Write Evil Nature
Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog
Trigger warning: Flashing back to the absolute batshit insanity of high school now.
“Person vs. Nature.”
Most of us heard about that type of plot conflict in English class and needed literally no more explanation.
We got it anyway, and we ignored it.
Because duh, the bad guy is NATURE! It says so RIGHT IN THE NAME OF THE CONFLICT!
But how is nature an antagonist in storytelling? Trees don’t wear black robes and shoot lighting. Exposure to the elements isn’t something the protagonist can shoot with their quad barrel laser fazer.
Nature can be evil directly toward your protagonist. (You know, the one you love so much you plopped them onto an island. Or into a forest. Or onto the side of a nauseous volcano about to puke lava.) It can put obstacles into your heroine’s or hero’s path. Your MC’s solutions to those problems require change and adaptation, but they ALSO put OTHER obstacles in the way. A sense of progress, tension, and urgency is tougher when writing Nature As Antagonist since shiz isn’t blowing up like it does in trigger-happy buddy flicks. But replace spectacle with a blend of stakes and goalpost movement and you’ll get a Person vs. Nature story that wrenches hearts and kersplodes minds.
Consider Zevra, the fireball-slinging YouTube witch who sails with a boater-lifestyle couple until a hurricane slams their boat onto an island despite their attempts to get away using their emergency gasoline engine. The couple dies in the crash. Traumatizing. Now, Zevra’s got immediate survival concerns + emotional concerns + complete lack of creature comforts + panicking-oh-my-goddesses-what-the-frick-do-I-do?
What’re the obstacles nature has put into Zevra’s path? All the basic needs that weren’t obstacles ARE obstacles now. She can’t pitch fireballs like an MLB starting pitcher to solve all her problems. Fire keeps her warm at night, but she needs wood to keep it going. And flingin’ flames to hunt the island’s game? That’s how you get dead by self-barbecue. Magic don’t solve all her problems, and learning to solve those problems—and removing those obstacles—is equivalent to a typical MC’s first face-offs with the antagonist.
With a buddy flick or a common novel or movie plot, the antagonist is always a step ahead or always adapting. Always ready to fling more obstacles at the MC. Nature’s gotta behave that way too with Zevra, only the sense of tension and urgency comes not from face-to-face action or fights, but from fear of the unknown and from nature seeming overwhelming.
Movies & books have try-fail cycles. The MC tries to reach the goal, and either fails + gets something else, or succeeds + something bigger goes wrong.
Zevra’s new life on the island has those too. She built a lean-to out of branches and woven vines (shelter), dug a fire pit and cooked sandroot vegetables (food), and scavenged some clothes out of the crashed boat (which are, of course, still clean and brand-spanking-new-looking because the star's gotta look good while Robinson Crusoe-ing). Every goal she achieved took a chapter or two, and she may have succeeded, but she also hurt her chances of getting off the island alive in a few ways. Zevra ate the only edible plants on the island in the first few days (and she knows the rest are toxic because, hello, witch). She must risk burning the trees down because slinging fireballs is her best hope at hunting squirreldeer. Having achieved some goals and lost others in the process, there’s less and less cake for her and more and more death for her with each progressive failure.
That’s how ya ramp up the tension and urgency. The point of now-she’s-effed gets closer and closer because she learned enough to be able to continue, but her imminent death despite everything is now staring her in the friggin’ eyeballs. With half the island burned down (which forced her to experiment & learn to make smaller, animal-seeking firebullets) and her magic damn near gone (damn firebullets will literally cost her an arm and a leg tomorrow if she keeps this up), Zevra’s desperate to escape and genuinely recover. All while wanting a proper cremation-at-sea for her boating friends that she can actually give them without dying herself losing limbs from magic overload.
This whole time, stakes and ever-moving goalposts add to the tension of will-the-witch-escape-the-island? Maybe the ONLY spectacle-based things the reader has seen up until now would be half the island on fire and the sight of the nigh-full gas tank getting SO CLOSE to the flames that it gives Zevra an idea. She snaps the now-rusted supports off the gas tank and heaves with all her adrenaline-filled muscle (developed after months of survival in the wild), then gets it and the boat’s engine away from the flames.
One week of raft-building and bam! A gas-and-fire-magic-powered raft with enough juice to get Zevra back the way she and her boating friends came.
Nature can be a genuinely endearing/frightening bad guy in storytelling.
No need for an over-ambitious, black-clad antagonist with handlebar nose hairs. An enemy with a face might get some readers to connect with the antagonist, but you sure don’t need to put a face on nature. Her face is ever-changing all on her own, and THAT’S how you write good evil nature. The face you can’t see stalking you even though it’s there is the most dangerous.