"Once there was a beautiful girl named Snow White, who lived with seven dwarfs, and they lived Happily Ever After." Pretty dull, isn't it?
— A Disney special on the importance of villains
This is the basic problem to overcome in a story, the driving force. If you don't have conflict, you don't have a story. Or just a story of things happening without incident
More than any other trope, save for the Characters
who are in a conflict, this is vital to fiction. You can likely find loads of theories and essays
on why this is so, but here just trust us. You need it.
Conflict can come in many forms. According to Arthur Quiller-Couch, there are seven kinds of conflict, creating seven basic plots (Not to be confused with The Seven Basic Plots
by Christopher Booker, which articulates a theory closer to that of The Hero's Journey
- Man vs. Man,, the problem is another character (Bob needs to defeat Alice to become Class President).
- Man vs. Self., the problem lies inside the protagonist (Bob doesn't know how to express his emotions to Alice).
- Man vs. Nature, the problem comes from natural sources (Bob's town is destroyed by a volcano, or Alice is sick).
- Man vs. Society., the problem is the social environment (Alice struggles to maintain her dignity in a sexist community).
- Man vs. God/Fate, the problem is destiny, eventuality, fate, or divine will (Bob does not want to fulfill a prophecy that he will lose his family).
- Man caught in the Middle, of other characters/conflicts.
- Male and Female. Quibbler-Couch was persuaded to remove the "versus".
- Going beyond Quiller-Couch's list, there is also Man vs. Machine, as in machinery. Most commonly told from the perspective of a worker being replaced by a machine.
Traditionalists boil it down to the first three
, redefining "Man" as a defeatable entity and "Nature" as anything that has to be survived or changed rather than defeated. According to the three basic conflicts, Zombie Apocalypse
would thus be Man Vs. Nature.
Now, it seems that some fiction doesn't have conflict, but even then it's presented as a challenge, which is the third type of conflict. See No Antagonist
. Of course not every work in media needs conflict, but those tend to be non-fiction, or some episodes of Slice of Life
series can also qualify. If it's a story or game, conflict drives it.
It could be said that Mary Sue
stories are weak because there is no conflict in how the Sue achieves things, or that the conflict is so weak and ineffectual that it still comes across that way (as with Anti Sues
and Boring Invincible Heroes
). Conversely, some works come off as weak because the conflict is too grave.
Like many other things, it's wise to strike a balance between the two.
A Super Trope
to Chandler's Law
, Finagle's Law
, Rising Conflict
(for how conflict plays out in Three Act Structure
Due to its universality, this is a huge Super Trope. Any examples are best listed in these Sub Tropes (or notable instances of conflict on individual work pages).