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 [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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