Internal Conflict: Definition, Types & Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is internal conflict?
  2. Types of internal conflict
  3. Internal conflict in literature
  4. How internal conflict drives a story
  5. Characterizing internal conflict
  6. Internal conflict examples
  7. Resolving internal conflict
  8. Internal conflict in different genres

Ever feel like you're at war with yourself? That's what we call an internal conflict. It's a struggle that takes place in a character's mind, and it's a key element in many stories, making them more engaging and relatable. There's more to it than just a mental tug-of-war, though. In this blog, we're going to break down the definition of internal conflict, explore its types, and give you some vivid examples. So, let's jump right in, shall we?

What is internal conflict?

Imagine you're feeling hungry but you're also on a diet. You see a slice of chocolate cake in front of you — delicious but packed with calories. To eat, or not to eat? That's internal conflict for you. It's a psychological struggle within the character, causing tension between desires, needs, or emotions. The character is, in essence, their own adversary.

The definition of internal conflict isn't just about wanting cake and needing to diet, though. In storytelling, internal conflict is often deeper and more complex. It could be a moral dilemma, a need for self-expression fighting against fear of rejection, or a struggle between love and duty. It's what makes characters feel real and stories compelling.

Remember: An internal conflict isn't a fleeting thought—it's a core struggle that drives a character's actions, and often the whole story. When you're reading a book or watching a movie, try to spot this internal tug of war. You'll find that it adds depth and dimension to the story.

Okay, now that we've discussed the definition of internal conflict, let's explore the different types that exist. Buckle up because this is where it gets interesting!

Types of internal conflict

Just like there's more than one way to eat a cake — or resist it — there are different forms of internal conflict. Essentially, all internal conflicts can be boiled down to three main types:

  1. Man Vs. Self: This is the most common type of internal conflict. It involves a character grappling with their own beliefs, fears, or desires. For instance, a superhero might struggle with the responsibility of their powers, asking themselves if they're using them correctly.
  2. Man Vs. Society: This conflict occurs when a character's beliefs or desires clash with societal norms. For instance, a woman in a traditional society might want to pursue a career, but societal expectations demand that she stay at home.
  3. Man Vs. Nature: This conflict might seem external, but it often reflects an internal struggle. When a character fights against natural forces, they're really fighting their own fear, pride, or stubbornness. Imagine a man lost in the wilderness. His struggle against nature is also a struggle against his own limitations.

Each type of internal conflict brings its own flavor to a story, making characters more relatable and compelling. Whether it's man vs. self, man vs. society, or man vs. nature, internal conflict makes a story more than just a sequence of events—it transforms it into a journey of self-discovery.

So, next time you're reading a book or watching a movie, see if you can identify the type of internal conflict. It'll give you a whole new appreciation for the story! Now, let's look at some examples of internal conflict in literature.

Internal conflict in literature

Ever read a book you couldn't put down because you were so invested in a character's internal struggles? That's the power of internal conflict in literature. Let's delve into how it works.

Internal conflict is like the secret sauce that gives a character depth. Without it, a character might as well be a cardboard cutout. But add a sprinkling of internal conflict, and suddenly they're real, with fears, desires, and dilemmas that mirror our own.

Take Hamlet, for example. Shakespeare's prince is the poster child for the "man vs. self" conflict. He's torn between avenging his father's death and questioning the morality of such an act. This internal conflict is what makes him such a compelling character.

Or consider Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games." Her internal conflict revolves around her desire to survive and her need to protect her loved ones. This conflict not only drives the story but also makes us root for her.

So, next time you're immersed in a book, take a moment to identify the internal conflicts. You'll not only gain a deeper understanding of the characters but also appreciate the layers that the author has woven into the story.

But how exactly does internal conflict drive a story? Let's find out in the next section.

How internal conflict drives a story

Imagine watching a movie where the hero faces no internal struggles. They know exactly what to do, and they do it without hesitation or doubt. Sounds boring, right? That's because internal conflict is the engine that propels a story forward.

Here's how it works: internal conflict creates tension. This tension keeps readers on the edge of their seats, wondering how the hero will resolve their dilemma. Will they overcome their fear of heights to rescue their friend from a tall building? Will they choose their dream job or the love of their life? The possibilities are endless, and the uncertainty is what keeps us turning the pages.

As the story progresses, the internal conflict often escalates, ratcheting up the tension. The hero might start with a minor internal conflict, like whether to lie to a friend. But as the stakes get higher, the conflict becomes more intense. They might have to decide whether to betray a loved one for the greater good.

Finally, the resolution of the internal conflict provides a satisfying end to the story. The hero overcomes their fears, resolves their doubts, makes their choice. And we, the readers, feel a sense of closure and satisfaction, knowing the hero has grown and changed through their internal struggles.

