Conflict in Scriptwriting

A key to writing a successful story in general and particularly a screenplay is a great conflict which is the driving force of all the events taking place. First, let’s define this term in order to understand its importance. In storytelling, conflict “is the central struggle between characters or competing forces, such as man against nature, society, or himself” (Tucker, n.d., para. 1). In fact, a conflict can be represented in various forms, but it keeps being a vital part of a story. A protagonist tries to achieve his or her ultimate goal while different forces create obstacles to prevent the character from succeeding in it. By overcoming these obstacles this character develops —— in screenwriting, it is called character arc (Kram, 2016, para. 1-3).


Conflict between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Star Wars 

There are two main types of conflicts: internal and external ones. However, both of them can be present in one story. According to Michael Rabiger (n.d, para. 1), these are the combinations of forces that are commonly in storytelling:

  • Person vs. person, which is an external conflict.
  • Person vs. environmental or social institution, which is also an external conflict.
  • Person vs. a task he or she is supposed to complete, which includes both internal and external conflict.
  • Person vs. him- or herself (if the character suffers from a severe inner struggle), which is an internal conflict.

In fact, most of the films include internal and external conflicts at the same time. For example, such movies as The Silence of the Lambs, Whiplash, Moby Dick or Star Wars (Kram, 2016, para. 11-17).

In many films, conflict is expressed through the battle between what is right and what is wrong. “Stories devised on mythic, heroic or moralistic models usually frame conflict with the clear dichotomy of good versus evil” (Rabiger, n.d., para. 2). However, more realistic scenarios require creating three-dimensional characters with complex psychological motivation. When it comes to real life, it is usually difficult to define the right and the wrong ones. The same thing happens in realistic stories and screenplays, thus conflicts become more complicated (Rabiger, n.d., para. 3).

Why conflict is essential in storytelling? First, it drives the plot forward, provoking the protagonist to take action and overcome all the obstacles he or she faces on the way to achieving the goal (Tucker, n.d., para.3). Character needs motivation, otherwise the story just doesn’t make sense. Another important point is that conflict contributes to creating suspense and engaging the audience, allowing it to deeply immerse in the story. Finally, conflict drives the story towards resolution, which is expected by the audience from the beginning. Resolution is the final part of the transformation of the protagonist, and without conflict it would be impossible (Tuccillo, 2013, para. 7).


Even though Conflict takes a bigger amount of screentime, its importance is equal to Resolution. Driving the story towards Resolution is one of the purposes of Conflict.

It is crucial to realize the importance of a conflict in scriptwriting as it is one of the key elements that can bring a story to success. Without conflict there is no drama, and vice versa.


Conflict vs Resolution [Online image]. (2013, June 24). Retrieved October 31, 2017 from

Kram, W. (2017, August 02). Screenplay Writing: Conflicts & Obstacles. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from

Rabiger, M. (n.d.). Defining Conflict. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from

Tuccillo, D. (2013, July 24). Conflict vs. Resolution: The Importance of Putting Your Characters Through Hell in Your Screenplay. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from

Tucker, K. (n.d.). Definition of Conflict in Literature. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from

Star Wars [Online Image]. (2014, March 19). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from

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