Podcast

274 – Making Conflict Matter

The Mythcreant Podcast
You’ve done the work of adding sword fights, epic battles, and dramatic arguments. Your characters always have something they want, no matter how minor the scene. And yet, you’re still having difficulty making readers care. Congratulations, you’re having difficulty making your conflicts matter, and you’re far from the only one. Listen in as we go through a handy checklist of reasons why you might be having trouble and then explain what you can do about it.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Star Wars: A New Hope

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Emma

Doll House 

Lessons From the Writing of The Name of the Wind

The City in the Middle of the Night

Voyager: Endgame

The Grace of Kings

His Majesty’s Dragon

Empire of Sand

October Faction

Star Trek: Picard

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by author and editor AJ Sikes. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

You’re listening to the Mythcreant podcast, with your hosts: Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle.

Oren: And welcome everyone to another episode of the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Oren, and with me today are Chris and Wes. Today, we are talking about how to make conflicts matter. I thought about trying to do an opening bit, but I couldn’t think of a way to make it matter. So that seemed like a bad idea, because I think conflicts should matter.

And so should opening bits if you’re going to have them.

Wes: Well, I don’t think anything matters. It doesn’t matter. And what are we even talking about? What is a conflict? Isn’t that a confusing term? Didn’t we clarify this?

Oren: Yeah, just a few weeks ago. I think we call them struggles now.

Wes: Ooo, yes. Struggles.

Oren: I have run into a number of stories. Some of them published, but most of them manuscripts that I edit. They have lots of conflict, but it’s still really, really boring. That’s because the conflict doesn’t matter. People are fighting over something, physically or socially or what have you. People are struggling to get something, but I don’t care for a number of reasons.

That’s a really serious problem that even professionals make, and it’s something that I thought new writers would benefit from knowing more about.

Wes: So you’re saying that if somebody says the secret to making your stories better is to just add more conflict, that isn’t necessarily correct.

Oren: Maybe not. If someone tells you the secret is anything, they’re probably not 100% on the ball.

[Everybody laughs.]

Oren: Be wary of anybody who tells you they have a special secret that no one else has figured out as a rule.

Chris: It’s that one weird trick. Editors hate it.

Oren: Part of the reason why I wanted to talk about this is actually related to that, and it’s that some people, partially because of confusing terminology, partially just because they actually don’t like conflict, think that they don’t have to put conflict in their stories and they point to stories where the conflict was boring as evidence that they don’t need conflict. That’s a really frustrating argument, and it’s wrong, and it will hurt your storytelling if you follow it. Part of the reason we’re doing this today is to try to explain that there are reasons that conflict didn’t work and there are things you can do to fix it. It’s not just the conflict is actually boring.

Chris: In my experience, a lot of these people don’t want to put conflict in their story. They don’t like stories with high tension or as much tension as a lot of other people like, which I think is completely valid. The thing I’d like to point out is you should still have good plot structure with good conflicts, even if you want those conflicts to be lower tension conflicts.

Because setting this up isn’t just for the conflict and for the tension. It’s also for the satisfaction that you get from resolving issues. If you completely hamstring your conflicts, it’s also not satisfying when those conflicts are solved. So you’re losing more than tension by messing up your conflict.

Oren: I actually have a checklist of things you can do if your conflict isn’t really working out and feels like it doesn’t matter.

Step one. Are the stakes clear? What is at stake? Does the audience know what is at stake? Have you explained it? Sometimes it’s obvious. At the beginning of Star Wars, we have a conflict where a very large ship is shooting at a very small ship.

The stakes are obvious. Will the ship survive? We don’t have to have a narrator say “And now the small ship is trying to get away because it doesn’t want to explode.”

[Everybody laughs]

We can tell that, but more complicated stakes might require some explanation. Also, because I never get tired of bagging on the prequels, an example of a conflict where the stakes aren’t clear is the beginning of The Phantom Menace. There’s a trade dispute and a blockade, and the Jedi are here to negotiate something and it’s really not clear what the conflict is and it doesn’t become clear until quite late.

