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Having issues creating conflict

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by iclarinet, Jan 7, 2015.

  1. iclarinet

    iclarinet Acolyte

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    Hi everyone!

    I just started writing my first fantasy novel and I'm having trouble creating conflict within their world. It's a semi-communistic forest dwelling society. Their occupations change from day to day based on what they're assigned to do that day (my main character, Azura, opens the scene after just finishing her assigned task, mushroom harvesting) and each family is given an allotment of resources (mostly food, but may also contain cloth and hygienic items, not sure yet) based on how productive they were at work that day. These allotments tend to be generous, but the community is starting to have issues with food supply and winter is approaching (maybe). They are magical folk. They use it to manipulate the trees to grow to provide their shelter, as well as communicate with animals. Because they are so connected with the animals/nature, they live on a vegan diet. Very tall, dark people who resemble trees.

    I'm having a lot of fun character and world-building, I just don't have a conflict! I need ideas. Can any of you help? I'd appreciate it!
     
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    What form do you want this conflict to take? For example:

    External. Something from outside the community disrupts or threatens it in some way. Maybe it's people who they think they can exploit the people, maybe there's a resource they want, maybe the community's location would give them an advantage over their enemies, maybe they think the community is protecting a fugitive. Maybe it's a force of nature like an earthquake or forest fire that destroys the community's home. Whatever, someone or something from outside comes in and wrecks stuff.

    Internal. While everything looks idealistic on the surface, look a bit deeper and there's something sinister going on. The shortages aren't due to lack of food to harvest or people not working hard enough, they're because an administrator is skimming resources for personal gain, or siphoning off resources for a purpose the people wouldn't support but is presented to those in the know as being for the community's benefit, for example to pay a debt accrued as a result of a shady deal that got them the peace they have in the first place.

    Inter-personal. Character A and character B both want the same thing, but only one can have it, or they want mutually exclusive things. They take actions to attempt to win what they want. For example, both characters want to win a contest and the associated prize, of which there is only one. Or one character wants to have the opportunity to excavate an archaeological site and celebrate the heritage it represents, while the other wants it left alone to protect the wildlife that would be disrupted by excavation.

    Personal. The protagonist wants two things, and is torn between pursuing one or the other, initially hoping to pursue both, but later forced to decide what's most important to them and sacrifice one to gain the other - or defiantly continue to pursue both and lose both instead. Alternatively, the protagonist seeks to achieve something, and works to overcome their own failings and flaws to do so.
     
  3. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    The food supply is promising as an issue. I'd lean towards either "We don't have enough food; how do we get more?" (grand adventure) or "We don't have enough food; how do we divide our scant resources?" (really dig into what makes this society tick, and maybe deconstruct where it fails.)
     
  4. iclarinet

    iclarinet Acolyte

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    Thanks so much! Now that I understand my options better, I think I'll do an external conflict, in the form of a mysterious traveler who turns their world upside down?
     
  5. iclarinet

    iclarinet Acolyte

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    The "How do we get more?" option seems promising! I think I'll try a few things out and see where it takes me.
     
  6. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    As an addendum to the above: most stories contain more than one of those categories of conflict. Some contain all of them. For example, a story might have an overarching conflict which is external (eg, zombie apocalypse), with a subplot involving a personal conflict (eg, overcoming fear of public speaking). And you end up with a character giving their speech to a bunch of zombies, who aren't gonna judge her on the content or delivery of her speech and just wanna eat her brains, to help her overcome her fear, distracting the zombies with said speech while another character sneaks up behind them and throws oil on them so they can burn them all.

    Or some other conclusion in which the resolution to one conflict impacts upon the resolution to the other.
     
  7. iclarinet

    iclarinet Acolyte

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    LOL

    Loving that analogy. One of my main character's faults is that she is very "set in her ways" and not very open to change. So maybe the food shortage will be something that she won't want to be the one to deal with, but she'll have to end up changing in some way to save the forest.

    Or something like that. We'll see.
     
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Actually, novel length works tend to have all of those conflicts that Chilari mentioned. I've seen them labeled different but the essence of them is the same.

