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sunandshadow

obstacles - conflict (brainstorming challenge)

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Quite a while ago I made a thread called "Somebody Wants Something". Quoting from that thread:
Quote:
Somebody Wants Something You have no plot - nada, zip, zilch - unless and until you have one character who wants something: that's Motivation. They set out to get it and run into problems: that's Conflict. The problems get more thorny, the goal tantalizingly close to being realized or lost forever (Rising Action) until... The Climax! The problem is nullified, perhaps by being solved, perhaps by the realization that the problem can't be solved, or was misunderstood all along and the proposed 'solution' wouldn't actually solve anything. At the same time, the main character(s) have grown in some way - either by changing themselves to suit the world, or reaffirming their resolve to stay the same and change the world to suit them. Let the reader down gently by exprssing your moral and wrapping up loose ends in the Resolution and NOW you've got yourself a real story with a complete plot. Maybe it's not a great story, because greatness is a gestalt phenomenon resulting from all the artistic choices you make in creating your story; but it's definitely a story. And since you can't have a great story unless you first have a solid plot to hang it on, I'd say that's a good start.
Now, I'd like to talk about the 'problem' part of this recipe. "Somebody wants something... BUT there's a problem." There are two main kinds of problems - inanimate obstacles, and animate opponents. Generally the first kind are unsuitable for the major problem of a story because they don't fight back (although it is possible to use a particularly humorous or creative-solution-requiring inanimate obstacle as the main problem of a short story). Generally for a story long enough to be a game/play/novella length script you need to have at least one animate opponent, and preferably several. Many RPGs have a major villain, his staff of minor villains and boss monsters, in addition to a conflict within the main character's mind and conflicts between the main character and his other team members. Then these opponents create inanimate obstacles for the main character to deal with directly. These inanimate obstacles include things like the price for buying an object, a wall or locked door keeping the main character from progressing, a status ailment hindering the main character's progress, a law preventing the main character from doing something, etc. So, let's do a little exercise: Let's say your main character wants to be a leader. BUT, there's a problem. ...So what IS the problem? Think of as many different obstacles which might block your character from becoming a leader as you can. Go! :)

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I just thought of something I thought I should point out, here.
I don't think inanimate obstacles/opponents are really less of a problem than you think. I think what happens, when there is nobody to conflict against, is that the protagonist then conflicts against himself/his allies.
A mountain is an inanimate obstacle, yet if your hero has to climb it to get to his ultimate goal, there is ample opportunity to make this a conflict. A conflict not just with the environment and the harshness of nature, but also an internal conflict: the necessity to keep going despite difficulties, pain, and maybe other conflicts with your allies, who are also experiencing their own internal problems and possibly lashing out as a result.

Every time the protagonist is confronted with something that cannot be changed, cannot be delt with, but must be overcome, it is an opportunity for you the writer, to show him confronting himself and his own limitations, and an opportunity to grow and learn through introspection and inner resolve.

There are books out there that have the environment as a main villain, if you think about it, sending out his minions to fight you in an indirect way. Think of the desert, think of the ocean, think of the mountains...
I suppose, how alive and personal you can make such an environment, depends on your personal experience, as a writer, of those same environments.
I have a too vivid experience of mountains to think of it as just rocks and some snow, for example [grin].

Now let's take your example of a person who wants to become a leader.
The hero, a farmer boy, has heard of noblemen living in massive castle, of knights leading cavalry charges, and other heroic leaders performing their heroic deeds...
Obstacles : he is young, he lives in a farm in some god forsaken corner of a remote location of the realm. He doesn't have any means of transport except walking, but that means he'll have to cross the forest, possibly camp in the wilderness, etc.

All that is inanimate obstacles, isn't it, and yet it's quite a set of difficulties to overcome. And again, they only highlight the inadequacy of our protagonist, and hopefully should inspire him to become better...

Just my two cents, anyway :P

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Guest Anonymous Poster
First off, let me make a note on ahw's response:

I agree with you in saying that inanimate obstacles are a great way to bring about inner conflict for characters, but if you address the inner conflict as a point of interest, rather then simply braving the harsh terrain, for instance, then you are no longer dealing with just the inanimate obstacle, but with the character her self. I do agree that the inanimate obstacle is a great catalyst for doing just that, but saying that the inanimate obstacle is the point of focus would be false. If the character developement isn't solid, you're not going to see the kind of inner conflict that you speak of, which can be shown regardless of the type of obstacle the character is facing. Also, without the animate obstacle, there would be no motive for the character to have to face the inanimate obtacle in the first place. I don't think sunandshadow was trying to down play the role of the inanimate obstacle, but rather form a clear hierarchal model for these subjects to be placed in.

