Best of The Blog: Overarching Conflicts: Order Versus Chaos

What do I mean exactly by “overarching conflicts”? I mean a conflict beyond a conflict. A war to, quite literally, end all wars. The ULTIMATE conflict…and often one that never ends. Two opposite forces in an eternal war. Two entities, two forces that are utterly opposite from each other that they cannot help but fight. Their very existence opposes the other’s.

Ah…I’m waxing poetic. Again.

Put more simply, the local conflict in a story (say, stopping the terrorist from blowing up NYC) is a reflection of a greater conflict. A universal one. This is what I call an “overarching conflict”. It is the idea, the motivator behind why people do what they do. Oftentimes, they don’t even know it.

But that’s the nature of the universe: everyone, everything, everywhere is motivated by one of two opposing forces: Civilization or Nature, Moral Good or Moral Evil, Existence or Non-Existence, Simplicity or Diversity, Peace or War. This is a very interesting philosophical concept (in fact, so interesting that you’re probably indulging in a long, rude yawn at this very moment), and, of course, like all things, is intimately connected with storytelling.

I choose Order and Chaos because this ancient idea (represented in the Yin and Yang) represents all of the opposites I just named. “Order” is a catch-all term for everything related to things ordered and directed: skyscrapers, computers, teamwork, newspapers, business, logic, stable relationships, society as we know it. It is a string of beads, all stuck together on a single thread. It’s the white in the Yin Yang (which you previously thought could only have been associated with Kung Fu movies), and is portrayed in Chinese mythology as representing logic, reason, and masculinity.

Chaos is the exact opposite. Similarly, the term relates to all things random and disorders. Such things like nature, destruction, instinct, (as compared to logic) unstable relationships, ignorance, and revelry. You take the string of beads and throw them on the floor, shattering them to roll into different corners of the room. It’s the black in the Yin Yang, and in Chinese mythology it typically represents irrationality, instinct, and femininity.

So, for the trillion-dollar question: how does this apply to storytelling?

Well, if you understand what the overarching conflict is, you can better represent that with your characters. A story with no overarching conflict (and I would argue that all proper stories do) is little more than a sectarian struggle, quickly forgotten in the vast and pressing problems of the universe.

The code is simple. There are only two sides to overarching conflicts: One always pertains to Order and the Other to Chaos (unless in terms of Moral Good and Moral Evil. When I write an article about that, I will address this.) One side represents Order, and the other represents Chaos.

Chaos and Order are often mistaken for the forces of Good and Evil. This is false. For example, in the movie Equilibrium, the setting is the years following World War III, and the human race seeks to prevent other wars like it. The solution? A tyrannical, 1984-esque dictatorship that suppresses all human emotion–the one thing that so easily causes Chaos–so that total peace is achievable. This is total Order. This is control. Total peace. Nothing that could cause Chaos. But it is also evil.

Thus, the heroes that rise up in the movie, to defend the rights of the enslaved, are motivated by emotion. They embody the mercurial and random emotions of the force called Chaos. But they are a force for good. You see, that’s the point with Order and Chaos: too much to one side or the other (Thanos says) and evil rears its ugly head. That’s why balance is necessary. (But if you want to learn more about that, I would recommend Jordan B. Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life.)

There are two sides to any conflict. By knowing who embodies Order and who embodies Chaos is helpful for this reason: it helps you discern the motives of the heroes and villains better. The villain embodies Chaos, you say? He’s probably more of a Joker-ish kind of character, bent on destruction without meaning. Maybe you want him to be logical, but still embody chaos? Fine, just he’s violent and his logic is fundamentally flawed. Under the surface, he’s still an agent of chaos (wanna know where I got these scars, Batman?).

That’s all.


Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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