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  • Writer's pictureLee Hamilton

100 ways to add Conflict to your Screenplay

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

We all know that conflict is key when it comes to screenwriting. In fact, ideally, there should be some level of conflict occurring in every scene - but that can be a bit of a hard ask when it comes down to it.

Whether you've hit a roadblock, need to intensify a scene, or are just looking for inspiration, here are 100 ways to inject more drama, crisis, and conflict into your story.

(MC = main character)

1. Create characters that clash: Design characters with differing personalities, beliefs, or values, making it nearly inevitable for them to butt heads.

Example: In "Sherlock Holmes," the methodical and logic-driven Holmes constantly clashes with his emotional and spontaneous companion Watson.

2. Create groups that clash: Similar to clashing characters, but on a larger scale. Different factions or groups in your story may have opposing goals or ideologies.

Example: In "Game of Thrones," the Starks and the Lannisters are two families with very different values and goals, which causes a lot of tension and conflict.

3. Give characters conflicting goals: Make your characters want different things that cannot coexist, which means one character's success will lead to another's failure.

Example: In "The Dark Knight," Batman and the Joker have opposite goals: Batman wants to save Gotham, while the Joker wants to plunge it into chaos.

4. Force opposing characters together: Put characters who dislike each other in a situation where they have to work together or coexist.

Example: In "The Odd Couple," neat freak Felix and slob Oscar are forced to live together, leading to comedic conflict.

5. Raise the stakes: Make the consequences of failure more severe for your characters, adding pressure and tension.

Example: In "Titanic," the stakes are raised when the ship hits the iceberg and begins to sink, turning Rose and Jack's love story into a fight for survival.

6. Create a power struggle: Characters vie for control or dominance in a situation or relationship.

Example: In "The Lion King," Scar's desire to rule over the Pride Lands leads him to plot against Mufasa and Simba.

7. Add competition to heighten conflict: Characters are in direct competition with each other, whether it's for a prize, a job, or the affection of a third character.

Example: In "Rush," two race car drivers, James Hunt and Niki Lauda, have an intense rivalry that drives the film's conflict.

8. Add a time constraint: The characters have a limited amount of time to achieve their goal, adding urgency and tension.

Example: In "Speed," a bomb on a city bus is set to explode if the bus's speed drops below a certain point, giving the characters a very real and immediate time constraint.

9. Create misunderstandings: Characters misinterpret each other's words or actions, leading to conflict that could have been avoided if they understood each other properly.

Example: In "Romeo and Juliet," a message fails to reach Romeo, leading him to believe that Juliet is dead when she is not, with tragic results.

10. Introduce a mysterious character: A character whose motives or backstory are unclear can create tension and conflict due to uncertainty.

Example: In "Lost," the character of John Locke is introduced with a shroud of mystery, creating conflict as other survivors struggle to understand his intentions and past.

11. Add micro-tension: Incorporate small, moment-to-moment tensions in dialogue, description, and action to keep readers engaged and on edge.

Example: In "Breaking Bad," a dinner scene with Walt, Skyler, and Jesse is filled with micro-tension due to unspoken truths and underlying anger.

12. Make the MC dwell, anticipate, dread a forthcoming event: The character's anxiety about an upcoming event can build tension and suspense.

Example: In "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," Harry dreads participating in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament.

13. Make the antagonist a worthy opponent: The antagonist should be strong enough to provide a real challenge to the protagonist, increasing the conflict and tension.

Example: In "The Silence of the Lambs," Hannibal Lecter is intelligent, cunning, and ruthless, making him a formidable adversary for Clarice Starling.

14. Make the antagonist believable: The antagonist should have understandable motivations and behave in ways that make sense given their character, making the conflict feel more real and grounded

Example: In "Black Panther," Erik Killmonger is a compelling and believable antagonist because his motivations stem from personal pain and the reality of racial inequality.

