Villains and Curses: Picking a Conflict for Your Fantasy Novel
You can’t write a story without conflict. Well, I guess you could, but it probably won’t be a very good one. Conflict is at the heart of any tale, whether it’s the desire to impress that hot girl in your class or the desire to save the world.
Conflicts in fantasy books are fun because they tend to have epic proportions. We’re talking war and strife and evil overlords planning to enslave humanity. You don’t really get that kind of massive conflict in say, a contemporary book set in downtown Seattle.
Fantasy books don’t need to have epic conflicts, but one of the hallmarks of the genre are those world-ending stakes, and that’s often what your readers are going to be looking for.
If you want to read more about the conflict and how include it in your story to maximum effect, click on these articles here:
- How to Write Conflict in a Story
- 5 Types of Internal Conflict
- Including External Conflict in your Novel
Once you’ve done that, come back.
In this article, we’re going to go over some ideas for conflicts you can include in your fantasy stories. Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive and there are endless conflicts you can create, but hopefully these suggestions will give you a jumping off point to twist your tale into your own amazing book.
War is Coming
One of the most common conflicts in fantasy novels is the threat of an oncoming war. Both (or many) sides are already in conflict and things are tense and brewing. Some things to consider in this conflict are:
- Who are the opposing forces and sides?
- What do those sides want?
- What are they willing to do to get it?
- What resources do they have at their disposal?
- What are their weaknesses?
- Can other sides exploit those weaknesses?
- How will the murmurings of war finally result in an all out battle?
- Who will win? Who will lose? How many will die and how many will survive?
- What side is your protagonist on and why do they care?
- How does the current situation harm them and what do they have to gain if their side wins?
The Political Uprising
The political uprising feels like the close cousin or step-sibling of War is Coming. The catalyst might be a bit different, but the result is often the same. You might end up with a full-out revolution or rebellion, which looks a lot like a war. There’s the chance for a coup, but since a peaceful coup doesn’t add a lot of conflict, odds are someone is going to be fighting.
If you’re working on a political uprising conflict, some things to ask yourself include:
- Who are the parties or people in power and what type of ruler are they?
- What kind of propaganda do they spread?
- What do the masses believe?
- Why is someone dissatisfied with their rule?
- Are the dissenters there to overthrow an evil ruler or are they there to cause trouble for a peaceful ruler?
- What is the political structure of your world? Monarchy? Democracy? Oligarchy?
- What are the consequences of an overthrow of political power?
- Who does your protagonist support and why? How does this benefit them and help achieve their personal goals and desires?
The Big Bad
Another common fantasy conflict is the presence of a single evil entity intent on destroying and overtaking the world and probably your protagonist. This, too, could end in war, but there are definitely other ways to take down the big bad villain.
Some things you can ask yourself to help flesh out your Big Bad conflict include:
- Who is your villain and are they one dimensional or are they awesome? Does your villain have their own motivations and desires?
- Also, what do they have against your protagonist? Or the world in general? What is their beef?
- What is the villain’s weakness and can your protagonist make use of that?
- What is some way to overthrow them that doesn’t include killing them (though death is often a perfectly valid choice)?
- What does your villain believe? And how far are they willing to go to get what they want?
- What is your protagonist willing to do to stop them?
Ah, the curse. That pesky little thing you just can’t shake once it’s latched itself into you. Curses come in all kinds of varieties and come from all kinds of places, making it easy to come up with clever ideas for your book. If you’re planning to write a curse conflict, here are some things to ask yourself:
- What does the curse do that makes your protagonist's life particularly awful?
- Does the curse affect just your protagonist or more people, like their entire village?
- What are the rules of the curse?
- Where did it come from? Did someone cast it or is it a natural or spiritual force?
- How do you break it? Does your protagonist already know or is part of their story figuring that out?
- Once they figure out how to break it, can they do it? How? What’s going to get in their way?
- What are the consequences if they fail to break the curse?
A Whole New World
A popular type of fantasy known as “portal fantasy” usually involves someone who lives in our world going about their lives when they step through a portal into a fantasy world. Think Alice in Wonderland or the Wizard of Oz, where seemingly ordinary people have their worlds turned upside down. Once they’ve arrived in this new place, there are all sorts of conflicts you can create from there. Ask yourself:
- Who is your protagonist before they step through the portal? Are they content or looking to shake things up?
