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  • brent

Three Levels of Conflict

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Like the body needs blood flowing through its veins, so too does a story need conflict pulsing through its narrative. A body without blood is a mannequin. A story without conflict is equally lifeless.

Conflict can take many forms, so it's handy to categorizes them. Three is the magic number: internal, social, environmental.


The battle against ourselves. Thoughts that are never spoken. Anger that boils silently. The fight to keep our masks in place.

The contrast between inner conflict and outward appearances is one of the best methods for pulling readers into the story. Here is where our character's blind spot gets "negatively revealed" - where readers know full well what the character refuses to acknowledge. Reader superiority can be a delightful state.


The battle against others. Interpersonal differences playing out. Clever words that sting. Actions that humiliate. The collisions we suffer or the ones we cause.

There's a reason most stories involve a cast of characters.

Social conflicts can range from nuanced threats at the royal ball to gang members in a street brawl and everything in between. Action and dialogue make up the bulk of many novels.

The delight is found in clever banter or in the adrenaline of the chase.


The battle against nature. The trembling of the earth.

  • The rain that washes out a beach wedding.

  • The snow that traps a family in their van.

  • The shark that terrorizes a boat filled with refugees.

  • The sheer force of nature can be a harrowing opponent.

  • Washed ashore on a deserted island.

  • The moon hurtling through the galaxy after mother Earth explodes.

  • The storm of the century bearing down on a small coastal city.

The delight is in the struggle against something greater than ourselves, forcing perspective onto our petty difficulties. A reminder that someone or something bigger than us is in charge.

One of these levels must be present to keep the story alive.

Some of my favourite novels and movies have chapters and scenes that employ 2 or even all 3 levels of conflict - our hero doubting her own powers while confronting bad guys armed to the teeth as an earthquake pulls skyscrapers down all around them.

That ought to get the blood pumping!

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