October 28, 2018

No Dead Scenes: How to Create Much-Needed Conflict Between Characters

Characters just saying and doing things isn't enough to make a scene successful.

Okay, you're sitting there re-reading your script and you're beginning to realize something: it's boring. But why? Your characters are interesting enough, the things they're doing and saying are pretty entertaining—but everything just seems a little flat. You, my friend, might be missing conflict. If you're a little at a loss on how to create some, check out this video from the team over at The Film Look. In it, you'll not only learn how to inject conflict into your scenes but also how to check to see if that's what your scenes are missing.

Most screenwriters understand that a script should have an exterior and interior conflict that span across the entire story—the hero must save the world (exterior) but first, he must believe in himself (interior). However, conflicts should also appear in each and every scene in your screenplay. No, it doesn't have to be some big, hairy one like saving the world or overcoming a fear. It can be something as simple as a disagreement, a reluctance to do something, or a sharing of mutual disdain between two characters.

Creating conflict in your script

The example from the video depicts a scene in which two very different characters must diffuse a bomb. One character wants to work alone but can't complete the task if he does and the other wants to help but can't be trusted to do so. This is the conflict. Both characters stand in each other's way on their path to getting what they want. They both want to diffuse the bomb, so their paths are similar, but their approaches to the task are different, creating conflict.

Same want/need, different approach.

Without conflict, all time bombs in movies would be diffused within a couple of seconds.

So, the conflict between the two characters, as well as the very on-the-nose ticking clock, creates tension and suspense to pull the audience in. Will they solve their problem? Will they figure out how to change so they can work together in fulfilling their want/need (diffusing the bomb). This is the other side of conflict, the resolution, and in order to get there, your characters must change and evolve from their main character flaw.

Have your characters address their character flaws

Most scenes won't have much if any resolution until you get nearer to the end of your screenplay, but when it does come time to tie up loose ends, your characters will have to address the character flaws that are the root cause of each conflict in every scene. Will they let their character flaw drive their decisions or will they embrace change?

Now, that doesn't mean that the conflicts in every scene are necessarily caused by a character flaw—at least in a direct way. The conflict in a scene could be something like a teenager wanting to go to a party but her parents won't let her. That conflict doesn't really have much to do with her character flaw, again, in a direct way, but it's one that she will either try to resolve (sneak out and go anyway) or concede to (angrily stomp up to her room and pout).

Jack and Stu from the example in the video eventually must find common ground and understanding in order to solve their problem and fulfill their want/need, but in order to do that a conflict must be there to solve. If there isn't one present, it would literally be two guys agreeing to work together. Without conflict, all time bombs in movies would be diffused within a couple of seconds. No tension. No suspense. No audience.

Understanding leads to change, which leads to fulfillment of their mutual need/want.

To sum up this sometimes confusing concept in screenwriting:

  • There should be a conflict present in all the scenes of your movie: big or small, but never insignificant.
  • The conflict should directly or indirectly clash with your character's desire to fulfill their needs/wants.
  • Your character's flaws should hold them back from resolving each conflict...
  • ...until they change...
  • ...and are able to fulfill their needs/wants...
  • ...unless they don't change...
  • ...and end up like Tony Montana, Kane, or Daniel Plainview.

What's your approach to creating conflict in a scene? Let us know down in the comments.     

Your Comment

8 Comments

This is great insight! Scenes have to be charged with emotion and opposing POVs!

October 28, 2018 at 9:58PM

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Exactly! Reading this at the exact right time as I'm developing a new short film :)

October 29, 2018 at 1:39PM

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Jaap Ruurd Feitsma
EU based director and cinematographer
265

As soon as I am seeing, in a movie, a bomb with a digital or a ticking clock stick on it (which is not believable, as the guy posing the bomb is no willing to share that countdown information), I am falling asleep...
Such a "deja vu" scene. Same as characters running (driving or riding) away to escape an explosion, broken ice on a frozen lake or any other huge disaster happening in their back... Sooooooo mainstream, sooooo boring. You can put as much conflict as you want on this type of copy/paste action (from one script to another), No suspense at all. If the actor in the scene is the well paid main actor and you didn't reach 3/4th of the movie, you know that he is going to survive...

October 29, 2018 at 10:38AM

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Franc Sanka
Director of Photography / Film and Photography Teacher
173

I'm amazed by the fact that it is the people that do the less that talk the most.
Make a film and stop giving advices V Renée

October 29, 2018 at 12:16PM, Edited October 29, 12:16PM

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John Dureuil
Director
77

I am a little amazed myself about the fact that I have seen this very same comment of yours in more than one post...
Perhaps you can live up to your own advice?

October 29, 2018 at 1:41PM

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Jaap Ruurd Feitsma
EU based director and cinematographer
265

No I don't give advice because even a master filmmaker never give advice, there's only to be given, make something, make your own mistakes.

I just wrote that because every week V renée is writing articles where she criticize other people's work and give advice that are not her own actually, so it's becoming boring. She's one of the worst writer here.

I'm just saying that before giving advice (that actually are not your own) just do something. She's done nothing for the moment.

October 29, 2018 at 2:45PM

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John Dureuil
Director
77

"...even a master filmmaker never give advice..."

So you're a master filmmaker now? COOL! I know you don't give advice, but can I at least get your autograph and a selfie with you?

November 2, 2018 at 1:29PM

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So John the Director, what sort of work is it you do? I can't find ANY online presence for you except here at No Film School. I think you're a faker, a fraud, a liar.

Make a film and stop whining.

November 2, 2018 at 1:28PM

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