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Creative Writers, Learn the Five Laws of Conflict
by Deborah Owen
Creative writers know that every climactic scene is emphasized by the conflict within it. The conflict can be anything that creates tension, anxiety, uncertainty, incompatibility, or opposing forces. It can be an argument, a scene of abuse, a rapist resisting the urge, two sisters fighting over a boy, or a man in a sailboat trying to survive a storm. All of these conflicts and more are normally divided into four groups. I have added a fifth group.
1. Man versus Man
James Bond would fit in this category - a spy who is out to save the world from a terrorist. Or it could be a war between the north and the south, a mother against a child, a captain against his crew, a couple breaking up a romance or even fairy tales like Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel - all of them would fit here.
2. Man versus Nature
Survival stories are a great example of man versus nature. This could be a person fighting a pack of wolves, the Titanic against an iceberg, farmers surviving a dust storm, or the Gulf Coast bracing for a hurricane. This could even include a person who is dying of cancer, or someone on a dialysis machine. Fairy tale examples would be Little Red Riding Hood (a girl against the wolf), and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
3. Man versus Self
Man versus self places the character in conflict with himself, his will, emotions, thoughts, or fears. The resolution to the story will come when the character finds the solution to his problem. Some of the greatest battles ever fought are when a person fights within himself. It could be a priest who is in love with a woman, a killer deciding on whether to kill his victim, or a repentant robber who is thinking about returning the loot. Pinocchio would also fit in this category.
4. Man versus Society
Man versus society pits the protagonist against the greater whole of the social traditions or concepts. Sometimes, this is represented as a single character. Good examples of this would be social literature like 1984 by George Orwell or some Victorian literature, like Wuthering Heights. Almost all of our modern Disney adaptation fairytales have a bit of this element. This would also apply to Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, who wants to break free of the traditional roles of women as property; or Princess Ariel, who wants to become a human.
5. Man Against Machine
A movie that has men pitted against robots would be a good illustration for this category. Lots of sci-fi films would fit into this division. Star Trek's own robot/man, Data, would qualify. Think of the many times this "machine" outwitted men. This category is pretty self-explanatory.
Every story you can think of will fall into one of these five categories. When you want to write a story, develop a conflict scene using one of these divisions, find the resolution to the story, add the beginning, and voila! You have a full-fledged story!
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