by Hal Hefner. Originally published at demandabetterfuture.com
One theme I constantly see from writers who are excited to write about a Utopian Solarpunk future, is…
“HOW DO I CREATE CONFLICT IN A UTOPIAN WORLD?”
It’s easier than you think because conflict is through character. If you start off by creating a solid character then conflict will automatically grow. Secondly just because you have a Solarpunk or Utopian world doesn’t mean there are no conflicts. If you have no conflicts you have no story, no matter if it’s Solarpunk, Cyberpunk, Utopian or Dystopian. Conflicts of the internal kind are often the driving force that makes a reader bond and become invested in a character.
Because good conflict is about values most importantly.
It’s easy to think that to create good conflict we need to show fights, death, explosions and spectacular events. Or perhaps we feel that conflict is all about internal suffering: fear/phobias, depression/anxiety, loss, longing, or other internal pain. But if this were true then we’d most likely have some boring stories that fall flat in our goal to create great conflict. Memorable conflict that hits us in the heart is about values.
When our values are challenged there is conflict. It’s pretty simple. These conflicts then steamroll into plot points and story arcs.
What are values?
For the purposes of our Solarpunk writing Values mean:
- The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. “your support is of great value”
- The material or monetary worth of something.
- A person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.
For example, in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Frodo valued the ring as a material, but in in principle he also greatly valued his friendship and loyalty to Sam and the Fellowship.
Though values manifest inside of our characters they must also rise to the surface externally too. Something has to be happening to move your story along. In many stories we have the protagonist in direct conflict with an antagonist while trying to achieve a goal. The character must resolve their conflict—within and also externally—for the story to have any meaning, or emotional hook to make people invested in a character’s arc/growth.
You don’t even need a villain or antagonist to create meaningful conflict. Most conflict comes about between two positive values that conflict. Like in the Lord of the Rings series, Sam values his friendship with Frodo and tries to protect him from Gollum who turns Frodo against Sam with lies. Frodo also values friendship and feels betrayed by Sam as their positive values collide to create conflict due to outside forces.
To help create values in a character that can stand the test of a story, take the following questions and explore them with your character.
Character Value Evaluation
- Who or what does your main character value most in life?
- Do any of these values potentially conflict within the character and with others?
- What do all of the potential conflicts you’ve listed above, reveal about these values and your character?
- Are the values breakable? Are they strong or are they weak?
- What elements can you concluded from these values as you explore complications of that value?
- Are there any additional conflicts that you can foresee arise from these values with other characters or elements of your storyworld?
What you’ll find is that your character’s values lead to multiple opportunities for external and internal conflict. From here we know that in any type of storytelling, there are five main themes of conflict and that applies to all worlds, Solarpunk, Utopian or not.
Themes of Conflict
- Character versus themselves.
- Character against another character.
- Character against their environment.
- Character against nature.
- Character against machine.
But conflict isn’t about fistfights, gunshots and Michael Bay explosions. Conflict is about the internal and external struggles that force a character to respond internally/emotionally and react externally/physically.
So before you delve into the conflict, ask yourself a few questions that will help you make sure this conflict is solid and can maintain itself throughout the story.
- How does the conflict come about and what five themes from above is it coming from?
- What are the roots of the conflict and how do they get entangled those in the conflicts?
- How does the conflict grow to create tension and with who or what?
- How is the reader involved in this conflict and how do they relate to it?
Conflict is inherent to the humans race. Our values and emotions drive us in all areas of our lives.
- Love/sex life
- Home life/social life
- Society and our place in it.
So you should have lots of options for conflict in a Solarpunk story.
The key to creating a good story is all about an organizing idea that carries throughout the book. Some people call it a main idea, or even a main question that a character must answer. Conflict is at the heart of this concept.
Typically this organizing idea/question is established in the first scene of the book and additional conflicts grow from it. Each scene will carry a piece of this main idea or question. This event or action will disrupt and destroy your main character’s world. It causes your character to act and then in turn emotionally bond with the reader based on that action.
In my story, the Serpent Seed, the real conflict is within Eva Gates, our sixteen year old protagonist who is mentally and physically struggling with her increasing abilities to communicate with and control plants. When her father is murdered, this struggle brings about tons of unresolved internal and external conflicts and drives the story from start to finish.
So this conflict is about:
- Character versus themselves in a battle between fear and strength/love.
- Values internally in conflict include: Moral, ethical, self worth, social perception, home life/social life, family/friends.
- This conflict within will lead to all of the other external conflicts such as…Character against another character, Character against their environment, Character against nature, Character against machine.
Values versus Values
For each protagonist who has values that drive a story, if you are thinking about creating an antagonist, then their values are fairly simple. They are in direct opposition to your hero! So once you figure out those main values then flip them into the negative space to oppose your hero and their value systems.
Optimus Prime values honor, compassion and loyalty while Megatron values strength, cruelty and power. This legendary battle between the Autobots and Decepticons rages on decades after they were created first created because the conflict between them is so real, relatable–and profitable.
So keep this in mind when writing and whether it’s Solarpunk or not, remember that good conflict is all about values and if your character has no values than you have no character.
Good luck writing the next Solarpunk masterpiece and here are some videos from the author Abbie Emmons. She has a fantastic YouTube channel with tons of writing tips for writers of all skill and experience level. Here are some on conflict and how misbeliefs lead to these inner conflicts of our values.
Hal Hefner (he/him) is a Creative Director and Strategist who uses award winning illustration, design, writing and strategy to create digital and physical experiences. He’s illustrated books, games, video games, magazines, comic books, & more. He’s most recognized for his pop art series, CONSUME, with millions of shares and shown in galleries around the world. Hal is also an accomplished marketing executive for major entertainment properties such as movies, TV/streaming, Games, toys and more. Most recently he worked on The Wheel of Time for Amazon, Titans for HBOMax, and Loki for Disney+. Hal is dedicated to the advancement of new narratives for humanity that don’t end with a cyberpunk dystopia or an apocalypse. He is currently in production on the Serpentseed, an episodic solarpunk, drama epic created with multiple forms of media, set in the near future. Hal is Solarpunk Magazine‘s Creative Director. #DemandABetterFuture