Conflict Opens a Door and a Story Begins

Sometimes it seems as if most books and movies today are glorified comic books, epic battles between the dubiously good and the impossibly evil. Conflicts in which there are no shades of gray must be satisfying for many people, but I like a little more subtlety in my conflicts, a little more reality.

In a world that is run by major corporations, stories where a lone hero takes on a megalithic corporation, brings down the owner of the company, and saves the world just are not plausible. Though I’m sure presidents of the major corporations think they are indispensable, they are not. If they are eliminated, there will always be others to take their place, and the corporations will go on doing whatever it is that they do.

Because I know this and cannot escape it even in a world of my own creation, conflicts in my books tend to be less clearly defined. Of course I have heroes and villains, but the villains are not always dastardly ones, though my other characters may perceive them as such. The villains are the heroes of their own story, and though a corporation is often the villains’ vehicle, my heroes don’t bring it down.

I like my heroes to find a romantic partner, a co-protagonist. It seems to dissipate the energy of the story if the two are always in conflict, so I prefer it when they bond together in their struggle against fate (or an employee of a corporation as the personification of fate). To me, the biggest villain around is fate. What is more unfair, more murderous, more disastrous than fate?

My heroes never bring on their fate. Perhaps my books would be more dramatic if they did, but I cannot sympathize with characters who cause their own problems. And why do they have to cause problems for themselves when other people or even life itself is always ready to cause problems for them?

When fate comes knocking on the door, everything changes. And that’s when a real story, not a comic book, begins.

In my novel Light Bringer, “fate knocking at the door” is a one of the unintended themes. In the prologue, baby Rena is found at the door of a remote Colorado cabin. In the first chapter, fate comes with an actual knock when men proclaiming to be NSA agents show up at Philip Hansen’s door. Fate finds Jane Keeler when she shows up at her sister’s door and finds the house empty. Fate knocks even harder when she opens the door of a local coffee shop and meets the man of her dreams, and poor Jane’s fate is sealed when she is abducted and shoved through the door of car.

So many doors! Philip knocks on Rena’s door, and later the two are carried uncocnscious through the door to an underground facility, where Jane is also being held behind a locked door. Philip and Rena find out that between them they can open doors without a key, and when they do, they find secrets behind even more doors. And then there is the ghost cat Wisdom and the invisible watcher who seem to need no doors, but are more than willing to open them for Philip and Rena. Each time a character goes through a door, things change, and they find more conflict.

Fate doesn’t have to come with an actual knock, but it’s been said there are only two stories — a character goes on a trip and a stranger knocks on the door, so doors are an important symbol of conflict and change.

How do doors enter into your story?

2 Responses to “Conflict Opens a Door and a Story Begins”

  1. Rod Marsden Says:

    When it comes to doors I am reminded of the old writing exercise where a person is living in a log cabin away from civilization and they hear a knocking. They open the entrance door to their cabin and there is this hug bear growling at them and about to enter. What do they do? It is too late to close the door on the bear and the bear has the power to tear them to shreds. A good place in a novel to end a chapter? You bet. A furry cliffhanger!

    There is a place in fiction and at the movies for good vs evil in over the top melodrama (though melodrama by definition is already over the top). The Avengers is doing well at the box office and Thor did very well. Sometimes we need stories that are black and white without much in the way of gray even around the edges. We need mighty heroes and dastardly villains even if they are unrealistic. I grew up on comic books and 1960s SF novels so I come at all this from that angle. Still even in such an overblown world villains rarely see themselves as villains. They may be out to destroy society, the world, whatever but they have their reasons. Galactus, for example, would devour our world simply because he is hungry and we all get hungry from time to time. Mind you, we don’t devour a whole world for nourishment. Yes, it is comic book stuff but it has always been there. The earliest known written story in crude English was way over the top, Beowulf so there is a long tradition.

    Nowadays, I tend to put more gray into my stories even when they have a fantastic angle. My novel Desk Job reflects this. My mentors for it are Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka.

    My thoughts at any rate.

  2. Rod Marsden Says:

    How do doors enter or open in Desk Job? I have created a world of cold, inhumane office rules and regulations. It is easy to slip up or to be accused of slipping up. Even the accusation alone is enough to place you in terrible trouble. Keeping your head down and getting on with your work may not always be enough to keep you safe. Even knowing where an accusation comes from and why it has been made may not be enough to return you to safety. There are predators about and they may strike at any time during office hours.


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