When it comes to Storytelling, I subscribe to the idea that Conflict is the meat of the story.
Story = Character x Plot
The above approach has been considered the key to good storytelling. The Character represents the Protagonist who drives the story. The Plot represents events of the story that involve the Protagonist and other Characters.
Given that, Conflict is what makes the plot a tad more interesting. Now a good conflict can make the character endearing. On the other hand, a forced conflict would just alienate the audience.
A good example of forced conflicts can be found in Soap Operas. Given that the Show Creators focus on stretching the show as long as possible, they infuse it with more and more conflicts. The use of forced conflict helps extend the story, but it also renders it unbearable.
This is why just having a hurdle in the character’s path doesn’t account for Conflict. A Conflict that doesn’t lead to eventual Character transformation is a forced one at that.
A well-sketched Conflict stops the Characters from reaching their individual goals and compels them to question their current beliefs and notions, thereby leading to character transformation.
Take, for instance, the tv series, Warehouse 13.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Country: USA, Canada
Style: Exciting, Serious, Suspenseful, Humorous, Bleak
The premise revolves around two Secret Service Agents who are assigned to Warehouse 13, a massive top-secret off-the-books facility that stores supernatural artifacts. A team at Warehouse 13, are tasked with tracking, procuring, and securing supernatural artifacts from around the globe before they can cause catastrophic damage.
- Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock)
- Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly)
- Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti)
- Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek)
- Mrs. Irene Frederic (CCH Pounder)
Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) and Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly) are the lead characters of the show. Given their exceptional track record, they are poached by Mrs. Irene Frederic (CCH Pounder) who appears to be the Head of the Warehouse 13 division. Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) becomes a handler for Pete and Myka. As the show progresses, Artie gets an assistant in Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti)
Once these Primary Characters are introduced, the show resorts to an investigative procedural with one case per episode. Yes, there’s an overall story track that spans across the series.
It is an interesting premise with a lot of promise. However, despite a good beginning, the show gradually loses steam. The main reason for this is the forced Conflict. Pete and Myka are Secret Service agents. Claudia is the ace hacker. Arty is a genius in his league.
Yet despite their Character Sketches, these Characters act out of their defined personalities and act silly so to create new conflict and advance the story. The problem with this approach is, as an audience, you have been asked to believe these people are smart and sensible. Then you are asked to accept them doing silly things without any rhyme or reason. There’s no emotional pathology that justifies their actions. This forces the audience to disconnect from the Characters and ultimately from the story.