The Philosophy of Conflict in Literature

“Eternal Conlict – War In Heaven” created by and belonging to Kyri Koniotou, 2002.

When it is asked that we name the elements of literature, rarely is conflict the first and immediate answer to that question. Often readers recognize that which is easily discerned in most literary scenes, which are the characters and the settings; sometimes they readily identify the story first, the plot, as the overarching structure necessary for all narrative works. All of these components are equally imperative to create engaging literature; every element essential for composing great stories of any medium and prose.

So to ask why conflict does not stand out, or why it matters any more than the characters, the tone, or the plot itself, is a task for a writer greatly unappreciative for glossaries and their examples. Does this question need this exposition, something for justification? There is no point or answer to give, but instead curiosity, for going lengths to exploring that idea, that nature of conflict glorified in texts carried throughout literary history. Is the inquiry then that of a philosophical nature, when it should be asked not why the story requires conflict, but why the reader’s? Literature being a long, ancient medium of history and art, has kept us in close association with ourselves as humans, prepared from the opening of the pages to catch the reader by the reins, and guide them in a difficult place full of human thought and expression. Inevitably, the writer will shout “Conflict!” in bold words, and we may not know what to think or feel, except to press forward, to discover for ourselves what becomes of that tale at the end of the book. For this reason, the question of “why conflict?” is examined.

Conflict in Literature

The classic tension of man against everything, often man or himself. Taken from the article “Conflict in Literature”.

At once the ground should be leveled, there should be an understanding of what conflict means in the literary sense, at least defined first. For conflict carries some connotations that betray a brash and honest meaning, that it is violent and destructive, something implicitly undesirable to come to terms with. It is important to understand conflict as the abstract notion for what it is in literature, as an element; most interpret the meaning quite generally, and definitions are often intertwined and simple to comprehend within this context:

“It is a literary device used for expressing a resistance the protagonist of the story finds in achieving his aims or dreams… a discord that can have external aggressors or can even arise from within the self. It can occur when the subject is battling his inner discord, at odds with his surroundings or it may be pitted against others…” 1 (“Conflict”, 2010).

“A struggle between opposing forces in a story or play, usually resolved by the end of the work. The conflict may occur within a character as well as between characters.” 2 (DiYanni, 2017).

This device acts as the pivotal engine in the movement or progression of storytelling, and vital to grabbing the attention of the audience as they become invested in how events in the plot transpire. Yet the concept itself is broad in scope, and not only is it critical to disassociate its meaning from linear, established forms, but to consider multiple when exploring its many uses throughout literature. How many “types” of conflicts exist is subjective, and it changes as our perspective of how the nature of conflict manifests in stories, in the ways we discover unique and dynamic forms. Classic forms of these are nicely put together under the article “Conflict in Literature”, establishing “man” from the stance of the protagonist, and identifying opposition in different mediums, such as man, nature, society, and self 3 (Fleming, 2016). This also elaborates on other forms not commonly recognized in literary tropes, and from these ideas one could suggest there is more available to us than is presented. These forms are not exclusive either, as the presence of multiple plots and characters ideally include more than one type of conflict within the structure of a plot, allowing us to recognize there is potential development and depth in creating these interesting situations and events.

Explaining the function and role of conflict in narration would be enough, for its own sake, and establishing its meaning in literature cements our understanding of the topic. However, capturing the essence of this device on mutual terms serves little else but to exclude ourselves, to grasp the concept in whole for itself, so that its relationship to literature will be fruitful in learning about humanity’s fascination with the novelization of struggle and conflict. In part of resolving this question, it will be advantageous to explore philosophical and literary examinations pertaining to the nature of humanity, and if they should reveal a relation to conflict under similar dispositions.

