Author’s Advisory: This post is for writers, and specifically concerns the staging of conflict in a work of fiction. It is not a political screed. Inappropriate, irrelevant, polemical, hostile, or needlessly argumentative comments will be deleted—promptly, decisively, merrily.
I’m going to use the agreement recently struck between Iran and the United States—with the assistance of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China (the so-called P5+1)—as an instructional tool in how to stage complex, meaningful conflict in your fiction.
Why? Because the multi-directional tensions among the players are fascinating, complex, and instructive.
Actually, the negotiations were so complex, with so many factors and players at odds, I can’t give the entirety of the situation its due in the brief space I have for this post. I’ll be simplifying a great deal. But in the general outlines I present I think you’ll be able to see the possibilities for more fracture lines, more dissent and retreat and retraction: i.e., more sources of conflict.
Also, since many of us—Vaughn Roycroft, stand up!—are writing in the epic fantasy genre, I think it’s interesting to see that it’s not just ancient or medieval history that can be informative when it comes to crafting a complex and dramatic story of clashing powers on a grand scale.
In many of my classes, I discover that students may know who their protagonist and opponent are and what they’re fighting over, but the subtler elements that make the conflict meaningful—the deeper motivations, the ultimate stakes, the moral arguments each character uses to justify his actions—often feel a bit vague.[pullquote]The subtler elements that make the conflict meaningful—the deeper motivations, the ultimate stakes, the moral arguments each character uses to justify his actions—often feel a bit vague.[/pullquote]
And all too often the conflict is limited to that simple face-off between protagonist and opponent—a missed opportunity to add moral and dramatic complexity.
The technique for creating these additional sources of contention is often referred to as four-corner conflict. [Read more…]