No conflict, no story

Text: Solveig Hansen, 2022

While in observation mode, I find myself peeping into others’ shopping carts at the grocery store. Like the cart of the young woman examining her long shopping list. In my writer’s mind, I imagine she’ll be hosting a dinner for her in-laws and has prepared an exact list of ingredients for the three courses she plans to serve. Not exactly a genius in the kitchen, she has bitten off way more than she can chew, but everything just has to be perfect. God, she tries so hard — mushrooms? canned OK? — and I feel so sorry about what I’m about to put her through.

Because without conflict of some kind, there’s no story. She knows that her wannabe something brother-in-law will boast about the food in the classy restaurant he claims to frequent. Her mother-in-law will give a lecture on how she would prepare the same dishes. Of course, she never fries mushrooms, she sautés champignons. Fresh ones, mind you.

So, what should our girl with the long shopping list do?

Should we let her fail royally? Or let her think, “Screw them” and make her drain her credit card and order in from that classy restaurant? The SoB brother-in-law will not even notice, and the bitch-in-law will go on bragging about her own cooking skills and sautéd champignons. Will she — our protagonist, that is — tell them about her little scheme? Gloat inside? Or even better: Save it for later and throw it in their faces at an appropriate time, when she has built the courage to confront them? Then let her laugh.

And where the hell is her husband?? Maybe we should just have her serve hot dogs or order pizzas.

I groan to myself and pick up a carton of milk.

“The cat sat on the mat” is not a story. “The cat sat on the dog’s mat” is a story.

― John le Carré

Image: Mohamed Hassan @

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