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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Create conflict!

In this season of peace on earth and goodwill to all, let’s spend a few minutes thinking about conflict. After all, when you break it down to the bare essentials, drama is about conflict. That’s not to say movies have to be about war and violence. Far from it. One of the things that’s stuck in my mind for many years is this: “Drama is about one person wanting something, and someone else not wanting them to have it.” Look at something as simple as Tom and Jerry cartoons: the mouse wants the cheese, and the cat wants to stop him.  That’s conflict, and it’s sufficient to fuel literally hundreds of short comedies.

However, some conflicts make for better, and more interesting story-telling than others. And, most importantly, action itself doesn’t make for interesting conflict. You have to care about the characters, or it’s just meaningless. Here’s a excerpt from a great blog post by Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU:

I often ask the question “What is the main conflict of your story?” and get answers like:

“The story starts out with a spectacular shootout, but there’s this one Marine who has no fear. He just walks into the line of fire and destroys the enemy. Then, he gets called to lead the Special Forces on a mission against the main terrorism cell where he kills every one except the top guy…”

Even though there is plenty of violence and visually exciting scenes, we haven’t heard a hint of the main conflict.

Read more…

Hal points out that this is actually a weak main conflict. If you think about it in the terms I outlined above, we don’t know who wants what, or who’s trying to stop them, let alone why. Hal notes that the audience doesn’t know, because the writer probably doesn’t know. The story is presented in terms of events, not a conflict to be resolved.

He goes on to suggest a handy technique for approaching this aspect of writing. Summarise your conflict in one short sentence. If you need too many words, then your conflict is fuzzy and the audience will lose track. If it seems weak when you cut it down, then it is weak and you need to rethink your entire script, and maybe your whole story.  Then, once you have that conflict mapped out, you use that as the basis for everything else you’re doing. Effectively, that is your story: everything else in your movie is just there to support that conflict and make the audience want to see how it plays out.


(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

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