Conflict: Do All 4 Kinds Belong in Children’s Books

Yesterday I read Karen Ann Lefkowitz Writer’s Digest blog piece on the four types of conflict.  Of course, since I most often write for young readers, I immediately found myself wondering if all four types of conflict work in books for younger audiences.

Protagonist vs Self

At first, I wondered if this would work for young readers of all ages but then I started thinking that it really is incredibly common even in picture books.  In After the FallDan Santat’s Humpty Dumpty has to overcome his fear in order to soar.  Whenever a picture book character has to overcome a fear or learn a new skill in order to succeed the conflict is protagonist vs. self. Not surprisingly, it is also a common form of conflict for older readers, even in graphic novels such as Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.  Characters finding themselves can be found in fiction for all ages.

Protagonist vs Antagonist  

It wasn’t hard to come up with examples for this at the middle grade and young adult level – Harry Potter, Greenglass House, etc.  But it got trickier at the picture book level.  Beatrix Potter pulled it off and antagonists/wolves are lurking in the dark corners of fairy tales.  But antagonists seem to be much more common in older books.


Protagonist vs Supernatural 

Not sure that this can work for young readers?  The key is finding a way to make it age appropriate as in Aaron Reynolds’s picture book Creepy Pair of UnderwearThe Last Kids on Earth. Books for slightly older readers can go with scarier supernatural beings such as Max Brallier’s early middle grade  which is all about zombies.  It works because it is light-hearted and funny.  I know, I know.  Read it and you’ll see what I mean.

Protagonist vs the Environment

It probably isn’t going to take long to come up with a teen vs the environment book – Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner.  I have to admit that I couldn’t come up with anything in print where it is a preschooler vs the weather but it should be doable.  Again, think age appropriate.  Kid vs the rainy day.  Kid vs snow day when it means missing a great field trip.

Obviously weather situations and antagonists would have to be age appropriate.  Would their rarity be a good selling point or is it something publishers just aren’t interested in? This is definitely something I’m going to keep noodling over.