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Is it possible to have a good story with no conflict?:

 26 nrjxll, Fri, 25th Nov '11 4:39:34 PM Relationship Status: Not war
It seems that to make a good story, the consequences of the conflict need to be serious (not necessarily fatal, admittedly) and the reader must feel that failure is a very real possibility.

Real life, however, is such that a lot of really dangerous "conflicts" are well managed - such as the fire alarm example. We have things and procedures in place to decrease the danger and render it - story-wise - "boring".

It's only when that all turns to custard that the story has the reader on the edge of his/her seat.

I cannot state how strongly I disagree with this. The only thing that matters as far as what makes a "good" conflict is that the readers are invested in it. There is no reason why the conflict has to be "serious" for this to occur. Likewise, a story that requires sensible precautions to fail ventures perilously close to an Idiot Plot for my liking - I do not believe common sense and probability should be sacrificed at the altar of the Rule of Drama, and I will almost always find a story that manages to create interesting conflict without things constantly going wrong more interesting then the opposite.

 27 JHM, Fri, 25th Nov '11 5:51:53 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
Depends upon how one defines the concept of "conflict." If broad enough, all action is a form of conflict. Even harmony implies a lack of unity.
 28 feotakahari, Fri, 25th Nov '11 6:25:58 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
It's possible to write a story with no external conflict, instead focusing entirely on one character's struggle with himself. There's a story I once read (though I regrettably forget the title and author) in which the main character is a young boy who has very little money, but has just enough to feed and take care of a dog, which he dearly loves. Said dog irritates a rich boy (I forget precisely how), who offers to pay the poor boy a substantial sum of money for the opportunity to shoot and kill the dog. At no point does the rich boy try to force the poor one—the conflict is entirely within the poor boy, deciding whether to accept the money.

It's also possible to write a story where the entire point is the lack of conflict. There's a story in this collection in which a prisoner is shot, and the other prisoners, starved for food, eat the corpse. The prisoners demonstrate no guilt or shame at their action, having long since been reduced to mere survival. (Then again, it's a very short story—it's hard to maintain a plot like that over a long stretch.)
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
I've wondered about this because I suck at writing conflict. I dunno, there are such things as nonviolent conflicts, like those in most Studio Ghibli movies.
""Fought Nazi Vampires like Badasses" is a fine thing to have engraved on your tombstone." - Shiny Tsukkomi
 30 Noir Grimoir, Fri, 25th Nov '11 9:48:35 PM from San Diego, CA
Rabid Fujoshi
There are fluff pieces that don't really have conflict that manage to be nice, but they are short, feel good stuff that's more about a mood. In a long story I feel comfortable saying it's impossible.

[up]Also, conflict can be internal, conflict does not equal a war or action, it means 'there is a problem' and the story is about dealing with it or fixing it or figuring it out. Conflict can be as simple as being hungry. The solution as exciting as going to the cupboard to make a sandwich.

edited 25th Nov '11 9:51:01 PM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 31 Wolf 1066, Sat, 26th Nov '11 12:38:41 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
...a story that requires sensible precautions to fail ventures perilously close to an Idiot Plot for my liking - I do not believe common sense and probability should be sacrificed at the altar of the Rule of Drama,
I never once said that I thought common sense or probability should be sacrificed for the sake of Drama, nor did I advocate idiot plots.

I pointed out that a routine exit from a building is not "conflict" as in Real Life we take pains to remove as much danger as possible. I didn't say that you had to come up with a contrived means to make it dramatic.

edited 26th Nov '11 12:39:31 AM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 32 nrjxll, Sat, 26th Nov '11 1:35:30 PM Relationship Status: Not war
Then I apologize, as that was definitely the impression I received. I still think all of your suggestions do demonstrate the wrong mentality about conflict, though.

 33 Wheezy, Sun, 27th Nov '11 5:31:33 AM from Tampa, FL. Again.
(That Guy You Met Once)
Also, check out Walking Man.

Not exactly my cup of tea, but a very well-made manga.

