Writing / Editing Tips

What makes a great story? Character conflict


What makes a great story?


What drives plot forward, besides a strong, identifiable goal?

Character Conflict

Character conflict can be interpreted in many ways. Characters can conflict with one another. Characters are met with obstacles / conflicts as they try to achieve their goal. There’s also internal character conflict.

Warning: almost all of these examples include SPOILERS for the movie or book mentioned

 Examples of Character conflict:

Shiloh: by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Cute book about a boy and a dog he finds in the woods. Aww. Where does the conflict arise? The actual owner of the dog is an all around mean guy, and abusive toward his hunting dogs. The dog doesn’t like him, and keeps running away. Marty finds him in the woods and builds a little home for him. He names him Shiloh. Of course, this is against every single other character’s advice. His parents forbid him to do it. The dog’s owner comes around looking for the dog. and Mary lies that it hasn’t been around. Marty gets the idea that he could earn money and buy the dog, but the owner refuses. Conflict in character personalities; conflict in character morals. All of this conflict is essential and brings this story to life.

A light to my Path: By Lynn Austin

(I’ll try not to spoil too much here:) In this slightly romantic, civil war era, historical fiction novel, two slaves fall in love. However, they are very different in personality and upbringing, which causes extreme conflict. Grady grew up under abusive masters for nine years of his life. When he was finally sold to a good, non-abusive man, he had a good life, (in terms of slavery…) However, he continued to harbor bitterness and resentment toward all white men and wants nothing more than to escape. Then he falls in love with Kitty. She is the house slave of the new mistress of the plantation whom Grady’s master recently married. Kitty is very submissive, I-would-do-anything for her mistress. She’s terrified at the thought of escaping the plantation, even when the war begins and the opportunity arises. The two personalities conflict, love is slow and gradual, and each is forced to make heartbreaking decisions.

Pixar’s UP

After the beautiful montage of Carl Fredrickson and his late wife, we discover that Carl is a cranky old geezer with one goal: to find Paradise Falls  – and take his house with him. Then we meet this cute little chubby kid named Russell who could not be more different than Carl. He’s peppy, helpful, wants to be useful, kind-hearted, lovable. Carl’s crankiness is in direct conflict with Russell’s I-want-to-help attitude. Their constant conflicts throughout the movie make this movie the unique, hilarious delight that it is. What would this movie be without a character like Russell? Forgettable.

Beauty and the Beast:

She’s a beautiful woman, with manners and a kind heart. He’s an ugly monster with bad manners and terrible people skills. Somehow they fall in love? Awww. This is the entire premise for the story. Without the stark conflicting differences in characters, there would be no story.

Can you think of other examples of conflict within movies or books? Let me know your favorite in the comments!

Check out the rest of my series on what elements make a great story:

What makes a great story? High stakes

What makes a great story? Misunderstandings

What makes a great story? The little things



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