Building Setting: Inherent Conflict

When creating a setting for a novel, it needs to provide opportunities for conflict.

For example, in a Regency Romance, the conflict is generally between the characters and the social mores of that time and place. For one reason or another, the characters must rebel against what’s expected.

Another example is setting a story in the middle of a war. The characters’ conflicts can be set against the larger conflict and either mirror or oppose it. The characters might be on opposing sides of the war, or caught up in it against their will, or have their lives destroyed by it.

I’m considering exactly what conflicts I’d like to have in my new project. Since I’m building the world, I can build in the conflicts that best serve the story I want to tell; the setting and the story can evolve together, symbiotic.

I’ve already written stories set during war (The Moonlight Mistress) and I really liked the range of conflicts I could work with in that sort of setting. The plot I’m currently thinking about would happen before World War One–or rather, its analogue in this fantasy world–begins. In fact, the start of the war would be integral to the plot conflict. Will the characters have a chance to prevent it, or is the war inevitable, and their issues dealing with a range of impossible choices? I’m the creator of that world, so those decisions are mine to make. They’ll affect the whole story.

Also, there’s theme to consider. Major conflicts should be related to the story’s theme. How can I integrate theme into setting? Should I even do this ahead of time, even in a general way? I think I should. But that doesn’t mean coming up with pre-emptive theme will always work, or always be the best thing.

I don’t have any definite answers in this post; I don’t think there really are any definite answers. But I was wondering how others deal with this issue. How do you choose the conflicts that will exist in your setting? Do you work from world to characters, or characters to world, or in some other way entirely? What’s your process?

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
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