In every good movie, the hero changes emotionally. That means the hero starts out in a dead end life and winds up in a better life by the end. Since the hero must start out in a dead end life, you must be absolutely clear on what your hero’s dead end life looks like right from the start. Then from that moment on, every conflict stems from keeping the hero from achieving what he or she needs the most.
In “WALL-E,” WALL-E wants to find love. That’s his main gaol from the start and by the end, he finally gets it. In between, his desire for love creates conflict:
- WALL-E wants love, but the conflict is that he’s alone on an abandoned planet
- WALL-E finds Eve to love, but she’s nearly kills him by mistake and he’s afraid to get too close to her
- WALL-E finally befriends Eve but then she mysteriously shuts down
- A strange rocket shows up and takes Eve so WALL-E stows away on that rocket
- WALL-E winds up in a huge spaceship and chases after Eve to stay with her
- WALL-E finally reunites with her but the plant is gone and Eve thinks WALL-E took it
- Eve tries to send WALL-E home but they discover that the villain took the plant and is trying to destroy it
- After rescuing the plant, the villain damages WALL-E and dumps WALL-E and Eve in the trash to be sucked out into space
- Because WALL-E is damaged, he can only survive if he can get spare parts back on Earth so they must get the plant to activate the return home
- Once WALL-E gets his replacement part, he loses his memory
- Finally Eve kisses WALL-E and activates his memory so he can fall in love with Eve at last
Notice how every step of the way, all conflict centers on keeping WALL-E from getting his initial goal, which is to find love. Every story poses an initial question and all conflict stems from keeping the hero from achieving his or her goal. In “Babe,” the hero is a pig who’s rescued from a pig farm. The initial question is will Babe survive and live?
Babe goes to a farm where he’s being fattened up for slaughter. When he proves his worth by herding chickens, the farmer thinks of using Babe to herd sheep. Later when wolves attack sheep, the farmer thinks Babe did it and prepares to shoot Babe, but at the last second, he learns that Babe is innocent. Notice how all conflict stems from keeping the hero from achieving his or her initial goal.
In “Star Wars,” Luke wants to have an adventure. He’s initially stuck on his uncle’s farm and when R2D2 escapes, he reluctantly chases after him, which forces him to leave his uncle’s farm and have an adventure. Yet when Obi-wan asks Luke to come with him, Luke refuses. Only after he discovers that storm troopers have killed his aunt and uncle does Luke finally agree to go with Obi-wan.
Even then, the storm troopers threaten to keep Luke from leaving. Before boarding the Millennium Falcon, storm troopers try to stop them. Once in space, TIE fighters try to stop them. Then the Death Star captures them. Inside the Death Star, Luke starts showing his true self by changing and taking the initiative to rescue Princess Leia. Now storm troopers are trying to kill him and keep him from reaching the Millennium Falcon. Once they escape the Death Star, more TIE fighters try to shoot them down.
Although Luke has gotten the adventure he wanted, he also wants a happy ending so the approaching Death Star threatens that happy ending. As the TIE fighters wipe out most of the rebel forces, Luke is left alone to attack the Death Star and succeeds, which finally gives him the happy ending in his adventure that he always wanted.
The point is that all conflict stems from keeping the hero from achieving his or her initial dream. In WALL-E, all conflict works to keep WALL-E from finding love. In “Babe,” all conflict works to keep Babe from staying alive. In “Star Wars,” all conflict works to keep Luke from achieving a happy ending to his adventure.
Conflict isn’t just something that pops up out of nowhere for no reason. It has a specific reason to exist and that reason is always to keep the hero from achieving an initial dream. In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero’s dream from the start is to appear in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Everything works to keep her from getting to that pageant and once she gets there, everything works to keep her from appearing in that pageant.
Conflict only exists to stop the hero from achieving a dream. Once you know that initial dream of your hero, then you know that all conflict must keep the hero from achieving that dream.