of a character. Often the internal struggles of a person creates external problems for it which resulted in drama that we all love. For example Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver suffering from existential crisis and PTSD initiates actions that result in bloodbath.

  1. Character vs. Character

Often conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist, who must be defeated, consists of Character vs. Character Conflict. This is probably the most common external struggle. We see it in comic book movies, Star Wars, and even in sitcoms like The Good Place.

Can Character vs. Character be internalized?  

Truly, if you internalize it, you get Character vs. Self, but then there are certain films where a spirit possesses a character, thus suggesting a character vs character internal struggle where two souls fight to take over one body.

  1. Character vs. Society

When the protagonist questions or rebels against the norms of the society or the whole community at large, it creates a rift called Character vs. Society conflict. Most works of literature that focus on this type of conflict are intended to encourage readers to examine how their own society functions in unjust ways.

Can you make Character vs. Society internal?

If one have seen Manchester By The Sea? A lot of the conflict in that film comes from how Casey Affleck’s character is viewed in his town after his actions causes the fire in his own house. How he deals with that society gaze, is a character vs. society conflict that is internal.

Think about Oscar in The Office. He was never conflicted about being gay, but it took multiple seasons for the other characters and Michael Scott to truly accept him.

  1. Character vs. Nature

In this type of conflict, the opposing force is not another person, but instead the natural world. The protagonist stuck in the natural wilderness, or threatened by a storm, or struck by a terrible disease, while he must fight for their life causes this conflict. Many adventure stories centre on a Character vs. Nature conflict.

There isn’t a better example here than Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away, where Tom Hanks is trapped in an alien island where he fights for his survival. Life of Pie is another great example.

In television, Lost Series is an epitome of Character vs. Nature.

But what’s the inner issue that arises with nature?

Characters like the Wolfman or even Fiona in Shrek are compelled to adapt nature in their own internal mind, submission to laws of nature. That might be their internal conflict in nature.

5.Character vs. Technology

In this type of external conflict, a character must fight against some element of technology, most often motivated by the will to survive or protect others in danger.

In most Character vs. Technology stories, the struggle between the main character and the opposing technology highlights human imperfection, greed, and fragility, utilizing strong internal conflict that showcases technology’s effect on society and/or the human mind.

Most movies where humans face conflict with Sentient Machine like in The Terminator Series are perfect examples of this kind of conflict.

  1. Character vs. Fate/Supernatural

In this category, a character faces the supernatural elements or the wrath of gods, vampires, or his own fate. The conflict here is that these elements are not physical or tangible in nature. They might be spiritual or a little biblical. Greek stories where Gods play a subtle yet prominent part can fall into this category.

Types of Internal and External Conflict

How do we weave internal and external conflict into our stories?

The core crux of any good story is Conflict. A story’s core arc can either showcase an external or an internal conflict. Your choice of conflict defines whether a story isplot- or character-driven, but it’s not at all uncommon for a single story to contain both types of conflict. In fact, I feel, both external and internal go hand to hand and thus create a mix that amplifies the drama.

If the conflicts are not increasing or decreasing in intensity and revolving at the same pace then it won’t be a bumpy ride and the story will seem like it is going for an endless loop. You need to incorporate both internal and external conflict to push or flip the character a little and keep the audience hooked.

How Does conflict help in pushing the story forward?

While writing, one must ask themselves in every scene whether the conflict or the hurdle they have introduced in the story is developing the character and taking the story forward. Hence, recognize the internal and external conflicts of every scene and merge them so as to maintain a proportion that will help you to develop your character.


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