7 Steps to Create Conflict and Tension in Your Screenplay
“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending,” writes Jim Henson. And he is right – life is neither smooth nor trouble-free. We all go through challenging times and tough situations, yet we never give up. Now let me ask you something – wouldn’t life be boring without these challenges? If everything went perfectly all the time, would we really appreciate the good times? Probably not.
Same goes with movies – without associating some tension and spontaneous conflict to it, the action seems dull and lifeless. People enjoy watching movies because it reminds them of their own lives. When they empathize with characters, they relive their life stories.
Here are the 7 most important steps any screenwriter should take to include conflict in their screenplay.
1. Create a Logline
First and foremost, you’ll need to come up with a plan – what is your main character’s purpose? A logline is a summary of your scripts. Here are some quick tips on how to be proficient:
- ● Include the protagonist (and his or her intentions) and the antagonist (and his or her intentions) in your logline
- ● You don’t have to use specific names if you don’t have them already
- ● Add some details about the protagonist’s characteristics
- ● Briefly describe your antagonist
- ● Make sure your antagonist has a purpose too – he or she will play a crucial role in tension-creating scenarios
2.Write a Summary
Now it’s time to write a summary of your work. Here, you should think of how your protagonist will interfere with the antagonist. Think about:
- ● Where and how they will find each other
- ● What is the context of their meeting and why is the place important
- ● What similar characteristics they have
- ● What are their differences
Lara Kate, freelancer at EssayOnTime and professional screenwriter, shares her opinion. “Don’t be too strict about your screenplay – let everything flow. Improvising is a good and original technique to use, especially when talking about conflictual situations. Whether you like it or not, your characters talk, so let them!”
3. Give Life to Your Characters
It’s time to dive into our main point– making a scene (within a scene ha-ha!). Giving life to your characters might be challenging at first, as you may have no idea how to develop their personalities. This might help:
- ● Let them fail – I know you love your characters, everyone does. Most of us prefer to keep them safe and away from any dangers – but that doesn’t interest the public as much as we’d want to. You’ve failed before, haven’t you? And you’ve moved on, learning from your mistakes and evolving. Give your characters the chance to do the same.
- ● Let them have their own opinion – nobody likes offensive persons, but sometimes, what’s considered rude in our society should be simply called straightforward. So, let your characters be rude – let them express their opinion freely and have clear life values. Let them be strong and powerful. Let them evoke conflict by being so if they need to.
- ● Let them fight over something or someone – agreeing with someone constantly might feel nice, but it can get boring, right? A challenge is much more fun! Let your characters fight for what they believe in and respect what they love.
4. Map Out a Plan
Without thinking it ahead of time, tension is challenging to create. Make sure that you already have a plan for your conflicts – as I mentioned before, it does not have to be exact, but you might want to have an idea of where and when your conflict will pop up.
“The older get, the more I look at movies as a moving miracle. Audiences are harder to please if you’re just giving them special effects…but they’re easy to please if it’s a good story,” shares Steven Spielberg on Filmmaking Lifestyle.
5. Start Writing Your Draft
It’s time to come up with your movie draft. Divide your work into scenes and include dialogue and descriptions where necessary. Make sure your first 15 to 20 pages are incredibly well-written. A producer won’t have time to read through your whole script, but if your content is good enough, he or she will undoubtedly give you a chance.
Make sure you follow screenplay writing guidelines – it differs from your usual essay draft. You can find more info here.
6. Take Some Time Off
After you’ve come up with the draft, content, and characters, take some time off to relax and not think about your piece. Let it settle in and come back to it later.
Now that you’re back, reread everything and notice the good and bad parts. Is there anything you are not pleased with? Is your action too steady? Are your characters missing something? Do you need more conflictual scenarios? Analyze it thoroughly and ask for feedback.
Creating tension in your screenplay is not a piece of cake – it takes patience and lots of passion coming up with the right script and characters. Make sure you take the time to work on your screenplay; don’t hurry things up. Good luck!
Bio: Serena Dorf is a social media savvy Los Angeles-based content writer. She is thirsty for knowledge and is always on the lookout for writing tips to share with her readers. In her free time, she is reading classic American literature and learning Swedish. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter.