Hi, future professional screenwriter.
In this post, you will learn the basics of external conflict.
- What it is
- how to spot it
- How to create it for your scripts.
And in the end, you will understand everything you need to know to move towards internal conflict, which is the next step.
But first, let’s define it.
What is External Conflict in Screenwriting?
What is external conflict in screenwriting? External conflict is the physical or real-world forces stopping a character from obtaining his or her goal.
Nothing more, nothing less
- Stars wars (Dark vs. Light)
- Batman vs. Joker
- Titanic vs. the iceberg
The list goes on and on.
You can find external conflict in every single story, and it’s what drives most movies.
But how do you do it for yourself?
How to incorporate External conflict in Screenwriting
The best way to include this type of conflict in a script is to imagine the obstacles in your character’s way.
Imagine a character who wants a better job, but his coworker, who is also gunning for it.
The external conflict for your main character then becomes his feud with his coworker.
But how many types of external conflicts are there?
Below we have listed a couple of ways to use it in your script.
1.) Character vs. Character
Character vs. character is the most popular and common one and the easiest to recognize all of them.
Think of two characters that want the same thing: competition, Sports, business, love, etc.
Introducing the thought of scarcity will make this type of external conflict pop off the page, like adding a time restraint to obtain the goal.
2.) Character vs. Nature
Nature doesn’t seem like a considerable adversary, but if you tie in the elements, it can be.
Think of movies like:
- 2012 (2009)
- Deepwater Horizon (2016)
- Contagion (2011)
Wind, snow, global warming, disease
Your character’s conflict is with the world and not a physical person.
3.) Character vs. Society
Society type conflict can also be internal conflict, but if positioned right, it can work externally as well.
Think of anything in the current society that isn’t the norm.
A good example is a movie, the 40-year-old virgin.
Anyone who is 40 plus and is still a virgin not by choice isn’t smiled upon by most people. We think well, what’s wrong with that person?
Think whats out of the norm and how people will react to hearing it. If going against it would scare or outrage people yours on the right track.
4.) Character vs. Technology
Robots is the first thing that probably came to your mind, right?
But think of any tech, including AI or UFOs.
Tech is becoming a more significant part of our lives, so its only natural that we eventually have problems with it.
- I robot (2007)
- Transformers (2007)
- Terminator (1984)
5.) Character vs. Animal
Animals usually go hand and hand with nature but not entirely.
Think of films like:
- Jurassic World (2015)
- King Kong (2005)
- Snakes on a Plane (2006)
- Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Animals have, for a long time, seen as a threat to our existence not as much now we won but thought of ways you can give the animal back there power.
External Conflict Examples in Movies
I’ve already given you some examples of movies above, but now let’s go deeper into the conflict.
Below are two of my favorite movies to analyze.
A new college student is excepted by one of the top music schools in the country. He will give up anything for the number one drumming spot girls, friends, family.
This film has three mains points of external conflict.
The first two are character vs. character.
The music teacher played by J.K Simmons. His conflict comes in when he is seen as the person who controls which player gets the first chair, in other words, who gets to shine during the concerts.
He and the main character Andrew go back and forth. Andrew fights for his approval at all costs. It even starts with an opening shot of him, fighting for his approval.
The second character vs. character conflict comes in when he fights the lead drummer for his spot.
The last external conflict in this movie is character vs. society.
You can see most of this when he quarrels with his family and girlfriend over the opportunity to be the best drummer in the school.
If you haven’t seen this film its a great watch and a great read
2.) The Lion King
Lion King is an excellent example of external conflict in a Disney movie.
It has points of conflict spanning though the entire film over all the acts.
Character vs. character
Scar vs. Mufasa
Scar wanted to be king but wasn’t strong enough to take the right way, so he used his head to win the crown.
Simba vs. Scar
Scar wanted to keep control of the pride land, and Simba wanted it back to rescue his family.
Character vs. Nature
Simba vs. Desert
When Simba was cast out of the kingdom, he almost died walking in the jungle.
Character vs. Society
Simba vs. his rightful place as king
Lala argued with Simba on what he must do and the issues his family is going through without him. Simba didn’t want to go because he built a new life.
Now that you’ve seen how external conflict is used in films let’s show you why its the most important form of conflict.
Why you should focus on External Conflict
External conflict should be the first type of conflict to focus on and the one you build your screenplay from.
Because it translates on camera the best, and it’s easily understandable and recognizable.
Think about it: why do we watch most movies?
Is it because of the internal growth between the characters? Not really, we only appreciate that after we’ve watched it.
Whats in every trailer of every film?
External conflict. Its the selling point of every story.
So your script should be driven by external conflicts because it’s the most recognizable on-screen.
Now we are at the finish line.
Today you learned one of the basics of story structure.
If you’re new to this, it might take some time but keep writing. We’ve all been there.
If you remember one thing from this script, you should remember External conflict should be the driving force to your story.
Now its time to hear from you:
Did I miss anything?
What did you learn new from this post?
How does reading this information change your perspective on conflict?
Whatever your answer is, let’s talk about it in the comments.