Heart of the Story – Conflict

By Naman Munshi. Naman is from Surat, Gujarat, in India, and is an author. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Story telling is an art which should fascinate listeners or readers. If someone speaks or writes that two persons, one male, John, and one female, Jennie, met, got married and had children, how many people would like to listen to or read this story is the big question.

A boy is born, brought up, becomes a king, and lives happily. Does this feel or sound interesting? Certainly, 99.99 percent of people will say no. What’s new in this? But a story about a boy and his difficulties in birth and upbringing? How he struggles to survive in childhood and after becomes king? What afterwards makes him a great king? That’s much more interesting. The human and natural calamities he faces on his journey are elements which make the storyteller and listeners enthusiastic and impressive. That is the conflict factor which makes any story spicy and juicy.

If Titans had reached safely to their destination; would they have created history or a film worth watching? If we excluded Voldemort from Harry Potter, the rest would be boring, too. Watching lions in a zoo gives a few joyful moments, but meeting a lion in a safari or jungle gives a lifetime of thrill and thunder. Some people will like to stay at hotels during outing and be content there; others are born to run, rumple, and roam. It is conflict that fascinates either in stories, or in real life. Without conflict, life would become like a textbook instead of a novel. An incomplete love story will be more acceptable to people rather than an easy-going-lovebirds type of love story. People relate in reading or hearing stories with conflicts because they encounter conflicts even in their day to day life. They find the hero or protagonist as a portion of their own body. I don’t know a single person in life that doesn’t have conflict.

Why does someone tell a story? Simple: because there are a few who will listen to him. Why does someone write a story or novel? Just in a hope that someone, somewhere will read it. The sunrise and sunset are daily things, but even it creates multiple shades and colours in sky, which attracts people to see. Conflict or struggle produces creativity in ideas, imagination, expectations and, of course, in story telling or reading.

Astonishment, excitement, sensations, and aggravations are the byproduct or fruits of conflicts in stories. Every good appreciated story has a conflict at the core of it.

Even in real life, conflicted personalities have been admired and applauded by millions and millions of people of the world. Former US President, Barack Obama, had previously been a user of drugs such as marijuana and cocaine; but seeing that the abuse of these substances was a great failure, and could ruin his life forever, he realized it was a misguided mistake on his end, and stopped consuming them.

The childhood conflict of Charles Spencer Chaplin, best known as Charlie Chaplin, has made him great – one of the greatest of the world. Oprah Winfrey was molested by her cousin, a family friend, and even by her uncle. She was raped at age of 9. It continued without shame till, at the age 13, she ran away from home. Madonna was held up at gun point, raped on the roof of a building that she was dragged up to with a knife in her back, and had her apartment broken into three times in New York. Michael Jackson had a very tough period in life while entering his teenage years, where he lost the courage to even look in a mirror.

All of these and thousands of similar people are inspiring the world with the positivity of the human capacity and fighting spirit against all odds. They have tolerated all afflictive blows and punches from either destiny or simply other human beings. The world is not the world without such ‘Adamant Heroes’. The most important factor of becoming a hero is common in all of them: conflict.

Stories having conflict and variation of highs and lows, life and death, love and hate, makes it more interesting. Conflicts, whether external, between two or more characters, or internal, between protagonist and their own ethics, handled correctly by characters, strengthens the entire story.

Most of the time, conflict becomes the driving force of a story, which affects the readers tremendously. It helps to build up postures and attitude of characters. It forces our characters to make a choice when multiple choices are there. A story without proper conflict won’t stimulate growth in the characters and ultimately won’t be able to hold a reader’s or listener’s interest.

No matter what type of story anybody is writing or telling, the readers and listeners will always expect conflicts as an important part of a story. Of course, there is care to be taken: it should be appropriate and believable; it also depends on genre, the audience, the readers.

Thinking about a story without conflicts is like reaching the moon without crossing earth environment. Conflict is and always will be a key component in a good story. Conflict increases suspense, heightens tension, and reveals the strengths and weaknesses of characters. Above all, it will make and show different values of happiness, success, joy of achievements, good moments. It will satisfy the enthusiasm, excitement and sentiment of readers.

In stories, conflict, either external or internal, will supply or create tensions. When a protagonist accepts the challenges of an antagonist in any form, everyone knows that one will be victorious and the other will be defeated.

Sometime writers avoid conflicts, thinking it is unrealistic how people jump out from speeding trains or boats, compete with death or take two hands against a hooligan. But this is why readers or listeners want all these non-realistic things to be done by a protagonist or by the characters of a story. If they could have done such things themselves, why would they would even look at the book?

Readers will feel unresolved tension from not knowing the outcome of a story. Even if they know the good guy will win, they need to know how the good guy wins, and how the villain would react. In other words, what is the motivation for the bad guy to do this or for the good guy to fight? How does the villain ‘fess up right at the very end? Readers or listeners want that moment, even if it is a bad book, story, or movie.

Conflict brings stories to life. Any story is a tale of conflict; without conflict, a story ends up being a list of events, which never will be interesting. Not just a hundred- or two-hundred-page story, but a film or even a half-hour TV show contains conflict. There is always the one character which viewers or readers love to love, and one to hate.

Sherwood Wirt said that, “fiction is characters in conflict.” I strongly agree that “If there is no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading.” It is not part of the story – it is heart of the story.

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