All stories arise from conflict. As we stated earlier, the hero wants something. He goes on a quest to obtain the object of desire. What makes it a story is the conflict that stands between the hero and his goal.
Conflict keeps the story moving. Lose the conflict and you lose your audience. Conflict is not action. Many writers mistakenly confuse the two, and thus end up with stories full of meaningless action scenes. Conflict is the reason most action occurs.
It’s why the hero and the villain are at odds. Conflict can be emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, sociological, or elemental. How each character responds to the conflict defines them to the Audience. We respond to how others deal with conflict because we can relate to it. Conflict is in our face every single day in one form or another.
How a character deals with their conflicts helps us gain perspective on our own lives. It can either serve to validate or repudiate our own choices. If we really disagree with the choices a character makes, we form negative opinions about that character. If we love the choice they make, we love the character more. It’s that simple. So how your characters deal with conflict will have a lot to do with how your audience is going to feel about your work.
Remember one crucial thing, however. Conflict is not action. They are two completely different things.
TYPES OF CONFLICT
Conflict comes in several forms. You have to choose the type that best serves your story. Every form of conflict has implications on the level it affects. They are:
INTERNAL: The conflict a person has with themselves. Inner turmoil. Moral dilemmas. Overcoming trauma. Psychological problems. This conflict is not with other characters, though it can affect other characters in the story. The Internal Conflict is best showcased in the novel, where the Audience feels they are in the mind of the character, because they are visualizing based on the chosen words of the writer. Comics can also handle the internal conflict effectively through use of captions. The art can show the struggle of the character in many different ways. Film and theater are much less effective dealing with this form of conflict, which is why so many novels don’t translate well to film. Novels that deal mainly with external conflicts always translate better than those which deal with internal ones.
PERSONAL: This is between the protagonist and his closest people. His family, his lover, his close friends. It’s about inter-personal relations between individuals. It does not involve larger issues like peer pressure or the rules of society, but rather, the problems people have relating to each other. This is the conflict best showcased in the theater and comics.
SOCIAL: Social Conflict is between the parent and the child, between the doctor and the patient, between the Hero and society. When you’re dealing with larger issues than just inter-personal relationships, this is the conflict of choice. Stories that deal with concepts like authority, injustice, persecution, assimilation, etc. are playing in the realm of the social conflict. Every medium can use this conflict effectively.
ELEMENTAL: Between man and the environment, between the hero and a force of nature. The hero deals with an elemental force which has no persona. It could be anything from a giant meteor heading toward earth or a pack of rabid Chihuahuas.
THE NATURE OF CONFLICT
By itself, conflict is impersonal. Even it you’re dealing with a war. People understand the concept of a war, but they don’t see what it has to do with them unless you apply the exercise of conscious will on it, through your main characters. Then it becomes tangible.
For example: If I said two guys were fighting down the street, they’d be faceless individuals in your mind and meaningless to you on a personal level. You don’t know who they are or why they’re fighting. But if I said your best friend is fighting your worst enemy, all of a sudden the idea draws you in because it now has personal meaning. That’s how you involve the Audience in the conflict. By making the characters people they can identify with as they deal with the conflict. You do this by showing their dynamic will in action.
The story of a guy who just wants to have a decent life isn’t very exciting. It’s a very passive, run-of-the mill desire. There’s nothing special about it. Nothing to make the character’s struggle interesting. But…when you show that he will fight the most incredible odds to secure that peaceful life, then it becomes interesting, and so does the Hero. You transform the conflict by showing his dynamic will in action against it. When you’re writing a story about personal and/or social conflicts, you are really pitting the will of your characters against each other. And through that use of will, we learn who they are and what they’re made of.
In an internal conflict, the character uses their will against their own innate nature. They may have a phobia about fire. To get out of a building they’re trapped in, they have to walk through a fire filled room. They must force themselves to do something they are afraid to do. They’re battling their own fears for a better good.
Lack of internal conflict limits a character’s dimension. Single minded individuals are only common in bad fiction. Not in life. Everyone has inner demons of some kind. We’re conflicted individuals. According to scientists, reason and emotion are completely intertwined. When someone suffers brain damage to the emotion centers of the brain, they lose the ability to make logical decisions. This is because we learn from our mistakes. If we no longer fear negative repercussions, we would do anything without thought. So you need to be aware of a character’s fears, needs and desires. Their emotional hot buttons. It will have a big impact on the character’s choices.
THE OBJECT OF DESIRE
The Hero and the Villain have conflicting motives when it comes to the focus of the story known as “The Object of Desire”. I prefer to use the term “Grail”.
The Grail is whatever the hero thinks will restore balance to his life. There may be a visible grail in the story. A material object. But the Grail can be something intangible like friendship or trust.
All stories are about A>B