Conflict vs confrontation

So far we've been looking at what we might call confrontations rather than conflicts.

  • A confrontation is a moment in time. It marks a specific point when a conflict comes to a head.
  • A conflict is sustained over time. It represents the ongoing struggle for dominance between opposing forces, and might encapsulate many confrontations.

For example, in The Third Day, the Frost we saw a snippet in which a group of teenagers ambush a soldier.

  • That specific fight is a confrontation which begins and ends in a span of seconds.
  • But the confrontation with the guard sits within a much larger conflict between the invaded country and the invaders, which is sustained over months and years (and several books!) with many other dramatic confrontations along the way.

In Written in the Stars, we saw Naila and her boyfriend fighting with Naila's parents.

  • The fight in the dance hall, when Naila's parents drag her away and say she will never speak to Saif, is a confrontation. Again, it is over in seconds.
  • But the conflict is a struggle for control over Naila's personal life and decisions, and again it plays out over months and years, with many other confrontations along the way.

If you've done the Goals & Motivations lesson, you might remember how by asking "Why?" you can dig through many small goals to find the deeper motivation that connects them.

It's the same with confrontation and conflict: if you look at any specific confrontation, and simply ask, "Why are they fighting?" (and then ask it again, and again) you will find the underlying conflict.

This is an important point, because conflict is one of the fundamental organising forces in story and narrative.

So before we do any more writing, let's examine the idea of conflict more closely.