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Is conflict neccesary? [Discussion]


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https://stilleatingoranges.tumblr.com/post/25153960313/the-significance-of-plot-without-conflict

came across this a few weeks ago and wanted to know what you all thought of it.

TLDR for article: there exists a alternative narrative structure, commonly known as "kishotenketsu", that is not driven by a central conflict (as most mainstream Western narrative structures are). It consists of a first part establishing the story aspects, developing them in a second, introducing a new and notable story element in the third part (called a 'twist' in the article but not neccesarily a plot twist) and in the fourth/final part, the third is 'reconciled' with the initial two.

thoughts?

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I view conflict as optional but without it, you can typically make any character perfect. Take Mary Poppins for example. There is the initial problem of finding a nanny that can handle the children. But once Mary Poppins arrives, there is generally no conflict and the story is entertaining nonetheless.

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  • 2 weeks later...

@cr47t If you don't mind, I'll make my post over here, in the hope the thread resumes it's activity.


Rather than supporting the notion of the possibility of creating a story without conflict or start the argumentation against it, I’d like to explore the topic from a different take. From starters, what is conflict, in the context of literature?

Quote

"A conflict is a literary device characterized by a struggle between two opposing forces. Conflict provides crucial tension in any story and is used to drive the narrative forward. It is often used to reveal a deeper meaning in a narrative while highlighting characters’ motivations, values, and weaknesses. There are six main types of literary conflict. Character vs

-Self    -Character    -Society     -Nature     -Supernatural     -Technology

Dan Brown

Now, the reason I’m bringing this up is because, even though what I just quoted is what would conventionally be the accepted meaning, the truth of the matter is that these types of conflicts won’t be looked at in the same way for every individual. We Humans are beings that, when faced with a particular situation, pass judgment on said situation based on a cumulus of traits held by the individual: intelligence, knowledge, experience, feelings, beliefs, set of morals, among others. What I’m trying to say here, is that a given situation won’t be deemed the same for every single person, and it makes me feel uncomfortable to hold into the realm of generalities. “But normally, people will see X as X”. The problematic of what I’m saying directly affects the prime question of the topic. Is conflict necessary? If every single person can’t agree in that a particular situation is/isn’t a conflict, how can we solve if the story has conflicts or not? I believe this is vital, because a series of events one person can see as inconsequential can be seen as full of conflict by another, and if we cannot agree with that, it’s harder to find the answer to the prime question. Here are some examples:

* A black-skinned man and a white-skinned man handshake, and two people witness this event. The first witness has no racial prejudices, so they see the event as completely inconsequential, thus they see no conflict. The second witness is a neo-nazi. They get enraged as they see the white man as betrayer to the white race, thus a conflict ensues.An internal conflict happens within witness 2’s mind, and this makes him see the event as conflict. The origin of deeming a conflict in the handshake event was emotional and based on a set of beliefs.

* On a street in NY, there’s a poster featuring a very famous and well-liked Hindu, who will impart some spiritual conferences in the upcoming days. Again, two people watch the poster. One of them is an American, and beyond the mild interest they can find in the upcoming conference, they pay no more mind to the poster. The second person is outraged. Why? Well, it seems that the name of the conferencist was placed by “those fool ignorant americans” at the feet of the conferencist, but it happens that in many asian cultures, it is seen as extremely rude to place names at the feet of a person. The origin of deeming there’s a conflict within the poster was cultural beliefs.

And so on.

But no, I’m not confusing topics. One thing is to think that an event can be deemed as having conflicts or not depending on the point of view of the witness, and something entirely different is the possibility of making a story without conflict. I’m limiting myself to remark that it is, imo, almost impossible to deem a story universally devoid/filled with conflict because points of view will always differ.

So, what’s the point of everything I have said so far? Well, I wanted to establish the sheer importance of points of view, because we can make use of that. As I was reading the NEO thread, I came across a comment I completely agreed with at the moment as I haven’t given the topic a much thorough thought, and in general I still support partially:

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“I'd say that kind of writing falls more along the lines of surrealism and poetry rather than storytelling” -Thar.

