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Ben Yennie: The 3 Opposing Forces to Create Conflict in Your Story

There can be no drama without conflict.  You need to have opposing forces clashing to create enough intrigue to drive the plot forward.   However, while conflict is necessary to drive your story and pushes your characters towards their goal, it’s definitely not something you want behind the scenes.  

All conflict comes from strong characters, but there are three basic settings to create conflict between the characters in your story.   You can have the most well fleshed out and deep characters in your story, but without a setting, your characters will go nowhere and neither will your film. 

Since we just gave added conflict detection to the ProductionNext Assistant and gave our members the ability to add a script to their existing project, we thought we’d add a helpful blog post talking about how to add believable conflict in your story. So here’s an overview of the three major types of opposing forces you can set up to create conflict in your story.  

Protagonist Vs Antagonist

It’s easiest to think of this as the standard Hero and Villain, although that view of the concept is somewhat simplistic.   I know that’s a little obvious, and really it’s the root of almost every conflict.   However sometimes it’s emphasized more than others, and it’s not the only sort of opposing force you can craft into your story.  

As with any conflict, the conflict is created from the two sides facing off.  Most stories take this route.  It’s wise to not make these two opposing forces complete opposites, having some things in common will make for a more interesting narrative.

It’s important to note that the antagonist in not always the villain, they’re the opposing force.  What’s the difference, you ask?  I think an example from a screenplay will help illustrate this point.  

A famous example is from Double Jeopardy, where Sandra Bullock is framed for the murder of her husband who faked his own death to escape bad business dealings.   Sandra finds herself in jail, and then gets to a halfway house headed by Tommy Lee Jones only to escape to exact revenge on her ex-husband.   Tommy Lee Jones chases her to bring her back to prison.

In this story, Tommy Lee Jones is the antagonist and her former husband the villain.  While Bullock’s goal is to kill her husband the villain, most of the conflict is derived from Tommy Lee Jones’ goal of trying to bring her in. 

Another example of this would be the X Files.  While Mulder and Scully are on the same side, much of what makes the show as phenomenal as it was is the interplay and conflict between the two leads.  Scully is a “rational” scientist who believe in facts, figures and data while Mulder is a “Paranoid” “Conspiracy Theorist.” Both are completely brilliant, and most of the conflict comes from the two working both together and against each other at the same time.  

As a geeky aside, I’m unsure how rational Scully is when she sees unexplained phenomena every week but still considers Mulder paranoid.  

Protagonist Vs Society

This story is when a protagonist is the pariah, an outcast fighting for their life and sometimes what’s but not always right in the world.   Sometimes there are pieces of larger narratives that follow this sort of conflict.  Game of Thrones does it quite a lot, particularly with anyone from the Lannister Line.  

Another prime example of this is Thank You for Smoking.  In the film, Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckart) is a nationally despised lobbyist for the tobacco industry, just trying to make his way through the world and protect his family.  Despite the fact that the man is indirectly responsible for millions deaths, he’s still a likable character.  The film centers around him trying to avoid more distinct labeling on cigarettes in the name of freedom of choice.  The film is well made enough that even though Naylor is clearly an anti-hero, we never stop rooting for him.

Author’s note: We here at ProductionNext are big fans of the series Action starring Jay Mohr.  Some of my writer friends have called it required watching for those in the Industry.  While there’s a case to be made that Action is the story of one executive producer vs the society of Hollywood, it’s not really the best example. 

Protagonist Vs Nature

You could call this Man vs Wild, especially since that “reality” show was every bit as scripted as the screenplay you’re presently writing.   This element of opposing force is about a protagonist facing off against nature.  Nature need not be the jungle, it might even be our innate human nature.  Cast Away is a great example of both man vs literal nature and man vs figurative nature.

While Cast Away centers on Tom Hanks stranded on a deserted island, he’s not just facing the elements, he’s also struggling to face his own demons and find out his own true nature.  

Thanks for reading!  While ProductionNext can’t help you write your script or create conflict on screen, it can help you avoid conflict behind the scenes.  We do that through smarter collaboration, and software that helps you facilitate communication among your crew, manage your tasks, schedule, budget, an assistant that helps make sure everything gets done and none of you assets are in two places at the same time. 

It does a lot more, but I don’t want to write another blog post below the one you just read, so I’ll let our banner ad tell you.  Click it if you want to apply.