    Look at Lord of the rings.

    External - Sauron and the orcs
    Internal - Sauraman
    Interpersonal - everyone that wants the ring
    Personal - frodo and sams desire to return to the shire.

    And Star Wars
    External - the empire
    Internal - uncle Owen and the secret of Lukes father
    Interpersonal - Luke and Han desiring the princess
    Personal - Luke's desire to be a Jedi like his father
     
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  9. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

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    Getting some great advice here - the more kinds of conflict you have working in your story, the more exciting it's going to be. :)

    One way of thinking about it that I've been finding useful is writing the query summary version of the story early on. In that, you want to follow a structure like: "In Society, [everyone works as instructed for the good of the whole community -- world setup], but all Main Character wants is [to explore the forest -- personal goal and character conflict with the world]. When [a mysterious stranger arrives -- external conflict!], Main Character must [choose between what she's always wanted and the fate of the entire forest -- core conflict, personally relevant]."

    Other fun things to keep in mind:
    - your main character(s) should have wants and needs, and ideally they should be in conflict. (e.g. Buffy wants to be normal, but she needs to embrace being the Slayer so she can save the world.)
    - your main character(s) should have an antagonist which is the thing or person whose relationship with the main character causes the most emotion and conflict. (This doesn't have to be the "villain" - in a romantic story, the love interest is often the antagonist, because that relationship drives the plot; or it might be "man versus the wild" in a story of survival.)
    - the solution of each problem should lead inexorably into the next problem (e.g. killing the demon spiders attracts the ire of the spider goddess, who curses the village!)

    Of course, I splash around all this great advice that, half the time, I only manage to follow when I'm revising - i.e. I find these things and strengthen/prune them in my existing story. :D
     
    iclarinet and Jabrosky like this.
  10. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    In Massachusetts schools, the more popular breakdown of the four conflict types are: Person vs. Person, vs. Self, vs. Society, and vs. Environment. These are pretty much the same four that others mentioned under different names. The movie Aliens is awesome–so awesome that any future Aliens movies should be demoted to fanfic–so I'll let Ripley demonstrate the four conflicts.

    Person vs. Person - Ripley straps herself into a power-loader and beats the crap out of the alien queen after frying her entire family. She calls the queen a bitch, which is an insult because it means "female dog" and Ripley is a cat-person.

    Person vs. Self - Ripley faces her fear of going back to the Alienâ„¢ planet. Sweaty nightmares ensue.

    Person vs. Society - The corporation, Evilco, blames Ripley for destroying equipment worth billions of moneys while all of the witnesses are conveniently dead and evidence is allegedly floating in space. She is demoted to the rank of Loading Dock Personnel.

    Person vs. Environment - Ripley flexes her muscles to defeat the suction of space. Victory is hers until some ass-hat makes Alien[SUP]3[/SUP].
     
    BronzeOracle likes this.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    In your original post, I notice that you talk about the world and races, but you don't talk about individual characters. You don't really have conflict until you have individuals. Notice the categories of conflict listed by other folks here--they all involve a *person*.

    So, let's start with your people, your individual characters. That's where you'll find/create your conflict.
     
  12. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

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    What a great example of multiple conflicts driving the story! <bows in homage to James Cameron>

    Alien 3 - why why why????
     
    Legendary Sidekick likes this.
  13. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    So many great ideas here. Especially, much of it comes down to putting the conflicts of your choice in terms of the person: how what she's already been informs what she does, the spin she puts on everything that happens and the surprising tricks she'll try to deal with the story, and the change arc she goes through.

    You said you were enjoying your world too much to find conflict. That might mean you want to take a wider look at what kinds of conflict are possible; we tend to talk about stories as always about a problem or danger, and "conflict" certainly sounds harsh. But conflict can be relative, to however your characters are living and what you can get the reader to care about (the way the characters and you seem to be fascinated already).

