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What Is a Character vs. Nature Conflict?
A character vs. nature conflict occurs when a character faces resistance from a natural force (as opposed to a supernatural force). This can mean the weather, the wilderness, or a natural disaster.
For example, in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the main character, Santiago finally manages to reel in a fish after months and months of bad luck. He fends off sharks, who are trying to steal his prized catch, but eventually they eat the fish—leaving Santiago with only a carcass. This is the essence of the man versus nature conflict: man struggles with human emotions, while nature charges forth undeterred.
Examples of Character vs. Nature Conflict in Literature
In a character vs. nature conflict, a common theme is for a natural disaster to force the characters of a story to look within themselves and consider what internal strengths they have to meet the challenges they face. These characters usually confront their powerlessness and mortality in the face of the natural world. Here are some popular examples of character vs. nature conflict:
- Lord of the Flies. William Golding 1954 novel tells the cautionary tale of an airplane crash that leaves a group of adolescent boys stranded on a remote island. There, the young boys must brave the elements and figure out how to survive. The book also incorporates a character vs. character conflict, as the boys create a new social order and struggle for dominance.
- Fahrenheit 451. In this futuristic science fiction tale by Ray Bradbury, the main character, Guy Montag, is on the run for stealing books in a society where books are banned. Montag is a firefighter, and it is his job to burn down the house of anyone caught hiding banned books. While trying to escape, Montag finds himself running through the wilderness, totally lost and unmoored. His escape puts him at odds with nature.
- Brave New World. Aldous Huxley’s revolutionary work is set in a futuristic society where nature has been subdued. Citizens are categorized into castes and live in pre-designated circumstances according to their class. The novel’s protagonist, Bernard Marx, realizes just how little he knows about nature when he is exiled to an island and must fend for himself.
How to Use Character vs. Nature Conflict in 4 Steps
- Establish the element of nature your character will face. They may get lost in a forest, wander through the desert braving the heat, or face off with a shark à la Jaws. Whatever the case may be, you will need to identify the natural elements before creating the conflict.
- Decide how they will be put into conflict together. Will he or she face the element alone? Or with others? At what point in the plot will the conflict reach its climax? How much build up will you create leading up to it? (For example: will he or she see the storm coming, or will it catch him or her off guard and unprepared?) Learn more about developing a plot in our complete guide here.
- Give your character real stakes. What will happen if they lose in this conflict? Death is a very common stake in character vs. nature conflict. Is it only your character’s life at stake, or are there more lives at stake?
- Develop the personality traits that this conflict will challenge. Is he or she stubborn in the face of nature’s power—at a great cost? Or, is he or she typically fearful—and this conflict will allow him or her to face and overcome that fear? Your character’s emotional response to the conflict with nature will allow readers to connect to them.
Learn more about using conflict in your writing with Neil Gaiman here.