Non-violent conflict and protagonists

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Jabrosky, Aug 2, 2012.

  1. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    Most of the protagonists I have created have been warriors in one form or another, because I generally gravitate towards action-packed stories with lots of fighting. However, I would really like to experiment with a protagonist who doesn't engage in a lot of physical combat for once, like perhaps a scientist or a political leader. Unfortunately I have a difficult time reconciling my love for action with my desire to write more varied protagonist types. Obviously it is possible to have conflict without violence, but for some reason I struggle with imagining forms of conflict that have a lot of tension and excitement without violence. Can anyone please help me brainstorm?
  2. JonSnow

    JonSnow Troubadour

    Verbal conflict, philosophical conflict, moral conflict... all valid types of conflict for a decision-making individual. First, you have to determine what kind of character you want to make (a tactician, a scientist, a librarian... whatever), and whether or not this is an honest person, morally gray person, or manipulative person, then brainstorm on what types of dilemmas they might encounter in a world that is otherwise hostile.
  3. Watch The Sting. The movie is about a con, and the struggle is non-violent... mostly. The con itself is non-violent.
  4. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    There's loads of ways to approach this but I think the best for you, because of your predilection towards action, is to look at the similarities between tension caused by action & tension caused by words. Not all battles are fought with swords after all...

    Let's examine some similarities:

    1) Domination/Intimidation - In a physical fight, one person is trying to dominate the other. This is the same with words where one is trying to either push a point, bully their target, make someone fearful, intimidate to get information, etc. the main difference here is that the physical fight may cause serious injury or death. A verbal battle usually doesn't but it certainly can..... Threats of violence (either outright or hinted) are great for tension. Veiled threats, where both characters know what's really being said but neither actually states a threat outright can often be the most tense & satisfying parts of a story.

    2) Protection - Think of a battle scene where a warrior is guarding the entrance to a corridor. Beyond that entrance his wife and children flee a band of attackers. Here this warrior is taking the "None shall pass" role. Is this very different from a mother who will not give information out that will hurt her family regardless of the cost. Is it that far removed from that same warrior being in a suit instead of armor and defending his family's honor (which grants them title & incomes) against other treacherous nobles of the royal court who scheme to take possession of his estates?

    I could go on and on but I won't.... It'll be more fun & relevant for you if you develop scenarios for yourself.

    My advice, if you want to delve deeper into this type of tension, is to rely on what your already strong at for a base (action). Make a list of the types of action scenes you love to write (the ones you're good at). Then draw up a scenario that parallels those scenes but where the struggle is fought verbally.

    I think you will surprise yourself.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
    Jabrosky likes this.
  5. Addison

    Addison Auror

    Here's a method to get yourself acquainted with non-violent protags and conflict. Look at one of your earlier action-packed works. Look at side characters or background characters. The baker, the mail boy, the guy climbing out of the sewer, whatever. Put yourself in their POV and tell their story on the sidelines of the action packed part. Sort the other side of the coin I guess.
  6. ShortHair

    ShortHair Sage

    My latest book doesn't have a lot of swordplay, so it's a bit of a struggle to find conflicts to drive the story along. There are some arguments, some traps, and some rivalries. The biggest conflict of all may be between the country's current way of life and the ways it will have to change to survive.

    As JonSnow says, there are all kinds of conflict. Handled properly, a polite discussion between two diplomats can be just as intriguing as a duel to the death. One may be pushing for a war that will result in thousands of deaths, while the other has to decide between upholding principle or appeasing a dictator.

    As T.Allen.Smith says, tension can come from any situation. Imagine your political leader in full battle regalia and the various problems he faces as deadly foes. That picture can make a good metaphor for his situation and give you inspiration for your story.

    A scientist can make a good protagonist if you put her in the right situation. There are whole swathes of science fiction about making discoveries, whether in a test tube or in a distant galaxy. We instinctively fear the unknown, so scientists have an innate conflict because they want to learn something new. Other internal conflicts are fear of failure, for disappointing her mentor(s); and fear of shame, for being proved wrong by her colleagues or for making a preposterous claim. You can even manufacture conflict with another scientist who's racing toward the same discovery.

    The best advice I can give you is to push yourself. If you're used to writing about fighters, write about a lover or a gambler. Try things you've never tried before. You'll never know how far you can go until you get there.
  7. Lorna

    Lorna Inkling

    What creates tension is the stakes involved, rather than the nature of the scene.

    For example the fate of the world could hinge on the outcome of an apocalyptic battle, or somebody completing a quest for a unique flower in an enchanted garden.