What I’m thinking now is that we can resource precisely to similar… realms of writing to do what we want (writing a story without conflict). The problem I stated earlier is exacerbated by reality (even in fantasy, if that makes sense) and consciousness. But what if the story (because that’s what we want, a story) is managed under the premise that it is a dream, or a surrealist scenario held within imagination. And so I insist on points of view, because placing everything in an oniric scenario is not enough, it would be pretty much like “everything it’s the same, except it’s not happening in reality, but regardless, the same conflicts arise, even if they can’t affect reality. The addition, then, is surrealism/oniric setting + use of points of view:

The story is about a girl who is having a dream. She is sitting on a giant flying fish, and is looking calmly at the horizon. For a time, there’s nothing more than endless grasslands. At some point, though, lines start to appear in front of her. These lines become animated, and they show her events of her past. The girl muses about them, but doesn’t share her thoughts. You, as the reader, are the one in charge of examining these events. They’re conflicts? Yes, they are. Perhaps the father is an alcoholic, and used to hit her. Perhaps you learned about her first kiss, among a myriad of any other possibilities. But if I’m correct (and I admit I’m not entirely sure) the story has no conflict. You’re witnessing conflicts that involve the MC, but she doesn’t react to them. They do not affect anything within the world the story is set in. And thus, how can the story be one of conflicts? But it’s a story, because you have a setting that develops and shows you situations, one at a time, and you the reader, are in charge of analyzing them and finding a meaning to them, perhaps ultimately leading to understand why the girl is dreaming of this and that, deciphering her state of mind. But that’s up to you, the reader, as inherently (and I insist, not 100% sure if I’m correct) the story is devoid of internal conflict, but what is not devoid of, is of interest.

What would be the synthesis of what most of the peers at NEO said? Something along the lines of: “Conflict is required in the structure of narration. Without conflict, there’s inaction, physically and mentally, thus making any sort of story flat and uninteresting.”

What I have tried with this is to find a way around this. For the third time, I’m unsure if it holds true, and in essence it’d be only a tricky method to write a story without conflicts, so it’d be a provisional solution at best, but there you go.

I hope that, even if everything I said is screwed up it can lead to a better solution or understanding.

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@Rayfield Lumina What I ask after reading this is can you make a movie or book or any other literature that either has no conflict from the primary perspectives presented or even better no conflict from any character's perspective (a Utopia)? I think you can definitely do the first and the second while more difficult is also possible to pull off.

A story with mental and physical action, looks cool, sounds fun, but no one ever feels troubled?

Your story does get around this but still relies on conflict to keep the viewer entertained. Can you do better?

 

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On 5/31/2021 at 8:02 PM, ITSUKOSOADO said:

@Rayfield Lumina What I ask after reading this is can you make a movie or book or any other literature that either has no conflict from the primary perspectives presented or even better no conflict from any character's perspective (a Utopia)? I think you can definitely do the first and the second while more difficult is also possible to pull off.

A story with mental and physical action, looks cool, sounds fun, but no one ever feels troubled?

Your story does get around this but still relies on conflict to keep the viewer entertained. Can you do better?

 

lol, as I said repeatedly in my reply, I'm not even sure if this would be what Cr47t is looking for, also I don't consider myself a truly knowledgeable person of literature. I just tried to tackle the topic in a different manner from what other people has done. By exploring points of view I tried to demonstrate that it's almost impossible to concur if each possible event has conflict or not, but right now the strategy I took was to take the point of view of every reader into a realm in which is harder to impose your idea of conflict as the situations the reader examine come from a character that is not even living them in the actual "realm" of the story, but separated by dream/reality.

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56 minutes ago, Rayfield Lumina said:

lol, as I said repeatedly in my reply, I'm not even sure if this would be what Cr47t is looking for, also I don't consider myself a truly knowledgeable person of literature. I just tried to tackle the topic in a different manner from what other people has done. By exploring points of view I tried to demonstrate that it's almost impossible to concur if each possible event has conflict or not, but right now the strategy I took was to take the point of view of every reader into a realm in which is harder to impose your idea of conflict as the situations the reader examine come from a character that is not even living them in the actual "realm" of the story, but separated by dream/reality.

