Reply To: Conflict and the End of Fiction

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Taylor Clogston


You’re welcome for the tag! You’re another person whose thoughts I always enjoy seeing pop up.

Here’s the thing, I agree with them, but this has never made me think that story is only about conflict. Thus, your comment about storytelling being more than conflict is absolutely true, but I don’t know of many people that would disagree with that statement.

That’s a perfectly reasonable response if you haven’t encountered this much yourself. I’m afraid I’m in the position of having to ask you to believe me when I say I didn’t just conjure up a strawman, but that actual people who would disagree with my statement are very real and they are everywhere, especially in genre fic communities.

I will say that a story needs a central conflict/contrast to develop the protagonist and plot. With no conflict and internal conflict, there are no important decisions to be made, and thus your protagonist and plot will be quite flat and shallow.

I sort of agree with this, but sort of don’t, and I tie that with your central points below:

I would argue that human experience is full of conflict, and no matter what experience one is sharing, it should have a central conflict … human experience is nearly equivalent to conflict, if written correctly … stories can be more about the beauty of prose and the sensation of being transported … but that is more in the genre of poetry and literary focused stories than the telling of a human story and the adventures they go on.

I’m afraid I’m not willing to concede this point, but I think the original article defends itself well enough that I don’t need to explain why I disagree. It sounds like we have a fundamental philosophical difference as to what the core of human experience is and as to the value of poetic and literary vs conflict and plot-driven narrative. I would say that literary and poetic quality is one of the core elements that makes all the great classics great (and that we should strive for it in every story, so long as it won’t actively harm our audience’s experience), though if I started talking about the role of classics and conflicts we might just go back to talking about our specific definitions of conflict and go nowhere.

Something I should have talked more about is the ratio of conflict vs literary quality we see in a given work. That’s apparent from your point about Rothfuss:

> I have not read anything by Rothfuss (I have problems with him), but I do know quite a bit about his work, and to be candid, there is plenty of conflict.

With all due respect, I have actually read the seventeen hundred pages of his first two books, and I can confidently say the conflict comes infrequently and is usually the weakest part of the book. Maybe other people who have read it can chime in. (I definitely don’t blame you for not reading because of issues with Rothfuss, though)

That was more to my point than “These books don’t have any conflict.” Despite them being modern classics, my experience with even the general secular writing community regarding these books is “The plot is laughable, but the words are liquid poetry.” Which I’d still argue is more than enough to justify being a book, and a disagreement to that end is just a fundamental difference in our narratologies that I don’t think can be solved with debate.

Since I don’t want to ignore your final example:

I could write a story about a man going to the dentist, and everything goes well, but it would be quite boring. I could also write a story about a man going to the dentist who runs into much conflict, that could be interesting.

I’d take the conservative and defensive argument that I don’t see why the story of the man going to the dentist and finding conflict would be more inherently interesting, in a vacuum separated from all other literary and narratological theory, than one without more than cursory conflict. I’m happy to concede that I can’t think of a great story completely without conflict so I won’t try to brace myself in my corner any further than that.

I suppose I have to ask if you feel I wasn’t fair in my case studies? I’m confident to point to them as examples that my theory can work very well for even general audiences, but if you feel that I’ve missed the point in any regard than we might either have something more to talk about or that might just highlight irreconcilable worldview differences.

I really appreciate the detailed response, Noah! Thank you very much for taking the time to read, think, and respond.

"...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

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