Story Is Conflict

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Story Is Conflict

There is no story without conflict. As entertainment lawyer Judith Merians puts it, "Too often writers forget to tell a story. There's lots of character development, establishing of setting, but I don't know what the fight's about. If I don't know that, you've lost me."

When a character wants something very badly but must overcome obstacles to get it, this creates an interplay of opposing forces—in other words, conflict. Conflict is about struggling for power in ways big or small. Luke Skywalker wants to beat Darth Vader. Three bachelors taking care of a baby want it to stop crying. The stakes may be different, but both are power struggles that give a story its essential conflict.

The choices a person makes when faced with extreme conflict bring out his or her deepest character. That's why conflict is so compelling dramatically. We get to live through the hero's dilemma vicariously and wonder if we ourselves would be as courageous or as foolish.

There are four elements essential for story conflict:

• The character must have a goal and encounter obstacles along the way.
• The goal must be essential to the character. He must not be willing to give up. There can be no compromise.
• The goal can't be too easy to achieve. The odds should be stacked against him.
• The character must stand SOME hope of achieving it, otherwise the story will come across as implausible.

Every story has a central conflict. In The Pursuit of Happyness, written by Steve Conrad, the central conflict is Chris Gardner's struggle to become a stockbroker and provide a home for his 5-year-old son. But there's also scene conflict: between Chris and the mother of his son, who doesn't believe in him; when Chris is in the homeless shelter repairing his last bone density scanner so he can sell it to feed his son, and the shelter lights go out; and when Chris' boss asks to borrow $5 without realizing it's all Chris has left. Each of these scene conflicts feed the primary conflict. Chris can't give up or his son will go hungry. The odds are highly stacked against him and his goal seems almost impossible to achieve. But he has two qualities that give us hope: He's determined, and he's highly intelligent.

Start with the primary conflict, which is your hero's story goal. As your story progresses, add new obstacles and setbacks for your character to overcome, but make sure each conflict feeds the bigger conflict. Allow the obstacles to become increasingly more difficult and the conflict to escalate as the hero approaches the crisis point. Master the art of conflict, and you will have the audience sitting on the edge of their seats.



6/14/2009 5:02:12 PM


2/29/2012 2:23:20 PM
Madison Lyric said:

Loved it!!! Has helped me alot!!! I am in need of conflict in my screenplay now, 37 pages in and this info has been so helpful.


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