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Identifying major themes of literature and analyzing their development throughout a piece of text is part of ELA Common Core State Standards for grades 9-12 (Literacy.RL.9-10.2, Literacy.RL11-12.2). A common approach for this standard is to teach about types of literary conflict in conjunction with the literature being studied: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Technology, and Man vs. Supernatural.

Creating storyboards and posters is the perfect way to engage high school ELA students, and teach them to identify types of conflict. Visual cues in storyboards bring heady concepts, such as Man vs. Society and Man vs. Self, down to earth through “comic-strip” style illustrations and captions. Posters let students distill the concept into one single image, and can be hung in the classroom when finished. Giving students creative writing prompts or story starters is another engaging way to get them thinking about creating conflict in an interesting story.

Teachers can create fun and easy-to-assess classwork that tasks high-school students with creating storyboards focusing on the common types of conflict in literature. The linear nature of a storyboard mirrors the progression of conflict and reinforces learning. Students create storyboards using details and characters pulled from text, allowing teachers to determine almost immediately whether students comprehend the objectives.

What is Literary Conflict?

Literary conflict is any type of challenge, struggle, or obstacle that compelling characters must overcome. It is an important part of any story, as it is needed to make the story continue on towards an ending or eventual goal.

While there are several types of conflict in literature, they all fall into one of two categories: internal and external conflict. Learn more about internal and external conflicts below.

  1. Internal conflict is when the character struggles with something within themselves. They may be struggling with opposing desires, feelings, or beliefs. They may also be struggling to make a choice that is difficult to make. Internal conflict creates growth and helps with character development throughout the story.

  2. External conflict is when the character struggles with something that is outside of their inner self such as an antagonist, weather, or other real world obstacles. External conflicts stand in the way of the character’s end goals in the story.

You may be wondering, what are the types of conflict? Or, how many types of conflict are there? Many people think there are 4 types of literary conflict, but there are actually 6. These types are:

  1. Character vs. character conflict, which is sometimes referred to as man vs. man conflict.

  2. Character vs. society conflict, which is sometimes referred to as man vs. society conflict.

  3. Character vs. nature conflict, which is sometimes referred to as man vs. nature conflict.

  4. Character vs. technology conflict, which is sometimes referred to as man vs. technology conflict.

  5. Character vs. self conflict, which is sometimes referred to as man vs. self conflict.

  6. Character vs. supernatural conflict, which is sometimes referred to as man vs. supernatural conflict.

While character vs. reality, or man vs. reality, may also be thought of as a type of literary conflict, many man vs. reality conflict examples fall into another category and it is not considered its own.

Learn more about these types of conflict in literature and find copyable storyboard examples below!

Types of Conflict in Literature

Character vs. Character or Man vs. Man

Character vs. Character is an external conflict in which two characters or two or more characters are pitted against one another in a battle, either literally or figuratively. The outcome can bring about maturity and growth, or a restoration of peace in the protagonist’s world. As you can see from the man vs. man conflict examples, common aspects of this type of conflict include:


  • Characters can create conflict that can be as obvious as a physical altercation, or as vague as an underlying power struggle.

  • The antagonist (or other character) tries to keep the protagonist from reaching their goal.

  • The protagonist must overcome the efforts of the antagonist to reach their goal.


Some character vs. character or man vs. man conflict examples include:


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Character vs. Nature or Man vs. Nature

In a conflict of Character vs. Nature, a character must face things beyond their control in the natural world around them, including storms, wild and dangerous animals, and even disease or plague. Some common aspects of character vs. nature are listed below.


  • The hero must overcome a force of nature to meet his goal.

  • Nature can be a force of nature (like a storm, earthquake, or difficult climate) OR an animal from nature.

  • In literature, the hero sometimes meets his goal, but sometimes is defeated.

Some character vs. nature or man vs. nature conflict examples include:

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Character vs. Society or Man vs. Society

A Character vs. Society conflict occurs when a character goes against the laws of their society, a tyrannical government, or an unfair community mindset. Usually the protagonist is an altruistic or idealistic individual who sees injustice and wants to correct it for his or her world, but doesn’t necessarily intend to create conflict. Common aspects of this type of conflict include:


  • A protagonist sees something in a unique way.

