Conflict in Stories

Every good story has a problem of some kind.  In literary terms the problem is called a conflict.  Conflict is part of what keeps the story flowing.  There are several main types of conflict found within stories.

External Confict

External conflicts are problems between the main character and other people or things around him. A story may have several of these conflicts throughout it that the main character has to overcome to succeed.  There are three general categories of external conflict.

  • Character vs. Character – In this conflict, the main character struggles with another character.  This does not necessarily mean an actual fight, although it could be that.  It could also be seen in an argument, a disagreement, or having to go against the wishes of someone else to do the right thing.
  • Character vs. Society – This conflict sees the main character struggling against what society thinks of him or how society treats him.  Instead of just disagreeing with one person (like in character vs. character), the main character has to overcome an entire group of people’s disapproval.  Again, this can be seen in many different ways.  Maybe a whole town doesn’t want the character to open a new store, or an entire class chooses to pick on the new student.
  • Character vs. Nature – In this conflict, the character must battle against something in nature.  A storm, a vicious animal, even the wilderness a character gets lost in can be part of a nature conflict.

Often the main character in a novel will face several of these conflicts as he attempts to solve his larger problem.  These conflicts throughout a book cause the readers to question whether or not the main character will be able to accomplish his ultimate goal in the story.

Internal Conflict

The other main type of conflict is internal conflict.  Instead of focusing on the situations around the main character, internal conflict is found within the heart and mind of the main character.  A character struggling to make a right decision, a character who doubts his ability to continue on, a character who is forced to confront his own fears are all examples of internal conflict.  Internal conflict is harder for children to identify and recognize, but it is a great way for authors to increase the reader’s understanding of the character.

Recognizing Conflict in Stories

You can help your child understand the conflict in stories by simply pointing out to your child when a conflict is taking place.  Stop reading after a major conflict in a novel and discuss the conflict.  Who was the main character struggling against?  How did he get through the conflict?  Was that an internal or external conflict?  If it was external, what specific type of conflict was it?  These questions will help your child begin to analyze the conflicts in stories as they read independently as well.

How do you help your child recognize the conflicts in the stories they read?

Elementary Reading Curriculum at Smart Tutor



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