1. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    Evidence that conflict is not needed?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rumwriter, Nov 1, 2013.

    If you google "Tomorrow's Bird" you will find a link to a short story I recently read. (I'd post the link here but I think there are rules against that?)

    It's a short read, but while I enjoyed it, I decided I couldn't find any actual conflict within the story itself. It's written as a sort of marketing campaign, as a satire. I almost feel like it would do better as a humorous essay than a short story, but that's not what it has been categorized as.

    So, I'm not trying to turn this into a discussion of that story, but it is drilled into our heads that a story needs conflict (and I completely agree), but here is something I've read that, at least to me, works without any conflict whatsoever.

    And I wanted some other's thoughts.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    You say it works without any conflict whatsoever, but then you also say that you don't think it should be considered a short story at all but more of a humorous essay. Didn't you just answer your own question?
     
  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Is this it? Tomorrow's bird.

    I read the first page and decided it was very boring. It may have seemed to "work well" because it's not badly written. But as for story content, I don't think there was any. It's more like a fictional letter, or perhaps a popularity campaign for the crows ;) I'd see it as an expanded piece of detail within a story, but in itself I would not call it a story.
     
  4. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I looked it up. It seems to be commonly labelled as a satirical essay. You wouldn't call an SNL skit a short story, and I don't think Tomorrow's Raven was intended to be.

    Not to say that definitions aren't pliable in that area; you won't be detained by the Word Police if you write a story with no conflict, just don't expect many people to read it.

    It was a pretty funny collection of words, though:).
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's certainly not a 'story' of any kind [and i don't know that utne publishes any fiction]... it's definitely meant to be a humorous/satirical essay, imo...
     
  6. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, it is just a satyrical essay. But I think there is a common misconception about the conflict being intrinsic to text - for example, most Kharms's stories function with the conflict being between reader's expectations. from the text and the actual text. For example, he introduces Pushkin like "There is a story how the great poet ..." but then goes about something completely ridiculous.

    Or, "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" : I dare anyone to point out conflict and plot in this story. :)

    In a way, you're example has a LOT of conflict - the reader expects a paragraph to MEAN something - however, the very next paragrapg puts a different perspective to it - a twist. Then, it happens again and again. You could easily say that the persona of the reader, the supposed reader of the essay, is the character in conflict with narrator's vision.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2013
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's well within the range of things I've read in short-story collections, so I wouldn't quibble about its classification. But why do you think it's without conflict? Almost from the outset I saw a conflict between the public perception of crows and the way they want to be perceived.
     
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  8. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Darn, you're good. :mad: I can't believe I was blind enough to miss that.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Without a conflict, there is no plot, no movement, no story.
     
  10. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    There are instances where very short stories seem to not have any conflict.

    You can even find scenes in film where there is no conflict.

    But that's just small snippets. And it doesn't apply to full blown films and novels.

    The easiest way, by far, is to figure out what conflict really is and how it works. Once you do that, it's no biggie.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'conflict' can be as benign as the mc needing to make a decision that will change his/her life... or as violent as a protag battling an antag to the death...
     
  12. lex
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    lex Contributing Member

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    Conflict really doesn't necessarily have to be the be-all-and-end-all of storytelling, I think: take a look at what as successful an author as Ursula K. Le Guin has to say on the subject: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/SteeringCraft_57B.html
     
  13. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @lex LeGuin is not relevant for this discussion: she's almost a post-modernist! ;)
     
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  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Without an opposition there can be no plot. Absent a plot, you can have a chronology of events, but any such story is weak at best.

    Conflict need not be due to strife between characters. I can be warring principles within the same characters, or it could be a struggle to overcome inanimate obstacles.
     
  15. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Cogito have you read, like, Borges? :p
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse is a highly regarded story. I suppose you can identify a plot, of sorts, but it is really sidelined, in my view. There is conflict, but plot isn't that important to the story.
     
  17. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Steerpike just because one reader finds a book dull or a plot unidentifiable or a story boring, doesn't really holds as an esthetic (or narrative) evaluation. There are books and there are books and there are readers for the first and the next.

    A possibility for a non-conflict plot:
    stilleatingoranges.tumblr.com/post/25153960313/the-significance-of-plot-without-conflict
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't remember saying any of those things, other than that the plot isn't prominent (nor, I believe, was it intended to be).
     
  19. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Steerpike I...actually just gave you a nod, a "thumbs up" for your example, not a contradicting argument :)
     
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  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    OK. Well it is Friday. I guess it is time to go home and get into a spot of scotch :)
     
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  21. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    In that article LeGuin seems to see conflict in terms of physical conflict between people. There are a lot more possibilities for conflict than that. There might be some scope for the occasional experimental novel where nothing that happens has any resistance whatsoever, but it's a tiny market.
     
  22. spklvr
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    This makes me want to make an attempt at writing a short story without conflict, but I honestly have no idea how that would even work. Even the most simplistic of events have conflict, albeit trivial. "Enter a McDonalds. Do I really want that burger?" WHAM! Conflict. "I want to pet the cat, but she's too far away." Conflict!

    What was that? I'm tired, but I don't want to go to bed yet. Inner turmoil! Again, conflict.
     
  23. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Did you know that it is considered one of the hardest stories to understand in literature? I wouldn't use that for too many examples given its complexity.
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2013
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Easy to fix - guy goes to McDonalds, but has no qualms about eating there, comes home and sits on the couch. The cat walks over, thus readily available to be petted, and when the guy gets tired bed sounds like the best thing in the world. /done.
     
  25. Lewdog
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    Conflict- Man against himself (falling asleep)
     

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