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3 minutes
October 15, 2015

Establishing The Nature Of Conflict In A Story

Stories are models of how we think and solve problems.

Many writers new to Dramatica find it difficult to differentiate between conflict born of problematic Activities and conflict born from a problematic Situation. Is a story about a country at war a situation or an activity? Certainly every soldier, enemy combatant and innocent civilian finds themselves in a deadly situation. But they also suffer killing and stealing and torture—all hallmarks of deadly activities. Where is the line drawn between characters dealing with a deadly situation and characters stuck in a deadly situation? Some might even question the need to differentiate between the two; does it matter?

Dramatica sees a story as an exploration of a single inequity. The different perspectives provided by each Throughline encapsulate and define that inequity, but it is the Domain itself that defines the nature of that inequity. This appraisal of conflict falls into four different areas because this is how we see the world. Situation, Activity, Fixed Attitude and Way of Thinking—we can’t see a problem any other way. And so we apply perspectives, or points-of-view, to those Domains because that is how we think. That is how we solve problems.

How it feels for us personally to experience a problem compared to how all of us deal with the same problem describes the difference between the Main Character and Overall Story Throughline. The former describes problem-solving from a personal perspective while the latter describes a dispassionate objective perspective. It is essential that a writer determine the nature of the conflict in their story and the point-of-view from which we see it in order to ascertain how to properly resolve it. Only once we know the problem we are looking at and from what angle are we able to confidently and accurately resolve it.

Defining the Source of Trouble

In The Silence of the Lambs a serial killer is on the loose. Clarice Starling and the FBI mount an investigation into this killer in an effort to stop him before he kills again. Clearly an Overall Story Domain of Activity, right?

We have killings, kidnappings and detective work. Stopping Buffalo Bill seems to be the apparent goal. Yet, one look at the official Dramatica analysis of The Silence of the Lambs reveals that the Overall Story Throughline to be a Situation. How can that be?

Buffalo Bill has killed before, yet no one had an issue with it. They did to a certain extent but it’s really not an issue for this story until Bill kidnaps the senator’s daughter. Thats when it becomes a problem—which is what a story is all about: the resolution of a single problem. The abduction of the senator’s daughter is what everyone is concerned with in the context of this story. The killings previous to the film are essential to Buffalo Bill’s character, yet function as backstory for this story. An Overall Story Domain of Situation describes the essence of conflict in The Silence of The Lambs with more accuracy than Activities.

Establish the context of conflict and you’ll easily be able to determine the nature of your story’s inequity.

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