Georgie Porgie . . . or Thirty-Six Dramatic Reasons of Conflict
Georges Polti is most well-known for creating the Thirst-Six Dramatic Situations, which categorize what he believed are every dramatic situation that may occur in a story. He analyzed classical Greek texts, classical and contemporaneous French works, and a handful of non-French authors, all while claiming to be continuing the work of Carlo Gozzi who also identified thirty-six dramatic situations.
Writers can use Polti’s Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations however they see fit: by fleshing out their story with minor events, creating whole subplots, or even weaving their entire novel round one main situation while peppering the rest throughout for spice.
Pick your dramatic poisons and prick your characters then stand back and watch them bleed . . . though just make sure to write it all down as it happens, for tragedy is the unwritten story and mourning the unread novel.
Below is Polti’s Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, though understand this: they do not comprise the whole of all dramatic situations of story, as well some of them are so similar they are basically repeated but with a few minor twists of character purpose. I’ve separated their arcs into ‘Acts’ only for your ease of reference and perusability (yup, ‘peruse’ and ‘ability’ just had some hot, sweaty, unprotected wordsex). And I’ve kept Polti’s Dramatic Situations to how he wrote and suggested them, for good and for worse as you’ll soon see. Some are so vague I literally cringed while typing them because I’m a stickler for detail and structure when it comes to anything plot.
But what the heck, they’re interesting to read over and tinker with while plotting that next great story so let’s have at it while having some fun!
essential elements: a persecutor; a petitioner; a power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
arc: the petitioner appeals to the power in authority for deliverance from the persecutor.
Act 1: A Petitioner, who has had a tough time of it, asks a Persecutor for help.
Act 2: The Petitioner receives or is denied help and responds accordingly.
Act 3: The Petitioner seals his own fate by his response to the events.
essential elements: an unfortunate; a threatener; a rescuer.
arc: the unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the threatener is to carry out justice, but the rescuer saves the unfortunate.
Act 1: An Unfortunate is in trouble.
Act 2: The Rescuer knows someone is in trouble and rushes to help.
Act 3: The Rescuer stops the Threatener and may or may not have saved the Unfortunate.
3. CRIME PURSUED BY VENGEANCE
essential elements: a victim; a criminal; an avenger.
arc: the criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the avenger seeks justice by punishing the criminal.
Act 1: A Victim is harmed.
Act 2: The Avenger seeks the Criminal to wield vengeance.
Act 3: The Avenger wields justice upon the Criminal.
4. VENGEANCE TAKEN FOR KIN UPON KIN
essential elements: a guilty kinsman; an avenging kinsman; a victim or remembrance of the victim, a relative of both.
arc: two entities, the guilty and the avenging kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the victim, who is allied to both.
Act 1: A Victim is slain by the Guilty Kinsman and the Avenging Kinsman grieves.
Act 2: The Avenging Kinsman has accepted the situation and vows to hunt down the Guilty Kinsman for vengeance. The Guilty Kinsman reacts.
Act 3: The Avenging Kinsman defeats the Guilty Kinsman.
essential elements: a punishment; a fugitive.
arc: the fugitive flees punishment for a misunderstood conflict.
Act 1: A crime or injustice occurs and the potential Fugitive is present. He is either guilty or innocent of the act and may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Act 2: The Fugitive is on the run. Punishment follows right behind him.
Act 3: The Fugitive faces the Punishing Force and gets away.
essential elements: a vanquished power; a victorious enemy or a messenger.
arc: the vanquished power falls from their place after being defeated by the victorious enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the messenger.
Act 1: A Disaster is about to happen, heralded by the Messenger.
Act 2: The Disaster happens, instigated by the Victorious Enemy.
Act 3: The Vanquished Power is vanquished, or endured (in the case of a natural power).
7. FALLING PREY TO CRUELTY OR MISFORTUNE
essential elements: an unfortunate; a master or a misfortune.
arc: the unfortunate suffers from misfortune and/or at the hands of the master.
Act 1: An Unfortunate has a really rough time of it, and things get tougher as a Cruelty or Misfortune comes her way.
Act 2: The Unfortunate deals with the Cruelty or Misfortune.
Act 3: The Unfortunate succeeds or fails in putting herself back together.
essential elements: a tyrant; a conspirator.
arc: the tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the conspirator.
Act 1: The Tyrant exercises his power and therefore gives a reason for Revolt. The Conspirator cannot take any more abuse.
Act 2: The Conspirator gathers some forces. Mystery and secrets abound.
Act 3: The Revolt takes place, and we see where the chips fall.
