This is a discussion on "The significance of plot without conflict" in the Writing Questions forum.
"With age came wisdom. Sometimes wisdom came with an ass kicking, too. And nothing could kick ass like the whole world." -The character "Horn" ruminating on his circumstances. The Decaying Mansions of Memory, by Jay Lake.
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Anything that challenges a person's beliefs, causes one to question their paths in life, is conflict. Choice is conflict no matter how small large it is. For example, something like waking up with a hangover and asking yourself "Was it worth it?" is conflict. When you're young the answer will probably be "Yes", but repeat over the course of years, and as you age and your body stops recovering as quickly, the scales may tilt and the answer may become "No".
As writers conflict abounds in life but it's finding the interesting and significant conflicts that matter to the characters that's the challenge. On the surface a choice between vanilla or chocolate ice cream is an insignificant and boring conflict, but in the right context and point of view--say that of a child--it can be earth shattering.
-Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.
-A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.
Mmm, lots of conversation going on here. Some thoughts on the topics brought up.
1) Certainly, we could argue that everything is conflict if we really wanted to. But I think that is being just a bit of a pedantic ass to do so. Yes, there is a 'conflict' in choosing between buying the Danish Blue and the Gorgonzola - if you're a turophile like me, that's a damn hard choice, too - but if your story is about a girl buying her groceries and this is a single paragraph in a 20 page story on the subject, it's not a conflict in any significant, literary sense. I would argue that in order for the story itself to have a conflict in the way we describe plots and map out plot triangles, the conflict would have to be integral to the story, as opposed to a minor scene in it or speculative subtext.
2) Very much the point of the original article is the nature of literature and storytelling in the Western world versus the rest of the world. The argument "the way I was taught" exemplifies the article's point more than discredits it. The entire point of the article was that no matter how standardized - down to graphs and bullet points and novels worth of analysis - the very idea of a story is in the West, it simply isn't the same standard used in other parts of the world. We can stretch non-Western stories to fit into it, by extrapolation, but I imagine a Japanese or Chinese person could very easily do the same to our literature (and likely has) and force it to comply to their story structures.
3) I don't think story has to be change, per se, though in the same pedantic way one could argue everything has conflict, one could also argue everything has change. Certainly, to bring up the 4 panel comic from the article, the change is... the girl now has a can of soda, or more accurately the boy does. And similarly, that doesn't mean anything when looking at it as a piece of literature. It's not something you could talk about in any truly literary way. Also, I would argue having a dynamic protagonist isn't strictly necessary. Often what you need, but static characters - as long as they're not flat, as well - have their purpose.
Then again, some people are interested in reading about mundane, everyday life, so... if there's a market for it, and your goal is to serve that market, then there's nothing wrong with a 20-page story full of mundane stuff.
Removed because nevermind. I'm not a moderator and it's not my place to say.
Last edited by Christopher Wright; 6-22-12 at 12:53 PM.
Christopher Wright (CHAOS LORD)
Eviscerati.Org - fiction, comics, commentary
I think something's been lost in this discussion. The article refers to conflict as it's derived from the plot. But there are other elements of storytelling from which conflict can be derived. The kishōtenketsu model, which for me is the most noteworthy aspect of this discussion, generates a conflict by creating confusion in the narrative style. It's conflict, certainly, but it's not done through plot. Internal struggles, combating physical and emotional fatigue, as well as personal goal-setting, can all be valuable tools in character development, and do not necessarily rely on plotting to tell an interesting story.
I repeat myself from earlier, plot-focused conflicts are one of the strengths of writing fantasy, but many of the greatest stories ever told rely on simple conflicts and utilize other story elements to develop their characters, generating other forms of conflict.
This conversation will be more useful to our members if people recognize the distinction which the article is attempting to make between plot-driven conflict and other forms of plotting. Posts which focus solely on what is or is not a conflict are not productive.
"Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." - G. K. Chesterton
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Chiming in late, will try to be useful.
This article is a green light for me. I don't know if my WIP would be classified as fantasy, because not only is there no magic, I don't see any plot-driven conflict either. The story does revolve around a sort of quest, which only comes about later, and has nothing to do with saving the world or violence. A war does figure in, but it takes place off-stage. The MC has tasks and problems to solve, but I've always been aware of how different they are from the heroic quests or similar things I understand to be typical of fantasy, and wondered if my book will turn out to be seen as boring by many.
This gives me hope.
Is this a good place to ask about fantasy that specifically doesn't have violence as a core feature, or should that be another thread?
The way I've always seen it, fantasy is more of a setting than it is a genre. Action is the genre, usually. Sword fights and magic duels are all action goodness. But there's certainly other fantasy stories out there. The most popular non-action fantasy genre is probably romance, so the conflict is usually the same as a regular romance novel: he doesn't like her, they like each other but they ~can't be together~ for whatever reason (in fantasy, perhaps one is an elf and one is a dwarf), etc. Any genre, though, from adventure (which often crosses over with action, though doesn't always do so) to comedy to existential fiction could be fantasy. So no, I don't think you need a big battle for something to be fantasy.
And not having magic is usually classified as 'low fantasy', a fabulous subgenre that I very much enjoy. I, at least, wouldn't find your story boring because of a lack of magic and violence, but I can't say I'm the majority. There'd definitely be people who'd find it uninteresting, but there is a market for action-less fantasy.
I cannot believe this conversation is still going on.
If you reduce it to physical confrontation it may not always be there.
If you open it up to include resistance, confusion and a whole bunch of other things then you'll find it's ALWAYS there.