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Do you need conflict?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Steerpike, Nov 22, 2013.

  1. I don't understand the point of that distinction. When you're writing something, why would you ever even think about just the series of events that occur, without the causal relationships?
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    I've come across a number of short stories, mostly SF, that had no conflict, and yet were interesting.

    The one that sticks in mind (unfortunately title and author both escape me anymore) involved an old asteriod miner who'd struck it rich and built himself a sort of asteroid 'homestead'. Story opens after the construction is done, and most of it involves him puttering about talking to his robot servant. Then he dies (peacably, in his sleep), and the last few lines have the robot servant reciting the Lords Prayer.

    Another approach, something I've seen done only a couple times, is the 'something wondrous' tale, where the MC, possibly despondent, meets somebody or does something positive, which in turn leads to positive things happening to him, eventually changing his whole lifes outlook.
  3. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    You're going to think I'm cheating, but I expect those stories have plenty of conflict-- in redirected, subtle forms.

    • The miner's tale probably makes the contrast between what the miner's struggled through and what he's achieved, or other ways his life contrasts with what he thought might happen. An ordinary story would follow through that and build suspense as it went; even in retrospect, I'm sure the tales had a sense that they must have been fascinating at the time, and so the man who went through them is worth meeting even after the fact.
    • The "wondrous" tales are the conflict between despondancy and how the wonders open his eyes. We watch Scrooge go from denial and excuses to learning his lesson, and we almost think (okay, briefly) that he might succeed in resisting.

    Yes, "conflict" isn't the best word for that essence in these cases, but they all use the same stuff. No matter how muted it is or what perspective it's presented from, the story gains power from some sense that what's happening has enough uncertainty to sort of make us wonder what'll happen-- or that it's about coolness that has had that uncertainty anyway, and which is stamped into what it's become now.

    And I think seeing these as redirected conflict helps us see what makes that work, even in the gentlest forms.
  4. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

    There are some very interesting stories where the conflict is actually the lack of conflict in the person's life. Letters from the Underground, Death of a Salesman, etc.
  5. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Same principle, I'd say. Salesman explores what kind of person Willie is, what he's done right and wrong, and if he ever had a chance-- a retrospective of conflict that would normally be shown as it happened, plus the conflict now of whether he can cope with it.
  6. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    That makes absolutely no sense to me. The reality seems to be the opposite. Plot is the sequence of event and along with character, setting, and theme is just one aspect of Story, which is the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.
  7. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    I don't know Forster's whole system for breaking it down, but it fits with my own:

    "Story" means everything all at once-- and so it means nothing specific, until someone narrows it down. "Plot" is the events, and so it can't skip over how they're connected.
  8. technopony13

    technopony13 Acolyte

    I myself don't always use conflicts or plots, and if I do I normally wouldn't have planned it out. :)
  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Sorry for necroposting a bit, but I figured I could just use this old thread instead of starting a new one on the same subject.

    I just got linked this article:
    The significance of plot without conflict - still eating oranges

    It's about the differences between the western three act structure based around conflict and the eastern four act structure based around exposition and contrast. It also includes two short cartoons to illustrate the concepts in practice. I found the article quite interesting, even though it did get a little too philosophical for me towards the end.
    Ankari likes this.
  10. I've seen that too. The consequences of failure, apparently, have to be disastrous for the hero in a good story.
  11. A book I recently read on the art of writing stories did say every story needs a conflict and d"isastrous consequences if failure occurs". That, I suppose, is the heart of every story, even one like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, what with the truancy, stealing the car, evading Mr Rooney and all that.

    Protagonist and antagonist; good words to remember, for it's not just hero and villain, but perhaps hero and shark, hero and volcano, even hero and love rival.

    MacGuffin; a trite but important term, for it's the term for the object around which a story revolves. It might be the Golden Fleece, the magic porridge pot, the Holy Grail, the One Ring, the Allspark... the list goes on. Think about whether your story needs one and what its role is in relation to the conflict.
  12. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    I cannot think of a romance that doesn't have conflict.
    You man versus self-trying to change themselves to attract the love object, build up the courage to talk to her,courage to challenge the rival for the loved ones attention.
    Man versus man: trying to win the love of the target. Trying to defeat the person standing in the way(another lover, the parents, a third person trying to prevent the relationship)
    Man vs nature: save the woman he loves from a natural disaster, perform a heroic save from animal to earn the love. Girl is dying of some incurable disease,

    I can't see a romance without conflict in the story. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love with no problems, boy and girl go off into the sunset without incident, doesn't sound like a good story. There has to be some reason to tell the story. No one likes the perfect story, there has to be something gained or lost, some triumph over adversity.

    I was thinking maybe erotica, but even that has some conflict, some reason to do what is done in those stories. Most often it is betrayal or promiscuity. The conflict here is secondary to the genre requirements, but even then there is still some conflict. (wow, kept it pg, while talking about erotica-Scored...no wait not that kind of scored. I mean win.:nerd:)
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2014

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