The Unity of Opposites Explained

good versus evil example in the unity of opposites

In screenwriting, the unity of opposites is a narrative concept that states a successful story is driven by the conflict between opposing forces or ideas. It is this conflict that creates tension and drives the story forward. This conflict is created by characters who struggle to resolve their differences and achieve their often mutually exclusive goals. To put it another way, the unity of opposites implies the greatest stories are those that explore a dynamic interaction between two opposing forces or ideas. These competing ideologies are what keeps audiences engaged. 

A simple way to look at the unity of opposites in screenwriting is to consider the classic trope of a hero pitted against his villain. In this scenario, the hero and the villain represent opposing forces. The hero embodies positive traits like courage, compassion, and selflessness while the villain represents greed, cruelty, and selfishness. These opposing traits naturally create conflict when confronted with each other leading to a sense of tension and drama as the hero and villain fight to achieve their diametrically opposed agendas. 

Fortunately, the unity of opposites is not just limited to hero versus villain stories. While that may be the simplest example, the concept can also be applied to a wide range of other conflicts. These conflicts can arise between friends, family members, lovers, or even between a character and their own inner demons. In each of these cases, the unity of opposites is still what creates the drama and tension that drives the story to its ultimate conclusion. If you’re ever struggling to remember the unity of opposites, just remember it as good versus evil. In the end, only one can remain and the other is defeated. 

Related: What is Plot and Why is it Important? 

A fundamental key to crafting a convincing unity of opposites in screenwriting is to ensure that the opposing forces are equally strong and compelling. If one force is much stronger than the other, then the conflict can quickly become one-sided and predictable. If that happens the story will lose its dramatic tension and the audience will stop paying attention. The sides must remain balanced until the final moment. For example, if the hero is far more powerful than the villain, then the audience will lose interest because there is no sense of danger or risk. Even if the outcome is decided, there must still be an illusion of equality. This not only goes for physical showings of strength but also internal motivations and convictions. 

One way to ensure balance in the unity of opposites is to give each opposing force its own clear goal or objective. This goal should be something important to the character or force. Moreover, this goal should be directly opposed to the goal of the opposing character. Everyone has to have something they are fighting for. This is particularly important for antagonists. Try to avoid mustache-twirling villains by giving them a compelling argument. Make the audience understand their perspective and why they are pursuing their goal. By giving each force a clear and compelling goal, the conflict between them becomes more meaningful and dramatic.

The unity of opposites is a fundamental principle of screenwriting and should always be taken into consideration when crafting a compelling story. Because this concept is often expressed in the form of characters, one way to determine your active opposing forces is to fully understand each of your characters, their motivations, desires, and goals. Consider using a Character Questionnaire to better get to know your characters and what forces are controlling them. This can be a good way to identify the unity of opposites you are working with in your story. 

More: 5 Tips for Creating Great Antagonists

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