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The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations |

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

I attended a seminar years ago with Jeff Kitchen wherein he passed out a xeroxed sheet of the thirty-six dramatic situations as identified by Geroges Polti, culled from the original French-language book, which was written in the 19th century. I didn’t understand much else from his talk (it was a lot of fancy jargon to me with little substance) – but that one piece of paper was worth the time I’d invested. I had this list on my bulletin board for years, and it’s wonderful for helping to craft story as well as brainstorm new ideas.

Basically, this list sums up the very basic fundamental dramatic situations from the Western literary tradition. Apparently, to compile this list, Polti analyzed classical Greek texts as well as classical and contemporaneous French works in addition to a handful of non-French authors.

I am providing the list for you because I find it a very basic and essential tool. If you don’t find the basic premise of your story on this list, it probably isn’t a fundamentally dramatic scenario. For example, I frequently encounter stories that are light romances that do not adequately fit #28 Obstacles to Love. If you are crafting a romantic story, but the main thrust is not about the lovers having to overcome obstacles in order to be together (such as in Romeo and Juliet), you likely don’t have enough dramatic conflict for a story.

This is a great list to examine when looking at constructing B and C stories, because you might come up with some ideas that will nicely dovetail with you’re a story in a fresh and smart way.

Keep in mind that most of these basic situations can be interpreted within any genre, so you might think that #1 Supplication is an obvious fit for a thriller or character drama, which it is. However, there are aspects of this that apply to Ben Stiller’s character arc in Tropic Thunder, a satire.

Following is a list of the principal thirty-six dramatic situations:

1. Supplication
* a Persecutor; a Supplicant; a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.

2. Deliverance
* an Unfortunate; a Threatener; a Rescuer

3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
* a Criminal; an Avenger

4. Vengeance Taken for Kindred upon Kindred
* Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both

5. Pursuit
* Punishment; a Fugitive

6. Disaster
* a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger

7. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune
* an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune

8. Revolt
* a Tyrant; a Conspirator

9. Daring Enterprise
* a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary

10. Abduction
* an Abductor; the Abducted; a Guardian

11. The Enigma
* a Problem; an Interrogator; a Seeker

12. Obtaining
* a Solicitor and Adversary who is refusing; or an Arbitrator & Opposing Parties

13. Enmity of Kinsman
* a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hatred or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman

14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
* the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry

15. Murderous Adultery
* two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse

16. Madness
* a Madman; a Victim

17. Fatal Imprudence
* the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost

18. Involuntary Crimes of Love
* a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer

19. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
* the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim

20. Self-Sacrifice for an Ideal
* a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed

21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
* a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed

22. All Sacrificed for a Passion
* a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed

23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
* a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice

24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
* a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry

25. Adultery
* two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse

26. Crimes of Love
* a Lover; the Beloved

27. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
* a Discoverer; the Guilty One

28. Obstacles to Love
* two Lovers; an Obstacle

29. An Enemy Loved
* a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater

30. Ambition
* an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary

31. Conflict With a God
* a Mortal; an Immortal

32. Mistaken Jealousy
* a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake

33. Erroneous Judgment
* a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One

34. Remorse
* a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator

35. Recovery of a lost one
* a Seeker; the One Found

36. Loss of loved ones
* a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner

You can read more about the Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations at Wikipedia.

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