The easiest way to distinguish between an intellectual and an emotional conflict is to examine them outside the context of the plot or the story.
An intellectual conflict is a conflict of thoughts and ideas while an emotional conflict is a conflict of feelings.
Many fiction writers are tempted to use intellectual conflicts because we all see such conflicts everywhere, on the morning news and in newspapers, on the government websites and social media.
Intellectual conflicts start in our minds. The goal of many fictional books is not to engage minds, but to engage hearts and feelings. This is why intellectual debates can be very counterproductive in fiction books, especially in such genres and romance, comedy and thrillers. Intellectual enlightenment is not a priority in books of these categories.
Unlike opinions based on intellectual thoughts, feelings do not need a logical basis. For this reason, they can’t be reasoned away. They come from the inside of humans and they are because they are. Emotions affect how we see ourselves, our friends, family, and people we love. This is why it is so important for good fiction novels to have emotional conflicts and plots.