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 Post subject: Plot without conflict?
PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 6:51 pm 
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Lately, I have very low tolerance for fictional suffering. I get enough of the real thing from the news. I want my fiction to be an equivalent of a soothing bath. But writing 101 is that there is no plot without the conflict that prevents the character from achieving their goals.

Is there?

(Setting aside for the moment the point that conflict does not necessarily mean suffering. Or does it?)

And then I came across this thought-provoking article.

The significance of plot without conflict

Thoughts?

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 7:06 pm 
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(No, I don't believe conflict must equate to suffering. Conflict can be a simple as trying to decide what to have for dinner.)

We do definitely view a lot of subjects through a cultural lens, even when we don't realize it. I know I've written stories that I self-criticized for not having a 'story arc' but then I like to break rules ;)

I would definitely like to try specifically branching into non-conflict stories, though! I liked the little soda comic provided.

Will definitely be bookmarking this for future study!

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 4:15 am 
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On reflection, I am landing on the side of conflict = suffering. Even if it is just a very minor discomfort.

Compare:

Quote:
"Let's go for Chinese."

"Nah, we've gone the last two times. How about Indian?"

"I don't really feel like spicy food. Let's get pizza."

"Yeah, pizza's great."


There's a brief difference of opinion, but no conflict, just two people brainstorming together until both are happy. Now this:

Quote:
"Let's go for Chinese."

"No way! Do you want to get the coronavirus?"

"Well, that's just racist."

"How's that racist when all the sick people are literally coming from China?"

"Fine. Let's get pizza. But you are being ridiculous."


Conflict! One person feels attacked as well as scared of contagion. The other is disappointed. This is not exactly Frodo-level of suffering but it's not nothing either. Moreover, the reader may feel attacked or disappointed along with the characters. Unhappiness increases all around.

But can the first scenario be at all engaging without introducing conflict?

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 4:20 pm 
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Seems relevant:
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 11:09 pm 
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Frelga wrote:
On reflection, I am landing on the side of conflict = suffering. Even if it is just a very minor discomfort.?

I'm not so sure of this. We all know people who thrive on conflict, and actively seek it out. Could it be said that for them, the absence of conflict is suffering?

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2020 4:01 pm 
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A spate of books I listened too recently seemed to be one fight scene after another, unending. The plots were minorly engaging, so I stuck with the series for a few books, but eventually burned out. I really wanted a book that didn't have unending fight scenes. So I decided a romance novel was the way to go. Urban fantasy, of course, because I get bored with mundane reality stories.

So I signed up for Audible "Escape" which features romance novels, mostly. Some of which I've already read and they were just regular fantasy novels with a romance on the side. Those are fine.

I filtered the books offered in the Escape category, and sorted them as to customer ratings. This put a dragon shifter series at the top of the list and while dubious, I thought... well, I really like the Mercy Thompson shifter series. Maybe this is just as good?

So I downloaded the book and started in. In less than a chapter, the two romantic leads had met and fallen into bed with each other in far too much graphic detail. No reasons for the unrelenting attraction for each other, just a whole lot of descriptions of how hot they thought each other were. :roll: I stuck with it for another chapter or two, but the book was the opposite end of the spectrum from the endless violence stories. Now I was getting icked out by endless lust. :roll:

I eventually found some books with some balance, but for a while there I was getting pretty discouraged.
I don't mind some violence in stories, or some lust for that matter. I DO expect, though, to have a decent plot to string it all together.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2020 6:49 am 
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Maria, I suppose a story that consists of characters lusting after each other and happily acting on their lust counts as plot without conflict. It's a specific case, sure, but it counts.

Jude wrote:
I'm not so sure of this. We all know people who thrive on conflict, and actively seek it out. Could it be said that for them, the absence of conflict is suffering?


Well, if all parties are having fun, it's not really a conflict, is it. If it's only one party, then the other is probably experiencing some measure of suffering.

Sometimes, it is the avoidance of conflict that causes the conflict, as in the story of Hillel who was one of the most famous sages in Israel during the period of Roman rule, c. 30 BCE (he of the Golden Rule - "that which is hateful to you do not do unto others.").

Quote:
Once there were two men who made a wager, saying that whoever could anger Hillel would receive four hundred Zuzim (= silver coins).

That day was Friday, and Hillel was washing his hair for Shabbat. One of the men went to the door of Hillel's house and said, "Is Hillel here? Is Hillel here?" Hillel put on his robe and went to greet the man. He sat him down and asked him, "What do you want, my son?" The man replied, "I have a question I must ask!" Hillel replied, "Ask, my son, ask." The man posed his question: "Why do Babylonians have elongated heads?" Hillel replied, "You have asked a good question, my son! It is because their midwives are not well-skilled [and the head becomes misshapen at birth]."...

/snip for more annoying questions and patient answers while Hillel is trying to get his hair washed/

The man then said, "I have many more questions to ask -- but I am afraid that you will become angry at me." Hillel wrapped himself in a garment and sat down before the man, saying, "Ask all the questions you wish to ask!" The man said to him, "Are you the Hillel whom they call 'Nassi'?" Hillel said, "Yes, I am." The man retorted, "If you are he, then may there not be many others like you in Israel! It is because of you that I have lost four hundred Zuzim!" Hillel scolded him, saying, "Mind that you don't act so impulsively! Better that many times four hundred Zuzim be lost through Hillel, than that Hillel should become angry!"