The movie’s already been going for several minutes by the time the Trade Federation people are like, well, let’s kill the Jedi, at which point the conflict has obvious stakes: life or death. It’s still bad, but for different reasons.

That’s step one and I find that that is more of an issue in social conflicts. For example, the movie version of Emma, that Chris and I watched the other night, has all of this conflict and stakes based around who will get into a relationship with who. But because the movie doesn’t have a narrator, it doesn’t know how to tell us what is going on inside the main character’s head, which we need to know.

So instead, it depends on us to interpret all of these very minor glances that she gives people. And if you miss one, you have no idea what’s happening anymore and you’re like, what’s going on? What are they arguing about? I don’t get it.

Chris: Definitely something that’s easier to interpret when you have a book with a narrator and that you can always stop and examine things a little longer if you need to.

Oren: Step two on the list is: Are the stakes compelling? This is where you’ve explained what they are, but does the audience care? Are these stakes that the audience will have any vested interest in? And this actually has two sub points, which are the characters first have to be likable because we need to care about them getting their stakes or not getting them.

And then the other one is do the stakes matter to the character, because again, your stakes don’t always have to be life and death. That’s a thing that some storytellers get taught and it’s wrong. Stakes can be emotional. They can be relatively small if they matter. A story that fails to make the stakes matter is the TV show Dollhouse.

That’s one of the downsides of having your protagonist be a literal blank, programmable slate, is that nothing matters to her. The only time that those conflicts matter at all is when they suddenly become life and death. Before then, she wants nothing and cares for nothing. Who cares if this party that she’s going to goes well? Not her. So why should I?

So I can keep going on this checklist, but I feel like that might just be me talking forever. Have either of you encountered anything like this in the wild?

Wes: I think something to add to Oren’s point here on the stakes mattering and also mattering to the readers and the characters . . . . I feel like they’re best when there’s something emotional happening. And then we talked about things being sympathetic and the characters being likable. But there needs to be an emotional reason for why this struggle is important. When you bring in an emotional aspect, that helps you approach the levels of conflict that you can have.

We talk about how it doesn’t have to be life or death, but as long as there’s an emotional impact on your protagonist or your point of view character, if you’re reading especially, you’re maybe more likely to vibrate on that wavelength. You can empathize a little bit and kind of feel why this “insert social event here and main characters presence and performance at it” matters.

Because if you’re spending a lot of time in a close perspective, you’re kind of adopting a little bit of the character’s emotions. You’re feeling it and having that emotional element to a conflict really helps bring in my own investment in what happens. But it’s better to have that instead of just this logic based conflict of, “Oh, right, if they don’t do that, then this will happen. That is bad.”

We can’t ignore that there’s a human element in this, and good conflicts I think incorporate that.

Chris: One of the things that happens with both of these issues (what are the stakes and do they matter) is a lot of writers have the tendency to withhold too much information from the audience. A lot of times they do it because they want to seem mysterious, or they just don’t realize that they should be proactively informing the audience of why things matter and what the context is around what things are happening. Or they feel like they’re being clever. Because if we withhold information, we can reveal it later. That is contrived and it really damages that emotional investment that Wes was just talking about.

If you don’t know why something matters to a character. You can’t care about it with that character. You can say the character cares. But without understanding why, it’s never going to hit home.

I did a critique of Name of the Wind a while back, just the first fifty pages, which is actually the prologue instead of the main story. We have this situation and it has another problem, which I’m sure we’ll cover later that also makes the tension lower than it should be. It’s very mysterious and it doesn’t fill in any information. There is this scene where Kvothe has to bury this giant spider and he is already badly injured, but his comrade is now unconscious. So he has to dig a big hole to properly dispose of the spider by himself. It’s kind of sympathetic, but we have no idea why he has to bury the spider.

