Head to Head

For the next few weeks, I’m going to do a series of posts on the conflicts that can be found in a narrative. Depending where you look, and whose advice you ask, there’s anywhere from 4-10 types of conflict that can drive a plot. I’m only going to cover six, though. Those being:

Character vs. Character

A protagonist up against an antagonist is the most common conflict you’ll find. The good guy vs. the bad guy. Two different characters who have different visions for the world of your story. There’s lots of ways to play with this, as your hero doesn’t always have to be a hero in the traditional sense and your villain can have redeeming, even sympathetic qualities. In fact, villains are often more well-rounded and better characters when we can understand why they’re opposing the hero. We don’t have to agree with them, or maybe we do, but at least we ‘get it.’

You can also write evil for the sake of evil, but when writing a villian who is pure evil and simply wants to bring about the downfall of the hero with no ulterior motive except they’re the bad guy, the world building is important. We need to know how this kind of evil came to be in your world, why it exists, and why it’s specifically targeting your hero. I myself and not big fan of evil for the sake of evil, but if it’s set in a suitably entertaining and believable narrative, I’m much more inclined to accept it and even enjoy it. I notice this tends to pop up a lot in horror, sci-fi, and children’s stories, which is an amusing dichotomy in itself. (Although, I personally believe horror is closer to Character vs. Nature as I see monsters as being part of nature, but I’ll discuss this more when I cover that subject.)

Also, a hero who’s good for the sake of good can get preachy and pandering, so you have to be careful. Again, the world and the narrative becomes important if your hero is purely virtuous simply because they’re the good guy. This is why even most superheroes tend to be complex and struggle with their own less-than-perfect character traits. Readers like stories that work in gray areas, because most people are not all good or all bad in real life. We like to see that even the best people are capable of screwing up, just like us.

For Character vs. Character, you need:

  • A protagonist. Whether or not they’re a “hero” is up to you. This is the person the story focuses on, and the story is about what they want, what they want to accomplish. Ideally, in the end they win, even if it’s at a price. At least some part of the mission they set out on at the beginning of the story is achieved.
  • An antagonist. Again, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a “villain,” as they may very well be right in their own respect. However, their main purpose through the narrative is to block your protagonist’s efforts. They don’t see things the way your protagonist does and they want to stop them. In the end they lose, at least partially, and things are forever changed in some way.
  • A conflict. This goes without saying, of course, but the struggle between two people also needs to be believable in the sense of your story. It should be based around their behaviors, the situation they find themselves in, and the reader should never have to stretch really hard to figure out why these two people would be bopping each other over the head. There should also be foreshadowing that these two will clash at some point, and everything will be decided.

And there we have it, our first type of conflict. The most common one, I would argue. What makes a good Character vs. Character conflict for you?

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