At the Heart of Conflict

By Lucas Grochot dos Santos. Lucas is from Santo Antônio do Palma in Brazil and has selected to write on the topic of conflict and the role it plays in storytelling. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

When it comes to crafting a story, to create a world in which the readers can lose themselves and hide away from everything else, there’s hardly an immovable set of rules we have to follow, because no story cannot be told. Yet, as I stumble across this quote from Veronica Roth, where she talks about how conflict is the moving force of a worthy story, I can’t help but balk, wondering to myself of the meaning behind this.

I had to go after some context on her words, to perhaps understand what she was talking about. At the start, it seemed absolutely privileged of someone to say that rupture can be the only way for a story to be set in motion–although I have to admit that our own stories begin exactly like that. Be it directly from the womb of our mothers, to when we find our families or our own paths, there’s always a break in the chain of space-time that nudges us towards where we have to go.

With this in mind, I’d say Roth goes back and forth based on her own assumptions about what type of stories she would want to read or tell, highlighting human nature in itself.

I’d hardly expect someone to yearn for our flawed version of a world to become even worse for their personal enjoyment, although I wouldn’t rule that out for every person in humanity. Most of us certainly speculate about a world in which everything is better than it is now, and if you don’t think that, maybe you have the privilege of not doing so.

Establishing that suffering is the only way through which we can keep on living is quite a jaded way of seeing the world, but not wrong in the least. We see people around us making bad decisions, and the vision from our mirrors is not that different. The people who govern the world make mistakes, though sometimes, they simply don’t care enough about our future, or about what kind of future we’ll have in a certain number of years.

It’s like they already follow Roth’s initial words, assuming that conflict, pain, or rupture is the only way to go. And it might be the easiest path to follow because, in our flawed world, mishaps happen even when we don’t plan for them to. And doing nothing, or at least not doing enough, might be easy. We’ll deal with the fallout later.

When she said, ‘if there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling’, perhaps she was extending a critique to the point of view of all the people who think their lives are perfect. And not because they can live with the hand they were dealt, but because they never had to actively fight for a change in the first place. Because their lives never had to undergo a transformative experience, or a dangerously divisive one,  where a mistake could cost the things you value the most, not the things that more money can buy.

I’m sure I’d be the first to beg for a life without conflict. World peace, as the Hollywood depiction of a Miss USA would say. But isn’t this kind of peace something utopic? A fever dream that could only take shape in a fictional story, nowhere else to be seen outside of the pages of a book.

And perhaps Roth is right when she says that a story without conflict is not worth reading because reading about utopias might be depressing when you turn on the TV or check a news page. And it might be for that same reason that dystopian stories are so popular. There’s a dose of wishful thinking on our part when we read them, because if they are so much worse than the world we live in now, and people still found a way to have a happy ending, or the respective representation of one, we also have a happy ending in sight, don’t we?

With those stories in mind, we can rest assured that, at the end of our own story, the last words will be responsible for holding a candle in the middle of the darkness, even if only to illuminate our very next steps. Yet, we keep on living in the present, where there’s no end in sight. At least not the good kind.

We might even live in our own dystopian world. Those conflicts in books are allegories of some of the real conflicts we see, yet at the heart of it, they are still non-existent. The pain in those words is hardly felt physically, especially when there’s real pain here, in our own world. I’m sure many of us would wish for there to be a perfect story to be told, one where the state of desperation and loss is unreachable, and there are only good things awaiting us, which is the ultimate utopia in itself. And one that definitely will only exist in fiction.

Many of us are trying to write a story that could fall under that category. So, Roth says reading stories without conflict isn’t something worth your time, but I’d say living in stories without conflict is almost impossible. Even if not now, most of us will never experience life wholly without pain. And maybe the only comfort in knowing this is that, at the very least, our story might be worth telling.

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