Back to Basics: Conflict

Updated: Jul 7

For February, the Back to Basics skills course is conflict.

Why is conflict so important to a story? Conflicts are what drive characters to act. Characters can find themselves in conflict with themselves or outside forces like the world or other characters. As MasterClass puts it, conflict both provides purpose and helps with character development. To build conflict, try considering something that your character wants and create an obstacle standing in their way.


John Doe wants to bake cookies, but he doesn’t have any of the ingredients.

Here, we have established what John wants as well as the obstacle standing in his way. Obstacles are great because they complicate things for characters. If every character got what they wanted right away, the story would be uninteresting. You would also risk detaching readers from the story since they wouldn’t be able to connect with the characters. If you make your characters’ desires harder to obtain, it gives them a mission that they need to complete. This helps the readers stay interested in the story and want to see where the character goes next.

Another way to really understand conflict is to figure out whether the conflict is internal or external. With an internal conflict, your character is struggling with something on the inside.


John Doe wants to attend a certain university, but is afraid he isn’t smart enough to get in.

Here, the internal conflict is John’s fear that he isn’t smart enough. Internal conflict is also often referred to as Character vs Self. Character vs Self stories can be incredibly compelling because of how personal and relatable the story can be. Character vs Self stories serve as opportunities to delve deep into the psyche of a character and their backstory. Hannah Yang of ProWritingAid says, “The best internal conflicts grow out of events in the protagonist’s backstory. Readers will root for a selfish, snobby, or cynical character as long as they understand why that character is selfish, snobby, or cynical.”


John Doe wants to attend a certain university, but is afraid he isn’t smart enough to get in since he was held back a year in high school.

By adding in that John was held back for a year in school, it makes it much easier for a reader to sympathize with John and want to see him succeed.


It’s worth noting that different types of conflict lend themselves to different genres. A Character vs Self story may work great for a psychological thriller, but it might not be a good fit for a fast-paced intergalactic epic. If internal conflicts are not your style, try an external conflict. For external conflicts, your character has to struggle with some sort of outside force. Outside forces can either be in the form of another character (Character vs Society), or in the form of the world itself (Character vs Nature). Let’s look at an example of Character vs Nature.


John Doe wants to go h