Of all the narrative elements, conflict is the backbone of a story: once students can discover what the conflict is, they can follow the plot and character development much more easily. The best way to help students do this is to break them out of the idea that conflict is a “problem” or a “protagonist versus antagonist” scenario. They are accustomed for looking for these two things, and the reductive nature of these approaches creates simple answers that are ironically more difficult to create than a more nuanced approach. Consider with the students that conflict is an interaction of opposing forces. This is something general, something that can be seen anywhere. For instance, there is conflict when a rocket (exerting upward force) tries to escape gravity (earth’s downward force). Before the rocket launches, there is no conflict; once the forces interact, conflict begins.
The same principles apply to human character. When someone is motivated to find something, they exert force to get it. If they obtain their desires easily, there is no conflict, but if there is another force resisting their actions, that is when conflict begins. If conflict is the interacting of opposing forces, the way to discover it is to discover one force, then the other. The questions the students want to hold in their mind are: What is the protagonist’s motivation? and What is causing the protagonist resistance? These concrete questions are surprisingly easily answered by the students, and yet (like all good characters) the answers are complicated and fruitful for discussion. Presenting these questions to students repeatedly while studying
(especially as Odysseus grows as a character) and insistently with every anime will both keep unity in the unit study and allow for sophisticated but accessible discussions.