The Intricate Art of Creating Conflict in Screenwriting: Mastering Narrative Tension

Creating Conflict in Screenwriting: Tension and Resolution

The Definition of Conflict in Screenwriting

In screenwriting, conflict refers to the dramatic tension between characters or forces that drives the story forward. It can arise from interpersonal relationships, external factors such as the environment or social setting, or an internal struggle within a character. Conflict can manifest in various forms such as a disagreement, physical confrontation, or a battle of wits.

Whatever its form, it creates obstacles for characters to overcome and propels the story towards its resolution. While conflict may be viewed negatively in real life, it is essential in storytelling.

Without it, stories would be dull and uneventful. Conflict serves as a catalyst for change that forces characters to make difficult decisions and confront their flaws.

The Importance of Conflict in Storytelling

As human beings, we are wired to respond to conflict. We are drawn to stories that challenge us emotionally and intellectually.

Conflict creates suspense and anticipation about what will happen next. In screenwriting specifically, conflict is crucial for engaging an audience.

It keeps them invested in the story by creating stakes that characters must overcome. Whether we are rooting for our protagonist or hoping they fail, we cannot help but pay attention when there is conflict at stake.

Conflict also allows writers to explore themes such as morality, power dynamics and personal growth through their characters’ experiences. Through the challenges faced by our protagonists during times of conflict on-screen we can learn valuable lessons about life and ourselves.

Conflict is essential not only for screenwriters but any storyteller looking to captivate an audience with engaging tales. By introducing tension between characters or forces over goals or beliefs we create opportunities for growth while keeping audiences on their toes anticipating what comes next.

Types of Conflict

In screenwriting, there are two main types of conflict: internal and external. Internal conflict is the psychological struggle that a character faces within themselves, while external conflict is the physical or tangible obstacles that they face in the outside world. Both types of conflict are essential in creating a well-developed plot and character arc.

Internal Conflict

Internal conflict is when a character battles with their own thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or desires. It can be portrayed through their actions or inner dialogue. A classic example of internal conflict can be seen in the movie Black Swan (2010), where protagonist Nina Sayers struggles with her perfectionism and desire to embody both the white swan and black swan roles at once.

Another example is from Good Will Hunting (1997), where the lead character Will Hunting battles within himself about his fear of failure and abandonment. His internal struggle results in self-destructive behavior that prevents him from achieving his full potential until he finally confronts his inner turmoil.

External Conflict

External conflict refers to any obstacle that comes from outside forces like society, nature, other characters, or even supernatural elements. This type of conflict is often used to create tension and propel the story forward. An excellent example of a movie that uses external conflict effectively is Castaway (2000), where Tom Hanks’s character Chuck Noland struggles to survive on an island after being marooned there following a plane crash.

Another example can be seen in The Silence of The Lambs (1991), where Clarice Starling faces external conflicts such as sexism from her colleagues while trying to solve a serial killer case. Her determination to overcome these obstacles not only drives her character arc but also adds complexity to the overall story.

Having both internal and external conflicts helps create multidimensional characters with relatable struggles for audiences. Screenwriters should aim to balance these conflicts while considering the genre and themes of their story.

Creating Conflict in Screenwriting

Establishing Clear Goals for Characters

One of the most important aspects of creating conflict in screenwriting is to establish clear goals for your characters. These goals should be specific and focused on what the character wants to achieve.

By giving your characters clear goals, you can create a sense of urgency and motivation that will drive the story forward. When establishing goals for your characters, it’s important to consider their motivations and desires.

What do they want? Why do they want it?

How far are they willing to go to achieve it? The answers to these questions will help you create more complex and interesting characters that are capable of driving the story forward.

Introducing Obstacles and Challenges

Once you have established clear goals for your characters, the next step is to introduce obstacles and challenges that prevent them from achieving those goals. These obstacles can take many forms, such as physical challenges, emotional barriers, or societal pressures.

The key is to make these obstacles difficult enough that they require significant effort from your characters to overcome them. This effort should be reflected in their actions, dialogue and behavior throughout the story.

Using Dialogue to Create Tension

Dialogue can be a powerful tool in creating conflict in screenwriting. It allows you to reveal character motivations, expose hidden agendas, and generate tension between characters with differing beliefs or desires. To create tension through dialogue, focus on creating a sense of opposition between characters – either through conflicting ideas or competing wants.

Use subtext – the thoughts or feelings not spoken aloud by a character – as an additional tool in generating conflict through dialogue. By establishing clear goals for your characters, introducing challenging obstacles along the way, and utilizing dialogue effectively to generate tension between them you’ll be able to create compelling conflicts in your screenplay that keep audiences engaged from beginning until end.

Resolving Conflict in Screenwriting

Now that we’ve established the importance of conflict in screenwriting, it’s time to talk about how to effectively resolve that conflict. A satisfying resolution is just as important as the conflict itself, as it can make or break the story for the audience.

The Importance of a Satisfying Resolution

A satisfying resolution should tie up all loose ends in a way that feels satisfying for the audience. It should feel like the characters have grown and developed over the course of the story, and their actions have meaningful consequences.

If a resolution feels forced or abrupt, it can leave a sour taste in the viewer’s mouth. One way to ensure a satisfying resolution is to make sure it’s consistent with what came before.

