I’ve been interested lately in “story,” the underpinning of a lot of creative writing. And there’s bad news about story for those of us who want to think good thoughts in the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas: story arises from conflict. The worst criticism my fellow MFA students give to each other’s writing is, “No conflict. Nothing happening, No tension.” A relaxed pair of old men, friends, fishing from a small boat, where’s the story in that? But let one of them challenge the other to a fishing contest? Let one be in love with the other’s wife? Let them be competing for the same high mileage vehicle at the car dealer’s? Conflict! Drama! Story!
I submitted a chapter about Holly, a young girl in North Carolina, getting to know her next door neighbor, an older woman of the Cherokee tribe, living alone in a house attached to an old pear orchard. I loved envisioning the natural environment and describing it, and having the two enjoy each other across the lines of age and ethnicity. But of course, I got, “Where’s the tension? Why should we want to read this, and find out more about these people?” And yes, conflict was coming, in that Galilani’s friend’s grandson, a Native American boy, was going to scandalize Galilani and his mother by going out with Holly. But I didn’t want to foreshadow that in the beginning. So my fellow writers suggested ways I could use language to clue the readers in that conflict was off stage but it was just around the corner. I’m still thinking it over. I suspect they are right But I am the same writer who is often accused of summarizing the conflict scene that should be developed fully, skipping over the problems. Hmm. I do that in movie DVDs sometimes too, although I’m pretty good about not looking ahead in murder mysteries. Well, there is no fast forward in life, and as I writer, I must face that and even revel in the details of the scenes of conflict.I deplore this finding, but I can’t deny it. Without conflict there is really no reason to tell a story. With conflict, the reader wants to find out what happened to the characters, how the conflict plays out, is resolved, or is passed down to the next generation, or whatever. You don’t need resolution for the story, but you do need conflict.