I went to an all-candidates meeting in my municipality last week. We have 13 candidates vying for 6 council positions, plus 3 candidates for mayor. I always vote and I want my vote to be as informed as possible. The meeting was jam-packed and it became clear early on that housing density vs green space was a hot button issue. It made me think of a workshop I went to years ago where the presenter suggested we create the “village” and let the conflict flow from there. It seemed an odd idea to me, but by the time her presentation was finished, I saw the merit in starting with the place.
I tend to start my stories with an idea of the characters and then wrestle with the conflict. The old saw, “she’s a pyromaniac and he’s a firefighter” was my starting point. Using the “village” idea, and my recent encounter with grass roots politics, it’s easy to see how real life events can create conflict. So much of public life comes down to “us” vs “them.” Here are some examples.
- Owners vs renters. In a story this could create conflict between a landlord and a tenant.
- Preservationist vs developers. This trope is so prevalent in romance fiction it is almost cliché. Still, in the hands of a skilled writer this universal concept can be made fresh.
- Rural vs urban. My community is currently rated rural/rural residential, but there is enormous pressure to urbanize. This friction brings in the question of farming vs housing. Generally, everyone is in favour of farmers, but most people want to save money on the grocery bill. So, do we really support farmers? Which brings us to the next conflict . . .
- Environmental protection vs commercial interests. When does a neighbourhood coffee shop become the villain? Does one commercial activity inevitably lead to more and is that good or bad? In a story, the owner of a heritage home operates an Airbnb in order to save the heritage home. She opens a cafe in the original dining room. Can’t you see the conflict growing out of that scenario? Which side of the equation is she on? Who opposes her? Why?
- Young vs old. YA authors often use the generation gap in a family as a source of conflict but it can also be an issue in the larger community. At the meeting I attended there were distinct hints of resentment from younger families wanting to buy houses against older folks who already owned them. Is the older homeowner being greedy or is he just living in the family home his parents built years ago?
- Taxes vs Services. This division was very evident in the meeting I attended. Everyone wants lower taxes and many want more services. You can’t have both. What is the trade off? Do you pay for expertise or rely on volunteers?
These are only a few ideas that tickled my brain as a result of the all candidates meeting. A good story won’t rely entirely on external conflict. The author will build in internal conflict and emotional challenges as well. Still, the external, the “village” may be a good place to start the story.
Oh yeah, if there are elections happening in your area, vote! The ballot is the greatest tool in a democracy. Make it count.