Conflict Theory

The story must be a conflict, and specifically, a conflict between the forces of good and evil within a single person.

—Maxwell Anderson

What is a story?

I have asked that question to hundreds of audiences ranging from students in writing classes to new acquaintances who immediately tell me that they want to be writers. I always ask anyone who expresses a desire to be a writer, "What is a story?"

I seldom get the answer I am looking for. Most people, even those who want to spend their lives writing stories, find it extraordinarily difficult to say exactly what a story is.

I have already given the answer, but I will repeat it here: A story is a narrative description of a character struggling to solve a problem. Nothing more than that. And nothing less.

There's an old Italian saying: "A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine." A story without conflict is like a meal without food. Conflict is what makes a story. How can you describe a character struggling to solve a problem without describing some form of conflict?

Without conflict, there is no story. You might have an interesting essay, or a lovely sketch of some scenes, or the setting and background for a story. But the story itself depends on conflict. Imagine what a drag Romeo and Juliet would be if the Montagues and Capulets were friendly and had no objections to a marriage between the two lovers. Or how boring Moby Dick would be if Ahab joined Greenpeace and gave up whale hunting.

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