Plot, Plot, and more Plot! Part Three: Conflict With What?
The conflict itself can come from any number of things. Perhaps the most common conflict comes from other human beings. It is also the most absorbing, because what interests readers most is people.
Your readers can identify with the actions, reactions and motives of these characters. This can be summed up by saying that the central character is faced with opposition from another character (or characters), who are determined to stop the central character from achieving their goal.
Characters in conflict with other characters occur in some form in practically all of the best stories. The scope is so great as to provide numerous possibilities for plots, which can be adapted with interesting or unusual twists surrounding the same basic idea.
One of the most common is to have a quarrel or feud as the basis. This can be within a family, say siblings arguing over who is going to have the last apple in the bowl, or it could be between families quarrelling over something which is seen to be important to both.
It could be a conflict of attitudes, as seen in John Rowe Townsend’s ‘Widdershins Crescent’. Here, fifteen-year-old Kevin, who is the central character, and his sister, are orphans.
They live with their worthless uncle and his family, who have vastly different attitudes to money, education, work and the law. Their varying outlooks cause the conflict between the two sets of characters.
Townsend also introduces us to the psychological conflict where Kevin is offered the opportunity to further his own education by staying on at school, or taking a job in order to support the rest of the family.
The struggle could be against physical or natural forces. Here the opponent is not human but a natural phenomenon such as a storm, a fire, a flood or an animal. A plot based on this type of conflict is not easy to construct and far from easy to develop into a full-length novel because there is less opportunity for the introduction of a variety of characters.
If, for example, you write about a boy and girl caught in a blizzard in the Scottish highlands, the very nature of the plot prohibits the inclusion of a variety of characters or situations. It becomes a straightforward grim struggle of man against the elements, which is not easy to handle in a fast moving story for children.
This type of conflict has been successfully dealt with in a book called ‘Walkabout’ by J.V. Marshall. In this story a brother and sister find themselves fighting for survival in the Australian outback desert, following a plane crash. The story takes an interesting twist when an aborigine befriends them, and once again has an unusual and highly dramatic climax.
The third main category of conflict is main characters against themselves. In this type of story, the central character or characters struggle against their own weaknesses as they attempt to assert the good aspects of their personalities.
This type of struggle is notoriously difficult to handle, particularly for a novice writer. It is almost certain to include a great deal of introspection on the part of the central character which means that the plot will be slow moving and any action widely spread.
Most good plots, therefore, contain a combination of and variation on these types of conflict.
It may seem that this concept is more applicable to stories for the older age group. This is partly because they demand a more complex plot structure.
If we examine Daniel Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’, we can see the variety of conflict at work.
Here, the conflict is primarily against natural forces and we are plunged into it almost immediately when Crusoe is marooned on a desert island.
To begin with, his struggle is a basic one, that of surviving the forces of nature in a strange and potentially hostile environment. Later we are introduced to an element of human conflict in the form of the cannibals who stand in the way of his goal. Then there is a psychological aspect in the form of Man Friday with his vastly different cultural attitudes.
We can demonstrate that conflict is not the exclusive territory of the writer of stories for older children, but applies equally to young children’s tales as well.
Look at the old traditional story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’:
Jack and his mother are so poor that Jack has to take the cow to market to sell in order to buy food. Once again, we are immediately introduced into a struggle against physical and natural forces.
These are Jack’s and his mother’s endeavoured to survive in the face of overwhelmingly difficult economic circumstances. Later we have the central conflict in the story when Jack faces stiff opposition to his goal in the form of the evil giant at the top of the beanstalk. Jack kills the giant and in so doing solves the family’s financial problems.
We continue with: Plot, Plot and More Plot in Part Four: The Importance of Obstacles where we will be adding obstacles into the mix, and why they’re important to the plot of your stories.
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