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Conflict and the End of Fiction

Forums Fiction General Writing Discussions Conflict and the End of Fiction

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  • #142449
    Ashley Tegart
    @ashley-tegart

    Hi, @taylorclogston

    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!

    #142452
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    @ashley-tegart

    Thanks so much for reading! It’s absolutely fine for anyone to join in, the admins just don’t like people tagging everyone under the sun. I appreciate your thoughts, and I’m sorry I didn’t communicate as well as I could’ve.

    I don’t mean that some kinds of conflict are better than others. That’s definitely the view some people have (and I gave at least one quote to that effect, about external drama being vital while internal conflict isn’t [something I really don’t agree with]) but I mean that conflict is a subset of contrast and I believe we tend to focus on conflict just because it’s an obvious, useful form of contrast that gets people excited.

    But I literally mean, for example, that the contrast between someone being outside in a frigid blizzard and then coming into a warm home is more important than what stands in their way from going from one to the other. It’s just inherently interesting to have characters who are physically, emotionally, and ideologically different. It’s inherently interesting to have a range of different locations in a story. It’s inherently interesting for a narrator to sweep between subdued and excited narrative styles. It’s inherently interesting to alternate between slower and faster-paced scenes. These are things skilled writers figure out over time, but I think deliberately acknowledging this pattern would help so many newer writers to figure out why their stories lack the punch of the stories they enjoy reading.

    And obviously when you have contrasting characters, especially in their beliefs, conflict is going to rise between them, and that’s a very useful thing to direct the motion of a story forward.

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

    #142527
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @taylorclogston – Thanks for that warning! I appreciate it.

    Also…yeah, it is really interesting that he’s looking in the mirror while talking to her. I’d be willing to bet that’s a detail we’re reading into a bit too much, but it’s still cool!

    Definitely super engaging writing as well.

    Published author, student in writing, works with HazelGracePress.com

    #142541
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    @taylorclogston

    Thanks man! I’m glad my thoughts are at least somewhat interesting. 🙂

    I’m sure there are many people who disagree with you, but I think several would concede that more conflict at least makes  a story better, but conflict being omnipresent is not necessarily always needed for a good story.

    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.

    You don’t think conflict would it improve it, and yet you haven’t read a good story without it? Kinda talking out of both sides of one’s mouth with those statements. xD

    You’re case studies were fine and valid, but I would argue that even they had an element of conflict. Maybe I’ll read one in its entirety to find out sometime. 🙂

    I understand that you’re saying many of the best classics did not constantly revolve around conflict, but again, all the ones I can think of still had several elements of external and especially internal conflict that gave the book the story element it needed. Instead it would almost have been poetry, or poetic descriptions, which doesn’t mean it would have been bad, but it means it wouldn’t have really been much of a story.

    As for Rothfuss, let me clarify. I did not mean that his books were centered around conflict, but from what I’ve heard from other readers, there is most definitely character arc and coming of age (and thus internal conflict) and fights, difficulties, and antagonists (thus external conflict). Take away all of that conflict, and you’re left with poetic descriptions, not really a story. Not to say his books aren’t known for their fantastic prose and not such much about its conflict, but my point still holds that conflict was very necessary for the story.


    @wordsmith

    Thanks Buddy. 🙂

     

    #142554
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    @noah-cochran

    You don’t think conflict would it improve it, and yet you haven’t read a good story without it? Kinda talking out of both sides of one’s mouth with those statements. xD

    You’re case studies were fine and valid, but I would argue that even they had an element of conflict. Maybe I’ll read one in its entirety to find out sometime. 🙂

    I’m really not communicating well, because it still sounds like you’re responding as though I’m arguing for stories with literally not a speck of conflict at all, which isn’t my intention.

    My perception is that you’re looking at the issue from a binary perspective, that either conflict is or is not present, and that my case studies fall into the “has conflict” binary because, obviously, conflict is present in each of them.

    I argue from the perspective of a gradient, with tone poem at one end (literally no conflict, something likely neither of us would think of as a story) and soap opera at the other (every imaginable permutation of conflict evoked among the characters).

    I argue you can get extremely close to the first side of the spectrum while still having a story very worth reading.

    It’s clear we have different narratologies as to what should be called a story to begin with, so I’ll bow out of that point and even concede, for the sake of this argument, that we can assume “needs at least a little conflict to qualify as a story.”

    Since my good faith is on the line regarding the dentist stories, I’ll be really nitpicky about it:

    You don’t think conflict would it improve it, and yet you haven’t read a good story without it?

    Cooking analogies work great for writing, and this is a great opportunity for one. We can make an analogy with your dentist stories as soup and conflict as salt.

    Pouring salt into a soup won’t necessarily make it taste good, but I’ve never had a great soup without at least a little salt. There are many dishes, especially ones focusing on texture and mouthfeel and aroma, for which a minimum threshold of salt is needed to maximize the effect, it doesn’t rely on salt to taste good like certain junk foods do (though I don’t mean that as a value judgment against conflict-focused stories by analogy). Adding lots of salt is not the secret to good cooking, but it’s so useful that all cooking benefits from at least a bit of it.

    It’s nowhere near a perfect analogy, but hopefully it shows my intended nuance =P

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

    #144778
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    (did the spam filter eat my first post?)


    @daeus-lamb
    Sorry you had to work and miss the patron meeting! @josiah suggested I tag you so you can share your thoughts on the essay.

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

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