Like it or not, you have authorities in your life you have to submit to. And sometimes this causes conflict.
I am the parent, so I have more maturity, more power and more responsibility for my children. The local police department has more power and responsibility, so they are the authority when it comes to traffic laws. Your boss could have more influence and seniority. Your elderly parents may have more money. An authority figure can have more wisdom, more age, more experience, more power, more and they use that more to try to control our protagonist.
Regardless of whether or not this relationship is a formal or an informal one, the person or institution with more is the one with the authority.
Last week, we asked five questions about authority to beef up your conflict. This week? Five more!
6. Is your authority figure someone that your main character has chosen or is it someone who is just put in their life? This distinction will make a huge difference in the way that your authority figure is viewed and respected. Parents are not chosen, so the teens under their authority have to live with the authority whether they like it or not. (Ahem.) An employee, however, has chosen the authority figures in their lives. If they don’t like the situation, they can always quit. Or put another way, how much power does your main character have in this position? The less power they have, the more potential for conflict, the better your story.
7. Does your authority figures have authority figures over them? This can also add to your conflict. Let’s say your main character’s boss is a softie: they look the other way when the main character comes in late. Yet, the CEO of the company finds out that the boss isn’t doing their job. This conflict trickles down to the main character and creates conflict. Examine your authority figures in your story and ask yourself, who do they have to please? Who has power over them? How can this create trickle-down conflict?
8. Does your setting create new levels of authority that contemporary life doesn’t have? For example, your 16-year-old heroine in 2016 has far less authority in her life than a 16-year-old heroine in 1916. In your research, make a list of authority figures your setting will demand. Specifically, list how this affects the life of your main character. Use this list to create conflict.
9. Do the authority figures in your story want more authority than they are entitled to? Your main character’s landlord already has an expectation of rent and respect of his property, what if he wants to enter the house without knocking? What if he parks his car in the driveway? What if he wants our main character, the tenant, to hide stolen goods? By increasing your authority figure’s expectations to the unreasonable or unexpected, you can create new levels of conflict and that can enrich your story.
10. How does your authority figure react when they lose their authority? Our main character quits his job so his psychopathic boss can’t harass him anymore — unless he follows him home. If your antagonist goes beyond the expectations of his authoritative position, this can add elements of surprise and drama to your story. More conflict!!
If I’m having conflict in my stories, (which I want!) the first and best place to look is in the relationship with authorities. So give your authorities more attention, you may be pleased with the results.