Posted by: Phil Anderson | February 2, 2015

Modern Convenience

There’s a snowstorm blowing through the area this weekend, closing churches and schools. The snowplows haven’t come through yet, and cars are wading through hubcap-deep drifts. I spent a little time outside shoveling, and I was glad to come back in and warm up with some delicious hot chocolate. That several minutes of adversity made me think about the reality of mankind’s struggle with nature throughout history.

A lot of what I read and write is about conflict between people. The classic confrontation between the hero and the villain. Bad guys with ambition and a plan, and the good guys who thwart them.

There’s also often a good measure of internal conflict, where characters try to overcome their own emotions and desires. How far will the victim go for revenge against his abuser? Is he noble enough to restrain his anger and hatred? Can the humble servant girl set aside her feelings for the handsome prince and fulfill her duty? Or will the unattainable romance drive her to desperate measures?

These are all great dramatic confrontations, but I think that often modern day writers forget the storytelling opportunities that arise when characters are challenged to survive in the natural world. Most of us have ample food in our cupboards and at least one convenient mode of transportation to get us from here to there. We may not think about the difficulties faced by those without access to grocery stores and gas stations.

Historical fiction and high fantasy are some of the genres most prone to this problem. In reading over some of my own writing I find myself wondering at the end of a strenuous chapter what the characters ate or where they slept. It’s an overlooked opportunity to raise the stakes and challenge the hero with increased adversity.

What about you? Do the characters in your favorite stories have it too easy? Do they struggle to survive, or are they focused on overcoming their adversaries and their own emotions? Leave your comments below.


  1. Some of my favorite books force the mail character to struggle with survival, but not many. Many have a long difficult journey but don’t go into depth about how they found food or shelter along the way. I didn’t really notice at first, but after reading your post, I realize that the story would be more dramatic if they had have. A very interesting concept…

  2. […] not asking you to post pictures of your meal, but I want to expand on last week’s post and the question of how fictional characters meet their basic needs. Food is a central […]

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