Story Musings: Person vs Society

Not a common plot structure used in storytelling simply because it’s rather difficult to pull off. Most stories typically play it safe by utilizing the person vs person structure as it’s a very clear and easy story to write. There is a clear protagonist being opposed by one or more antagonists. It’s a conflict that’s very easy to grasp, very easy to write, and often very satisfying to read as the story flows in a clear and logical manner. But tackling a story that deals with person vs society requires a lot more nuance and a lot more planning to get it right.

The core aspect of a person vs society story is that the main character is someone who goes against the tide of societal norms. A lot of times such stories have a rather nihilistic view on society, the idea that everyone is a selfish person and will exploit those around them for their own benefit. The core reason is because it’s easier to side with the main character and recognize that society is the antagonist as the main character feels morally correct while the society at large comes across as morally flawed and in need of correction. The Dawn of Yangchen by F.C. Lee is a story that focuses on the Avatar Yangchen (morally good) trying to help the poor people of the corrupt cities ruled by the shangs. And, for the most part, it does a good job of portraying that most of the people are rather corrupt and flawed individuals while she strives to help the poor and disenfranchised. The core problem being that the way these cities are structured, the poor are made to suffer terrible and exploited lives.

While the society that created the shang cities in The Dawn of Yangchen work as an antagonizing force against Yangchen, it feels rather lacking. Perhaps it’s because the story is structured to feel as though there is a core antagonist or potentially two, but those two feel like very weak characters as they have such low story presence they feel far too background to be taken as seriously as antagonists. Again, however, the society overall is more of an antagonizing force as human nature seems to be a constant disappointment and failure to Yangchen. Many of the people she meets throughout the story end up trying to use her, betray her, or berate her creating an overall sense that the very cities themselves oppose her. What helps to pull this is, surprisingly, is the fact that there are a few people that help her. There are exceptions to the rule that keep the story from feeling too nihilistic and hopeless and causes the reader to automatically distrust anyone the main character meets.

There are many stories that have a person vs society structure like Hunger Games, Divergent, and Detroit: Become Human to name a few. Again most of the stories out there that deal with this idea are often framing it in a morally righteous vs morally flawed structure where the main character is railing against a society that is taking advantage of and abusing it’s poorer and destitute populace. But an interesting twist someone could take is a morally flawed person taking advantage of and destroying what could be considered a morally just society. While it’s not the central story, Erlok Grael story arc in the book Ruination is a good example of a rather evil character opposing a society of generally good people trying to protect knowledge throughout the world. Even though the reader is not meant to sympathize with Erlok Grael, they are made to understand why he detests the islands he lives on and the people that inhabit it.

It’s certainly interesting as a concept to do person vs society stories as it often explores the darker side of human nature. Most of the time it can rely on themes of greed, exploitation, racism, and other detestable parts of human society we see in everyday life and the main character struggling against it or witnessing the struggle against it. It’s quite difficult to write this kind of story but it can provide a very interesting perspective on humanity if done well.

PS: Sorry for the late post, was a problem with the upload.

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