What happens if you just leave this evil demon spider around after you killed it? We don’t know. It would be a lot more compelling if there was a struggle there, where there’s a little tension over whether or not he actually succeeds, even though he’s injured from the fight, because there’s a consequence for the spider not being buried. But we don’t know what it is; there’s no tension there.

I hope we’ll talk more about City in the Middle of the Night. There is an issue where this protagonist is doing very wild things and taking lots of risks in order to steal something that is referred to as The Invention.

Oren: Great name.

Chris: Honestly, as soon as I heard that, I thought “It’s going to be some cultural artifact, isn’t it?” The Invention is mentioned. It’s a super vague name. There’s no description of what it is, and so we have no idea why the character cares about it. Of course, this is to set up for reveal where it’s not something that anyone would actually call an invention realistically.

So it ends up being very contrived, but it also makes it harder for us to emotionally invest in the idea of the protagonist going and getting it and all of the risks that are being taken to get it. That is why we can’t care. We’re being very coy about this and we’re withholding information when we should be proactively filling in context. Doing that helps conflict work and tension work.

Oren: It felt like the world’s laziest subversion. What it felt like was that the author wanted us to assume that this thing was of practical use and was some kind of bad-ass bit of technology. And then reveal that it was actually just a cultural artifact.

That is a very hard thing to do in a close narration, but it is possible. There are ways you could do it, but it felt like the author didn’t even try. It’s called The Invention, which feels like placeholder text got left in there like they forgot to do a find replace “The Invention” with what they actually call it.

What is happening? Are you trying to convince me of something and reveal it later? I honestly can’t tell because it’s such a lackluster attempt. I don’t know if that’s actually what you’re trying to do.

Chris: The term is obviously contrived. It is obviously not naturally what some people would call something. Maybe if it had turned out to be something that would be reasonably called The Invention . . . . But even the vagueness around it suggested that it was intended to be a surprise.

Otherwise, you can notice in narration when something is just conspicuously absent, when we would have described this thing and we haven’t. We have every good storytelling reason to describe it because it is the stakes in this conflict, whether or not this character gets their hands on it.

When we leave that absent and we have a super vague term, and it’s just distinctly unnatural, it doesn’t feel like the surprise is a natural part of the story. It feels like it’s a contrivance added by the author.

Wes: So stakes matter and words matter. That’s what I’m hearing.

Chris: So, Oren, you talked about what the stakes are and whether we are emotionally invested in those stakes. Do you want to go onto another item?

Oren: So the next thing that you have to ask if your conflict’s not working is “Is it too easy? Does it seem too easy? Have you given the heroes too many advantages?” Because at this point it’s just boring. Okay, well now I’m going to watch the heroes walk over their opponents for fun and profit. Why do I want to read about that? You just tell me they won and get it over with faster. So you have stories like Endgame, and by that I mean the last episode of Voyager. I don’t know what kind of Marvel movie you might’ve thought I was referring to.

[Everybody laughs]

The episode of Voyager has [the crew saying]: “All right, we’re going to fight the Borg. We’re going to do it with all of this magic future tech that blows the Borg up real good. Okay, well I guess you’re going to win then, because you have all the future tech. But who cares.

Towards the end, they finally create an actual conflict because they decide that they’re not going to do their moral dilemma, which was originally “Well, we either have to get ourselves home or blow up the Borg. We can’t have both.”

But what if we could do both? That would be really hard. Now we finally have a conflict that looks like it’s not going to be too hard, but it’s too late in the episode. I’ve already watched forty-five minutes of this, so that’s just a serious problem. The bad guys are not powerful enough. The good guys are too strong.

This happens a lot. It’s especially an issue in more wish fulfillment focused stories where the hero is just way too good at everything.

Wes: That’s interesting because conflict matters. Especially in our speculative fiction because we want to see people overcoming things. We want to see people have the courage to stand up to something when the outcome is not necessarily known.

Pull us away from our day jobs and couches and show us what it means to actually struggle for something. And if they’re just walking through, that’s boring.

Chris: This reminds me of a book I started recently. When you have a protagonist who has problems and you’re trying to generate sympathy for them, which is one way of getting people emotionally invested, it’s important that when they’re being selfless that they give something up.

