Conflict must build to the climax.
(Wow - so profound, huh?)
It's kind of like when you're driving & your kid in the back seat complains he has to use the restroom NOW.
I know you're focused on the road, you missed the right exit, it's raining, you only have one headlight, a police siren is chasing you, but remember: you've got to deliver that kid in the back seat to a restroom ASAP.
A few hints:
- When you have an ensemble cast, the conflict must build for all the characters. It doesn't have to be a big conflict or earth shattering, but each must rise.
- Make the protagonist's conflict singularly clear. ex. I saw a script where the protagonist wants the lifestyle of the rich and famous. However, that's too much to tackle. It's got to be either money, or status, or something more concrete.
- I can tell the minute the conflict dies b/c the scene goes on a tangent or the story stops. ex. In one script, a protagonist is thwarted in Act 1. He puts down the goal A and picks up goal B. This tells me that the conflict isn't strong enough to sustain a script, i.e., something is off in the traits or structure.
- Conflict only works if there is give and take. I know this sounds basic, but I've seen scripts where characters never really clash. Even if they never meet in person, they've got to fight for dominance.
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Conflict is a combination of urgency, pacing, stakes, and a battle.