Every story is about conflict. However, there’s a huge difference between meaningless conflict and conflict that supports the core theme of a story. Watch any bad movie and you’ll either find a story empty of conflict or a story loaded with meaningless conflict that comes out of nowhere.
Watch a bad James Bond movie and you can see enemies popping up all the time to attack James Bond over and over again. Such conflict is meaningless since it’s repetitive. True conflict is really all about forcing the hero to face the same problem over and over again on an emotional level.
In “Liar Liar,” the hero is a lying lawyer whose son wishes that he’ll tell the truth for 24 hours. Now all conflict revolves around this dilemma between lying and telling the truth.
“Die Hard” might seem to be an action film with endless gun battles, but the underlying purpose of all conflict isn’t just to give John McClane another way to kill one more terrorist. Instead, the conflict is all about getting one step closer to rescuing his wife.
Watch all those bad “Die Hard” sequels that eliminate the emotional purpose of conflict. When conflict fails to challenge a character emotionally, it has no purpose.
In “Jaws,” the conflict might see to be about killing a shark (which is the only conflict all those bad “Jaws” sequels focus on), but the real emotional conflict is about the hero trying to redeem himself for allowing the shark to kill a little boy. Now the underlying purpose of conflict is about this hero trying to get one step closer to finally killing the shark.
Before throwing conflict in a story just for the sake of conflict, identify the single purpose for that conflict. In “Die Hard” the purpose of conflict is to rescue his wife. In “Jaws,” the purpose of conflict is for the hero to redeem himself after letting the shark kill a little boy. Thus all conflict is about the hero trying to ultimately kill the shark.
In “Titanic,” all conflict is about Rose (the hero) trying to decide between being free or submitting to the pressures of society that want her to just get married for money. Watch “Titanic” and you’ll find the conflict either pushes Rose towards letting society tell her what to do or being free to decide what she wants to do with her life.
Conflict has a purpose. Conflict keeps escalating. Ultimately, conflict leads to finally resolving the purpose in the first place.