Nicole Manges
Film Festival Film Festival
It's All About the Conflict

A great movie starts with a great story. Nail-biting events and a twist or two have kept moviegoers on the edge of their seats for decades. Here are some tips from Huntington University alumnus and screenwriter Nathan Hartman about the most important element in a screenplay: conflict.

“The essential thing all screenplays need is conflict,” said Hartman. “In an amateur screenplay, one of the biggest things missing is the push and pull of actual stakes. Consider a screenplay to be a tug-of-war between a protagonist and antagonist; it takes that back and forth to make the story stay interesting.  Ever wonder why you get bored in a film? One reason could be that the story has stopped engaging you, as it lacks conflict. While we may attempt to avoid it in real life, humans love conflict in stories, and when that is missing we tend to lose interest.”

You can develop conflict in your screenplay by thinking through and developing the characters involved. Give your characters strong opinions or strong instincts that will drive them to success or failure, and plausible, high-stakes conflicts will arise between them.

And that’s an important thing to remember, too: conflicts. Plural. Just one conflict will likely not be enough to keep driving the plot of your screenplay forward.

“Though an overarching conflict will preside over your story until the climax at the end,” said Hartman, “the protagonist also has several smaller conflicts that get in his way to achieving/defeating the main conflict (whether internal or external or most likely both). Look at The Lord of the Rings as an example. Frodo must deal with a lot of smaller conflicts before he can ever get all the way to Mount Doom and defeat evil.”

At a Christian liberal arts school with strong digital media arts programs like Huntington University, you will learn how to develop your own characters that will come to life in the stories you create on the page and on screen. HU offers degrees in animation, film, and television production. Interested in learning more? Find your own story at Huntington University.

Original text by Steph Morin. Updated for 2022 by Huntington University.

Written by
Nicole Manges