Discussion → Is it possible to write a love story (or any story) that has no conflict

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    Stephen Stark
    Sep 09, 12:12pm

    I have a friend, not a fiction writer, who said she wanted to read a love story that had no conflict. Where the people were just happy.

    I said, It would be about three sentences long, or if longer, probably rather dull.

    My position was this: I suppose it could be true that there was a love story where there was no conflict between the lovers, but there would be larger conflict, i.e., the war kept them apart; her father and his father detested one another and forbade them from contact, and so forth. But for it to be a story (that you'd want to read, anyway), there would have to be some kind of conflict.

    I have no problem with being proved wrong, but I think of what Forster said in <i> Aspects of the Novel</i>: " 'The king died and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died and then the queen died of grief' is a plot."

    That's not conflict, but it has the potential to be the framework for some kind of conflict.

    So, my question is, can anyone point me to a compelling love story with no conflict? Is such a story even possible?

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    Ann Bogle
    Sep 09, 12:59pm

    Larry Woiwode indicated to us in workshop that conflict in a story might not always be necessary.

    I read stories that eliminate some forms of conflict, if not all. Lydia Davis' stories seem conflicted the way an eyebrow lifts or a brow furrows. In Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, the police aren't around, though if it were in a different setting or town, they might be. The conflict there is between the characters, not between the characters and government authority.

    I minimize conflict when I write. Whereas in life, the conflict may be more pronounced, the conditions more severe, in the stories I write, it is smoother. The man doesn't threaten to kill the woman. The woman doesn't call the police. The man doesn't piss on the couch. A peer once remarked that he could spot the bad guy in my stories by his harmonica. I told him, "That's the good guy. I didn't write the bad guy."

    I'm in the midst of writing a story about a scientist who brings in wives with whom to tour the countryside. These are not legal wives, but they serve, at his expense. So far, no one is fighting, but I get the feeling that squabbling and mean spiritedness could break out. I might smooth it, so the absence of conflict is palpable.

    There's the famous "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" story in which one couple (divorced) fights routinely, while the other couple sits more quietly holding hands. The story is in that quiet difference.

    What about the romance genre? Are there novels in that genre that eliminate conflict? It seems romance in those stories is suspense.

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    Edward Mullany
    Sep 09, 01:47pm

    I like those Lydia Davis stories Ann mentions - something as slight as a furrowed brow revealing the extent of the conflict.

    I think also of Ann Beattie's work - the stories quiet like the flat surface of a lake, with only a pebble tossed in for conflict. But still there is conflict.

    A love story needs conflict, I think, because art involves the expression of conflict. Without it you have reportage or water.

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    Brian Mihok
    Sep 25, 04:21pm

    A good thing might be to define "conflict." It would seem to me, how I define it, that any story you'd like to be stimulated by would contain conflict of some kind.

    Otherwise, I would ask myself why I am reading. If a story contains no conflict, no friction, whether in the plot, or emotionally, I'm not sure what the basis for the story would be. Not that every story is born of conflict, but that it winds up playing a crucial role no matter how it all got started or where it ended up.

    I think it's pretty easy to imagine a conflict-less situation, where everyone is happy. As you said, Stephen, it'd be quite dull to read probably. I don't really need to read that story. My mind can imagine it instantly. But, say, two couples at a table, having a nuanced conversation, a multi-layered communication of relationship histories, lifetimes of subtle and gross pain and excitement, a display of the strange--in the way human existence is strange? That is a story I can't imagine so easily. So I read it.

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    Sarah Malone
    Oct 01, 01:06am

    I'm reminded of that Rushdie quote (can't recall if he cited or originated it) that "character is destiny" Caracters (re)ac in different ways because they're different people. So a story "testing positive" for conflict confirms that its characters are interesting, human and real.

    I find it very difficult to conceive of conflict as a thing in of itself, in the abstract, separate from characters or situations - it's like mass or weight, if the character is full weird enough to be real and worth following, she or he is going to have opinions, preferences and tendencies that will differ from those of another character, and will at least slightly elude the character's (s') comprehension.

    Conflict is the trace of human differences we can only see by their effects.

    (blah; this sounds way high falutin'... )

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    Brian Mihok
    Oct 02, 06:28pm

    That's a good way to look at it, Sarah. Sort of sidestepping the conflict problem through character. If the characters are interesting and complex and all the things good characters are...then the conflict should take care of itself. Hope I haven't misrepresented what you were saying. If not, I like this.

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    Sarah Malone
    Oct 14, 05:31pm

    Nope, no misrepresenting - you just said it more pithily! :-)

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