We had a book we were listening to recently where the main character was just a jerk, who didn’t seem like he was doing anything good and he deserved everything bad that’s ever come to him. They decide to have the stereotypical save the cat scene, which is lingo that means you set up a deliberate scene where your protagonist does something selfless, like save a cat, so they seem like a good person and people become emotionally invested in that protagonist. But he walks up and he easily helps a couple people by just forging a note from somebody else and it just doesn’t cost him anything.

He’s already a jerk, and he didn’t really struggle for that. I like him even less because he got a bunch of candy poured on him for doing this thing, like he was such an awesome person for something that cost him nothing. This was supposed to convince me to like this person. Now it has done the opposite.

Oren: So that book is called The Grace of Kings. Not to be confused with The Way of Kings or the various other of Kings. There are a lot of of Kings, it turns out. But no, this is The Grace of Kings and ho, boy, is it bad. But the scene that Chris was referring to is, I think, the worst save the cat scene I’ve ever read. Or experienced in any form.

It is the epitome of leaning too hard on the save the cat device because the author first forgot to write a character that would actually save the cat. This person is such a jerk and so self-serving, I just don’t believe he would do that. It actually feels inconsistent with the character that has been established for him. Until this point.

There’s what Chris was talking about, which is that he actually risks nothing. This is no skin off his back whatsoever. He just did this essentially for free. There’s the fact that his plan is so bad that it inadvertently only works because the people that he’s saving think of a way to make it work for him.

What is happening is there’s a woman who is being hassled by a guard to either pay this unreasonable tax or send her oldest son to a forced labor camp. So the main character comes up to the garden and is like, “Here, I’m going to forge this credit note from some rich guy and this will cover them.”

That sounds like that might risk him getting in trouble with the guards, but the book is very clear that it doesn’t. I know when I say that, it sounds like he’s taking a risk. He’s absolutely not in the book. The book is very clear. He will never be caught for this.

If the family had stuck around, they would have been because the guard would have gone to cash the note. It would have been revealed as a forgery and then he would’ve gone back to hassling the old woman. But fortunately the old woman’s son completely independently, is like, “Hey mom, we should probably skip town.”

Okay, I’m glad that son at least has a good head on his shoulders. It’s just very bad. It’s an incredibly bad scene. There’s no turning point. The main character doesn’t convince anyone. He just does it. It’s like, “Oh, that was really easy.” The guards in this town are apparently very gullible.

Chris: One of the many ways in which giving a character too much candy (and having a character that you love too much and it’s hard to understand why people might not love your character) can really make the conflicts in your story feel like they don’t matter. Because you don’t want that character to actually have a hard time or struggle or have any weaknesses, which are usually one of the reasons they struggle.

Oren: I remember back when I first heard about the save the cat device when it was first described to me in those terms, coming from a screenwriting book, one of the concerns that I had with it was, I feel like this is going to encourage writers to have a save the cat scene without actually writing a character who would save the cat.

I’d never actually seen that before, so I’m glad that The Grace of Kings exists to confirm my concerns over that trope.

Chris: Honestly, that’s my entire problem with save the cat structure altogether and many of these other structures that writers follow. It tells them to do individual stages, but it doesn’t actually teach them what an overarching plot is. What a through line is. And so they just stick the requirements in their story because there’s basic storytelling lessons that are just missing. They don’t actually get the end result that they’re supposed to, if they think about each event in isolation without understanding how they fit together.

And I think the idea of just an injecting a scene, where your character randomly saves a cat and then just goes on and continues being a jerk, is a good example of that problem.

Oren: It’s like trying to follow cooking directions when half of the steps are missing because the person who wrote those cooking directions just thinks it’s obvious.

Chris: And already knows those things and has never thought about the fact that they need to be specified.

Oren: Add the usual amount of spices and it’s like, “Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.”