Full story here: https://dafyomi.co.il/parsha/behalot2.htm

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2020 3:34 pm 
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I think that may be seeing 'conflict' through an unnecessarily narrow lens. Conflict in terms of plot, my understanding is that it is simply what prevents someone from getting what they want. There is no need for things to be intentionally aggressive, they just prevent you from reaching your goal, like trying to find a place to have lunch but every spot you try has some reason you don't want to stay - a couple making out a bit too much, too loud, too much wind, whatever. These are all preventing you from sitting down and eating your meal. But they're incidental, not deliberately antagonistic.

But that's the basis of the 'conflict' plot theory - three types of conflict, man vs self, man vs man, man vs environment (or circumstance)

You can be what is preventing you from getting what you want, someone else may be preventing it, or circumstance may prevent it, but that is the conflict to be 'overcome' at the climax.

Again, I absolutely do not think this is the only valid way to tell a story, and I'd absolutely love to learn more about other ways it has been done. That one little comic example reminded me of a haiku in picture form - you have a setting, then a pivot to something else. She did not get the thing for herself but for, perhaps, a lonely or hungry other person. It's a beautiful snippet of humanity.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2020 7:15 pm 
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How can you even have a plot, if there is no conflict/tension? That's why all fairy tales end with, "and they lived happily ever after". There's no point in describing the happily ever after. There's no plot. The story is over.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2020 7:23 pm 
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Maria wrote:
How can you even have a plot, if there is no conflict/tension? That's why all fairy tales end with, "and they lived happily ever after". There's no point in describing the happily ever after. There's no plot. The story is over.


But that's also a very western idea of a story, no? Does a story need to end happily? Does plot need to be overcoming something to be considered worthwhile?

It seems to me it's basically taking the elements of a haiku and expanding them to a story. You have a setting, you have an action, you have a combination and resolution. Tension without conflict maybe? Or maybe just different degrees of what we think of as conflict - maybe tension is a type of conflict, after all. Because we want resolution to the tension?

It's a fascinating thing to try so hard to see the world from a position that, in a sense, does not exist for you. Right? Like learning a new language that functions on a completely different understanding of words and grammar - so far beyond anything you've ever experienced that you may even ask "is this even a language" - but is language just words and grammar, or is it the ability to express things in a way others can understand?

I like the idea of thinking about what a plot can be if not conflict, if only because why should a story as I know it be the only way to tell one?

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2020 12:44 am 
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Being more of a movie guy than a book guy, I decided to look through the list of my favorite movies to see if there was anything I thought might qualify as having a plot without conflict. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, I didn't find any amongst regular movies. I did, however, remember an absolutely wonderful documentary called Man on a Wire that I do think qualifies. It is real life story about a man who decides that he is going to try and do a tightrope walk between the old twin towers of the world trade center. While the story does have tension, regarding how they are going to pull off this wild feat, there is next to nothing that I would truly call conflict. the man, and the team of people he gets together to try and pull this off, encounter a lot of challenges and obstacles on their way to their goal, and there are some times when their plans if they do not go well or that the group disagrees on how (or if) to proceed, but I wouldn't call any of that conflict.

I would describe the story as a group of very colorful and interesting people getting together to try and do something wildly difficult and interesting, and watching them figure out how to accomplish that. It is an absolutely wonderful story and it is at least one way, I think, that one could tell interesting stories without necessarily having conflict. "Watch interesting people try and accomplish interesting things" can be a very compelling genre of story even if there is no true conflict to speak of beyond the figuring out how to accomplish their goal.

Here's the trailer for that doc in case anyone is curious. Highly recommend if you can get to it. :)

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2020 1:15 pm 
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I thought of another kind of plot not based on conflict - and probably right in line with Yov's suggestion - the unknown!

There maybe elements of conflict in the story, but the plot does not hinge on it, it hinges on the tension created by keeping some key element hidden from the reader, resolving the plot by revealing this key. A key which, perhaps, changes the entire story in one fell swoop, or a key which suddenly binds it all together. But the plot is not driven by a conflict or an unmet need or a thing to overcome.

There was this story I had in mind once - a short story, not a novel length by any means - where you follow along with this aged story-teller recounting the years of his life in this beautiful garden where strange beings, almost considered gods, kept he and his fellows safe, tended their needs, but were clearly far beyond their understanding, aging so slowly that many generations would pass before one of them even grew old.

The key reveal was that the story-teller was an animal and the tenders were humans, but the story up to that reveal was put forth as if the teller was human and the tenders were aliens of some sort.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2020 5:34 pm 
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There's also a travelog. Writers are often tempted to introduce obstacles - the river is flooding! The pony is lost! There are trolls!!! - but is it really necessary?

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2020 7:25 pm 
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Elengil, I love that idea of yours!

Remember Guin's "Tree" story? No conflict, right? Maybe easier to pull off in shorter form than longer ones.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2020 8:34 pm 
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Was that the one where the tree had to grow and shrink to give the illusion of perspective?

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 2:46 am 
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Yes.

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