Weak Main Conflict?
- December 15, 2010
- Posted by: HalCroasmun
- Category: Articles
Here's a Solution.
Ever read a script you couldn't put down for a second? Ever been so engaged in a script that you forgot your surroundings?
Chances are, the main conflict of that script demanded that you keep turning the pages.
On the other hand, most of the screenplays submitted to contests slow down and die in the 2nd Act. There are many reasons why, but one of the most common is…
…a weak main conflict.
Remember, conflict is what keeps the reader and viewer glued to their seat in the theater.
I often ask the question "What is the main conflict of your story?" and get answers like:
"The story starts out with a spectacular shootout, but there's this one Marine who has no fear. He just walks into the line of fire and destroys the enemy. Then, he gets called to lead the Special Forces on a mission against the main terrorism cell where he kills every one except the top guy…"
Even though there is plenty of violence and visually exciting scenes, we haven't heard a hint of the main conflict.
Chances are that writer doesn't know their main conflict and NEITHER WILL THEIR AUDIENCE.
It is a strange to imagine a movie with non-stop violence, death, and terrorism that has a WEAK main conflict.
But it happens all the time.
HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE OF YOUR MAIN CONFLICT?
First, isolate it to see if it holds up without a lot of extra details.
The main conflict of my story is _________________.
Simple structure, right? If you answer this question precisely, you'll instantly see if your conflict is intriguing or dull.
One caution: Don't include a lot of story details, like this one:
The main conflict of my story is whether Jeffrey, who is opposed to incest, searches for true love, but his evil step-sister who recently joined the family and is secretly in love with him is killing anyone he cares for in order to establish herself as the perfect woman for him — the ONLY woman for him.
Too many details? While all of these are important to the story, most don't get to the heart of the conflict. You want to get it down to its essence and see if the conflict works.
The main conflict of my story is whether Jeffrey will ever find true love when his obsessive step-sister keeps killing off potential girlfriends to establish her as his only choice.
There. Much more clear. This story can work because the conflict remains engaging even though the details have been stripped from it.
Now, let's look at one that doesn't work in its current form.
The main conflict of my story is whether Sarah will get her way and express her music the way she wants, even though music executives say it should be done a different way and this upsets Sarah very much, causing her to throw fits, break things, and finally get thrown out of the recording studio.
Again, lots of details about conflict oriented scenes, but not a focused main conflict. Let's try to get a clear picture of the conflict.
The main conflict of my story is whether Sarah can get music executives to accept her style of music.
There it is. Pretty weak, isn't it?
I know people hate to have their conflicts reduced to a simple sentence like this, but that is how you tell the real quality of your main conflict.
If we left the Sarah conflict in its present condition, it would have to rely on other things (character, situations, dialogue, etc.) to keep an audience engaged. That doesn't mean it won't work, but I believe you should make your story work on every level:
Concept Conflict Structure / Plot Character Scene Visuals Dialogue
So for every one you leave out, the others have to do double duty. In this case, we need to elevate this conflict.
Here's a quick brainstorm session:
– she's dying and needs to get her music out there.
– her manager has contractually stolen all rights to her music and she's trying to get them back as she is also building herself into a star.
– the music exec is an ex-lover who had dominated her in relationship and now wants to exhibit the same control over her music.
Let's use the third one and see how the new conflict comes out.
The main conflict of my story is whether Sarah can make it as a singer when her record exec is an ex-lover who is bent on destroying her publicly.
Whether you like that or not, I'm sure you can see that it is a more intense conflict that could easily be done as a romantic comedy or escalate into a bloody horror movie.
It gives us plenty of reason to be worried about Sarah and it also allows for the unpredictable to happen. I'm not in love with it, but it would be much more interesting than the simple "fit throwing" version we had earlier.
As I've pointed out, the first key to solving a weak main conflict is to isolate it and identify what you already have. Then it is all about elevating the quality of the main conflict, which isn't that hard to do.
And you want some help with the rewriting, then check out our Free Rewrite Teleconference!