- How do they react when they find themselves no longer in Kansas? Are they desperate to get back? (If you’re anything like me, then you’re constantly wondering why exactly these characters always want to go back to their mundane lives. But I digress.)
- What are the consequences of their arrival in this new place? What is the current state of the land?
- Could you roll in a political uprising or a war into your plot, too? Maybe your protagonist has a larger role to play in that.
- How are they going to get back? And do they need to? What are the consequences of them staying in this world instead of returning to their own?
The Tournament or Contest
Nothing says conflict like throwing an unprepared protagonist into a contest they have no business winning. There are so many directions to go with this one so give these questions some thought:
- Is your protagonist in over their head or have they been preparing their whole lives for this?
- What exactly are they competing for and what are the consequences if they don’t win?
- Can they die during the contest? Or just get badly hurt?
- Who are the other contestants and do any of them plan to make life difficult for your protagonist?
- Do they have friends within the group?
- Do they have a mentor or guide?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses and how will those affect the outcome?
- Will they have to kill or harm others? How do they feel about that? What if they’re close to one of those people?
- Who is the antagonist in this conflict? The game itself? The creator of the game? Or someone within it?
Love Conquers All
I’m going to have to mention this one because this is the fantasy conflict nearest to my heart—and that’s the romantic conflict that can be derived from fantasy plots. There’s just something so epic about romance in fantasy books where the stakes of not being together can have world-ending consequences.
You’ll kill to be together in a way that just wouldn’t be acceptable for a romance set in modern-day Chicago (unless you’re writing urban fantasy, but still, this is a world with vampires and shifters so things are a little different).
If you’re writing a romantic conflict, consider these questions:
- Why can’t your love birds be together? What’s standing in their way?
- Why do they want each other? And what are their individual desires and goals? (For more about writing a meet cute for your romance, click here.)
- Are there any fantasy rules keeping them apart or making their relationship impossible?
- What is the other conflict? (While it’s not a rule, fantasy romance plots often also have another conflict that works parallel to the romantic one making them a little different than a pure romance novel where the relationship is the central plot.)
- Do they end up together? (Spoiler, if you’re calling it a romance, they MUST end up together. It might not happen for a few books, but eventually your couple (or throuple or whatever) needs a happy ending.)
Okay, hear me out. This might not sound very sexy, but limiting a resource in your world can make for great conflict. It could be water, which is kind of a big deal. It could be a mineral that’s used in a significant way—maybe to forge weapons or grow crops. Or it could even be magic; imagine how chaotic things would be if magic suddenly ceased existing in a world that relied on it?
Here are some things to think about:
- What is the resource and why isn’t it easily replaceable?
- How does it affect the day-to-day lives of the people in your world?
- How does it affect the bigger environment of your world?
- What or who is causing it? Is this a natural force or is someone doing this purposefully?
- How can it be stopped? How will you find the answer? What will you do to restore the resource?
- What are the consequences for both your protagonist and humanity as a whole if the resource runs out completely?
And finally, we come to the quest. This might just be the most common of fantasy plots you’ll come across. That doesn’t mean you can’t write one, too. Nope, there are endless ways to create a story around the idea of a quest.
Here are a few things to think about if this is the angle you want to take:
- Who is going on the quest and why? What are they seeking?
- Why is it difficult to find or to get there?
- What happens if they don’t get there? Is there a ticking clock associated with this quest?
- What does it mean for your protagonist to go on this quest? How does the object of the quest support their own goals and motivations?
- How will they travel? How long will it take? What or who will they encounter along the way?
- Who or what will get in their way?
Those are some ideas to get you started planning your next fantasy novel. Use them as jumping off points and adapt them in ways that make them unique to your own story.
You can also combine these conflicts to help increase the stakes and complexity of your story.
Don’t get too bogged down in throwing in conflicts though—conflict should still make sense for the environment and your character and using it too often can make your pacing suffer.
Generally, you want your story to have one overarching conflict that dominates everything, while smaller conflicts occur along the way that either propel or detract from your main character’s end goal.
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Essentially, a beta reader is an (hopefully) objective third party who will read your novel or story and provide (hopefully) constructive feedback. A beta reader is not an editor, and often they’re not writers either, though there’s a good chance a lot of your beta readers are going to be authors as well.
If you’re a regular writer of romance or are looking to dive into this popular genre, you might be on the lookout for some stellar plot ideas. Spend any time reading and exploring the genre and you’ll know that romance is just one word for dozens of different subgenres all with their own tone and style.