Manifesto: Toward a Conflict-Free Novel

It is a given of literary criticism that conflict is the basis of all story. The more conflict, the more engaged readers are, and the moire likely they will stay with you until the last page, full of fear and anxiety for sympathetic characters in peril.

This essay asks, Can there be a powerful story for which the driving energy isn't conflict?  Is delight a sufficient driver?  Surprise and delight?

Consider books for young children.  Consider Curious George up in the sky, clinging to a kite.  And how quickly I needed to get to his rescue, Caitlin was so agitated at the idea that he might fall and hurt himself.

Now can there be an adult story where continual and unexpected delights are the driving force?  Might the creation of conflict, anxiety, and various sorts of violence–the reinforcement of the myth of duality–be the lazy writer's way out?

I'm just asking these questions.

Consider Don Quixote.  Surely there is conflict, but perhaps in greater measure there is delight.  Consider Falstaff in I Henry IV.  Delight.  Only later will he be rejected by the prince, but until then, easy banter and that grand persona.  Tom Sawyer and the whitewashed fence is similar, scampishness and no conflict.  Consider much of the Oz books, the unfolding wonders of the odd creatures and environments Dorothy encounters.  Or many of the tales in the Arabian Nights.

Is it possible to sustain the magnificent engine of a novel with these other-than-conflict drivers, told in prose so powerful and engaging that the adult reader cannot put the book down, and must immediately reread the novel as soon as the first reading concludes?

Might such a book bring to vivid life once more the lost innocence and delight of the child in us all, giving way as well to vast possibility, sparking our creativity and the bold optimism of the person for whom the whole world continually opens up infinitely?

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1 Response to Manifesto: Toward a Conflict-Free Novel

  1. Fran Friel says:

    Great question, Bob. I’ve contemplated this idea myself. I’ve yet to try it, but perhaps it’s time.
    Best Always,

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