Sometimes, life just doesn’t go right. In fact, sometimes life sucks. This might be because you’ve had an argument with someone or because you’ve had a warning at work; this might be because you’re not getting on with your partner, your children have inexplicably become devil spawn or things just aren’t going the way you want them to in your career, your writing or anything else. This may go on for a couple of weeks, maybe a month; sometimes it may go on for an extended time until before you know it, life just IS that way and you can’t even remember what it’s like not to have so much hassle in your life.
Lap it up.
You heard right. Drama is conflict, right? So embrace conflict in your life. Make a note of it. Remember those times you want to kill your husband or lock your mother-in-law in the cellar. Remember those moments where your workmates are evil incarnate, where your children seem more like those flying monkeys out of The Wizard of Oz and your siblings resemble Scar in The Lion King.
It will be these moments that are useful.
I see a lot of scripts in which nothing much happens – or stuff will happen, JUST LATER ON IN THE SCRIPT. No one wants to see a movie about dancing through the forest and singing; we don’t want to be surrounded by fluffy bunnies and tweety chicks, where nothing bad happens and everyone lives very happily, thanks very much. Nor do we want to wait until later on. We want conflict and we want it there, from the start. Feelings of foreboding are good, but make it obvious this is what you’re doing; give us a sense that all is not well in this world. After all, people want to see movies where difficult choices have to be made; where people are killed or maimed; where families have to overcome terrible events; where space aliens will kidnap you and stick things where they shouldn’t. Movies where serial killers are the norm, where mother-in-laws are from outer space and clashes of culture present all kinds of convoluted problems. If your set up doesn’t match the tone of your story, all that will happen is an abrupt genre change.
We want to see conflict because conflict is part of our everyday lives. Most of us will not have to deal with literal life-or-death, but we still deal with conflict. If yours is a story in which no one dies or could die, that doesn’t mean nothing much happens. Some of the stories out there richest in conflict do not include ACTUAL death after all. Personal, metaphorical tragedy is sometimes greater than the worst kinds of movie character genocide (AVP: Requiem anyone?! Good Lord).
So don’t make the reader wait for the conflict in your story. Give it to us with both barrels. Dazzle us with it. Don’t tell us that it will happen in a minute – hook us like those fishing hooks in that horrible NHS anti-smoking advert, bring us in, stick it IN OUR FACE. That doesn’t mean you can’t be subtle. But don’t be so subtle that it’s not there.
That is all.