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When to introduce the main conflict/goal?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ChasingSuns, Feb 18, 2016.

  1. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

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    I've been hearing that the main conflict should be introduced in the first chapter. How true is this? My major conflict doesn't get revealed until the second chapter. I feel like the events of the first chapter are important to the story, and they can't really be merged with the second chapter. Any advice on this would be awesome! Thanks as always for your time :)
     
  2. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    I don't know if it needs to be the first chapter but the sooner the better. If you are laying the stones in place that lead to the main conflict in the early parts of the story then at least you are building reader anticipation.

    The prologue or first chapter (haven't decided yet) of one of of my books hints towards something big happening sometime in the near future. Foreshadowing is sometimes a lot better than an outright explanation.
     
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  3. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

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    There is something that is hinted at that is bigger in the first chapter, but it is something that has more to do with the person that they are escorting and her arc (she becomes a POV character later). This bigger event will tie into the main conflict, but isn't directly associated to it. Would a side conflict that ends up being major to a POV character do the job?
     
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    IMHO you have until the end of the first act to introduce your main conflict. That's roughly the first 25% of your story. But rule of thumb is to try and introduce or at least hint about it ASAP.

    Also, I think there's at least one exception to this. In the first act, you can introduce a conflict that appears to be the main one, but in actuality it's only something that leads you to the true main conflict later in the story.
     
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  5. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

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    This is something that I am doing in terms of the overall story. The major conflict of the first book will be revealed within chapter two of the first book, but even though the big, overarching conflict is hinted at in the first book, it doesn't become completely aware to the characters until after the events of the first book (this story is shaping up to be at least three books).
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There's a conflict right at the start. It's trivial and even a little silly, but it is immediate. That's the principle to which I hold: introduce some sort of conflict at once. It doesn't need to be huge; in fact, it rarely is. More often it is both prosaic and immediate, and affords the reader a glimpse into your characters as they deal with that conflict.
     
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  7. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    This sounds very much like the so-called 'Macguffin'. The Macguffin is not perfectly clear to me, so I'm curious if there is a distinction here. Are these two different-but-similar things, or are they pretty much the same?
     
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I think they're different.

    From my understanding, a Macguffin is simply a something that a character pursues that really has no other purpose to the plot other than to be pursued. The specific nature of the Macguffin is unimportant and is often never explained, at least not in detail.

    EG. The Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The one ring. A date with the most mysterious girl in highschool. A burger from White Castle.

    Macguffin stories, IMHO, are not about destinations. They're about journeys.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2016
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  9. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Thanks for the answer PP. But I must admit, I'm more confused than ever. The One Ring is a Macguffin? That doesn't sound right to me. The nature and history of the ring is given in great detail and also drives the entire plot of the story and is in no way incidental. If that is a Macguffin, then I absolutely have no idea what a Macguffin is at all. I guess I should just avoid the term altogether.

    (I can't speak to the last two examples--if they are from existing stories, they are ones I am not familiar with.)
     
  10. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I was under the impression that the macguffin is not a bad thing, it is just a plot device...

    So in The Lord Of The Rings the macguffin was the ring, but it could have just have easily have been an amulet, a person, a suitcase, a genetically modified Wolvog... It doesn't matter. It being a ring is not what is important. The journey is what the story is about, like PP noted.

    I'm writing a caper right now which is the embodiment of the macguffin. Oceans 11 it is the cash in the Bellagio, Oceans 12 it is the Russian eggs, but the thing is that what they are going after doesn't matter. If they failed in their quest there are other treasures they can go after... The real story is about revenge, competition, proving themselves, love... Etc, not about the macguffin. After the movie is finished it doesn't matter what they were robbing. You don't have to remember if it was the Bellagio or Circus Circus. The macguffin was irrelevant to the real plot.

    In Mission Impossible 1 the macguffin is the NOC list. In MI2 it's the rabbits foot. In Indiana Jones it is the lost arc, the holy grail, the crystal skull etc. None of these are important to the plot. You could swap them out for any old artifact and it would still be the same story. The goal is "save he world" from bad Germans. It doesn't matter what macguffin they use to tell that story.

    James Bond is the same but with the Soviets. The writers use a different, totally irrelevant macguffin every time to set James Bond up so he can kill some soviets.

    Does that make sense?

    In the case of The Devinci Code, however, the identity of the holy grail is the whole point of the story, so it is not a macguffin.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2016
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  11. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    But if you swap the ring for a person, how would Frodo accidently become invisible at the Prancing Pony?
     
  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Of course the macguffin has to play a role in the story! But JRR Tolkien could have made it an amulet that turns him invisiable, or a person with the ability to turn him invisible. Just like in Indiana Jones if it wasn't the ark melting faces off it could have been any other sort of object... but yes, you do have to stay within the limitations of your chosen macguffin... so Oceans 11 must stay within what is possible at the Bellagio... but the point is that the ring isn't what the real story is about. The Fellowship is what the story is about. The people, dwarves, elves etc all coming together to defeat a common enemy.

