What do we mean in literary terms by conflict?


  • Conflict is achieved by the author deliberately constructing obstacles in the story.
  • The result of conflict means that pace can be added to the story and moral dilemmas can appear.
  • It also creates tension.

Tell me more about the use of conflict in a story?

  • A character has to aim for an end goal.  If the character gets to their goal without any obstacles in the way then you will create a dull story for the reader, unless they personally know the character.  The obstacles have to oppose the characters desire to reach their goal.  The more the obstacles oppose then the more conflict there is created in the story.
  • In order for us to care about the character which is what makes a good story then we have to see them overcome obstacles in their way, whether they achieve their goal or not when they reach their final destination.
  • An enviable position for a writer to be in is for their character to be despised by the reader and then for the reader to be forced to like the character.  This trick is not always possible to use in the story that you are writing but makes way for a thrilling read if it can be managed.
  • When you are trying to write a story with a goal in mind for your character and hurdles lie in between, you have to continually ask yourself ‘what’s going to happen next?’ as you progress your way through each obstacle.  The reader has to think this too when reading.  Hurdles are usually a violent upset and disagreement and sometimes they involve violence.
  • To create conflict then each hurdle will be of either a mental, physical or emotional nature.  Depending on the genre of the story you may have a mixture of hurdles or they may be all more or less of a similar type.  If you are writing an action packed adventure then you may choose to have more physical hurdles rather than mental or emotional ones.
  • An emotional hurdle is one that is pertaining to or involving emotion or the emotions.  Whereas a mental hurdle is executed or performed by the mind; existing in the mind e.g. mental images of happy timesA physical hurdle would be characterized by especially rugged and forceful physical activity.  Emotional hurdles are harder to write about as you have to show the reader what they are and make the reader care.
  • If you take your character out of your story and improve his characterisation and put him back in to the story then you can make the conflict more realistic as you know your character better.
  • It is also possible to slow the pace down by adding in a girl to your story plot but this depends on the genre.  A romantic involvement could distract the main character from concentrating on reaching his goal as quickly.  You can look at this blog page for information on pace:


  • If an unreliable witness is introduced into a story then they can get in the way of your characters goal.  They do this by warping and twisting the characters desire to achieve their goal and force your character out of their comfort zone.  This can make for some very interesting reading and cause lots of conflict to the character whilst they are trying to achieve everything that they want to achieve.
  • It is interesting to read and study how conflict can be shown in a stand-alone story or for example a large story over a three part book.
  • Your character may have a goal that has nothing to do with the story itself.  It is possible for the character to perceive where they want their end goal to be but they may end up taking a totally different route.  It would depend on what genre you are writing in to help decide what is the most important goal overall for your character.

A simple exercise that you can follow to show what conflict is all about:

In class we took part in an individual short exercise.  Firstly we had to write a simple goal down for an imaginary character.  Then we had to draw a time line and mark it up from start to finish with lines of possible hurdles that the character could come across on his way from the start to the end of his journey.  A character follows an overriding arc.  Once these hurdles were listed we then had to flesh them out with further detail and make sure that they were either a mental, emotional or physical hurdle, depending on the genre of the story.   Within just twenty minutes I’d managed to outline a story with six hurdles of conflict and I’d fleshed them out to create a plot good enough to start to write a short story.  It was truly amazing, quick, accurate and fun way to create an interesting story plot idea.

I hope that you have found this article useful, please feel free to comment and share.

Thank you

Lee.   🙂

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