What Are the 5 Different Types of Conflict?

Updated February 21, 2017

Stories keep our interest by building up tension and then releasing it. Writers create this tension by creating conflicts within the story. Usually the conflicts climax toward the end of the story, with the rest of the narrative tying up loose ends. There are five primary types of conflicts in literature. A written work may have just one or as many as all five of these conflicts.

Man versus man

In a man versus man conflict, a person struggles against another person in some way. The characters may be the same or different genders. This type of conflict may be subcategorised into conflicts of interest and physical conflicts. For example, a story about two employees fighting for the same promotion would be a conflict of interest. A story about two warriors fighting would be a physical conflict. Stories such as the classics "Beowulf" and "Moby Dick" show that man versus man conflicts don't always have to have two people as the conflicting characters and may be better described simply as character versus character.

Man versus nature

Man versus nature conflicts feature a character struggling against the environment. For example, a character might have to cross a dry desert or fight a raging stream. Some authors creatively combine man versus nature conflicts with man versus man conflicts, such as when Tolkien had trees (Ents) come alive and march on the character Saruman in "The Two Towers" of "The Lord of the Rings."

Man versus self

Man versus self conflicts are internal. They occur when a character struggles with two polar desires. For example, a character might lust after another character but avoid sexual intimacy because he also values chastity.

Man versus society

Man versus society conflicts occur when the beliefs or actions of a character don't match the beliefs or actions of the majority of other characters. These types of conflicts present a good opportunity for presenting an "underdog" who prevails against amazing odds. An example is found in the script for the movie "Idiocracy," in which the main character is smart and has to deal with life in a world of people with incredibly low intelligence.

Man versus supernatural

Man versus supernatural conflicts present characters who become involved with other characters or events that defy rational expectations or explanations. The simplest example of this is a ghost story. Man versus supernatural conflicts also might involve werewolves, vampires, UFOs, genies, voodoo and other forms of magic. Bram Stroker's classic, "Dracula," is an example of man versus supernatural conflict.

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About the Author

Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website,, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.