There’s a very common saying (and misconception) in the storytelling world that goes a little something like this: the definition of story is Conflict.
Maybe you’ve heard this before?
And writers everywhere are being mislead into thinking that as long as they have conflict, they have a story. It’s how well-intentioned writers end up with an episodic narrative and no idea where they went wrong.
“But it has conflict!” they’ll argue. “There’s drama and conflict and all kinds of obstacles going on.”
Fine. That’s what there needs to be. But that’s not all there needs to be.
That’s where writers go off track. Because they’re been told for years that the definition of story is conflict. And it’s not.
The real definition of story, is this: opposition.
No opposition, no story. Period.
And this is what writers get wrong. Over and over again, this is what I see from the writers I talk to and work with. They’ve got a really cool idea for a story, they have conflict and tension and drama. Sometimes they even have an Antagonist.
But they don’t have true opposition, because what the Protagonist wants has nothing to do with what the Antagonist wants, or there’s no compelling reasons for why the Antagonist is doing what he’s doing, etc.
That doesn’t work. A story needs opposition. Why?
Because opposition creates stakes, it creates a journey, it creates something to be resolved. And that’s what a story needs.
If you don’t have opposition, you don’t have real stakes or a real journey or anything that immediately needs to be resolved. Opposition is the thing that makes it all work.
Here are some examples to help illustrate it for you:
Movie: Billy Madison
Protagonist: Billy Madison
Opposition: Eric, his father’s associate who’s getting the company instead of Billy
How Eric opposes Billy: Billy is going back through grades 1-12 and re-graduating to try and prove himself; Eric is sabotaging his efforts along the way so Billy fails
Why Eric opposes Billy: because Eric wants to be the new owner of Madison Hotels and stop Billy from taking over instead
Protagonist: Sydney Prescott
Opposition: ghost-face killer who wants to kill Sydney
How Killer Opposes Sydney: Sydney is trying to figure out who’s after her and she wants to escape with her life, but the killer is psychologically torturing her and plans on killing her
Why Killer Opposes Sydney: because of a back story that Sydney is unaware of (her mom is the reason the killer’s mom left him and his father a few years ago)
Movie: Twilight, Eclipse (movie #3)
Protagonist: Bella Swann
Opposition: Victoria and her minion, Riley, who both want to kill Bella (and Edward, her lover)
How Victoria Opposes Bella: Riley builds an army with the guidance of Victoria so they can travel to Forks and destroy Bella, Edward and his family
Why Victoria Opposes Bella: because Bella is responsible for the death of Victoria’s mate, James (from movie #1)
Get it? Opposition = story.
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, now’s the perfect time to figure out what the opposition will be in your story. If you do that, you’ll be lightyears ahead of the game come November 1.
Share With Us
Who or what is creating opposition in your story? Share in the comments.