They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I ask, what are those things that can either kill you or make you stronger?
Conflict can literally either get you beaten black and blue or let you walk away with the money in the bank as a champion like fighters in the WWE. These examples don’t even cover half the definitions of conflict.
The meaning of conflict is not restricted to disagreement, argument, war or violence.
As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, this can exist “If beliefs, needs or facts, etc. conflict, they are very different and cannot easily exist together or both be true”. Another definition of conflict by the same dictionary is when there are opposing demands or ideas and a choice has to be made between them.
Michael Nicholson, an English journalist, defined conflict as an activity which takes place when conscious beings (individuals or groups) wish to carry out mutually inconsistent acts concerning their wants, needs or obligations.
Two underlying ideas can be inferred from these definitions:
- Humans are so alike yet different. Take two identical twins that started sharing things from the womb. They have the same genes, parents, school, house and the list goes on but like snowflakes they have different personalities. I doubt there are two people who can agree on everything.
- Conflicts are inevitable parts of human life because of our differences. We have different beliefs, needs, wants, views of life and obligations etc. There is bound to be a clash of interest. According to Stephen Moyer, conflict is drama and how people deal with conflict shows you the kind of people they are.
Conflict often appears in story-telling narratives. Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives a literature-based definition of conflict as ‘the opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama or fiction’. Cambridge Dictionary refers to conflict used in literature as the forces that oppose each other to create the plot in a story, book or film.
The Cambridge Dictionary also lists two types of conflict:
- External conflict: a struggle between characters or between characters and nature or society.
- Internal conflict: a character’s struggles to change or understand themselves.
Veronica Roth argued that “If there is no conflict, there are no stories worth telling or reading”. I totally agree with this. Conflict is the story in and of itself. It could be the reason a character is born in the first place. We need someone to navigate through a sequence of events in different settings to get to the climax then to the resolution.
Conflict happens when the characters we love to love desires something but the characters we can’t help but hate are a stumbling block. I wonder what Cinderella’s story would be like without her step-mom and sisters. If these antagonists didn’t exist, it would definitely not be as exciting for the name Cinderella to ring a bell when mentioned. Perhaps, the meeting of her Prince Charming would have been uneventful and there wouldn’t have been a need for a fairy godmother.
A reader picks up a book to read for many reasons. It does not necessarily have to make you cry emotionally for it to be good. People read for pleasure, entertainment, to escape for a moment from the challenging issues of reality and of course to pass an exam, among others reasons. It takes a good book to make a reader feel something — laugh out loud, yell at a character, go through boxes of tissues crying, because the reader has been tricked into believing that the world in the book is real. Books can blur the line between fantasy and reality.
Reading the conflicting situations of characters in a book and how they react to the conflict resonates with the reader’s own conflicts in reality. Would the reader have felt a thing if there was no conflict to drive a character, showing strength and weakness like any human? Would a reader anticipate reading a book where everything is perfect when in real life everything is never perfect? What would be the need for the reader to turn to the next page if there is no conflict to be resolved?
Just like Stephen Moyer, readers want to know the kind of people our characters are before we decide if they deserve our love or hate. How do we set apart a book which you may never finish reading from one which you do finish and want to lend to everyone you know? Even this can be a conflict. Thomas Paine argued that ‘The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph’ but I would say that the more intrigued the readers are, the more glorious the triumph.
A story would only be worth reading or telling if a reader can relate to the character and form a personal connection with the character. It only occurs when they are nose and eyeballs deep into the story, forgetting that the character’s thoughts and feelings are not the reader’s. Tension created by the conflict is what draws the reader deep into the book with each page turn, aching to know what happens next. The human struggle of a character engages readers, immersing them in the world of the character cajoling them to believe in the make-belief. To watch characters confront their hardships and uncertainties makes readers feel better about their own conflict, confusion and fears.
Finally, “Life is like a book. Some chapters are sad, some happy and some exciting. But if you never turn the page, you will never know what the next chapter holds”, as Brian Falkner argued. Only conflict has the power to make a reader turn the next page. If there were no conflicts, any reader can most definitely guess what the next chapter holds — happily ever after, which could make the story predictable and not as exciting of a narrative.