Character Conflict in TV, Literature, and Film Guides a Good Story

One of the most common literary conflicts are the following:

Character vs. Character. Two characters who come into direct conflict. This is often referred to as “Man vs. Man.” In this most basic of conflicts, one person, or like being, is in conflict with another person or like being. This conflict may play a large role and contribute to the development of both characters. There are usually several physical competitions, fights, battle of words, wits, will, emotions, arguments and / or disagreements before the climax is reached. The conflict is external. At the end of the story, one character may emerge victorious, or both characters may change a bit and learn to live with their differences.

Character vs. Self is the theme that places a character against his or her own will, confusion or fears. This conflict can also be where a character tries to find out who he or she is or comes to a realization or a change in character. Internal conflicts make story characters seem more realistic. A character may be trying to make a decision, to understand an issue, to overcome a problem, or simply to grow as a human being. By watching characters struggle to resolve inner conflicts, we can gain insight into the characters and into real-life people. Although the struggle is internal, the character can be influenced by external forces. The struggle of the human being to come to a decision is the basis of Character vs. Self.

In Character vs. Society, a character or a group of characters are in conflict with a society’s social traditions or norms. Society itself is often looked at as single character, just as an opposing party would be. There are many science fiction films set in the future where a character is up against the society and their rules and/or traditions. When characters follow their own beliefs they often come into conflict with society. Their struggles may involve efforts to gain acceptance, to understand the values of another culture, to establish their own identity, or to correct injustices. Important aspects of character are revealed through this type of conflict.

Character vs. Nature is the conflict we see in so many of those types of films. For example, the main characters in Titanic, Rose and Jack are attempting to escape the ship, which is sinking. This conflict places a character against the forces of nature. The conflict is external but there may be some internal conflict as the character is often forced to survive and face their own fears. This can make a powerful story. Tales of wilderness survival, of harrowing treks by land or sea, and of floods, storms, and other natural disasters are filled with suspense that keeps one interested in the story. A character’s conflict with nature also reveals his or her personality. In a battle against the elements, traits such as competence and incompetence, wisdom and foolishness, cowardice and courage stand out.

Character vs. Destiny in some stories characters struggle against fate – fixed unchangeable destiny. Whether or not we admire their efforts, we usually find the conflict compelling. As humans we all would like to be in charge of his or her own destiny.


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