Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Conflict

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

Ayn Rand states that for drama to take place there muct be conflict. Otherwise the story, be it interesting or not, is mere melodrama.

Now, when reading her fiction you find lots of conflict between the main heroic characters. Kira vs Andre vs Leo, Roark vs Dominique vs Wynand, Dagny and Rearden vs Francisco and John Galt. The thing is that Rand managed to create conflict that put the characters at odds withe ach other, but dind't make them hostile to each other. Dominique did not believe the good had a chance, Leo dind't think life stood a chance in the USSR, Dagny thought the world could be saved, etc.

I think the reason for this kind fo conflict is that, in the end, these characters all share the same values. Both Galt and Dagny want the same thing, but differ on the means to obtain it. On the other hand, Jim Tagagrt or Wesley Mouch do not want what Dagny wants, so the issue of means is moot (Dagny in fact errs in ascribing rational values to Jim and Wesley).

I've had a devil of a time introducing conflict into my own stories. Most often I set up two opposite sides but their conflict is too obvious. Now that I realize what makes for good conflict among the heroes, I'm trying to integrate it into my writing.

So here's one. A husband and wife team of underwater engineers set up their own business (Nereid Underwater Construction & Demolition, Inc.) into which they invest all their life's savings. While still setting things up, they get a job offer from a bigger firm to aid in underwater exploration off planet, for a substantial fee.

The husband (possibly named Edwin) likes the idea because they could use the extra money and, besides, he used to work for that company and has a high regard for it and his former boss. The wife, named Michelle, is opposed because it means delaying the launch of their company and, because it takes them off world for weeks, stands in the way of finding clients (not to mention that she fears their small company might wind up a handmaiden to bigger companies, and what's the fun in that?, but that's another matter).

Is that good enough conflict?

It's not the story, just the conflict. In the story they'll find something remarkable and Edwin will have a very bad accident that nearly kills him (actually it does kill him but not permanetly)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Honestly, it sounds reasonable. I know I've been involved in business where we've all that the same direction, and the journey to the agreed destination certainly develops into an incredible conflict. Those of honesty, integrity, means to an end, etc.

Appears that you have a good start of an idea, I'd say.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Appears that you have a good start of an idea, I'd say.

Thanks.

Actually I have the whole story developed, from the title ("Under The Stars"), to the slang (diving "under the stars" means working off Earth, a pollywog company is a small underwater company, a hardshell is a big one, and originally enough King Neptune Water Works, LTD. is the biggest), to the background (repair work on the Trans-Pacific Tunnel), to the characters and the story. Only this morning it was a melodrama with a gimmick (two people, the husband and wife, take turns narrating the story in first person). Now possibly it's a drama with some conflict.

If I can integrate the conflict into the whole of the story. If it only provides some arguments prior to leaving Earth, then there's not much to say about it (besides I hate stories that take a detour before going where they innevitably have to get to). SO I need to have the wife agree to go but keep the conflict alive somehow, or change the conflict.

Link to post
Share on other sites

As SD26 said, you may have a good start of an idea there. That's your basic conflict. Now, if you've read Ayn Rand's Art of Fiction and/or any of her journals, you may recall that she liked to ask how to make things even more difficult for the protagonists - how to make matters even more complicated for them. The trick is not to deviate too much from your basic conflict, for example by inventing another conflict. Think, rather, in terms of "expanding" what you have. Use the characters you've already created to deepen the tensions between them to make your story interesting and to "demand" immediate resolution or bust, so to speak.

I almost gave an example for it, but I'll just leave my thoughts here now so I don't end up writing your story. :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks.

Actually I have the whole story developed, from the title ("Under The Stars"), to the slang (diving "under the stars" means working off Earth, a pollywog company is a small underwater company, a hardshell is a big one, and originally enough King Neptune Water Works, LTD. is the biggest), to the background (repair work on the Trans-Pacific Tunnel), to the characters and the story. Only this morning it was a melodrama with a gimmick (two people, the husband and wife, take turns narrating the story in first person). Now possibly it's a drama with some conflict.

If I can integrate the conflict into the whole of the story. If it only provides some arguments prior to leaving Earth, then there's not much to say about it (besides I hate stories that take a detour before going where they innevitably have to get to). SO I need to have the wife agree to go but keep the conflict alive somehow, or change the conflict.

The following is gratuitous, and is just my thought process on writing, speaking as a dilettante with no published works.

I'm rereading Atlas Shrugged [starting] this week, and paying particular attention to her method of creating the work. It is clear that she follows her own advice on the development of a great story: theme <-> plot <-> characterization. The conflict is involved in all three attributes of the work, from the abstract "role of the mind in man's life" to the general consequences of that role (which form the causative force behind the plot) to the concrete role of each character's mind in his own life.

