As work on the pulpy adventure spec plods forward, one of the key components of a solid script is constantly reminding me to use it to its fullest potential.
Conflict. Without it, you won’t have much of a story.
While each scene should be advancing the plot, theme and character development, there also needs to be some kind of conflict.
You know that analogy about structure that involves your character getting stuck up a tree and having rocks hurled at them? Being stuck and the rocks would be the conflict.
(I can just imagine the studio note – “I love it! But does it have to be rocks? And how about a bush instead of a tree?” But I digress.)
Characters need to keep encountering obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goal. Your job is to make those obstacles tough for them.
Here’s where things get interesting and how to make your script stand out from the rest – those obstacles can be in the form of just about anything.
Conflict doesn’t mean there should be a major argument or a slam-bang, knockdown punch-fest; more like the confluence of two opposing ideals with some degree of intensity.
Say you’ve got a character who absolutely needs to be somewhere at a certain time. It’s up to you to think of different ways to make their journey anything but easy. Lost keys, flat tire, car won’t start, traffic jam, and so on.
As the story progresses, so should the levels of conflict. Start off on a small scale, and then build so things just keeping getting worse. This can also be combined with raising the stakes so the reader/audience can’t help but wonder “How are they going to get out of this one?”
Something else to consider: try to make the conflict organic. Don’t have something happen because the story needs it to; make it feel like it belongs. Going back to the earlier example of the character trying to get somewhere – it makes more sense they would get pulled over for speeding, rather than, say, abducted by aliens or attacked by zombies (unless that’s part of the story).
Simply put, you have to put your characters through hell before they can get what they’ve been trying to get the whole time. If you’ve done a good job in making us want to root for them, the more we’re going to want to see them succeed.