Conflict in Philosophy

Some philosophers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault, have an atmosphere of controversy surrounding their legacy, brought about from their works challenging cultural and societal values, and introduce to us unique perspectives on these philosophical topics. In general context, conflict maintains its role as a difficult subject in existentialism, as some regard it as a condition plaguing human purpose, a hindrance of attaining societal virtues as a species, with wars and human suffering a major contribution to (or consequence of) this fault. Yet our enchantment with this sort of perfection may be part of complacent morality, that in moral absolutism there are inherent sources to derive our sense of purpose to become that which is often ideal for us, that we are meant for becoming something better. For others, this may too be the source of inspired opposition to these claims, that it could not be true that we are meant to obtain that ideal “goodness”. This problem draws from recognizing human’s capacity for evil, that in our nature we are considerably flawed and troubled, unable to overcome ourselves being contingent to what is called a meaningless existence; conflict often acts as an obstacle to understanding our place in the world.

Portrait of Thomas Hobbes.

When looking to Thomas Hobbes, it is his political and philosophical conceptions we see take on an interesting case with human nature. Through his classic work Leviathan, Hobbes wrote on the inevitable strife of political affairs, on the state of nature being one of constant conflict, and his theories concerning their resolutions through the sovereignty of the state. In aiming to describe man as member of this social construct, Hobbes depicts the conditions that man is naturally inclined, as part of a necessary condition of war between himself and all outside of him, in order to preserve himself in an environment that he must fight in to ensure survival 4 (p.75-78). His interpretation of man in this environment, in a perpetual state of constant battle against anything that threatens his livelihood, is a fascinating claim that relays to what is often disputed on the nature of humanity, where Hobbes asserts that inherent element within the common person to be a part of that eternal struggle to protect, to dominate and to anticipate dangers to his being. It aids us to utilize his definition, his depiction of this brutish agent in nature, in so far as establish the inherent value of conflict in his environment and situation, often strung as the necessary response that has been built into his biology and function.

Humanity desires peace, or rather that is typically what he wishes for, since Hobbes does offer a solution, a method of change to the matter that confronts the constant warfare that is present in ourselves. It is not the solution itself or his reasoning behind it that intrigues us, it has much more in part to the condition of conflict that has remained suitably unresolved, in spite of Hobbes theory that centralizes on the manner of which man settles in dealing with his natural disposition, unable to truly absolve himself of it. He begins to note with the absence of structure, or the true rationality behind the natural laws besetting man, these should ensue on their course of events:

“For the Lawes of Nature… of themselves, without the terrour of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our naturall Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the like. And Covenants… are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore notwithstanding the Lawes of Nature… if there be no Power erected… every man will, and lawfully rely on his own strength and art, for caution against all other men.” (Hobbes, p.105).

It is by this token one should consider that limitation in that Power, that while Hobbes would fortify behind this principle of structure, he identifies the tendency of man to revert to his primal conditions, in that without just cause to commit to law, every man is susceptible to his condition and those of his equals. It is worth reiterating then that humanity’s fundamental capacity, willingness, and loathing of his condition is not cured, but instead is buried; it is deterred in his desire not to admit himself to destruction against a power greater than himself, and is forced to bid with his passions in that he may preserve peace for himself. His inclination to wage war, his better nature imbued in conflict, is only restrained under guiding rules, secured by a force repressing that part himself that would seek to manipulate it for his own devices.

The idea behind Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan lends us a thorough view into this aspect of humanity, the necessary element of conflict, that we utilize not only in aims to defeat our opposition, but to preserve ourselves and our values, that we may yield in all endeavors. Yet conflict is a difficult concept to rally behind, and it imposes a reality that challenges certain ideals and morals, obscuring that what might be established as right and wrong with complex implications and suppositions. What then, does considering the basis of conflict in human nature, contribute in better understanding the conflict within literature, the story in the pages? Taking from these respective definitions we can build upon the crucial idea embedded in Hobbes’ work, and examine them to draw parallels in the way literature embodies our intimate relation toward the nature of conflict. Before that however, it is worth considering ways that others have opposed to this idea with their own explanation for our interest in plot.

Opposition to Conflict

Kishōtenketsu, a Chinese and Japanese narrative form, is believed to be absent of conflict, but is it truly?

