The significance of plot without conflict
In the West, plot is commonly thought to revolve around conflict: a confrontation between two or more elements, in which one ultimately dominates the other. The standard three- and five-act plot structures—which permeate Western media—have conflict written into their very foundations. A “problem” appears near the end of the first act; and, in the second act, the conflict generated by this problem takes center stage. Conflict is used to create reader involvement even by many post-modern writers, whose work otherwise defies traditional structure.
The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in”, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu.
New years’ morning, by Carl Adamshick
A low, quiet music is playing—
distorted trumpet, torn bass line,
white windows. My palms
are two speakers the size
of pool-hall coasters.
I lay them on the dark table
for you to repair.
Gerontion, by T. S. Eliot
Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.
Signs are taken for wonders. ‘We would see a sign!’
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger
Science is not a bunch of facts. Scientists are not people trying to be prescriptive or authoritative. Science is simply the word we use to describe a method of organising our curiosity. It’s easier, at a dinner party, to say “science” than to say “the incremental acquisition of understanding through observation, humbled by an acute awareness of our tendency towards bias”. Douglas Adams said: “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”
Science is not the opposite of art, nor the opposite of spirituality - whatever that is - and you don’t have to deny scientific knowledge in order to make beautiful things.— Tim Minchin’s foreword to The Best Australian Science Writing 2013 (via the SMH)
Re-writing is much harder than just plain writing, but it feels much better when it’s done. Don’t be bullied into it, but be open.
Beware actors’ flattery, but take serious note of passages, action or phrases they’re unhappy with.
Hopefully you won’t be re-writing right up to tech week. So stop attending rehearsals in the second week, and then show up again for the last push. By this point everyone hates the director and thinks the show’s going to bomb, so you’re the hero from the good old days here to save the day.— From “A playwright’s guide to becoming a playwright,” by Douglas Maxwell.
Don’s candy-in-the-brothel memory is an anti-Rockwell portrait of domestic America—it would never work, of course, as a conventional commercial. But, at its core, it is the same story as the happy kid with his father: Hershey’s as the “currency of affection” and the symbol of love. In its grim particulars, it reveals just how grotesque the first, palatable pitch was, and how grotesque all of Don’s successes have been.
The Hershey’s guy asks, astounded but also perhaps curious, “Do you want to advertise that?” Don responds, “If I had my way, you would never advertise. You shouldn’t have someone like me telling that boy what a Hershey bar is. He already knows.” In this moment, when “Mad Men” finally frees itself from the myth of advertising as art—when Don poisons his career by telling it a little too straight—the show makes its most cynical argument yet: that truth and fiction tell the same story about American consumption and American love.— Ian Crouch on the Mad Men season six finale for the New Yorker Culture Desk.
Revision in My Wife’s Powder Room, by Lauren Berry
- It has been said that James Audubon once slaughtered a mangrove of birds in order to find the right specimen for a painting.
I’ll need more salt than this. A loose feather
sticks pink to the edge of the bathtub
and slides down to my fist. Her mouth
music boxes shut: its wish against human knowledge.
Inside her stomach—stones and sand and concept.
I can’t ask questions in that language. What if
my strings of English reveal the man I want to be?
My tongue waters at every lagoon, every disjointed
flamingo: the mistakes of God. There are
thousands of them and I will need thousands of them.
When the bird steps forward, her legs bow back,
behind her, toward the man she doesn’t know
will fit her to this canvas. Bend her to the
face of God. Grace I’ll need more strength than this.