With that said:

Kye was born of a noble family. Visteen, a simple, yet prosperous shore Kingdom had been overseen by his family for four generations. As was tradition, upon Kye's tenth birthday he was sent to Traules, a Prep School located between the borders of Visteen and Bahlance, a neighboring rival Kingdom. It was at Traules Kye was to undergo formal traing to prepare for the day when he would inheret the responsibility of governing the Kingdom.

In his sixth year of training, on a cool Autumn day, a messenger arrived at the school bearing ill news. Kye's father, King Chastance had fallen deathly ill, and news of his sickness had spread through the land quickly. Once word had reached Bahlance, a small band had been dispersed to take advantage of the situation. Sneaking into the castle, the small band managed to murder the King in his sleep, and take from him, the Moon Sword of Hempher.

Four hundred years in the past, Visteen was but a part of the Bahleese Kingdom. The ruler of that time, King Hempher, was the most feared warrior and all the land. He had gone unchallenge for thirty years as he had earned his reputation on the battlefield. It was said that he had vanquished entire armies by himself, and that he drew his power from his two swords that were rumored to have been created by the gods themselves. Upon the thirtieth year of his rule however, two unknown men had stepped foward to challenge the King, as his reputation of a tyrant had made him the most unpopular ruler in history.

The two men, who were later revealed to be brothers, fought valiantly with Hempher for six hours. It wasn't until one of the brothers blind sided Hempher to the back of the head that the battle ended. The people rejoiced at their champions triumph and the two brothers were praised. A treaty was drawn up dividing the land equally and as for the Swords of Hempher, once was given to each brother. The treaty also stated that as whoever possessed the sword with the sun on the hilt would control the Eastern part of the Kingdom, and whom ever possessed the sword with moon would control the Western part of the kingdom. Peace reigned for twenty years, and the people of Bahlance were happy.

It was at this time that the Eastern Kings wife had died durring child birth, and it is said that the King changed, and became inhabited by demons. Suddenly the Eastern King began to send waves of soldiers attacking the Western Kings land. The peace was over and the Eastern King was determined to possess the moon sword of Hempher. Generations had passed, but the rivalry had continued until present day.



Ok, I'm going to stop here simply because this is off the top of my head, and it's already getting pretty lengthy. This is a generic start of a story and is meant to be so, but it should serve for the purepose of this thread.

Animate Obstacles : The King of Bahlance and his menions.

Inanimate Obstacles : Tradition ~ Even though the treaty is four hundred years old and obviously has fault, it is law.


Now to get resolution Kye could do one of three things that spring to mind right away.

1. He could challenge the rival King and try to get the swords by force. He obviously would have allies men who served his family and who were loyal, but to convence them to follow a sixteen year old into battle.. eh ask Joan of Arc how well that goes, then again she was a female too.

2. Give up completely, join forces with the rival King, or just go become a fisherman is some far off land and never look back.

3. Challenge tradition, start an up rising, etc.


Well, I'm kinda getting scatter brained writting this, so I'm going to stop, I need to go study anyways.



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Guest Anonymous Poster
For the comments about animated and inanimated obstacles, I think ahw is correct. If you read s/s's post the distinction that she made between the two was at best arbitrary. Inanimated obstacles is just as important as animated obstacle, just as driving into a tree at 50mph is the same as driving in to an incoming car 25mph each. It depends on your speed. And ahw showed that it indeed depends on the presentation of the character. It seems inadaquet to classify a collision by the objectives involved instead of the collision itself.

Using 'inanimated' to describe obstacles that don't fight back is probably a misnomer. Newton would tell you they do. In the context of stories, 'inanimated' obstacles still play a major role. For the earlier discussions about revenges (by TechnoGoth), the main character, semantically, is not fighting against the 'villain', but the futileness of the revenge. As the character goes deeper in the path of revenge, the losses also deepen. In this context, you will see that the distinction between 'inanimated' and 'animated' obstacles falls short in describing the gist of the conflict. How would you classify 'vengeance' as 'animated' or 'inanimated'? Doesn't it also fight back the harder you try to pursue it? Can you really call it 'animated' even though there is no notion of intention? (I am speculating that you originally called obstacles 'animated' because they are the 'active or reactive causes' of conflicts.)