To some, conflict is argued to be an irrelevant element to creating engaging literature, a part of questioning to what lengths this should truly portray the whole of humanity. A fascinating argument against the necessity of conflict within literature comes from a piece by a group named Still Eating Oranges, who expounds on the ways that a story can carry weight and meaning to individuals without the presence of conflict. In their article “The significance of plot without conflict”, they introduce an Eastern world concept called Kishōtenketsu, a Chinese and Japanese narrative form that is structured upon a pattern of four components: introduction, development, twist, and reconciliation (conclusion), and asserts this form contests with the element of conflict, in providing an example that supports this 5 (2012). It is important to consider this possibility, to find that conflict may not permeate in all literary narratives, and for stories not having to commit to such a notion, yet there are issues that are revealed in careful reading and observation.

One issue drawn from this article is its attempts to establish the element of conflict as a notion established in Western society, a medium that carries imposing weight as a traditional form in literature. Reflecting on Hobbes’ take on the manner of conflict within man, the idea is not exclusive to a particular culture, and is one that permeates in every aspect of a human’s life, even in ways they may not be aware of. Much of what dragged this article down, in spite the interesting theories, was the author’s innate voice uttering a distinct bias at certain points of the article, in particular:

“Yet, is there any truth to this belief?… No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity.” (“The significance of plot without conflict”, 2012.)

We are also introduced to the narrative form that originates from Chinese and Japanese writings, and with the tone toward Western literary criticism, this undermines the author’s ability to elaborate on the distinct contrast of these ideas, when it is imbued with their own prejudice. However, it is also important to look into the narrative form itself, where it should be noted that while this narrative form, Kishōtenketsu, is described to be one absent of the element of conflict, the language used to define it is not different from that we have previously read. Here are certain ways the author attempts to distinguish this narrative form:

“Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest.” (“The significance of plot without conflict”, 2012)

“The basics of the story–characters, setting, etc.–are established in the first act and developed in the second. No major changes occur until the third act, in which a new, often surprising element is introduced. The third act is the core of the plot, and it may be thought of as a kind of structural non sequitur. The fourth act draws a conclusion from the contrast between the first two “straight” acts and the disconnected third, thereby reconciling them into a coherent whole.” (“The significance of plot without conflict”, 2012)

This structure is fascinating in design, and would seem to suggest there is an integral component that separates itself from what is classically recognized in literature. However, in reviewing the layout of this premise, there are certain key terms and phrases that would contradict the claim made by the author, particularly with how the third and fourth act pan out “contrast” and “disconnection” from the rest of the acts. Is this contrast any different from conflict by the definitions we have established? It appears to differentiate based on a lack of opposition that the story centers on, and that there is no centralized theme of forces colliding within the structure of the story, yet is that necessarily what is going on?

A common example of a Kishōtenketsu narrative from a Peanuts comic strip.

In tying back to some of the definitions, there is a certain point at which we explored the way that conflict imposes as an element within literature, and how it is does not fixate on any particular model. In the “Conflict” article, the definition provided is worded in a way that there is not a concrete or formal cast for which conflict is established, and we can pay attention to “…a discord that can have external aggressors or can even arise from within the self. It can occur when the subject is battling his inner discord, at odds with his surroundings or it may be pitted against others…” (2010). While the Kishōtenketsu model may not establish a particular form of conflict, does it necessarily portray through characters pitted against characters, or perhaps it enables a shift in narrative points or stages, in the way scenery or ideas contrast from one another to come to resolution? For that reason, it is worth considering how conflict could adapt to forms that are not traditionally connected, and to pull some new perspectives on the way that culturally humanity embodies and shapes the nature of conflict to our interests.


If literature requires this element, if good fiction needs to be driven by conflict, then we need to understand what it is we desire to see in these works, and what establishes quality and good taste with the audience. Often it is depicted as something that entices interesting events and plots; tension that draws readers to be curious about the way that the characters handle their problems and overcome obstacles. It would sound laughably wicked, in knowing we indulge in watching from afar the pain and struggle of others, be it they are fictional or not. But it is justified; many believe it would be unrealistic for us to be entertained by stories about nothing happening, that anything without conflict would simply be boring, and others say we can relate to those in suffering, for in those pages we can put ourselves in place of the characters in ways of experiencing their plight. As readers, we realize that empathy extends as a remedial weapon against that diluted canvas, driving to console our woes and grievances with newfound meaning, in the way we enrich the text with something that becomes familiar existentially with ourselves. So then, what does literature mean to us?