The point here is that conflict, while a necessary aspect of a compelling story, shouldn't be an add-on, but a necessary result of the theme-plot-characterization. In other words, if you have written the outline of a story, but feel the need to add "conflict" to it, you've probably already missed the boat. You need to go back to the theme and plot and characters and reconsider whether they are worth writing about.

Did you have a theme in mind? It would seem that a story about a Trans-Pacific tunnel would touch on some fundamental themes of transportation, globalization, large-scale creation, man's ability (or inability) to command nature, etc. I'm not a huge scifi fan, but there are some stories that use the technological latitude of imagined realities to create new extreme situations in which to study human nature, or recast it in a new, revealing light.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I've had a devil of a time introducing conflict into my own stories. Most often I set up two opposite sides but their conflict is too obvious. Now that I realize what makes for good conflict among the heroes, I'm trying to integrate it into my writing.

So here's one. A husband and wife team of underwater engineers set up their own business (Nereid Underwater Construction & Demolition, Inc.) into which they invest all their life's savings. While still setting things up, they get a job offer from a bigger firm to aid in underwater exploration off planet, for a substantial fee.

The husband (possibly named Edwin) likes the idea because they could use the extra money and, besides, he used to work for that company and has a high regard for it and his former boss. The wife, named Michelle, is opposed because it means delaying the launch of their company and, because it takes them off world for weeks, stands in the way of finding clients (not to mention that she fears their small company might wind up a handmaiden to bigger companies, and what's the fun in that?, but that's another matter).

Is that good enough conflict?

Generally I think of a story as a crucible for a hero -- a series of events where the hero chooses a goal and then has to go through some kind of hell in order to achieve it. The reason why the hell is hell for him is that it forces him to give up some of his other values. This means that the conflict is not static; it develops and intensifies as the story progresses. Eventually it reaches a climax -- the hottest part of hell -- and the character has to make his decision final. That is his last chance to reverse it. Then, whatever he decides, he has to deal with the consequences.

What you've set up is a story where perhaps Edwin pursues his idea of the job offer but has to go through a hell consisting of conflict with his wife. Another possible plot is that he decides to stay with his wife but pursues the construction of their business through the hell of knowing that it is not what he really wants, and perhaps having the bigger firm periodically sweeten the deal. Another possible plot would come from Michelle's point of view and have her pursue the launch of their company through a hell that consists of her husband's distraction and apathy, because he is not keen on continuing and wants to do something else.

The problem is the climax. Any story worth its salt is going to take the conflict all the way to its logical conclusion (or nearly there). That means that your husband and wife are pretty much guaranteed to split up. Maybe not; maybe a last minute decision can save their marriage, but maybe such a decision cannot be.

At first I thought that it was not a good enough conflict, but working through the above convinced me that it can be made into a good one. I suppose the question you must ask yourself is whether that is the story you want to tell -- and if not, what is.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Ayn Rand states that for drama to take place there muct be conflict. Otherwise the story, be it interesting or not, is mere melodrama.

Actually, this isn't quite what she said. If you don't have a conflict *at all*, there's no drama whatsoever, and she gives an example of writing a novel where Roark sets out to be an architect, immediately finds the right clients, and is a huge success right from the beginning. Something like that would be utterly pointless to write and to read, even though it's theoretically possible. To show that her hero would succeed regardless, she had to show him triumphing in the face of rigorous, hostile opposition.

She then goes on to make a distinction between drama and melodrama, which is that drama includes conflicts *within* people and melodrama is predominantly conflicts *between* people. So if your hero has a single purpose (such as, he's a cop) and he's chasing a villain (a crook), that's melodrama.

If the hero finds out that the villain is his beloved younger brother, though, and must face the decision of letting him go vs. turning him in, that's an internal conflict and the basis for a drama rather than a melodrama.

Now let's look at your proposal:

So here's one. A husband and wife team of underwater engineers set up their own business (Nereid Underwater Construction & Demolition, Inc.) into which they invest all their life's savings. While still setting things up, they get a job offer from a bigger firm to aid in underwater exploration off planet, for a substantial fee.

The husband (possibly named Edwin) likes the idea because they could use the extra money and, besides, he used to work for that company and has a high regard for it and his former boss. The wife, named Michelle, is opposed because it means delaying the launch of their company and, because it takes them off world for weeks, stands in the way of finding clients (not to mention that she fears their small company might wind up a handmaiden to bigger companies, and what's the fun in that?, but that's another matter).

Is that good enough conflict?

It's a start, certainly. What's your theme with this story? How does this proposed plot line dramatize that theme?