15. Give the antagonist the same goal as the MC: If the protagonist and antagonist are striving for the same thing, this naturally creates conflict.

Example: In "Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark," both Indiana Jones and the Nazis are trying to find the Ark of the Covenant.

16. Give the MC something to fear: The protagonist's fear can create internal conflict and add an extra layer of tension.

Example: In "Jaws," Chief Brody has a fear of water, making his battle with the shark even more terrifying.

17. Give your MC a central flaw/weakness/limitation: This can make your character more relatable and can create both internal and external conflict.

Example: In "Iron Man," Tony Stark's arrogance and dismissive attitude cause him problems and create conflict with others.

18. Put the hero at a disadvantage from the beginning: The protagonist starts off in a difficult position, making their journey harder and the conflict more intense.

Example: In "The Martian," Mark Watney is left alone on Mars, a significant disadvantage that sets up the conflict for the rest of the film.

19. Test the MC’s abilities to the limit: The protagonist should have to push themselves to their limit to achieve their goal, heightening the conflict.

Example: In "127 Hours," Aron Ralston's survival skills are tested to the extreme when he becomes trapped in a canyon.

20. Arouse suspicion in a close companion: A character begins to doubt or suspect a friend or ally, creating tension and conflict.

Example: In "The Thing," the characters become suspicious of each other when they realize the alien can mimic any one of them.

21. Have your MC make a stupid decision: Characters making bad decisions can lead to unexpected and negative consequences that drive the story.

Example: In "Jurassic Park," Dennis Nedry's decision to steal dinosaur embryos and disable the park's security leads to disastrous results.

22. Make something seem worryingly out of place: This creates a sense of unease and anticipation, generating suspense and tension.

Example: In "The Sixth Sense," little things seem off about the world, hinting at the twist that Bruce Willis's character is a ghost.

23. Have a secondary character act disturbingly out of character: This creates tension and uncertainty, as other characters (and the audience) try to understand what's happening.

Example: In "The Shining," Jack's gradual transformation into a homicidal maniac creates an atmosphere of dread.

24. Throw more obstacles at the MC than they can handle: This increases the difficulty of the protagonist's journey and the intensity of the conflict.

Example: In "Die Hard," John McClane has to deal with numerous problems, including broken glass, no shoes, and lack of communication with the outside world, on top of the main issue of the terrorists.

25. Withhold vital info from your MC: The protagonist is kept in the dark about something important, increasing tension and conflict.

Example: In "Memento," Leonard can't remember anything for more than a few minutes, meaning vital information is constantly withheld from him.

26. Put a great distance between the MC and their goal: The protagonist's goal should feel almost impossible to reach, increasing the sense of conflict and tension.

Example: In "Lord of the Rings," Frodo and Sam's journey to Mount Doom is incredibly long and fraught with danger.

27. Foreshadow peril to the audience: This technique, often known as dramatic irony, involves giving the audience information that the characters don't have, increasing tension.

Example: In "Jaws," the audience often knows the shark is coming before the characters do.

28. Kill off a pivotal character, such as the mentor or love interest: This can raise the stakes, intensify the conflict, and give the protagonist a personal reason to seek resolution.

Example: In "Star Wars: A New Hope," Obi-Wan Kenobi's death deeply affects Luke and galvanizes his determination to fight the Empire.

29. Use red herrings to make the MC jump to the wrong conclusion: Misleading clues or pieces of information can lead the protagonist (and the audience) astray, increasing suspense and conflict.

Example: In "The Usual Suspects," Verbal Kint's stories are full of red herrings that mislead both the detective and the audience.

30. Set the action within a larger conflict, such as WWII, the French Revolution, an invasion of earth: The historical or large-scale conflict adds an extra layer of tension and stakes to the personal conflicts of your characters.

Example: In "Casablanca," the personal story of Rick and Ilsa's love affair is set against the backdrop of WWII, adding complexity and tension to their situation.