Conflict embodies nearly every aspect of humanity, especially in literature.

The writers of these great works masterfully craft with this element, to capture that brilliant spark that illuminates the pages, and leave a remarkable impression of literary genius. At certain scales the written form is compounded with traces of influences carried from doctrines and individuality, delivered to fruition from years of literary art and practice, with innumerable factors to consider the amalgamation of one such masterpiece. Far and wide of these classic works, conflict is consistent in their designs, and are yielded to the advantage of those who, to many others, often mirror sophisticated, intriguing depths to the potential and capacity of human nature. To us, it is a vital course to reflecting from our mistakes and our errors, to see the bitter nature of humanity captured in symbols, and give us something that becomes a metaphorical embodiment of humanity. Readers can see the way things change in the text, from the characters and the scenery, and recognize that innate force that drives these narratives with such gracious, sometimes uncomfortably means.

In literature, what is it we see? Philosophically, the question resonates with doubt, with a concern in the way conflict embeds itself the closer we look into the pages, in what we see in Greek tragedies and modern classics, all a pristine image of that same creature called humanity. But the stories speak as well, about what it means to recognize human error, to never forget what greatness there is yet to achieve, and how we all connect in the struggles we face in our day-to-day lives; how we all deal with the element conflict. Every story, no matter how it is told, is a living icon of our greatest resource, providing an invaluable, exciting way to reveal to us how life and fiction are, humorously, not at all much different.

“War in Heaven” by DreadJim.

Works Cited

  1. “Conflict.” Literary Devices, 2010. Web. Accessed Oct. 22 2017. <>
  2. DiYanni, Robert. “Glossary of Drama Terms.” McGraw-Hill Online Learning Center. McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC., 2017. Web. Accessed Oct. 22, 2017. <>
  3. Fleming, Grace. “Conflict in Literature.” ThoughtCo., Nov. 20 2016. Web. Accessed Oct. 22 2017. <>
  4. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. 1651. Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2004 ed. Accessed Oct. 25 2017.
  5. “The significance of plot without conflict.” Still Eating Oranges. Tumblr, 2012. Web. Accessed Nov. 4 2017. <>

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  1. Kum Hogue

    I graduated an MFA program five years ago and while I loved my professors and enjoyed being surrounded by talented writers, I feel like this kind of philosophical discussion was missing from the program. Maybe they assumed we knew this stuff already but it seems like a disservice in a way. I’m grateful for publications like these that offers such detailed and useful resource.

    • N.D. Storlid

      I greatly appreciate it; it is interesting sometimes when some themes or topics that are so broad can often be forgotten or misplaced in these great discussions in the classrooms. I can’t say I bring much to the table when it comes to my own classes, but I like to draw perspectives on things that I don’t think I see much of, and shed some light in a way that we might all find direction. It’s fun when everyone shows something interesting and wholesome to these kinds of places.

  2. Saturation

    Great post! Conflict in our books tend to mirror what is in our lives, or what was in our lives. It’s what makes reading so therapeutic 🙂 Conflict makes the story exciting too.

    • Interesting. I have noticed that whenever I try to work out my character’s conflict, I am sub-consciously clearing the clutter in my own life. By giving my characters’ strength to overcome the obstacles hounding them, I am imbibing the strength from my own words. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But, that’s the way it works for me.

  3. I see this as a very important part of storytelling that many authors miss. When the conflict starts to die down, the interest dies down, and you get filler. It’s just so dull and annoying to read. Yes, it may be wonderfully written, but for a reader it’s a snore fest. Of course, every page can’t be high on conflict, these scenes have to be selected and presented at the right moments, with the right build up. Still, I feel like behind any story that’s worth telling, there’s an underlying conflict that begs the story to be told. I love to write a healthy balance of both internal and external conflict, I think those are equally important, and the internal conflicts can be very fun to write. Great post, N.D.!

