Writing Is About Conflict

Question: How is screenwriting different from other kinds of \r\nfiction writing?
Robert McKee: Well, the three great \r\nmedia, not only screenplay, but it’s also the theater, playwriting, and\r\n the prose.  I mean, those are the three primary.  And they get mixed a \r\nlot.  TV is a sort of combination of all three really, novel, theater, \r\nand film.  Graphic novels are another form that combines novels as a \r\nbasis, as the title suggests, with films, sort of, like cartoons.
And\r\n the principal differences between the three of them is the level of \r\nconflict that interests the writer of each of them.  And so, you have \r\nstories—they all tell a story—but stories involve characters in conflict\r\n with their social or physical world, in personal relationships with \r\nfriends, family, lovers, and an inner conflict within their own natures \r\nbetween themselves, their subconscious mind, their body, their emotions,\r\n and so forth.  The novelist tends to be interested in inner conflicts; \r\ncharacters in conflict with their own contradictory natures, their own \r\ncontradictory desires, their emotions.  Playwrights tend to be more \r\ninterested in personal relationships, of family, friends, lovers—because\r\n the theater is a form for dialogue, primarily.  And talk is the way in \r\nwhich people in personal relationships work those relationships out for \r\nbetter or worse, right?  And so the power and the beauty of the theater \r\nis personal conflicts.
The power and beauty in film is the \r\nextra personal conflicts of characters in conflict with their physical \r\nworld and their social world.  And so all three media can tell complex \r\nstories because you can work with inner conflict, certainly, in a film, \r\nyou can work with personal conflict naturally in a film, and in a novel,\r\n you can do all three, in a play you can do all three. But the strength \r\nof each of them tends to be at one of those three levels.  And so, if \r\nyou’re trying to make a career choice as to what kind of writer should I\r\n be, you really need to ask another question; which level of conflict in\r\n life really interests me the most?  And then you would presumably move \r\ninto that medium.  But I know a lot of writers whose real interest is \r\nnot at the level of conflict that the medium in which they are writing \r\nis strongest in.  And so a lot of independent filmmakers, for example, \r\nare really interested in inner conflict.  And so they should be writing \r\nnovels and not trying to make films of people staring into space, coming\r\n to big decisions in their lives, or whatever, it would bore people.
And\r\n so, which level of conflict interests the writer is a critical choice. \r\n And a lot of writers don’t understand their own instincts and they \r\nget... Stanislavski, the great acting teacher once said: “You have to \r\nfigure out whether you’re in love with the art in yourself, or yourself \r\nin the art.”  And too many people go into film, especially, or \r\ntelevision because they are in love with the idea of themselves in the \r\nart.  They want to be in the movies, they want to be in TV, or even in \r\nthe theater, or whatever.  When their natural talents and interests lie \r\nelsewhere.  So, that’s a critical choice as to which medium you choose \r\nbecause it has to pair up with what really interests you.

The main difference between screenwriting, playwriting and prose is the degree of conflict that interests the writer.

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