Another item on the checklist versus “Is the conflict too easy?” is, “Is the conflict too hard?” And this happens sometimes. It’s not as common, but it does happen where you’ve set up a conflict where the hero has no chance of winning.

It’s just inconceivable that they could win. And that makes it so the audience is just gonna check out and not actually pay attention. Because even if they don’t academically know this, they’re just waiting for the situation to change so that the hero actually has a chance to win, even if it’s a small chance.

There’s a reason why the shot that Luke Skywalker has to make is one in a million not, and then Luke Skywalker has to disassemble the Death Star by hand. A good example of this is at the end of His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book of the Temeraire series. Napoleon is about to invade England with his dragon fleet and the English are thinking, “We only have ten dragons to fight him. That’s impossible. So I guess we’re gonna go up and die defending England.”

Well, I know you’re not going to die because I know there’s another book. Even if I didn’t know that, I was pretty sure that you’re not just going to die. I’m just waiting. What’s going to change to make this victory possible?

And later on down the road there is a twist that makes the victory possible, but everything before then it’s just me waiting for it. I’m not excited. I’m not engaged.

Chris: I think this is a place where a character, having goals and agency becomes really important. If your character is actively thinking about how to solve their problems, and making plans that maybe don’t have a big chance of success, but are at least possible, then they’re being proactive. Then you can see a way out of the situation that isn’t just hopeless.

But when the characters don’t have any agency and aren’t reacting like it’s a solvable problem and are sitting around, that becomes extra gloomy and it feels pointless.

Oren: We’re getting towards the end of my checklist now. One of the last ones is, “Is there a strong turning point?” Because even if you do everything else right, if there’s no turning point, then the conflict just kind of feels like, “And then they fought good.”

This is what Chris talked about earlier with satisfaction. The turning point is critical to satisfaction. The turning point is what makes the conflict worth reading at the end. Especially if you’re talking about this in prose form.

If you’re watching a movie, we’ve talked about how movies have a different set of rules because you’re enjoying just watching the really great fight choreography or the beautiful costumes or whatever.

In a book, you don’t have any of those things, so you really need a turning point. It needs to be there and it needs to be strong, especially if this is an important conflict, because otherwise it’s just like you eventually won, I guess. That’s what you’re left with.

An example of this is the book Empire of Sand, which actually has a fantastic turning point, but then keeps going for some reason and instead of turning into falling action continues the climax as if it didn’t already have a really great turning point.

The main character is now trying to defeat this giant magic storm. And doesn’t really know how she’s going to do that. Well, maybe her turning point is that she turns down this weird God power that is offered to her for no reason in the middle of the giant storm. Well, no, because there was no reason to think she wouldn’t turn that down.

If you actually examine it with logic, you realize that she should’ve taken it. But that’s a separate thing. There was no reason to think she would take that. There’s no turning point there. And then it’s like, well, she uses her magic dances to do it, but we don’t know anything about how her magic dances work.

They’re very, very vague. So it’s just, yeah, and then she danced real good and defeated the storm, I guess.

Chris: If you have a plot in particular that has no turning points in general, after a while, it just feels like things are happening and there’s not much point to it. And I think that just lowers investment.

I should also mention agency because that’s another common reason why winning seems too easy. Usually people need problems to have some kind of deadline. And what’s a reasonable deadline? Depends on the problem. A longer deadline could be reasonable.

If we have three months until the invaders show up, but we can’t survive unless we build an entire fortress to defend, and we don’t really have enough time to do that. That’s a tight deadline.

But otherwise, if we don’t have a reason why all of that time is needed, the reader will assume you’ll find an answer. This is another thing that Name of the Wind has, that’s a problem at the beginning. A lot of times, lack of deadline is not something that’s explicitly stated; it’s just implied by the way that the characters behave, which I think is one of the reasons why writers are very likely to get caught up with this problem.

In Name of the Wind, we know that there’s going to be a bunch of spiders attacking the town, and that’s going to be real bad. But then we just watch Kvothe putter around for a while and he’s not really doing anything about it.

