Sunday, February 3, 2013

36 Dramatic Situations! Will one of them work for you?

While in the midst of writing a novel, I'll often stop halfway through and think, ‘I’ve used up all my material and have nothing left to add to the story'. What typically follows is two or three days of scrambling to come up with another plot twist worthy of Downton Abbey.

But after discovering a very interesting list, I won’t have to look as far.  George Polti, a french writer, has done all the work for me. He made a list of 36 different situations that can occur in a novel or play. Because let’s face it, everything has been done or used before. All we can do as writers is add a different slant on it.

It’s a very well-done list and, after going through it, you’ll be sure to have ideas for dramatic situations in your own novels.

1. Supplication: A persecutor, a supplicant, or power in authority who struggles to make a decision whether or not to do something. Usually, an unfortunate person appeals to an authority figure for help. The authority figure is the protagonist. Ex: The Rock; The Untouchables; Three Amigos.

Deliverance: The unfortunate, threatener, rescuer. Here the rescuer helps the unfortunate person without being asked. Ex: The Terminator; Speed.

3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance: An avenger, a criminal. This is your basic mystery or detective story. The protagonist is out to find the truth. Ex: Lethal Weapon; Die Hard; James Bond.

4. Vengeance for Kin Upon Kin: Avenging relative(s), a guilty relative(s), relative(s) of victim. Ex: The Lion King.

5. Pursuit: A punished person, a fugitive. The protagonist is the fugitive, often wrongfully accused. Ex: Les Miserables; The Fugitive.

6. Disaster: A vanquished power, a victorious enemy, or a messenger. The powerful are overthrown by the weak. Ex: Armageddon; Sydney White.

7. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune: An unfortunate, a master, or a misfortune. Ex: Schindler’s List; The Color Purple.

8. Revolt: A tyrant, a conspirator. Ex: Swing Kids; The Matrix.

9. Daring Enterprise: A bold leader, an object to be won, an adversary to be beaten. Ex: Saving Private Ryan; Men in Black.

Abduction: An abductor, the abducted, a guardian. The protagonist can be the abducted or the abductor. Ex: Ransom; A Life Less Ordinary.

11. The Enigma: An interrogator, a seeker, a problem. The protagonist could be seeking a person or thing. Ex: Seven; National Treasure.

12. Obtaining: A solicitor and an adversary who is refusing, or an arbitrator and opposing parties. At what cost and by what means will the protagonist act in trying to obtain his goal? Ex: Green Eggs and Ham; Outbreak.

13. Enmity of Kin: A malevolent kinsman, a hated or a reciprocally hating kinsman. The closer the relationship, the greater the conflict that divides them, the greater the resulting hate. Example: Kramer vs. Kramer; Corky Romano.

14. Rivalry of Kin: The preferred kinsman, the rejected kinsman, the object of their rivalry. Ex: Legends of the Fall; A League of Their Own.

15. Murderous Adultery: Two adulterers, a betrayed spouse. Ex: Dangerous Liaisons; Diabolique.

16. Madness: A madman, a victim. Ex: The Shining; Psycho.

17. Fatal Imprudence: The imprudent or rash. The protagonist causes his own misfortune (or the misfortune of those he cares about) through his rash behavior, often to seek someone or something lost, or to settle his curiosity about something. Ex: Meet the Parents; Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

18. Involuntary Crimes of Love: A lover, a beloved, a revealer. The protagonist may fall in love with a relative, a relative’s spouse, a teacher/student, his employer, someone who is planning to rip him off but he
doesn't know it, or maybe just an adulterous relationship. He may walk into the relationship willingly, knowing that it is wrong, or he may not know. Sometimes the reader may know the truth when the hero doesn't.

19. Slaying of Unrecognized Kinsman: The slayer, an unrecognized victim. The plot focuses on the protagonist planning to kill his kinsman without knowing his enemy is related to him.

20. Self-Sacrificing for an ideal: A hero, an ideal, or a thing sacrificed. Here the protagonist gives up everything for his ideal. Ex: The Messenger.

21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred: A hero, a kinsman, a person, or a thing sacrificed. Here the protagonist gives up everything for a kinsman. Ex: Cyrano de Bergerac; The Passion of the Christ.

22. All Sacrificed for a Passion: A lover, an object of fatal passion, a person, a thing sacrificed. The protagonist sacrifices everything for his passion. This could be an addiction, a lover, or money. Ex: Leaving Las Vegas, Anna Karenina

23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones: A hero, a beloved victim, the necessity for sacrifice. The protagonist is forced by necessity to sacrifice a loved one.

24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior: A superior rival, an inferior rival, the object of rivalry. Ex: Rocky; Karate Kid.

25. Adultery: A deceived husband or wife, two adulterers. Ex: Bridges of Madison County, Anna Karenina

26. Crimes of Love: The lover, the beloved. The protagonist commits a crime because of his love. Ex: Chinatown (incest), The Apostle (murder), Saving Grace (incest & murder).

27. Discovery of a Loved One’s Dishonor: A discoverer, the guilty one. The protagonist is caught in a sin toward their loved one or they catch their loved one in a dishonorable act. Shame is key. Ex: The novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

28. Obstacles to Love: Two lovers, an obstacle. Some great obstacle stands in the way of two lovers being together. Ex: Kate & Leopold; Ever After.

29. An Enemy Loved: A lover, the beloved enemy, the hater. The protagonist falls in love with an enemy. Ex: Twilight; Romeo and Juliet.

30. Ambition: An ambitious person, a thing coveted, an adversary. Ex: Jerry McGuire; That Thing You Do.

31. Conflict with a God: A mortal, an immortal. Most Greek myths focus on this plot. Ex: Hercules; Rosemary’s Baby, Bruce Almighty.

32. Mistaken Jealousy: A jealous one, an object of jealousy, a supposed accomplice, a cause or author of the mistake, a traitor. Ex: Othello; The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

33. Erroneous Judgment: a mistaken one, a victim of the mistake, a cause or author of the mistake, a guilty person. The protagonist may be falsely accused or accuse another without proof or be guilty and try to frame another. Ex: The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption.

34. Remorse: A culprit, a victim, the sin, an interrogator. Also false guilt.

35. Recovery of a Lost One: The seeker, the one found. The protagonist may find a lost loved one, a lost child. Ex: The Man in the Iron Mask, The Deep End of the Ocean.
36. Loss of Loved Ones: A kinsman slain, a kinsman spectator, an executioner. Ex: Love Story, Return to Me.

So there you have it! Generally my books have at least two or more of these different conflicts and I’m sure yours do too. If not, you have all this for inspiration.

Happy Dramatizing,


The above explanation of the 36 situations by George Polti was created by Jill Williamson and posted on the blog She did an amazing job dissecting each dramatic situation and I was so excited to get the permission to share it with you all!!

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