Friday, November 18, 2011

Does your conflict stem from concept?

I'm alive! Sorry, guys. I know the blog has been a bit quiet lately. I've been working on several writing projects, doing a lot of copywriting/blogging to keep my (leaky) roof over my head, and attempting to work off a lot of restaurant food at the gym.

But I thought I would throw out at least one thing I've been thinking about lately: does your conflict stem from your concept?

I guess you can file this under the list of things that might be wrong with your script when you finish it and it's just not "right." It also relates to Blake Snyder's idea of fulfilling the "promise of the premise."

You have a high-concept idea. A compelling logline. You have plenty of conflict and obstacles. Your character wants something and has a lot of trouble getting it.

But do your obstacles stem from your concept? In Veronica Mars, the title character is a PI who's still in high school. So when she goes out on PI missions, the fact that she's a young girl is what keeps her from solving her cases. People don't take her seriously. She can't just march into any biker bar she wants. And she still has to go to school. Of course, the concept also creates plenty of fun, and grants Veronica some special abilities (since nobody expects a high school girl to be a PI)...but it also creates specific obstacles. Your concept might offer a few different kinds of obstacles; on The New Girl, conflict results from the fact that Jess is newly single, and also that she lives with three dudes who don't really know her or understand her. Especially in the beginning, it wouldn't make sense for a New Girl ep to be about Jess having problems with a student at work, you know? Her problems come from being newly single and living with three dudes who don't really know her or understand her. In this week's ep, she brought home a date (Justin Long) - and the conflict stemmed from her new roomies trying to get along with him. Along these same lines, if you're pitching a show, you want your episode ideas to be stories that come directly from your concept - not stories that could be told on any show on TV. I came up with a ton of episode ideas before it really clicked that they weren't specific enough to my show (and concept).

The same goes for movies. In Like Crazy (have I told you that you have to see this movie?!), two characters attempt a long-distance relationship. With an 8-hour time difference, they're never around for phone calls. They aren't together to celebrate each other's career developments. Relationships can have plenty of conflict - but this one's specific conflicts come from the fact that the couple lives apart. Like Blake Snyder says, you want to fulfill the promise of your if you tell us the movie is about witches getting trapped in a prison, we'd better see a lot of set pieces of witches trapped in a prison.

Perhaps this all sounds obvious...but it took me a little while to figure this out. If you have a decent concept and plenty of conflict, you might miss the fact that the two aren't connected.


Vickie Bates said...

Great post, Amanda, and helpful analysis. It's amazing how episodes that demonstrate this point feel perfectly woven together - even the subplots seem to align just so!

Eltram said...

This is a big one for me right now. I'm doing a rewrite on a play. Originally the 2nd act's conflict wasn't very compelling and was really out of line with my concept. I've been retooling the 2nd act's conflict since. I've got something that I think will work, but I'm not sure it's perfectly in sync with the original concept. But things have to change sometimes, right?


Sony said...

A wonderful point, Amanda. I'm in a writing program (more for stage than screen), and that was a very helpful post as I work out some scenes for my upcoming quarter. All best with your writing and happy holidays!