    It might mean being sure you're in the scale you want; some authors have a whole forest invaded because they're good at writing that, but others plot that way because they don't know how to handle a story that's "just" one hunter trying to outdo another. It might mean there's no "problem" at all as long as there's still some kind of goal: competition, romance, and invention are just a few things where we think nobody has much to lose, but they'll throw themselves into the struggle to win the race or get the girl all the same.

    All you need is what someone wants, whether it's something to take, defend, build, win, endure, or anything (all the categories of conflict apply). As long as you can dig into the back and forth of making it happen and maybe failing, that process is your conflict; you just have to make the reader care about it.
     
  14. AndrewMelvin

    AndrewMelvin Scribe

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    I agree 100%. Every successful story can be summed up as: interesting people are drawn together in an interesting way. The rest (setting, world-building, etc.) is just window dressing.

    If A wants something, and B doesn't want them to have it, you have conflict (in the simplest way). I think of my main character's goals, which might be physical, spiritual, moral, etc., and then wonder what they have to overcome to achieve them. In my latest story, my MC has to summon anger/rage that he thought he had put behind him, and must also be willing to put friends in danger, all in order to rescue his kidnapped children. Meanwhile, he is being opposed by a man trying to overcome his own lusts in order to make something of himself, and a couple whose devotion to each other could lead to countless deaths. The characters oppose each other, but they also have internal conflicts that, I hope, make them seem like real people.

    Hopefully they are interesting enough to pull readers through the story. Where these things happen, and how, is not as important as the characters involved and why they do what they do.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2015
  15. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    Since they would be communist-esque put this into conflict with a character wanting individualism? That's both something that could be interesting to your readers as well as might also be a conflict for which research is readily available.
     
  16. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

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    I was recently watching a video of Robert Olen Butler as he starts a short story. The one thing he says your protagonist must have is yearning. So, what does your protag want more than anything and she can't get? That should be the main conflict of your story.
     
  17. rune_dominic

    rune_dominic New Member

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    If they are all close to the trees and nature, and they can make trees grow, then I'm sure they can use their magic to make the plants give more fruit, vegetables, grain, etc. So the 'short on food conflict' may not work this way.

    external conflicts:
    - barbarian people, who doesn't farm come every year to steal food, terrorize people
    - animals begin to act strange, some of them attacks people
    - there is something wrong with magic, suddenly they can't control the nature


    conflict in the society
    - different people can use different magic depending on they personality. Somebody can speak with predators easier than other, somebody is the master of fruits, etc. This can lead some kind of small conflicts.
    - in the communistic society there are leaders, officers, etc. Maybe there could be some kind of fight for power.
     
  18. Jenurik Name

    Jenurik Name Dreamer

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    The threat of approaching winter is really promising. The conflict, I think, most naturally derives from how this society responds to this. You could tie this in with the history and lore of your setting. Maybe the last winter was very cruel and resulted in harsh decisions being made.

    Various leaders have different ideas. This interrelates with the protagonists'/antagonists' personalities. Some of them seek to debate and compromise, while others are absolutists who believe their way is the only thing that can save them and are willing to do anything to achieve this end. Are there even objective protagonists/antagonists?

    For example, what if someone wants to leave the forest entirely? He is building a faction that is trying to enforce a voluntary exodus. His proposal is, from the internal logic of the world and probably many of the characters, an extremist one. But it could be the right one. Right there you have: a) dramatic tension, b) in-universe emotions of fear of the unknown, what lies beyond the forest, c) conflict between this leader and others who wish to entrench themselves in their dwellings and ride out the winter.

    It's more complex/original than an invasion story. It's one where the reader can't predict what's going to happen 10 chapters out. You could write it in such a way that half the readership would side with this and others against, and it could be compelling.
     
  19. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    A nice way I have learned to keep conflict in stories is by putting the protagonist's external (story) goal against their internal goal and keep raising the stakes on both of those. Also, try taking the black moment (the worst thing that can happen in terms of story goal) and plot what would need to happen in order to get there.

    Awesome titles I've used to help me with this lately:
    1. Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley
    2. Outlining Your Novel (with workbook) by K.M. Weiland.

    Highly recommend both of these. Best of luck to you!
     
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