All screenwriters are aware that conflict is a vital component of films. Audiences thrive on it. So what exactly is a conflict?
Conflict is simply a diametrically opposed set of goals, attitudes, philosophies and actions between the main character and something else. The conflict forms the obstacles for the main character and allows the audience to emotionally travel with them.
The conflict must be directly opposed with the main characters goals. Head on. Not an inconvenience, a thorn in their side, a bugbear or a dislike. But a straight up collision of values.
Conflict is the key dramatic driver of all stories. It creates tension, excitement and vitality. In its rudimentary form, conflict arises when an obstacle impedes the protagonist from achieving their goal.
If a story doesn’t have conflict in its backbone, it is little more than a series of events.
The grandest conflict can be reduced to a battle between good and evil, the rational versus the irrational; warring in the human heart. Abraham Lincoln famously said : “The dark side sometimes overcomes the better angels of our nature.”
Great stories contain conflicts for the majority of characters, not just the main one. Tri-level conflict is categorized as internal, external and the over-arching story conflict which relates to theme. Typical conflict scenarios include:
MAN vs OTHERS (PHYSICAL) – The leading character struggles with his physical strength against other men, forces of nature, or animals.
MAN vs. CIRCUMSTANCES (CLASSICAL) – The leading character struggles against fate, or the circumstances of life facing him/her.
MAN vs. SOCIETY (SOCIAL) – The leading character struggles against ideas, practices, or customs of other people.
MAN vs. HIMSELF (PSYCHOLOGICAL) – The leading character struggles with himself/herself; with his/her own soul, conscience, ideology, morality, ideas of right or wrong, physical limitations, choices, etc.
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