You’re driving to work, but running a little late. Okay, a lot late. So, you weave in and out of traffic with one singular goal: Get to work on time. Your motivation? Your boss is an asshole and you don’t want to give him (or her) any reason to yell at you.
You run that yellow light as it turns red. You slam on the brakes, almost rear-ending the car in front of you.
Finally, you take a chance and get on your cell to call your assistant/partner/co-worker that you’re running late. All of a sudden, you see flashing lights behind you and hear: “Pull over.”
An all-business patrolman, who would much rather be grabbing a Starbucks, pulls you over for talking on your cell phone. Now your goal has changed from getting to work on time. You must try and talk your way out of it...while his goal is to write you a ticket and not get too annoyed at your constant begging to let you out of the ticket.
That, my friend. is conflict.
And our scripts all need it.
Conflict is the driving force behind any well-written screenplay. Without it, your story cannot move forward. And if you don’t move your story forward, then you have no story - and hence - no worthwhile script.
Here are some tips to insert conflict into your story:
Give your characters clear goals. In Tim Burton’s "Batman," Michael Keaton (Batman) must rescue Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale). Meanwhile, Jack Nicholson (The Joker) wants Vicki Vale for his own pleasures. What we have here are two clear goals that are at opposition. When you are crafting your characters, make sure they each have an overall story goal. Then, make sure each scene featuring that character is bringing him (or her) closer to that goal.
Give your characters immediate goals. Think of every scene as a mini-movie. That means every scene has a beginning, middle and end. If your character, in that scene, has a goal and there is another character who has a different goal, then you have conflict. Think of it as you trying to open a door while someone on the other side is holding that door shut. Your overall goal may be to go to Best Buy and buy unbelievable Xmas presents for your kid, but right now your immediate goal is to get that door open.
Let your characters fail. Are you a gamer? Think about how many times you fail playing "Battlefront" or "Call of Duty." When you die, do you quit? Heck no! You reboot and play again. The same can be said for your characters. Allowing them to fail can make them more relatable to your audience...as well as making your script more interesting.
Make your characters opinionated. Dems v Republicans. Dogs v cats. "Batman v Superman"! Eagles fans v Cowboys fans. These groups all hold natural conflict. Why? Because they have definite opinions. Use the things you know - religion, sex, rich, poor - to allow your characters to have a definitive point of view about life. When someone with opposing views enters their life, what happens?
You guessed it – conflict.