Rhetoric of Story – Part 4

Conflict – why can’t we all just get along?

The fourth element of the Rhetoric of Story – conflict! Why can’t we all just get along? And even if we did, why stories would still always contain conflict. The important ideas introduced in this lecture include:

  • Conflict arises inevitably because al humans have their own, conflicting desires.
  • Conflict is compelling, our mind pays close attention to all kinds of conflict in life and in story.
  • Physical and social conflict are all around us, but internal conflict is an essential part of great storytelling.
  • At the heart of all conflict are the effects of fear, represented in stories as the antagonist.
  • While conflict hooks our attention, we rely on the storyteller to show us how conflicts are resolved and peace achieved.

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The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli is the most infamous guide to winning conflicts in history. It famously advises those who seek power, that it is better to be feared than loved. There are a thousand ideas for stories in this short text.

Happy endings don’t always happen in real life. But as writers we can change that. Think of a conflict from your own experience. That job you couldn’t stand. The relationship that always turned to argument. The journey where every turn was a dead end. What went wrong? How did it get worse? Write a new ending for this story, where the conflict is resolved and everybody is happy.

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Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.


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