And by complicated people, I mean me as a writer, or even me in general, I can always find complications. (But I would like to make it clear that I don't think simplicity is a bad thing. It's just not a thing that I seem to be able to manage. In fact, I probably admire it more when I see it because I just can't write that way.)
A conflict lock is a pretty simple concept, which I first ran across here
, and the first time I saw it, I thought it sounded amazingly useful. This was about the time was I figuring out that I had very few antagonists in my stories, so the idea of antagonists and what to do with them came as a revelation to me.
Since then, I've frequently tried to achieve a conflict lock in various stories, and most of the time, I've failed. So I'm starting to wonder just how useful it really is (to me, at least) after all.
There are two sides to this. On one side, it's a really attractive concept, something that pulls everything together and fuels the whole plot because the characters feel like they need
to keep putting themselves into conflict with each other in order to achieve their goals.
On the other hand, whenever I try to actually achieve the conflict lock
, my characters tend to slip out of it. My character twist and squirm and find substitutes, avoid the conflict one way or another, take detours, find a different perspective, bring in outside help, change the situation, and so on and so on.
And you know what? That's story too.
Watch them twist, watch them explore options, why not? It's interesting to see what they'll do, what obstacles they might come across in the detour, how the substitute might prove to be not quite as good as the original...
Or what makes it as good or better. It's all interesting.
The problem, perhaps, is with the idea that everything is conflict (I seem to struggle with this a lot). I don't actually believe that every story is a battle. Stories are reflections of life, and that's no way to live. I just don't like framing things that way, that is really not the metaphor for me.
And yet... I don't want to abandon the idea of conflict lock entirely. It's just... okay, you have a protagonist and an antagonist. And if they want things that conflict directly, then that's a conflict lock, and it's really simple, except that it's also really hard to get to that point (for me).
But the world is never made up of two people, two sides, one extremely simple conflict. There's a whole world out there, this is where the substitutes and the detours come from, from trying to get around the conflict by bringing in other factors. But if the world
keeps throwing these people back at each other, for one reason or another... then there's still a conflict lock.
It might be a sort of accidental conflict lock, based on the random factors going against one character or another. Based on the world having
random factors, based on there being more stuff going on than what shows up in the story. Based on the characters we see doing things that might have an effect later on, that might go off screen and compound in weird ways, or cause those butterfly chaos sorts of things to start happening, and then...
The world changes around the characters even as the characters change within the world.
(And when I say world, I just mean everything that's not a named and well-defined character. Or maybe everything / everyone that's not the protagonist and the antagonist. However you define the world, there are never enough well-defined characters to comprise the entire world, there's always stuff happening just out of sight...)
Although I suppose there are some stories with a wider scope than others. Actually, I think this is why I write science fiction/fantasy and Crusie writes romance.
Crusie says that the antagonist shapes the plot; I'm starting to think that I prefer it when the world shapes the plot. The world shapes both the protagonist and the antagonist, keeps them within the plot...plus, if you think about it that way, it allows the exploration of different aspects of the world as the world impinges on different aspects of the competition between the protagonist and the antagonist, and I'm always for more exploring of the world.
And because the world (any world) is usually in dynamic equilibrium, which doesn't mean that it's standing still, but more that things are pushing against each other from all sides, and on a global scale all these forces that make up the world cancel each other out (more or less, generally, unless suddenly everything changes, which has been known to happen in the world, but change or not so much change is generally believable because for every force that wants to change something, there are forces that want to keep it the same too...)
But even if you don't want the whole world to change, thing could believably become unbalanced a bit locally -- and when you're writing, you get to pick which direction the world pushes on the characters specifically, because this could go either way. It stays true to the nature of the world, no matter which direction you pick for the world to push...
Or you can have the characters take a look at the world and decide to try to support change or to support the status quo... Or try to use some of these forces to accomplish their own goals...
And I think at this point, perhaps there's a difference between what is part of the plot and what is part of the story. Or maybe what is part of the story and what is part of the plot? I'm not sure, terminology confuses me. But there are a whole bunch of cause and effect links that make the world work in the background, and they don't have to be written. I don't think this stuff needs to be explained
in the story, though as the writer, it really helps if I do know all these things.
Or at least some of these things.
But as for presenting them in the story... Worlds are very complicated. Perhaps what I really need to present to the reader is more...the feel of things, in this world? What sorts of things fit into the world?
I think that the world, as presented in a story, needs something
to keep it from appearing to be totally random. But also from appearing to be governed entirely by understandable cause and effect links...because who understands all the cause and effect links in the real world? I might be thinking of theme, or I might not. I don't think I'm thinking of worldbuilding, especially not the kind where you answer a ton of questions about every aspect of the world. I don't want something to expand things here, I want something to focus everything. Repeating patterns or some kind of structure or thematic organization? A look at the the being side of things rather than the doing side of things, with things that are linked together by ideas rather than cause and effect?
That's how I think it might be best to approach the world, when it comes to the world and it's effect on plot. Find a focus, an idea, a feeling...
There is a problem, though. If the world is an opponent, then how is it possible to win? Or to come to any sort of resolution? With an antogonist, it's always theoretically possible to defeat them. An antagonist is a person, with weaknesses. How do you defeat the entire world, though? Without an antagonist, it's hard to have an ending. (At least, it's harder compared to the really easy end condition of "antagonist defeated, the end".)
Which is why I think that the antagonist is still needed. The world can't be the antagonist, but the world can (and should) shape the story.
At least, that's my theory for now, and how it seems to be working in the novel I'm currently trying to outline :)