top of page

From Concept to Conflict: Crafting Compelling Narratives in Screenwriting

Guest Blog by Screenwriting Staffing member, Ed Tasca. If you enjoy this article, be sure to sign up for our Free Membership!

Keep in mind that reading habits have waned among the general public. This not only makes selling books and reading materials more challenging but also pitching story ideas to filmmakers.

Have you ever noticed throughout all the riots you heard about all over the world recently, you ever notice nobody looted book stores?

Success in writing can be found anywhere if you master your craft, exercise patience, and have a stroke of luck in finding the perfect outlet for your work. However, remember that this industry is fiercely competitive, especially if you aim to earn a livelihood from it.

Always remember, writing remains one of the most revered and profound pursuits humans have ever embarked upon. It's no accident that the earliest significant writings by humans were prayers etched onto stones. If you believe you have a message or story worth sharing, continue to write. The more you engage with it, the deeper your understanding of the craft will become.

1. Even fiction is about truth

  • Journaling.

  • “The well-told partial truth to deflect the private raw truth,” Spaulding Gray once observed in his journal.

  • Observation of human actions or experience can turn into a story.

  • Journaling is a personal story storehouse.

“Two questions form the foundation of all fiction: ‘What if?’ and ‘What next?’ (A third question, ‘What now?’, is one the author asks himself every 10 minutes or so; but it’s more a cry than a question.) Every fiction begins with the speculative question, What if ‘X’ happened? That’s how one can start.” —Tom Clancy

  • Think through your initial ideas. This simply means before you start, make sure the subject or your premise is something that excites you.

  • Start with an outline.

  • Discipline yourself to stay the course.

  • Don't be afraid to experiment.

  • Rewrite and edit. Everyone you meet these days is writing. However, only advanced writers know how to rewrite. It is this ability alone that turns the amateur into a pro.

  • Editing and rewriting are a critical, heartless and unsympathetic act, every writer must learn.

“Writing is not about interior decorating. It’s about architecture.” Ernest Hemingway.

3. Architecture is plotting, the structure within which the characters enact the story-line. Get it moving quickly. Don’t spend the first three pages describing the building your characters inhabit. Etc.

  • Plotting requires a problem to solve, a need that must be fulfilled. How your character solves the problem or meets the need–or fails to–becomes your plot.

  • You can study your favorite books, movies or tv shows. Just note each point where something happens to change the course of the action or propel the characters to take some action.

  • Always maintain control of your initial idea. The way to do this is to:

4. Write your idea for a story in a simple declarative sentence. A few examples:

  • In Star Wars, an Evil Empire becomes a force to be reckoned with when it attempts to take over the universe.

  • In Twelve Angry Men, A jury decides a young man is guilty of murdering his father, until one doubting juror persists in reexamining every detail of the evidence.

  • In The Gladiator, a maniacal emperor mad with power executes families for petty reasons, the father of one then finds revenge in the gladiatorial ring.

  • In Wizard of Oz, a young girl is caught up in a surreal land where she is accused of a terrible crime that was an accident until she can defeat a witch seeking revenge on her.

  • In Titanic, a romance flourishes amid villains on board a famous cruise ship until the ultimate disaster ends the romance tragically.

  • In Harry Potter, Voldemort wants to own the Wizard World.

  • In The Exorcist, an exorcist is forced to confront the devil controlling the soul of a young girl.

  • In Jaws it's a shark that is terrorizing a well-known tourist village and it must be neutralized.

Each of these stories and hundreds of others I could name all revolve around a problem that has to be revealed and resolved.

5. Taking the initial idea to the narrative stage

Answer these questions: What does the protagonist (your main character) bring to the table?

  • What does he want?

  • How does he decide to achieve his goals?

  • What action does he take?

  • Who or what is standing in his way?

  • What consequences occur as a result of his actions?

  • How does his response further complicate matters?

  • What possible resolutions emerge?

During your writing process, it's perfectly natural to revisit and alter your initial answers to certain questions. In fact, such evolution is often beneficial. Strive for originality in your thoughts and avoid defaulting to familiar solutions or ideas you've encountered elsewhere. As you navigate these choices, keep a note card at hand as a guide: It should prompt you to consistently assess the direction of your plot and ensure all elements are cohesively aligned.

With these first answers, you are laying down a plotline. Have a script you are looking to sell? Check out our Script Search Board!

6. Applying a Strong 3-Act Structure

  • The basics of the three-act structure start with an outline, detailing movement forward for the narrative. Some tips on several approaches to outlining, including use of note card displays. For writers, learning the three act structure is a fundamental, necessary rudiment, even if you choose to toss it off and never use it.