I was saying I think what you did bypassed the rules but still has a conflict driven story. I don't think any of us are very well versed in literature I just wanted an alternative perspective from you using the rules you stated, A story with no conflict from anyone's perspective. I understood your original idea was to say the main character throughout the course of the story experienced no conflict as they are detached from any situation of struggle via dream, but the conflict of past memories still insights the reader to remain interested in viewing that past. What if there was none of that, just the detached dream no other characters not even dream characters with the protagonist fine with that. Or even dream characters with no troubles as well!

55 minutes ago, HQCardmaker said:

Idk if conflict is necessary, but conflict /as a need/ is not. At least I think so. Though this may be undecidable.

Can you come up with an interesting idea that contains the onlooker/reader/viewer. Any form of story with no conflict? Something tht still can hold the viewers attention and bonus if it still has purpose?

 

Is the lack of conflict a form of conflict itself even if nobody believes it because they don't understand what experiences they lack? 

Edited by ITSUKOSOADO
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This is why I made reference to Marry Poppins.

A story doesn't necessarily need conflict but it does need a situation that can drive the plot. A lot of writers just turn to conflict because it is easier to use as a driving force.

There are lots of examples that have no real conflict but the MC is placed in a situation where they need to solve some sort of problem.

2 examples of this are Interstellar and The Martian.

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21 hours ago, Horu said:

There are lots of examples that have no real conflict but the MC is placed in a situation where they need to solve some sort of problem.

2 examples of this are Interstellar and The Martian.

My apologies, but what you say is wrong. The very simple fact that you're mentioning there is a problem is by itself conflict. In truth, sorry again, but you couldn't have chosen a worse example than Interstellar. It is filled with tremendous conflicts. The conflict about Humanity being in risk of extinction due to lack of food, the conflict about father and daughter relationship, the conflicts the MC's crew face to solve the grand problem, such as approaching a planet whose gravity is bound to cause shifts in time that will cause them to be unable to see their beloved ones once more, since relativity of time will make their time to go much slower than people living in Earth, who'll just age and die, and many more. The Martian is full of conflict. They have to resolve how to bring Matt Damon to Earth as he struggles to survive, rationing the food and finding methods to produce more. This qualifies as Character vs Nature, or Character vs Technology in some way. Even Character vs Self, as Damon's got to struggle as to not lose hope and go crazy considering the difficulty of the situation he's in.

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3 hours ago, Rayfield Lumina said:

My apologies, but what you say is wrong. The very simple fact that you're mentioning there is a problem is by itself conflict. In truth, sorry again, but you couldn't have chosen a worse example than Interstellar. It is filled with tremendous conflicts. The conflict about Humanity being in risk of extinction due to lack of food, the conflict about father and daughter relationship, the conflicts the MC's crew face to solve the grand problem, such as approaching a planet whose gravity is bound to cause shifts in time that will cause them to be unable to see their beloved ones once more, since relativity of time will make their time to go much slower than people living in Earth, who'll just age and die, and many more. The Martian is full of conflict. They have to resolve how to bring Matt Damon to Earth as he struggles to survive, rationing the food and finding methods to produce more. This qualifies as Character vs Nature, or Character vs Technology in some way. Even Character vs Self, as Damon's got to struggle as to not lose hope and go crazy considering the difficulty of the situation he's in.

You are right. But those remain active parts of their respective stories rather than being centralized conflicts. In other words, they are more like a driving force (much like the main gear inside a clock) that the characters are required to adapt to as the story progresses. But overall, the stories in which I've mentioned actually have no protag/antag relation. The more important part of the story isn't so much the conflict but how said characters adapt to said conflict. If a conflict does nothing in terms of story progression or character development/evolution, I likely deem it as filler and thus unnecessary.

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Based on your logic you should be able to come up with a "driving force" that isn't conflict @Horu. We use the term conflict but required adaptation is of itself conflict, it is a continued struggle. I see you sort of acknowledge that your above examples have conflict but you can't deam the conflict unnecessary if you cannot present an alternative.

Edited by ITSUKOSOADO
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27 minutes ago, ITSUKOSOADO said:

Based on your logic you should be able to come up wit a "driving force" that isn't conflict @Horu. We use the term conflict but required adaptation is of itself conflict, it is a continued struggle. I see you sort of acknowledge that your above examples have conflict but you can't deam the conflict unnecessary if you cannot present an alternative.

