Conflict is the Basis for Drama
Audiences don’t flock to see a film where all the character’s play nice and live their lives free of obstacles. Good drama shows characters in confrontation; in dynamic relationships that emphasize their differences and force them to transform.
Conflict Must Have Meaning
If the conflict only consists of a problem that needs to be solved, the story will be flat and the audience will lose interest. The audience needs to know what the conflict means to the characters. How does it affect their actions, their relationships and most importantly, what are the consequences? Showing how a character responds and copes with the conflict helps the audience connect and engage with the story. If the conflict has no affect on the characters, the story will stay stuck on a superficial level. Good dramatic conflict pushes characters to express human qualities that reveal a deeper understanding of the story, ourselves and the world around us.
Good screenwriting weaves more than one type of conflict through the story. Here are 4 types of dramatic conflict you can use in your screenplay:
1. Inner Conflict
Inner conflict occurs when a character struggles with himself (such as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler). The struggle could be anything from a lack of self-confidence to addictive and self-destructive behavior. Inner conflict is tricky to express on screen because… well, it’s inner. The conflict is within the character. For the audience to understand the inner conflict the character must reveal it. The inner conflict must be projected outward onto something else - visually or via voice-over, or through the character expressing his feelings to another character.
2. Relational Conflict
The most predominant type of conflict is relational, often the battle between the mutually exclusive goals of the protagonist and antagonist, though this also occurs between “buddies” and “couples”. Examples include, Harry and Sally (When Harry Met Sally), and Dillinger and Purvis (Public Enemies).
3. Societal Conflict
Societal conflict occurs between a person and a group, and is usually present in films about corruption, justice, or oppression. Stories with societal conflict often incorporate scenes or subplots involving personal conflict. Examples include Erin Brockovich and Star Wars.
4. Situational Conflict
Situational conflict occurs when a character is in conflict with a specific situation; a woman trapped in a burning building, a man hiding in a married woman’s closet when her husband arrives home, a group of stranded adventurers trying to find a way off a deserted island. In films containing situational conflict, the main conflict is still usually relational. Audiences need a personal connection to stay engaged. Examples include The Poseidon Adventure and Aliens.