Not every villain has a face. In some stories, your hero’s greatest challenge is his surroundings. Jack London’s Call of the Wild is a classic example of the main character battling the elements. More recently, Twister is an excellent example of your character versus his or her surroundings.
In case you missed it, Twister is the story of a team of storm chasers who are trying to analyze tornadoes. They monitor and study the origins and paths of tornadoes. The very nature of their job puts them in antagonistic settings – they’re always in storms. If they were in the desert or on a tropical island, they wouldn’t have a story. Their conflict depends on their setting.
So what are the fundamental requirements for Character vs. Setting? There’s basically one main trait:
The character’s adversary is his setting. There may be other characters and subplots, but the main conflict comes from your character and his surroundings. If your character was in any other place, there wouldn’t be a story.
- Call of the Wild: Buck has many masters and performs many jobs, but all of his problems originate because he’s a sled dog in the Klondike during the gold rush. If he was in a different location, his story would be different.
- Dante’s Peak: In this 1997 film, a volcano expert investigates seismic activity near the thriving small town of Dante’s Peak. There are, of course, warning signs that a volcano is ready to erupt, but the town’s mayor doesn’t want to alarm anyone. If the town hadn’t been located near a volcano, there wouldn’t be any conflict. If the volcano wasn’t active, no tension. The setting matters.
Because this plot line has been used so many times, you need to make sure your setting is unique. For example, Dante’s Peak takes place near a very specific volcano. Volcano, however, looks at what would happen if a volcano suddenly appeared where it shouldn’t be (in Los Angeles, for example). There are only so many natural disasters and geographical areas you can write about, so you need to look for creative, unique ways to make your setting stand out.
Stop back next week to see what makes the Character vs. Society plot a current favorite!