One of those constantly talked about pieces of writing advice is tension. Make sure your story has tension. Let the tension ebb and flow. Raise the tension. The big question a lot of advice skirts around is where tension comes from, and how you manage it.
In the short term: tension comes from conflict. By definition it’s the stretched force between two opposing forces. It’s not unlike the rope in a tug-of-war game. Two opposing goals are straining to pull each other over.
Speaking long term, tension is the long-term driving force behind conflict. If there’s no obstacle to your character getting their goal, there’s no tension. However, if you add in obstacles, then there’s more conflict. That additional obstacle creates tension because it stretches out the space between your character deciding on a goal and achieving it.
When starting out on creating tension, take a look at what obstacles your characters have to go through to get to their goals. What could possibly get in their way? This might be another character’s goals, or a particular requirement such as a law or deadline, or even a physical complication such as a locked dor. Obstacles create tension because your character must solve them in order to get to their goal.
If you need to ramp up the tension, add stakes. This is where your conflicts can go from simple to tense. A character who needs to find a piece of paper has a conflict: they’re missing a piece of paper. It’s a conflict, but what happens when you make that paper the last letter they had from their late sister? That’s personal stakes, ones which create more conflict because it’s a moment of their late sister. Need that tension to be even greater? make it the last letter from their late sister which they need to prove her innocent, posthumously.
Tension and conflict often build of each other, so if you’re feeling a section of your story needs more of a driving force behind it, take a look at the tension. Consider if you have enough obstacles to keep your characters busy, and if their stakes are high enough to keep them invested in solving their conflict.
Anywhere civilization starts to crop up people tend to group together. The exact definitions of a group of people can be a little vague. You might have people who are grouped together in a town, or in an occupational group. And how a group is managed and how they make decisions together is where politics comes into play.
Politics sound somewhat complicated, but they don’t have to be. In essence politics is how a group makes decisions. This ties partially into how they’ve organized any governing system. Are they held by a single leader, or do they follow more democratic or oligarchical structures? It also ties into cultural beliefs. Places where politics and religion aren’t separated may have some of those choices heavily influenced by a religious group or influence. And where there is a separation, any clash between differing beliefs can cause smaller political problems, even within the same group.
To start figuring out politics, it may help to start with the large picture such as your kingdom or country. The group decisions there are often about how to keep the kingdom and country running. This covers everything from who can become a part of the governing body, to how laws are agreed upon and who can trade with who.
From there take another look at how your group can be divided up. Consider things like religion, social and economic standing, educational level, age, gender and race. Smaller groups within a larger may have different views, and some of the political issues that crop up are the result of conflicting views. How do these smaller groups make themselves heard to the larger group they’re contained within? How do they influence the choices made by their governing body?
Once you have an understanding of how the large group works, consider how it interacts with other groups of the same size. This is where your different countries and varying types of government come into play. Even between groups with the same type of government system, their politics may change; one place may allow certain things where the other bars them.
Arguably the most common form of conflict is versus Other. In this particular conflict, there is someone else your protagonist must face off against. While some other forms can get away with not having an antagonist, that doesn’t work in a versus Other conflict.
With the versus Other conflict, you always have someone outside of the protagonist struggling against your protagonist. Be that you have a super villain struggling against his arch nemesis, a bank robber against police, versus other conflicts have to have an antagonist.
Keep in mind when using a versus Other that you also have to spend time on developing and motivating your antagonist.
One of the forms of conflict is Man versus Fate. Stories with a versus Fate conflict often showcase a struggle against destiny. Much like the the versus Society conflicts, stories with a versus Fate conflict may not have an obvious antagonist. Rather, the conflict here demonstrates a the clash between a predetermined path and free will.
In some ways, this makes versus Fate conflicts an internal struggle. Although your character may be inevitably drawn into their destiny, they can’t help but react to what’s happening around them, and possibly even to try and delay that inevitable end.
Some cases of this however, also take on a theological element when the ‘fate’ itself is manipulated by a god or deity. Greek myths are littered with examples of this; they often pit mortals against divine demands and whims.
Man versus Nature is another of the six forms of conflict. At their base, these stories include facing down an element of nature. In some cases, the character may seek out the conflict, striving to assert their dominance over an element of nature (i.e. slaying the dragon).
A fairly well-known tale is that of the ant and the grasshopper–the hardworking ant diligently prepares for the upcoming winter while the grasshopper laughs and plays the summer away. Come winter and the ant is fine while the grasshopper ends up dead. Although that particular example is a folk tale, the play of conflict in versus Nature stories is clear: the conflict doesn’t need to necessarily have to have a struggle. The tension of knowing what is coming for the foolish grasshopper can be a powerful tool to use.
Another place to find versus Nature conflicts is also in survival stories. These might be in places where someone has survived attacks by various animals, or days in the wilderness, or in the aftermath of natural disasters.