To make any story interesting, you need conflict. However, bad movies simply toss all types of conflict in a story, most of which makes no sense but provides visual eye-candy with special effects, car crashes, and gunfire. The idea is that if the conflict looks interesting, it will make the overall story interesting.
Random, meaningless conflict is little better than no conflict at all. Imagine a romance where a woman wants to find true love. One type of conflict could have her going into a singles bar and aliens suddenly show up outside and blast the bar to bits with lasers. Another type of conflict could have a car crash through the bar. Still another type of conflict could have a monster suddenly appear in the singles bar and start ripping the place apart.
While any of this conflict might be visually interesting, they fail to support the main story, which is about a woman searching for true love. So the key to any conflict is that it absolutely must support the main story and to do that, you, as the writer, need to know one or more of the following:
- Genre — What type of story are you telling?
- Plot — What’s the goal of the hero?
- Theme — What’s your story about?
With genre, conflict defines the goal of the hero. In horror stories, the conflict revolves around the hero trying to escape the horror while the horror keeps trying to overwhelm the hero.
In romance stories, the conflict revolves around the hero searching for love while people and circumstances block the hero from finding love.
In mysteries, the conflict stems from the hero trying to solve a mystery while someone or situations are trying to keep the hero from solving the mystery.
Notice that genre either defines what the hero is striving to reach or striving to get away from (horror)? The details depend on each particular story, but right away you should notice how conflict depends on the genre to create conflict that supports a story.
Plot more narrowly defines what the hero is trying to achieve. Knowing this, conflict occurs by trying to keep the hero from achieving that concrete, physical goal.
In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indiana Jones is trying to get the Ark while the villain and circumstances constantly try to keep him from getting it. Once you know the physical goal your hero is trying to reach, it’s much easier to know what type of conflict can best stop the hero.
In romance stories, the biggest goal is that the hero wants to find true love in a specific person. Thus the conflict stems from keeping the hero from that person and steering that person to someone else.
In “Sleepless in Seattle,” not only are circumstances trying to keep the hero and his true love apart (they live in different cities) but his true love is engaged to marry someone else. Notice how the conflict directly blocks the hero’s goal where a sudden eruption of gunfire or car crashes will not despite being far more visually interesting?
Genre helps you shape your conflict. Plot helps you focus your conflict in blocking a specific goal. Now theme shows you how to block a hero’s specific goal.
Theme defines conflict in terms of temptation. In “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Terminator 2”, the theme is that killing is wrong. Thus the conflict stems between these two opposing ideas of not killing or killing.
In “Hacksaw Ridge,” the hero refuses to carry a weapon even though he’s enlisted in the army. So his first conflict is that his fellow soldiers in boot camp tease and taunt him to the point of beating him up.
His second major conflict occurs when the military wants to court-martial him for not obeying orders (carrying a weapon). By court-martialing him, they’ll keep him from getting married.
His third and final conflict occurs when he’s in battle with enemy soldiers trying to kill him. Yet he still insists on not killing and rescues wounded soldiers in the process, becoming a hero in the end.
So focus on creating conflict that relies on your story’s genre, plot, and theme. If conflict doesn’t match your story’s genre, plot, or theme, then that conflict doesn’t belong.
Bad movies toss in conflict that has nothing to do with a story’s genre, plot, or theme. Good movies only include conflict that works with the story’s genre, plot, and theme.
Which type of story do you want to write, a good one or a bad one?