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Person Versus Nature

Perhaps the furthest removed from our modern society, a person versus nature is still a wonderful read, and a very valid story structure.

Person versus nature at its core is a main character who is struggling against forces which are outside of their control. The Perfect Storm, portions of Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies, The Martian, all have aspects of Person versus nature.

What do each of these stories remind us of when we think of them? Perhaps The Perfect Storm is the most self-evident tale of a boat full of sailors who are always in combat with nature, trying to catch enough fish to make the money they need for their life and family. One particular trip a storm, the embodiment of uncontrolled nature, is their opponent.

Robinson Crusoe is a tale about a man who is so desperate to take on nature by means of sailing he returns to sea after multiple shipwrecks. But this also brings an interesting point. Did he go to sea to challenge nature? Did he do it to explore an aspect of his own inner personality? Was it to spite his parents who wanted him to be a lawyer? Did the story even remain about man versus nature, as other characters are later introduced after the story of survival alone.

It is an excellent example that no story is ever just one kind of conflict.

For a similar example what about Lord of the Flies? Structured perhaps as a society versus nature, the characters of the marooned boys must survive against the unknown of the wilds, but they also must compete against their own instincts to become less civilized. AKA Person versus self. It asks the question what would a class full of adolescent boys do to survive without any adult supervision?

The Martian is perhaps one of the cleanest examples of modern writing for person versus nature. A man marooned alone on Mars must use his wits to survive while a rescue operation is mounted for him. In fact, it is an entire genre of exploration that we can considered represented here as conflict directly with nature.

How do you want that conflict to take place? Is nature presented as an indifferent thing, which the protagonist stepped into because of personal reasons? The Martian for example falls into this category. Is the tale something more akin to personification of nature like in The Perfect Storm? We even name storms, giving them a sense of nature as a sentient being run wild. Why did the protagonist go into the nature? How did they go there? Are they trying to tame it? Are they trying to live at one with it? Are they rescuing someone else? Are they simply passing through?

All of these will change the flavor of the story. Perhaps if you think nature is something that is right to be controlled, then a conquest of the new land is something good. If you think that nature is something that deserves equal footing with humanity, perhaps you think that the protagonist is the antagonist and nature is right to swat them aside. Perhaps the conflict with nature is just in the way and you want to see them succeed because they want to rescue their loved once, but you don’t want nature destroyed for the result. You could set up a conflict of what is more valuable, a single life or a local ecosystem?

Person verses nature sometimes sees its most direct fulfillment in fantasy and science fiction stories where nature might in fact be a personification. When we think of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, they are a kind of personification of nature. Death, a final act of all natural living things. Pestilence is a personification of one of humankind’s worse fears in the natural world. Again, these tread boundary lines. Is a conflict with death, personified, person versus nature or person versus deity?

The lines are never clean, and many times person versus nature can be the secondary story where you follow the rule of writing: Person wants XYZ. Author places obstacle in the way of character. Character fails to get XYZ, and must grow, change, plan or take new action.

Nature is an excellent way to do this. Maybe the story has nothing to do with nature as a primary protagonist or antagonist. It is the barrier placed in the way of the protagonist to prevent their actions from being successful.

However, you chose to go about it, ask yourself the questions such as:

- How do I want nature to read? Indifferent? Angry?

- Is nature the protagonist here?

- Why did the conflict with nature begin?

- Is the conflict with nature avoidable?

- Is the conflict with nature the primary conflict or secondary?

- How will the resolution impact the characters in the long run?

Plan out how you want your conflict with nature to go, and always remember. Writers Write. So, get to it.

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