    • WinterFAll

      I agree completely about the interest in a story fading when the conflict disappears–it’s one of the reasons that we writers are purposefully mean to our protagonists. You also make a great point about balancing conflict within the WIP–naturally there must be highs and lows or else you risk exhausting your readers (or worse–boring them).

  4. Sinclair

    One of the things I hold in my head for fiction writing is, ‘figure out what your MC most wants, and don’t let him/her have it.’ That’s the underlying conflict for me.

  5. Conflict isn’t always a ticking bomb.

    • Tha Hat

      Hear hear. I think the word conflict gets a bad rap. It doesn’t have to involve chokeholds, expletives & explosives.

  6. Just out of curiosity, does anyone have any examples of “Person Vs Author” conflict?

    • I’m tempted to say anything by Ayn Rand might be an example of man v. author.

    • Patrica

      The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia is an excellent example of Person vs. Author. In the novel, the characters declare war on the author and attempt to block the author and readers from viewing their lives by covering the pages with large blocks of ink. It is quite effective.

    • Attack Me

      Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions”

  7. Dominic Sceski

    I believe that society, or humanity as a whole, will always require stories that involve conflict. Without such literature to guide us, humanity would go astray. That being said, I think it is impossible for humanity NOT to create such works of literature, as each age and era will always produce authors that write about the struggles they have witnessed.

  8. Munjeera

    Perhaps conflict is an opportunity to learn.

  9. One example of a movie (not a novel, but still) that didn’t really have major conflict was “The Others” with Nicole Kidman.

    The movie does have minor conflict throughout, but it’s core was mystery over conflict. The main character didn’t have her own goals and was merely reacting to external forces through-out the film.

    Of course, conflict is there, it’s just secondary to mystery in this film.

    • Did we see the same movie? “The Others” had tons of conflict! The conflict was mostly on a emotional and psychological level – but it was conflict nonetheless. You had the inner conflict of Kidman’s character. You had the conflict between characters (the kids, the servants, the others, the husband). You had conflict between characters and their surroundings (the kids’ disease, the spooky events). Heck, the whole premise of the story is a big conflict in itself!

    • Of course there was a conflict in The Others! She wants to know what the heck is happening to her kids. She’s fighting to keep them safe from something she can’t explain.

  10. So much of the human condition is about conflict. Think about it, for a moment. If you look at the definition of “Conflict”… and then look at life, as we all live it. How does any of that not fit into your day to day life? If your life does not have any of that in it, then congratulations, I am very happy for you. You have mastered a feat I don’t think any other human being has ever before.

  11. Novels can be character-driven where the conflict is internal.

    A person coming to terms with the death of a loved one goes through the stages of grief (internal) and by doing so, may cause problems with other family members, coworkers, or a complete stranger (external).

    Is it necessary to have both? No, but it needs at least one to make the reader ask what’s going to happen to the character and turn the page to find out.

  12. Without conflict of some sort there is no story. Even non-fiction benefits from it. I think the key is to consider how the story could be summarised in a single paragraph. Example:

    When a young girl moves to live with her father in a small town in Washington, she meets the boy of her dreams. He has a dark secret which she discovers. In doing so, she finds herself at risk of death from people like him. She is rescued by her new boyfriend, but still is at risk from others like him who want to kill her. She knows that all will be solved if she shares her boyfriend’s secret, but he is reluctant to allow this since he fears it will turn her into a monster.

    Recognise the story?

    • Danilo Rander

      Hard not to recognize Twilight. That’s a really great example of how conflict reaches into the very core of the story.

  13. Nice study, I enjoyed the read.

  14. Brannon

    I took a course years ago with The Institute for Children’s Literature. The lessons discussing conflict shared this phrase, “No conflict, no story”. That stuck with me, and has been a great guideline to follow since.

