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Is Conflict Necessary?

"Conflict" is when contrast leads to change (or possible change; it can still turn out to not change) and the process is intense enough to... well, sound like conflict, or sell traditional stories.

Non-conflict is slowing and softening the same effect, but still using the same pattern as conflict if you look closely enough. Works if you've got certain kinds of Japanese or New Yorker tastes, but it's too mild for most of us.
But again, I'm saying that contrast is different from conflict. Contrast MAY involve conflict but doesn't have to.

I'll say what I always say in this context: if you don't like calling it [x], call it fweeb.

Kishōtenketsu does not have conflict as you're defining it. But it has a distinction between states, which we will here refer to as fweeb. Many Western stories do not have conflict as you're defining it. Instead, they have a distinction between states, which we will again refer to as fweeb. If there are stories in both the West and the East that have fweeb and do not have conflict as you're defining it, it would seem to follow that conflict as you're defining it is not necessary for a story. However, there is a thing that does seem to be necessary, fweeb, because those stories that do not have conflict have it instead.

I'll note that at one point you said that conflict dominates Western media, not that all Western media has conflict. But conflict dominates Eastern media, too--just look at anime. The precise proportion of Western media with conflict versus Eastern media with conflict isn't really relevant, since in both media, the same kinds of stories are told using conflict. (And while I'm not particularly familiar with k-forget-it-I'm-not-spelling-that-again, it sounds like the kinds of stories it tells using fweeb are the kinds of stories Western stories tell using fweeb.)

I'm not really sure what point there is left to make here. Is there anything you're saying that I didn't include in the post I just made?
Fweeb, the distinction between states. Yes.

"Conflict" plays up the consequences and drama of What Might Happen As They Mesh. Other stories soft-pedal it, but if it isn't there at all there's very little to follow-- or the reader's eye with Rorshach it into fweeb and even conflict.


Article Team
You're assuming that a reaction to change has to be a resistance, but that does not seem logical to me.

Yes. If change is an action and if every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then the opposite and equal reaction to change would be a resistance to that change. This from the perspective of the laws of physics.

For storytelling purposes, the above may not be obviously relevant. It may not even be relevant at all, but I like to think it helps to keep it in mind. Another way of thinking of it is to relate it to balance. Whenever something changes, the balance of things is upset and something else needs to change as well in order to maintain balance. The more things change, the more other things need to change in order to regain balance or everything risks falling over.
@deilaitha do you have any papers or examples you could point to?

Sadly, the paper I chose to write in that class was on the Tale of the Heike rather than the plays. However, I might be able to dig up my Norton Anthology of Non-Western Literature and re-read the explanation of conflict through contrast in Japanese literature. It's been boxed away in storage for a while. I will have to get back to you on that.

Very sadly, I do not have any of the research in question currently in hand. Just memories of the class that I took.
Juxtaposition does not assume conflict. Two different, contrasting things can be juxtaposed without coming into conflict. I'm frankly surprised you could discuss the concepts without seeing that.

Juxtaposition does not assume conflict, but does not preclude it. The conflict in the Japanese plays takes place in the viewers' minds, where the two ideologies are set up against each other.


Ultimately I believe what stories need more than anything else is a means of catching people's attention and holding their interest. I'll hazard a guess that novelties outside most of our day-to-day experiences will draw in more interest. For a lot of us in modern society, novelty includes conflict, especially the kind of conflict that is more intense than what we know from our everyday lives.

Is there a way to attract and hold interest without conflict? Maybe, as long as you can find some other way of creating novelty that stands out to your audience. Though come to think of it, novelty is by definition in conflict or contrast with established patterns.


I'll say what I always say in this context: if you don't like calling it [x], call it fweeb.

If you are accusing me of doing such then I respectfully ask that you withdraw that assertion. Note that I am, so far, the only person in this thread who has actually made an attempt to define conflict and contrast and that I used actual documented definitions. I invited others to provide definitions with differ from mine, but no one has yet done so. If you think the definitions I provided are wrong then please cite sources that demonstrate my error.