If you're just practicing writing conflict, let's do a little exercise: how can you make this conflict worse? You mentioned a bad accident and finding something remarkable. What if the accident was caused by the bigger firm? What if they find themselves in competition with the bigger firm over the discovery? What if the combination of the accident and the competition means that they'll probably lose everything if they decide to go ahead with their own company? What if the bigger firm offers them a *permanent* contract?

All of those scenarios would make the decision much harder and thus make it a bigger and more fundamental conflict. What if Edwin has a brother or good friend who works for the big company? What if Melinda meets an attractive man who wants to help her with the new company? Now their marriage is in jeopardy.

If you're having trouble coming up with this sort of stuff, I do advise sitting down and making an effort to think of possibilities. Once you do this enough by conscious intention, your mind will start to throw you up plot possibilities automatically, because you'll have primed your subconscious.

Oh, and read The Art of Fiction if you haven't already.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Many thanks to everyone who replied.

I'll try to reply to all your replies in this post.

To begin with, this is one story whose genesis I recall exactly. It started with a desire to write in the background of an entirely free society whre no fundamental problems remain (ie where altruism no longer exists, and reason, individual rights and Capitalism are widely accepted). The idea was to set it in the near future (about 200 years from now) and to show how much more advanced technology would be, and how much better and more exciting most people's lives would be.

While thinking about it I was listening to a song by the Bangles called "Lost at sea." A passage grabbed my attention: "Could it be that we're lost at sea and we're drowning under the stars?" (I tend to find SF references where there are none). So I thought "what if the hero drowns while on another planet, and that's more an inconvenience than a near death sentence?" Therefore the underwater construction companies. The story could be set partly on Earth, as Earth in this future would be a technological wonderland with things like a Trans-Pacific tunnel where hypersonic trains run (details on request). And partly in another world because in this time people travel to other stars the way we travel to other continents.

The further assumption on this setting is that extra-solar colony worlds come in various stages of development. That is, some are near copies of Earth (with their own peculiarities), where hundreds of millions of people live. Others are just filling up. Others still subsist under domes while they modify their planet's atmosphere and ecology to suit themselves. So their underwater building needs vary. In addition most extra-solar inhabitable worlds are rather dry as comapred to Earth, say their oceans cover only 50% or less of their worlds.

The exception from this is a world named Pacifica, which is almost all ocean, but for a large island about the size of New Zeland. It's a cold world with huge ice-caps, and a slow rotation (say about 40 hour days), which means it has very mild weather as regards storms. But since it's cold, has a long day (and night), not much life and not much land, it's almost worthless except to planetologists because it is so atypical.

So that's background. The story deals with a discovery made on Pacifica by a major underwater construction firm. Its owner, for now known as the Old Man (affectionately so), didn't expect to find anything there, he was just expending some resources on it out of curiosity. So now he has to go there and bring the treasure out, but most of his assets are tied up in other projects. Ergo he hires smaller firms to help, offering each a share in the discovery (it is valuable, but not necessarily in a monetary sense).

That's where Edwin and Michelle come in. there's some background on how they met (in college, where Edwin made extra money teaching people to dive) and what they do (Edwin's a diver, Michelle is a practical roboticist, that is she controls the activities of robots in the field).

The discovery consists of the remnants of an alien civilization that once inhabited Pacifica. We learn they lived a very, very long time ago. In their time Pacifica had more land, a brighter sun (they're that old) and a shorter day. they died off when their sun cooled and their technology couldn't sustain them. Eventually the planet gained water for a variety of reasons (I'm thinking a very large cometary cloud, which means a large number of comet strikes on the planet). This is the first non-human civilization anyone's ever found. So even if it's dead it's a momentous ocassion.

The remnants are all deep under a very cold ocean (tectonic shifts put them there). During the course of exploration the most experienced divers, including Edwin, begin to set up camp on the ocean floor (presurized spherical habitats). That's where the accident happens. An airlock (water-lock?) fails and catastrophic flooding is imminent. Letting in water suddenly at such pressures could be fatal. So Edwin opts to let water in gradually and drown in freezing temperatures because that is his safest ccourse of action (he drowns under the stars, while diving on another world).

Eventually he will recover fully and get back to work, and life and discovery continue unabated.

The theme esentially is "What kind of conquests over the natural world can Man make when he is entirely free?" Carried over into the future, since this is SF, and making educated guesses on the kinds of technologies that might be possible in two centuries (at that I'm hopeful I'll fall short).

So you see there's adventure, an interesting background and developments to make the reader think about the course of technology. I'd say it's solid "hard" science fiction. But there is no drama of any kind. The opponent, if it can be called that, is Nature.

Thanks for reading this far. I hope you are interested.

So I've been thinking. I value certain traits above others. Loyalty is one. I'm fiercely loyal and admire those who are, too, when such loyalty is earned. But loyalty, even in repayment for good treatment or other justified value, is not itself a virtue. So what if Edwin carries loyalty to his former boss too far, say to the point where it can harm his professional life? Not the accident and danger, but putting his boss before his business. That would irk his wife, and justifiably so. Even though this time the payoff is worth it (which he doesn't know until later on because the Old Man has kept his finding a secret).

