It's the essential building block of drama. You don't have a story without the basics of “someone wants something, and something's in the way of getting it.”
Screenwriting books - books I really love and have given me a lot - will often say that amping up the conflict to its greatest level is the way to go. Heighten that conflict! It's good advice for the story drafts that have a Protagonist lollygagging through the day, looking at themselves in the mirror, and wandering around waiting for something to happen.
I've been thoroughly enjoying the final season of Star Trek: Picard. Star Trek the Next Generation (the 80's/90's show starring Captain Picard) was an interesting study in conflict - Gene Roddenberry, Trek creator, was firm in his decree that in this future, humanity had resolved all of their differences and did not have conflict with each other. They'd evolved to the point where these problems didn't exist. Could be a nice place to live - but it left the writers in a real pickle!
It's kind of hard to write exciting drama with no conflict - it would have to be alien villains, or possessed Starfleet Officers, or malfunctioning computers and maybe the occasional crazy Admiral. These rules were loosened bit by bit, and while it may have been a less pure version of what the creator wanted, it allowed some sparks to fly between the characters.
The main characters still respected each other, of course, and that's the point I wanted to get to.
In the new season of Picard, it's decades later and the old crew is coming together bit by bit. It's been interesting to see more conflict between the characters than in most of the old episodes. And probably more than there was in any of the Next Generation movies, too.
But I am happy to see that even with some real bitterness between some of them, with justifiable reason, there is still the underlying respect these people have for each other. That goodwill is always there, and their conflicts are resolved in the way that these mature, evolved people would handle it. Sometimes their mad and just drop it - sometimes they talk it out - sometimes a character under attack just walks away.
I love it.
We know that conflict doesn't mean characters just fist fighting or screaming at each other. That stuff can be great, of course -
But more nuanced, mature conflict can be just as exciting and absorbing and gunfights or space battles.
It can be MORE exciting.
See you next time!
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ConflictBanes at 12:00AM, March 23, 2023
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PaulEberhardt at 7:00AM, March 25, 2023
Ok, you've got a point there. Still, I'd say it's the little off-duty quibbles, which the writers did in fact put in all the time, that made the characters really come alive. Also, it's good to show that a high degree of professionalism doesn't come by itself but is a matter of discipline for everyone concerned.
Corruption at 8:57PM, March 23, 2023
I like the idea where someone thinks they have an enemy who is responsible for things, or who will oppose them, and only discovers latter that they didn't even really notice what the protagonist was doing, or know who they were. Basically, the protagonist is just delusional and imagining conflict where there was none.
Banes at 8:10PM, March 23, 2023
@ozoneocean - I agree! Even though I liked seeing some more interpersonal conflict, it works best when both people have a legitimate disagreement and are mature about resolving it. It's a strength in the new episodes of Picard.
Ozoneocean at 7:30PM, March 23, 2023
@PaulEberhardt - I really liked how there was minimal conflict among the crew in TNG most of the time and I think it made sense: they treated it like a professional work space, which it was. I LOVED that aspect. They were at work doing a job, if they had dramas between each other they usually saved that for their off -duty time. That's way better than most other types of show where people behave like histrionic young teenagers regardless of what time and place they're in XD
Ozoneocean at 7:26PM, March 23, 2023
@J_Scarbrough - you can certainly have a story without conflict, but not a dramatic one.
J_Scarbrough at 2:47PM, March 23, 2023
@Banes She's the titular character of Greg Evans's newspaper comic strip LUANN; she's kind of the "everyman" of teen girls who have just entered the threshold of adulthood, while still living with and mooching off of her parents.
Banes at 10:29AM, March 23, 2023
@Paul_Eberhardt - Thanks Paul, this is wonderful food for thought! I agree that bending Roddenberry's rules helped save Trek in the 80's/90's.
Banes at 10:28AM, March 23, 2023
@hushicho - thanks for these insights! I believe Gene Roddenberry himself was said to be the one insisting on no interpersonal conflicts on Next Gen...which is funny because those conflicts DID exist on the original series. So I've heard, anyway...
Banes at 10:26AM, March 23, 2023
@J_Scarbrough - I don't know who that is, but I agree that conflict is essential. And I'm sure ALL of us have times in our lives where we felt very proud of what challenge we overcame, regret at what we did wrong, and plenty of dramatic moments, even if they seemed quiet from an outsider's pov.
Banes at 10:24AM, March 23, 2023
@dpat - I quit before season one ended, too. Barely saw any of season 2. Then with the new season I heard such good things I've been watching and absolutely loving it. Just go straight to season 3 (it's still releasing weekly). Just watched the latest one and was teary eyed...in a good way for a change! xD
Banes at 10:23AM, March 23, 2023
@marcorossi - Save the Cat is my favorite. It has two sequels: save the cat goes to the movies and save the cat strikes back. Both good as well.
J_Scarbrough at 10:20AM, March 23, 2023
I mean, that's Storytelling 101: if you have no conflict, you have no story. Even Luann DeGroot has been learning about this in her writing course recently (though she's convinced her life has been incredibly boring, and therefore, has nothing to write about).
dpat57 at 9:40AM, March 23, 2023
I crashed and burned trying to watch Picard season one, couldn't get into it. People keep saying it got better, maybe I'll try later seasons.
marcorossi at 8:04AM, March 23, 2023
RE: screenwriting books. I'm a great fan of Save The Cat, I have read some more but I think they are not at the level. Can I ask what are your favorites?
PaulEberhardt at 7:28AM, March 23, 2023
I'll second one thing hushicho said, though: amping up the conflicts between your characters is something that never works. With conflicts to build plots on quality matters more than intensity. If one is resolved, you'll have to find a new one instead of trying to go to town on it. And of course, professional writers who should know better often don't. It's the same downward spiral as with everything else: TV writer is made to churn out episode after episode within a strict timetable and budget -> works under the very kind of stressful circumstances that can never be good for any kind of creative work -> TV writer sees possibility of short cut -> Everyone wonders why the series suddenly sucks after season two -> Network presses writers and other staff to make everything faster, harder, glossier in order to milk as much money out of the failing series before the last members of the audience have run of -> return to beginning of vicious cycle
PaulEberhardt at 7:13AM, March 23, 2023
Greater enlightenment for humanity is something that hasn't happened at any time in the past 10,000 years and it certainly won't by 2,400-something. Putting highly-trained and therefore strong-willed people into the confines of a spaceship for five years and expecting that nobody is at anybody else's throat let alone having any desire to reunite meant to me that the Federation asks a lot from its employees, fitting into a long human tradition of bureaucracies run by idealists that have lost its touch with reality by falling for their own propaganda. It's the only way I could ever buy any of what happens in Star Trek (any franchise) and have always considered its too idealist premise its weakest point. Fortunately, the series' writers always managed to find sly ways around it. It's the only reason it ever worked.
hushicho at 3:25AM, March 23, 2023
It largely reflected a really fundamental misunderstanding between Rick Berman's crew of hacks and Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett's vision of greater enlightenment for humanity. Picard is yet another sad project the solid actors from TNG got roped into. If you have to introduce major conflict to move a plot, it's a lazy trick, and escalation is one of the worst mistakes to fall for because it's a cycle that never ends, but it only gets harder to sell. Check out the tongue-in-cheek tome Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma, which covers how the endless escalation cycle, especially frequent in boys' comics, is a sure way to diminishing returns.