Conflict, according to the dictionary, is the following:
1) a fight, battle, or struggle, esp. a prolonged struggle; strife.
2) controversy; quarrel: conflicts between parties.
3) discord of action, feeling, or effect; antagonism or opposition, as of interests or principles: a conflict of ideas.
4) a striking together; collision.
5) incompatibility or interference, as of one idea, desire, event, or activity with another: a conflict in the schedule.
6) Psychiatry. a mental struggle arising from opposing demands or impulses.
Most people, if asked what a conflict is, will say a fight or an argument. A fight or an argument is conflict, but conflict is not just a fight or an argument. Look at the above definition and you can see that there is so much more to conflict than just argument.
Your story cannot exist without conflict. Something has to be at stake. If not, the plot is non-existent. The conflict in your story can be many different things. For a young child, a conflict could be something as simple as deciding what clothes to wear to school that day. For an older child, she might worry about being accepted into a certain peer group. For an adult, wanting to be more successful at work would be an option.
Basically, conflict is a dramatic struggle between 2 different forces in a story. There are 5 types of struggle – one character against another, a character against nature, a character against society, and a character against self, a character against fate.
Whatever you decide the conflict is, your character needs to want it more than anything. Does he want reconciliation with his parents? Maybe he wants reconciliation with his wife. Possibly he wants to frame his wife for murder and see her put to death. Agatha Christie went that route in Towards Zero. It is one of the most awesome books I have ever read. This is an example of one character against another.
Man against nature. Your character could possibly be caught out in a killer storm. Having to fight his way through the storm and surviving it would be a major conflict against nature. Your character could be lost in the jungles of South America or lost in the Rocky Mountains, far away from civilization.
Man against society. Let’s say that only men are allowed to become actors, but Jenny’s dream is to act. She fights and fights against everyone to be able to do so. This is Jenny fighting against society. Back before women were allowed to vote, those suffragists who led the fight for women to vote were fighting against society.
Character fighting self. Well, that one is pretty self-explanatory. Your character has a personal conflict deep within that he or she is trying to work out. For example, does Melissa continue to be friends with Janice even though none of the other girls accept Janice?
Man against fate. My guess is that a lot of people feel this conflict in their own lives. For example, a boy has a dream of growing up to be a first rate lawyer, but instead he grows up to work in the local steel mill. There is a conflict about what he felt his fate should be and the way it turned out. What stopped him from going to law school and take a job at the local steel mill? Is there any way for him to change this now?
What is at stake for your character? The consequences if your character fails need to be extreme so the reader will be praying for your character’s success. In Towards Zero, if the wife fails to be proven innocent, she dies. If her husband fails to have his wife proven guilty of murder, then everyone will look to see what part he played in the murder.
Death could be the result of your character’s failure, or it could be something a little less drastic. Maybe the loss of a house or business would be the outcome. Possibly a life long dream would die. Whatever is at stake for your character, make sure it would be devastating for him if he fails.