BTW: Some chapters of Yotsuba&! definitely count too, IIRC. Not to mention a lot of Calvin and Hobbes is just the two characters thinking about stuff.

edited 27th Nov '11 5:35:44 AM by Wheezy

Actually, it's a Western concept that one requires conflict in order to tell a story. In Japan, there is a type of conflict-less plot called kishōtenketsu. It requires a twist in the third act, but the twist does not cause any form of conflict, and is neatly resolved with the story at the end.

Likewise, it's a Western concept that a story requires a 'hero', a 'villain' and a final 'victory'.
 
 35 Wolf 1066, Mon, 24th Dec '12 9:49:32 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Heroes, villains and final conflicts are popular, but not requirements by any means.

Internal conflict or "man vs the elements" can make for sufficient conflict.

Personally, I avoid Big Bad villains as every plot I've seen that uses them requires the villain to be an idiot and send out his minions in increasing order of dangerousness to slowly build up to the big conflict - when any intelligent villain's likely to send out his weakest minions once and, when they fail, send out his toughest... if he has weak minions at all.

Interesting about the kishōtenketsu. Are there any translations into English of examples of such plots? I'd like to see how they work.

edited 24th Dec '12 9:54:31 AM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 36 Demetrios, Mon, 24th Dec '12 11:03:51 AM from Northbrook, Illinois
I didn't have any conflict in my short story. Like the other tropers said, it is a Slice of Life story after all.
A good story needs a beginning, middle, and an end.

Normally, a story has conflict so the beginning is the identification of the conflict, the middle is the steps taken to resolve the conflict, and the end occurs with the solution of the conflict and the effects of the solution.

To have a story without conflict requires a different system of beginning and ending the story.

For example, a character can be born, live a happy life, and die peacefully. Given enough Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, this can be a very good story with a cathartic ending.

Likewise, slice of life stories tend to be about a character who wakes up in the morning, goes through a normal routine, and then goes to bed at night. The routine elements help to mark the passage of time from beginning to end. The elements of the story don't have to be routine, but there needs to be a little something called "progress" to avoid the feeling that "nothing is happening."

"Nothing happens" is common complaint for stories that don't have a defining conflict such as an antagonist or "villian" to deal with. The fact that many things do happen is apparently not as important as the fact that nothing explodes. However, the real reason conflict stories are more common than non-conflict stories is that they have the ability to reverse progress.

Without time-travel, the events of the day cannot be reversed. However, if the hero takes steps to stop the villian's plan, only to find that the villian was planning something completely different, then all the progress they seemed to be making is lost and they have to start over. This helps to avoid the impression that the reader can tell the rest of the story, and thus loose interest in the author's interpretation of events.
T pity the fool what don't know the Theory
Raven Wilder
If you wanna get technical, simply by standing up a character is engaged in a conflict with gravity. It may be a very lopsided conflict, but a conflict none-the-less.
"It takes an idiot to do cool things, that's why it's cool" - Haruhara Haruko
Yeah, I would also say that it depends on how you define "conflict." If the character has to make any kind of decision, no matter how mild, that could be interpreted as conflict. Trying to decide what kind of book to read or what to have for breakfast could be viewed as a very mild type of conflict.
 
 40 Wolf 1066, Tue, 25th Dec '12 12:37:31 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
And if the character is completely drunk, the act of standing up can entail a great amount of conflict.

If I'm going with actual villains, there's more than one (and they are varying degrees of threat) and if there's to be an increasing level of risk and danger as the story progresses, I try to make it because the protagonists are getting cockier, taking more risks and trying their luck against bigger fish rather than "coincidental" - thus avoiding a Big Bad who seems to be juggling the Villain Ball and the Idiot Ball or contrived coincidences but still providing the requisite building up towards a climax through successively harder challenges.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 41 Teraus, Tue, 25th Dec '12 7:48:04 PM from The Origin of Dreams
Awesome Lightning Mantra
If it's just a joke stripe, yes. A novel, definitely not.

And by conflict I mean anything that motivates a character to act and improve their situation. It doesn't even have to involve death or a fight.

edited 25th Dec '12 7:51:09 PM by Teraus

"You cannot judge a system if your judgement is determined by the system."
A good narrative-driven piece of writing will have some form of conflict, or, at the very least, 'someone wants something'. In an epic, it's that Gandalf wants the One Ring destroyed. In a slice-of life story, it's that I want to go to the mall. In a horror story, this girl doesn't want to die in a forest.

