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Conflict: The Life Blood of Your Screenplay


I know that the title of this blog seems to be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people seem to forget about the principle of conflict driving the drama. Without conflict there is no story. I have had a couple of recent clients who have both had to deal with this same issue, although be it from different angles. One writer is having an issue developing a strong antagonist and the other writer is having an issue giving the antagonist better motivation. Both issues result in limited conflict which results in limited drama, which in turn causes the overall story to struggle to reach its maximum potential.

The frustrating thing about the script that’s missing the protagonist is that the protagonist is already in the story, but the writer isn’t taking advantage of her presence. We see this character in the opening and then once more at the end of Act II and that’s it. Instead of using one main antagonist, the writer has used several minor characters to serve as antagonists in those specific scenes. The reason that doesn’t work is because it gives the script no continuity and it doesn’t give the main character a clear goal. If there is one thing that your hero needs, it’s an equally strong antagonist who has the ability to keep your hero from getting what he or she wants.

The frustrating thing with the writer that has the protagonist who seems to lack motivation is that the motivation is there in the script as well. It’s clear to me when I read this script what the antagonist’s motivation should be, but the writer is trying to go in a different direction. I understand, and I respect his choice, but he is the one who has to live with it and struggle with it. That has been the main issue with this writer has I’ve helped him with several drafts of the script. I’ve told the writer several times what I think his antagonist’s motivation should be, but he doesn’t seem to want to go down that road.

That leads me to this thought, and it has to do with another blog that I posted a while back. You have to love your work enough to completely change it. You have to love your idea enough to make it malleable. Sometimes when we write, the story organically goes in directions that we perhaps didn’t anticipate. As writers we have to be open to the idea of allowing the story to take us where it wants to go, and sometimes that may mean that stubbornly sticking with an idea that isn’t working is now like trying to cram the proverbial square peg into a round hole.

The thing to remember is that conflict can be uncomfortable. Another blog I posted a while back had to do with loving your hero enough to put him in bad situations. The only way you’re going to get the audience on board with your hero is going to be putting him or her in dramatic situations that are filled with conflict. You need to test the meddle of your main character so that the audience can root for him or her to pass those tests. Those tests only come through conflict.

And look, I get it. Sometimes making a major change can mean needing to rewrite multiple scenes. With the layers that are put in to screenplays, it can mean that you need to come close to a complete overhaul of the entire script. My response? So what? This is your screenplay we’re talking about here. This is your calling card. Do you want potential producers and/or agents to see you as someone who comes to them having done a half-assed job or do you want them to see you as someone who does what it takes to create a good and compelling story that has dynamic and dramatic conflict? I suspect you would prefer the latter.

What any writer needs to do once they’ve finished a draft, whether it’s draft number 1 or draft number 11 is determine whether or not the conflict is driving the story? Is there adequate conflict? Is there an antagonist who is in a position of power and can keep the hero from achieving his or her goals?

Essentially the three most important things in your script are a hero, an antagonist and an interesting conflict between the two of them. If you don’t have all three of those things, then you don’t have a compelling story. Are there exceptions? Certainly there are. However, if you’re an unknown writer writing a script on spec, then you need to have these elements in your screenplay. You’re not going to get an agent or a producer or an executive to look at your script unless it has a strong conflict with heroes and villains that have strong motivations for getting into this conflict.

If you feel like your script could use some punching up in the conflict department, or if you’re concerned that your protagonist or our antagonist might not be properly motivated, please contact us at Monument Script Services and we can help you get your conflict to where it needs to be. Please click the link below for more details on our services.


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