The Fictional Narrative: How Do I Get Out Of This Mess?

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10570

When you are having a problem with a friend or sibling, what do you think about? Do you get mad and want to bop them on the nose, even though you know that is wrong? Learn about conflict in stories!



English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Primary (K-2)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Do you think it takes more effort to climb to the top of the slide than it does sliding down?

There's a brand new sliding board at the playground. Everyone is just standing there admiring the fact that it's almost 50 feet tall. Nearly all of the kids at the park are talking about who is going to go down the slide first. Not being a risk-taker, you let a few others go ahead of you.

Finally, it's your turn. You grab onto the rungs and begin climbing. And climbing. And climbing. Finally, you reach the very top. You feel like you're on the very top of the world! You take a moment to enjoy the view. It's awfully high up there . . . You can't change your mind now; there is a group of kids waiting. In fact, one kid is climbing up the ladder now. You are in position. You are all set to go, and then . . .

Welcome to lesson number five in our series on The Fictional Narrative. (See Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar for the other series lessons.)

At this point, you have completed the introduction, developed your character, created an amazing descriptive setting, and thought about your cause-and-effect plot structure. Hopefully, your dwarf has started making his way around, causing things to happen, affecting the setting, and even interacting with other characters. Now, to make your story interesting, you need conflict or a problem.

This lesson is intended to give you a little help thinking about your climax. The climax is the point in the story when the main character faces a major problem. Your cause-and-effect rising action leads to your problem (conflict), which leads to the bigger problem.

In the last lesson, we said that the rising action was almost like a roller coaster, right? You ride up to the top ever so slowly (the cause), waiting for that exciting moment when you reach the top — just before you drop (effect).

As you climb the sliding board, you put out most of your effort getting to the climax, the most exciting point. You cause yourself to get to the top of the slide by using your arm and leg muscles to climb.

Think for a moment about sitting at the top of that slide. There are so many things that could lead to a climactic or problematic situation. For example,

  • you could get scared and need to find a way down without letting everyone know that you're scared.

  • the kid coming up behind you on the ladder could be the playground bully, and when he reaches you, he could give you a nice big push straight to the dirt pile waiting at the bottom.

  • Maybe you want to take a silly route: You get stuck on the slide because it's magnetic, and you have a pocket full of nickels.

  • How do you come up with your problem?

There are a number of things you need to think about that could cause your character to face a problem.

Think about your dwarf (character)

Review all of your character notes and the page you wrote about your dwarf. You may want to base your problem on your dwarf's unique character traits.

  • Is your dwarf always getting into trouble for something he can't necessarily help, like falling asleep or sneezing?
  • Do you want to give your character a background story that involves an unresolved (unfinished) issue that your character is now ready to face since Snow White and the queen are out of the picture?

Think about different situations in which your dwarf may run into trouble.

Think about your setting

You spent time filling out a graphic organizer to help you think about all of the different elements of the setting. You had to think about the way things around you look, smell, sound, taste, and feel. You had to think of a period in time and a location, as well as a general mood or feeling for the location of your story.

  • How can your setting help you structure your rising action and lead you to a problem?
  • Does your setting need a ruler, a king, or emperor to lead the people?
  • Are you up for the job except for one little issue that may be stopping you?
  • Did Snow White and Prince Charming get you thinking about true love?
  • Do you have a long-lost love whose affections you want to win back from a rival?

Think about where you are in the plot

You're making your way up to the top of the roller coaster, inch-by-inch, cause-and-effect style.

  • What problems could arise along the way to the top that would result in some sort of mess?

The climax, or major problem

Your character is now in a setting, interacting with other characters. You have reached the top of the slide. It's time for you to decide if you're going down with your arms in the air (pretending that you just don't care) or kicking and screaming.

In the original story of Snow White, the wicked witch turned herself into an old woman and handed Snow White a poisoned apple. The climax, or biggest problem, arose when Snow White took a bite of that poisoned apple and fell into a deep sleep.

Conflicts with others vs. conflicts within one's self

The problem or conflict that is our climax is Snow White falling asleep. The Dwarfs don't know what to do, and they think that Snow White is going to stay asleep forever. The conflict is between Snow White and her evil step-mother. This conflict was set in motion from the first time you saw the step-mother speak to her magic mirror. This type of conflict, much like the conflict in many popular fairy tales, is an external conflict. External means that it is between your character and another character in the story.

Another example of external conflict can be found in Cinderella. Cinderella's step-mother wants her own daughters to win the hand of the prince, so she makes it impossible for Cinderella to get to the Royal Ball. The conflict is external — it is between Cinderella and her stepmother.

When you make your way to the top of the slide, and the bully gives you a push to the bottom, the conflict is external. It is a problem between you and the bully.

Not every problem or conflict has to be between two characters. A conflict can be an internal conflict within the character. An internal conflict is one that the character carries inside him or her throughout the story, and it is not resolved until the character accomplishes something or faces some fear.

Let's go back to the sliding board. Say you had absolutely no choice but to climb to the top of the slide. The only problem is that you have NEVER gone down a slide before, let alone one so tall. All of the kids are chanting your name and clapping and encouraging you to slide.

  • Oh, did I tell you the reason you haven't gone down a slide?

Two years ago, your older brother fell from a slide half this size and broke his arm. Now you are TERRIFIED of sliding boards. You don't want to tell anyone that you're too scared to go down, so you have to make a decision:

  • Do you go down and take the chance of breaking a limb, or do you push past the kids on the ladder and climb back down, risking whatever fate follows?

That is an internal conflict. Maybe the bully does push you down the slide, but your problems are on-going, so you're used to it by now. The real fear is telling your mom or dad that you are being picked on by a bully. When you struggle with making a choice between right and wrong, good and bad, or two friends with different values, you are facing an internal conflict.

Do internal conflicts make a good climax?

Yes, yes, and yes! Any time a character faces a challenge or a fight, it's a good climax. There is no rule that says that challenge or fight needs to be with another character. Circumstances like admitting your true feelings, doing the right thing even though it's hard, deciding to break a promise if it keeps a friend safe, or conquering a fear, always capture an audience's attention AND make the character more likable!

Do internal conflicts work well in first person?

Absolutely. By telling the story from your perspective or point of view, you also have the chance to tell the readers how you feel. You can share your innermost secrets with the audience, so they know just how hard the decision is for you to make.

How do I write a resolution for an internal conflict?

We aren't quite there yet, but the resolution to an inner conflict would come once you face that inner problem and share your feelings with your audience.

Do I have to use an inner conflict?

Usually, an internal conflict will spring naturally from your external conflict, giving you one major problem (your climax). If you prefer a good old-fashioned sword fight over sharing your emotions, go for it! This is your story, and the content rule with fiction is that there are no rules. So, if you would rather battle a three-headed, chartreuse, icicle-spitting dragon from the land of Idontwannagotobed in order to win the throne with no strings attached, then draw your sword!

Creating conflict

The trick to creating a good conflict is using detail. Now is the time to really show (with descriptive words) — rather than tell — your reader what is happening. It's time for your character to face his biggest obstacle; what will it be?

Continue on to the Got It? section to create a Mind Map and find out!

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