Conflict is never about car chases, gunfire, and explosions. Conflict is always about challenging the hero’s indecision between staying stuck in the past or changing into a better person. Each scene then constantly challenges the hero to change or remain stuck in his or her past life.
There are two ways a scene can challenge the hero. First, it can force the hero to make a decision. Second, it can force the hero to see someone else acting in a positive or negative way.
In “Jojo Rabbit,” a boy is growing up in Germany at the end of World War Two and joins the Hitler Youth so he can learn to become a Nazi soldier. To further demonstrate his complete embrace of the Nazi Party, his imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler.
What challenges the hero is that he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Now the hero is torn between being a good Nazi and turning the girl in, or befriending and protecting her.
The hero constantly has an emotional tug of war between being a good Nazi or being a good person. This charges each scene with a greater emotional impact because we always want to see how the hero will react. Will he move closer to becoming a good Nazi or will he move closer to becoming a good person?
“Die Hard” is an example of a movie where scenes force the hero to see how other characters behave in both positive and negative ways. The hero meets a sleazy guy who’s attracted to his wife, so when this sleazy guy gives the villain the hero’s name, the hero reacts by trying to protect the sleazy guy by claiming the sleazy guy means nothing to him (which is true).
Yet the hero is doing this to save the sleazy guy’s life, but the villain shoots and kills this sleazy guy anyway. By seeing how the hero actually tries to save the sleazy guy, we see one example of how the hero is moving towards changing for the better.
Heroes change by being forced to make decisions or by seeing other people acting just like them. The way heroes respond to the actions of others gives another clue how that hero is either changing or further embracing the past.
Every scene must force the hero into a dilemma. Either the hero has to act directly or act based on seeing how other people act and those other people are either acting like the good or bad version of the hero. By seeing how other people behave that mirrors the hero’s own past or future, the hero can see who he or she is or may become.
Remember, conflict is never about more physical confrontation but more inner turmoil within the hero. Force the hero to make a decision and keep forcing the hero to decide until the hero has no choice but to fully commit to the past or the future.
When you see someone struggling to decide what type of person they’re going to be, that’s far more interesting than watching more special effects, car crashes, and gunfire.