So you’re going to write a story. Great! What’s it about? You don’t know? Well, what’s your conflict? You aren’t sure? Well that’s a bit important! You need a conflict in order to have a story.
Well, it’s a good thing you came to me. I’ll break down my five essential conflicts, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get an idea of which one to go with.
Man vs. Nature
This is exactly as it sounds. This is when the protagonist goes against the elements, whether in the form of animal, weather, or sea. This is a classical archetype conflict. Usually, if you have man vs. nature, you can also pair it with another conflict, such as man vs. self or man vs. society.
This kind of conflict allows you to look into subjects such as survival, hunting, poaching, natural disasters, and fishing.
Examples of Man vs. Nature include: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, The Grey by Ian MacKenzie (also called Ghost Walker), Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, Twister (a movie, but still a great example!)
Man vs. Self
This is the story of internal struggle and doubt. With this conflict, you’re looking at your protagonist going against themselves. They have some kind of dilemma that they must struggle and agonize over, perhaps the decision to let one child live and one child die. This conflict can easily be paired with others, to help flesh out a story. We all have moments where we question ourselves, so this is a great conflict to play with.
This conflict gives you a chance to explore subjects such as self-doubt, body image, spiritualism, decision making, regret, and lost love.
Examples of Man vs. Self include: Black Swan (another movie, but great example), Precious by Sapphire, Julius Caeser by William Shakespeare, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, A Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Man vs. Man
Man vs. man is an age old conflict, and the most common one. This is the story of, as you guessed it, man vs. man. You have a protagonist and an antagonist, and they’re fighting over some kind of dilemma. This could be another man or woman, a piece of treasure or property, personal views on a subject, and so forth. The options are quite limitless and gives you plenty of things to explore.
Some subjects to consider: racism, sexism, conflict over love, absolute power, and animal rights.
Examples of Man vs. Man include: Almost everything. Pick up a book, and I guarantee there will be elements of this. But, for the sake of being consistent, you can look at by The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling, A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice, Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, and The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
Man Vs. Society
This is your protagonist against a societal situation, typically something along the lines of an oppressive government or political issue. Stories that do man vs. society can address a wide range of issues. You may not have your protagonist go up again one particular person, but instead a wide range of people, like a town or government officials. Man. Vs. Society is a great conflict to use in a dystopian setting.
Some ideas to address in this conflict are: human rights, civil issues, governmental oppression, poverty, capitalism, and Big Brother
Examples of Man vs. Society are: 1984 by George Orwell, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Man Vs. Technology
This one isn’t traditionally listed as a major conflict, but I feel like it is, so I added it. This one is, as you would guess, when your protagonist goes against technology. This can be in the form of AI, cyborg, alien, you name it. It could even address a civilization that is destroyed from the fall of technology. This is generally found in sci-fi stories and gives you a chance to explorer a new world. You can also go a dystopian route with this one too.
Subjects that can talked about are: reality perception, AIs, technology dependency, slavery, and space travel.
Examples of Man vs. Technology are: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, Do Electric Sheep Dream of Androids by Phillip K. Dick, Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson, Neuromancer by William Gibson, The Matrix Trilogy (another movie), and Sky Doll by Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa.
The great thing with these five conflicts is that you aren’t limited. You can take one or two and combined them together; you can also put your own original spin on the idea. Tolkien took the idea of man vs. nature and made it a dragon. You could go with a supernatural spin or mythological twist. Use these conflicts as the foundation for your story and then build to your heart’s content.