I've known since a very interesting #writechat session a few weeks ago that I needed to write an article about this. This ISN'T that article, which will appear later on the Year Zero site, but I want to start a discussion that will help me have the first clue where to start that piece. but given that it's Armistice Day, it seems nuts not to post something now. Please be argumentative and outspoken.
A fortnight ago, Marc nash wroet a wonderful article, Pain, in which he posed the question whetehr it's possible for writers to write a reader's pain. It has, by dint of accident, the fascinating subject matter, and the quality of Marc's thought, become somewhat programmatic for our recent works, and indeed will provide the introduction to the forthcoming anthology Thirteen Shadows Waiting for Sunrise. There has been some incredible discussion, some breathtaking writing, and some very deep soul-searching. But what I am hoping some of my fellow Zeroes will turn their thought to in the New Year will be seen as far more sinister and disturbing than writing pain. I want to know if it's possible to write peace.
Specifically: can there be a great novel without conflict?
Now, I'm not daft enough to equate conflict in a literary setting with guns & ammo, or even with dragons and jealous fathers and the old hackeneyed staples that have come down form the courtly tradition. Although I DO want to ask about this, as well - the differnce between internal and external conflict, whether one is the subject of literary fiction, the other genre fiction, as is sometimes posited.
We are so used, thanks to that courtly model, and thanks to the almost universally worshipped Dwight V Swain, to the idea that a novel is driven by conflict, that a character is only interesting if they are flawed. It is so much a commonplace that if flaws and conflict are absent a critiquer or editor will simply box-tick, saying "add conflict". Most of the time, of course, this is sound advice. but is it really a no-brtainer box tick?
I want to finish posing the question with some thoughts I and the ever insightful @kashicat put forward:
- the reason peace is seen as uninteresting often has to do with the fact people think of peace as the absence of conflict. In fact peace is a rich, wonderful, and fascinating state with a multitude of contents of its own.
- humans are imperfect. We therefore think of a character without flaws as being impossible to relate to. But is a flaw really the same as imperfection? What about motivation?
So: a novel where all the characters are "good" (discuss!) ; set in a peaceful land with no obstacles to be surmounted. Would anyone care to read it? What on earth would it look like? And how could we possibly set about writing it?