A conflict can be rooted in the main plot, it can be rooted in a relationship between characters, or it can be both. Here are a few strategies for creating a new conflict in a scene.
1. Give a character two or more conflicting goals.
Life is all about choice. No one can be in two places at the same time, and every choice we make means choosing not to do something else. What are the pros and cons of each option? Granted this is very subjective. One person craves the quiet of a home in the middle of the woods, while the other craves the hustle and bustle of a busy city.
For example Aladdin. He wants to be honest with Jasmine, but he also wants to marry her, and fears that telling her the truth would mean the end of their relationship.
2. Use consequences to create a new conflict.
Every choice has both positive and negative consequences. Use that. Create a situation where a character’s choice causes the problem.
Aladdin chooses not to free the genie, giving Jafar the chance to steal it back.
Hagrid chooses to hatch a dragon, which (in the book) forces Harry, Ron, and Hermoine to help Hagrid get the dragon to safety.
3. Create a reason for two characters to be hostile towards each other.
3A. The two characters could have conflicting goals.
In Pirates of the Caribbean 1, Jack and Will work together, but they don’t trust each other. Will has a very specific goal, rescue Elizabeth, while Jack’s goals are less clear, which means they may threaten Will’s specific goal.
3B. The two characters could have ideological issues.
In Aladdin the guards believe that all thieves should be punished, but as Aladdin famously sings “Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat”.
3C. The two characters may not like what a character represents.
In Lord of the Rings Gimli and Legolas dislike each other because elves & dwarves generally don’t like each other. Sometimes it’s as simple as “You remind me of someone, and I hated them.”
3D. The two characters may not like each other for minor/personal reasons.
Sherlock Holmes frequently irritates others through his keen observations, and lack of tact when he shares them. In Harry Potter, Hermione’s habit of correcting others frequently leads to friction. Start with a character’s personal habits, their quirks, then exaggerate them.
4. Use a character flaw as an obstacle.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Whether it’s a lack of skill or an emotional nerve, there are many ways to make something harder for a character. For example, fear.
In Hitchock’s film Vertigo, the main character is afraid of heights. This becomes a problem when he must climb a ladder to prevent a tragedy.
5. Complicate the process
Map out the steps the protagonist will take, and start brainstorming.
5A. It’s not over yet.
Characters think they’ve achieved their goal, only to realize that “this” was only a step in the process. In Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo initially believes that the ring will be safe in Rivendell, but later learns that is not the case.
5B. What could go wrong?
Things don’t always go according to plan. In Fellowship of the Ring Gandalf and Aragorn had a clear plan for their journey, but when they tried to cross Caradhras it proved too difficult, forcing them to go through Moria instead.
Motive, Means, Opposition
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3 thoughts on “Creating Conflict 101-03”
Awesome post, I am a huge fan of conflicting character motivations, and I love combining that with the thresholds from Joesph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
I think every relationship benefits from a little friction. They’re often overshadowed by the main conflict, but a dash of incompatibility can really enliven a scene.
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