Inside and Out

American films tend to emphasize action while European films tend to emphasize emotions. To make a great movie, you need both action and emotions to give your story internal and external conflict.

Movies can get boring because they feel one-dimensional. “Jaws” was an interesting movie because it had action (a man-eating shark) and emotion (the sheriff trying to redeem himself after letting the shark kill a little boy).

This is why sequels tend to suck so badly. They strip away the emotional edge of a story and focus solely on the action or external conflict. That’s why “Jaws 4” is so bad in comparison to “Jaws.” Take away the emotional edge and you just have a bunch of cardboard characters battling a shark.

To create a fully dimensional story, you need both internal and external conflict. Internal conflict comes from character flaws so your character essentially creates his or her own problems.

In “Thelma and Louise,” Thelma is a meek woman who suddenly jumps at the chance to have fun at a bar away from her husband. Her carefree attitude is what draws a man to try to rape her. Louise is a battle-hardened woman who was raped, so when she sees this, her first response is to threaten the rapist, and when he mouths off to her, she snaps and kills him.

Switch the characters around and you get an entirely different story. Louise would never have allowed a man to try to rape her and Thelma would never have had the guts to confront a rapist with a gun. Same scene, but with different characters the story turns out completely different.

To create internal conflict, you need characters, not just roles like a Mother or a Waitress. Defined characters create their own problems and that makes a scene much stronger because we see how their personalities created their problems. That’s much more satisfying than seeing a woman we know nothing about suddenly grab a gun and start shooting zombies. Until we know about the character, all the external action in the world is just eye candy that’s interesting to watch, but emotionally distant and unsatisfying.

Your characters create their own problems, but they also need to battle external conflicts. Yet once again, how they battle external conflicts is rooted in their characters. At the beginning, Thelma and Louise would never have contemplated suicide but after they’ve been through so much together, suicide is an emotionally satisfying solution to their conflict. The two women have experienced life that they’re not going to go back to a life of virtual death.

When creating your own story, look for how your characters can create their own problems. Then look for how your characters react to external conflict. Rambo is going to react differently than Thelma. As long as your story is driven by your character’s actions, your story will be more interesting than just watching yet another car chase or building blowing up in a ball of fire.

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