  • A two hour feature film shown in a movie theatre is a continuous action like a Greek play. There are no intermissions. It's one continuous act-less event which revolves around a problem. Or so it appears in most films. But in the good ones, you will see vestiges of the 3-Act structure.

  • A much better way to look at a story, when you are creating one, is not through any arbitrary division into acts but through the eyes of the problem, which is the central event and the driver of a great story's structure. Goodfellas has a three act structure. But it is almost unrecognizable, it flows so smoothly through its unfolding. Possibly because it’s based on actual events.

  • The structure of any work of an artist has a step by step process behind it.

  • What's more, a three-act design in your process can be applied to the acts themselves, even individual scenes can be written with the three act concept in mind. It makes each scene a story unto itself -- with exposition, development and resolution for the structural necessity of the scene itself.

  • Bear in mind that each scene must have a purpose that serves the greater narrative of the entire story-line. Unless you're writing a comedy and the scene is simply too hilarious to cut.

  • For anyone who wants to write, you have to learn how to think in a structured way. That’s why the 3-act structure is something you should become familiar with.

HERE’S A Simple breakdown OF ACTS:

  • Act I: Exposition and set up with introduction of characters and conflict.

  • Act 2: Complication of conflict. Introduction of subplot.

  • Act 3: Resolution or initial false resolution or reversal of conflict, then final resolution.

SURPRISES – ALL ALONG THE WAY. Multiple options equally good or bad, tangled and MANY-ANGLED. This becomes the source of conflicts.

Conflict is one of the most essential elements in any screenplay. It drives scenes, motivates characters, and propels entire stories forward. If you’ve been writing for long, these simple facts have been pounded into your head by every screenwriting book and guru you’ve come across.

Force obstacles on to your characters.

Next time you’re stuck with a conflict-less scene, remember this: All conflict stems from concept. The concept for many is the Logline.

To help make sure your screenplay follows this guideline, ask yourself the following three questions: 1) What is my original concept, the idea for the story? 2) What question does my concept pose? And 3) How can I use that question to infuse the scenes I’m writing with conflict?

When grounded in a robust premise, this exercise nudges you to recall the inherent tensions you've established. This foundation aids in seamlessly integrating these tensions from one scene to the next, serving as your narrative's throughline.

Need help with narrowing down your story? SS offers query letter assistance!

While this all might seem a bit obvious, it’s easy to lose sight of your concept and conflict when you’re writing, and your story can suffer as a result.

The movie Notting Hill serves to help demonstrate this point:

Notting Hill. When you think of this 1999 classic, the conflict may seem simple with light-hearted scenes. But on closer inspection, you’ll find that throughout the film, the writer milked conflict from the concept with effortless grace and precision.

Start with What is the concept (logline)? A mega movie star falls in love with a lowly British bookstore owner. The pairing seems an impossibility from the start.

What questions does the concept raise? Can an incredibly famous and wealthy actress form a successful relationship with a regular guy?

Rich girl vs. regular guy. The basic premise raises the audience's curiosity immediately, especially when we make the characters likeable and relatable.

Throughout the script, each scene draws on the concept of the mismatched trying to overcome the natural conflicts and mistakes in their positions, pitting the bookstore worker and the superstar’s world and status against each other and always threatening expectations as they fall further and further in love.

The more unlikely the possible solutions, the more interesting the narrative becomes – because the writer has to conjure up some great twists and escapes.

For example, when the bookstore worker first visits the star's world for what in his mind is a date at her hotel, he walks straight into a presser for her latest movie. Consequently, he must pretend that he’s a major journalist from a major magazine for the duration of the scene. The guy now totally out of place in the star’s world is pretending to be something he’s not – an age-old conflict device, but one here that gives us a clearer picture of what our two lead characters are really like. So you get characterization and the beginning of light-hearted chaos.

A conflict begins immediately. And characters are forced to make decisions, good or bad, to deal with the conflict.

This formula works til the end and a satisfying resolution.

Discover how your script measures up in the competitive landscape. Explore our expert coverage!


Blog written by: Ed Tasca

Ed Tasca hails from Philadelphia and boasts an international portfolio of humor writings published across countries like the U.S., Canada, Mexico, England, Italy, Australia, and Norway. Since 2016, he's been a regular humor columnist for the Guadalajara Reporter. Beyond writing, Ed has showcased his acting prowess at the Lakeside Little Theater, including a standout performance in his solo act, "Mark Twain, Uncensored." He shared his expertise in fiction writing at Ghost Ranch, Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2014. With a remarkable screenplay portfolio, Ed has written 12 scripts, with six being optioned and several clinching awards in international contests. Notably, he secured the esteemed Robert Benchley Society Humor-writing Award in 2009, and his exceptional pieces have found their way into various humor anthologies, including "America’s Funniest Humor" in 2006.


bottom of page