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This blog was featured on 08/31/2019
Conflict Escalation & De-escalation Model
Written by
August 2019
Written by
August 2019

I took a conflict resolution course in university, and one of the big things that stuck with me is the following curve (forgive the strikingly terrible photo quality):

Conflict Escalation and Deescalation Graphi - Hyba
Conflict Escalation and De-escalation Model, straight from my university notes!

This is what is called the Conflict Escalation and De-escalation Model, and it outlines the stages of a conflict. As you can see, there are 9 stages:

  1. Difference : a difference in opinions and/or beliefs.

  2. Contradiction : may be verbally aggressive or antagonizing.

  3. Polarization : of an ideological kind; groups and political parties will express differences and contradictions in political terms - so, basically, the politicization of the aforementioned stages. Suddenly the discourse is very much “US v.s. THEM”. 
  4. Violence : may be contained and never lead to war.
  5. War : the general climax of a conflict.
  6. Ceasefire : the halting of military violence/hostilities, for various reasons. Often goes hand-in-hand with opening dialogues and negotiations between the two parties.
  7. Agreement : a complete end to the violence; arrangements are being made at this stage for peaceful resolution of the conflict. 
  8. Normalization : rationality behind emotions and hostility (an understanding); this may include things like opening borders, and ending hostility in media and press. It basically means calming the entire situation through whatever means the parties have control over - normalizing the ‘other’ so that they aren’t viewed in hostile terms anymore.
  9. Reconciliation : dealing with emotions and wounds from the conflict; trying to envision a positive future for the two parties; forgetting the hostilities of the past. This may include establishing institutions to mediate or otherwise handle any future conflicts between the two groups.

So, how can you use it in your writing?

Looking at this curve, I can say, for example, that in my fantasy book The Pirates of Sissa, the pirate-Sissan conflict is at the stage of ‘violence’. This is the starting point for the reader.

I can easily look at the three previous stages and talk about the history of the conflict. How did we get here? How did things get this bad?

Equally important is the fact that I can look at this and charter a course for where the conflict is going and how it might be resolved. Where can we go from here? How can we put an end to this? Is it even possible?

Now, the important thing to remember when using this curve is that you don’t have to pass through all of these stages in a conflict. I don’t view the pirate-Sissan conflict as turning into a full-fledged war anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t pass into the Ceasefire or Agreement stages if it doesn’t go through that stage. 

Keep in mind, though, that two conflicts can fit within the same stage but still have to be dealt with differently. 

The internal conflict within Belvatria in The Fall of the Black Masks, for example, definitely fits under the violence stage, but in a vastly different way and with too many different factors. That’s why I’ll have to find another way to deal with the conflict and resolve it. 

It’s in these kinds of cases that you have to get into the nuances of what kind of conflict you’re looking at. Is it an ideological conflict at its core? Or is it simply posing as one? Many conflicts don’t start out ideological in nature, but they definitely take on that dimension later on. 

As with the ethnic conflict in The Pirates of Sissa, the pirate-Sissan conflict is not so much an ideological conflict but a racial and discriminatory conflict. As time went by and the conflict grew fiercer, ideology was used to strengthen the divide between the two peoples on both sides. There are unfortunately too many real-world examples of similar conflicts. 

Some conflicts are incited for a lot of other reasons, like:

  • economic incentives
  • power and control
  • control is a big one, so it deserves another bullet
  • and control again
  • religious differences
  • cultural differences (culture and religion often get conflated; they’re not the same thing, though the line between the two sometimes gets fuzzy)
  • ethnic discrimination and racism
  • sexism (think Suffragettes) 
  • so many more reasons, honestly. I’ll be creating a post dealing specifically with reasons for conflict.

If you get to the Normalization and Reconciliation stages, be careful how you handle them.

The truth of the matter is that conflicts - especially violent conflicts - will affect the parties in very difficult ways. They will leave behind resentment and a general desire for justice. You can’t realistically expect a happily-ever-after, so treat these two stages with respect for both sides of the conflict, no matter which side you as the writer lean towards.

You might have to try war criminals and punish them for their deeds. You might have to create some form of government institutions that compensate victims of the conflict. You might have to introduce new educational reforms that require a different account of history to be taught, or that halt hostile perspectives of the other party. 

Think about the weapons that were used in this conflict, if any. Swords, bombs, rifles - whatever it is, address its consequences.

  • Do you have lots of young people with missing limbs now? 
  • Do you have lots of young people who must deal with the psychological ramifications of the conflict? 
  • Do you have women who must deal with the after-effects of rape and sexual assault - and, for that matter, do you have men and children who much deal with that, too? 
  • Do you have orphaned children that need taking care of? 
  • Do you have a shattered economy that needs to be rebuilt? 
  • Do you need to fix parts of your city/kingdom/country/empire/etc? 
  • What about your industries - how were they affected? 
  • Will you have enough food to support your people? 
  • Do you have enough medical supplies for injured victims? 
  • Will the parties need aid from external groups/characters/parties? 

So many questions - these are just the tip of the iceberg!

I hope this helped you out with plotting conflicts and how to resolve them! I know that I personally have an issue where I do something and then sit there and think, “Okay, now what? How do I get them out of this mess??” 

If it doesn’t make sense in some places or you want further clarification, let me know. I'm always happy to talk about writing.

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