Conflict is the hardest thing for me to write. I prefer moving through, dancing through concepts, discussing patterns, memories, things like that. I like opening up characters, enfolding them, dissecting them. It feels odd to me that we always have characters that act with animosity towards each other, that we expect such things from the people we read about in fiction. We expect sarcasm, friction, antagonism. One character wants something, another character doesn’t want them to have that something, so all sorts of things happen.
Just like that. I’m not saying such things don’t exist, but I see patterns everywhere, and people saying in things like “in every conversation a character wants something, in every action, there is opposing characters, wanting something”. And that somehow boils down to conflict, to aggression, to a war between concepts. Tensions rise. Is that the only purpose of a narrative? To walk a tightrope of tension? I feel like there should be moments of still, moments of calm. Moments of beauty, maybe, poetic silences. Characters that care for each other, and not just out to cause tensions for each other. If it’s all tension all the time, it feels like a heart attack.
I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be conflict in a story. But I’m trying to say is that conflict shouldn’t be the only way to tell a story. And yet, it seems that in our “Hero’s Journey” obsessed culture that is the case. That Plotto had it right in the 1920’s when it said all narrative is desire, obstacle, conflict, resolution. That we need to throw obstacles down, that overcoming these in conflict the hero deserves an award, or some such nonsense. But that boils narratives down to some consumer level pandering, that it focuses so much on the crass commercial nature of modern existence. We’re also told that all characters need to want something, that is what they need and that propels the story. I find it ironic that Vonnegut even said this. I wonder what Billy Pilgrim wanted. Or Deadeye Dick. Or even the characters in Cat’s Cradle.
Why is desire and conflict what we need to propel stories? It’s a wonder I have, one I’ve had for so many years. Whenever someone says you need X or Y to do a story, my first thought is why? And then it’s, what will happen if we don’t use that? How to make that story work, how to keep the narrative ticking?
But, of course, this could be my own struggles with conflict as a writer. Writing it is the most difficult thing for me to do, it slows down my writing when conflict rears its ugly head. My mind then focuses on branches, variations, all of that stuff. There are times when I just watch countless movies, read books like Plotto, etc, to try and wrap my head around the conflict, to see the need for it, the desire for it in the written word. I pattern stories after narratives I’ve already read, simple built in conflicts I can use as short hand to just get to the interesting stuff I enjoy.
Open Your Eyes contains some good examples of this. The two major conflicts are based on William Burrough’s idea of Language as a sentient alien virus, and on the character conflicts in La Strada. I even based the characters on the ones in La Strada. It might be something I always struggle with, pushing conflict into a story. Some stories, I put the conflict in the background, and allow the characters to reveal the fallout. One good example of this is Apple Magick- the real conflict happens outside of everything else, beyond it all.
Just some thoughts. I have a feeling I will always struggle with this, and maybe even though narratives require conflict, maybe it can have some other form of conflict. That the classic human conflict caused by tensions of want and desire isn’t the only way to create tensions and conflict. I think that there might be another way, of doing it thematically, symbolically, that the play between chaos and form, between matter, light, and shadow, that the expansion of gravity and the struggles to stand, to fly, could also be other sources of tension. That the conflict between words, paragraphs, sentences, could carry a propulsion of the reader forward that is more sonic and less fisticuffs.