Look at your script or any story that you’re about to write. No matter how well you write that story, all the drama and tension you’ve developed will amount to nothing, like air in a deflating balloon, if it misses a critical ingredient: conflict.
We’ve seen the evolution of scriptwriting as new mediums have been introduced to the fold. We’re no longer writing scripts just for broadcast shows, radio ads and films. Scriptwriting has seeped into video games, narrative banner ads and YouTube videos as storytelling adapts to the digital age. However, the big idea remains the same. Any good narrative should have a purpose — a reason why it’s being told — and that purpose boils down to a conflict.
Every good story should have one. Read the front page your local newspaper and the first headline you should see should include (with the exception of the day after a championship game has been played when a team earns its denouement or a public flaying — remember: “SUPER: Dungy’s Colts storm past Bears in Miami downpour” or “Tropical depression: Chicago’s Super Bowl dreams are washed away in Miami as Colts gallop to a 29-17 victory” — as a definitive end to all the conflict they faced that season) some allusion to the most important conflict that happened the day before.
Conflict makes a story compelling, because it’s universal. We all face our own problems; when we see these conflicts reflected in a narrative story, regardless of the medium, it gives us something to relate to. Something we can feel.
Consider Hollywood scriptwriter John Rogers words. Even in action writing, it’s the suspense (the conflict) that drives the story:
“Make sure every action sequence has a separate goal within the sequence which might legitimately succeed or fail with derailing the movie. Slap a little suspense beat down as your seed, then let your action sequence arrive from the a.) circumstances surrounding the goal or b.) choices of the character.
You can stop reading now, if you just take this away: Don’t write action sequences. Write suspense sequences that require action to resolve.”
Scriptwriting has adapted to new mediums, but primary conflicts remain unchanged. They are:
MAN VS. MAN: The superhero and supervillian. The rival. When a character is faced against another man.
MAN VS. SOCIETY: When you’re faced with a moral or social decision. The coverage of politics.
MAN VS. NATURE: When you’re forced to drink urine. (*Aryn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged” does not believe this is a conflict, because nature has no will and you’re just weak.)
MAN VS. SELF: The Bill Murray conflict. When you’re dealing with your unconscious, your emotions, yourself.
These conflicts hold the power to develop a story and its character. It sheds a limelight on a business’s problems; helps society. The device is meant to create movement (or the lack of it).
When you’re writing a script, follow these tips: Make sure it’s real. People are smart enough to tell the difference between a ridiculous lie and an obvious fact. Develop it. And get to the point. Do this and good narrative script will show its viewers something worth seeing.