Arguably the most common form of conflict is versus Other. In this particular conflict, there is someone else your protagonist must face off against. While some other forms can get away with not having an antagonist, that doesn’t work in a versus Other conflict.
With the versus Other conflict, you always have someone outside of the protagonist struggling against your protagonist. Be that you have a super villain struggling against his arch nemesis, a bank robber against police, versus other conflicts have to have an antagonist.
Keep in mind when using a versus Other that you also have to spend time on developing and motivating your antagonist.
One of the forms of conflict is Man versus Fate. Stories with a versus Fate conflict often showcase a struggle against destiny. Much like the the versus Society conflicts, stories with a versus Fate conflict may not have an obvious antagonist. Rather, the conflict here demonstrates a the clash between a predetermined path and free will.
In some ways, this makes versus Fate conflicts an internal struggle. Although your character may be inevitably drawn into their destiny, they can’t help but react to what’s happening around them, and possibly even to try and delay that inevitable end.
Some cases of this however, also take on a theological element when the ‘fate’ itself is manipulated by a god or deity. Greek myths are littered with examples of this; they often pit mortals against divine demands and whims.
Man versus Nature is another of the six forms of conflict. At their base, these stories include facing down an element of nature. In some cases, the character may seek out the conflict, striving to assert their dominance over an element of nature (i.e. slaying the dragon).
A fairly well-known tale is that of the ant and the grasshopper–the hardworking ant diligently prepares for the upcoming winter while the grasshopper laughs and plays the summer away. Come winter and the ant is fine while the grasshopper ends up dead. Although that particular example is a folk tale, the play of conflict in versus Nature stories is clear: the conflict doesn’t need to necessarily have to have a struggle. The tension of knowing what is coming for the foolish grasshopper can be a powerful tool to use.
Another place to find versus Nature conflicts is also in survival stories. These might be in places where someone has survived attacks by various animals, or days in the wilderness, or in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Like some of the other forms of conflict, Man versus Machine does feature external conflicts. Unlike the other forms however, man versus machine is unique in that this particular type of conflict can pop up in two types. One, is quite literally man versus machine: the attempt to destroy the machine. The other is the struggle to keep up with constantly advancing technology.
Interestingly enough, this particular form of conflict also has roots in commentary and cautionary tales. As technologies advanced, many stories have arrived cautioning against relying too much on machines. In that manner, stories of versus Machine can have traits of versus Society in that they challenge new societal norms.
Although it might seem as if this is limited strictly to science fiction, versus Machine is actually really versatile as a conflict. It can also apply to modern drama and the changing dynamics, especially as technology becomes more and more integrated into the daily life. Man versus Machine also works nicely in thrillers where a large component might be in attempting to track down a piece of digital information, or to hide it as the case may be.
Man versus Society is another form of conflict. Conflicts including society have a unique trait to their antagonists in that they don’t necessarily have an antagonist per se. Most of the problems in these types of stories come from challenging a traditional or societal norm.
With versus society conflicts, you may have a character who plays heavily as the antagonist role, or you may have several characters who present as antagonists. Because the main challenge is in that societal idea or view, it’s easy that your ‘antagonist’ changes from one person to the next, morphing as each smaller obstacle is overcome.
Don’t be fooled if you feel like your plot is meandering without the traditional antagonist. Take a look at what’s causing each problem and make sure it relates back to the idea that your main characters are trying to challenge.
In some cases, you may very well have a traditional antagonist, who shows up as an embodiment of that idea. This could be anything from someone there to enforce that traditional idea, an older patriarch/matriarch, a leader of the group trying to defend the norm or even someone who has fallen into the trap presented by this idea.