I wasn’t tagged but I hope it’s all right if I join the discussion! I read your essay.
Like you, I’m often frustrated with the lack of emphasis on beauty in most writing advice. I love Tolkien’s works, and one of my favorite things is that they are beautiful. His prose is exquisite. He takes the time to describe ordinary things. The transcendent is depicted as beautiful. Most writing advice is so pragmatic, so utilitarian, that it fails to teach how writers can achieve the beauty Tolkien did (and the sense of “enchanting the world” Lewis writes about). Writers are often told to cut any details that aren’t necessary to the basics of world building. Beautiful prose can be dismissed as the writer trying to show off. Scenes that don’t directly “advance the plot” should be cut.
The importance of beauty in literature has been on my mind lately—I’m actually working on an essay myself on the topic.
As for conflict vs contrast, I was wondering if the distinction you are drawing is between the kind of loud, action all the time conflict and a quieter, more character driven kind of conflict? I’ve read writing advice along the lines of “If you don’t know what to do in a scene, just add some dramatic conflict—like enemies randomly appear and attack!” OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but that’s how it seems at times. 😂
I don’t think you can have a story without any conflict at all, but I don’t think conflict must mean battles, loud arguments, explosions, etc. Your presentation of contrast felt like a more thematic, character driven kind of conflict. Which is still conflict, but of a different kind.
I also love Dostoevsky’s books. Crime and Punishment, for example, isn’t an action-packed story. But there is plenty of thematic and relational conflict—guilt, Raskolnikov’s relationship with his family, the conflict with the pawnbroker that literally ends in a murder, etc. Still conflict, but not the same kind as in a modern action stories.
I’m working on an epic fantasy novel, and it has very little action. One or two scenes involve action, in the sense of fighting, but there is plenty of conflict. It’s quiet conflict. From the first chapter, I try to make relational conflict clear between two characters. But the conflict isn’t expressed with loud arguments. It’s shown with silence, as neither character is willing to really say what they are thinking. There’s also thematic conflict, as the characters debate ethics and philosophy, or as I show characters have differing ideologies they don’t reveal out loud driving their decisions. It’s conflict, but it’s a different kind of conflict.
Is that the conflict-contrast distinction?
Thanks for sharing the essay; it was very thought-provoking!