Your character enters the dark room, hearing the ticking of the bomb, ready to explode. But as we place our characters into the major conflict of the story, how do we blend the mini-conflicts? Who set the bomb could be one question. What prompted the character to a life of danger, or are more than two factions fighting, could be other questions.

These questions go beyond the writer who craves to build a story. These methods of analysis help anyone who views the news, faces daily stress or tries to solve problems.

Pacing the conflicts allows you to blend the mini-conflicts with the major obstacle so you can round out your story. 

Three steps can help — 

Link the mini-conflicts by thinking about the social, political, ideological, cultural, and economic forces in the major conflict. 

Find a way to segment the time when the conflicts strike. 

Find a way to segment the way the power is used in the story. 

Let’s explore this with a hypothetical example. While the following comes from the world of fantasy, the concepts apply to any conflict — lover’s quarrel, court room drama, or health crisis. In this case, let’s have a protagonist who must prevent the Dark Lord from using some magic within a stone that enslaves people.

Link Major Conflict With Minor Ones Using SPICE.

Notice how SPICE can stand for Social, Political, Ideological, Cultural, and Economic forces. Those are forces that surround the character.

You could design a mini-conflict around the magical stones being held only by nobles or a member of a high caste elite, hence a social issue. However, the leaders of the society are the Quarry Masters who rule over the location of the stones. This could be the political issue. In the mix, you might have a requirement that only Shamans can give blessings for the use of the stones, which produces an ideological and cultural dimension. Then add to the blend the idea that the magic can only be found in rare stones, which supplies an economic factor.

¶ Segmentation Divides the Time.

You can add to the suspense of the conflict by setting a time frame on the protagonist. Break up the activity of the protagonist into solving mini problems on the path to the overall goal. 

Maybe the protagonist needs to prevent the enemy from seizing a key quarry and that means taking the character one week to accomplish. Within that week, other problems confront the protagonist. To start the process, the protagonist could be assisted by a Shaman where the priest’s blessings are necessary. That could take one day. On the way, the character needs to find noble support. That might demand him to side track his goals for two days. But the protagonist needs to warn some key quarry leaders and that obstacle could lead the person on a three day trip. All of this happens within that week where the character has to seize that one vital stone quarry.  

¶ Segmentation of Power in Magic

Divide the power in the magic so several factions have some control.

By segmenting the power, you can design twists in the overall conflict. Think about the possibility that the stones only work when held by nobles. But even those nobles need the Shaman’s blessing to work the magic. Maybe the stones fail when the necklace is chipped. Chip fixers become important even though they are low on the social hierarchy. Stone power could change to the opposite energy when the bearer is ill from herbs. Herb masters could be used by nobles to protect the power. Then necklace makers might harness a separate power that controls part of the magic.

In the combination of these steps, think about how the blending helps you create twists and suspense. One description or way is to think about a disaster-hope connection. Solve each mini obstacle by giving the character some answer to the overall goal. You can then take that answer and use it to create larger obstacles or new conflicts in upcoming scenes.

* This article was originally posted in on 7 December 2011. The blog looks at how fiction meets the world of reality.