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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How to Write a Play or How to Enjoy Repeatedly Banging Your Head Against the Wall: Lesson Three--- Conflict

Hello everyone and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  It's Tuesday, February 26th, so that means it's time for lesson number three in our playwriting tutorial.  Everyone ready?

The above picture is a public domain image that represents the word conflict.  Conflict, as I have said before, is what makes good drama.  Truly, you cannot write a play without conflict, or, at least you shouldn't.

So where does conflict come from?

Conflict comes from want.  One character wants something, another character wants either the opposite, or, to keep the first character from getting what they want.  And there you have it--- conflict!

Do the characters have to look as upset as they do above?  No, of course not.  Not all conflicts are huge conflicts. 

Kurt Vonnegut once said that every character in a story has to want something... even if it is only a glass of water.  (Vonnegut, aside from being a novelist, short story writer and essayist, also wrote a number of plays). 

To provide an example, let's take a look at an example of conflict based on Mr. Vonnegut's advice.  Take a look:

SETTING:  The kitchen of MARK and KAREN LASSITER.  It is a kitchen of affluent couple--- modern refrigerator, all the best appliances, etc. 

AT RISE:  KAREN LASSITER, a pretty woman in her early 30s stands near the kitchen sink, trying to turn on the faucet.  She stops after a few tries, sighs, and picks up a nearly empty bottle of water and finishes the last swallow.  As she does so, MARK LASSITER, a handsome young man in his early 30s, enters wearing sweaty workout clothes.

MARK:  Morning, sweetie.
KAREN:  Good workout?
MARK:  (Playfully)  Definitely got my sweat on. 
KAREN:  I can smell it from here.
MARK:  You love it!  Can you pass me a bottle of water?
KAREN:  (moving away from the sink)  Sorry, babe, just drank the last one.
MARK:  No problem.  (he grabs a glass from the cupboard and crosses to the sink.  He tries to turn on the faucet.  Nothing happens)  What's wrong with the sink?
KAREN:  Huh?
MARK:  Why isn't any water coming out?
KAREN:  (innocently)  Oh, is there something wrong with the sink?
MARK:  You didn't know?
KAREN:  No... I mean, I haven't really used the sink yet this morning. 
MARK:  Can I have a sip of your water?
KAREN:  I just drank the last swallow before you came in.  Sorry. 
MARK:  I need to hydrate.  I just did five miles on the elliptical. 
KAREN:  I don't know what to tell you. 
(MARK thinks, then opens the freezer)
MARK:  We must have some ice.  (retrieves an empty ice cube tray)  Why is there any empty ice cube tray in the freezer?
KAREN:  I like ice.
MARK:  Well so do I.  That's why I like to fill the tray when it is empty, so we can have a continuous supply of ice in our house. 
KAREN:  Mark, you stink.  Give me the ice tray and go take a shower.
MARK:  I'm thirsty!
KAREN:  Then lean your head back and open your mouth while you're in there.  Just try not to drown.
MARK:  I don't find that funny.

Okay, you get the idea.  And yes, this may not be the best play in the world so far (although I would argue that we are beginning to learn something about who these people really are and what their relationship is like, all because of water), but it is an example of conflict and how it can escalate.  Beforre long, in a real play, we would have to see some sese of stakes emerge, and, perhaps, a greater conflict be revealed. 

What are some good examples of conflict?  The examples are endless.  Human beings are good at conflict, large and small.  The world is full of people not getting what they want.  The world is also full of people who work hard to overcome obstacles in order to achieve what they want.  Some people never achieve what they truly desire, no matter how hard they work toward it.  It's all drama.  It's all part of the human experience.  From wanting a glass of water to preventing a nuclear apocalypse, conflict equals drama, so long as the stakes keep moving and the characters stay true. 

Those of you lovely readers who have been tuning in every Tuesday--- I'm sure you have been reading plays, thinking about structure, and have all written your very first monologues.  Good for you!  Your assignment for this week is as follows:
-Write a two-person scene dealing with conflict
-Make the conflict obvious (make it clear what each character wants)
-Try to think of this scene as its very own self-contained play with a beginning, middle and end.
-When you've finished writing your scene, find someone to read it out loud with.  Does the dialogue ring true?  Does the conflict feel honest? 

Length, genre, situation, and characters are all up to you.  Just remember:  "want" and "conflict".  Don't worry too much right now about sloppy dialogue or other mechanics--- this week is about focusing on want and conflict (though it is never a bad thing to pay attention to how the dialogue sounds, even at this stage). 

If you have any other questions about conflict, feel free to e-mail me at  If you would like to become a fan of Theater is a Sport on Facebook, follow this link:!/TheaterIsASport

Thanks you for checking out playwriting lesson number 3 at Theater is a Sport.

To go directly to LESSON NUMBER 4, simply click HERE

Until next time, remember:  theater is, in fact, a sport, and conflict doesn't always need resolution. 


  1. I believe Wade bradford wrote a play once about conflict...I believe it is aptly named Conflict

    1. That's true... he did! Wade Bradford's a really nice guy.

  2. The conflict improvs are always the most fun.