A story is only as interesting as its conflict where your hero battles to reach a goal. However, there are more than one way to create conflict and if you only use one form of conflict, your story could appear flat and one-dimensional.
The book “Screenplay: Writing the Picture” defines three types of conflict your hero can face. First is Character vs. Character. This is the most obvious conflict where a hero battles against a villain. Surprisingly, many movies lack a scary all-powerful villain, which dilutes and weakens the story.
In the movie “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” there’s no single villain defining the story, so the film feels like it’s missing something. Now think of a movie like “The Matrix” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where the villain is clear right from the start. Once we know who the hero is battling against, we want to see how the hero will win.
A second type of conflict is Character vs. Self. In this conflict, the hero is battling his or her own flaws, past history, or limitations. In “Cliffhanger,” Sylvester Stallone is battling with his past inability to save a woman from falling to her death. In “Leaving Las Vegas,” Nicholas Cage is battling his alcoholism problem. Watching a character battle against himself might not be as visually exciting as a gunfight or martial arts battle against a villain, but it’s often more emotionally satisfying.
A third type of conflict is Character vs. Society. In this case, the hero is battling an organization such as an oppressive government in “1984” or the lunacy of war and the military in “M*A*S*H” or “Dr. Strangelove.” With this type of conflict, the role of society is often represented by actual people because it’s hard to see a person battling a faceless organization, but it’s more visually interesting to watch a person battling against a faceless organization run by one or more actual people.
A fourth type of conflict is Character vs. Nature. Nature represents some outside force such as water in “The Poseidon Adventure” or fire in “The Towering Inferno.” Many times, a battle against nature needs a specific object to represent that threat. In “The Poseidon Adventure,” the water is the main threat that relentlessly pursues the heroes as they struggle for survival. In “Finding Nemo,” the threat of nature is represented by various threats such as sharks, birds, and fanged fish.
One-dimensional stories use one type of conflict, but better stories use multiple conflicts. In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis is not only fighting against a villain (Character vs. Character), but he’s fighting while barefoot (Character vs. Nature) and against the incompetence of the police (Character vs. Society).
In “Star Wars,” Luke is battling against Darth Vader (Character vs. Character) along with fighting against his own doubts (Character vs. Self).
Focus on clearly defining one conflict in your story, then work on developing other forms of conflict to make your story more engaging. By using multiple forms of conflict, you’ll make your story more appealing to an audience.