Michelle would also be concerned about their company's future. While they haven't begun operations, they've already won some contracts on the strenght of their reputations and known skills (Edwin's been in charge of complex repairs to the Trans-Pacific Tunnel, Michelle's programming skills allow robots to work under less supervision). If they take too long on Edwin's side-trip, they'll loose their customers and tarnish their reputations ("Yeah, he's good. When he shows up").

So what I see is that in the course of the expedition, which Michelle would support because the Old Man, whom she also knows and has worked for previously, assures her they'll be back in time to begin their own operations, matters could come to a boil. Both would have made risky decisions, to go on the expedition, without enough information and with the pressure of their own business ever present. they both make errors in judgement which they regret when they can no longer do much about them.

So how does the accident play out? Would Michelle be reminded of her love for Edwin as she came close to loosing him forever? Or would it only make her mistakes all the more glaring? Edwin should wake up from his drowning thinking "Damn! I nearly left her holding the bag all alone. Sure she could manage, but I promised we'd run this thing together and I have no right to just walk out on her." Not in those exact words, but that would be what he'd feel.

Mostly I'm thinking out loud here. It helps a lot. I think I'm on to something.

On a side note, I dislike misstreating my characters. I usually like my characters very much (Michelle is my ideal woman). It's hard to put them through hell, never mind how the needs of the story demand it. Last week I wrote a torture scene I could hardly bear to write, and that was on an alien character! I got through it by building things up gradually and leaving the absolute worst for last, but I'm hoping I won't have to revise it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...
Ayn Rand states that for drama to take place there muct be conflict.

Many on here are recommending Rand's works on this subject, which are quite good. However, the idea you stated in the quote above is, at its root, thoroughly Aristotlelian. I would recommend reading his Poetics, because the majority of it is devoted to examining conflict and its relation to plot. You can find the book online for free.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

Well, after struggling with this idea for some time, I think I fixed it. Of course it suffered some serious changes:



  1. I'm dropping the double first person narrative.

  2. The characters are now called Althea and Nathan, and it's mostly Althea's story. The names are deliberately chosen (nothing wrong with the previous names, Michelle and Edwin, but I used up Michelle in another story)

  3. The story starts when Althea and Nathan meet, which is very unusual because:

  4. Althea is a transsexual woman

  5. The professions remain, but Althea will be involved in general construction rather than underwater work specifically, because:

  6. She has an idea for making construction robots much more autonomous, thereby cutting down the need and number of human supervisors, thereby cutting costs. But she has trouble getting construction firms to listen to her. By the time she meets Nathan, she's started her own company in order to develop her ideas into practical applications

  7. Nathan is still a diver much sought after by underwater construction firms, but he quits his job and sets himself up as a consultant. This way he can take higher bids for his services from various companies rather than be tied to one.

  8. Conflict comes when two things happen almost at once:
    8.1) Althea finally has demonstration models ready for deployment, and some potential clients are interested
    8.2) Nathan gets an offer for a year-long off-Earth gig from his old boss

  9. Althea can't go off-Earth just as her company is finally getting off the ground, and she doesn't want to be apart from her husband for that long. But Nathan has a great opportunity and she doesn't want to deprive him of it

  10. Nathan thinks his old boss' offer is a great opportunity for his firm and his career, but he also doesn't want to spend that much time away from his wife, and he wants to support his wife now that she needs him

So there's the conflict.

Now to the inevitable question: why is Althea a transsexual?

There are two reasons for that. One is that I've been thinking about gender issues for a few months now, partly from personal reasons and partly from another story idea I had (and I guess I just kind of came out). The other is her gender plays a role in 1) how Nathan meets her and 2) how the conflict is resolved after they have a huge quarrel about it.

This is still a very happy story. The romance between the heroes is, to me, very sweet and moving. Nathan in particular is a gentleman and a caring lover. The focus of the tale is now on their relationship, Althea's background and the bright, bright future I envisioned.

Of course since the story goes back to the time they met, it will be a lot longer. This gives me a chance to describe the Trans-Pacific tunnel in more detail. And also to add all sorts of other future goodies like a space elevator, one-atmosphere deep diving, interstellar ships and vacation homes in space.

Oh, the revamped version came partly from an isolated scene concerning a general issue man falling in love with a tranny. I liked it very much and looked for someplace to put it in, therefore the new "Water and Sand." Little preview: when they first meet, Nathan insults Althea so badly and in such mean spirit that she feels like slapping him hard. They get married six weeks later.

And I guess I have my simplified outline now :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...