Understanding Character vs Society Conflict: A Practical Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


Defining Character vs Society Conflict

Elements of Character vs Society Conflict

Developing Character vs Society Conflict in Your Story

Using Character vs Society Conflict to Drive Your Plot

Literary Examples of Character vs Society Conflict

When crafting a compelling story, creating interesting conflicts is essential. One of the most powerful and relatable conflicts is the character vs society conflict, where the protagonist faces off against the expectations and norms of their society. In this practical guide, we'll explore what character vs society conflict is, its elements, and how to develop and use it effectively in your own stories.

Defining Character vs Society Conflict

Character vs society conflict occurs when a character's beliefs or actions clash with the societal norms, expectations, or rules they live within. This external conflict can result in the protagonist facing opposition from their community, government, or cultural traditions.

Types of Conflict

There are various types of conflict in literature, including:

  • Character vs character – when the protagonist faces opposition from another character
  • Character vs nature – when the protagonist must overcome natural obstacles or disasters
  • Character vs self – when the protagonist struggles internally with their own emotions, beliefs, or decisions
  • Character vs society – when the protagonist goes against societal expectations, norms, or rules, as discussed in this guide

Character vs Society Examples

Character vs society conflict can be found in various forms of media, such as:

  • Literature – novels like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "The Hunger Games" showcase characters defying societal norms
  • Film – movies like "Dead Poets Society" or "V for Vendetta" feature protagonists rebelling against societal expectations
  • Television – TV series such as "The Handmaid's Tale" or "Mr. Robot" explore characters struggling against oppressive societies

As we continue through this guide, we'll look at specific elements of character vs society conflict and how to incorporate them into your own stories.

Elements of Character vs Society Conflict

Understanding the key elements of character vs society conflict can help you create a more engaging and relatable story. Let's explore these elements and how they contribute to this type of conflict.

Individual Beliefs

At the heart of character vs society conflict is the protagonist's individual beliefs. These beliefs often go against the values or norms of their society, causing them to question, challenge, and ultimately stand up for what they believe in. By giving your character strong convictions, you can create a powerful conflict that resonates with readers.

Societal Expectations

Societal expectations are the norms, values, and rules that a society enforces upon its members. In character vs society conflict, the protagonist's beliefs clash with these expectations, leading to tension and opposition. To effectively portray this conflict, it's important to establish the specific societal expectations your character is going against and how they navigate the challenges that arise from this clash.

Values Clash

A values clash occurs when the protagonist's beliefs conflict with those of their society. This can lead to moral dilemmas, difficult choices, and ultimately, growth for the character. By showcasing the complexities of this clash, you can create a more thought-provoking and engaging story that encourages readers to reflect on their own values and beliefs.

With these elements in mind, let's move on to discussing how to develop character vs society conflict in your story.

Developing Character vs Society Conflict in Your Story

Now that you have a solid understanding of the elements of character vs society conflict, let's explore how to effectively develop this type of conflict in your story. Here are some steps to follow:

Establishing the Setting

First, you need to set the stage for your character vs society conflict by establishing the setting. This involves creating a vivid and detailed world that has its own set of societal expectations and norms that your character will eventually defy. Keep in mind that the setting can be realistic, futuristic, or even fantastical—what's important is that it provides the backdrop for your protagonist's struggle against societal pressures.

Creating a Relatable Character

A crucial aspect of character vs society conflict is having a relatable protagonist. This means creating a character with depth, personality, and a unique set of beliefs that readers can connect with. By making your character relatable, readers will be more invested in their journey and the challenges they face as they go against societal norms.

Building Tension

Character vs society conflict relies heavily on building tension between the protagonist and their society. This can be achieved by gradually revealing the differences between the character's beliefs and the societal expectations they're expected to conform to. As the tension builds, your character may face opposition, discrimination, or even persecution, which will further fuel the conflict and keep readers engaged.

Now that you have a better understanding of how to develop character vs society conflict in your story, let's explore how to use this conflict to drive your plot.

Using Character vs Society Conflict to Drive Your Plot

Character vs society conflict can be a powerful driving force for your story's plot. By incorporating the following key aspects, you can create a compelling narrative that keeps your readers engaged:

Plot Points

To effectively use character vs society conflict in your plot, consider developing key plot points that highlight your protagonist's struggle against societal norms. These plot points can include moments of defiance, acts of rebellion, or significant decisions that challenge the status quo. By incorporating these events into your story, you'll create a dynamic and engaging narrative that showcases the character vs society conflict.

Character Growth

As your protagonist faces the challenges of their conflict with society, they're likely to undergo significant character growth. This can involve a change in their beliefs, values, or even their understanding of the world around them. By showcasing this character growth, you'll not only create a more relatable and dynamic protagonist, but also demonstrate the power of individuality in the face of societal pressures.


Finally, consider how your character vs society conflict will be resolved. Will your protagonist ultimately conform to societal expectations, or will they continue to defy them? Perhaps they'll even inspire change within their society. The resolution of this conflict can serve as a powerful message about the importance of individuality and the potential for change when people challenge the status quo.

Now that you know how to use character vs society conflict to drive your plot, let's take a look at some well-known literary examples that utilize this type of conflict.

Literary Examples of Character vs Society Conflict

Character vs society conflict is a common theme in many popular and classic works of literature. Let's explore three well-known examples that demonstrate this type of conflict in action:

To Kill a Mockingbird

In Harper Lee's classic novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," we see the protagonist, Atticus Finch, face a character vs society conflict as he defends a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of a crime he didn't commit. Set in a racially segregated town in the southern United States, Atticus' decision to defend Tom goes against the societal norms and prejudices of the time. Through his actions, Atticus challenges the deeply ingrained racism of his community and teaches his children the importance of standing up for what's right, even when it's unpopular.

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel, "Fahrenheit 451," presents a character vs society conflict in which the protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman tasked with burning books in a society that has outlawed them. As Montag begins to question the oppressive regime and its destruction of knowledge, he starts to defy the norms and expectations of his society. Montag's struggle against a world that values ignorance over knowledge serves as a powerful commentary on the dangers of censorship and the importance of intellectual freedom.

The Hunger Games

In Suzanne Collins' popular series, "The Hunger Games," the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is thrust into a brutal competition where teenagers are forced to fight to the death as a form of entertainment and control by the oppressive government. Katniss' defiance against the cruel and inhumane practices of her society not only drives the plot but also inspires a revolution against the oppressive regime. This character vs society conflict highlights the power of individual actions and the potential for change when people stand up against unjust societal norms.

These examples demonstrate the power of character vs society conflict in driving a story's plot and creating engaging, thought-provoking narratives. By understanding and incorporating this type of conflict into your own writing, you can create captivating stories that resonate with readers and encourage them to reflect on the world around them.

If you're passionate about character design and want to dive deeper into the creative process, don't miss the workshop 'Creating Characters: The Design Process' by Kit Buss. This workshop will guide you through the essential steps and techniques to bring your characters to life, making them memorable and unique.