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Conflict in Short Story Writing

Updated on June 21, 2014
Conflict Is The Heart Of The Short Story
Conflict Is The Heart Of The Short Story

An Example of How Writers Can Build a Story Through Conflict

Where does conflict come from? It can either be internal: jealousy, revenge, unrequited love. It can be internal or external. External conflict may stem from the environment – an earthquake, famine, nuclear war, a giant meteorite colliding with earth.

It can be internal, caused through differences between two characters (most commonly used). Or a conflict with circumstances which may or may not be raised by the main character. The protagonist could experience conflict between his 'good' side and his 'dark' side. Like Jekyll and Hyde.

"Rachel did not know how long she had been running. Two years ago she had escaped from the orphanage inside the washerwoman’s bundle of clothes, but they had found her cowering beneath the ruined bridge that led to freedom. Her small, child's body still carried the scars of the whipping she had received as punishment.

As she ran, she kept glancing over her shoulder for signs of pursuit. If only she could get to the Enchanted Forest before they could find her! They said no one ever returned from the forest and those that did, emerged without memories.

She wanted to forget. How she wanted to forget! Forget the beatings, the bland margarine, the crowded dormitories, the squabbling of children, the chores they inflicted upon her and the fact that she did not know who her parents were."

Tips To Create Conflict In The Short Story
Tips To Create Conflict In The Short Story | Source

The Conflict Begins

Rachel has run away from the orphanage and must reach the Enchanted Forest before they can find her. But there is another more major conflict here and it is her turmoil over not knowing who her parents are.

"She had walked but a few yards when she heard it – the wild, sweet longing of pipes and the past fell away from her."

The Seeds of Conflict in the Short Story

Who is the musician? Will he/she harm Rachel?

"A twig snapped under her feet. He turned to look at her, his beautiful face framed with a mass of dark curls. He lowered the reed pipes from his lips hurriedly, moved toward a tree as though to hide, then came to her and shyly held out his hand. She took it with a smile."

God Pan With The Pipes Creates Conflict In The Short Story
God Pan With The Pipes Creates Conflict In The Short Story | Source

Conflict: Why is the Piper Shy?

"You play beautifully," Rachel said.

"I owe that to the great Pan. It is his gift."

"How did Pan make your pipe?"

"He was chasing a reluctant nymph who turned herself into a clump of reeds to get away from him. But even then he loved her and made her into pipes because he could not live without her."

"What a lovely story!" cried Rachel, laughing and wondered whether she had ever been loved."

Conflict: Rachel Longs for Love


"And then she heard a wail. Closer it came, till she saw it was a woman in a tattered white dress, her hair gold like hers, loose and tangled, her eyes wild with dark circles beneath them, and she asked, "Who is she?"

"No one knows, not even she," said the Piper, "she wails as though she remembers a grief that has no name. Perhaps she mourns a lost child."

"A lost child!" cried Rachel, and was perturbed for she did not know why she was drawn to the grieving woman who was now rocking herself silently upon the marble platform, her cheeks wet with tears, brimming eyes looking into empty space, arms embracing knees."

Conflict: Who is this Mysterious, Mourning Woman? Why is Rachel Drawn to Her?


The Piper takes Rachel for a ride on his winged horse and on the way they decide to explore a castle. Inside, they are greeted with sinister laughter and a light leads them to a room.

"Be gone!" shrieked a voice from the shrouded bed.

But the light led them to a corner where stood upright, a crystal sarcophagus.

Within, they saw a beautiful lady in a red silk gown. Her long hair was black like a raven's wing and upon her pale brow rested a sparkling diadem. Her lovely green eyes seemed to plead to them."

Conflict: Will the Piper Free the Lady from the Sarcophagus?


"Will you stay?" Aina asked him in a hushed voice.

Rachel longed to return to the Temple of Pan and the woman with hair gold like her own.

"You don't really know me, Princess," said the Piper.

"You have set me free. What else ought I to know?" A frown puckered Aina's pale brow.

"This!" he cried and removed his boots with a flourish. Goat hooves gleamed in the light of the moon; a toss of curls revealed pointed ears."

The Protagonist Must Make a Choice

For conflict to be truly effective, the author should show both sides of the coin. What are the pros and cons of the choices the protagonist has? For example, Rachel must choose to stay in the orphanage or run. She must choose between remaining with The Piper despite his cloven hooves, or going her own way.

Bring opposites together and conflict is the inevitable result. Most short stories have some kind of conflict. A good way to understand how conflict affects a story is to read stories and analyse them.

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