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Friday, October 6

Day Six: Idea to Novel Workshop: Creating the Novel's Conflict

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Six of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. The first twelve days will focus on developing the story and getting all the pieces in place so we can more easily plot the entire novel.

Today, we’re looking at your novel’s conflict in preparation for developing the antagonist. This might seem a little backward, but if you’re sure what type of conflict you have, it’s a lot harder to know who the bad guy is.

Choose a Conflict Type


Conflict is vital to any novel, but it isn’t always between people. Some novels pit the protagonist against society or a natural disaster. Others have the traditional protagonist vs. antagonist setup, or protagonist vs. protagonist. Let’s look at the four classic conflict types, how they define the basic conflict structure, and how they affect the antagonist.

Person vs. Person

This is a character against another character, people vs. people, even if those people are non-human. They’re still a character like any other. The person standing in the protagonist’s way is another person. A person is the antagonist.

For example:
  • An alien bounty hunter wants to capture the protagonist and sell her to the highest bidder.
  • A scientist needs to find the cure to stop a madman with a virus.
  • An orphan girl needs to save her sister from bad men.

Person vs. Self

This is when the protagonist is at odds with herself and fighting something personal and internal. The person standing in the way of the protagonist is the protagonist. The antagonist is often represented by another character or a place or object that carries great emotional meaning.

For example:
  • A drug addict who refuses to stay in rehab
  • A man who ignores all the signs that he’s seriously ill
  • A girl who alienates all her friends to hang out with the cool crowd

If the conflict doesn’t involve one person against another, then it might be a Person vs. Society or Person vs. Nature novel. In these types of novels, the antagonist is something to overcome or survive. A blizzard must be endured, a law must be changed (or a person unfairly condemned by that law must be freed). Something is keeping the protagonist from winning, and that something plays the role of antagonist.

Person vs. Society

This is when the protagonist has a problem with something that is status quo in the world. It’s not any one person who is causing trouble, it’s how things are being done. Everyone is standing in the protagonist’s way, but not everyone is at fault. The antagonist is often represented by another character that shares or symbolizes the society and its problems.

For example:
  • A man tries to change an unfair law.
  • A girl rebels against a tyrannical society that forces kids into slavery.
  • A woman questions why she can’t go to school like her brother.

Person vs. Nature

This is when the protagonist is up against nature, and that is what’s keeping her from her goal. There is no person standing in the protagonist’s way, it’s the world itself. The antagonist is something that must be endured.

For example:
  • A woman is trapped in a blizzard and has to survive.
  • Kids lost in the forest need to find their way home.
  • A group of fishermen battle a raging storm.

Here are some things to consider when developing your conflict.

1. What type of conflict is your novel?

2. What type of conflict is preventing your protagonist from succeeding?

3. What type of conflict might produce the best antagonist for this story?

EXERCISE: Write down the conflict type you feel would work best for your novel. Explain why.


It’s okay if the details of that conflict are still unformed, but try to pinpoint the type of conflict if you can. Not only will this force you to consider the potential obstacles in your protagonist’s way, it will make it easier later to determine what your core conflicts are, and how the antagonist fits into that conflict.

If you’re not sure or think it could be a combination of conflicts, go ahead and write both down. You can pick a specific antagonist tomorrow. Sometimes it’s not always clear, or you decide to change it as the novel develops.

The conflict could change as you develop your novel, so don’t worry if you have a few possibilities at this stage. If there are multiple types of conflict, you might decide to use all of them for different characters or plot arcs. What matters most is to think about the conflict and the areas where your characters are going to hit obstacles. One common reason novels get rejected is due to a lack of conflict, so it’s important to build strong conflicts into your characters.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Four goes into more extensive detail on developing your conflict and determining the type of conflict you have.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at ways to develop your antagonist.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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1 comment:

  1. so much to consider. I am falling behind but enjoy each days lesson. Thank you

    ReplyDelete