9. DARING ENTERPRISE
essential elements: a bold leader; an object; an adversary.
arc: the bold leader takes the object from the adversary by overpowering the adversary.
Act 1: A Bold Leader realizes there is an Object he desires. After careful investigation he thinks he knows where it is.
Act 2: The Bold Leader overcomes obstacles as he goes after the Object while contending against the Adversary.
Act 3: The Bold Leader finds the Object despite the Adversary. It was everything he dreamed it would be, or the victory is bittersweet as he realizes it doesn’t bring him what he wanted.
essential elements: an abductor; a victim; a guardian.
arc: the abductor takes the abducted from the guardian.
Act 1: The Abductor selects a Victim and kidnaps her.
Act 2: The Guardian moves full force to rescue the Victim. He faces many obstacles and surprises.
Act 3: The Guardian finds the Victim and Abductor.
11. THE ENIGMA
essential elements: a problem/riddle; an interrogator; a seeker.
arc: the interrogator poses a problem/riddle to the seeker and gives the seeker better ability to reach the seeker’s goals.
Act 1: Something happens that causes the Seeker to approach an Interrogator. The Interrogator presents a problem/riddle of some sort.
Act 2: The Seeker must overcome several obstacles and twists. He may think he has the answers but finds out he is wrong. The Interrogator makes things more difficult for him.
Act 3: The Seeker solves the problem/riddle and the Interrogator must pay up.
essential elements: (a solicitor, and an adversary who is refusing), or (an arbitrator, and opposing parties).
arc: the solicitor is at odds with the adversary who refuses to give the solicitor an object in the possession of the adversary, or an arbitrator decides who gets the object desired by opposing parties (the solicitor and the adversary).
Act 1: The Solicitor/Arbitrator realizes his desired objective or object and gets close to it. He has to approach either an Adversary who refuses or an Opposing Party.
Act 2: The Solicitor meets with the Adversary again.
Act 3: The Solicitor gets his way.
13. ENMITY OF KIN
essential elements: a malevolent kinsman; a hated or a reciprocally-hating kinsman.
arc: the malevolent kinsman and the hated or a second malevolent kinsman conspire together.
Act 1: Something happens that turns one Kinsman against another.
Act 2: The Hated Kinsman either tries to resolve the situation or attacks the Malevolent Kinsman.
Act 3: One or both of the Kinsman are defeated.
14. RIVALRY OF KIN
essential elements: the preferred kinsman; the rejected kinsman; the object of rivalry.
arc: the object of rivalry chooses the preferred kinsman over the rejected kinsman.
Act 1: The Preferred Kinsman seems to obtain the Object or Rivalry.
Act 2: The Rejected Kinsman carries out his plan to win the Object of Rivalry and get back at the Preferred kinsman.
Act 3: The Preferred Kinsman and Rejected Kinsman have a “showdown” of sorts over the Object of Rivalry.
15. MURDEROUS ADULTRY
essential elements: two adulterers; a betrayed spouse.
arc: two adulterers conspire to kill the betrayed spouse.
Act 1: Two Adulterers meet, though the cheating spouse may not act on but cannot deny their shared carnal desires just yet.
Act 2: The Adulterers have the secret affair then contemplate murdering the ignorant Betrayed Spouse.
Act 3: The Betrayed Spouse, having learned of the indiscretion, retaliates and someone may die.
essential elements: a madman; a victim.
arc: the madman goes insane and wrongs the victim.
Act 1: The Madman snaps and selects his victim, while the dependent Victim is just going about her normal everyday routine.
Act 2: The Victim tries to escape, tries to get help, failing multiple tries and suffering multiple punishments while learning new fervor through survival.
Act 3: The Victim defends herself, and though she can also receive outside help at the last moment, the Victim’s independence usually wins the day alongside her freedom.
17. FATAL IMPRUDENCE
essential elements: the imprudent; a victim or an object lost.
arc: the imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the object lost or wrongs the victim.
Act 1: The Imprudent receives a motivating force (curiosity, for example). He may be warned away.
Act 2: The Imprudent makes a hasty decision, wronging the Victim, and has to live with it.
Act 3: The Imprudent is punished for his haste. The Victim gets justice or the Lost Object is found.
18. INVOLUNTARY CRIMES OF LOVE
essential elements: a lover; a beloved; a revealer.
arc: the lover and the beloved have unknowingly broken a taboo through their romantic relationship, and the revealer reveals this to them.
Act 1: The Lover meets his Beloved and pursues her.
Act 2: The Lover meets many obstacles but finally gets the Beloved.
