The 3 types of conflict that your protagonist can encounter

An illustration of a forking path with mountains rising in the background.

Conflict is at the heart of any gripping story. Without it, your narrative is like a ship on calm waters – a bit dull, with little to challenge the protagonist or captivate your readers. Diverse and unexpected conflicts propel your plot forward and contribute to character development.

Inner conflict: The battlefield within

The first type of conflict, aptly named 'inner conflict', occurs within your protagonist's mind. It's the mental struggle stemming from opposing needs, desires, or emotions. It might look like your protagonist debating whether to take a high-risk action or dealing with guilt for past mistakes.

Inner conflict adds depth to your characters, making them more relatable and human. It drives character growth as the protagonist wrestles with their thoughts and feelings, often leading to self-revelation and change.

Personal conflict: The clash of characters

The second type of conflict is 'personal conflict', which is essentially your protagonist versus another character. It could be against an antagonist who actively works against your protagonist's goals or even a friend or family member whose interests diverge from those of the protagonist.

Personal conflicts create tension and intrigue in your narrative. They cause friction between characters, leading to dynamic and engaging interactions. These conflicts can prompt your protagonist to reconsider their beliefs, adapt their approach, or even transform their goals.

Extra-personal conflict: Battling external forces

Extra-personal conflicts involve your protagonist clashing with forces beyond their immediate circle. These conflicts are usually broader, encompassing societal pressures or natural disasters.

Vs society

One form of extra-personal conflict is societal. This occurs when your protagonist stands against societal norms, laws, or expectations. The threat of ostracisation, whether from society as a whole or from their family or found family, adds an extra layer of tension.

Vs nature

Another form of extra-personal conflict is your protagonist versus nature. In this type of conflict, the protagonist might struggle against a natural disaster like a hurricane, flood, or the worst winter of all time. The unpredictability and indifference of nature add to the suspense and drama in your story.

Mixing it up: Variety in conflict

While all three types of conflict can create tension and drive your plot forward, variety is crucial for keeping readers engaged. A story that continually explores different types of conflict is likely to surprise and captivate your readers.

However, the focus on certain types of conflict might differ depending on your genre. For instance, a psychological thriller might emphasise inner conflict, whereas an adventure novel might highlight conflict versus nature.

Conflict in the spotlight

Conflict – whether inner, personal, or extra-personal – drives your plot forward, complicates your characters' lives, and keeps your readers hooked. So, when you're next crafting your narrative, don't shy away from the conflict. Instead, let it take the spotlight and watch as your story unfolds.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.