Pop quiz time!
Apart from advancing the story, theme and character development, what is the one key component every scene should contain?
Okay. Pencils down.
A big ol’ piece of pie to everybody who said “conflict”. Without it, your script’s on a one-way trip to Boringtown.
I recently became involved in a discussion with a starting-out writer who asked about the best way to describe how a sequence in his script could play out. After looking at the source material (based on true events), I said if he only writes what happens, there won’t be any drama to it. It needs conflict.
“Conflict how?” he asked.
That’s what it come down to, isn’t it? A lot of newer writers hear “conflict”, and they immediately think two characters are supposed to be arguing. Sometimes that might apply, but it’s not necessarily what it means.
Conflict is two opposing forces going up against each other, and those two forces could be anything (within the limits of your story, of course). Most of the time, one side will be your character and the other will be something or someone standing in their way of achieving their goal, be it immediate or overall.
Which would you rather watch? A story where everything goes just fine for the main character, or one where they’re always dealing with some kind of problem?
One of the great things about conflict is that it can come in any shape or form.
“What if a character opens a window?” was the follow-up question. “Where’s the conflict there?”
There isn’t any. If you’re reading a script and get to a scene that only involves a person opening a window, you’d think “What purpose does this serve?” and tell the writer to cut it.
The conflict would be if it won’t open. There’s a story there. Your curiosity is piqued. Questions are raised. Why won’t it open? Why do they want it open? What are they willing to do to get it open? What’ll happen after they get it open?
Conflict helps move the story forward. Part of our jobs as writers is to come up with new, original and imaginative ways to portray that conflict. The way I have the character open that window is probably totally different than how you would.
Even the central question of your story shows conflict: Will the main character achieve their goal?
While you work on your latest draft, take the time to examine each scene, even the ones only a line or two long. Is there conflict of some sort?
If there is, great. If not, you need to get some in there.