Chuck Wendig’s 250 Things You Should Know About Writing will always hold a bit of nostalgia for me. I was around a third of the way through my first novel when I stumbled across it on Amazon, and at the time I had never read anything about how to write–actually, it had never occurred to me that such books could exist. What clinched the deal was the price, 99 cents, and the pitch, which reads (in part): “Contained within are things you should know about plot holes, self-publishing versus legacy publishing, “on-the-nose” dialogue, story versus plot, metaphors, copy-editing, killing darlings with a claw hammer, cursing like an undead pirate, and generally being a cranky and irreverent creative type.”
In multiplayer online roleplaying games, designers and players often make a distinction between two modes of interaction:
- Player vs. Environment, or PvE. In this mode, a player must overcome challenges posed by the environment in order to progress. This can mean “static” obstacles such as terrain, weather, hunger and thirst, etc., but is more often used to describe encounters with computer-controlled entities, such as monsters and NPCs (non-player characters). Players choose to team up with each other or go alone, and get enjoyment by exploring the world, collecting items, defeating particularly difficult monsters, etc.
- Player vs. Player, or PvP. Players in this mode (usually) face the same challenges present in PvE mode, but with the additional caveat that other players in the game may be hostile, and they must be prepared to defend themselves from attack (or perhaps to initiate attacks, if the mood strikes them). Even if there are few or no secondary rewards to be gained from such an attack, some players will invariably choose this mode of play and spend lots of time and effort on the “meta game” of figuring out the best way of ambushing others, leveling up their fighting techniques, etc.
It so happens that in fiction writing, we can make a similar distinction between two types of conflict, sometimes called “man vs nature” and “man vs man.” It should be easy to guess what these terms mean: in man vs man, two or more characters are in conflict with each other. Each of them have their own goals or values, and when brought into contact with one another they will clash until their issues are somehow resolved (note: the “clash” here is usually figurative; wars of words or wills are often more interesting than physical battles). In man vs nature, a character (or group of characters) struggle against something in their environment: pits full of spikes, the vacuum of space, man-eating sharks—pretty much anything without a brain.