31. Lull the audience into a false sense of security: Create a sense of calm or stability before revealing new conflict or danger.

Example: In "Psycho," Marion Crane decides to return the stolen money, which seems to promise a resolution, but then she is unexpectedly murdered in the shower scene.

32. Create impossible odds: Present a situation where it seems unlikely for the protagonist to succeed.

Example: In "300," the Spartans face an overwhelming Persian army, highlighting the impossible odds.

33. Create threats against the MC’s loved ones: Using a protagonist's personal connections as leverage amplifies the stakes.

Example: In "Taken," Bryan's daughter's kidnapping drives him into action.

34. Force a good man (or woman) to make unjust decisions: This can create emotional conflict and question morality.

Example: In "Breaking Bad," Walter White, a good man turned bad, makes increasingly unjust decisions to secure his family's future.

35. Force the MC to make an impossible choice: Present a dilemma where all options have considerable negative consequences.

Example: In "Sophie's Choice," Sophie has to choose which of her two children will live and who will die.

36. Force the MC to go against their ideals: This creates an internal struggle, adding depth to the character.

Example: In "The Dark Knight," Batman is forced to use unethical means to catch the Joker, going against his ideal of justice.

37. Use dramatic irony where the audience know something the MC doesn’t: This can create suspense and anticipation.

Example: In "Romeo and Juliet," the audience knows that Juliet has taken a sleeping potion, but Romeo does not, leading to tragic consequences.

38. The MC is prevented from delivering something pivotal: Obstructing a protagonist's goal can heighten the conflict.

Example: In "Lord of the Rings," Frodo's mission to deliver the ring to Mount Doom is fraught with peril and obstacles.

39. Use the unknown to create anxiety and conflict: What characters don't know or understand can create fear and tension.

Example: In "Alien," the crew's unfamiliarity with the alien creature creates anxiety and fear.

40. Move the scene to a dangerous setting: The environment can serve as an obstacle or source of conflict.

Example: In "Jaws," the open ocean is a constant source of threat and danger.

41. Giving characters hidden agendas: A character with a hidden motive can create unexpected turns in the story.

Example: In "The Usual Suspects," Verbal Kint's hidden agenda is revealed only at the end, changing our understanding of the entire story.

42. Give the MC a terrible secret: Secrets add mystery and can cause conflict if they are at risk of being revealed.

Example: In "Fight Club," the narrator's secret (that he and Tyler Durden are the same person) is a critical twist in the story.

43. Use the MC’s strengths against them: The protagonist's abilities or characteristics can sometimes create problems.

Example: In "Iron Man," Tony Stark's genius in technology enables him to create the Iron Man suit, but it also falls into the wrong hands and is used against him.

44. Use a past trauma to cripple the MC: Past events can affect a character's ability to deal with current conflicts.

Example: In "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Lisbeth Salander's traumatic past affects her ability to trust and connect with others.

45. Use the MC’s need or yearning against them: The protagonist's desires can lead them into trouble.

Example: In "The Great Gatsby," Gatsby's desire for Daisy leads to his downfall.

46. Make the MC grieve: Grief can influence a character's decisions and relationships, and can be a source of inner conflict.

Example: In "Manchester by the Sea," Lee's grief over his children's deaths drives the story.

47. Treat the MC unjustly: Unfair treatment can generate sympathy for the MC and create external conflict.

Example: In "The Shawshank Redemption," Andy Dufresne is unjustly sentenced for a crime he didn't commit.

48. Make the MC carry guilt: A character feeling responsible for something can be a source of internal conflict.

Example: In "Schindler's List," Oskar Schindler feels guilt for not saving more lives.

49. Give the MC attitude: A character with a unique or strong attitude can clash with others, creating conflict.

Example: In "The Big Lebowski," the Dude's laid-back attitude often conflicts with the more serious or aggressive characters.