Act 3: The Lover and Beloved are “caught” by the Revealer who ousts them and they face the consequences of their actions.
19. SLAYING OF KIN UNRECOGNIZED/RECOGNIZED
essential elements: a slayer; an unrecognized/recognized victim.
arc: the slayer saves/kills the unrecognized/recognized victim.
Act 1: The Slayer learns that he must slay someone and he agrees to do his duty, or the Slayer attempts to slay someone out of hatred.
Act 2: The Slayer finds the Unrecognized Victim and is about to slay her when he realizes the Victim is a relative and he stops . . . or the Slayer prepares for the slaying of the Recognized Victim while others may try to get in his way.
Act 3: The Slayer saves the Unrecognized Victim and faces the consequences of his actions, possibly on the run himself now alone or together . . . or the Slayer does his duty and slays the Recognized Victim while facing his own conscience, possibly driven to suicide thereafter.
20. SELF-SACRIFICE FOR AN IDEAL
essential elements: a hero; an ideal; a creditor; a person/thing sacrificed.
arc: the hero sacrifices the person or thing for their ideal, which is then taken by the creditor.
Act 1: The Hero is placed in a position to sacrifice something for their Ideal by the Creditor.
Act 2: The Hero decides to make the sacrifice and takes a chance.
Act 3: The Hero faces the consequences of his actions to the Creditor.
21. SELF-SACRIFICE FOR KIN
essential elements: a hero; a kinsman; a creditor; a person/thing sacrificed.
arc: the hero sacrifices a person or thing for their kinsman, which is then taken by the creditor.
Act 1: The Hero is placed in a position to sacrifice something for their Kinsman by the Creditor.
Act 2: The Hero makes the sacrifice to appease the Creditor and spare the Kinsman.
Act 3: The Hero deals with the unexpected consequences of saving the Kinsman while battling their conscience over the inequitable sacrifice.
22. ALL SACRIFICED FOR PASSION
essential elements: a lover; an object of fatal passion; the person/thing sacrificed.
arc: a lover sacrifices a person or thing for the object of their passion, which is then lost forever.
Act 1: The Lover is placed in a position to sacrifice something for the Object of their Fatal Passion.
Act 2: The Lover makes the sacrifice for the Object of Fatal Passion.
Act 3: The Lover loses the Object of Fatal Passion and has less than when he started.
23. NECESSITY OF SACRIFICING LOVED ONES
essential elements: a hero; a beloved victim; a necessity for the sacrifice.
arc: the hero wrongs the beloved victim because of the necessity for their sacrifice.
Act 1: The Hero learns of the Necessity as well its cost against the Beloved Victim.
Act 2: The Hero makes the sacrifice, harming the Beloved Victim while obtaining the “prize.”
Act 3: The Hero’s “prize” loses all value without the Beloved Victim.
24. RIVALRY OF SUPERIOR VS. INFERIOR
essential elements: a superior rival; an inferior rival; the object of rivalry.
arc: a superior rival bests an inferior rival and wins the object of rivalry.
Act 1: Both Rivals learn of the Object of Rivalry.
Act 2: Both Rivals compete for the Object of Rivalry, the Superior Rival using cunning and bravery, the Inferior Rival using deception and trickery.
Act 3: The Inferior Rival almost obtains the Object of Rival before the Superior Rival, but the Superior Rival snatches the Object of Rivalry away from the Inferior Rival’s clutches and wins their competition.
essential elements: two adulterers; a deceived spouse.
arc: two adulterers conspire against the deceived spouse.
Act 1: Two Adulterers meet, though the cheating spouse may not act just yet.
Act 2: The Adulterers have the secret affair then conspire against the Deceived Spouse.
Act 3: Before the Adulterers’ plans bloom fruition, the Deceived Spouse learns of then retaliates against both Adulterers.
26. CRIMES OF LOVE
essential elements: a Lover; the Beloved.
arc: a lover and the beloved break a taboo by initiating a romantic relationship.
Act 1: The Lover meets her Beloved and pursues him.
Act 2: The Lover meets many obstacles but finally gets the Beloved.
Act 3: The Lover and Beloved are “caught” and face the consequences of their actions, but they survive it stronger together.
27. DISCOVERY OF THE DISHONOR OF A LOVED ONE
essential elements: a discoverer; the guilty one.
arc: the discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the guilty one.
Act 1: The Discoverer gets a hint about the Guilty One’s act. She decides to look into it further.
Act 2: The Discoverer confronts the Guilty One.
Act 3: The Discoverer deals with the consequences of the Guilty One’s actions whether she wants to or not. The Guilty One either cooperates or doesn’t.
