Three Parts of Conflict

Posted on March 26, 2013 By

Storyworlds without conflict are beyond boring. They’re empty and pointless, like decaffeinated coffee or alcohol-free beer. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’d like to take some time today to break down the most important elements of any good conflict.


God knows I’ve pontificated on accessibility before, but I’m not going going to stop now. It’s kind of my thing. I’ve had t-shirts printed and everything.

You can pull people into your storyworld with an awesome setting and cast of characters, but if the audience doesn’t understand the world’s conflict — that is, what the stories are about — they’re not going to stick around.

This is a communication issue. You need to make it clear (a) what the different sides of the conflict are, (b) how they are different from each other, and (c) what’s at stake. If I can’t tell one side from another without reading the FAQ, we’ve got a problem.


Once the audience understands the conflict, do they find it intriguing, suspenseful, or fun enough to stick around and explore it? This is essential if your storyworld has an interactive component such as an RPG, an ARG, an MMO, or something that doesn’t have a three-letter abbreviation. Here’s a tip: if your core conflict revolves around trade agreements, minor family feuds, or civil debate over the finer points of theology, most folks won’t stick around long enough to see if gets interesting.


Your conflict has to be big. Specifically, it needs to be big enough to encompass a large number and variety of sub-conflicts, each of which can support its own series of stories.

For example, the main conflict of the Star Wars trilogy is the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. That one conflict — the war — is big enough to support 20+ years’ worth of space battles, secret missions, smuggling runs, and dozens of other sub-conflicts in various comics, novels, and games.

Conflict is a huge subject. It is, in essence, what every story — and by extension, every storyworld — is about. So no, I haven’t covered everything there is to say on the topic. But I’ve covered the basics, and if I’ve left you confused, you can always ask me a question in the comments.


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  1. […] declaring that a storyworld’s premise is defined by three aspects: its characters, its conflict, and its setting. In more practical terms, when creating our premise, we need to ask ourselves (a) […]

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