SPOILER ALERT: The post will contain spoilers for Carrie and Trucks by Stephen King.
No matter what genre you are writing, your story will be as entertaining as watching paint dry if you don’t have some form of conflict. Aside from it making your story entertaining, conflict brings depth to your characters and can even tap into the deeper philosophical argument you might be trying to make with your writing.
I expanded upon the four standard forms of conflict into six categories. You can read about the first three types of conflict in part 1 of this blog series on conflict.
Since I am a horror and thriller writer, I will be using the works of Stephen King to better illustrate how to do each type of these conflicts well. Before you begin on your next writing adventure, take a look at these types of conflict to make sure you are writing the best type of conflict for your story.
Person vs Technology
Technology is creeping its way into our lives more than ever before and it’s no surprise that many works of fiction focus on man’s relationship with technology. While Person vs Technology may be a new type of conflict that only merged as early as the Industrial Revolution, there seems to be no sign of this form of conflict disappearing from the minds of both writers and readers alike. More than any other type of conflict, Person vs Technology makes us think about big philosophical questions such as “What does it mean to be human?” or “How far can human progress go and at what cost?” Another philosophical question, “Can we really control the technology we create?” is discussed in the short story Trucks by Stephen King.
This short story is not the most terrifying in King’s arsenal, it brings up fears we have about technology and machinery. In this story, semi-trucks, cars, and airplanes become sentient beings. They run over anyone who tries to flee and make demands to their now slave-like humans by belting out Morse code with their horns. The characters in the story are faced with three options: give into the trucks, try to escape and get run over, or find away to beat the machines. Trucks leaves the ending open for interpretation but this story is able to comment on real-life human issues. We depend on technology and machinery so much that the very things we create could end up controlling us in one way or another. For a more modern look at Person vs Technology, the series, Black Mirror is full of great examples.
Person vs Nature
This conflict is as old as time itself. Person vs Nature focuses on our primal need to fight nature for survival. In primitive times, humans had to combat nature constantly. We had to fight off predators, beware of poisonous animals or plants, survive diseases, find clean water and safe sources of food, try to stay cool when it was too hot or try to stay warm when it was too cold. Because the long evolutionary battle that has shaped our bodies and brains, it’s no surprise that nature can be viewed as our enemy. To have a compelling, Person vs Nature conflict in your story, something about nature needs to prevent your character from reaching their goal. This conflict does not need to be purely based on survival. Nature can get in the way of someone reaching their spiritual, career, or ideological goals as well.
For these last two conflict categories, I will focus on Carrie as the example story. Before I take a look at the title character, let’s focus on Carrie’s mother, Margaret. Margaret believes that all things related to sexuality, even marital sex, menstruation, and giving birth are sinful. Margaret’s main goal in life is for her and her daughter to live as spiritually pure as possible. She tries to keep her daughter from society’s influences and keep her from physically developing. But as much as Margaret prays, repents, and punishes Carrie, she can’t fight that Nature will make her daughter grow into a woman. Margaret loses in the Person vs Nature because she can’t reach her goal of spiritual purity by stunting her daughter’s physical development.
Person vs Supernatural
Person vs Supernatural is an expansion upon Person vs Nature conflict. The reason why these two types of conflicts can’t be in the same category is because the supernatural places a different type of demands on humans. As I mentioned above, humans often feel the urge to fight against nature to ensure their survival. While the Supernatural may be as large and foreboding to fight against as nature, it has the capacity to be far more challenging and terrifying to your characters. The Supernatural is usually different or more powerful than the things of this world and has it’s own rules that it follows. Part of your character’s quest may be to learn those rules to attempt to outsmart it. There is also a spiritual element to the Supernatural including Gods, ghosts, demons, and portals to other realms. To create good Person vs Supernatural conflict, be aware of what your characters believe in and consider how those beliefs might change as they battle against the Supernatural. Usually encounters with the Supernatural will cause your characters to change in one way or another.
Continuing with Carrie as an example, Carrie White is in conflict with the Supernatural as she has the power of telepathy which allows her to manipulate or even destroy objects with her mind. Extreme emotions such as embarrassment, fear, and rage spark her powers. In the start of the story, Carrie is a timid, constantly-bullied teen girl who tries hard to fight against her telepathic powers when she first discovers them. But as the story progresses, she no longer fights against her emotions allowing her telepathic powers to reach their peak in the infamous prom scene. Her encounter with the Supernatural turned her from a weak little girl into a powerful superhuman being that death can’t even hold.
Be sure to read Adventures in Storytelling: Conflict Part 1 in case you missed it. Best of luck in your writing adventures!
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