For the next few weeks, I’m going to do a series of posts on the conflicts that can be found in a narrative. Depending where you look, and whose advice you ask, there’s anywhere from 4-10 types of conflict that can drive a plot. I’m only going to cover six, though. Those being:
Character vs. Society
Ah, the rebel character. They’re fighting against The Man, whether they planned it that way or they just happened to be dropped into a situation where they had to challenge the normal order of things. They might be on the run, or not, but others look down on them and they have to do what’s right (for them, anyway). This can cover a broad range of situations and character types. Deep down, we all find certain things about society unappealing to us, and we might even buck those things, at least to some extent. The rebel character really resonates with us, especially if they’re scorning the same things that we do.
This sort of conflict can cover a broad range of topics: a character fighting against injustice in the real world; a character fighting against a corrupt system in a made-up society (dystopian and sci-fi often explore this); a character who is abandoning norms and traditions of their culture; criminals; someone fighting the government; someone who lives outside of society; even someone who is shunned or exiled from their society. Whatever the plot, the character is fighting something bigger than them: they’re fighting the world, or, they’re fighting for the world to accept them. It can be as complex as someone trying to bring down a corrupt leader or more simple like someone not wanting to be forced into an arranged marriage.
These sort of stories look at the bigger picture, of how we function within society and as human beings. There are lots of unwritten rules and expectations that are placed on us every day–so many that we probably don’t even realize they’re happening. Fiction can help bring attention to things like that and make us realize how being human is a strange and complicated set of workings, especially when we have to interact with each other and the organizations we’ve built.
Character vs. Society needs:
- Someone operating outside the lines. Your character has to be willing to step outside the norms of the world they live in, question things, and want something different for themselves. They probably have a strong sense of personal morality and they’re willing to fight for what they think is right. Even if it’s not a good vs. evil scenario and more an evil vs. good one (like the character is a criminal) it’s important to show why that particular lifestyle is important to your character (do they do it for the thrill, money, or to protect someone?).
- A system they must overcome. The Big Bad in your story is something much more powerful than your character–a staunch and ingrained tradition, a powerful corporation or government, a way of thinking that’s hard to change, the law–and it must be bad enough that your character finally has enough and decides to stand up and fight. Alternately, it can be something they’re having a hard time breaking into or being a part of, but they desperately want to be.
- No easy way out (or in). If the societal juggernaut is easily vanquished, it’s not a story. The character should struggle and be up against some powerful odds. It’s not easy to bring down the government or evade the law. It’s also not easy to be accepted when you’re an outsider. Give the character something to work on.
This sort of conflict is actually one we all face at some level in our own lives, it’s even part of being human. We don’t always win the fight, but fiction gives us hope. Do you like this sort of conflict? What is you favorite type of Character vs. Society plot?