Friday, March 23, 2012

Tis a Writer's Life for Me - Setting as Conflict!

Conflict, conflict, conflict!!  Personally, I don't like conflict.  I try to avoid conflict at all costs!  But I LOVE conflict in a story or movie. In fact, without some type of conflict or tension, let's face it, the story would be kind of boring. Every tale needs a villain, someone or something evil who is trying to ruin the hero's life or at the very least steal away their happiness. That's what makes us sit on the edge of our seats, our hearts in a frantic twist, worrying about how the hero will overcome the odds and save the day!

But I digress. I'm not here to talk about conflict. I want to talk about setting. Last week we discussed the importance of choosing the right setting for your story in order to create the perfect backdrop, the perfect scenery, for the type of story you are writing.  But did you know that you can use setting as part of the conflict? I'm not talking about creating a certain mood or using setting as an antagonist. I'm talking about creating a setting that enhances the conflict in your story, adds to it, or creates new conflict.

Here's some examples.

Story Conflict
The heroine feels lost and alone in the world because she grew up without a father in an abusive home so she sets sail in search of her long lost father.
Setting Conflict
The girl is shipwrecked on a deserted island where she is all alone and lost. This setting at the beginning of the story is used to enhance the reader's understanding of the character's internal feeling of loneliness and despair.
The Redemption by M.L. Tyndall

Story Conflict
The heroine believes her husband is cheating on her and has abandoned her. She is angry and jealous and has been looking for him for months. She is about to run into him unexpectedly
Setting conflict
I set this scene in the middle of a tavern in the pirate haven, Tortuga. The place is filled with drunks and thieves who are all angry and jealous and greedy. Fights break out all around the heroine. Everywhere there is contention.  The setting greatly adds to the heroine's internal anger and jealousy.
The Reliance by M.L. Tyndall

Story conflict
Hero is trying to rescue heroine and their baby from an evil pirate trying to sell them as slaves.  He feels guilty for what he's done to them and has fallen in love the heroine, wanting more than anything to make up for the past.
Setting conflict
I threw the hero and heroine into the South American jungles where they must not only deal with their internal struggles but with the new conflict of dealing with the elements and vicious natives.
The Restitution by M.L. Tyndall

As you can see, setting is a powerful tool!  If you are writing a scene that seems to fall flat, try changing the setting to enhance the tension.  If your conflict needs a little push to crank it up a notch, try putting  your scene in a setting where there is a ton of conflict going on all around.  Even better, use setting to introduce more conflict into a scene. Such as a flash flood that keeps the hero from rescuing the heroine or a blackout that keeps everyone in the dark. You can even throw in a surprise setting that will take the reader off guard. Like a massive whirlpool in the middle of the sea or a graveyard in the middle of a fair ground! It's your world, you can do anything you want!

Can you think of other ways to use setting as conflict??      


  1. Friday, March 23rd,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Can I think of other ways to use 'setting as conflict' ? Well, not off hand. (You covered the ones I was thinking of, in your examples from past novels.)
    And ... that is exactly how you keep us all enthralled in your books, by using setting as conflict !!!
    Yes MaryLu .... "it's YOUR world (in your stories) ... and YOU can do anything you want" !!! Don't you just love it !
    Thanks again, for sharing this with us.
    Have a great weekend.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. Your settings always pull me in. How about this example: a group of cowboys are driving a herd of cattle across Oklahoma. A storm comes up, producing a tornado. Now they have two things to worry about...their safety as well as that of the herd. The conflict...what do they do? Just a thought. :)

  3. I love it when authors use settings to add to confilct. It really draws me in and your settings always complement the conflict wonderfully!

  4. Brenda, Yes, I love playing God in my stories!! It's the only time I ever will have that power. Which is a good thing for the world. ;-)

    Angi, that's perfect! And exactly what I meant. The conflict is doubled because of the setting.

    Thank you, Heather!

  5. Okay, now I want to read this trilogy again. I am certain that you are helping a lot of budding authors. I've been thinking about trying my hand at writing a book. Not fiction. It would be titled, Call Me Grammy, and would be about my joys and struggles being a Christian grandmother in this day and age. How children need a solid Christian background and hands-on grandparents in their lives. (or something to that effect) It's in the thinking stage right now. Anyway, great post. :)

  6. MaryLu, you are SO good at this! Using the setting and surroundings to add to the story rather than just be a backdrop, and then putting in all the details we need to feel like we are there, too.. I love it :)
    And I agree with Debbie, I definitely need to read your pirate trilogy again. Not that I needed this article to tell me that, but I can't wait til I finish all these other books I have and can go back and re-read yours!!

    Debbie, you should totally write that book!! There are a billion books for parents but not many for grandparents that I know of. And you're definitely an awesome example of what a grandparent should be :)

  7. Thank you, Sarah! I have to say, I enjoyed reading over my pirate series when I was editing it to be re-released. I had forgotten some of the scenes!

  8. Thanks, Sarah, I am definitely thinking about it.

  9. MaryLu, I always feel like a bad fan when I hear others talking about specific details and scenes from books they've read. I don't know how they do it! Soon after I finish a book I start forgetting the specifics, and slowly I forget more and more to the point where I remember the main plot, I usually remember at least some of the characters, and I remember that I loved it!
    But the fact that you forgot about some of the scenes in your books makes me feel a LOT better :) Thanks! I know I would forget my own stories, too.
    Can you imagine if a singer forgot some of their songs?! I was pondering that yesterday when I saw how many songs Taylor Swift has, and thought, once an artist has been around for years and years, wouldn't they forget at least some of their earlier stuff? Lol.

  10. Sarah, it's good that you forget some of the story, that way it will make you want to read the book again. :)

  11. Sarah, I'm the same way. I forget stories, TV shows, movies. I usually remember the characters and the general plot, but not the details. Even with my own stories. Someone recently asked me about a character that was in The Blue Enchantress Saint and I didn't even remember the name! I would imagine singers also forget their songs, too. But they would never admit it. ;-)

  12. Haha! Exactly, Debbie! Then I'll be surprised all over again at all of MaryLu's awesome plot twists :)

    MaryLu, there are some movies that are my favorites, and I feel like I've watched them a billion times, but I am always finding new stuff.. whether I saw it before but forgot, OR I just never caught it before, like a phrase someone says in the background and things like that. It's fun :)