Conflict generator

In Story, Robert McKee explains that conflict is central. If we consider the five elements of all stories–authorial intent, character, world, events, and narration–it becomes obvious how generative conflict is.

An author’s intent to write arises from conflict with something within or without. A character is a human, a being, and so must have conflicts at his/her/its core: fear versus desire, belonging versus separation etc.. A world is a miasma of entities of different scales, from the atomic to the cosmic, all interacting; events are the consequence of a world’s thrashing. Even narration relies on conflict–something can only be described in the positive if we have a reference point that forms its negative.

Conflict, undoubtedly, has generative capacity, but is there an easy way to access it for fiction writing? Well, I think I stumbled upon a way whilst editing a recent chapter of my novel. It’s a modular version of a writing prompt. You know, sentence-long seeds supposed to catalyse inspiration or creativity. Here it is:

“An/A ___1___ in the ___2__ practising __3__ against an/a __1___ in the ___2___.”

“1” refers to human group size. I stole it from Venkatest Rao’s Unflattening Hobbes. The options are:

  • Individual
  • Pack
  • Troop
  • Tribe
  • Imagined Community

(Caveat: the last four options should technically say, “An individual who is a part of a __.”)

“2” refers to world condition. The options are:

  • 1st World
  • 2nd World
  • 3rd World
  • 4th World

A rough idea of the distinction courtesy of the following page:

“The term “First World” refers to so called developed, capitalist, industrial countries, roughly, a bloc of countries aligned with the United States after World War II, with more or less common political and economic interests: North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia.

“Second World” refers to the former communist-socialist, industrial states, (formerly the Eastern bloc, the territory and sphere of influence of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic) today: Russia, Eastern Europe (e.g., Poland) and some of the Turk States (e.g., Kazakhstan) as well as China.

“Third World” are all the other countries, today often used to roughly describe the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The term Third World includes as well capitalist (e.g., Venezuela) and communist (e.g., North Korea) countries, very rich (e.g., Saudi Arabia) and very poor (e.g., Mali) countries.”

The traditional definition of “fourth world” from Wikipedia:

“The Fourth World is an extension of the three-world model, used variably to refer to:

– Sub-populations socially excluded from global society;
– Hunter-gatherer, nomadic, pastoral, and some subsistence farming peoples living beyond the modern industrial norm.
– Sub-populations existing in a First World country, but with the living standards of those of a Third World, or developing country.”

Personally, I think of the “fourth world” as a first-world state whose critical infrastructure and services have decayed–either due to neglect, sabotage, or natural or manmade catastrophe, but the above work too.

“3” refers to the dominant conflict methodology, sorted by generation. The options are:

  • 1st Gen Warfare
  • 2nd Gen Warfare
  • 3rd Gen Warfare
  • 4th Gen Warfare

A detailed explanation of the generations can be found here. Summarised: 1st gen warfare is about absolute manpower. 2nd gen warfare is about relative manpower. 3rd gen warfare is about manoeuvres. 4th gen warfare is about asymmetric systems disruption.

In action what does this look like? The following prompt…

“An individual in the 3rd world practising 4th gen warfare against an imagined community in the 1st world.”

…is a story of terrorism. Or of a freedom fighter. This prompt…

“A pack in the 1st world practising 3rd gen warfare against a troop in the 1st world.”

…could be the tale of a nerdy high school clique trying to undermine their dorkish reputation.

Naturally, there are quirks with the prompt. The difference between a troop and a tribe is negotiable. Elements of 3rd and 4th gen warfare crossover. How do the concepts of conflict methodology and world condition translate into science-fiction, or fantasy?

I don’t really know. I just thought someone else besides me might find this an interesting, if obscure, addition to their toolbox.