  15. It’s funny how important conflict is in novels and how anti-conflict I am in real life. My last WIP fell flat because of a lack of conflict, and even worse was the fact that I was 75k words in.

  16. Kill Bill

    I think the human condition is always about conflict. Good narrative reflects that truth.

    In my college acting and playwriting classes, we analyzed ourselves and situations around us for conflict and motivations. When we did this, we began to understand life in terms of conflicting goals.

    A character may have a goal that conflicts with another character’s goal, even if the conflict is subtle. For example, we may look as if we are having a congenial conversation, but all the while, I may be trying to get you to compliment me, while you are trying to get me to hurry up and get ready so we can go to some event. Conflict!

    Here’s one that happens to me all the time. I’m sitting at my computer engrossed in my work and excited about the chapter in progress, but my body is telling me it wants to eat. Conflict!

    Another one: I’m driving around reflecting on how satisfying it would be if so-and-so, that mean person who really dumped on me, got a comeuppance. But then my conscience takes over and tells me that I should love this person and want what is best for her. Conflict!

    There are very few moments in life when we are not living in a state of conflict. Those moments of total harmony make good closing scenes for novels. 🙂 But they are mountaintop moments, brief reprieves from our usual walk in which we always have to negotiate between our fallen natures and who we would rather strive to be.

  17. Our quiet, gentle Jane Austen was a master of conflict. What are the conflicts in Pride and Prejudice? There are of course the big obvious ones – Lizzy being forced into company with Darcy, a man she can’t stand; the impropriety of the mother & goofy sisters; the Right Honorable Lady Catherine, etc. There are also subtle conflicts: Lizzy’s inner battles with the need to make a good marriage regardless of love, her personal hopes thwarted by the socially acceptable behaviors and plans of others, the effects the presence of the officers in Meryton had on her stupid sisters, the audacity of creepo Mr Collins, etc. This book is chock full of conflict, yet rarely raises it’s voice.

  18. Kathaleen

    When I think of conflict, I think of The Wheel of Time or something like that.

  19. I came here originally to gain some understanding on the essence of a conflict to provide backstory for a research paper over the conflicts in Hamlet, but in the end this not only helped me further my analysis and argument, it also strengthened my writing of all kinds of literature.

    Thank you.

  20. Evan Aquino

    This is a fabulous topic! Lovely reflection on conflict.

  21. Literature with no conflict is pretty boring. I love LOTS of conflict.

  22. As a middle school teacher, I tell my story-writing students that they don’t have a story if they don’t have conflict, a problem. Even at that level, the concept helps them write better stories. Since we face problems/trouble/conflict in our daily lives on a fairly regular basis, we are encouraged when we read about others who face problems and overcome them (or not) even though they may be fictional. There is so much truth exposed through fiction; it’s a wonderful learning venue. See the City of God series by some guy named Ingermanson.

  23. All unknown factors represent “conflict”. In my opinion, conflict/contrast/complimentary dischord… Serve as the Warren that harbors acceptance. Once the mind comes to terms with whatever has plagued it then two things happen (relative to literature)…
    1. The subject matter loses its edge for the person
    2. One can enjoy a new perspective as a man with insight.
    I believe every written word holds the key to satisfaction.

  24. Maybe instead of thinking about the word “conflict” in terms of a fight or struggle, you can think about it as “conflicting” – as in there is just a difference between what is and what the character in the literature would like there to be: his or her desires or ideals conflict with his or her reality.

    • Hear hear. Conflict as in conflicting views, hopes and desires. It reminds me of an old Chinese curse- ‘may you live in interesting times’ – which implies conflict as difficult but interesting. .. I guess the definition of interesting depends on the desires, hopes and fears of the individual.

  25. I had a wonderful creative writing teacher that described a story as a loop-de-loop. If a story was a line, the start of the line is the character(s) ‘normal’. The line loops up, that is something unusual happening (could be anything – external or internal, events or thoughts).

    The character(s) figure out what to do about the unusual happening and the line loops down (looking a bit like a cursive e) and continues it’s straight path, but a little higher than the beginning line. This is the character(s) ‘new normal’ based on how they figured out a problem, or grew as a person, or didn’t grow. Imagine a story as a line with no ‘loop-de-loops’. It would be a line. A very boring line.

