Conflict makes stories.
In literature class they break it down into broad classifications:
1. Individual vs. individual
2. Individual vs. self
3. Individual vs. society
4. Individual vs. nature
5. Individual vs. destiny/fate/supernatural
Mix up the conflict, add in multiple types and tada, you have the makings of a good story, but the conflict is just a tiny portion of crafting a good story. A friend of mine is exploring the art of world building in relation to writing science fiction and fantasy. A point he’s made in some of our discussions on what happens after world building has to do with character motivations. Nothing creates greater conflict than two characters with conflicting ideologies. In a way one might even say that the conflict goes beyond simply character vs. character to two opposing ideas. The author can make one side blatantly “good” and the other “bad”, but the murkier those designations, the more intriguing I find the story.
What got me musing upon conflict? I went to pay some campus parking tickets. (Yes, I have blatantly thwarted the “park in designated lot” rule. What can I say? I’m a rebel.)
How does this connect? I’m glad you asked.
The cashier, after finally deciding I could only pay one of the tickets there and the other two had to be paid at the Bursar’s office, bemoaned the fact she was probably going to fail her biology test. I made no mention of biology or anything, so I’m not sure why she brought this up. Turns out her biology II professor required the class to read a book summarizing the arguments of fourteen main proponents of the theory of intelligent design. While I find it perfectly within the realm of a university to teach a philosophy class debating the various theories, it conflicted with my idea of what should be taught in a science classroom. I took just such a class in college and found it interesting. The difference was that we read the arguments for all the main theories. Biology was reserved for learning taxonomy and Mendelian genetics.
My view of what should be was challenged and what happened? I proceeded to fume over the perceived ruination of the young woman’s education. How do I know that his next assignment won’t be a book on natural selection?
It occurred to me that ideas and beliefs spark the most conflict. Consider historical examples where opposing philosophies clashed: Crusades, Inquisition, Middle East, Cold War, to name a handful.
As a writer, what did I see as the take home message? Make the main characters have opposing ideologies and each believe they are in the right and mayhem will most definitely result. The manner in which the conflict is resolved creates the plot.
Lesson for the day:
Writing inspiration can come from anywhere, including parking tickets and theories which cannot be proven by the scientific method.