What makes any story interesting is conflict. Put a bunch of characters in a room and have them agree makes for a boring story. If an entire story can’t get by without conflict, you can see that individual scenes in your story also can’t get by without conflict. Conflict simply makes your entire story interesting scene by scene.
Even if a scene is nothing but one character, there has to be conflict. In “Cast Away,” the hero has built a raft and tries to paddle past the currents to get to the open sea. That’s a conflict. Conflict always involves at least one character.
The elements of conflict include:
- A character with a goal and motivation to reach that goal
- Tactics and strategy to overcome those obstacles
Remember the chest-bursting scene in “Alien”? The crew simply had a goal of eating a meal and getting back on course to Earth. Suddenly one of their crew members goes into convulsions (obstacle #1). Then an alien bursts out of his chest (obstacle #2). One crew member is about to smash it when another tells him to wait (tactics and strategy). Suddenly the alien rushes out of the room.
Scenes always move the story along. If the characters in that scene aren’t changed by the end of that scene, then the scene is pointless. In “Alien,” the chest-bursting scene definitely changes the crew’s life since they’ve gone from wanting to get back to Earth to having to hunt down the alien in their own ship.
Every scene needs conflict to make it interesting. To create conflict, at least one character needs a goal. To keep the character from achieving that goal, there can be outside obstacles or other characters getting in the way. Then the end of the scene has to show whether the character got their goal or not. Whatever the outcome, the end of the scene needs to leave us up in the air as a cliffhanger, making us wonder what will happen next.
In the chest-bursting scene in “Alien,” the escaped alien gives the crew a new goal. However in a much simpler scene in “American Pie,” a girl tells her boyfriend that she wants to have sex with him. Then the cliffhanger is whether they will have sex or not and when.
If every scene in your screenplay doesn\’t have conflict, it’s likely dragging your screenplay down. Make sure there’s conflict of some kind, which means making sure there’s a goal of some kind for a character. The more conflict you can inject in every scene, the faster-paced and more interesting your entire screenplay will be. In the absence of conflict in every scene, the slower-paced and less interesting your screenplay will be. Conflict is the key to keeping audience interest at all times.