Right now, you are either conflict incarnate or a magnet to such. Unless you are debating for the thrill of it. Conflict as a need, more of a need than communication is, is impossible. A clockwork universe, however, would be boring to write. Unless you like the biggest fireworks show you've ever seen.

 

Let us make a Turing Machine out of Conflict. Call it "The game of Conflict". An inevitably-2-player game. Then try to run it on itself. See how long it lasts.

Edited by HQCardmaker
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Just now, HQCardmaker said:

Right now, you are either conflict incarnate or a magnet to such. Unless you are debating for the thrill of it. Conflict as a need, more of a need than communication is, is impossible. A clockwork universe, however, would be boring to write. Unless you like the biggest fireworks show you've ever seen.

Well can you make the story of a "clockwork universe" interesting? People inherently think it is not but the idea of making it interesting hold merit.

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22 minutes ago, ITSUKOSOADO said:

Well can you make the story of a "clockwork universe" interesting? People inherently think it is not but the idea of making it interesting hold merit.

A clockwork universe still has some level of conflict. The conflict is set by nature/time and your protagonist(s) would still have to adapt to their circumstances, much like the cases pointed out in The Martian, Interstellar or various natural disaster based stories, where nature/time is essentially the driving force of the story. Also, stories that have little to no conflict are your typical "slice of life" stories, where your protagonist just goes about their day without a care in the world. So I still hold the position that conflict without purpose isn't necessary to a story.

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1 hour ago, Horu said:

You are right. But those remain active parts of their respective stories rather than being centralized conflicts. In other words, they are more like a driving force (much like the main gear inside a clock) that the characters are required to adapt to as the story progresses. But overall, the stories in which I've mentioned actually have no protag/antag relation. The more important part of the story isn't so much the conflict but how said characters adapt to said conflict. If a conflict does nothing in terms of story progression or character development/evolution, I likely deem it as filler and thus unnecessary.

I'll  mention for the purpose of better understanding the presence of conflict in a story, that it doesn't matter if the conflict is overarching or centralized, conflict is conflict, so regardless of the type, regardless if it's small or grand, if it's present in the work, it won't help us as an example for what the OP is striving for. You say "But overall, the stories in which I've mentioned actually have no protag/antag relation", but you got to understand that an antagonist is not a meanie wielding a sword and telling you "You can't pass to save the princess", the antagonist comes in a wide number of ways, such as the psyche of the MC, the nature working its way to kill you/making you change your life, the excesses of society, etc. Conflict will move forward the story using many different methods, but as long as it is present, one way or another, it's of no use for what brought us here. What we're striving for is to understand if a story can be effective and interesting while holding no conflicts at all, or methods to approach such a thing.

 

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1 hour ago, Rayfield Lumina said:

I'll  mention for the purpose of better understanding the presence of conflict in a story, that it doesn't matter if the conflict is overarching or centralized, conflict is conflict, so regardless of the type, regardless if it's small or grand, if it's present in the work, it won't help us as an example for what the OP is striving for. You say "But overall, the stories in which I've mentioned actually have no protag/antag relation", but you got to understand that an antagonist is not a meanie wielding a sword and telling you "You can't pass to save the princess", the antagonist comes in a wide number of ways, such as the psyche of the MC, the nature working its way to kill you/making you change your life, the excesses of society, etc. Conflict will move forward the story using many different methods, but as long as it is present, one way or another, it's of no use for what brought us here. What we're striving for is to understand if a story can be effective and interesting while holding no conflicts at all, or methods to approach such a thing.

 

Again, I do have to agree with you there. 

So I think a story could work without conflict and just naturally progress. But it'd have to be a more slice-of-life-ish deal where we just see the world through a character's eyes while they simply appreciate the little things.

Then again, it matters on the type of conflict, if any, you are seeking. I personally think conflict should have a purpose in the story.

Examples of conflict with purpose range greatly as the conflict is either a driving force for the plot or aides in character development/evolution.

Examples of pointless conflict also exist. Take a series like Tom and Jerry or Pop Eye for example. They offer hours of entertainment but you know the next episode is just a rinse and repeat of what you just watched. It has no plot and is just there to kill time.

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