As writers, “what if?” is our best friend when it comes to hunting down an exciting idea. We have to be excited first, and then we can begin writing a story that will excite others. The “what if” is born from, or is supported by, a mother conflict-a conflict that will grab you, and won’t let you go until you finish the story.
The bigger at stake, the bigger the excitement. And if the story is well-told, your level of empathy grabs you further into the depths of the story, and if you are honest, you know that the character isn’t facing an easy task.
This article series will cover my favorite story conflicts, from movies, series and books. Their conflicts are the reasons I decided to watch/read these stories.
Conflict : The Ledge
Door Number 1: You kill yourself.
Door Number 2: They kill the person you love.
Two of the most common gut reactions are:
1) Yeah, I’d sacrifice myself.
2) I’d find a way of saving myself and my loved one.
But it is not that easy. This is the conflict from the movie The Ledge starring Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler and Patrick Wilson.
Charlie Hunnam’s Gavin is standing on the ledge of a building, with every intention of jumping at noon. He doesn’t have a choice. It’s either him, or the girl dies.
Gavin is an atheist who has pretty much lost his faith in anything after his daughter died. Nothing pisses him off like the over-zealous religious mumblings of a fanatic (Patrick Wilson), who as luck would have had it, has just moved in next door with his wife Shana (Liv Tyler). What could be more fun than seducing this nut’s wife?
But of course she is not a fanatic, she has had her own valid reasons for marrying him, and she is doing her best to make a life for herself despite her past and his extreme beliefs. Gratitude keeps her married.
Gavin starts spending time with her-as her employer and friend-and let’s say he gets involved despite his most rational intentions.
She starts falling for him, and love overpowers gratitude. Husband finds out, captures her, and gives Gavin the two doors. But Gavin is facing this conflict twofold:
He was the driver at the accident that killed his daughter. He never really recovered from either the loss, or the guilt. Now, obviously he blames himself for the danger Shana is in- she wouldn’t have gotten involved with him if he hadn’t been so intent on getting her attention and attraction. He couldn’t save his daughter, but maybe he can save Shana. Of course there is the possibility the husband won’t keep his word and kill her anyway, but would he take the risk?
Of course there are other conflicts in the film too.
There are Shana’s: Gratitude vs. Love. Religion vs. Passion.
There’s the husband’s: Rage vs. Control + Forgiveness.
There’s the cop’s dealing with Gavin: His love for his wife and children vs. The Truth
Dealing with his own personal pain vs. Focusing fully on Gavin
It’s full of great conflicts and dilemmas, but needless to say, it is the main one that glues you to the trailer and the movie. It’s still possible to say you’d do things one way or the other, but if you do pay attention to the characters, backgrounds and states of mind carefully, you’d see that there is no easy way out.
Written (and also directed by): Matthew Chapman.
My advice is watch it like a writer. Look at the story, the conflicts, the characters. Try to imagine the “what if” moment for Matthew Chapman. Try to imagine what you would do if you were Gavin.
And please share some of your favorite story conflicts.