When you have characters who are just not doing anything about the problem, the only assumption is that it’s just not urgent. Everything’s fine and then tension just drops, because this is a problem that we’re not dealing with now. This is a problem that we will deal with with later. That definitely makes it harder for us to care about a conflict or just jumping forward.

If you just jump forward a week and nothing has happened. We didn’t narrate how the characters are busy building that fortress or anything like that. Again, we’re implying that the problem is not urgent because we allowed a week to pass and nothing happened. So that’s another way we get caught up with making the conflict feel too easy and tension goes away.

Oren: Chris, I noticed in your notes that you had a point about characters just losing too often. I was curious if you could elaborate on that.

Chris: We’ve talked about a lot of the most common things that cause lack of conflicts, but we’ve run into a couple of stories that are popular out there, and that are especially funny and seem kind of unique. They have lots of problems, but they just don’t seem to be compelling and they don’t seem to be working.

And those two stories are the Netflix show October Faction and the Hugo finalist City in the Middle of the Night. When I looked at them, I realized that despite how very different these two stories are, they actually have a lot of the same problems and the same reasons why the comflicts just don’t feel compelling.

They both have lots of problems, or at least in portion. City in the Middle of the Night definitely has portions where the characters just don’t have any problems. Sometimes the characters are crossing the Sea of Murder, as it is called, so sometimes they do have problems.

But there’s a series of problems that are very similar in both of these works where, first of all, we talked about low investment. They both had problems where the characters are kind of hard to like, sometimes because they’re kind of jerks. The other thing that really happens is the fact that the characters don’t have very much agency, and that goes back to the turning point problem that we were talking about. The character who doesn’t proactively try to solve their problems and earn victories is just hard to get emotionally invested in.

I don’t know if it’s just that we have little sympathy for people who aren’t even trying to solve their own problems. Sympathy is generated when a character has a problem that’s not their fault, and if a character is not actually trying to solve their problem, I think a lot of that sympathy is lost. I also think that we just don’t want to relate to a person who is just puttering around not doing anything and not taking charge.

But in any case, these characters have too little agency, and they never seem to actually solve their problems. In City in the Middle of the Night, we have a character who gets a life or death situation and just stands around and happens to be saved by somebody else, very miraculously. In October Faction, they just don’t seem to solve their problems.

Wes: The old waiting game, it’s fine.

Chris: October Faction is very strange because it opens up tons of new plot threads everywhere and new hooks. But then because it has so many of them and it keeps opening them up, there is no time to develop any of them, so we can understand them and so we can care about them. But they’re also never addressed.

And the characters just continually are suffering. They have a couple of high schoolers, and the high school is just the worst in the most contrived way. The story makes it clear that these high schoolers are never allowed to get a break. This high school is designed to make them suffer as much as possible, and they don’t seem to have very much agency in actually solving their problems or the ability to actually turn things around. After a while, what’s the point of getting invested in this? This is just nonstop gloom and doom.

I also realized, about both of these stories, a big thing is that I actually don’t know what the through line is.

I know what the through line of October Faction is supposed to be. It’s just so far in the background that it feels like we’ve forgotten about it, even if they don’t. I’m sure it will come back towards the end. The through line in October Faction is supposed to be this weird magic symbol that the dad put on the floor, and that’s going to be something the Agency wants. But it’s so far in the background, and the characters aren’t doing anything that seems related to it, that it doesn’t feel like the through line.

I mean, a show can have an overarching seasonal plot that builds up in the background, but while it’s small, you have to have strong episodic plots, and it feels like the writers of October Faction just don’t know what an episode is.

Oren: It also has to actually build up, whereas this one doesn’t. This one is just, “Oh yeah. I guess that symbol is still around. We haven’t made any progress on that.”

Chris: But the thing about this is that a story needs a sense of movement and the way that it usually gets that movement is that we have a big problem, like a big overarching plot line or through line, and we feel like, as we go through smaller problems, we are making some kind of progress with our big through line.