If the characters’ actions and motivations don’t make sense within the context of the story, then even a well-executed ending won’t feel satisfying. Additionally, consider what emotional payoff you want to provide for your audience – do you want them to feel happy?

Sad? Relieved?

Angry? Your resolution should reflect this emotional goal.

Avoiding Cliches and Predictable Endings

One common mistake when resolving conflicts is falling back on cliches or predictable endings. For example, having a surprise twist ending where none of what happened was real can feel cheap and unearned if not set up properly throughout the story. To avoid cliches and predictable endings, try subverting expectations in small but meaningful ways throughout your script.

This could mean having an unlikely character save the day instead of the protagonist, or revealing new information that changes how we understand events earlier in your piece. Additionally, make sure your characters are complex enough that their actions don’t always fall into neat categories of “good” or “evil.” This makes the resolution feel more realistic and nuanced.

Ultimately, a satisfying resolution – one that avoids cliches and provides emotional payoff – will leave a lasting impact on the viewer. It’s just as important to consider how you’ll wrap up your conflict as it is to establish it in the first place.

Examples of Conflict in Popular Movies and TV Shows

Breaking Bad: Walter White’s Internal Conflict between his Desire for Power and his Conscience

Breaking Bad is an iconic TV series that explores the moral transformation of a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, into a ruthless drug lord. The show is an excellent example of how internal conflict can drive a character’s arc and shape their choices. Walter White initially goes into the drug business to provide financial support for his family after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

However, as he becomes more successful in the drug trade, he begins to prioritize power and control over his original goal. This shift creates a moral dilemma for him as he grapples with the consequences of his actions.

Throughout Breaking Bad, we see Walter White struggling to reconcile his desire for power and wealth with his conscience. He knows that what he is doing is wrong but feels justified by the ends that he believes will justify the means.

This conflict reaches its climax when Walter realizes that his actions have caused harm to those close to him, including Jesse Pinkman, his former student turned partner in crime. Ultimately, this internal conflict drives the show’s resolution as Walter must face the consequences of his choices.

Game of Thrones: The External Conflicts between Various Factions Vying for the Iron Throne

Game of Thrones is a complex fantasy series that centers around several noble families vying for control over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. At its core, Game of Thrones uses external conflicts between characters to drive its story forward.

Each faction has their own set of goals and desires which leads them into conflict with one another. As Game of Thrones progresses, various factions become embroiled in external conflicts ranging from political intrigue to full-blown military battles.

These conflicts are driven by differing ideologies or personal grudges between characters such as Cersei Lannister and the Starks. The show’s many conflicts create a sense of tension and unpredictability that kept audiences engaged throughout its eight-season run.

The Godfather: Michael Corleone’s Internal Struggle with taking over the Family Business

The Godfather is an iconic film that explores the dynamics of a powerful Mafia family in New York City. At its heart, the movie is about Michael Corleone’s internal conflict as he takes over his father’s crime empire. Michael initially rejects his family’s criminal lifestyle, but when his father is nearly assassinated, he steps up to protect his family.

As he becomes more involved in his family’s business, Michael struggles with balancing his new responsibilities with his own morality. This internal conflict culminates in the movie’s climax when Michael orders the murder of several rival gang members and solidifies his place as head of the family.

The Godfather demonstrates how internal conflicts can drive a character’s arc and lead to unexpected outcomes. These examples demonstrate how conflicts can drive storytelling in screenwriting.

Whether it be internal or external conflicts, they create tension and keep audiences engaged by heightening stakes for characters. Conflict provides a rich opportunity for writers to explore character motivations, themes, and values while keeping their audience hooked until the story reaches its resolution. We wrote other article that you might find very helpful like: The Art of Resolution: Crafting Powerful Endings in Screenwriting. and The Art of Climax in Screenwriting: Crafting Unforgettable Scenes.


Recap of the importance of conflict in screenwriting

After exploring various types of conflict and how to create and resolve them effectively, it’s clear that conflict is essential to screenwriting. Conflict provides the necessary tension to keep the audience engaged and emotionally invested in the story.

It allows characters to grow and change, and it creates obstacles that must be overcome for there to be a satisfying resolution. Without conflict, a story would be flat, uninteresting, and forgettable.

Encouragement to experiment with different types and resolutions of conflicts

As a screenwriter, it’s important to stay open-minded when it comes to creating conflict. Experiment with different types of conflicts, both internal and external, and don’t be afraid to take risks with your storytelling. Consider unexpected resolutions or subversions of genre conventions.

For example, a romantic comedy doesn’t have to end with the two leads getting together – perhaps they learn valuable lessons about themselves without needing a traditional happy ending. By experimenting with different types of conflicts and resolutions, you can push yourself creatively as a writer while also keeping your audience on their toes.

Don’t be afraid to challenge expectations or make audiences uncomfortable if it serves the story in an impactful way. Crafting effective conflict is an integral part of successful screenwriting.

It’s crucial for creating compelling narratives that resonate with audiences long after they leave the theater or finish watching at home. By embracing different types of conflicts and exploring unique resolutions, you can elevate your writing skills while leaving a lasting impression on those who experience your stories.


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