External Conflict

What is External Conflict? ⚔️

External conflict (pronounced ek-STER-nuhl KON-flikt) is a literary device where a character faces opposition from an external force. This can be another character, society, nature, or a physical obstacle. External conflict is crucial for driving the plot and creating tension within a story.

How Writers Use External Conflict ✍️

Writers use external conflict to:

  1. Drive the Plot: External conflicts propel the narrative forward by creating obstacles the protagonist must overcome.
  2. Develop Characters: Facing external conflicts forces characters to grow and develop.
  3. Create Tension: Conflicts between characters or forces create suspense and keep readers engaged.
  4. Highlight Themes: External conflicts often reflect broader themes and societal issues.

Types of External Conflict 📝

Character vs. CharacterHarry Potter vs. Voldemort in Harry PotterConflict between two characters.
Character vs. SocietyKatniss vs. The Capitol in The Hunger GamesConflict between a character and societal norms or structures.
Character vs. NaturePi vs. the Ocean in Life of PiConflict between a character and natural forces.
Character vs. TechnologyJohn Connor vs. The Terminators in TerminatorConflict between a character and technological forces.
Character vs. SupernaturalDr. Frankenstein vs. His Creation in FrankensteinConflict between a character and supernatural elements.

External Conflict Rules 📏

Clear StakesClearly define what is at stake for the characters.
Relatable MotivationsEnsure characters have believable motivations.
Consistent TensionMaintain conflict throughout the story to keep tension high.
ResolutionProvide a satisfying resolution to the conflict.
Depth and ComplexityAdd layers to the conflict to make it more engaging and realistic.

Examples in Literature, Poetry, Songs, Movies, and Advertising

External Conflict in Literature 📚

External conflict is a cornerstone of many literary works, providing the primary source of tension and driving the plot. Here are some famous examples:

J.K. RowlingHarry Potter SeriesHarry Potter vs. Voldemort
Harper LeeTo Kill a MockingbirdAtticus Finch vs. Racism in Maycomb
Herman MelvilleMoby DickCaptain Ahab vs. Moby Dick

External Conflict in Children’s Books 📖

In children’s literature, external conflict makes stories more engaging and relatable for young readers:

Dr. SeussThe LoraxThe Once-ler vs. Environmental Destruction
Roald DahlMatildaMatilda vs. Miss Trunchbull
C.S. LewisThe Chronicles of NarniaThe Pevensie siblings vs. The White Witch

External Conflict in Poetry ✒️

Poets use external conflict to explore broader themes and emotional struggles:

Wilfred OwenDulce et Decorum EstSoldiers vs. The Horrors of War
Robert FrostMending WallNeighbor vs. Neighbor over the Wall
Langston HughesHarlemIndividuals vs. Deferred Dreams

External Conflict in Songs 🎶

Songwriters use external conflict to tell compelling stories and convey powerful messages:

Bob DylanHurricaneRubin Carter vs. Injustice
Johnny CashFolsom Prison BluesPrisoner vs. Incarceration
The BeatlesRevolutionIndividuals vs. Societal Change

External Conflict in Movies 🎬

External conflict is a driving force in many films, creating dramatic tension and engaging audiences:

The Dark KnightBatman vs. The JokerBatman’s struggle against the chaos caused by The Joker
TitanicJack and Rose vs. The Sinking ShipThe protagonists’ fight for survival during the shipwreck
The MartianMark Watney vs. MarsThe protagonist’s struggle to survive alone on Mars

Batman vs. The Joker – The Dark Knight

Jack and Rose vs. The Sinking Ship – Titanic

Mark Watney vs. Mars – The Martian

External Conflict in Advertising 📢

Marketers use external conflict to create memorable and impactful advertisements:

BrandAd CampaignExample
NikeFind Your GreatnessIndividuals overcoming physical and mental challenges
Coca-ColaShare a CokeBringing people together in a divided world
AppleThink DifferentChallenging the status quo with innovative technology

Find Your Greatness – Nike

Share a Coke – Coca-Cola

Think Different – Apple

FAQs about External Conflict

What is external conflict in literature? 🤔

External conflict is a literary device where a character faces opposition from an external force, such as another character, society, nature, or technology.

How do you write a good external conflict? 🖊️

To write a good external conflict, clearly define the stakes, ensure characters have relatable motivations, maintain consistent tension, provide a satisfying resolution, and add depth and complexity to the conflict.

Can external conflict be used in modern writing? 📘

Yes, external conflict is a fundamental element in modern writing, essential for creating dynamic and engaging narratives across various genres.

Are external conflict and internal conflict the same? ❓

No, external conflict involves opposition from outside forces, while internal conflict involves a struggle within a character’s mind or emotions.

Related Devices 📚

Internal Conflict

A struggle occurring within a character’s mind or emotions.


A character or force that opposes the protagonist, creating conflict.


The suspense and excitement that build up in a narrative as the conflict unfolds.


The peak of the narrative tension where the main conflict reaches its most critical point.

By mastering the use of external conflict, you can create dynamic and engaging stories that captivate your readers and drive your plot forward! 🌟