And when you stop progress on the through line, or you take a detour to work on some subplot that has nothing to do with your through line, we kind of lose the sense of movement that things are progressing towards an end. And that’s boring. It feels like it doesn’t matter, and so the conflicts aren’t compelling.

Oren: That is exactly what happens in both of those stories and it is not a beautiful thing to watch. I’ll put it that way.

Chris: It’s like, “My conflicts aren’t working.” Do you have the right conflict? Are your conflicts part of what you promised your readers in the beginning? If you made a promise about big juicy plot hooks, are they related to it or following up on it in some way?

Or do they just feel like we’re taking a side trip? Because that’s just going to be disappointing. When you give readers a big plot hook, they want to see what happens next there. And if you then introduce something with lower stakes…

Oren: So one more thing before we have to end the podcast is touching on something Chris mentioned, but I think is worth expanding on a little bit, which is the question of, “Is your conflict too dismal?”

This is a certain extent, a personal taste issue. The more dismal you make things, the more people will be turned off by it, but it is definitely possible to make your conflict too dismal, and this is something that happens in the Picard show. There’s just a lot of death and suffering. After a point, “I guess if they fail, more people will die. But I’ve already seen so many people die, I’m not really invested.”

That’s also an issue of stakes. There’s this one section in the Picard show where two of the characters are fighting the Romulans for control of this Borg cube. But it feels like all the people they might have tried to save are already dead. So, who cares? If they get to control the cube or not, what are they going to do with it? They’re not going to save anybody.

Next episode, we discover, “Oh, actually some of those people were still alive.” We should have known that earlier, right? We should have known there was still some good they could do by saving this cube.

Chris: It’s good to point out that there are problems with escalating the stakes too high too quickly. If this is an ongoing story, if you are writing a novel series. Leave yourself some room to build. We have a huge battle on a Borg cube where tons of people are dying and then somebody injects a bunch of former Borg, watch them all dying in space because you’re grim dark for no reason.

How are you going to build on that? How are you going to then to follow it up with something that feels like it matters more? Because again, the effect wears off and as the story progresses, generally you want to build the stakes higher. Having the different stakes in different types of conflicts also definitely helps. But giving yourself room to grow is also important.

Oren: I would very much agree with that, and I think that is a good note to end the podcast on. Those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest. You can leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com, but before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons.

First, we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of Political Theory in Star Trek. Next. We have Ayman Jaber who is an urban fantasy writer and Marvel connoisseur. And finally we have Denita Rambo, and she lives at therambogeeks.com we’ll talk to you next week.

Chris: If you liked this episode, a review on iTunes is a great way to increase our power level. This has been the Mythcreants podcast. Opening and closing theme, The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Colton.

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Comments

  1. Cay Reet

    About the ‘problems out of their control make people more sympathetic’ thing… I’ve recently had an idea for a story which demands an amoral protagonist and so I have looked into making a character sympathetic without them being outright likeable. I looked at one of the few amoral characters I’ve read in recent years and realized that one thing which makes Johannes Cabal sympathetic (because it surely isn’t his character or his deeds) is that the author, Jonathan L. Howard, is often dropping him into dangerous and/or outright humiliating situations – such as having him hang from a hatch at the bottom of a flying airship in nothing but a dressing gown and slippers. No matter how bad Johannes can be, this is not the kind of situation he deserves and seeing him deal with that makes him sympathetic, though not likeable. It also helps that we only see Johannes kill in self-defence and that there is a specific goal to all of his deeds. Not necessarily something that would excuse them for us, but it’s clear how it can excuse them for him.

  2. Charles Lee

    Regarding the ending of His Majesty’s Dragon, I never thought that their lives were at risk. To me, the question was whether they would be able to prevent the French from invading. It didn’t sound like a suicide mission: after all, even if the French were able to establish a beachhead, the English could still withdraw. There was no need for all of the Aerial Corps to die.

    In that regard, I was invested in the ending, since I was wondering whether they were going to be able to repel the invaders, not whether they might die.

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