You ever have one of those contentious days at work? Where nothing goes right and everyone fights with you? The kind of day where you just want to stab someone in the eye with a salad fork? Well, I’ve had a few of those days lately. (My muse just said, "Well, i f you weren’t such a jackass to everyone," to which I respond, "A) it’s easy to be a jackass when everyone sucks, and B) Miss Muse, you are looking awfully fork-worthy at the moment."
The good news is that got me thinking (Muse: "That’s good news?" Me: SMACK!) about conflict – about the conflict in stories. Conflict is what turns our anecdotes and scenes into stories. At heart, we’re all animals; we have that basic will to survive and before the rise of civilization, the only way to do that was literally to out-survive the other guy. That’s the root of all conflict (survival), so if you can make the reader connect with that struggle in your story, you are connecting them with a very atavistic part of their own existence. Why can’t we all get along? ‘Cause then there’d be no story to tell.
There are five "main" types of conflict, with a couple of others that are thrown in on the fringes. (Yes, I know these definitions aren’t absolute, so please don’t come at me with knives, saying I did it wrong. I already have people for that.)
– Man vs. Man. Yes, or woman. This is the classic battle between two (or more) individuals with different goals.
– Man vs. Society. What happens when someone rebels against cultural norms?
– Man vs. Nature. Survival against hunger, the elements, beasts … it all fits. The universe will try very hard to kill you, so stay sharp.
– Man vs. Machine (or technology). The living thinker vs. the non-living thinker. Sometimes, this is my relationship with my cell phone.
– Man vs. Self. The internal conflict. Conquering one’s own fears. Bladder control. Etc.
I’ve seen a couple of others: Man vs. Fate and Man vs. the Supernatural. I’m sure my various readers (all two of you) could tell me about some others.
Know what I like about spec fiction? You can easily fit any and/or all of these into a story. If you’re doing a straight literary piece, it’s hard to do Man vs. Supernatural. But in a fantasy, horror, or paranormal romance, it’s perfect. Man vs. Machine? I guess you could do someone struggling with their cell phone – but The Terminator feels like a more exciting fit. Opening yourself up to the spec fiction world allows the writer a wider field of possibilities.
Sometimes, it helps me to restrict my brainstorming to a smaller piece of the story; the focus aids me in coming up with ideas, so here’s an exercise: see if you can think of five spec fiction possibilities for each of these types of conflict. Even if they suck, write them down. After a few minutes, you should have a few workable ideas.
(Muse: "So why haven’t you written anything down?")
Excuse me for a moment. I need to get another fork.