    I love this quote from Blake Snyder on what he calls the "Golden Fleece" (Which is what LOTR would be considered):

    A hero goes "on the road" in search of one thing and winds up discovering something else - himself.

    Like the twists of any story, the milestones of The Golden Fleece are the people and incidents that our hero or heroes encounter along the way. Because it's episodic it seems not to be connected, but it must be. The theme of every Golden Fleece is internal growth: how the incidents affect the hero is, in fact, the plot. It is the way we know that we are truly making forward progress - it's not the mileage we're racking up that makes a good Golden Fleece, it's the way the hero changes as he goes. And forcing these milestones to mean something to the hero is your job.

    Ok, so in this way, The Lord of the Rings is the same story as the new Vacation with Ed Helms. In Frodo's case his journey is to destroy the Ring, but the real story is about how Frodo changes... to the point that he can never return to the shire. The ring is irrelevant. It is thrown in the fire, boom, everyone is happy... but Frodo has changed. His journey has made him something else and he can never go back. THAT is what the story is about. In Vacation Rusty wants to go to Wally World to unite his family. They go on a journey and everyone reaches milestones and breaking points along the way. Change in the family dynamic is what is important. Wally World could just as easily be the Grand Canyon, or Paris, or Disneyland.
     
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    The only thing that's of importance is that the ring has power. The history of it, though interesting, doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the owner will possess its power. The ability to turn someone invisible is a manifestation of that power.

    Now if you were to swap the ring with a person, then the possessor/controller of that person will have power. And in order to show a manifestation of that power, that person could turn people invisible. OR they could make them run really fast like the Flash. OR give them super strength.

    The McGuffin doesn't matter. The specific power it gives doesn't matter. But when the author nails down what the McGuffin is and what power it gives, then the story has to work with those specifics.

    So in LOTR if the McGuffin was a person named Pip, and they gave their master super strength, and more if the master knows how to harness Pip's true power, then in the Prancing Pony Pip could accidentally give Frodo super speed and he could run out of there really fast with Pip.

    Now that's a change in the details, but the over all story doesn't change. It's a change in window dressing.

    FYI the last two examples I gave, the first is from the movie Some Kind of Wonderful, and the second is from Harold and Kumar goto White Castle.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2016
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  14. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I guess too, it's important not to get the macguffin confused with the main conflict. In LOTR the main conflict is stopping Sauron. What if JRR Tolkien had decided to make Frodo drop the ring? What if he lost it and could never get it back? Would that stop them? Would they find another way to defeat the bad guy? Would Gandolf have a plan? You bet they would. So the ring is just a means to an end. It is not the end itself... It is simply a vessel for moving the story forward.

    In Vacation, would it ruin the story if they never made it to Wally World? What if they had a great reconciliation in the parking lot and decided not to even go in? What if they, as a family, agreed to just go home? It would probably still work, because Wally World isn't the goal. The family healing is the goal. Wally World is the macguffin to move the family forward.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2016
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  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Scribal Lord is hereby granted fifty Awesome Points for comparing Lord of the Rings with Vacation.
     
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  16. Russ

    Russ Istar

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  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    That wasn't a MacGuffin, Russ, it was a dingus. :)
     
  18. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Not that this is particularly important, and not that it matters whether we agree on what is and isn't a Macguffin, but my interpretation of the definitions makes me conclude that both the One Ring and the Ark are NOT Macguffins--but they ARE plot devices.

    The definitions I'm looking at say that if the object does anything, or is used in the plot, it is not a Macguffin. That alone makes the ring not a Macguffin--it is used throughout the story, often contributing to changes in the direction of the plot. The Macguffin is also supposed to often have little or no narrative explanation. The ring has a ton of explanation. The nature of a Macguffin is supposed to be unimportant to the plot. The nature of the ring is crucial to the plot of LOTR--it has been imbued with much of Sauron's personal power and has sentience and agency. Not something easily swapped out.

    If these are the correct definitions, then the ring can't be a Macguffin. But if there are different definitions, then it might be.

    I picture the Macguffin as something much more mundane--a suitcase of money, or a valuable object. Something not requiring explanation, and something not actually used in the plot.

    I think I'll just stick with this description of the Macguffin for now until I'm presented with some reason not to.
     
  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Reading the article at the link Russ gave....I'm reminded a little bit of the idea of the strange attractor in chaos theory. Well, it's a difficult term to hold in my head. I'm not so clear on it, but in general a chaotic system nonetheless has order. The order is difficult to see—that's why the system seems chaotic—but has something to do with the strange attractor holding it all together and giving it form.

    That might be a wrong description of what is meant by strange attractor. But the article basically points at how the MacGuffin motivates the characters in the story. All their actions, however disjointed, chaotic, and so forth, circle it. Is this the correct understanding?
     
  20. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Umm.... A Macguffin is a plot device by definition. *shrug*
     
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