If you don't have something like that, then it's not really narrative-driven, and it's more about description or style or atmosphere as opposed to the story it's telling. Which is fine, but different from writing a narrative story.

Sure you can. There are some examples out there, like Lucky Star and other slice-of-life-type stories. It's just a switch from plot-driven to character- or setting-driven storytelling. It may not be the most exciting thing, but it can still be reasonably interesting to read about.

 44 Last Hussar, Tue, 1st Jan '13 5:45:07 PM from the place is here.
The time is now,
I can't think of one story that doesn't have conflict. Take the Author/Maid thread from 'Love Actually'. There is conflict - the language barrier. You don't need death and fighting, just an obstacle. Even Hemmingway's famous 6 word story hints at a conflict.

"For sale, Baby shoes. Never worn."
Do the job in front of you.
It's certainly possible to have an entertaining fiction without a noticeable degree of conflict, but that might not be classed as 'good' or 'story'.

I think it's more important to look at what's meant by 'conflict' though. Conflict can be very subtle and I'm not sure I can even imagine a situation that's completely devoid of it. Even things like Lucky Star are given their interesting aspect by character clashes and life challenges we can relate to, even if they lack drama. I'm reminded of Azumanga Daioh, the archetypal fluff 4-koma - on the surface of it it's just happy nonsense, but each of the characters has some kind of serious ongoing problem they grapple with, and it's their interactions with those problems that produce both the humour and the sympathy.

Even if hypothetically there was a situation so perfect that there was no kind of conflict in it, any meaningful changes or events could only make it worse, introducing conflict, so it's not a stable state.
Conflict does not need to be in the story per se. Kishōtenketsu, as mentioned earlier requires conflict to be in the way the story is told, instead of the characters. The conflict appears when the first two panels don't mesh with the third, and is resolved in the fourth panel when the first three are put together.

Either way, many argue that focusing on plot is not required to make a story. Ideally, the plot should be pieced together based on the way characters would interact.
 
 47 Marowmerowmer, Tue, 19th Feb '13 10:58:25 PM from Darien, CT, USA, Earth-1
Ja sam mačka.
Yes. Some of the works of David Lynch and other avant-garde directors have been described as conflictless.

For a more 'gentle' approach, Iyashikei series, as has been mentioned, can be pretty great. For instance, some of the stories and episodes in Haruhi Suzumiya, such as "Someday in the Rain, " are very artistic, yet have no real conflict. It's pretty much a study of how the characters behave day-to-day, with no real problems arising, except for the fact that the room is too cold.

edited 19th Feb '13 10:58:36 PM by Marowmerowmer

I em ecxellent at seplling. end grammer
 48 Alma, Wed, 20th Feb '13 7:18:53 AM from Coruscant Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
The Harbinger of Strange
I've wondered this myself. I'm aware the idea that stories must have a conflict or "problem" (as well as a hero, villain, etc.) is not universal or strictly necessary, but I didn't think there was a lot of room to have a good, cohesive, non-arty/metaphorical story without one.

A possible example of a conflictless work is a movie I just watched: The AB Cs of Death. It's a series of shorts about death and some of the shorts hint at a larger story, but the film itself has no conflict.
You need an adult.
Some of the works of David Lynch and other avant-garde directors have been described as conflictless.

The OP specified a good story :v

More seriously, Blue Velvet certainly had a conflict. I have to admit that I haven't seen much of Lynch's stuff, so could you specify some of the films your talking about?

Alma, remember that conflict can be internal, it doesn't require some tit in a cape twirling his moustache going moo hoo ha ha.

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
 50 Alma, Wed, 20th Feb '13 8:54:16 AM from Coruscant Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
The Harbinger of Strange
...I'm aware of that.

What about parts of serial works that depart from the main plot? It's common for TV shows to do a gag episode. These might be conflictless; are they disqualified because the parent work has a conflict?
You need an adult.
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