What is the Point of Conflict?

Dear Reader,

I think I may understand why reading science textbooks took so much emotional energy out of me. Back in high school, it was a requirement to learn about the things that I did not understand then and still do not understand now. All I remember about subjects of biology are concepts of chromosomes and a few things about birds. There are some facts about the nucleus and atoms as well. Though I am still young, I do not feel that I have been disadvantaged because of my stupidity with school science. The knowledge I tried to learn has never come back to haunt me.

I now feel that one of the reasons why it did not really stick with me to learn about these subjects is because there was no conflict. Narratives are full of conflict. In fact, it is virtually impossible to write a great story if there is nothing going on. It is perhaps the piece of advice pushed the most by writing experts. Why is it that readers  (and publishers) like to skip the first few chapters of a book? Usually it is because nothing really happens in these places. A character will wake up, put on clothes suitable for where they are going, go to a school or job, and live their “average” life. The purpose of this is to expose the true character to the audience. However, this usually means that nothing of much consequence occurs.

Readers like to read consequences, especially the fatal kinds. There is something thrilling about possible destruction. It keeps suspense going and readers on edge, curious to find out more, more, more about what will or could happen. Conflict is a testing of two or more ideas that do not fit together. Ultimately, there must be a solution (or so the reader rightfully assumes), but the amount of solutions may be endless. (Now, when one considers plausible resolutions, this may rule out a lot of alternative endings, but it still leaves a reader curious as to which conflicting side will win).

One of the worst things is when a story becomes predictable. To me, that just means that all excitement and conflict is diminished. While there may still be conflict within the text of the story, it feels far less pressing because I am confident that I know how it will turn out. Reaching the end and finding I was correct just makes me sigh. I hate being right.

Perhaps what is worse than being predictable is a story with no conflict. Never in my life have I come across a great piece of fiction writing that did not have a conflict of some kind. Even one of the first books I remember reading, “Just a Nap“, contained the then-pressing issue of a daughter who was asked to take a nap by her mother even though she did not want to take a nap. If the mother had asked her daughter to take a nap and the daughter agreed and went to bed, it would have made a pretty pointless story (though I hope that I did not spoil the story for you).

However, just because I have not experienced it yet does not mean that the possibility does not exist. Reader, what do you think? Can a story exist without conflict and still be worth reading? If so, what would this hypothetical story look like?

Sincerely,

Jumbled Writer

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6 Responses to What is the Point of Conflict?

  1. A great analysis of why there should be conflict in a book. If everything is all one thing – sad or happy included – it is boring. I agree. I can’t imagine a book without conflict – even a story about nothing.

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