    In the same way a character could be killed with a sword through the heart. Or because of the betrayal of a lover, their heart breaks and they destroy themselves through reckless acts and drink.
  8. Addison

    Addison Auror

    Fights and explosions aren't the only type of conflict. There are four layers of conflict: internal, external, interpersonal and antagonist. Each layer makes the story.
    External-the overall plot. The points which take it from one peak of the overall story arc.
    Internal- the characters mental and emotional struggles with love, life, friends, is he/she doing the right thing etc.
    Interpersonal-interactions between the protag, the mentor, side characters and such.
    Antagonist- what the villain is up to. how he's pushing the hero away from his true motives but pulling him close to kill and away from his/her friends.
    Lorna likes this.
  9. OnumVeritae

    OnumVeritae New Member

    You could approach the conflict like a game of cards. The threat of violence can hang over a scenario where characters with warrior skills can simply determine who has the higher card and who should just fold. One example could be a confident thief with reputation for being a tough guy. He steals valuable trade goods from a rich man with a few sellswords in his pocket.
    Then he enters the den of the rich man, offering to sell him back the goods at a low discount. The thief could be threatened but simply explain that the rich man is no position to threaten, whether it be because he would never find those valuable goods as a result or the thief is just too badass to break under torture.

    In other words, violence is possible but made unneccessary.
  10. Wynnara

    Wynnara Minstrel

    One of my favourite books that I discovered in recent years was Lois McMaster Bujold's "The Curse of Chalion" which has a former soldier, returning to his homeland after he was sold as a slave and rowed on the galleys in foreign seas. He is both physically and psychologically damaged by the experience so he ends up as the tutor in the royal household. What I actually really loved about this book is that the protagonist is someone who doesn't want the lime light... he's sick and tired of war and just wants a somewhat peaceful retirement after the horrors he's been through and seen... but, due to the political intrigue and dark history swirling around the royal family, he gets drawn in despite himself... although again, his role is advisory and strategic, not physical.

    If you haven't read it already, it might be worth checking out if you're thinking about writing that kind of character.
  11. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

    Hey Jabrosky, this thread is old but I was doing a search under non-violence and found it.

    Have you seen the movie Lincoln? Excellent film with plenty of conflict and massive stakes and its all about people being convinced, manipulated etc etc to bring about a social change. Sure there's a war going on but its just to show the context of the work Lincoln was doing. I really loved it as a vision of how change can occur without violence.
  12. MFreako

    MFreako Troubadour

    Conflict arises when two forces have opposing goals. Apply this principle to every scene you write, and you're set.

    It can be people fighting each other with swords, or words, or through intermediaries. It can be people fighting nature. It can be one aspect of a character's psyche clashing with another. The possibilities are limitless. Hell, a scene in which a man makes french toast for his little boy can be tense and full of conflict (Kramer vs. Kramer, anyone?)

    When two wills (or more) are at odds, conflict is pretty much a given. The key here is to figure out your characters' motivations. Let's say the scene revolves around two characters, one of them being your MC, and the other his rival. Your MC's goal is to do/get X. The rival's goal must be directly opposed to your MC's goal. It can be denying your MC X, or getting X for himself, or destroying X. It doesn't matter. When the goals are opposed, the conflict pretty much writes itself.
    cupiscent likes this.
  13. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    I am the anti-Tyrion, I hate political non-violent conflict, the games of power.
    Non-violent conflict can be interesting, but I don't have the mental dexterity to plot out the devious plannings of bureacrats. That is why I stay out of politics in my writing.
    Game of thrones does very well in this area.
    The threat of violence is there if they over play, but they all play the game to get the few crumbs of power uner the ruling monarch.
  14. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Try Catch 22. It may be old but it is a brilliant read. And the conflict is with bureaucracy and Yossarian's internal demons. The only thing he wants to do is get out of the war.

    Cheers, Greg.
  15. One story that has a great non violent conflict is from the movie Mr. Smith goes to Washington. That gave me a great idea for one of my novels.
  16. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Pretty much every episode of House of Cards.
  17. spectre

    spectre Sage

    you can satisfy your jones for both in the intelligence world. Political figures get assassinated, kidnapped, interrogated. Religious leaders rebel, get persecuted; etc. I mean think about a kidnapping situation, like that in the movie with the Israeli spies who want to kill a rebel they thought they had been done with some years earlier when they kidnapped him at his doctor's office.

    first there is the idea of the jewish/Nazi conflict
    second there is the conflict of governmental regime as the kidnapping happens in a fascist country, and as such there are street barricades and pass systems to get on the train or what have you, at least if not literally through suspicious tendency and protocol

    third there was the conflict of caring for the kidnapped victim, his responses, their need to make him behave

    fourth was the conflict of communication with the Israeli government or friendly governments through the pressure of the plan which ultimately became big news as the doctor was missing and there was an incident at a train station

    the climax of the backstory is when the good doctor escapes and the main story which is occurring some years later is that they find him in Poland, have to go to this nursing facility he lives in, penetrate security, assassinate, and get out.

    you have to kind of develop the shape of at least one conflict, the big bang started the size of a marble I believe and look what we got though so don't be discouraged

    I appreciate the scenes are action packed, but ultimately the story is told with very little violence. it is a story about maneuvering.

    a great book with no violence at all though, which might help you see the kinds of conflict a person endures is Catcher in the Rye, it's all about this kid and his problems. The Giver was another one and they are both really short.
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2014

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