Confused? Don’t be.
Dwight Swain – and just about everyone who ever advised writers, but I first came across the concept, explicitly, in Swain – says you should have a conflict in every scene (for me scenes are roughly covalent to chapters because I was trained in classical literature. But there is no right or wrong for that. You might have several scenes per chapter or several chapters per scene.) It could be internal of the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go or external of the I-wanna-go-but-can’t. It can even be fist fights if you have a great need to externalize it and are good at writing them (a lot of people aren’t. It’s a craft.) But you should have a conflict in there that gets solved by the end of the scene at which point, if you are smart, you will have introduced the conflict for the next scene.
Now I’m telling you that ideally this should lead up to the big climax confrontation.
For an example, I’m going to use the movie Prince of Egypt, mostly because I was re-watching it yesterday while cleaning my desk (yes, it’s horrible history, and I gather horrible Biblical scholarship too, but it’s a good story.)
I prefer using movies for this type of explanation because there’s a higher likelihood we’ve all watched the same movie (or can cue it up on Amazon prime or YouTube) than that we’ve all read the same book. Also novel plots are, by nature, more complex. Movie plots tag at about a short story level, which makes it easier to see the bones of the story.
For those who haven’t seen it, the movie relates the familiar story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.
The very first scene sets up the overarching massive conflict and sets the pointers for the duel. However, if this were an unfamiliar story, you might not be aware of that. It might seem like the prologue or scene setting for the “story” which will only properly start when Moses appears as a self-sufficient actor.
After establishing shots to set up the idea of slavery we see Moses’ mother put him in the river and see him being found by the pharaoh’s wife.
Again, if we didn’t know the story, it would seem to start when Moses appears as a self-willed actor, in the next scene in which he and his “brother” Ramses have a chariot race all over the building area for the pyramids.
Is this “conflict”? You bet it is. Over the next few scenes, despite the fact that the writers manage to convey a deep and brotherly affection between Ramses and Moses, we get the feeling of a deep sibling rivalry, of the sort you’d get when the older son is expected to be sober and responsible, but the younger one is allowed to be a scape grace. (In other words, what happens in any society where power and wealth tend to devolve on the older son.)