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My Hero Needs A Problem! Inner And Outer Conflicts

By Author: Henry Perry
Total Articles: 35

One of the things you need to establish really quickly when writing a film script is what is your hero's goal. In order for the reader to have any interest in your script they want to know what it's about - what does the hero (or protagonist) want to do? Save the world, get into college, win their true love's heart, win the fight?
Without that clear drive, it's hard to engage with a character, or care about what happens to them. But there has to be more to it than that. In addition to their obvious goal, there also needs to be something deeper, a flaw or defect that they need to overcome.
They thus need both an Inner Conflict and an Outer Conflict.
Outer Conflict: This is the one most people are able to nail - getting the girl, winning a contest, robbing a casino, et cetera. However, you still need to establish it early, you have to ensure that it is difficult to achieve, and that the protagonist really wants it. Half-hearted or wishy-washy heroes are no fun.
Inner Conflict: The protagonist's inner conflict is just as important, and typically will have to do with the hero's flaw or lack of something. It will usually involve something personal, such as overcoming shyness, becoming more social, or learning to work with other people.
For these two to really work they should come together at the climax of the story, where the protagonist faces their biggest challenge. At this point, they must typically be forced to overcome their Inner Conflict in order to achieve their Outer Conflict, their external goal.
A great example of this is the Disney classic Lion King. The Outer Conflict is obvious - Simba must defeat his evil uncle, Scar, in order to claim his heritage as leader of the pride. But in order to do this he must overcome his Inner Conflict - he feels responsible for his father's death, and so has run away from his responsibilities. It is only once Nala has challenged him to take up the challenge that he is finally able to exorcise his demons and return home to challenge - and defeat - Scar.
Alternatively, look at an Indy film like Little Miss Sunshine. Again, the outer goal seems obvious - get Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant - but it is only through dealing with their inner conflicts that the family can come together and get her there. Thus Richard and Sheryl have to work out their marriage, Frank has to get over his lost love, and Dwayne has to get over the fact that he cannot succeed in his goal of joining the Air Force.
By the end of the story they have all dealt with their issues to come together as a family, and it gives them the strength to walk out of the pageant, triumphant as a family.
When the hero's inner and outer conflicts come together in that way, you have a script that readers will love.

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