Conflict in a Story

Okay okay okay so. In English today, we were talking about Much Ado about Nothing, and how Don John’s role is, basically, as a plot device to create conflict in the story.

And anyway my English teacher starts to talk about how conflict is essential to a story. Generally I’d be inclined to agree with her, because I do think conflict is quite important, but then she said “In fact, I defy anyone to come up with a TV show, a movie, a book, a short story, any piece of fiction, that does not have a conflict to it.”

That’s where I sort of paused a bit. Any story? There has to be something, right? I mean, yeah, there’s always certain rules to a story, there’s always some things which must be true… but there are exceptions to every rule, no? All boundaries can be pushed, I think.

Her definition was quite broad, in fact. It wasn’t just an obvious conflict, anything that stops characters from getting what they want, but also internal psychological conflicts, and other similar things. Most things would be encompassed by her definition – I believe another example she gave was in detective stories, the search for clues and victim, that’s a conflict. Admittedly an obvious one, but still.

At the minute, the best I can come up with is short short stories, as in the ones that exist purely as set up for a final twist. The kind of thing I have in mind is like “The last man on Earth sat alone. There was a knock on the door.”,which was Hemingway I think, or “The smallest coffins are the heaviest.

I was leaning towards things like that because of the length of them – they don’t really have the time to set up any conflict. But it could be argued that there is, to an extent – in the first one, there’s the “what’s there?” question, and the mystery is a form of conflict. Same goes for the second really. But then, is the definition of conflict getting too broad?

You could argue as well that there’s implicit conflicts one could interpret in the text, like saying that coffin purchaser struggled with grief, but that’s not really a hard and fast rule – you’d be rather hard pressed to provide definitive evidence that the last man struggled with loneliness.

What that lead me onto though, and this is getting a bit meta, but… is there always an inherent conflict in story, but outside of the narrative? One that comes from the reader?

It was following on from the detective story thing actually. Is the reader wondering how the story ends, and trying to find out, a form of conflict? Yes, no, maybe? If they’re to reread the story, is the conflict still there, or gone, because they know how it ends?

Am I overthinking this? Almost certainly. Food for thought though, perhaps. But, really, is there a conflictless story? If you can think of a better example that The Last Man, which is frankly quite tenuous, do let me know.

On internet criticism, and the validity of it

internet criticism computer user silhouette red pencil scratch art

I was thinking about internet criticism, and the nature and validity of it… and, well, I wanted to write about it. Besides, I also have homework to do, so it’s a great avenue of procrastination.

Anyway, I was scrolling through my dash, and I came across a post from the Explore blog (I couldn’t get a link to work). The basic gist of it is advice for dealing with criticism from the internet, but there’s one bit that jumped out at me – Actually, Brené Brown said it best: “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.“

And that bothered me actually, I didn’t like it. Whilst I understand where it comes from and what the point is… I don’t agree at all. (The rest of the post was actually kinda okay)

Dealing with criticism is hard. Some people take it better than others. And, yes, a lot of the time you do have to be quite discerning of which criticisms you actually pay attention to, and which you simply disregard.

But! Here’s where I’m not all that impressed. When you’re discerning which criticisms to listen to and which not to, you shouldn’t make that decision based solely upon the fact it comes from the internet. That’s a pretty ridiculous thing to do, I think, to deride and ignore something simply because of the platform upon which it originated.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t be cautious of things that originate from the internet, because, yeah, sure, there are a lot of idiots out there who don’t know what they’re talking about, and just repeat things they don’t quite understand because they think it sounds smart. Or worse, the aggressive ones, who just get a kick out of being cruel to people.

But for every one of those people, there are all the people who do know what they’re talking about. Articulate, eloquent, well spoken people, who can give insightful and often witty commentary. And you know what? A lot of them are people with no further qualifications than owning a blog. They’re the people who are, as it were, outside of the arena, and not getting their asses kicked.

I don’t really think that matters either though. Whilst having done something can help, I don’t think you actually have to be in the ‘arena’ to be capable of offering comment.

I mean… I’m awful at football. I have very little interest in it, but I know enough about how it works to be able give some sort of critique of how someone plays. Work as part of a team, shoot in the right goal, pass this way rather than that, etc.

Maybe it’s a poor analogy, but I think the point I’m making stands.

You don’t have to have ever made a film to criticise one.
You don’t have to have ever written for TV to criticise someone who does.
You don’t have to have ever written a book to review one.

Just because something is on the internet, by someone who isn’t in a particular field… that doesn’t mean that the person is unqualified to have an opinion. Now, yes, maybe you’re going to have more useless or wrong criticism on the internet, because there is so much of it… that doesn’t mean you should just take it all and ignore it all.

But hey, maybe I’m just being arrogant. It’s been known to happen before, on occasion. I am, after all, one of those people with no greater qualification than a blog, yet I think I could’ve made a better Superman movie than Man of Steel, or that I could write better scripts than some Doctor Who writers.

So who knows?

Note: Four years later, having actually sort of technically kinda built a career as an internet critic type person, I have some slightly more nuanced thoughts than the above, though I do still agree with the basic gist of it.

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