Most of the screenplays I read lack dramatic conflict. Characters just talk and say empty words. Nothing’s happening. Often, the reason for this is because we don’t push ourselves to find drama in the lives of our characters.
by D.B. Gilles
So maybe we look into our own lives for some dramatic conflict to inspire us. You argue with your spouse or significant other. You quarrel with your parents or siblings or friends. You squabble with an obnoxious neighbor, rude sales clerk or whoever.
But sometimes we don’t have enough drama in our lives. Things may be going smoothly and pleasantly. There’s no crisis or chaos. While this is good for our peace of mind, it’s bad for our sense of the dramatic.
There’s nothing like something happening to shake things up. We’re thrown off guard, we lose our balance, we’re knocked out of our comfort zone and lose our cool.
But if nothing’s going on we get lazy.
There’s nothing like something happening to shake things up.
This is when we must truly use our imaginations to try and stir up some drama. What I do is try to picture celebrities or people connected to celebrities in their real lives. Not as we’ve come to know them publicly, but how they really are in their private lives.
What do Michelle and Barack Obama talk about when the kids are tucked in and they’re alone? Does she ask him to rub her feet? Do they argue about what to watch on TV? What is it like to be Sharon Stone’s personal assistant? Does Paul McCartney ever wonder if he or Ringo will be the last surviving Beatle? Do Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore have their own secret language?
What were the first words exchanged between Sarah Palin and her daughter when she learned of her pregnancy? What went on in the mind of the coroner who did the autopsy on Brittany Murphy? Is Kate Gosselin petrified that she’ll never find a man because she has 8 kids? What was the mind set of the guy who tried to blackmail David Letterman?
…Use our imaginations to try and stir up some drama.
What is it like to have been married to Rush Limbaugh? Wife #1 was when he was young and struggling. Wife #2 came along as his career took off. Wife #3 hit the jackpot. What would it be like if those three women got together and dished about life with Rush? I heard recently that he’s getting married again this summer. What goes through the mind of the next Mrs. Limbaugh as she processes the fact that she’ll be #4? Does she secretly wonder if she’ll be his last wife?
Think of this as a mind exercise. Pick a handful of people you like (or don’t like) and imagine what goes on in their private lives. It just might open up some new doors for you when it comes to writing more powerful scenes.
D.B. Gilles has taught Screenwriting, Comedy Writing and Writing For Television in The Undergraduate Film & Television Department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for more than 15 years.
His latest screenwriting book Writer’s Rehab: a 12-Step Program Who Can’t Get Their Acts Together is out now.
Photo credits: Graphic stock
Jamie Campbell is an author, screenwriter, and television addict.
Jamie is proud to be an Editor for The Story Department.
Her latest series Project Integrate is out now.
2 thoughts on “Without Dramatic Conflict Your Characters Are Boring”
Many writer-directors in Australia fall into the trap of writing or shooting mediocre films, in part, because of the lack of dramatic conflict mentioned in the early part of this post. Maybe they should all read this post to at least begin to lift their game.