Most writers have heard that stories need conflict, but why is that? And do all stories need conflict? What would happen in a story if there was no conflict? Could it work? Audiences can tire of constant high conflict, but will they ever be satisfied or interested if there is none at all?  

Stories need conflict because whenever a character has an objective they will encounter some conflict or resistance, just as people do in real life. Usually, when we have a desire which involves other people we are put into conflict with them over resources.

To make a story compelling, a narrative usually requires an objective that we want the protagonist or central character to achieve. If they are not seeking to achieve anything, nothing shapes the story, and this makes the action feel un-unified. 

If we watch someone conducting actions with no desire, then the story is more or less meaningless, and that meaninglessness can be unsatisfying for an audience or reader.

Is it Possible to Have a Story Without Conflict?

It is possible to have a story with no conflict, but it is likely that this story will lack verisimilitude, or the quality of recreating real life. Real life requires compromise, as we negotiate conflict with others. If everyone says yes all the time, it doesn’t feel real. 

If a character doesn’t encounter other characters, this still does not mean there is no conflict. An antagonistic force does not have to be human, and may be something like a lack of food, or hostile weather. Then the character is in conflict with the environment. 

A character is brought into conflict whenever they seek to achieve a desire, and that desire is resisted to any degree.

What will Happen to a Story if it Doesn’t have a Conflict?

If a story has no conflict then it is likely the protagonist is not sufficiently active. Usually, compelling stories have active protagonists, which means that the character is seeking something and acting in accordance with that desire.

A passive protagonist is one that doesn’t deliberately take action, but instead lets events happen to them. The most intense emotion in audiences during a story usually arises when we cheer a protagonist on to overcome obstacles and achieve a desire.

Imagine a world where a character faces no conflict. For instance, what if your character is extremely wealthy? Then they might be able to pay other people to do everything for them. But what if one of the characters requests more money than the protagonist is willing to part with? Now they are in a state of conflict. 

If you deliberately write a world in which there is no conflict at all, you can still tell an interesting story. This story would will lack verisimilitude, or the sense of being based on real life. It will instead be a fantasy world. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want to write and you audience want to watch!

Do all Movies Have a Conflict? What Movies Have No Conflict?

While it is likely true that all movies contain conflict to some extent, you can find movies which have greater or lesser amounts of conflict according to your taste. Comedies often have lower stakes conflict, and children’s films and cartoons often have lessened conflict. 

Films which are frequently referenced as having lower conflict include: Paterson, Chef (2014), Before Sunrise, Amelie, Buena Vista Social Club, My Neighbor Totoro, Frances Ha, Lost In Translation, Garden State – and many others! 

What is a Story Without Conflict Called?

A story with lowered conflict is often referred to a gentle story. Sometimes we can’t stand a high tension, or a high stakes / conflict film or story because we are exhausted or over stressed or anxious. Sometimes people seek stories with as little conflict as possible. 

Do Stories Need a Climax?

Stories generally need a climax in order to feel satisfying. A climax is the final, largest moment of tension in which the central conflict of the story is brought to a head. Stories feel like they have completed once the central conflict of the story is resolved in the climax. 

So Does Story Require Conflict?

It’s a fundamental question that has obsessed writers for millennia. The answer is that yes, story does usually require conflict. Conflict does not have to be a bad thing however, as successfully negotiating lower level conflict is a necessary part of life! 


Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.