Use your words

The six forms of conflict common in movies

Scriptnotes is a podcast by John August and Craig Mazin about ‘screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters’.

Scriptnotes #179: The Conflict Episode: Craig and John discuss conflict — why it’s bad in real life but essential in screenwriting. We define six forms of conflict common in movies, then look at ways to sustain conflict within a scene and throughout a story.

These are my brief notes from the episode, but I strongly recommend listening to the full podcast for more insights and discussion on this topic.

  1. Argument. A physical fight or verbal argument. “We have one word for both punching each other in the face and yelling at each other: They’re fighting.” These kinds of conflicts however are not often the most effective or impactful kind of conflict.
  2. Struggle against circumstance. “This can be as simple as ‘I’ve locked my keys in the car’ or ‘I’m freezing and I need to get warm.'” Man vs. nature, man vs. object, man getting laid-off by corporation. Eg. Castaway.
  3. Unfulfilled desire. An internal conflict: “I want something that I cannot have; how can I get it?” Eg. Rocky (and a lot of sports movies).
  4. Avoiding a negative outcome. “I have to break up with this person, I just don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Often used in comedies.
  5. Confusion. A lack of information puts your character in conflict with the world around you, eg. The Matrix or The Bourne Identity.
  6. Dilemma. You have to make a choice, but all the choices are bad. Eg. Sophie’s Choice. It can be a crisis point, but it’s hard to sustain over the course of a movie.

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