‘Eddy – it needs more conflict...’

Eddy Canfor-Dumas

7

December 2020

People sometimes ask how it is that a former TV scriptwriter like me is now working in conflict management. It's a good question.

The answer lies in four words – ‘It needs more conflict’. I heard them often from the script editors and drama producers I worked with over my 20-odd years in the TV industry, writing for shows like The Bill and Kavanagh QC. If a scene or – heaven forbid – the whole story arc was falling flat or needed a spark somewhere, the problem almost always was that it lacked conflict. And as the writer, it was my job to find it – that is, create it.

Because conflict is the beating heart of drama. Conflict is drama, drama is conflict. Conflict is compelling because it involves emotion, twists and turns, suspense. In the best dramas there is always uncertainty about the outcome of the conflict – and in that uncertainty lies the tension that keeps the audience engaged. Who will win? Who will lose? How will this turn out? What lessons will be learnt – or not? What scars will be borne? And how might all of this feed into the next episode…? 

So any half-decent scriptwriter has to be able to find and heighten the conflict in any situation, however apparently insignificant, to keep the audience glued to the screen and make them come back after the ad break. I take it as a professional badge of honour that I once managed to write a whole episode of The Bill about police paperwork.

So what's all this got to do with conflict management?

Construction, deconstruction, reconstruction

Well, the fact is that after working for a while as a TV dramatist you become a kind of mini-expert in the dynamics of conflict, if only intuitively. You learn what creates compelling and convincing conflict – between people, within people, and between people and their environment. So it follows that if you can create it, construct it, you can also deconstruct it. 

And if you can do that – take the ingredients of conflict apart and look at them at a basic, human level – you can also start to see how they can be reconstructed in a way that transforms the conflict to bring about a positive result. As the old adage says, ‘Scripts aren’t written, they’re rewritten.’

In short, I realised that there are profound lessons from scriptwriting and storytelling that can be applied to conflict transformation – everything from the three-act structure, through cause and effect, to character development. And when applied, they can bring about significant shifts in how those involved in conflict think and act, to bring about a beneficial outcome. 

Write your biopic

For example, I sometimes encourage people mired in conflict to think of themselves as the lead character in the film of their life - their own personal biopic. They've reached an apparent dead end - but in a great story this would be a turning-point, a moment when the hero or heroine has to dig deep to find some dormant quality in their life that can be uncovered and tapped to drive their story to a positive ending. And this simple act of reframing can be enough for those who are stuck to start thinking anew about their situation and how it might be transformed.

I’ll explore these lessons further in future blogs.

For now, all I’ll say is that learning how to put conflict in – ‘It needs more conflict’ – can be turned through 180⁰ to take conflict out or to transform its negative aspects. It might make for a less dramatic story in real life but boy, can it save a huge amount of suffering. 

Which is why, after a couple of decades inventing fictional conflict, I decided to focus instead on transforming the real stuff. Because the world definitely needs more conflict right now – of the positive, productive kind.

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