Weekly Musing: The Basics Part Four – Conflict and Resolution

This week we come to the conclusion of my four part series on the literary basics. For a quick recap see my previous posts on Character, Plot, and Setting. For the fourth and final installment I’ll be discussing Conflict and Resolution.

The definition of Conflict is a choice or situation the protagonist faces at the beginning of the story must be solved or not. Essentially, conflict is the reason for the plot, the characters, and the setting. Below are listed the different kinds of conflict.

Internal – As the name suggests, internal conflict is one in which the protagonist battles himself. Something happens that forces the protagonist to question himself. This may lead to a moral dilemma. The protagonist’s internal conflict can also manifest itself as a battle to overcome a perceived or real deficiency in order to “win”.

External – This type of conflict is a result of some other person or object or concept that the protagonist has a problem with. There several kinds external conflict with some debate as to whether a couple of them should be their own category or included with another one.

Man vs. Man: The most common type of conflict, it consists of one person or a group against another person or group.

Man vs. Nature: Another popular type, it consists of a person against either a force of nature, such as outrunning a powerful storm, or animal, like in Moby Dick.

Man vs. Society: In this type of external conflict, the protagonist is battling an institution, tradition, or laws of his culture in which he struggles with but ultimately either comes to accept his situation, is beaten by it, or overcomes it. Think of such stories as 1984 and many dystopian based novels.

Man vs. Supernatural: Some argue this should be included with Man vs. Nature since the Supernatural is an extension of the natural just unexplainable. Personally, I think this is definitely separate from Man vs. Nature because it’s hard to compare battling werewolves with being surrounded by actually wolves. One’s made up, while the other is real.

Man vs. Technology: A newer kind of conflict thanks to the acceleration in technology from the Industrial Revolution to now. This can be used to show how technology is used against man to enslave him.

Man vs. Fate/God: Like Man vs. Supernatural, this one could be folded into one of the other categories such as either Man vs. Nature or Man vs. Self if the protagonist is battling fate, such as in Oedipus Rex, or the gods, such as in The Odyssey. Again, I personally believe stories in which an earthly creature struggles against fate/destiny or a god/gods in different because those concepts are abstract and don’t fit neatly into any other category.

Many stories often have more than one kind of conflict in them. For example, this is particularly true when the protagonist is on a journey. Not only is he battling several foes before reaching the Big Bad, but also along the way he may start to question their own will, thus creating an internal conflict that they must solve in order to overcome the main conflict.

All of this conflict within a story should ultimately lead to the apex, or climax of the story. What this simply means is everything that has happened in the story leads to one decisive event. Following the traditional three act structure, the climax traditionally comes somewhere toward the end of the middle part of the story.

Once we get the climax, we come to the last puzzle piece. Resolution is all the falling action after the climax and which propels the story to a resolution, or end. In the traditional three act structure a small percentage of the story is spent to tidy things up. Resolution doesn’t always necessarily mean that all a reader’s questions will be answered.

This last point is quite tricky because some believe resolutions and endings should be definitive with no room for doubt. Others are okay with some open endings as long as other things are satisfactorily concluded. Still others don’t mind completely open-ended endings. Of course, if a book is part of a series then some amount of unresolvedness is needed. How to end a story is difficult and is probably one of the reasons why many, many readers often feel dissatisfied at the conclusion. Personally, I’m okay with some ambiguity as life isn’t so nice and tidy and I don’t mind wondering “What happened?”


Hopefully this series has helped. I think it’s important as readers to understand the basics so that as we read and reflect we can understand the choices the characters make. Also, when we are having discussions with our friends, our book club, or online, we come across as an intelligent reader who can successfully defend their position. As writers it’s good to have a solid foundation on the basics to not only understand what readers expect, but then how to tweak those expectations. It also makes us look like we know what we’re doing even if at times it doesn’t feel that way.


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