Conflict in Screenwriting

At the very core of every piece of film or television is conflict. If everyone just got along it would make for a very boring movie. As a scriptwriter you have to inject conflict into your script to keep the action moving along so the audience will remain interested.

The most important piece of conflict is always the conflict between the main character’s success versus the failure of achieving their ultimate goal. You need to think of each scene as a mini-story where your main character has a goal, it doesn’t have to be their ultimate goal, where obstacles are pushed into their path to stop them achieving their goal. In most scenes the character will be able to overcome these obstacles and achieve their goal with a few exceptions.

Brought down to the basics there are two types of conflict.

  • Inner Conflict
  • Outer Conflict

Inner Conflict

Inner conflict are the emotion hang-ups and neurosis that we all have. Whether it’s something obvious such as a person refusing to ever swim because their Dad drowned when they were a child, or something more subtle, inner conflict is often the deeper, darker side of a character. Inner conflict often hinders the character from developing as a person and achieving their goal in less obvious way than a physical force.

Outer Conflict

Outer conflict are the obstacles which confront your character and attempt to stop them achieving their goal. These can range from the character’s relationships to freakish zombie mutants.

As much as I have just harped on about the importance of conflict you shouldn’t make every scene in your script a desperate fight to save the world from some impending force of doom. If you do this then the audience’s emotions will be drained by the climax and then they simple won’t care, they’ve seen it all already. The truly great scriptwriter will take the audience on an emotional roller-coaster, complete with ups, downs, and maybe a few loop-de-loops.

If you ever get to a point in your script where, with the end still 40 pages in sight, the conflict and tension seems almost impossible to top you need to ever re-write the scene to lower the stakes or provide a little relief from the conflict maybe with a moment of comedy or romance. Then just when the audience has settled down – BAM! – hit them again with more conflict.

Remember that life is an eternal struggle and that is exactly what your main character’s life needs to be to create an interesting script.

what is conflict in storytelling?