In a post-apocalyptic future, the Capitol maintains absolute control over the collapsed North American government. To remind the citizens of their place in society, the Capitol hosts the annual Hunger Games – a nationally televised death match between children ages 12-18 years old from each of the nation’s twelve districts. Two children from each district are selected by lottery to compete.
When sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen’s younger sister is picked as ‘tribute’ for the Games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. There’s no escaping it. She has no choice. Katniss cannot avoid the Hunger Games. She must compete, and she must win.
Welcome to the Character vs. Society plot line. In these stories, your main character’s main battle is against society, against the people calling the shots.
Unlike Character vs. Setting – where the physical location causes the tension – in Character vs. Society, your antagonist is the cultural norm. Your character must stand up to society’s expectations and standards. There may be other characters who agree with those expectations and standards, but the real antagonist is mindset that guides society.
Character vs. Society plots usually touch on deep (and sometimes troubling) social issues. For example:
- Selma – while there are individuals who oppose the main characters, the real issue is with the cultural belief that African Americans did not deserve the right to vote. Martin Luther King Jr. isn’t trying to gain something for himself; he’s trying to change society’s point-of-view.
- Spartacus – born and raised a slave, Spartacus turns against his master, who has trained him to kill in the arena. He doesn’t just escape to run away, however; Spartacus leads a slave rebellion, inspiring other slaves to follow him.
- Hunger Games Trilogy – Katniss has no choice but to compete in the games, but she does not fight simply to survive. She begins working with others to not just undermine and destroy the Hunger Games, they work to bring down the Capitol.
Whether or not the main character succeeds, the goal is the same – to survive the immediate battle in order to fight the larger war. There’s something bigger at stake than the main character’s comfort and success. Your character is fighting for a cause to defend a group of people.
We’re in the homestretch now – come back in two weeks for the final plot line: Character vs. Situation.