Now we are on C. C as in Cookie, the first letter of my name, and for Capt. Crunch. It is a powerful letter. Today we discuss two important terms, Catastrophe and Conflict.
Like before, I will go ahead and discuss each one as best as I can and then link them together, or at least find a way to do so. I ask that you leave your comments below and let me know what you think.
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Here’s a word we often hear. But do you know what it means? Most people would say something really bad, and they’d be right, but like most definitions, there is more to it than that. Wikipedia tells us, that a catastrophe is extremely large-scale disaster, a horrible event. So in other words, something really really bad.
As a literary term, while catastrophe is something bad, it is also something that proceeded the climax of the story, especially tragedies. It often represented a bad incident happening from the ending of the conflict as a result from the climax, such as our hero dying. A good example of this is Matrix Revolutions, where Neo dies at the end of the climax, in his fight with Agent Smith.
Often times a play ends on a Catastrophe, replacing the Dénouement. However, many times the Dénouement comes after the Catastrophe, such as Matrix Revolutions. For something to be a true catastrophe, a character must be worse off than the beginning of the story. Not only affecting the main character, but those they loves and cares about. Such as losing a crew member on an Asteroid, which results in not being able to set off a nuke in the middle of the rock and all of mankind will die. This contrasts ending non catastrophe endings where a character is worse off at the beginning of the story rather than the ending.
With the example of Armageddon, we learn that a catastrophe doesn’t have to come at the end of a story, and can often be the plot of the story itself, or come before the climax. Now, not every conflict can be considered a catastrophe. Just because something bad is happening, doesn’t mean it is the worst thing imaginable. Often times we categorize something as catastrophic when the event happening creates an impossible situation, such as the 2003 Columbia accident in which there was nothing that could have been done as it was happening. This references more of a catastrophic failure.
Now a catastrophe doesn’t have to denote a negative connotation in a story, and can be in fact a positive one. You will note that I mentioned main character, not reference the protagonist or antagonist. The main character can be the bad guy, and his plans being foiled, while a catastrophe, is of benefit to the protagonist. J.R.R Tolkien made a term for this called eucatastrophie, indicating a catastrophe that has a positive ending, such as the One Ring being cast in the fires of Mount Doom was bad for Sauron, but was good for all the heroes.
Any and all writers should know what this is, but I’ll explain what it is anyways. Conflict is an opposition between two parties, often two characters, that is centered around a problem. The two parties are often the protagonist and antagonist. The two are working against each other and this is what creates the conflict.
Conflict is what drives our stories and it is how our characters react to that conflict that keeps readers interested. Often times we have the overall conflict and the main character’s conflict.
Also remember that secondary characters can have their own conflict, and to a degree, are the main characters of their own story. Sometimes their conflict is played out in the story, or simply referenced in contrast to the main character’s conflict.
The conflict is not always two people, and can be two organizations, such as Star Wars…the Rebels vs the Empire. It can be an internal struggle dealing with addiction. Or an external element such as nature.
There are 11 basic conflict types (updated to be less misogynistic):
1. Character vs Character – Direct conflict against another character
2. Group vs Group – A group or organization is fighting against another group.
3. Character vs self – Internal conflict
4. Group vs self – Conflict from within the group
5. Character vs Group or Society – Character fighting against a group, or being hunted
6. Character vs Nature (including Act of God) – element that is accepted as life
7. Group vs Nature – Group dealing with a natural cause, often brought on by the group
8. Character vs Supernatural (including God) – dealing with a force outside the physical realm of reality
9. Group vs Supernatural – Group dealing with a paranormal element
10. Character vs Machine – Fighting against a literal machine
11. Group vs Machine – a war with literal machines
Sometimes there is the individual character that is being affected and sometimes a group is being affected.
Catastrophe & Conflict
While both are elements of plot found within the story, there is a more direct link between the two. That is Climax. Conflict is the drive of the story, what pushes the characters forward. The conflict comes to its end with the Climax. More appropriately, it starts to end at the beginning of the Climax.
Catastrophe traditionally starts at the end of the Climax. When the dust settles and we see where everything is, and we gain an understanding of what happened, only to see things change in a drastic way. Not always bad, but leaving everyone in a different place than they started.
Climax of the story is so integral, that while we need the characters, the setting, the conflict, and the resolution, it is all tied together at the Climax and that can often make or break a story. Everything the story has been working for, building up to, and it finally happens, let us put on a good show and enjoy the carnival ride that is storytelling.
Unless of course we go for an Anti-Climatic result.
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