Strong Force: The Motivating Factor Behind Plot


In writing, strong force is the motivating factor, but how do we achieve it?

No matter what kind of story a writer chooses to write, whether it is fiction or non fiction, fantasy or romance, there must be the existence of strong force. In physics, the strong force is defined as one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetism, the weak interaction and gravitation. At atomic scale, it is about 100 times stronger than electromagnetism, which in turn is orders of magnitude stronger than the weak force interaction and gravitation. it is one of the basic forces in the subatomic world that binds quarks together to that the larger particles can exist. Without strong force, we do not have a coherent universe.

Like atomic science, the study of writing shows us that at the atomic level there must be a strong force in a story, the universe of our writing, or we have no coherent tale to share. We might have a lot of good ideas but there is nothing to bind them together in any meaningful way that will interest anyone. No, the strong force is necessary for order in both fields of endeavor.

In writing, the strong force is what creates the motivation for our protagonist. How our protagonist believes and how he behaves defines his character but it also shapes how he is driven by the strong force. He may be in tune with the strong force or he may be opposed to the strong force but in either case, his life will be shaped by the strong force.

The David and Rex comparison

In some ways, you can think of the strong force as a river. It is mighty, stalwart, never opposed. Even great dams eventually succumb as the reservoir fills and the current passes over the spillway ever continuing downstream to its eventual output. The protagonist might be one who’s life is dependent upon the river; we shall call him David. He floats down it and lives form the food it provides ever in tune with its energy and production. On the other hand, our protagonist might be opposed to the river; let us call this man Rex. His goals lie upstream and the current is something he struggles to overcome to found the source of the force or something that lies nearby. Rex’s world can also be inundated by the flood waters of the out of control river that swells with wrath at times.

Both men face conflicts, another important factor in writing. Without the strong force, neither Rex nor David have conflict. They two will simply wave at one another as they pass each other by trying to reach their goal. Rex’s conflicts are obvious. He fights directly against he strong force, the river’s current. His journey is never easy and the calm waters where the river is wide still has a current he has to go against. At times he must fight the stronger currents and rapids that are nearly impossible but there is never a let up. David’s on other hand are more of a roller coaster ride. As he drifts downstream relaxing in the sun, he is suddenly thrown into a roaring rapid but once he over comes that, he can relax again for a while. Nevertheless, they both have conflicts that will arise directly from the strong force.

However, there are conflicts that are tangentially related and even seem to have nothing to do with the strong force, these are important as well. You have weather and wild beasts along the river. The wild beasts, the bear and crocodiles are tangentially related in that they are there because the river is a source of food for them, yet it is not the strong force itself. Then you have the weather which can occur anywhere and cares not if the river even exists. The storms do though provide the runoff that eventually fills the river, so as we delve deeper, there are relationships that we may fail to see that do contribute to the strong force in delivering conflict in our stories.

As we write, we can determine if our character is David or Rex and what the strong force is that creates conflict in their lives. This conflict that is caused is what creates our up and down ride that entertains our readers. If they see something in David or Rex they can relate to and they can understand the strong force, then the reader can become engulfed and actually empathize with the protagonist or his situation. Not every story is the same. Some characters are likeable, some are despicable, but in some way, the reader finds something he can identify with and can actually care about the outcome of the story.

David, Rex, and the strong force in practice

Think about the story, The Lord of the Rings. What was the strong force? The river that ran through the entire story was the eventual destruction that the ring would bring to the world. Frodo Baggins cared about the Shire and did not want to see it harmed and so he could have just given the ring to the elves or to Gollum but Frodo felt a sense of duty to do more than just save the Shire, he wanted to eliminate the ring’s power from Middle Earth because he knew that if it fell into the hands of Sauron, the entire of Middle Earth would fall under the dark lord’s power. So the strong force was evil that sought to engulf the world. Frodo was an upstream traveler who chose the difficult path because the ring was the point of conflict and there was only one way to ensure that the ring would never be found by Sauron and that was to cast it into the fires of Mt. Doom. Thus, Frodo is like Rex, the hero who chooses to oppose the stream.

