The Spectrum of Conflict

Posted on December 5, 2016 By

It’s no secret that when it comes to world-building, I am all about the conflict. “You got to have conflict!” I cry. “A good central conflict that drives the stories the world is about!”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a world-building contract (that’s right, you can hire me to build storyworlds for you!) that’s led me to think a bit more deeply on the subject of conflict.

Conflict is what happens when two or more entities (people, nations, cows, whatever) have goals that are in opposition to each other. We typically think of this as being on two different sides of the conflict.

For example, think about Star Wars. (Yes, I know I over-rely on it for these examples, but it’s easy so please bear with me.) The conflict is the Galactic Civil War. On one side is the Rebellion, on the other is the Empire, and their goals are in opposition.

Visually, it looks like this:

conflict_spectrum01You’re either on one side of the conflict or the other. That makes for some serious drama, and some excellent stories.

But it doesn’t leave a lot of room for subtly. Black-and-white distinctions are great, but gradients are good too. They create room for more stories.

What if our conflict was actually on a spectrum? It might look like this:


Now, while entities are still on different sides of a conflict, there is variation between those who casually agree with their side (“I’m generally opposed to tyranny”) and the extremists (“Death to all tyrants!”).

Variation is good. It lets us create more nuanced characters and entities. After all, if all rebels are extreme, then none of them are extreme, and extremism becomes a gray bit of background.

Hmm. I think I might have more to say on this subject. Check back on Wednesday and we’ll see what else I can do to over-extend the Star Wars examples.


World Building     , , , ,

  1. Ron Fortier says:

    Fascinating topic. Thing is just because a character is bad or good, doesn’t necessarily make them simple either. Complexity in characters on both ends of the spectrum is what makes for good storytelling, in my humble opinion.

    • darrell says:

      Agree that complexity is what makes for good storytelling. I think it’s easier to get that complexity towards the middle of the spectrum, where people aren’t quite as committed to the conflict, but there’s no reason the die-hard extremists can’t be complex as well.

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