Eric Ernst

Most books on screenwriting will tell you that the most important element in your script, above plot, above character, above everything is conflict. Which makes sense, as conflict is the most basic of elements, since it encompasses both character and plot. Most story conflicts can be boiled down to a simple “man vs.”. Man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself; there is a multitude of possibilities. The “man” almost always refers to the protagonist and whatever is on the other side of the vs. almost always refers to the antagonist. The word protagonist can usually be substituted for hero, and antagonist for villian, as these are basically newer terms used to replace older, more specific ones, much like Istanbul replaced Constantinople as the name of the capital of Turkey. Odd example, but you get the point.

Conflict is then derived from the battle, whether physical or not, between the hero and villian. The tension that comes from these two forces working against each other is the conflict, which usually culminates in a thrilling, combustible scene, known as the climax. There are a plethora of films in which these scenes occur, but many times, they do not. For example, the conflict in The Sixth Sense could be considered man vs. the supernatural, but there is never a confrontation between the two, instead just a chilling reveal. While some might see this as a detriment, there is also good that comes of it, for it helps to instill patience in the audience. Of course, there are things that can go awry, killing your chances for a satisfied audience. I’m not slamming M. Night Shyamalan, but Lady in the Water is a prime example of this.

Naturally, there are plenty of films that defy this standard. They can be simple, such as Welcome to Mooseport, in which local hero Ray Romano runs for mayor of a small town against carpet-bagger and former President Gene Hackman. Neither character acts as a hero or villian, just two likeable characters who both want the same thing. They can also be complex, such as The Station Agent, where a crusty loner, played by Peter Dinklage, has to overcome his own inner demons, thereby acting as both the protagonist and antagonist. Then there are examples like House of Wax, which stars reknown celebu-tard Paris Hilton. Although she is one of the side characters in the film, she acts as the antagonist to quality acting, though she is quite convincing as a carcass. =)

Conflict was the main element we focused on while writing Monster. There are only two characters, so there is a fine line to walk to avoid having a clear protagonist and antagonist. There are, of course, elements of man vs. the supernatural, but like any good story of its kind, this does not comprise the entire movie. Instead, Monster is a multi-layered story, with many conflicts, all of which resolve in a satisfying way.

Conflicted Frame
Conflicted Characters, A Monster in the Attic
Artist Ana Bruno
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