When telling any story, it becomes easy to create it as idyllic with a flaw and the flaw creates a conflict that usually leads to the destruction of that society; or conversely a horror where the hero is crushed, and the society continues to be a horror.

In anyone's actual life to "live in interesting times" is a curse, and hardship most people would avoid. However, to just tell a story of how all this could be avoided, and lay out what means would achieve it, is to write a story nobody would finish reading. As a result, a society where interesting stories predominate common experience, folks choose conflict over compromise because those who write the stories choose it, and people fear improbable dramatic events, and refuse to confront near certainties because they are not dramatic; as improbable events fit the needs of the writer of stories and are not the real problems for the folks actually living their lives.

What social structures would change that trend, and how would you write a story about it?

  • $\begingroup$ Not really an answer, but an example. My brother wrote a story in a universe where hate and murder can barely be imagined. The plot is that a part of the universe was enclosed by some sort of god-like protectors. The hero wants to know why his world is enclosed, and manage to find it with his own way of thinking (without violence and hate). It's not really "without conflict" as the hero confront the protectors and make a few threats to get some answers (revealing secrets, nothing more), but that's a good story in a society without violence. $\endgroup$ – Tyrabel Aug 29 '15 at 9:32

What you describe is a limit of the format of the written word. The limitation is that the word is written, then read. It cannot be written while being read.

Readers will only read if it provides value to their life. In fact, it must provide enough value to warrant the expenditure of energy reading it. If a story has things like conflict in it, it is easy for the reader to wedge their own conflicts against the story's conflicts, and gain happiness as the story resolves its conflicts (and possibly gives the reader a hint or two about how to deal with their own conflicts).

Jumping all the way to "no conflict" is quite a step. Let's instead look at how we could possible keep a story interesting with less conflict. With less conflict, there is less for the reader to attach their own conflicts to. Thus, to retain interest, the book needs to strike closer to home. The conflicts that do exist need to be more and more pertinent to the reader's daily conflicts. Without conflict, all a book can do is resonate with one's current state. There's strong value to this, but part of the human condition is the desire to change states, and eventually the book will fall behind.

So how do you continue to be more and more pertinent? Well, this is where the limits in understanding the reader come into play. Great writers know their audience well, but no writer ever knows their audience perfectly. At some point, the only way to write a more interesting book is to wait for the reader to get through the first chapter, then observe their mental state and quickly write the second.

There is a storytelling medium which can circumvent this. A story which is spoken or acted can bring the audience into the story, allowing the story to be tailored closer and closer to themselves as the story unfolds, freeing them from the need to make conflict to sell the story.

The only way to make an interesting story without conflict is simply to go out and be that story! There's lots of interesting people out there. I wonder how many of them are telling such a story.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting; but often the better solution would kill the story, and more and more the drama of movies or television, put a premium on action, and away from the mental life of the hero in the book, that still works for that format (If the eagles flew Frodo to Mount Doom at the start as example) A walk through a web page like Netflix and all the terrible lives of nearly every character, begins to look like its own alternative universe where folk think that sort of behavior is the normal way things are accomplished. $\endgroup$ – Dragon Aug 29 '15 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ I can't tell. Are you trying to seek an ideal story, or identify a class of non-ideal stories and seeking to avoid them? You seem to be focused on avoiding the mediocre. If one is looking for the ideal, the better lessons are learned from looking at the good and the great stories, and seeing where they lead you. The Tl/Dr version could also be "making great stories is hard... that's why they're considered great!" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 29 '15 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ The great books seem to subscribe to a philosophy of "economy of force." They have conflict, but they seek to get as much value out of their conflict, rather than seeing to add more conflict. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 29 '15 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ I am seeking an ideal of understanding among individuals getting along in the world. In looking at history those motivated by immortality through fame and glory, have rejected workable compromise to the point of hating it, and instead launched wars over their egos. It occurs to me that the entertainment economy, of movies, TV, daily news etc, has structural needs, and competition driven changes have had a profound impact on our own society; not in a good way but am at a real loss of how that might be changed. . $\endgroup$ – Dragon Aug 29 '15 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ The goals are for me pretty clear, and for the most part not unusual, but the means of getting there, not at all clear $\endgroup$ – Dragon Aug 29 '15 at 2:24

I was taught that a story must contain conflict. Otherwise, it is a narrative document that is not a story and presumably dull. There are several kinds to choose from:

  • man against nature
  • man against man
  • man against himself

A conflict does not have to be caused by society.

Or, take a page from Asimov. The laws of robotics have "bugs" and unintended interactions. Your society does not have conflicts? Sure... how about the lack of conflict causing conflict itself? Will there be more moral conflicts, different kinds of conflicts that arise in this situation?

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    $\begingroup$ "The five stories of DnD: Man vs. Nature; Man vs Man; Man vs Self; Man vs Dice; Man vs DM" $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 11 '17 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ I guess I’m dating myself, as DnD came along after I studied Lit in primary school. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 11 '17 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ I think what you are referring to is narrative Conflict and it's missing "Man against society" in your list, though you indirectly mention it with the sentence following the list and it's often not counted as one of the most basic versions of conflict. I also like the things listed on Wikipedia that could be adapted to a more specific scenario "machine/ fate/ supernatural/ god". Just as a bit of further information for future readers. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 11 '17 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ My 6th grade class only had these three. It was good enough for Shakespeare … $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 11 '17 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ I don't remember when we talked about this in my school, but it must have been around 10th grade. Shakespeare often incorporates a specific version for each of his plays. "Romeo and Juliet" for example focuses mainly on "Man vs. Society" while "Tempest" focuses more on "Man vs. Nature" as far as I remember. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 11 '17 at 8:39

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