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. Nature
There’s no shortage of stories out there (especially in the realm of movies) where characters struggle against nature: stuck in a snowstorm, at the mercy of the sea, lost in the wilderness. There’s entire movies that are specifically about catastrophic natural disasters and the consequences for mankind. Living on this earth is a precarious thing. At any moment, it might choose to swallow us up or wipe us out. Many of us couldn’t find our way out of the deep woods even with the necessary tools. So it’s a scary prospect to have to confront nature.
This sort of conflict can also be presented as a secondary element, or a plot device: enemies stuck in a cabin during a blizzard, rival scientists having to work together to stop a volcano from exploding, characters thrown together by the effects of an earthquake or fire. The story can be mostly about the characters with the struggle against nature merely acting as the premise. It goes without saying though, you probably need some sort of subplot if the main focus of the story is a fight to win out against nature. We aren’t going to care much about flat characters with no relationship exploration just because they’re crossing a glacier. We need a reason to cheer for them to get to the other side without freezing to death.
Nature can be terrifying, as anyone who’s lived through a tornado or been swept down a river can attest. Nature doesn’t care about us and it kills indiscriminately. That’s why it can also be a thrilling thing to write about and why it’s at the center of so many adventure stories. Humans are silly, we like to court danger, and nothing is more dangerous than the very ground we live on. Of course we challenge it!
Character vs. Nature needs:
- A strong natural force. Whether it’s a thunderstorm preventing a mother from picking up her kids from school, or a raging hurricane about to destroy a city, it has to be big and bad enough to impede your characters from what they want or outright threaten their lives. Tromping through the snow to the bus stop is annoying but it’s not really an adventure (I speak from experience).
- A reason your character can’t win against it. You don’t want your characters to just be able to go in the house and wait until it stops raining, that’s not very exciting. Put them in a situation where they can’t easily escape nature and pit them head to head with it. Yes, most sensible people would run from a volcano about to erupt, but what if they can’t?
- A plausible out. Unless you’re planning on killing all your characters in the end, you have to at least eventually give them some way to escape or stop nature’s fury. People love a good “triumph over nature’s odds” story.
I admit, I enjoy those “weather” moves like The Day After Tomorrow and Twister. (And Sharknado? Tornadoes full of sharks are a natural disaster, right?) They’re fun, and thrilling, and I get to stay warm and dry while I watch them. Do you like stories about the struggle against nature?