So, whether you're a writer crafting your next bestseller or a reader seeking a deeper appreciation of your favorite books, understanding how internal conflict drives a story can enhance your literary experience.

Characterizing internal conflict

Imagine you're a sculptor, and words are your clay. How would you shape a character to make them feel real to your readers? The answer lies in internal conflict.

Just like us, characters have hopes, dreams, fears, and doubts. It's these inner struggles that make them truly human. Picture Harry Potter wrestling with his identity as "the Chosen One." Or Katniss Everdeen, torn between her desire to protect her family and her yearning for freedom. That's internal conflict in action.

But how do you characterize internal conflict? Here are a few pointers:

  • Make it personal: Internal conflict should stem from the character's personal values, beliefs, or desires. It's about what they want versus what they need, what they love versus what they fear.
  • Make it tangible: Show the internal conflict through the character's actions and decisions. If a character is afraid of heights, put them on a high ledge. If they're torn between two lovers, make them choose.
  • Make it evolve: As the story unfolds, the character's internal conflict should change and grow. Maybe their fears lessen as they face them, or their desires shift as they discover new truths.

Remember, internal conflict isn't just about creating drama. It's about crafting characters that your readers can relate to, root for, and remember long after they've turned the last page.

Internal conflict examples

Now that we've discussed the definition of internal conflict and how to characterize it, let's dive into some solid examples. These examples should help you understand internal conflict better and maybe even spark some ideas for your own stories.

Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet": Our dear Romeo is torn between his love for Juliet and his loyalty to his family. This internal conflict drives the entire narrative. The more he loves Juliet, the more he is at odds with his own family. That's a classic example of how internal conflict can shape a story.

Hamlet in "Hamlet": To be or not to be, that's the question, right? Hamlet's internal conflict revolves around avenging his father's death. Should he kill his uncle and seize the throne, or should he let fate take its course? This conflict not only shapes Hamlet's character but also influences the tragic outcome of the play.

Frodo in "The Lord of the Rings": Frodo's internal conflict is a bit different. He battles his own fear and doubts as he makes the perilous journey to destroy the One Ring. He struggles with the immense responsibility placed on him and his own desire to return to his peaceful life in the Shire.

These are just a few examples of how internal conflict can take a story from good to great. The key is to make the conflict believable and relatable. After all, we've all faced our own internal battles, haven't we?

Resolving internal conflict

So, we've dug into the definition of internal conflict, delved into its types, and looked at some classic examples. But how do characters—or even you and I—resolve these conflicts?

Resolution often comes when a character makes a decision or takes an action that aligns with their values, desires, or needs. Let's look at how some of our earlier examples approach resolution:

Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet": Romeo ultimately chooses love over family loyalty. His choice may lead to a tragic ending, but it resolves his internal conflict. He no longer has to struggle between his family and his heart.

Hamlet in "Hamlet": Hamlet decides to take revenge, leading to a series of events that result in his own death. His decision, though fatal, resolves his internal struggle of whether or not to act.

Frodo in "The Lord of the Rings": Frodo chooses to fulfill his responsibility, overcoming his fears and doubts. His journey and his final decision to destroy the Ring resolve his internal conflict.

Resolving internal conflict isn't always about happy endings. It's about characters—or people—making decisions that align with their innermost feelings, beliefs, and values. And that's what makes a story, or our own lives, interesting, isn't it?

Internal conflict in different genres

Now that you're familiar with the definition of internal conflict, let's explore how it manifests in different genres. Each genre has its unique way of showcasing the turmoil within a character.

Science Fiction: In this genre, internal conflict often revolves around the ethical implications of advanced technology or alien cultures. For example, a character may grapple with the morality of using a time machine to change past events.

Mystery: The detective or investigator may face internal conflicts related to their past, personal beliefs, or the nature of the crime they're solving. These conflicts add depth to the character, making them more than just a crime-solving machine.

Romance: Here, internal conflict typically involves emotional struggles. A character might wrestle with feelings of love versus fear of commitment, for instance.

Horror: Characters in this genre often struggle with fear and the will to survive. Their internal conflict might involve battling their own terror to face a supernatural entity.

Fantasy: Characters may grapple with their destiny, magical abilities, or moral issues in fantastical worlds. Think of Harry Potter and his internal conflicts about his role in the wizarding world.

Clearly, internal conflict is not confined to any one genre. It's a universal theme that cuts across all types of stories, adding depth and complexity to characters and plots. So, the next time you pick up a book or watch a movie, try spotting the internal conflict. You might be surprised at how much it enhances your understanding of the story!

If you found this blog post on internal conflict intriguing and want to learn more about overcoming creative obstacles, check out the workshop 'How To Conquer Your Creative Demons!' by Lauren Paige. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and strategies on how to overcome internal conflicts and unleash your full creative potential.