Can you write a peaceful novel with no conflict at all?

You might want to have a peek at this particular post at the Agnieszka’s Shoes blog: Writing Peace. The question – is it possible to write an entire novel containing only peace, and no conflict? – came out of a literature discussion held on Twitter several weeks ago.

The standard wisdom is that the very essence of a novel is conflict of some kind, whether it’s a violent situation or at the very least, a personality conflict. Dan from Agnieszka’s Shoes thinks it should be possible to “write peace,” as the title of his blog post suggests. I myself do not think so.

As I remark in my Comment on that post, one problem to deal with first of all, when thinking of this question, is “what the heck do you mean by ‘peace’??” My contention is that characters somehow have to grow throughout the story, and if you take a muscle as an analogy, the way a muscle grows is by pushing up against something and being strained, which prompts the creation of extra tissue and growth.

So for me the question is whether a person’s character grows the same way, metaphorically speaking: by pushing up against something, being strained, and growing because of it.

My first answer to this would be yes, that’s how we grow. On the other hand, I know I’ve had experiences where everything seemed to be brilliance and light, and it felt like the top of my head had been opened and insight and revelation was simply pouring in. Those weren’t periods of conflict, yet I appeared to be growing in certain ways.

But would that kind of experience actually make a good novel? I suspect not, while I think Dan thinks yes.

Got any ideas? Head over there and join the discussion. There’s a lot of food for thought around this subject.

    2 comments

    1. Stephanie says:

      I think you can write a novel without any conflict, about, perhaps, someone’s spiritual journey into enlightenment, but how many would really enjoy it? Would it come across like a novel or like a self-help book, too autobiographical?

      Conflict is not only the crucible that enables a character to grow, it is also an opportunity for the reader to identify with the characters. Big battles on paper can often represent little battles in life, allowing the reader to empathize more fully with characters.

      I’m sure you could write a book with nothing but sweetness and light. Or make a movie, but I can’t think of a single one that was successful.

      • Phyl says:

        That’s pretty much how I see it too. I enjoyed one of the comments on that blog, from a mother who talked about parents falling asleep while reading all the “sweetness and light” stories to their kids. That seems to be the comment of a lot of people — that even if you could write a novel like this, it would simply be boring.

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