the illusion of false conflict

A scientific theory is a theory not yet disproven. It doesn’t mean it’s true, it means so far, it’s the best guess because no one can prove it isn’t. Conflict in storytelling is whatever interferes with what your character is trying to do.

My MFA allowed me to hear a lot of students’ honest objections to craft talk without having the authority of an instructor that might have influenced their response. When I said to one of my classmates that their story needed conflict, they said they didn’t want to fill up their story with arguing.

And the general consensus of the class agreed. If I had been the instructor, I would have loved to have been able to dive down and figure out why they all thought that. It is one problem if a learner only understands conflict to mean interpersonal conflict between characters. It is another if they rely too heavily on dialogue to progress the plot so when they hear “conflict” they can only think of arguments.

Learners can get the right answer for the wrong reason or the wrong answer despite the correct thinking. It’s why assessments insist on the “show your work” part.

But then there’s a false conflict that the author inserts just to show how competent a fighter or killer the character is. It’s the story when a powerful protagonist gets their plot orders, but before they can leave the city/spaceport/place of ill-repute, ruffians attack.

And there is much fighting.

But if in a setting where the character gets set on by bands of ruffians as part of their job, then dispatching the army of ruffians that show up before the actual plot starts is just same old same old to the protagonist.

If the character is not worried they are going to lose, as a reader, I have no reason to be concerned that they might not. Fighting in visual media has the benefit of the talented fight choreographers who spent years making the moves visually appealing.

In prose, however, written from a Point of View of a character that isn’t worried about their own safety, a fight is no big thing. The fact that it could be done well doesn’t mean that most people could do it. If the protagonist views fighting as part of their job, it takes a lot of skill not to make it feel like they are just making copies.

Conflict isn’t what the character overcomes on their way to the next plot point. It is what stops them on their journey. A killer/fighter finding a purpose that makes not surviving the next fight untenable is conflict.

False conflict that has no ability to hinder the character might look like conflict but it isn’t.

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