Characters and Conflict –– The Challenge of Scriptwriting

December 28, 2009 at 11:42 am Leave a comment

The wonderful thing about creating short films is that they can be anything –– the only limit beyond the cost of production is that of your own imagination. Therefore, coming up with an idea for your script can be challenging.

How do you choose the right way to tell your tale? The following techniques will help filmmakers and educators alike to create compelling and screen-worthy scripts.

The best short films often focus on ONE moment or event in the life of ONE main character. The moment you choose to write about must have a story at its heart, a conflict that needs resolution, a deadline for action, and/or a choice that a character has to make.

Your goal is to successfully engage your audience, relate to your viewers and create something unique. To begin, there are three basic script idea elements: a world, a character and a problem.

The World

For your audience, it is important to establish an instantly recognizable world. Set your film around a memorable, universal event or ritual: a first date, a wedding, the first day of school, dinner with stuffy relatives, etc.

With a setting of this sort, you can generate the audience’s familiarity with the situation and don’t have to spend much time setting up the story’s exposition. It is unusual for a short film to take place over a long period of time, so consider writing your script, more or less, in “real” time.

A story that spreads over more than a few days is unlikely to work well as a short film. Keep your time line simple.

The Character

Once you have decided which significant event in the life of your main character to focus on, the most important questions to then ask yourself are, “Who is this character?” and “What must they overcome?”

To answer these, start by writing a brief back story for your character. Include information such as where they come from, what they do for fun, what their parents are like, why this event is so pivotal for them, etc.

Not all of this information will go into your script, but it will help you develop a well-rounded and realistic character. A back story will also assist you in deciding what motivates you character will have and establishing the conflict they will face. Classic literary conflicts range from: person vs. person or group, person vs. self, person vs. society, person vs. nature, and person vs. machine.

The Problem

Aristotle defined character as “that which reveals moral purpose, showing what kind of things a man chooses or avoids.” Your main character, or protagonist, is the one who has the conflict, and if there is not a conflict in your script, then you don’t have a film.

Decide what is driving you character’s wants, needs and/or obligations. Then, once you decide what is driving your main character, you need to throw a road block, or foible, in their way.

Create something to make the situation harder for your character to pursue what they want and/or need. This will move your story forward.

With character and conflict in place, now you must consider how to manifest the conflict of your story for your audience. Make sure that you demonstrate your skill as a filmmaker and not just as a storyteller; you need to “show” and not just tell your audience the conflict.

Your audience cannot look inside a character’s head, so they need to see characters DOING things that show the audience what they think and feel.

First decide if the stakes are high enough. Ensuring that there is something at stake in your story means that the audience can understand what the character stands to lose if they don’t solve or overcome their problem.

If the story is hinged around a life or death situation, then the stakes are clear. However, if the conflict is simply that the character’s car breaks down, think about how you can set up your tale so that the audience knows why this really matters.

Is your character late to see the most important game of the century? Is he going to miss the opportunity of a lifetime or lose the girl of his dreams if he can’t get the car started? The audience has to value and recognize the urgency of the conflict to help the story move forward.

Finally, ask yourself, are you telling the story from the best point of view? Consider the story of Cinderella, and imagine if you told the same story from a stepsister’s point of view. The story may have the same plot, but a different perspective. Contemplate the point of view you are telling your story from in order to keep your script interesting to your audience.

Whether you are in the classroom or writing on your own, let your imagination fly and play with your script ideas. Remember to keep your thinking focused and avoid clichés. Write what you know and feel passionately about.

To spark ideas, try watching as many short films as you can. You will get inspiration and a feel for how to “show” a great story in a short amount of time. Scriptwriting is an art form, and creating art is never easy.

Your goal is to create a fresh, original and unexpected vision with a universal and clear situation, a high stakes conflict and a relatable character. It is said that everyone has a story to tell; now it’s time to get scriptwriting!


Entry filed under: Education, film,, OneSeventeen Media, Technology, Tweens, Uncategorized, Young Minds Digital Times. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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