Watch a bad James Bond movie and it’s all mindless action. There’s only so much car crashes, gunfire, and explosions you can watch before it gets boring and meaningless. That’s why every great story needs both physical and emotional conflict.
Physical conflict is easy to create by just having fights, helicopter crashes, and explosions everywhere. Think of bad sequels like “Jaws 4” or “Terminator 3” to see how more actions never creates a better story. What does create a better story is combining a compelling emotional conflict to supplement the physical conflict.
In “The Invisible Man,” an abused woman escapes from an abusive man. Not only is she trying to escape him physically, but she’s also trying to get away from him emotionally. What makes her task harder is that he’s invisible and can taunt and torment her wherever she goes.
Now her emotional conflict of getting away from him is much harder because the physical conflict is trying to defeat an invisible man. It’s hard enough to fight an invisible man physically, but the added emotional conflict makes the physical conflict meaningful and much harder.
Strip away this abusive woman story from the idea of fighting an invisible man and the physical conflict becomes much less. “The Invisible Man” is a perfect example of how the combination of emotional conflict with physical conflict makes a great story.
Examine every great movie and you’ll see this combination of physical conflict and emotional conflict working together. In “Tootsie,” a man who treats women poorly must dress up as a woman to get an acting job, and he’s forced to deal with how men treat women poorly, just like, he used to do.
In “Castaway,” the hero is a Federal Express executive who’s used to getting things done right away. Suddenly he’s stranded on an island where he has all the time in the world. That physical conflict makes his emotional conflict harder just as an abusive woman escaping an invisible man makes her emotional conflict harder.
In “WALL-E,” WALL-E has an emotional dream of finding someone to love. however, the physical conflict is that he’s all alone on an abandoned planet.
In your own screenplay, make sure your hero has an emotional dream first. Then make that emotional dream as difficult as possible to achieve by making adding a physical conflict.
Remember, don’t just add mindless physical conflict, but add physical conflict that enhances the emotional conflict. That will help create a great story like “The Invisible Man.”