50. Have the MC fail: Failure can lead to conflict, as it forces the character to deal with the consequences and try again.

Example: In "Rocky," Rocky loses his first major fight against Apollo Creed, but this failure sets up his future victories.

51. Turn the MC’s successes into poison chalices: Sometimes a character's achievements can lead to unexpected negative consequences.

Example: In "Breaking Bad," Walter White's success in the meth business draws the attention of dangerous individuals and law enforcement, leading to various conflicts.

52. Give the MC a pre-existing difficult relationship with another character: Conflict can stem from established, contentious relationships between characters.

Example: In "The Godfather," Michael Corleone has a complex, strained relationship with his brother Fredo which creates familial and moral conflict.

53. Give the MC a blind spot about themselves: A character being unaware or in denial about their flaws can lead to conflict within themselves or with others.

Example: In "Pride and Prejudice," Mr. Darcy's pride and aloofness (which he initially doesn't recognize as a problem) leads to misunderstandings and conflict with Elizabeth Bennet.

54. Make the MC really bad at something: A character's weakness or incompetence in a particular area can lead to failures and tension.

Example: In "The Pink Panther," Inspector Clouseau's ineptitude at detective work leads to a series of comedic conflicts and blunders.

55. Make the MC obsessed with something: A character's obsession can create conflict as it may lead them to take drastic actions or make unwise decisions.

Example: In "Moby Dick," Captain Ahab's obsession with the white whale leads him to risk his crew and ship in pursuit.

56. Make the MC’s worst fear/nightmare come true: Playing on a character's deepest fears can lead to both external and internal conflict.

Example: In "Jurassic Park," Dr. Alan Grant, who dislikes children, finds himself having to protect two kids when the park's dinosaurs escape.

57. Take away the things that the MC cares about: Conflict can arise when characters lose something or someone they value.

Example: In "Taken," Bryan Mills faces conflict when his daughter is kidnapped.

58. Hurt the MC’s feelings: Emotional pain can lead to personal conflict and influence a character's decisions.

Example: In "Forrest Gump," Forrest's feelings are hurt when he realizes that Jenny doesn't love him the same way he loves her.

59. Have the MC betrayed: Betrayal can cause a sudden shift in the character's circumstances, leading to conflict.

Example: In "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith," Anakin Skywalker feels betrayed by the Jedi Council and his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, leading to his transformation into Darth Vader.

60. Ruin the MC’s life: A significant, devastating event can dramatically change the character's circumstances, leading to conflict.

Example: In "Breaking Bad," Walter White's cancer diagnosis and subsequent entry into the meth business ruin his family life and career.

61. Undermine everything the MC believes in: By shaking a character's foundational beliefs, you create a deep inner conflict that can drive the story.

Example: In "The Matrix," Neo's world is shattered when he discovers that his reality is a simulated construct.

62. Create self-doubt in the MC: Instilling doubt in a character can create internal conflict and impact their decision-making.

Example: In "Hamlet," Hamlet's constant self-doubt and questioning delay his decision to avenge his father's death.

63. Have characters lie and deceive: Deception can lead to conflicts based on misunderstanding or betrayal.

Example: In "Gone Girl," Amy Dunne's elaborate lies and manipulation create conflict with her husband Nick and the community.

64. Create misunderstandings: Misunderstandings between characters can lead to conflict and tension.

Example: In "Romeo and Juliet," the misunderstanding about Juliet's feigned death leads to tragic consequences.

65. Have the MC’s inner need conflict with their external goal: Conflict arises when what the character wants outwardly contradicts what they need on a deeper level.

Example: In "Fight Club," the unnamed protagonist's desire for material comfort conflicts with his inner need for self-realization and freedom from societal constraints.

66. Make it personal: Personal stakes raise emotional involvement and intensify conflict.

Example: In "Die Hard," John McClane's wife being held hostage makes the conflict deeply personal.

