All Conflict Stems From the Theme

Every story needs conflict. Without conflict, you don’t have a story. Where mediocre stories fail is that they have conflict, but that conflict is completely unrelated to the story’s theme.

In “Long Shot,” the theme appears to be true to yourself. Unfortunately the conflict within the story often completely ignores this theme. In one scene, the hero and his girlfriend, who is Secretary of State, are about to kiss in a hotel room in a Third World country.

Suddenly, rebels in that country attack with explosions and gunfire spraying their hotel room, forcing them to flee and keeping them from kissing.


This type of mindless conflict for the sake of conflict makes no sense in relation to the theme. Conflict never exists just to throw obstacles in the hero’s path. Conflict always exists to pull the hero away from changing emotionally and embracing the story’s theme.

In a far better movie, “Yesterday,” a man wakes up from a bicycle accident to discover that The Beatles never existed, yet he remembers all of their songs.

In “Yesterday,” the theme could also be staying true to yourself and being honest, but the conflict is actually linked to this theme. At one point, the hero is in a Hollywood music label conference room where the record label’s executives are brainstorming a name for the hero’s debut album.

Remember, conflict in every story must be related to the theme, so the conflict in this scene occurs when the executives reject all of the hero’s album names, such as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album, and Abbey Road, even though the hero is getting famous for singing The Beatles songs.

The conflict occurs when the music company executives decide to call the album One Man Only to highlight their belief that the hero wrote all the songs by himself, which creates greater conflict within the hero because he knows he didn’t write The Beatles songs that he’s passing off as his own.

Notice that in “Yesterday,” the conflict forces the hero to constantly decide between the story’s theme or avoiding it while the conflict in “Long Shot” has nothing to do with the theme whatsoever.

Watch any bad movie and you’ll notice meaningless conflict, if the story even has a theme. Watch any good movie and you’ll notice that the conflict always stems from the theme. Conflict constantly threatens to pull the hero away from the theme while the hero struggles to change and embrace the theme.

Imagine a story like “Thelma and Louise” where UFOs suddenly appear with laser bolts, trying to blast the couple in their car driving down the highway. Visually that might be interesting, but it has no relation to the story’s theme of women struggling in a male-dominated world.

When you need conflict, look to your story’s theme as a guideline. Then make sure all conflict constantly forces your hero to look at the temptation to avoid the theme compared to the difficult in embracing the theme.

In “Yesterday,” the hero is torn between embracing the lie that he wrote all The Beatles songs that he’s playing, or telling the truth and losing his entire music career that he’s dreamed about his whole life.

Conflict isn’t just gunfire and explosions but theme and inner turmoil within the character. Remember this and you’ll likely avoid writing meaningless conflict into your screenplay in a lame attempt to make your story more appealing.

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