Common writing advice: Stories need conflict. Every scene needs conflict. Without conflict your story will feel flat.

I’ve seen that writing advice taken to its extreme. Conflict and more conflict is actually pretty flat (at best), irritating at worst.

Long-running TV dramas which air numerous times per week can often rely too much on scenes of conflict.

Long-running TV dramas which air numerous times per week seem to exhaust writers, who rely too heavily at times  on scenes of conflict with little in the way of tonal variation.

I’ve come to believe that the whole concept of conflict is unnecessary so long as you’ve mastered the art of ‘opposition’. In other words, you need a character web which includes a variety of opponents. You might have a classic villain, a friend who is secretly against you, a parent who is lovingly stopping you from reaching your goal, a monster in the woods, a helper who at first comes across as an enemy. If all these characters are in place, you won’t need to try to drum up conflict. Conflict will organically occur.

Robert McKee has a tip for pushing conflict to its limit in a story:

You take what is negative—like hate. Then you do one of two things: Either you disguise it with a lie, so it becomes hatred masquerading as love—like in great films such as Ordinary People. Or you take what is normally directed at the world and turn it inward on the character, so hatred becomes self-hate.

Those are the two techniques to take what is common, everyday antagonism and conflict and push it one step further, to the limit of things. […]

You don’t just take hate and magnify it so there’s a lot of it—a volcano of it. It changes its quality. It becomes hatred masquerading as love. It becomes self-hate.

It does magnify the power of it, but not by being more and more of it—by changing the quality.

Robert McKee in this Vice interview

Another tip involving dialogue: If you want to give the audience some backstory via dialogue it can feel too ‘on the nose’ (too obvious). But it almost always feels less obvious if your characters are arguing with each other. Since I had that pointed out to me, I’ve noticed it a lot. “Oh, great, so you can sleep around with the woman two doors down but I can’t have my own bank account?” See how we accept more specificity when dialogue is argumentative?