In every scene, you need conflict. More importantly, your entire story needs to be based on conflict between the hero and the villain. To maximize conflict, you need to define several items:
- What does the villain want?
- What does the hero want?
- What deadline does the villain create?
- How can we tell who wins?
Every story needs to define these four elements. Think of “To Kill a Mockingbird” where the hero is a lawyer defending a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. The villain is the woman’s father who beats her, so to protect her father, she accuses a black man of beating her up while raping her. Notice all for elements are clearly defined:
- The villain wants to convince the court that the black man is to blame
- The hero wants to convince the court that the black man is innocent and the villain was to blame
- The court must decide the case by a certain time and day
- If the jury acquits the black man, the hero wins. Otherwise the villain wins
You can apply these four elements to any story, even your own. Think of “Frozen”:
- The villain wants to marry a princess to get a kingdom of his own
- The hero wants to save her sister and their kingdom
- The villain tries to killer both sisters to take their kingdom
- If the villain kills both sisters, he wins. If the sisters both stay alive, they win
By examining every story through these four elements, you can tell right away if your story works or not. If you don’t have a villain, then you risk creating a meaningless story where the hero has nothing to fight against. With no conflict, there’s no interest, and the story will likely be dull and boring.
Without a clear goal for the hero, the story will also be slow and boring since there’s no reason for the hero to do anything. If there’s no deadline, there’s also no interest since there’s no reason for anything to happen. A deadline forces characters to act now because they have no choice.
Finally, you have to know who wins with the outcome clearly known to the audience. If the outcome is vague, then the story ending risks being unsatisfying and incomplete.
Master these four elements of your basic story structure and you’ll go a long way towards making your story sharper and more distinct while also being far more interesting than some story that just meanders about with no purpose, goal, or direction. Conflict is the heart of all good storytelling, so make sure your hero and villain fight to the finish because that’s what makes a story worth watching.