All stories, good or bad, need a conflict. Without one, there isn’t a story at all. The conflict is what drives the characters forward in the plot. It can be something as small as two employees competing for a promotion to the same position, or something as large as two opposing armies fighting over a piece of territory. Conflict breathes life into all other elements of a story.
Just like in stories, conflict is an inescapable part of life. You will find it wherever you look for it, and even in some places you don’t. On the whole, I would say that most conflicts are unenjoyable for both the participants and the observers. The exception here lies with events like a good debate. There is something exhilarating about watching opposite sides carefully argue their respective points. Some people are hungry for that kind of fight. However, even they will avoid a situation they find too uncomfortable.
Isn’t it strange that, while using reading as a means of escape, we dive directly into the conflicts of someone else’s life? The characters in books might be fictional, but there are often striking similarities between their problems and their audience’s. That relatability is one of the things that keeps reading interesting.
Perhaps “escape” is a poor word. A more accurate one might be “divert.” A reader isn’t truly escaping conflicts in their lives when they open a book but is instead diverting their attention to see how someone else deals with a potentially similar situation. They can imagine they are that character, standing tall and strong, staring down an opponent as they might wish to meet the gaze of an intimidating boss. Once the story is over, the reader might find the courage to emulate that brave character as they handle a parallel situation in real life.
Conflicts themselves don’t seem to vary all that much. Subject A and Subject B both want the same thing. They fight. Subject A wants something that prevents Subject B from attaining what they want. They fight. There’s nothing wrong with this. Conflicts may change shape, but they rarely change theme. We all encounter the same ones.
Reading may, in fact, be a means of escaping. But only a little.