Notes from a Screenreader

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photo via Go Into the Story

Real conflict is critical to getting your script past the first round of readers in a competition. All competition specs have an idea and an intent. Few of them deliver an emotional experience of that intent because writers avoid the serious conflict it takes to build an inevitable crisis.

Conflicts need to be a cage match. A dirty fight, a power play, a catastrophic failure of the plan. Spec writers tend to get squeamish about running their characters through that mill, or they hold them to finishing school codes of conduct that prevent the conflict the story needs to keep escalating.

Common cheats in place of serious conflict are:

  • Wimpy arguments. Squabbling is as annoying to read as it is to listen to. To ramp your argument into real conflict, take the gloves off. No Queensbury Rules, no Geneva Convention, no therapeutic fair fighting techniques. Speak unvarnished truth. Hurt relationships, not just feelings.
  • Toe stubbing. Busywork obstacles are inconveniences, which are dull to read. To create suspenseful obstacles, make them costly enough for the protag to consider giving up. If he fails, he could lose his house, his life, his livelihood, his dream. Build big risk in.
  • Resolution. Prematurely resolving unfinished business with an apology or a compromise lets out all the tension. Keep the fires burning hot beneath those grudges. It’s emotional jet fuel.

-ANNIE LABARBA @annelabarba

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