By Deborah Gallardo
Today’s writing resource is designed to put your protagonist(s) into difficult circumstances. It’s not something all writers do instinctively. In fact, many try to avoid putting their characters in harm’s way, or get them out of trouble as quickly as possible. The problem is, no difficulties = no real story.
One of my favorite science fiction authors is the late Anne McCaffrey. I recently re-read the entire Pern series and was especially impressed with how she is a master at creating conflict – and not just on an interpersonal level. Often her smaller personal conflicts mirror global conflict affecting/afflicting Pern and its inhabitants.
A deadly space-borne spore that is thought by some to have been eradicated, may soon return. When these spores enter the planet’s atmosphere they becomes fiery threads that devour everything in their path. For this reason, the scientists who colonized the planet genetically engineered the telepathic dragons to fight Thread. But complacency by non-dragonfolk will spell disaster for all of Pern if the inhabitants are unprepared for the next cycle of Thread Fall. Dragon riders must be provided with the means to maintain their holds. They need resources to fight thread. Dragonfolk and Holderfolk must work together if they are to survive.
I can’t recommend highly enough Ms. McCaffrey’s Pern novels, plus additions to this 20+ book series from her son Todd McCaffrey. He, too, puts his characters into conflict that isn’t resolved until nearly the last page. (Talk about your page-turners! This mother and son have kept me up far too many nights with books I couldn’t put down.)
The resource I have for you today randomly generates what the site creator terms “a sticky situation.” If you want to create fiction that people must read to find out what befalls characters they care about, then here’s how I recommend you use this great little tool:
Betrayal: What is your character’s greatest treasure? Someone your character trusts is going to sneak away with their pockets full of it.
This conflict, taken merely at face value — in other words LITERALLY, might work for a short story, but unless you want to keep creating greater and possibly newer conflict as your novel progresses, you’ll need to increase the scope and intensity of this betrayal. First of all, remember that these generated conflict scenarios are ideas expressed as simply as possible. And that’s a good thing. You need to see all the many variations on this theme that you might use. Too much detail would lock you into a single scenario.
For instance, a character’s “greatest treasure” might be a literal treasure stash, such as a chest of jewels. But it just as easily might be: a mother’s engagement ring, a novel or script the character has been working on for nearly a decade, a long-awaited infant after years of infertility, a scientific formula for an inexpensive fuel source (wouldn’t we all love to own the patent on that one!), an antique heirloom s/he inherited from a beloved relative, an important letter from an historic figure to one of the character’s ancestors that holds the key to clearing the family name, a map to the site of modern-day pirate booty — or anything else that the human mind might hold as precious, that would be treasured as much as gold doubloons and pieces of eight.
Another way you can ramp up the conflict is to try to increase the scope of the betrayal so that it is all-encompassing. Make the person who absconds with the “treasure” (whatever you determine it to be) someone the protagonist trusted implicitly. If you do it skillfully, you could even fool the reader as to who is the betrayer. All the clues have to be there, however, although they might be “hidden in plain sight.”
To start generating sticky situations for your characters (you could also use this for secondary characters, too. For that matter, you could create conflict for your antagonist. Why not?), go to Sticky Situation Story Idea Generator (opens in new window). If you don’t care for the conflict it creates for you, (I got “aliens attack” when I refreshed a minute ago), you can either brainstorm possibilities for what “aliens” might mean in the story you have in mind, or click on your browser’s reload/refresh button to generate a new scenario.
One word of caution: you never know when the same conflict is going to re-appear in the generator. It could be 100 reloads later or 1000 or “never,” given the nature of randomness. I recommend, if you’re even mildly interested in any of the “sticky situations” created for you, that you write them down.
I hope you enjoy this tool. Let me know in the comments below how you used the conflict generator in your own writing and if you would recommend it to other writers (and why).
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