In the book “The Science of Storytelling”, author Will Storr emphasizes what makes a dramatic story. It’s not about random action or conflict, but about character. The hero is always in conflict with him or herself.
That’s because in the beginning of the story, the hero has a certain way of looking at the world. The conflict occurs when the hero is forced to look at how his or her way of looking at the world may not be correct.
Think of “Witness” where the hero (John Book) is a police officer who is used to violence on the streets. When an Amish woman’s son witnesses a murder, the hero roughly grabs a suspect off the street and shoves his face against the window for the Amish boy to identify. In the hero’s world, violence is the only way to deal with violence.
Then the hero gets trapped in the Amish community and gradually learns another way to live: namely that non-violence is a valid way to deal with violence. The conflict comes when the hero keeps trying to solve problems through violence, which only makes problems worse when his violent actions identify his location for the villain to find him.
In “Yesterday,” the hero is a struggling musician who thinks he’ll only be happy if he’s successful as a musician. Through a quirk of fate, The Beatles suddenly disappear from the world and the hero is the only man who remembers their music. In the hero’s mind, success as a musician equals happiness, but the more successful he becomes, the further away he gets from falling in love with the woman who truly loves him. Now he’s torn between continuing to pursue his musical career by copying The Beatles or getting the woman he loves who will make him truly happy.
Conflict is never about mindless fighting or action with special effects. Conflict is always about forcing the hero to revise his or her initial beliefs that are holding them back. When the hero finally changes, he or she can finally live in a happier world.
Read “The Science of Storytelling” and you’ll find this book loaded with useful insights that can help shape the structure of your story whether you’re writing a novel, a stage play, or a screenplay.