Conflict Makes The Character

By Helen Ko. Helen studies Biosystems Engineering at Auburn University, and lives in Tallassee, Alabama, USA. Please read her article and leave thoughts and comments below.

Humanity is defined by four unique traits: the ability to reason; innovation; the double face of kindness and cruelty; and the potential to adapt to, and overcome, conflict. The human body and mind are capable of surviving odds that seem insurmountable. They are designed to preserve the person possessing them in the most whole shape possible. They also tend more towards avoiding conflict than diving headfirst into it. However, conflict is a defining part of every life, and without it, it is not possible for a person to reach their fullest potential. Veronica Roth, renowned author of the famous Divergent series, stated that “If there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling—or reading.” She is right.

Conflict brings out either the best or worse in a person: whichever emerges in the fading light of conflict, it is a true reflection of a part of that person, a part honed by past and present conflict. The heart of a good story is conflict because conflict defines a person or situation; it leaves an indelible mark on who a person is or is becoming. Stories are, at the core, so enjoyable because we connect to the people in them. We want to see them change, progress, grow. Conflict promotes this.

Conflict can be small or large, insignificant or significant, but it reveals aspects of a person that may never be seen without it. Conflicts help people stretch the boundaries of what they thought they were capable of. Conflict brings out inner strength. Conflict pushes people to max out their potential and go beyond it.

Furthermore, conflict in a story captures the reader’s attention. It evokes empathy and creates a connection between the reader and the character. When we read, we become enthralled with plot, with the world, and with the character. The first two are indeed very important, and much enhanced by conflict, but it is the third that truly allows you to immerse yourself within a story. Even with a less than stellar plot or average world building ability, a writer who can create a character that the reader becomes attached to has guaranteed a readership, because the reader reads out of a need to see what has happened to the character they have come to love. They become emotionally involved. You journey with the character, struggle with them, cry with them, and rejoice as they climb to the top. You want to see them grow as a person. You want to see them become everything that they can be, and it is conflict that can take a person and mold them into something new. Even the most unlikeable characters, when perceived through the lens of a conflict that changes them into the more the constraints of the past were preventing them from being, can be relatable to the reader. Conflict not only urges along the growth we like to see, but it is also a large part of what makes up who a character is. Every thought and action of a character is marked by the pain and lessons learned from past conflicts. A person who has never experienced conflict is not a person most people want to read about unless conflict enters their life in the course of the story.

A person who has never been through conflict is untried, untested, and has only barely skimmed the surface of becoming. Such a person has not even begun the climb towards the peak of their ability and endurance. Such characters are wonderful for showing development in stories where conflict exists, for in the haze of conflict the becoming of the person is very apparent. However, to place such a character into a comfortable, easy setting with nary a difficulty is to set the character to stagnate and exist. This is hardly relatable, hardly worth exploring. Many people would claim that the issue with a story that lacks conflict is that it is boring. This may be true, but it is too simplistic of an explanation. The fact is, that, a story without conflict is not actually a story and a character who has never known conflict and does not become acquainted with it is not a person but an automaton, a bland, lifeless creation. Such cannot be related to. So, it is easy to concur with Roth that without conflict, stories are not much worth reading or writing. It is, after all, conflict that makes not just the story, but the characters who are the heart and breath of the story.

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