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Non-violent conflicts/obstacles


So I'm set to write a short story about a conversation between an acolyte who is acting as a grief counselor to warriors who live in a strict warrior culture that reviles weakness of any kind. They have definite hang-ups when it comes to comforting the vanquished, so it probably throws a wrench into the grieving process, when you can't honor your fallen allies, much less somebody who didn't die in battle.

I can imagine there are many ways I can go with this, but I'm looking for some concrete, specific plot devices I can throw in to make these sorts of stories interesting to those who like to see the protagonist and his subject struggle through an obstacle.

The main problem I'm having is balancing the need to help the subject grieve, with the disdain for those who fall/fail in battle.


Article Team
I'd love to help with this, as I love to discuss inner conflict and non-violent struggles. Can I ask a few questions?

Who is the MC? What is their goal in the scene?


Hello, thanks for the questions. I hope you forgive me if I summarize a bit, and forgive the hackiness of the backstory. It's hard to explain it gracefully.

The mc's past is a bit convoluted over the past little while. He was originally a jailer that engaged in slavery, selling transport prisoners to slavers, as there would be little way of tracking them once they're punished in such a way. Prisoners were often lost track of when put on transport. So he's not the nicest person to start out with. He's nice enough to law-abiding people, but when it came to criminals and prisoners, he was like an evil inspector Javert on steroids. So a very harsh and possibly unlikeable personality to start out.

He had a lapse of conscience though, when hunting some fugitive woman down. They fought it out at first, but eventually ran into a rough patch on their way back to the city, and had to rely on each other. As such, they kinda bonded, and the mc went a bit soft on his anti-crime stance. She later showed her true colors tho, and betrayed him to slavers himself, sending him across the map to a dark city.

Anyway, long story short, he went through some struggles and eventually through a mix of luck and opportunism manages to free himself. He arrives at the aforementioned city kind of broken in terms of purpose, and seriously wounded. A priest outside the temple allows him inside, and there he finds many warriors in prayer to a warrior god. He sits down, and begins conversing with those around him. Eventually he gets to using his psychological skills (learned from his days as a jailer/lawman) to unravel their troubles. He comes to an unspoken accord with them, they seem honorable, so he takes a liking to them. Eventually, they entrust him with their woes, of men fallen or captured in battle. They're not allowed to wear their grief on their sleeves without inviting ridicule. So he has to carefully treat their grief, while trying not to talk down to them or be too soft.


Article Team
ok, cool. So tell me about the scene. What is his goal in the scene? What is the purpose of talking with these warriors?


His overall goal is to keep a roof over his head, for the time being, and figure out exactly where he is. He begins by talking to these people to find out more about where he's landed. Then he gets pulled in by their telling of stories about their travels and battles and so forth. Eventually it comes his turn to share some of his own stories.


Dead comrades/family members/friends. Various people. Just giving different stories.


Based on this setup, I recommend trying to find a copy of Ajax by Sophocles. Since it was written as a play, it shouldn't be that long to read. It's a story written by an ancient Greek soldier for an audience of ancient Greek soldier and is about the struggles of veterans dealing with their experiences. And I've heard it's still being used by military counselors to help veterans getting some better perspective about their situation, which apparently is being recieved very well.
It could probably be a really valuable resource for your work.


toujours gai, archie
The grieving part feels off to me. This is a warrior society. Fallen comrades are usually celebrated. Family members get avenged. I imagine real grief figures in there somewhere, but most likely it would be private, deeply buried. If it's shared at all, it would be in a drinking hall, strictly among fellow warriors. It feels unlikely that there would be a socially-sanctioned place where warriors went to deal with grief in a formal way.

But they might start out by bragging. They might start--especially if your MC can get into a drinking hall--by the celebration of fallen comrades, but then open up when deep in their cups. They might also act out, for grief can manifest in ways that even the griever doesn't recognize. So they might wind up in jail, or restrained by others, or even fallen into a fit. An outsider with a reputation for healing might well be given a chance, especially if the one struggling is highly valued--a hero, still physically fit, but unreliable due to behaviors no one understands. Do that a few times, and word would get round.