    Journey, adventure, internal realization, inter-connectedness to other characters or place as a character, as well as direct conflict or disagreement would qualify as ‘conflict’ in a story. Maybe the word ‘variable’ would be of help, as in what is the variable or change agent that causes the character(s) to act or react in a story?

    Thanks for helping me think about it to clarify in my own mind why stories need conflict.

    And I don’t think conflict has to have a negative connotation. I think a human being breathing is conflict, sooner or later something will happen, boring, exciting, not breathing, breathing some more, something.

  26. Great thoughts on a crucial topic!

  27. I love conflict (in fiction, not my life!) It brings out the best and worst of characters, and that’s soooo interesting.

  28. My favorite book of all time is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. A wee bit o’ conflict but pages and pages of 1920 summertime atmosphere. My 11 year old daughter is reading it now and likes it for the same reason I did, because of the way it makes her feel.

    For instance on the last ride of the Green Trolley everyone is happy going out to the lake and then tired from the long day on the last ride back in to town.

    I guess one can say its conflict but that’s defining conflict so broadly as to be almost meaningless. Conflict is perhaps the easiest, most standard way to get a reader to take an emotional ride but there are other ways that maybe we don’t see much of these days.

  29. Alphonso

    Excellent article.

  30. Literature must have conflict in order to give the reader some reason to care about the outcome and to continue reading to learn that outcome. Conflict doesn’t have to mean hostility, a dangerous quest, or competition for the affection of someone. Conflict permeates everything we do in life: Do I get out of bed now, or hit the snooze button; Do I want eggs or Eggos for brakfast; Do I watch the Cowboys game or the Packers. It is everything that happens between the establishing of the conflict and the resolution of it that determines if the reader will stick around to find out what happens.

    • N.D. Storlid

      Whenever I think of conflict I tend to associate it in a way to time and movement in the story, which sometimes is how the reader is drawn in and influences their involvement in the pages. It’s an odd thing to describe, but it is something intimate and yet difficult to grasp, and with the way you describe it, there’s no telling to how it influences us. I sometimes wonder about conflict in varying aspects of literature that are not known for it, such as nonfiction or even informative prompts; it’s such a curious subject.

  31. Novels don’t have to be ABOUT conflict, but they need the conflict to help keep the tension flowing, to keep the attention of the reader. If everything went smoothly and there was no problems (ie no conflict) there would be a lot of short novels wouldn’t there?

  32. AlyssaTallent

    Well I think that wothout conflict there won’t be any literature

    • I agree with you. Conflict is necessary not only in literature but in every day life as a way to broaden the scope of understanding and allow change to occur. I think, as literature is meant to be a form of entertainment, that conflict acts as a major plot point, whether or not it can be clearly identified as conflict. Without conflict, I feel like there isn’t much to a story or character development.

  33. Whitman

    Great and truthful article.

  34. Amyus

    A great post. The truth is sometimes unpalatable but needs to be addressed and you have done so eloquently. Thank you for a fascinating read.

  35. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    A great discussion and one that is always worth pondering. Thanks for a great afternoon read for me.

  36. Joslyn Robinson

    Hi ND,
    Does literature need conflict or is it that the reader needs conflict and therefore literary conflict is a “device” of invention and not necessary. That seemed to be a main question early on and a fascinating one. But I was unclear at the end of the article if you answered that. I think you illustrated the need for conflict as part of the human condition, but I am not sure you proved this is why conflict exists ( and is necessary ) for story based literature, if that was your argument. You proved that conflict is inherent to the human existence but therefore wouldn’t it then be inherent in all story based literature about a human being? Have you read Aristotle’s Poetics?