For the brainstorm, they are simply too many reasons. However, there are approaches that can faciliate brainstorming. A more preliminary question to ask is probably: what do you see as a leader?

- A position. This seems to be how DecipherOne sees a leader in this post. From this perspective, you will get all the obstacles involved with 'obtaining a position'

- A representative of a group. This is probably a closer description of what a leader is. From this perspective, you can get all the obstacles involved with communication, goals and interests, representation, representator, conflicts of interests, etc...

- A vision holder, a director. This is also a common definition. From this perspective you get the obstacles involving visions, management, risk, planning, etc...

Therefore, the more inspiring question to ask it probably: what do you see as a leader?

Suppose I say, 'a leader is a gift'. What kind of obstacles can you see from this perspective? What other associations can you make?

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For the comments about animated and inanimated obstacles, I think ahw is correct. If you read s/s's post the distinction that she made between the two was at best arbitrary. Inanimated obstacles is just as important as animated obstacle, just as driving into a tree at 50mph is the same as driving in to an incoming car 25mph each. It depends on your speed. And ahw showed that it indeed depends on the presentation of the character. It seems inadaquet to classify a collision by the objectives involved instead of the collision itself.

Using 'inanimated' to describe obstacles that don't fight back is probably a misnomer. Newton would tell you they do. In the context of stories, 'inanimated' obstacles still play a major role. For the earlier discussions about revenges (by TechnoGoth), the main character, semantically, is not fighting against the 'villain', but the futileness of the revenge. As the character goes deeper in revenge, the loss deepens. In this context, the distinction between 'inanimated' and 'animated' obstacles falls short in describing the gist of the conflict. How would you classify 'vengeance' as 'animated' or 'inanimated'? Doesn't it also fight back the harder you try to pursue it? Can you really call it 'animated' even though there is no notion of intention? (I am speculating that you originally called obstacles 'animated' because they are the 'active or reactive causes' of conflicts.)

For the brainstorm, there are simply too many reasons. However, there are approaches that can facilitate brainstorming. One of them is to ask a more preliminary question, such as: What is a leader? What do you see as a leader?

- A position. This seems to be how DecipherOne sees a leader in his post. From this perspective, you will get all the obstacles involved with 'obtaining a position'

- A representative of a group. This is probably a closer description of what a leader is. From this perspective, you can get all the obstacles involved with communication, goals and interests, representation, representator, conflicts of interests, etc...

- A vision holder, a director. This is also a common definition. From this perspective you get the obstacles involving visions, management, risk, planning, etc...

Therefore, the more inspiring question to ask is probably: what do you see as a leader?

Suppose I say, 'a leader is a gift'. What kind of obstacles can you see from this perspective? What other associations can you make?

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Quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster


Using 'inanimated' to describe obstacles that don't fight back is probably a misnomer. Newton would tell you they do. In the context of stories, 'inanimated' obstacles still play a major role. For the earlier discussions about revenges (by TechnoGoth), the main character, semantically, is not fighting against the 'villain', but the futileness of the revenge. As the character goes deeper in the path of revenge, the losses also deepen. In this context, you will see that the distinction between 'inanimated' and 'animated' obstacles falls short in describing the gist of the conflict. How would you classify 'vengeance' as 'animated' or 'inanimated'? Doesn't it also fight back the harder you try to pursue it? Can you really call it 'animated' even though there is no notion of intention? (I am speculating that you originally called obstacles 'animated' because they are the 'active or reactive causes' of conflicts.)



