Last week’s lesson dealt with conflict, and why conflict is necessary in fiction. For the next five weeks, I’ll go into the different kinds of conflict most often seen in fiction. These terms should be part of your writer’s vocabulary, and perhaps you’ll even be inspired to write something that corresponds with what you learn here.
Incidentally, I wrote lessons on these five types of conflicts for this forum several years ago, and I spoke on conflict at one of the conferences, so if you’ve been at FaithWriters for some time, these may seem familiar to you. Unfortunately, those lessons were among the ones lost when the forums crashed in 2010, so I’m re-doing them (along with several others, eventually).
The first conflict that’s seen frequently in fiction is man vs. man. First, a note of explanation: man vs. man conflict doesn’t have to be conflict between two adult male characters. It could be two children of either gender, or an alien and Godzilla, or two anthropomorphic animals, or a mother and a child…you get the idea. It would be better to call it character vs. character, I suppose, especially if you’re working on making your writing more gender neutral But I’m going to be lazy and use man vs. man—less typing.
Man vs. man conflict is that in which two characters—most typically the protagonist and the antagonist—are in conflict with one another. Most often, the antagonist is providing some sort of problem or obstacle for the protagonist to solve.
A few examples of man vs. man conflict from well-known sources:
• In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is relentlessly pursued by Inspector Javert, who wants to arrest him for having violated the terms of his release from prison.
• In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora is despised by the Wicked Queen, who attempts to kill her.
• In the Curious George books, George is constantly aggravating the man in the yellow hat.
• In Jane Eyre, Jane is constantly in conflict with Mr. Rochester—his prickly personality, his expectations of her, his secrets.
As you can see from the above examples, the conflict between the two characters can be huge and potentially life-altering, or it can be as minor as a bit of harmless mischief.
Here are some examples of man vs. man situations that might be seen in a piece of writing:
• A parent dealing with a difficult child
• A student and a teacher or professor with ideological differences
• A bully and a teenager
• Any number of typical conflicts between two members of a family—from bickering to domestic violence
• Workplace situations: competition between rivals, boss and employee differences
• A person and her neighbor (noise, boundaries, Christmas decorations)
Man vs. man conflict is usually ended with one character as a clear winner. As a writer, you need to decide if you want the good guy to win (which is what is usually expected) or the bad guy to win (which leaves the reader with a more thought-provoking ending).
Why would you want to write man vs. man conflict?
It words well for very short fiction, because only two characters are necessary (although there can be other characters in smaller roles). You introduce the characters, introduce the conflict, the conflict plays out, and there’s a resolution. 750 words—easy peasy.
Man vs. man works well also for stories in which you want to portray a good vs. evil theme.
If you’re a humor writer, you may enjoy portraying a humorous, contentious relationship between spouses or friends.
Writers of fiction for young children may use man vs. man conflict because there are only two characters to keep track of.
Finally, it’s very easy to have the resolution of the conflict be the lesson that you’re trying to teach.
For further study, I’m going to give you two examples of Writing Challenge entries that feature man vs. man conflict. These are both mine, from several years ago—not chosen because they’re any better than others’ writing, but because I know where to find them. I’d like you to read at least one of them, and then come back and answer a few questions.
For lighter reading: Catchin’ Flies With Vinegar
For more serious reading: Terrorizing Rachel
HOMEWORK: (Choose one, or do them all)
1. For the story that you read from the two choices above:
a. Who are the two characters in conflict?
b. Give a sentence describing the nature of their conflict.
c. How is the conflict resolved?
2. Give an example of a well-known book, story, or movie that features man vs. man conflict.
3. Add to the bulleted list of man vs. man situations that might show up in writing
4. Add a comment about man vs. man conflict, or ask a question.
5. If you have a Writing Challenge entry that features man vs. man conflict (or if you’re not sure that it does), link to it here, along with a comment or question about that story. Please don’t just leave a link—the best part of these forums is the exchange of ideas among writers.
These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.
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