Ask many novice screenwriters what their story is about and you’ll often get a vague description that their story is about a woman searching for love or a man trying to kill his boss. While vague story ideas are fine, what every story needs is inherent conflict.
A South Korean movie called “Welcome to Dongmakgol” creates inherent conflict because it’s a story that takes place during the Korean War where an American pilot gets shot down and rescued by a village.
At the same time, three North Korean soldiers escape an ambush and wind up at that same village. Finally, two South Korean soldiers who have been separated from their unit also wind up in that same village.
So the inherent conflict is that the American and two South Korean soldiers must live in the same village as the three North Korean soldiers even though they’re supposed to all be enemies.
In a German movie called “Four Minutes,” a violent woman in prison causes trouble, but is found to be a piano prodigy. Now the huge question (conflict) is how did a piano prodigy wind up in prison as a violent inmate?
In “The Incredibles,” super heroes are banned, yet Mr. Incredible feels useless as an ordinary person. The inherent conflict occurs when he stays in touch with other superheroes and performs superhero actions while trying to stay hidden from society.
Every good story has inherent conflict. If your story is about a woman searching for love, it’s not enough to throw in obstacles like another woman trying to win the man she wants. Make that conflict bigger by having two women chase after the same man but those two women are sisters.
If you have a vague story about a man wanting to kill his boss, add more inherent conflict. What if the boss is the man’s father? What if the boss is a godfather organized crime leader who helped nurture and protect this man? What if the boss is a woman who the man had an affair with and he wants to kill the boss to kepis wife from finding out?
Notice that by adding more inherent conflict to the story, the story gets more interesting beyond the simple “a man wants to kill his boss.”
Stories aren’t interesting by throwing more obstacles at the hero like a mindless James Bond movie where villains pop up like shooting gallery targets, only for James Bond to effortless knock them down again.
Obstacles in stories are far more interesting when they bring inherent conflict, such as two brothers fighting for the same mixed martial arts championship (“Warrior”).
Inherent conflict creates internal conflict, and that’s always far more interesting than ordinary external obstacles like car crashes, flat characters shooting at the hero, or random people who pop up long enough to get shot down by the hero.
Make your conflict inherent and internal. That will turn every story into an interesting one.