The Power of External Conflict: Understanding and Utilizing This Essential Storytelling Tool


Conflict is an inevitable part of life. It can occur in any type of relationship, whether it be between two individuals or a large group.

One type of conflict that can arise is external conflict, which occurs when opposing forces are from outside the individual or group and cannot be controlled by them.

In this article, we will discuss what external conflict is, its various forms, and how it can be resolved.

What is External Conflict?

External conflict is a type of conflict that occurs between two or more forces that are external to the individual or group in question. This type of conflict can involve opposing political entities, competing companies, or conflicting perspectives on a particular issue. It is often seen as a battle between two sides, such as an employer and employee or two countries at war. External conflicts are typically difficult to resolve without outside intervention.

Understanding external conflict is important in storytelling, as it helps the audience better comprehend and relate to the characters and their struggles. It can also be used as a tool to demonstrate the consequences of certain actions or decisions, or to illustrate how different sides of an argument are perceived. External conflicts can also help shape the story arc, adding tension and drama as well as helping move the plot along. By understanding external conflict, writers can create compelling and believable stories.

Types of External Conflict

Person vs. Person

Person vs. Person is a type of external conflict in which two people are in opposition to one another. This kind of conflict can occur between family members, coworkers, friends, or even strangers. Such conflicts often arise from misunderstandings or disagreements over beliefs, values, rights, or interests. It is important to remember that this type of conflict can be resolved through communication and understanding. With the right approach, both parties can come to a resolution that is beneficial for everyone.

Person vs. Society

Person vs. Society is a type of external conflict in which an individual or group is in opposition to the wider society, either through their beliefs, values, or actions. This type of conflict can be seen between individuals and governments, organizations and religious institutions, or any other force that does not align with the wishes of the individual or group. In such cases, it is important for all parties to come to an understanding and find a way to work together.

Person vs. Nature

Person vs. Nature is a type of external conflict in which an individual or group is pitted against the forces of nature. This kind of conflict can take on many forms, such as when an individual must battle the elements or a group must work together to survive in a hostile environment.

Person vs. Technology

Person vs. Technology is a type of external conflict in which an individual or group is pitted against technological forces. This kind of conflict arises when technology fails to meet the needs of the individual or group, such as when machines malfunction or fail to operate correctly. Technology can also be used as a tool by an opposing force, such as when it is weaponized against individuals or groups. In such cases, it is important for all parties to come to an understanding and find a way to work together.

Examples of External Conflict in Literature and Film

Famous works containing external conflict

One of the most famous examples of external conflict in literature is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this novel, Jay Gatsby’s pursuit of love and power leads him into a conflict with society, as the people around him are unable to understand or accept his ambitions. Gatsby must battle against the expectations of those around him if he is to achieve his dreams.

How external conflict affects the story

External conflict can have a profound effect on the story, as it helps to create tension and drama that adds excitement and interest for the audience. By understanding how external conflict affects the characters, we can gain insight into their motivations and struggles. For example, when two characters are in opposition to one another due to their different beliefs or values, it gives us a deeper understanding of both parties and why they are behaving the way they are. External conflict can also help to move the plot forward and add complexity to the story. By having characters struggle against external forces, it can create an intriguing and engaging narrative for the audience.

How External Conflict Drives Plot

External conflict in advancing the story

External conflict is an important element in storytelling, as it helps to drive the plot and create a more engaging narrative. By introducing external conflicts, the story can move forward and become more complex as characters strive to overcome obstacles and reach their goals. External conflicts can also be used to deepen character development, as they provide an opportunity for characters to make difficult decisions and learn about themselves in the process. Through external conflict, characters can grow and evolve, which can in turn lead to a more interesting and exciting story.

Techniques for utilizing external conflict effectively

In order to effectively utilize external conflict, writers must be able to create a compelling and realistic conflict that will draw the audience in. One technique for doing this is to ensure that the conflict is relatable by making it relevant to both the characters and the readers.

This can be done by making sure that the motivations of all parties involved are clearly defined, as well as providing subtle hints as to how the conflict could be resolved. It is also important to create believable stakes for the characters, as this will add tension and emotion to the story.

Lastly, writers should always strive to make sure that the external conflict is properly integrated into the story and that it ties in well with the other elements of the narrative.

Resolving External Conflict

Different ways external conflict can be resolved

External conflict can be resolved in a variety of ways. In some cases, the characters may come to an understanding or compromise that allows them to move past their differences and work together. Alternatively, the conflict could be resolved through violence or by one party simply giving up and leaving.

In other cases, external conflicts can be resolved through dialogue and negotiation, as both parties strive to find a mutually beneficial solution.

Additionally, external conflicts can be resolved through the actions of a third party or outside force, such as a natural disaster that interrupts the conflict and allows for peace to be restored.

Impact and effectiveness of various resolutions

The impact and effectiveness of various resolutions to external conflict can depend on a variety of factors. For example, if dialogue is used to resolve conflict, it can be effective in helping both parties understand each other’s point of view and reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

Alternatively, if violence or coercion is used, it may resolve the immediate conflict, but it could also lead to further animosity and distrust between the parties.

Ultimately, the most effective resolution is often one that takes into account the needs of all parties involved and helps them to come to a peaceful resolution while also allowing for growth and understanding on both sides.


External conflict is a powerful tool for telling stories, as it helps the audience to connect more deeply with the characters and their individual journeys. By introducing external conflicts into a narrative, writers can create tension and emotion that will help drive the story forward. Additionally, external conflicts can be used to develop characters in meaningful ways by forcing them to confront difficult decisions and situations. By understanding how to effectively use external conflict, writers can create stories that are engaging, emotionally resonant, and full of meaningful character growth.

The use of external conflict in storytelling can have powerful implications for the audience. By introducing a conflict that is relatable and relevant to both the characters and readers, it allows the audience to engage more deeply with the narrative and feel invested in its outcome. Additionally, by creating believable stakes for the characters, writers can create tension and emotion that will draw readers into the story and make them care about what happens. Ultimately, the use of external conflict can help writers to create stories that are not only enjoyable but also thought-provoking and meaningful.


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