Conflict in plays - literative

5-Act Play Structure: Conflict

Jennifer Mendez Writer's Resources

Ever wonder what conflict in a 5-act play actually entails? Last week, you learned more about prologues in a 5-act play, and how they introduce the setting and characters, thereby setting the foundation for the actual story. Continuing on with our journey, it’s time to analyze the conflict.

What Does Conflict Encompass?

Think back to the last movie you watched, or the last book you read: chances are the first introduction of conflict wasn’t the entire conflict. That’s because obstacles need to grow through rising action, eventually reaching its peak, with what is known as climax. It is then that the story is tense, as tense as it’s going to get, before the protagonist begins to solve everything.

This means that this act, being only the second act, is a sort of introduction of conflict within the play. By this point, act one already explained the setting and characters. The basics have been established. But every good story has an issue to resolve, preferably a substantial one, so that the happy ending seems worth it. Or even, so the sad ending can have more of an impact, if that’s more your style.

What Is Its Purpose?

Yes, worth it. Consider the things you’ve earned, and the things you’ve been handed. Which ones meant more to you? If you were handed an award for doing nothing, would you take it seriously? Would it really mean anything to you? Now consider winning something substantial, like the Academy Award for Best Scriptwriter, after you wrote a fantastic script. That’s more notable.

Every hero is a hero because he faced obstacles that made him/her earn a victory. They have something to face, something standing between themselves, and something of value. The purpose of the obstacle is to make that ending seem worth it. Heroes need to earn the victories.

On the other hand, say you’re writing a sad ending: you need a conflict substantial enough to make the sadness to come seem justified.

What Tips Could You Follow?

Every conflict is different, depending on the story. It could be as simple as a previous murder in a nearby town, that makes the townspeople live in fear, or it could be more intricate, like people in the future are living among clones, who turn on humanity and begin to replace the entire human race. Whatever the topic, and whatever the level of intricacy, there are some basic tips that could help.

Remember, this is the introduction of conflict within the play. It will be intensified in the next act. This means you should keep things simple. Even if the conflict is chaotic, or intricate, keep the conflict summarized, contained, so that it can be fully unleashed later. In the meantime, focus on explaining the villain, and their motives behind causing the conflict in the first place. There should be tension buildup so that when the chaos is unleashed in the next act, it has an explosive effect.

Conflict in plays - literative


A 5-act play may be shirt, and a basic play structure, but it should be packed with substance. Because it’s short, as a writer, you should focus on the quality of all the five basic parts. What little composes the story needs to be good. Ensure that the conflict is clearly introduced and that the tension has room to build up. Focus on the villain, and their motives. Whatever style of ending, make sure the conflict is large enough that it justifies it.

Next up in the breakdown of a 5 act play:

Rising Action & Climax in a story

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