  • People in their town or culture don't like his way of thinking. Their bold ideas diverge from tradition or the rules. People ridicule and threaten then. They are compelled to act.

  • Our hero may convince the others they are right, but they might be forced to flee town or lose their life.

Some character vs. society or man vs. society conflict examples include:

  • Winston and Julia rise up against the government of Oceania and Big Brother in 1984.

  • Arthur establishes a set of rules for his society that go against what others think is right in The Once and Future King.

  • A classic example is when a group of boys are stranded on an island following a plane crash, they become chaotic and revolt against the rules of society in Lord of the Flies.

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Character vs. Self or Man vs. Self

This type of literary conflict is always internal, as the character is always fighting a battle within themselves. The character may struggle to make the “right” decision, have conflicting morals, or struggle with mental health issues. Some common aspects of character vs. self are listed below:


  • The protagonist must overcome their own nature to reach their goal.

  • The protagonist struggles within their own mind.

  • The protagonist needs to overcome their struggle to reach the goal. They may, or may not, succeed.

Some character vs. self or man vs. self conflict examples include:

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Character vs. Technology or Man vs. Technology

In a Character vs. Technology conflict, the character is usually faced with a battle against technology that has become too powerful, or is being used by another force for evil, adding conflict to the character’s story. Some common aspects of character vs. technology, often in science fiction, are listed below.


  • The protagonist must overcome a machine or technology.

  • Most often the encounter with the machine or technology is through the character's own doing. For example, it may be technology or a machine that they created, purchased, or owned with the assumption that it would make their life easier.

  • Over time the protagonist must overcome the technology, in some instances, even destroying it before it destroys them.

Some character vs. technology or man vs. technology conflict examples include:

  • Victor Franenstein never meant harm with his experiment of creating a monster in Frankenstein.

  • The ability of the Elders to speak anywhere at any time, and of the Giver to pass on ancient memories to Jonas, reveals an advanced level of technology that is almost mystical in The Giver.

  • The advancements in his experiments brought him to a point of no return, and Jekyll ultimately makes himself, as Hyde, drink poison in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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Character vs. The Supernatural or Man vs. The Supernatural

When a character has a conflict with the supernatural, they are dealing with things such as monsters, ghosts, and other supernatural forces of that nature. Because these beings are not human, thus skewing the playing field.

Some character vs. the supernatural or man vs. the supernatural conflict examples include:


  • Hero of the story, Odysseus, faces a number of conflicts during his journey, including Polyphemus, Scylla, and Charybdis in Homer’s The Odyssey.

  • Lead character Beowulf conflicts with Grendal, the abominable monster who threatens the Danes in Beowulf.

  • Protagonist Luna conflicts with Sister Ignatia, who is a witch in disguise, in The Girl Who Drank the Moon.


Example Exercises

  1. Identify the major conflict(s) of the class book via a storyboard.
  2. Create storyboards that show and explain, in their own words, the different types of conflict.
  3. Create storyboards that show the major type of conflict in their own creative writing or lives; be sure to include at least one literary device.
  4. (Using empty storyboard templates on a test) Fill in text boxes with dialogue that gives a clear example of each type of conflict and label them.
  5. Choose 4 types of literary conflict and illustrate them.

Teachers can customize the level of detail and number of cells required for projects based on available class time and resources.

Examples of Literary Conflict From Famous Books


Related Activities

Check out these types of literature conflict activities from our guides on The Odyssey, Hamlet, and The Giver.




Conflict Assessment

Another advantage to storyboarding is the ease with which storyboard assignments can be graded and assessed via a rubric. Below is a sample rubric you can use to assess your students, or as a reference for planning your own literary conflict lesson.


