During Part 1 of this series, we touched briefly on how choosing a viewpoint character and setting can drastically change the type of story or genre that we’re telling. Also, now might be a good time to brush up on Genre Expectations, if you haven’t read that one.
We’re going to continue this tangent today to its next logical step: How Character and Setting give birth to Conflict.
All stories come down to this premise: The Character wants something, but something else is in the way. This is Conflict.
The want could be something as concrete as a cool sword, or as vast as saving the world, or merely surviving against impossible or horrific odds. The want could be self-fulfillment, or the answer to who the killer is, or finding a date for Valentine’s Day. It doesn’t really matter what the want is, so long as the Character does not have it.
So, as you’re thinking about who your Character is and what Setting the story is taking place in, now is also a good time to start thinking about the Conflict. What does your Character want?
As stated above, there are a vast array of possible conflicts that you can use in a story. However, they are usually genre-dependent.
If you’re writing a space opera, then your story is likely going to take place on a spaceship and on some strange planets. It will likely also follow an aging captain or a freshly trained recruit. They might want to prove themselves, survive against or defeat an alien invasion. Unless you’re writing a sci-fi romance, you’re likely not spending too much time worrying about them falling in love with their copilot. Unless you’re writing hard sci-fi, you’re likely not focusing too much on the specific physics and development of in-universe technology.
If you’re writing a mystery-thriller, you’re likely focusing on finding out who killed the butler, instead of focusing on reconnecting with the Character’s long lost brother—unless the killer is the brother.
Now, some caveats: You can have multiple conflicts in a story. Also, the central conflict can change over time.
First caveat to the caveats: There should still be one central Conflict, which is based on your chosen genre. Mystery is focused on the mystery. Romance is focused on romance. Etc.
Second caveat to the caveats: Also, be careful not to change your main Conflict too drastically. For instance, in a mystery, maybe the main Conflict is uncovering embezzlement but the story takes a slightly darker turn with a murder (solving one mystery to solving another mystery) or surviving the mafia (which could work for a mystery thriller).
DON’T go from solving a murder to all of a sudden aliens abduct the Character and take them away to space. Unless your readers know what they’re getting into up-front, this is a bait and switch and it goes against reader expectations.
But don’t plenty of books mix genres? Yes, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Again, we already touched on this plenty with Genre Expectations, and it bears repeating.
Think about your characters and your setting, and the possible conflicts that will be present in your story. What Conflict will be the focus?
Next time, we’ll continue our series with how we move Characters through the story. Conflict plays a pivotal role.
Until next time.