    • N.D. Storlid


      The main question of the article is discerning the existence and purpose of conflict in literature, more or less in tying it to the reader’s desire to that of what literature reflects as a “device”, as you put it. In asking why conflict exists and is necessary *for* story based literature, I intended to avoid or at least restrict in defining conflict in literature, because that felt to be somewhat of a trap in answering that in literary context, not necessarily in one that is philosophical, which could have intermingled or muddled the arguments in the article. I did intend to touch on that to an extent, and draw from philosophical reflection and sources to muster an emphasis on that aspect, instead of trying to explain why conflict is necessary for literature. If I tried to answer the later by itself, I don’t think it would have helped to answer the question of the philosophical inquiry, of conflict in literature.

      And yes, I have read Aristotle’s Poetics, it’s one of my favorite philosophical works out there. In regards of that, I do think it holds some merit, but in my own research and inquiry, I don’t think it entirely holds in some regards to literature, particularly that it might have been because he had an early conception of narrative that I believe lends itself into a broader scope. Inevitably from reading various philosophers, I drew from those that I think possess heavy insight into the idea of conflict itself, which unfortunately I don’t think a lot of philosophers emphasis enough, as the focal point of understanding the conflict in literature. I wanted to touch on the subject with a more intimate relation to us as humans rather than a literary analysis that I feared would remove a critical part of answering this question.

      Anyway, I hope I gave a decent response to your questions. I would have loved to have drawn Nietzsche into this discussion as well, but I feared adding any more to the article would have interfered in the design and approach to it, as well as because I feared his ideas would have been difficult to present to the audience. Perhaps in an essay or other research piece I think I would have covered a great deal of ground, however in articles I learned that keeping it somewhat brief and clear to the point is something desirable, so in all honesty, this is something that could go to greater depth if pursued in other mediums, I have a lot of thoughts on this to be frank.

      Thanks for the question!

    • N.D. Storlid

      Also, I’d like to respond by mentioning that I believe the better way to approach your question is by touching on the way that I tend to write. You see I have a tendency to be incredibly vague (or how my grandmother describes it, “esoteric”), primarily because I play with language to that effect. But more importantly, I also make it a point to never answer directly about a subject, a habit that likely does not support a job writing articles (heh). For example, in writing poetry I do not tell people what a piece is about, I always emphasis that it is up to them to discern what the poem means, regardless how much clarity or obscurity may be present with the piece. I believe this was my approach to writing this article as well, because I think the nature of the piece would be been done a disservice if I attempted to give a direct answer to the questions mentioned earlier. I try to write in aims of giving to others the kind of thoughts and ideas that should arrive them at their own conclusions, and not necessarily one of my own, so that for every person they find the answers they would have been looking for in their attempts to read and learn from my writing.

  37. Yao

    Really solid break down. I’m pretty sure you are familiar with Friedrich Nietzsche famous quote from Beyond Good and Evil, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

    It’s really one of my favourite quotes as it really makes you question the morality of your actions between you and your enemy. It really makes you feel uncertain about your actions as no matter how moral or just one may feel, sometimes, they are the biggest monsters.

    • N.D. Storlid

      I am indeed familiar with Nietzsche, he was a person I greatly considered drawing into this topic of conflict in literature, as I felt On The Genealogy Of Morals, as well as Ecce Homo, provide valuable insight into this matter on the basis of human nature. I chose Hobbes because he was a clearer and more direct influence to draw this idea upon, but Nietzsche’s would have been incredibly fun to delve into, especially in his analysis into Greek tragedy, where I think a great deal has still to be gathered for us to learn about literature.

  38. L:Freire

    Your synthesis of the Kishōtenketsu model made the reading worthwhile. I guess the model explains how two or more invariably disparate entities can coexist, and more importantly, rationalize each other in the eyes of the audience without so much as a whimper in the path of a metaphorical storm. In view of that, philosophy (and psychology) provide fertile ground for the writer and the audience. Good show.

  39. Gerald Mann (P. Ghasemi)

    Harsh conflicts cause the audience to lose the track of the texts and makes him nervous… but well-written and interesting conflicts makes the reader more passionate to follow the texts.

  40. Joseph Cernik
    Joseph Cernik

    A good essay and another one on literature I forwarded to some my colleagues in our English department.

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