Like a breath of fresh air, my new story idea has evolved from the spark it began. After cocooning in my mind for the last two years, and like the turning of a season, its wings are unfurling. The writer in me already drafting my pitch and distinguishing all the critical parts of the plot. Like a soundtrack, the gist of the storyline plays in my mind. And, the thrill of creating a new world veiled right atop this one makes me giddy. Can you mentally picture my wringing hands?
Who am I, if not the villain of my own story!
I am molding characters and contemplating every bad thing that can happen to each of them…until they’re forced to see the light. To grow. To become more than who they thought (or I thought) they could be. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility (thank you, Uncle Ben & Spiderman). I have decisions to make. And I can’t do them alone.
Thankfully there are many resources available. I’ve been researching all kinds of details for my story, but most recently, the conflict. The villain. I am now the villain creating the villain. Why? Because part of me wonders if my new main character’s internal conflict (her inner struggle) is enough. Does she need some bigger external conflicts (outside forces in conflict with her goals) getting in the way?
My new character is surely dealing with a heavy load, and the villain in me, the author, is already making it rain. However, another part of me continues to scheme…what if there is an external villain, of sorts. Can I weave something evil and horrible into the storyline and make it believable? It is fantasy. Can a fantasy story stand alone without a Voldemort or White Witch?
I wasn’t so sure. I know whatever conflict I devise must create a scenario that moves the plot forward and leads the characters (whether they want to go on or not…they must) to the very end. This is when I realized that just because I felt I understood conflict in stories, it never hurts to go back and review.
I started with the four epic types of antagonists by Kristen Kieffer: https://www.well-storied.com/blog/the-four-main-types-of-epic-antagonists She’s an author, who gives back through her “Well-Storied” blog and podcast on the topics of writing.
Kristen goes into more detail, but the list is as follows:
- Evil Villain – This one we know best as the bad guy, the witch, the criminal mastermind…and the list goes on. Their intent is to harm others, cause chaos, take revenge, etc. An example, Sauron in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
- Everyday Antagonist – This is the character simply acting in opposition to the protagonist’s goals, hindering their direction, or basically stirring up trouble. An example, Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
- The Immoral Entity – This is where the protagonist is battling a group or large organization. An example, The Capital in The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins.
- The Internal Struggle – Sometimes it’s the character’s own self that’s the problem. The protagonist must confront a doubt or fear to find success or happiness. An example, Elizabeth and Darcy’s pride and prejudice in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
She mentions other antagonists such as nature, technology, supernatural, and physical conditions, but focuses on the above mentioned four in her article. You can read or listen in more detail at the link above and at the end of this post.
I found helpful advice all over the Internet. Little reminders about adding conflict to every page. This doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor. It can be as simple as the protagonist awaiting a phone call or text that never comes or needing to get to a location in time and failing. Depending on the genre, maybe the character simply overslept. The point is having the conflict in direct opposition to what the character is trying to accomplish. What’s their goal?
MasterClass (https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-conflict-in-literature-6-different-types-of-literary-conflict-and-how-to-create-conflict-in-writing#how-to-create-conflict-in-your-writing) shared a helpful article about six types of literary conflict. After explaining the importance of both internal and external struggles, they go over the following:
- Character vs. Self – an internal decision, moral or right, maybe a health situation.
- Character vs. Character – a direct conflict with another character in the way of the character’s goal.
- Character vs. Nature – this is the weather, the wilderness, or maybe a world disaster.
- Character vs. Supernatural – this is my favorite, seeing as how I write fantasy, but creating unequal playing fields with characters against monsters or ghosts or gods.
- Character vs. Technology – when humans create technology that is intended to help, but instead has a negative impact.
- Character vs. Society – when a character is in opposition with the government, society, a cultural tradition, etc.
Each of these literary conflict types have links to go further and to see examples of literature using them, if you click on the link above and at the bottom of this post.
Where does this leave me now (my hands still wringing, my creative juices flowing)?
Most importantly, while seeking the perfect recipe for conflict in the various sites, I found the need for several conflicts layered in. The internal struggle isn’t quite enough if there’s no external fire to get in the way.
Author, and founder of the online resource, Fiction University, Janice Hardy, says it well, “Trying to plot with a character arc can create a lot of frustration for writers. The focus is on the internal struggle to change, not the external action, so the specific tasks (the goals) aren’t as defined as they need to be. It’s like trying to bake a cake without putting it into the oven. The external heat is what turns the ingredients into dessert.”
Janice Hardy goes on, “At its most basic, conflict (internal or external) is the challenge to overcome whatever is preventing the protagonist from doing what needs to be done — physically, emotionally or mentally — to resolve a problem and move forward. Once you understand how conflict works in your fiction, you’ll know what each scene needs and how to best develop the different layers and aspects of your story’s conflict.” (https://thewritelife.com/story-conflict/)
Reviewing the study of villains and conflict has made me eager to revisit my already completed manuscript. It has me thinking about my characters and the varying sides of their internal and external battles. I also want to take heed in creating the villains and conflict in my new story. I’m reminded, it doesn’t matter so much what genre I’m writing, it’s more about layering in the ingredients to bake my cake! I believe whatever I create will taste better with the right mindset.
As always, writing is a process. I hope to continue learning as much as I can, so that I when I do evilly scheme the demise (and hopefully triumphant success) of any current or future story characters, I get it right.
Happy Writing (because at least you’re writing),
Celaine Charles, March 8, 2020
Image and Content Credit:
http://www.fiction-university.com/ (Fiction University, founded by Janice Hardy)
http://www.touchtalent.com/painting/art/Scheming-Muse-260309 (Scheming Muse, by Fher Ymas)
http://www.janicehardy.com/p/writers.html (Fiction University image)
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.yanka.mc&hl=en_US (MasterClass image/video)
https://thewritelife.com/story-conflict/ (Author Janice Hardy)
https://writerfield.com/do-stories-need-villains/ (photo by Chris Sabor on Upsplash)
https://www.nownovel.com/blog/what-is-story-conflict-examples/?utm_source=Now+Novel&utm_campaign=497865eeb0-Blog_Mail_All_17052018&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3ca58c8841-497865eeb0-57245857&goal=0_3ca58c8841-497865eeb0-57245857 (Now Novel image with types of story conflict)
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