Jun 22, 2018


From a new collection of interviews between Ursula LeGuin and David Naimon called Conversations on Writing:

David Naimon: You’ve said that modernist writing manuals often conflate story with conflict. What do you mean by this?

Ursula LeGuin: Well, to preach that story is conflict, always to ask, “Where’s the conflict in your story?”—this needs some thinking about. If you say that story is about conflict, that plot must be based on conflict, you’re limiting your view of the world severely. And in a sense making a political statement: that life is conflict, so in stories conflict is all that really matters. This is simply untrue. To see life as a battle is a narrow, social-Darwinist view, and a very masculine one. Conflict, of course, is part of life, I’m not saying you should try to keep it out of your stories, just that it’s not their only lifeblood. Stories are about a lot of different things.

DN: It’s amazing how quickly we fall into battle metaphors in common speech when thinking about almost anything.

UL: I do try to avoid saying “the fight” for such and such, “the war” against such and such. I resist putting everything into terms of conflict and immediate violent resolution. I don’t think that existence works that way. I’m trying to remember what Lao Tzu says about conflict. He limits it to the battlefield, where it belongs. To limit all human behavior to conflict is to leave out vast, rich areas of human experience.

…and after some further discussion, LeGuin says that instead “if you ask me what story is about, it’s about change.”