Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter C




 is for Conflict




Conflict is what drives the plot forward. It also supports character development. Without conflict there is no story, end of story.

There are generally 3 main types of conflict authors use, person vs. self, person vs. person, and person vs. society. There are other sub-types, such as person vs. machine/technology (which could be lumped into person vs. society), person vs. the Gods (which is a type of person vs. person conflict), to name a few.

Person vs. Self

Internal monologue is a hallmark of person vs. self conflict, in which a person struggles over a decision. Quite often, the character weighs the pros and cons of his/her situation in an effort to gain control of a predicament.

He brushed away a blood-soaked lock of hair from her forehead. It left behind a copper trail. Her skin was pale, her lips and cheeks inordinately red where her makeup had clung in spite of the blood that had left her. Nigel cursed himself for the situation in which he was in. Maybe if he’d let her know how he felt, things might’ve been different. If she’d only known it was he who truly loved her, not the thug that had fired the bullet that ended her life. If she’d have known, perhaps she would have declined to follow Posner to this room because she’d worry for him and what he’d think.

Chicken or Egg: A Love Story

In this example, Nigel berates himself for not expressing his love for Paula while she was alive, a mistake he vows to correct when he travels back to a time before her death.

Person vs. Person

This type of conflict occurs when a character finds him/herself in opposition to another character. The conflict can manifest itself through dialogue, online communication, or action sequence:

He swung at her. She ducked; he clipped her on the shoulder sending her reeling. She shrugged her shoulder twice in an effort to gauge how hurt she was; seemed fine.

“We don’t have to do this, you know,” he told her.

“You should have thought of that before you threw the first punch,” she replied. She took a step forward and swung at the underside of his jaw with all the force she could muster. He intercepted the swing by grabbing her wrist. He twisted her around until he had her in a bear hug, her arms pretzeled around her midsection.

–Chicken or Egg: A Love Story

Person vs. Society

In a person vs. society conflict, a person challenges the accepted social mores of society. This frequently happens if the protagonist is an anti-hero (like Dexter Morgan of Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series) or dystopian fiction. In “Hope Floats”, the unnamed preteen protagonist goes against society when he leaves the confines of his underground community in search of food, something only “paws”, adult males, do:

I climbed out from the rubble to feel sunshine on my face for the first time in a while, I don’t remember how long. I know how to keep time, that’s not the problem. It’s just that these days we tend to rely on the maws and paws to keep track for us. It’s their responsibility to tell us when we’ve had too much of anything. Too much sleep. Too much fun. As if I’m not old enough to figure that out on my own.

Leave your comments below. Describe a memorable conflict. What kind was it? What genre was it?

6 thoughts on “Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter C

  1. Briane Pagel

    Boy, when you said conflict honestly the first thing I thought was “Luke versus Vader!” but then I wanted something a BIT more literary (read: snobbish) so I am going to go with a conflict in my number one favorite book of all time, “Catch-22”, which is rife with them but the one I liked was the conflict between Yossarian and Orr, where Yossarian keeps saying Orr is driving him nuts fixing the gas line, and won’t ever fly with Orr because he thinks Orr is stupid — but then realizes Orr was trying to get them both out of the war.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks for the post, Briane. I’ve never read “Catch-22” though I probably should. Luke vs. Vader works, too. Take care!

  2. Chris Kelworth

    My new favorite example of conflict is the internal conflict in the ‘Veronica Mars’ movie. The external conflict is pretty straightforward; Veronica is trying to find Bonnie’s killer to clear Logan’s name, and the true killer is trying to keep his identity and motive a secret.

    But at the same time, Veronica has powerful motivations pulling her away from the case. She’s worked hard for a great job in New York City, and they want her to start right away. Her boyfriend wants her to come home and meet his parents, and isn’t wild that she’s going so far out of her way to help an old flame. Most telling of all, Veronica took pride in having ‘got out of Neptune alive’ when she was younger, and is worried that getting involved with a case again is going to make her fall back into bad habits.

    But eventually she realizes that there are just as many reasons to stay in Neptune and fight for justice; not just Logan, but her father, and seeing what corruption and greed are doing to a place she loves.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks for posting, Chris. I love internal conflict on television and in the movies and the creative ways it is depicted.

      My favourite is in the first episode of The Mob Doctor when the doctor is tasked with the choice of killing the rival mob boss while he’s in for heart surgery or her brother will be killed. There’s a great scene when the rival boss is on the table in the OR and the camera pans from her eyes to the syringe on the table and back to her and then cuts to commercial as her hand is poised over the table to make a choice.

      I can’t wait to see the Veronica Mars movie. I loved the series when it was on.

      Best wishes.

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