Even though a good story is a gem, it should not gloss over the character’s struggles, pains, anger or regrets but it should rather try to find the warmth, humour and the human spirit of the people who are, too often, buried beneath the mountains of conflict. It is for this reason that this essay reads in agreement with Veronica Roth’s adage; “if there’s no conflict then there are no stories worth reading or telling.” But it is difficult to survey and discuss the adage in any coherent way without knowing the questions in which it can be usefully considered. Hence, to set up the framework on which our discussion will be based, we must ask the following questions: what is conflict in a story? Why does it matter, and what purpose does it serve? What significant assertion can be made from the supposedly existent stories with conflict in them, and those without?
To start with, conflict in literature refers to a problem, confrontation or opposition that the characters in a story face that, in turn, has chances to influence the turn of events in the plot. There are two major types of conflict being internal and external.
Internal conflict is one which occurs in the mind of the character. For instance, the character can, in a story, be faced with the modern dilemma of whether to stay with her rogue of a partner or ditch him after seven years of being in a relationship. In such a scenario, the character would be conflicted with a dazzling array of choices; it becomes a conflict of head and heart, of her will and of love itself. A situation where love and truth are head-on in collision – so should love, or feeling, replace truth?
External conflict, on the other hand, as the name itself clarifies, is a direct opposition from the outside; a force that comes from one’s environment. Though, unlike internal conflict, external conflict has other sub-conflicts in it. The best example for such conflict would be a situation where the character begins to studiously avoid going home to her parents for the holidays as a way of dodging the unspoken but implied nagging question, “Takuli aba aba pongoshi nanomba?” (No husband as of yet?) Relatives at first begin to hint (conflict of character verses character), then boldly suggest and coax her to perhaps see a witch doctor or even a prophet (conflict of character verses the supreme), to find out as to why, at twenty nine, she is not married yet. In such a scenario the character could be exhausted with the dating scenes but might not be ready to let being single, like every desperate woman’s mantra, put her life on hold and cause her to make unreasonable decisions. In her mind she knows she is not anti-men or anti-marriage in the least, and therefore wonders from questions and doubts if an answer could be found from throwing a few bones and sneezing through the box of snuff, or whatever gets down when one goes to see a witch doctor.
Like everyone else, story tellers and writers too have gone through several life regrets, inner battles, and moments of truth (however unpleasant) and/or wisdom (however unwelcome). Most of the writers’ lives are numbskull solitary affairs that consist of staring at blank screens, drinking gallons of coffee or writing half pages and erasing them. Because of the challenges and conflicts they face, they too become sensitive to the feelings of readers and hence feel the need to bring something from their lives and backgrounds to bear on their characters. They know that don’t have to always present their stories with perfect worry-free characters, as readers love to read something that they would resonate with. People want to hear stories shared in all aspects, including the foolish actions and decisions that their character takes instead of reading perfect, modified stories. It should give the readers a sense that it is from a genuine telling of a story. It’s like the reader gets behind the scenes and takes on what it is like to be in such a conflict.
For many writers, each day is a kind of torture that requires facing failure and picking up something half made. They, at times, feel stuck, fed up and frustrated but I guess the guides have always known that it takes years to became skilled at conflict story telling. While some feel eluded, others wade through the knock backs of rejection because they know that by the time they would have finished writing their conflict story, they would have specifically (and in detail) managed to put up a masterful story and infuse energy, freshness and suspense into what could have been yet another predictable story.
Every good story teller/writer knows that it is not enough to have cloying topics like relationships – and those cutesy pink covers don’t help either; they know that they have to find an atmosphere of emotion that would attach itself to a place and, in turn, begin to give rise to the characters.
The thing about stories with conflict is that they do not only fill the pages, but they also fill and define the reader’s life. One does not grow or change unless there is conflict. Conflicts in stories have the power to be the genesis of self-realization to a reader, especially internal conflict which usually makes readers steal moments to think, introspect and reflect with regards to their lives. It makes readers understand that though they would love to marry the beautiful seemingly impossible spaces of life, there is no place in the world that will be given to them that is already neatly curved and ready to go. Conflict will always be there but at the end of the story comes the solution.
Like in the two scenarios given, conflict is essential in storytelling and to the reader because they make stories sound more real, understandable, and relatable making the story interesting to both the writer/storyteller and the reader/audience. Some conflict in stories raise dilemmas containing intriguing questions about marriage, friendship, commitment and about the modern girl’s quest for independence. There is no shame telling a story that is dark, or eccentric, and takes on one’s epic struggle with the harsh realities of adult conflict. Readers do not express emotions without conflict.
Every good writer wants their story to be a page turner hence why they keep the final things, and conflict keeps the readers wanting more but not as much as to reveal its full nakedness. Conflict keeps readers on their toes. The readers would read more because they want to know how the conflict would be resolved; they are curious and ask questions, more or less subconsciously, as they read but the secret they don’t not know is that, to ask the questions is to answer them, especially those that they can relate to.
Conflict in a story makes readers understand what it is about successful people that makes others admire them. It’s the lack of bitterness toward life and self-forgiveness.
One of the great German sociological thinkers Karl Marx once said, “struggle rather than peaceful growth is the prime mover of progress.” This is also true for conflict stories which, in this case, are termed as a struggle. Conflict gives life and depth to a story. It invokes in a story a sense of continuity, like a stream becoming a river, inevitably leading towards an ocean. It drives the plot and gives the writer an idea of what to write next.
Conflict in a story does not in any way entail that the character never got his glory days, but rather that stories of glory usually begin with conflict and struggle which teach lessons.
I strongly agree with Veronica’s adage, but I would love to state that I feel she said it more from a writer’s view and did not actually mean conflict should be the means by which we acquire things. Despite the former transition, war is still viewed as the legitimate means of resolving issues. Violence against foreigners, which can be traced back to colonial days, has come back in the 21st century; the unparalleled barbarism of the worst kind of racism and morality with its new face “xenophobia “, has police claiming they have sufficient human resources to protect life and property in the face of public violence, only to end up reading and watching that violence and bloodshed, and this will only stop when foreigners leave. But, if calm can be returned, not because the rule of law has been retained, but because what is believed to be the source of conflict (foreigners) have been removed, is it not the same as implying that ideas are more important than people? Is it not giving respect to brutal warriors than peace? Why blame others for problems that, at base, cannot be contained by any number of armed men but by the social, political and economic development of a country. Can we term this and such stories like war, or any form of conflict, as worthy a story to tell or read? Is it not inhumane?
In conclusion, the degree to which this adage is correct is the degree to which one is able to ‘comprehend’, because without this foundation, all knowledge becomes suspect and any flaw in view of this will make a writer’s life difficult and every reader bored.