67. Introduce a stubborn character: A stubborn character can create conflict by refusing to change or compromise.

Example: In "Fargo," Marge Gunderson's obstinate pursuit of the truth creates conflict with the criminals she's investigating.

68. Let the MC’s past catch up with them: A character's past coming back to haunt them can lead to conflict.

Example: In "Logan," Wolverine's past as a weapon comes back to haunt him in the form of a young mutant he must protect.

69. Create a deadline then cut it in half: This heightens the urgency of the conflict and puts pressure on the characters.

Example: In "Back to the Future," Marty McFly has a limited amount of time to ensure his parents meet and fall in love to secure his existence; the deadline becomes even more urgent when unforeseen complications arise.

70. Create terrible consequences should the MC fail: Stakes and tension are increased when there are dire implications for failure.

Example: In "Avengers: Infinity War," the terrible consequence of the heroes' failure is Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe.

71. Create barriers in a relationship: Barriers can be emotional, physical, or societal and can create conflict in a relationship.

Example: In "The Notebook," Allie and Noah's love is constantly impeded by societal expectations and family interference.

72. Introduce a third party: A third party can disrupt established dynamics and create conflict.

Example: In "The Dark Knight," the Joker is introduced as a third party that creates havoc in the established order of Gotham City.

73. Highlight cultural differences: Cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings and clashes in values, creating conflict.

Example: In "Crash," cultural differences and biases cause conflicts among a diverse cast of characters.

74. Add a moral dilemma: A situation where there's no clear right or wrong choice can cause significant conflict for a character.

Example: In "Sophie's Choice," Sophie faces an unthinkable moral dilemma when a Nazi officer forces her to choose which of her two children will live and which will die.

75. Disrupt the status quo: Change, especially unexpected or unwanted, can incite conflict.

Example: In "Game of Thrones," Eddard Stark's appointment as Hand of the King disrupts the status quo and sets off a chain of events leading to war.

76. Utilize weather and nature: Natural events or harsh conditions can present serious external conflict.

Example: In "The Day After Tomorrow," extreme weather events cause worldwide conflict and danger.

77. Use an unreliable narrator: An unreliable narrator can create conflict within the plot through misdirection and untrustworthy interpretations.

Example: In "Fight Club," the unreliable narrator leads the audience to believe one reality, only to subvert it later.

78. Subvert expectations: Defying expectations can create conflict by surprising characters and readers alike.

Example: In "Psycho," the early death of the apparent protagonist, Marion Crane, subverts audience expectations and throws the narrative into conflict.

79. Create an internal enemy: Conflict can come from within a group or character themselves.

Example: In "The Departed," Matt Damon's character is an internal enemy within the police force, secretly working for a criminal boss.

80. Introduce a false protagonist: This technique involves presenting a character as the story's protagonist, only to reveal them as secondary or nonessential later on.

Example: In Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," Marion Crane appears to be the protagonist until her unexpected death early in the film, shifting the focus to Norman Bates.

81. Threat of exposure: Characters with secrets face the risk of those secrets being revealed, adding tension and conflict.

Example: In "Breaking Bad," Walter White's double life as a chemistry teacher and a meth producer constantly risks exposure.

82. Reveal a prophecy: A prophecy can foretell events that characters strive to prevent or make come true, creating conflict.

Example: In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," a prophecy reveals that either Harry or Voldemort will kill the other, adding an overarching conflict for the rest of the series.

83. Add a love triangle: A love triangle can lead to feelings of jealousy, indecision, and tension among characters.

Example: In "The Hunger Games," a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale contributes to the conflict and tension throughout the series.

84. Introduce an unexpected twist: An unforeseen turn of events can disrupt the storyline and character dynamics, generating conflict.

Example: In "Fight Club," the unexpected twist that Tyler Durden is actually a figment of the narrator's imagination creates a significant internal and external conflict.

