From the writer’s perspective

By Precious Betty Kaoma. She lives in Mufulira, Zambia and works as a secondary school teacher, teaching Mathematics. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

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.

81 comments on “From the writer’s perspective

  1. Bwalya Mwelwa on

    The article is very well articulated and how I wish everyone could read it. Keep it up precious. Too bad that the only people who can understand and see your view point are those standing on the same ground as you are.

  2. Mwelwa on

    Well articulated and on point. Your line of thought is well presented in this piece of writing and it’s in good wording. Keep it up precious.

  3. Pastor Shadrick on

    Beautiful article and well articulated. Indeed it is from the writer’s perspective. Well researched article keep it up.

  4. Penelope Kakoma on

    Wow, it is well articulated honey😘, this is
    a very much interesting story, am so proud of you honey.. I pray that this article will be Identified.

  5. Clinton Kadochi on

    Perspective matters… and this perspective is worth reading and mostly importantly worth celebrating and sharing.
    The uniqueness and sincerity in the flow of the words is captivating.

    Great piece my friend.

  6. Clifford Kashimbaya on

    This is brilliant piece of work my dear Teacher.Your thought of thinking has enhanced my skills of authoring a novel.Let us bang it!!!

  7. Martin Chama on

    After reading this piece, something struck my mind, “without darkness, light cannot be appreciated and without weaker nations, the strength of powerful nation is useless.”
    Beautiful piece, Precious!

  8. Twasanta A. Kalala on

    Great work.
    Much work was put in this piece, I love how you articulated and emphasised on comprehension of the adage. True without understanding knowledge is just knowledge and cannot be used in accordance..

  9. Jacob Masenga on

    Literature that has depth; one that leaves a lasting impression in the minds of readers.
    This perspective elightens more on conflict, which creates depth and evidence of growth in storytelling. It is also an encouragement to all writers to be resilent and grow ‘beneath the mountains of conflict!’
    Profound piece Precious.

  10. Chipepo muyunda on

    Precious this is great and awesome. We need people thinking like this and the world will be a better place to live in because there will be no conflicts. Thanks a lot for this article God bless you and write more.

  11. Chipili on

    This article is so insightful, a must read for every other aspiring story teller out there.
    It’s written with an air of clarity that’s unique to the author.
    Keep up the impressive word Ms precious.

  12. Mercy Mwenshi on

    Wow great piece Betty.. Conflict in stories creates tension and nobody would love to waste their hard earned money on something boring….hence if there are no conflicts then there are no stories worth to telling.

  13. Evelyn Mwale on

    Wow this is wonderful and true I conquer with you,some novels do not even sell and are often overlooked due to their sole focus on cloying topics.. conflict is sometimes used to creat drama so the reader can get into what someone is really feeling.

  14. Parton Mwewa on

    Great analysis there!!! It’s hard to comprehend the scale of pain which is inflicted on people who face conflict with regard to violence and bloodshed hence yeah it would be inhuman to support such .


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