As anyone who has ever planned either a successful story or orgy can attest, there’s a lot of things going in to making it enjoyable for everyone involved; usually taking place behind the scenes. You obviously need a good setting, a great theme, plenty of logistical outlining, and an awesome cast of characters. But where the parallels break down is in terms of conflict. As in an orgy should ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible, while a good story lives and dies by its Conflict.
Conflict, boiled down to its quintessence, is basically the opposition your protagonist(s) must face while trying to reach his/ her/ their established goal. This is where the tension of your story comes from as the conflict establishes doubt by making the audience wonder if your characters can actually accomplish this impossible goal. Without the doubt of conflict, you’re left with someone boring like Superman, who is so powerful, especially in his Silver Age incarnations, that the story is never IF he can accomplish his goal, rather WHEN.
No, a good story, and orgy for that matter, is always in doubt as you wonder until the very last minute if it’s really going to come together or end in singular failure.
Go on and click the pic if you're feeling brave...
But conflict, unlike orgies, comes in only three distinct flavors: External, Internal, and Interpersonal.
External should hopefully be pretty self-explanatory in that it is the obstacle occurring outside the protagonist’s physical body that keeps him/her from achieving the stated goal. This can come in the traditionally form of the conscious antagonist, or be entirely inanimate, like a storm threatening survival or treacherous climb thwarting ascent up a mountain.
Internal conflict inversely comes from inside the protagonist and mentally or morally keeps him or her from achieving the established goal. For the most part, this functions in the form of doubt as the protagonist continually wonders if s/he made the right choices to achieve the goal or if he or she is worthy, or personally capable, of victory.
Interpersonal is conflict between characters, and is usually the domain of dialogue as they bicker back and forth about this or that. Mostly it manifests itself in these arguments between characters that do not get along, yet are still thrust into the same situation they cannot extricate themselves from. But other times it can be subtler in that they all share the same goal yet disagree on how to achieve it. In a sense, Interpersonal Conflict is the doubt of moral/ ethical ideas being externalized as each character represents one position in opposition to another character’s ideals.
Now, unlike orgies, successful stories can rely on a single participant, usually External Conflict. Conan the Barbarian, and pretty much any Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, proves you can get by just overcoming the insurmountable physical obstacle since both characters were never plagued with doubt or saddled with a sidekick long enough for interpersonal conflict to develop. Yet both were effective, as proven by their popularity.
But, like most stories (but not so much orgies), they could have been better though additional layers of conflict; namely internal and interpersonal. Traditionally a screenplay will intertwine two, if not all three, of these types of conflict. Usually this occurs at the Break to Act Three where the protagonist, still stung from doubt in the Dark Night of the Soul (Internal Conflict), reaffirms his/ her commitment to the previously established goal by reentering the fray to overcome his or her ultimate obstacle (External Conflict). And if the author is employing Interpersonal Conflict, the protagonist will probably pull the team that has fallen apart back together via an inspirational speech of some sort as they set their personal differences aside and work together for the shared goal.
This clip from the first Guardians of the Galaxy is a perfect example of all three forms of conflict coming together in that they’ve just been defeated by Ronan and captured by Yondu (External), each personally doubts their ability (Internal), while the burgeoning team seems shattered (Interpersonal).
And yes, this is definitely the Break to Act Three, the finale kicking off right after the famous standing scene where each character reconfirms their commitment to their shared goal and takes decisive action in the finale to achieve it.
Which is sort of my point in the first place: All three types of conflict are intertwined with your structure from the get-go, so much so that it can be argued that each and every plot beat can be identified by the escalating conflict.
And, like a good orgy, conflict is always better the bigger it is.