- A position. This seems to be how DecipherOne sees a leader in this post. From this perspective, you will get all the obstacles involved with 'obtaining a position'




I was under the impression that the definition here, of obstacles was more pertaining to outside entities. As in physically tangable things, inanimate being things that don't have a spark, animate being things that do. If this isn't the definition, then I would have to change my response to ahw. However, I can see where inner conflict and emotions can be obtacles as well. I suppose I was looking at the scene with a little bit of tunnel vision. As for my definition of a leader, I kind of got bored and lost my direction with what I was writing previously. I can see where you would interpret my take on a leader as being someone in a position of authority, but as you stated that is a broad scope, and I simply picked a niche to define it. To speculate on definitions forever, nothing will get done. I realize perception makes reality, and you pose some good questions and offer some intelligent insight. Looking this over again, and realigning my train of thought, you guys make a lot of sense. zzzz

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The idea was not to argue about the definition. A leader IS a position. There is nothing wrong with that. The idea was by first brainstorming about the definition, it opens doors by corridors, instead of opening them one by one. For example, by defining a leader as a position, you can immediately draw parallels and analogies to conflicts involving heirloom and such.

Brainstorm is not just about jogging down any thoughts. It can be systematic also. Brainstorming first on the definition is a tunneling technique, in terms of optimization. Sometimes it saves a lot of time when you tunnel through into a new area that is totally unexplored. At that moment you can be sure that you ideas will be original.

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I am sure SnS was just trying to focus on character conflict because that's the sort of stuff she prefers, but I found her dismissal a bit, eh, superficial.
I was just pointing out what I think inanimate obstacles are good at.

I also don't like the implication that using "inanimate" has, i.e. obstacles that don't have a soul, a personality. As I stated earlier, I think any writer with a personal experience of an environment should be able to bring out the spirit of a place. The sprawling expanse of industrial suburbs and their smoking factories, the feeling of immensity when you stand on top of a mountain, seeing the horizon extends all around you, watching the clouds beneath like a sea of white stuff; when you have experienced places like these it's hard not to antropomorphize (is that even a word?) them, give them a personality, a spirit.

In effect, and that was the point I was trying to express, it's not so much the fact that an obstacle is another sapient that matters, but rather that you as a writer can make it a antagonist, with respect to our protagonist.

Any obstacle is an excuse to create a conflict, to show our hero under pressure, to make him mature, and so on.
Whether that conflict can be expressed in a clear straightforward manner (an argument, a negotiation) or in a metaphorical fashion (a climber cursing at the sky, a sea captain offering a sacrifice to the waves as a form of negotation) is IMHO irrelevant.
This is what I meant by saying that inanimate obstacles are useful for showing the inner conflict of a character. Depending on how much a character antropomorphize his surroundings, the environment becomes a source of "characters" to handle, or a series of inner conflicts for the character.
How you handle the conflicts is up to you the writer, depending on how you see your protagonist, but the conflicts are there, no matter how you handle them.

If you think the only obstacles worth being considered are other sapients, I can't tell you that you are wrong, because if you can't make the inanimate obstacles "animate" (give them a soul), then your writing wouldn't probably feel as inspired as if you were writing about people (which I assume you can make feel animate without trouble!)
Nothing wrong with that, eh. Some people are good at talking about other people, some other people enjoy making the environment feel alive around there characters.

I just feel dissing out inanimate obstacles out of hand is a sad mistake, and a waste of perfectly good writing material, IMHO [grin]

Quote:
Estok
For the brainstorm, there are simply too many reasons. However, there are approaches that can facilitate brainstorming. One of them is to ask a more preliminary question, such as: What is a leader? What do you see as a leader?

That's a great thought!
I would even go one step further, in fact: What do your _characters_ consider a leader. Because if different interacting/conflicting characters have different views of what it means...

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The way I was thinking about it is, internal conflict is conflict with yourself, and you are clearly an animate opponent. Nature personified so that it is deliberately attacking you is also an animate opponent. My intention was to define an 'inanimate obstacle' as anything which does not fight back, i.e. if you unlock a normal door the door does not try to lock itself again, or find some alternative way to resist you passing through it. If you knock a hole in a normal wall it doesn't throw bricks at you or deliberately collaps on your head when you try to go through the hole. My argument that inanimate obstacles are inherently less interesting than animate opponents arises from the fact that they are easily defeated, usually with a single action, and their behavior is predictable and thus does not create suspense. Players do not hunch breathlessly forward wondering how the door will react to the outrage of being unlocked. When you walk past the door 3 hours later you don't wonder if it remembers you and has been plotting revenge all this time. Inanimate obstacles which the player solves with one action and then forgets about are dramatically very weak, and when a designer litters them around an RPG I think it dilutes the power of the gameplay in that RPG to be meaningful and unified.

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