28. OBSTACLES TO LOVE
essential elements: two lovers; an obstacle(s) to love.
arc: two lovers face an obstacle(s) to their love together.
Act 1: A Lover finds his Beloved.
Act 2: The Lovers announce their plans, and Obstacles to Love are thrown their way.
Act 3: The Lovers either conquer the Obstacles to Love or face defeat together.
29. AN ENEMY LOVED
essential elements: a lover; a beloved enemy; a hater.
arc: the allied lover and hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the beloved enemy.
Act 1: The Beloved Enemy does something to embitter the Hater while endearing the Lover, who are inseparable friends (or kin or lovers).
Act 2: The Lover and Hater argue through opposing conflict about the Beloved Enemy, leading to their separation after amiable years of friendship.
Act 3: The Hater attacks while the Lover defends the Beloved Enemy, resulting in one of their deaths.
essential elements: an ambitious person; a thing coveted; an adversary.
arc: the ambitious person seeks the thing coveted and is opposed by the adversary.
Act 1: The Ambitious Person learns of the Thing Coveted as does the Adversary.
Act 2: The Ambitious Person strives to obtain the Thing Coveted as the Adversary attempts to thwart them while also attempting the same goal.
Act 3: The Ambitious Person and the Adversary have a showdown over the Thing Coveted.
31. CONFLICT WITH A GOD
essential elements: a mortal; a god; a conflict.
arc: a mortal and a god enter a conflict.
Act 1: A Mortal comes into Conflict with a God; either can instigate.
Act 2: The Mortal voices his Conflict and gets himself into supernatural trouble.
Act 3: The Mortal resolves his Conflict with the God by mastering a gift or succumbing to a curse and reaps the reward or pays the price.
32. MISTAKEN JEALOUSY
essential elements: a jealous one; an object of whose possession he is jealous; a supposed accomplice; a cause or an author of the mistake.
arc: the jealous one falls victim to the cause or the author of the mistake and becomes jealous of the object while conflicted with the supposed accomplice.
Act 1: The Jealous One learns of an Object of Jealousy and mistakenly places suspicions.
Act 2: The Jealous One acts in secret against the Author of the Cause and the Supposed Accomplice.
Act 3: The Jealous One acts in the open against the Supposed Accomplice and the Author of the Cause, harming them, and learns of their Mistaken Jealousy.
33. ERRONEOUS JUDGMENT
essential elements: a mistaken one; a victim of the mistake; a cause or author of the mistake; a guilty one.
arc: the mistaken one falls victim to the cause or the author of the mistake and passes judgment against the victim of the mistake when it should be passed against the guilty one instead.
Act 1: The Mistaken One comes to believe the Victim is the guilty one.
Act 2: The Victim lashes back at the Mistaken One and tries to gather others on her side.
Act 3: The Mistaken One learns that he is wrong and together they punish the Guilty One.
essential elements: a culprit; a victim or the sin; an interrogator.
arc: the culprit wrongs the victim or commits the sin, and is at odds with the interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.
Act 1: A Culprit commits a Sin of some sort that she knows is wrong.
Act 2: The Interrogator comes and pesters the Culprit.
Act 3: The Culprit ends things with confession and surrender or lies and aggression.
35. RECOVERY OF A LOST ONE
essential elements: a seeker; a one found.
arc: the seeker finds the stolen one found.
Act 1: The Seeker learns of or witnesses the One Found threatened then taken.
Act 2: The Seeker puts a plan of rescue together.
Act 3: The Seeker rescues the One Found.
36. LOSS OF LOVED ONES
essential elements: a slain kinsman; a kinsman spectator; a justified executioner.
arc: the justified killing of the slain kinsman by the executioner is witnessed by the kinsman.
Act 1: A Kinsman is slain justifiably.
Act 2: The Kinsman Spectator reacts to the slaying in “wrong” ways to deal with their emotional turmoil.
Act 3: The Kinsman Spectator finally comes to terms with the justified slaying and moves on with life.
And there you have it, Georges Polit’s Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations!
Pick your favorite conflict and wrap your main story round it while injecting the rest as subplots or even just minor happenstances taking place along your protagonist’s bumpy road of adversity.
Or just use them to spark new ideas of character conflict inside your musing brain.
Want something minor for your characters to argue over or contend with while they make their way from point A to B down their story path to the Evil Overlord’s foreboding Castle of Doom?
Well have at it, Hoss, because now you have thirty-six reasons to spark that dramatic fire of conflict along the way.
Happy plotting and happy writing!