The challenge would be to pry open what has been sealed up. That could involve all sorts of interesting conflicts. You could add more wrinkles by introducing magic--the warrior might be a warrior mage, but also the healer might be a magician, initially mistrusted by the warrior. Another source of conflict might be race or gender differences--anything to make the griever unwilling to talk about anything important. Ooh, a good one would be to have the griever be not just a hero but the king's son, or the king's long-time battle companion or counselor. Healing would then involve additional stakes.

How do you see story resolution? The warrior returns to combat?
Grief might not circle around the death of others, alone, so much as the warrior's inability to fight well in that moment—or even his cowardice—which he blames for the death.

In some cases, perhaps he saw this inability, cowardice or terror in the fallen friend—a person who had always seemed the epitome of skill and courage. Basically, having one's own image of the world shattered can be a very deep psychological blow.

It might also have something to do with the blunt examples of mortality he witnessed in battle. Guts ripped out, arms and legs and heads separated from bodies. I think there's some evidence that ancient Greeks, for instance, went into battle half drunk or more than half drunk as a matter of course, to blunt the experience. Again, these images of mortality can be an example of having one's image of the world shattered. Another related example could be the fields of dead left for the birds, in particular battles. Plus, the inability to collect the dead and honor their fallen bodies with the proper rituals could lead to a sense of guilt.


Article Team
You also have the option for an interesting internal struggle within the main character.
If he's among warriors and fighters which he consider honorable, he might begin to measure his own actions against theirs. The warriors risk their lives in battle fighting equal or stronger opponents, while he himself fought prisoners and captives who were weaker or at a disadvantage. He might be taking on board the emotional struggles of the warriors and easing their pains, but within him his own struggles grow ever deeper. What if he's not the man he thought he was, but a dishonorable wretch taking pleasure in punishing the weaker people who are already at his mercy?

Or you could take it the other way. Under the guise of helping the warriors he's really making them relive their darkest moments, making them suffer through the pain and grief again and again.


Oh man, all of the feedback and ideas you guys have handed me is fantastic. I also didn't anticipate a struggle of comparisons within the main character himself. I mean, the focus should naturally be on the main character but sometimes I get away with that when trying to just say what's going on.
I think you're overlooking a few great opportunies:

Your MC was basically, a 'U.S. Marshal' until injury and circumstances took him out of what he felt was honorable duty to (insert cause, ideal or principle here). Maybe he was a hard-ass, maybe he bent the rules. But he believes he is a principled man. Your MC is greiving for the life he lost, although he is still alive.

As an outsider to this warrior culture, your MC gets to ask questions your readers want to ask. You said he's in a far off land, and this is a strange place full of different ideas and customs. Some I imagine starkly in contrast to his own sensibilities about death, honor, and dying in the line of duty. I would think it would help your character's story arc and development if he had a partner-- perhaps a best friend-- in the 'US Marshalls' who died heroically in the line of duty. Perhaps this event turned his heart hard and unyielding to the criminals and prisoners he dealt with.

To then meet a group of bad-ass warriors who believe his friend's death in the line of duty is a 'failure'?... wow. And that this friend shouldn't be mourned or honored because of this 'failure'? Wow.
How do these warriors regard their own casualties who survive battle, but just barely? They're still technically alive, but will never fight again. That is a philosophical question in this belief system I would want an answer to.

Perhaps, your wounded and lost MC should meet one of these 'disabled' warriors who also is living at the temple, who feels rejected (or over-revered, depending on the belief system) or jaded by the whole belief system.

By forcing people to explain and defend their beliefs to you, it forces their own self-analysis within this system. It either reaffirms these beliefs, or erodes them. This would be especially complicated if the warriors truly validated and accepted the honorable deeds, actions and services of a "non-warrior", your US Marshall MC. How do your warriors regard the deaths (violent murder, genocide, war crimes against unarmed civilians, etc.) of non-warriors in general? Are the permitted to 'mourn' (however reserved) the deaths of family, friends, innocents/children?

Grief counseling, I believe, would develop rather organically in a set up such as this. Every one would probably feel free to speak their true feelings/thoughts with the non-judgmental, if slightly bewildered, stranger. Especially if regarded as an honorable man. You would probably forgive his ignorance/non-beliefs in the face of your beliefs.

Now, If your MC served drinks, he'd be the perfect bar-tender confessor to weary souls.