In Michael Moorcock‘s Eternal Champion stories such as Elric, we see an emperor who is a David that just wants to explore the world and learn how the Young Kingdoms live and prosper. The Melnibonean ruler steps off his throne to travel the world but discovers many things are changing that could mean the end of his race and the ascension of the human race. Thus, Elric sets out on ship, on horseback, and by any means possible to seek the world’s destiny. Elric’s travels lead him into unwanted conflicts that soon reveal themselves as fated events that put him on a collision course with eternity.

In the saga of Fist La’brau in Shadows of Siernod and Flames of Palamarr, we see a hero who only wants to flow with the stream and be a common man, a quick tempered man with a good heart hidden beneath a rough exterior. Thus, the strong force is a downstream flow that should be an easy one. Fist does not desire to do things the hard way, he only wants to be left alone and lead a simple life. However, conflicts arise when many obstacles and creatures come at him as he journeys down this stream that seems to always sidetrack him on his float, obstacles form the evil forces of Shadow. The river’s path seems to sometimes branch in a mire of endless decisions and problems. The strong force is there. It is what drives Fist La’brau to fight through the obstacles because he knows that defeating evil is the only way to get to the next leg of the stream.

There are many variations of this idea and many times we do not really think of the direction of flow of the strong force in relation to the protagonist but the strong force must be there somewhere, even if only hinted. Without it, readers will not feel that the main character performs his actions for any reason and they will not connect either positively or negatively with the character or the story.

The formulas of strong force

When writing, a writer must keep in mind that the strong force is not actually the plot, but it is the force that allows the plot to unfold.  In Lord of the Rings, the strong Force is the morals of Frodo and his strong affection for the world as it is. We see hints of change in the air he breaths and he fears change to a world of Lord Sauron. This is the driving force. The plot is Frodo deciding to destroy the ring and when he is selected, he embarks upon a quest to destroy the ring that could destroy his world in an upstream voyage like Rex. We have strong force + conflict = plot. In Frodo’s case we have this formula:

Desire for world as it is + Sauron wants ring to rule Middle Earth = Quest to destroy ring.

In Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga, we see a David who merely wants to travel and observe so that he might learn new ways to save his fading race in order to keep his kingdom from crumbling after many thousands of years or rule. The strong force is Elric’s desire to survive. He himself, as he tries to save his kingdom, must harvest herbs that will keep his weak body alive. When he obtains a powerful demonic sword, he finds that he no longer needs these herbs but only as long as the sword is allowed to feed upon the blood and souls of men. Thus, the strong force shifts Elric’s dependance from the herbs and drugs to the sword named Stormbringer. That sword then causes Elric to perform atrocious acts to stay alive. As the saga unfolds, we see there is an overarching dark fate and Elric is led to its brink. In the Elric saga we have the following forumla:

Elric’s desire to survive + Stormbringer’s effects = Elric’s struggles to control or banish the sword and its destiny in his life.

We see in Shadows of Siernod, Fist La’brau only wants to cruise through life in a simple and peaceful way like David, but the strong motivating force he doesn’t admit exists is his sense of good. He thinks himself a hard nosed brawler and blue collar worker but when evil arises and he feels at times he is the only one that can correct the situation or exact vengeance. His reactions are strong and focused to the point of becoming myopic at times. In Shadows of Siernod we have this formula:

Fist’s strong desire for good and justice + Evil actions of Shadow = Excursions to extinguish or bring justice to wrongs.

When readers read, they want conflict, they want to see how the protagonist goes about the resolution of that conflict in a challenging way. Without strong force, we have no real believable conflict. They want to know that the character actually has a reason to see the conflict as being real and problematic. There must be a reason for the plot to exist, not just because the writer told them so. When you write, make it strong, make it real, and make it count.


– by J.Wade Harrell,

author of Shadows of Siernod and Flames of Palamarr

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About J. Wade Harrell

A native of rural SW Oklahoma, I currently write swords and sorcery fiction which I publish in electronic format on Amazon. My interests and hobbies include shooting, riding motorcycles, fishing, watching college football, playing games, and most of all, spending as much time as possible with my better half, Kathy. I hope you enjoy my blog and that it might lead you into my fantastic worlds of swords and magic. -J. Wade Harrell
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