85. Make the villain relatable: Making a villain relatable can create emotional conflict within the audience, who may start to empathize with the antagonist.

Example: In "Killmonger" from "Black Panther," his motivations and backstory make him relatable and add complexity to the conflict.

86. Test loyalty: Testing a character's loyalty can lead to difficult decisions, potentially resulting in betrayal or strengthened alliances.

Example: In "The Dark Knight," Harvey Dent's loyalty is tested when the Joker forces him to choose between his own life and that of his fiancee, leading to tragic consequences.

87. Create a situation where there's no good choice: A situation with only unfavorable outcomes can create a significant dilemma for characters.

Example: In "Sophie's Choice," Sophie is forced to decide which of her two children will be spared from death, a choice with no good outcome.

88. Weaponize trust: Manipulating trust can lead to betrayal, deception, and unexpected conflict.

Example: In "Gone Girl," Amy uses her husband Nick's trust to frame him for her apparent murder, weaponizing his trust against him.

89. Create a memory loss scenario: Memory loss can create confusion, disorientation, and conflict as characters try to piece together their past or present circumstances.

Example: In "Memento," the protagonist suffers from short-term memory loss, which adds complexity and conflict to his quest for revenge.

90. Give a secondary character conflicting goals: A secondary character with goals that conflict with the protagonist can create tension and unexpected complications.

Example: In "The Lord of the Rings," Boromir's desire to use the One Ring for the good of Gondor clashes with Frodo's goal to destroy it.

91. Introduce a rival: Introducing a rival character can provide direct opposition and competition for the protagonist.

Example: In "Sherlock Holmes," Professor Moriarty is introduced as a cunning rival to Sherlock, providing a continuous source of conflict.

92. Pull the rug out from under the MC: Abruptly changing circumstances in a way that disadvantages the protagonist can lead to increased conflict.

Example: In "The Empire Strikes Back," Luke Skywalker learns that Darth Vader is his father, drastically altering his worldview and goals.

93. Add a surprising ally for the antagonist: An unexpected character siding with the antagonist can make the protagonist's situation more difficult and complex.

Example: In "The Departed," it's revealed that Colin Sullivan has been working for mob boss Frank Costello all along, complicating the protagonist's efforts to infiltrate the mob.

94. Have the MC make a sacrifice: Making the protagonist give up something valuable can add emotional conflict and tension.

Example: In "Avengers: Endgame," Tony Stark sacrifices his life to save the universe, adding emotional weight to the story's climax.

95. Use public humiliation: Public embarrassment or shame can create personal conflict for a character and alter how other characters perceive and interact with them.

Example: In "Carrie," the titular character is publicly humiliated at her high school prom, serving as the catalyst for the climactic conflict.

96. Show a character who is unable to adapt to change: A character's resistance to change can lead to internal conflict and complications within the story.

Example: In "Mad Men," Don Draper struggles to adapt to the changing cultural and professional landscape of the 1960s, leading to numerous personal and professional conflicts.

97. Show a character being falsely accused: A character being wrongly blamed can lead to conflicts surrounding truth, justice, and reputation.

Example: In "The Fugitive," Dr. Richard Kimble is falsely accused of murdering his wife, sparking the main conflict as he seeks to clear his name.

98. Create a situation where the MC loses control: Putting the protagonist in a situation where they have little to no control can escalate conflict and tension.

Example: In "Gravity," Dr. Ryan Stone loses control when her shuttle is destroyed, leading to a life-or-death struggle in space.

99. Play with the character's sense of identity: Challenging a character's understanding of who they are can create internal conflict and affect their relationships with other characters.

Example: In "Fight Club," the protagonist's struggle with his split personality forms the central conflict of the story.

100. Exploit societal norms and expectations: Societal pressures can create conflict for characters who must navigate and potentially challenge these norms.

Example: In "Pride and Prejudice," Elizabeth Bennet's desire for love and independence often conflicts with societal expectations of women in her era.

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