Veronica Roth: “if there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling.”
Before I tell you if I agree or disagree with the quote by this American author, I asked myself these four questions:
- What is the difference between a story with conflict and one without?
- What is a story?
- Who determines the value of a story?
- What’s the goal of the story?
In order to answer the first question, I’m going to share a personal story. Both of the following stories are seen through the eyes of a travel blogger who’s in her thirties.
One foot goes after another. Slowly. Very slowly. Up the misty Scottish mountain. My heart is beating so loudly that I fear it wants to jump out of my chest. I wonder, with every beat, if this will be the last one. I ask too much of my body. Even though I can’t see myself, my lips are turning into a dark blue colour similar to blackberries. My lungs are protesting with a feeling of thousand needles that are dancing around in my breathing organs. And yet, the words ‘giving up’ don’t come to mind at all. Despite all the stress in my body, there’s still a smile on my face.
Only, mother nature decided not to make it too easy for me today. The white clouds are hiding the old man I want to see so badly. Behind me, the sky is turning into an ominous red sky. It’s the warning of hurricane Ophelia, who’s terrorizing Ireland and the United Kingdom. Here, on the Isle of Skye, she’s predicted later this afternoon. So there isn’t much time left. Would this be a trip with a disappointing end?
If I had asked my lung physician permission, he would have voted a big NO. In capital letters. That’s why I never ask for his consent. For anything. Ever since I’ve been on the waiting list for a double lung transplant I try to explore my boundaries. Well, explore. It’s more like going beyond those boundaries. This is one of my most dangerous ideas. No, I’m not rock climbing. No, I’m not going to jump of the cliff. I’m just hiking. Nothing exciting about it. For any other, healthy, person that is. I think it takes an average human-being 30 minutes to hike up as far as I am on this mountain path, maybe less. It takes me an hour and a half, and still I’m not at the top. With pulmonary hypertension, I have a heart double the size of a ‘normal’ (what is normal?) person and right now I’ve probably an oxygen level of 60 percent. Not the best state for one’s body. To compare, a healthy person has an oxygen level of 98 – 100 percent. So what am I doing here, crawling up this hill?
I came all this far to see this nature wonder, the Old man of Storr. Not some ancient wise druid, but an ancient pinnacle rock on this unearthly isle. To be more precise, I drove 1500 kilometers from the Netherlands, all by myself, on the wrong side of the road. (Well, for this Dutch woman it is.) Just a dream I had for many years, and if an opportunity comes along, healthy or not, I must take it. So here I am, as an accidental travel blogger and house-sitter, but that’s a story for later to tell.
I think a snail just passed me by. Ok, that’s enough, it’s time to go back. I look up, one more time. It is if I just have said some magical words. The weather gods lift up the white veil and there he is. The mainstage actor who eventually decided to turn up for the show. It is breath-taking. And not only literally. I’m just back in my car in time when Ophelia decides it’s time for her appearance.
Make sure you wear proper shoes when you’re hiking the most famous walk on the Isle of Skye. The Old man of Storr is a large pinnacle of rock that stands high and was created a massive ancient landside. Usually it’s also one of the busiest walks, in this area known as Trotternish, but not today. It’s October, autumn has brought colours of brown and orange to the landscape, but it’s also a day that hurricane Ophelia has announced herself. The red sky is a warning of her arrival. So while I cover the distance to the top of 3.8 km, there are only a few other hikers. It takes me 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach the top. Be aware that it can be misty and that you aren’t able to spot the rock. The clouds just disappear magically when I enter the last stage of my walk, the muddy steep path. The foot of the Old Man becomes very steep, so I have to continue with care. I’m glad I wore my new boots. The view from here is gorgeous, with a look out to sea over the Islands of Raasay and Rona and beyond to the mainland. I see the ‘Storr Lochs’ and the Cuillin Hills. After I’ve taken a few fantastic shots with my camera, I find a quiet corner to eat my homemade lunch. It takes me 30 minutes to get downhill, just in time for Ophelia’s show. I decide I earned the best hot chocolate the Isle serves. For this, I drive to the Single Track café. Here I enjoy my homemade cocoa, with Belgium chocolate, and with a breath-taking view.
Back to the questions
You probably get the point of the difference between the two stories. By the way, the second story is me in a fictional healthy state. Conflicts, or challenges, make an entirely different tale. It’s a sharing of someone’s soul, in my opinion. It shows character if someone still chases after certain goals, no matter what the conflicts are. It brings more depth into a story. We all deal with struggles in life and to see we are not the only one can give us strength to deal with our own troubles.
The second one is more informational oriented. It is handy information if you want to visit the Isle of Skye. And still, we can call them both a story. According to the Oxford dictionary, a story is: ‘an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment’. That does not only include stories in books, with contradictive characters and impossible challenges, but also a report of an item of news in a newspaper, magazine, or broadcast. Or blogs. Even rumours and lies are stories. But not all of them possess conflicts. Some are just to entertain, or to give information.
So, who decides it’s worth telling? Or, who determines the value of a story? First of all, it’s up to the narrator. What does he or she wants to share desperately? And what is it the reader is looking for? Maybe you’ve just decided to visit the Isle of Skye, then the second one is more worth reading, than the first one, even though there are no conflicts. It can give you the information you are looking for. It makes you pack your good footwear, for example. This is automatically an answer to the question: what is your goal with the story? What is the reason you are telling or reading it?
That’s why I cannot agree with Veronica Roth: “if there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling.”
However, I assume that is not entirely what she meant. I guess she wanted to express that conflicts bring a story to another level. A tale where we can grow and learn from. That we are not the only ones who are facing difficult challenges. It can inspire us to reconnect with our soul.
A hero of mine, Dutch bestselling-author Geert Kimpen, said it more beautifully than I ever could. These are his translated words, as he wrote in his latest book ‘Het meisje dat aan de oever verscheen’: “Only when you challenge yourself, explore boundaries and have goals that are a size too big, then it turns into a story. Only then he discovers sides of himself he wasn’t aware of. He’ll be lying awake at night, not knowing how to continue. Only after he conquered real difficulties will he have a story to tell.”
And aren’t those the stories that touch your soul on a deeper level? The ones with XXL goals, that are a size too big?
So I don’t agree with how Veronica has put it. I would have said it differently. This would be my version: If there’s no conflict, there are no stories that touch the soul.
And you can quote me on this one.