Since the big disagreement here seems to be about what exactly conflict and contrast are within the scope of literature, I've looked up the terms within specifically literary contexts. Here's what I found...

From the website Literary Devices:

Definition of Conflict

In literature, a conflict is a literary element that involves a struggle between two opposing forces usually a protagonist and an antagonist.

An internal or psychological conflict arises as soon as a character experiences two opposite emotions or desires; usually virtue or vice, or good and evil inside him. This disagreement causes a character to suffer mental agony. Internal conflict develops a unique tension in a storyline marked by a lack of action.
External conflict, on the other hand, is marked by a characteristic involvement of an action wherein a character finds himself in struggle with those outside forces that hamper his progress. The most common type of an external conflict is where a protagonist fights back against the antagonist’s tactics that impede his or her advancement.

Both internal and external conflicts are essential elements of a storyline. It is essential for a writer to introduce and develop conflict, internal or external or both, in his storyline in order to achieve a story goal i.e. the resolution of a conflict in order to entertain his readers.

There is more on the page I linked, including some examples from literature.

That website did not have a page for contrast so instead here's wikipedia's page on Contrast (literary):

In literature, an author uses contrast when he or she describes the difference(s) between two or more entities. For example, in the first four lines of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, Shakespeare contrasts a mistress to the sun, coral, snow, and wire.

Contrast is the antonym of simile. In poetic compositions, it is common for poets to set out an elaborate contrast or elaborate simile as the argument. For example, John Donne and the metaphysical poets developed the conceit as a literary device, where an elaborate, implausible, and surprising analogy was demonstrated. In Renaissance poetry, and particularly in sonnets, the contrast was similarly used as a poetic argument. In such verse, the entire poem argues that two seemingly alike or identical items are, in fact, quite separate and paradoxically different. These may take the form of my love is unlike all other women or I am unlike her other loves.

In the early 18th century, a theory of wit developed by English writers (particularly John Locke) held that judgement sees the differences in like things, imagination or fancy sees the likeness in different things, and wit operates properly by employing judgement and fancy to form sound propositions. In lyric poetry, the author is often attempting to show how what seems to be solely an exercise of judgement or fancy is, in fact, wit.

That was the most detailed explanation of contrast in literary terms I could find easily. (I care about this subject, but not enough to waste all day researching it.)

Again, if anyone can cite sources showing other definitions which contrast or conflict (heh) with the ones I have provided, I ask you to please do so. Especially if you can cite sources which give Chinese or Japanese definitions. I would be very interested in that.

Now, I have been saying ALL ALONG that contrast CAN lead to conflict. I am NOT saying that contrast and conflict are mutually exclusive. But I am saying that contrast does not HAVE TO lead to conflict, it can stand alone without it. Most plot structures in, let us say, the English speaking world are built around points of conflict. We use conflict as the foundation of a story most of the time.

My understanding of Kishotenketsu is that conflict is not precluded from a story but that the structure does not use conflict as its foundation. Instead, contrast is the foundation. Elements that are different from each other and usually unexpectedly so and thus form a "twist" in the third act which is resolved in the fourth. My understanding of the fourth act resolution was that it shows how the contrasting elements are actually connected.

Here's a page I found discussing the Kishotenketsu structure. (It was actually hard to find anything that seemed like a reliable source about this concept.) Here's an excerpt:

Stories using the Kishōtenketsu structure convey seemingly disconnected events that are tied together by the conclusion of the story. The distinguishing feature of Kishōtenketsu is the element of surprise brought on by the twist. The twist seems disconnected from the introduction and development of the story until the conclusion, at which point the audience begins to make connections to the crux of the story, often reframing earlier interpretations of the events.

This seems clearly to me to be a structure that, thus, does not rely on conflict as essential, nor does it preclude it. Conflict just isn't the foundation of this structure. And if one wanted to explore a story which does not have a conflict as its central problem, this may be a good way to do it.


I don't think The Story of an Hour fits the article in the OP. Although, Story of an Hour feels a lot like a character sketch with a couple of happenings rather than a traditional short story.

Responding directly to the article, it seems like the author doesn't quite get the concept of conflict.