Example Rubric

Types of Literary Conflict Rubric
Proficient
17 Points
Emerging
14 Points
Beginning
11 Points
Try Again
8 Points
Conflict Identification
  • Student identifies correct major conflict and uses strong, clear textual evidence to support choice.
  • Student includes at least two clear examples of plot points that are a direct cause of the major conflict category.
  • Student identifies correct major conflict and uses few or unclear details to support their choice.
  • Student includes one clear example of plot points that are a direct cause of the major conflict category.
  • Student identifies incorrect major conflict, and uses some details from the text to support their choice.
  • Student includes only vague or poorly explained examples of plot points that are a direct cause of conflict.
  • Student does not attempt to identify major conflict or identifies incorrect major conflict with no explanation.
  • Student does not include any examples of plot points that are a direct cause of conflict.
  • Understanding Outcome
    Student clearly shows the outcome of the conflict and its effects on the protagonist with evidence from the text.
    Student shows the outcome of the conflict and its effect on the protagonist, but some evidence is unclear.
    Student shows the outcome of the conflict, but does not examine its effect on the protagonist and uses some vague textual evidence.
    Student does not clearly show the outcome of the conflict or use textual evidence.
    Quote
    Student includes at least one quote, with proper punctuation and page #, from the text that deals directly with the events presented in the storyboard.
    Student includes at least one quote, but it is not directly relevant to the events presented in the storyboard, or has an error in punctuation, page #, etc.
    Student includes quote, but it contains errors or is not at all related to events presented in the storyboard.
    Student does not include a quote.
    Character
    Storyboard includes all required characters and clearly names them. Goes above and beyond by adding details or names of additional characters.
    Storyboard includes all required characters, clearly named.
    Storyboard includes protagonist and antagonist but leaves out other required characters.
    Storyboard does not include the names of required characters.
    Storyboard
    Student clearly shows effort to convey the setting the scene of the book
    Student attempts to convey setting and scene of the book, but lacks some clarity.
    Student does not clearly convey the setting and scene.
    Student makes little or no attempt to convey the setting or scene.
    Spelling and Grammar
    Student uses exemplary spelling and grammar. There are no errors.
    Student makes a minor error in spelling and grammar.
    Student makes several minor errors in spelling and grammar.
    Student makes many errors in spelling and grammar; little attempt at spellchecking.



    How to Teach Literary Conflict in the Elementary Classroom

    1

    Start with a Definition

    Begin by defining what conflict means in literature. Use simple language that is easy for students to understand. Explain that conflict is a problem or struggle that characters face in a story.

    2

    Use Picture Books

    Picture books are a great way to introduce conflict to young readers. Choose books that have clear examples of conflict, and use them to model how to identify and analyze conflict in a story. Some great examples include "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Gingerbread Man."

    3

    Identify Different Types of Conflict

    There are several types of conflict that can occur in a story, including character vs. character, character vs. self, character vs. nature, and character vs. society. Help students identify these different types of conflict by providing examples and asking them to categorize them.

    4

    Use Graphic Organizers

    Graphic organizers can help students visualize the different elements of a story, including conflict. Use a simple graphic organizer to help students identify the problem or conflict in a story, the characters involved, and how the conflict is resolved.

    5

    Role-Play

    Have students act out different conflicts to help them understand how characters might react to different situations. This can be a fun and engaging way to help students connect with the material and develop a deeper understanding of conflict.

    6

    Provide Opportunities for Creative Writing

    Encourage students to write their own stories that include conflict. This can help them apply what they have learned and develop their own storytelling skills.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Literary Conflict

    How many types of conflict are there?

    Some may think that there are only five types of literary conflict, but there are actually six.

    What are the types of conflict?

    The types of conflict in literature are: character vs. character conflict, character vs. society conflict, character vs. nature conflict, character vs. technology conflict, character vs. self conflict, and character vs. supernatural conflict.

    What is the difference between internal and external conflict?

    Internal conflict is when the character struggles with something within themselves such as feelings, desires, and beliefs. External conflict, however, are when the character struggles with something that is outside of their inner self such as weather, illness, and other characters.

    Why is it important to have literary conflict in a story?

    Good stories are written in such a way that leaves the reader wanting more, engaged, and excited. Compelling fiction must include some sort of conflict in order to hold the reader’s interest. When authors create tension between characters and other outside forces, the story naturally becomes more enticing.

    Find more activities like this in our 6-12 ELA Category!
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