Every story is about conflict. Without conflict, you have no story. Watching a character struggle to achieve a goal is what makes any story interesting.
However, not all conflict is equal. If a person wants to find love, it’s easy to throw in completely irrelevant conflict such as Godzilla suddenly tearing up a town or terrorists suddenly blocking the hero from crossing a bridge.
While all conflict can be interesting, the best conflict for any story is conflict that directly relates to your story’s theme.
Remember, your theme defines how your hero will change emotionally, so every conflict needs to challenge your hero into embracing the opposite of the theme in order to fail to change emotionally and become a better person.
In “Terminator 2,” the theme is that killing is wrong, so every conflict is about testing this theme by giving the hero (the good Terminator) a reason to kill to solve his problems easily. By constantly testing the hero, conflicts reinforce the theme and show how the hero gradually changes into a better person.
Toss random conflicts at your hero and you not only risk the audience forgetting your theme, but you also fail to show how the hero changes into a better person.
The theme of “Hacksaw Ridge” is also about not killing where a man joins the army and refuses to carry a weapon because he doesn’t want to kill anyone since it’s against his religious beliefs.
The first major conflict he encounters comes from his military instructors who insult and belittle him. They torment him to get him to quit and his fellow soldiers even beat him up. Despite this, he holds on to his beliefs of not killing or carrying a weapon.
The second conflict occurs when the military tries to stop him from getting married, citing insubordination. At his court-martial, he’s threatened with prison to keep him from getting married, but he refuses to give in. The military finally allows him to go into combat without a weapon.
Now the third and final conflict occurs when the hero is sent into a vicious battle in an area known as Hacksaw Ridge. This is where American soldiers and Japanese soldiers keep taking the ground and losing it tot he other side in horrifying battles.
To protect himself, the hero should carry a gun but he refuses and spends his time rushing into battle to rescue wounded soldiers. This is his final test and because he remains true to his beliefs, he emerges victorious in having the military recognize him for bravery while he saved the lives of so many soldiers who know have respect for him.
Conflict in your story is about tempting your hero to avoid embracing your story’s theme. Once you know your story’s theme, you automatically know the type and purpose of conflict in your story. Knowing that conflict must tempt your hero from embracing your story’s theme, you’ll be far less likely to create conflict just for the sake of showing explosions, gunfire, and meaningless special effects.