It’s no secret that one of the most effective ways to navigate a screenplay forward is through the use of conflict. With conflict your characters are required to react. Therefore, many screenwriters rely heavily on the use of conflict to create screenplay suspense. In my professional opinion, suspense in your screenplay acts like the mortar holding the bricks of your story in place. Without a strong level of suspense, the building you wish to construct will be weak, and if not careful, the entire structure will crumble under the weight of its own roof.
Both internal and external conflict provides a stage for suspense while simultaneously drawing audience attention through the use of unpredictability and drama.
Within the realm of this subject matter, the notion of creating internal conflict for screenplay characters is among the most interesting and exciting screenplay techniques. The reason for this is because internal conflicts are rarely discussed through dialogue. In fact, their presence may only be hinted at through character movements or a slight reveal in dialogue. The hidden, yet powerful, nature of an internal conflict is what makes a character interesting. It’s this element that drives the character to make choices as well as acting like a map navigating the character through his own internal thought process.
When constructing internal conflict, screenwriters must be mindful of the following:
What is the Conflict Core – Establishing the core of any internal conflict is the most essential tip to remember regarding this writing technique. Without the full understanding as to why this internal conflict is so loud regarding his choices then you’ll never be able to write a cohesive and succinct character. Identify the conflict core before ever writing according to this internal conflict.
What Level Does the Conflict Have Influence – Internal conflicts have a specified “volume.” If every internal conflict was on the same level, the character would likely go crazy as his confliction would render him unable to make a single decision. Because of this, you must identify which internal conflicts are the ones that have the most influence. This thought process opens the next question:
What Softer Conflicts Influence the Stronger Conflicts – In an awful twist of fate, the human mind is often influenced by softer-sounding conflicts. While the primary internal conflict navigating character choices is the one made most present in the story, its very existence may be supported by an underlying conflict. It’s only when you’re able to identify this as the root of an internal conflict that you may accurately depict this character.
External conflicts, or situational conflict, is only brought to the attention of a character because he found himself in a particular situation. For example, the character walks into the bank only to find that it is being robbed. Now, his entire world is at stake simply because of the environment he found himself in.,
This level of conflict-driven suspense is by far utilized more often than internal conflicts; however, the most effective screenplays are those that utilize external conflict and then support its existence through internal conflicts. This co-mingling of external and internal influences create unpredictability and major suspense for audiences.