Defining your Central Conflict

Last month I wrote my first novel.  One of the most interesting things that I learned from this process was that stories all tend to share certain form.  At the heart of nearly every story is a conflict.

The story starts when something causes the world to go out of balance.  The protagonist, then, must work to bring balance back to the world, while the antagonist opposes him at every step.  Without this conflict, there is no story.   Indeed, we MUST have an antagonist for their to be a narrative.  Harry Potter is defined by his struggle against Voldemort.  Frodo is defined by his quest to rid the world of Sauron.  The soldiers in Band of Brothers are defined by their struggle against the Third Reich.

It is as if we are hard-wired to respond to stories of struggle, and to understand the world in terms of conflict.  This applies to our own lives, too.  We define ourselves every bit as much in terms of what we fight against as we do in terms of what we are in favour of.

Because if there is no struggle, there is no story.  Who would watch a movie about a guy who wakes up to find that he hasn’t lost his job, an enemy he thought dead has not suddenly re-appeared, an alien race has not started destroying cities, the love of his life has not just vanished?  Who would read a book about someone whose  defining struggle of his life is deciding where to have lunch?

So, if you were writing the story of your life, with yourself as the protagonist – ask yourself this question.  Who is the antagonist?