Writing External Conflict

It can be defined as anything getting between the protagonist and their goal. The easiest example is the antagonist. The measure of tension is based on the determination between the antagonist and protagonist. The more cunning, and skillful the antagonist the harder the hero must work to succeed.

One thing to keep in mind is the main antagonist of the story doesn’t have to been in ever scene. In some cases, other things get in the way of the hero’s success.

In a scene the antagonist can be anything from the setting to a ally.

Some examples a protagonist may face are:

  • Any character determined to stop them
  • Settings: a flood, blizzard, unfamiliar location, imprisonment, stuck on the road with motor trouble
  • A group of characters: law makers, rule enforcers, and simple peer pressure
  • Consequence from an event: broken bone or other physical damage, loss of memory, loss of transportation, loss of support and/or trust, loss of safety net

Throughout the story there will be all kinds of things to challenge the hero and their success. What’s your favorite?

Gleaned from:


38 responses to “Writing External Conflict

  1. I think the idea of having conflict come from Mother Nature is really interesting. I tend to think of antagonists as being people, but you’ve reminded me that that doesn’t have to be the case.

  2. Some people think the antagonist has to be a person but as you show, there are so many other forces that could stand in a character’s way.

  3. Sometimes it’s the character’s own misguided beliefs that can get in the way too. Those are darned hard to overcome sometimes.

  4. I like you pointing out the protagonist doesn’t always have conflicts with a person. Think about our own lives-plenty of troubles with health and Mother Nature!!

  5. My favorite external conflict is never a person – I have trouble writing bad guys. Instead, it’s the environment. Weather, climate, political situation – they all offer lots of embedded hardships for the hero to struggle against.

  6. I like a challenge of the greatest fear πŸ™‚

  7. I’ve never used it but I’ve always found the idea of the “best friend” antagonist to be interesting, especially if it’s well done. I think it works best if the best friend really thinks that he/she is helping the protagonist but is instead getting in his/her way.

  8. I just read a blog post on Kristen Lamb’s blog about antagonists.
    The Engine of Fictionβ€”Meet the Antagonist

    I like the anti-antagonist meaning the same yet opposite of anti-protagonist. I like one I can like and has charisma. I find that deeply scary especially when there is this hidden little hope that he’s not that bad or the villain. Or one that is not evil but good yet his choices or beliefs or good require him to act in a villainous way, or maybe he truly believes in the cause kind of thing.

    Scene wise.
    Sometimes it is the choice that has to made and the shades of gray or blindness or restrictions that governor that choice or consequence of the choice made and the series of events set in motion.
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  9. My favorite external challenge to the protagonist? Zombies. Definitely zombies. πŸ™‚

  10. In my WIP the external conflict comes from the protagonist herself. And her BFF (in a good way), who’s determined to see the protag happy, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

  11. Goodness. You really want me to pick a favorite? I think my favorite is man against man because there’s such a complex psychology involved there. The more human the conflict, the more I love it.

  12. I do love when a snow-storm etc cause conflict and drive the characters together πŸ™‚

  13. Man vs. society is kind of what comes up a lot in historical fiction–as well as battling the elements or war or man vs. man. But because society was so different in the past, it causes a nice bit of external conflict when a characters wants to be more off-beat, provided the character isn’t just a modern person in historical dress-up.

  14. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

    In my fantasy series, the country where my heroines live is affected by a magical weather storm called Chaos Season, which literally mixes up the seasons. My heroines have the magic to undo it–it’s their job. But Chaos Season tends to strike at inopportune times and always makes things worse.

  15. jennifer@badbirdreads

    Ugh, that spider is too much. Gives me the creeps. lol

  16. You listed the external conflict that my characters will be facing next…blizzard. πŸ˜‰

  17. I like an exciting story where a protagonist gets a whole bunch of antagonistic stuff thrown at them. I do also have a fondness for the protagonist with the loss of memory syndrome. It’s find of fun watching someone continue to gain insight as to who they are and what their mission is.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

  18. In Debra Dixon’s workshop on GMC, she also used an example that works well in romance–if the hero and heroine are at cross purposes, it makes for GREAT conflict between them. The arsonist who falls in love with the arson investigator–that’s the big cliche in that. (She even wrote a romance with that premise just to have fun with it!)

  19. I love the stories where the antagonist is a secret from the protagonist and only I know where the danger is going to come from.

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