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Types of Conflict in Literature: What is Internal and External Conflict

Updated on May 23, 2013

What is conflict?

Conflict gives a story meaning and motivation. Conflict is a struggle between two different forces - opposing forces. It can be a batter and a pitcher in a baseball game. The subtle grimace a parent makes when reviewing a report card. Conflict is a regular part of our every day lives. Aside from conflict in literature we see conflict on the news, sitcoms, movies and reality TV. We experience our own conflict on the road, school or in the workplace. Conflict is everywhere and most of us are on a mission to resolve our conflict. And, so do the characters in novels, short stories and various other narratives.

Conflict: Internal and External

There are two types of conflict in literature:

Internal conflict is within the character's mind. Internal conflict can be described as a struggle between opposing forces of desire or emotions within a person.

External is a conflict between a character and an outside force.

Categories of Conflict

  • Man vs Nature (external)
  • Man vs Man (external)
  • Man vs Self (internal)
  • Man vs Society (external)

Conflict: Man vs Nature


  • This type of conflict portrays a story's main character or characters against a natural force such as a natural disaster, a fire, an aggressive animal, illness or environmental issues.

    Tsunami in Japan

    Earthquake in Haiti

    Hurricane Katrina

    BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Conflict: Man vs Self


  • The character struggles to overcome a fear, perhaps an addiction, emotional issues or personal crossroads in life. This type of conflict can be indirectly shared by other characters as supporters or simply as witnesses. Internal conflict can include troubles with decision making, personality traits, spirituality or physical disabilities.

Conflict: Man vs Man


  • This conflict is usually the protagonist dealing with the antagonist. The antagonist provides some form of conflict against the protagonist. The conflict can be physical or mentally stressful.

Conflict: Man vs Society


  • In many stories, the protagonist battles an unjust form of government, culture, possibly a holiday or any society based group. This could also include Man VS Church.

Types of Conflict

Internal Conflict

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    • profile image

      tired 4 years ago

      Innovation. Modern literature leaves much to be desired.

    • profile image

      hi 5 years ago

      hello yall

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ....well drama is the essence of conflict and conflict is the essence of drama and without it we would have no story or narrative incentive - love your inquisitive mind and open mind too - cerebral tools we all must have in order to pursue higher learning and spiritual/intellectual enlightenment - and which you obviously have both - off to bed now after night shift - lake erie time 7:30am ontario canada and will return to you later on in the day my friend ....... stay well and keep writing - you have a great attitude!