Skyfall: Finding the Synthesis in Dramatica

A modern understanding of conflict resolution.

When it comes to the structure of a functioning narrative, it should come as no surprise that we know more today than we did in the 1800s. Yes, photography and the steam engine were once modern miracles, but that was then. Today—and much to the chagrin of steampunks everywhere—we don’t continue to uphold the days of old.

Today, we possess supercomputers in our pockets that access the world’s store of knowledge, measuring their speed in milliseconds.

Why on Earth then, do we continue to hold up ancient philosophies like the Hegelian Dialectic as if its age somehow makes up for its gross inaccuracies?

Moving Past the Past

The previous article, A Synthesis In Search of a Solution, told of the correlation between the Hegelian Dialectic and Dramatica theory’s concept of the Four Throughlines:

The Main Character maintains a perspective (Thesis) and the Obstacle Character counters with the “negation” of that perspective (Anti-thesis). One gives way to the other, losing the unnecessary or non-essential components of the Thesis in exchange for all the good of the Anti-thesis, and together “resolves” the conflict with this new Synthesis.

The correlation is functional but not entirely accurate. While it is true that one of the principal characters eventually adopts the other’s point-of-view, this adoption is not the wholesale trading of one for the other.

There is a “synthesis” in the act of adopting a new perspective.

Based on your description, the MC problem story point represents the Thesis, the IC problem story point represents the anti-thesis, but what I can’t envision is either of their solutions being the Synthesis since that’s always just a binary opposition of one of the problem story points. The Synthesis isn’t “MC and IC argued over approach and it turned out IC was right so therefore the MC flips over to solution” as Synthesis specifically doesn’t mean choosing one over the other. So I’m trying to imagine what story point in a Dramatica model would represent the Synthesis between the MC and IC’s drives.

The three-fold Hegelian Dialectic is a logical formula for arriving at a solution. Dramatica is a model of human psychology focusing on inequity resolution. The former presupposes linear reasoning will come at a solution that resolves conflict. The latter makes no such assumptions, yet allows for an interpretation of narrative that fits that particular methodology of resolution.

The Hegelian only tells half the story.

Attributing Subject Matter to Perspective

In the James Bond film Skyfall, Bond acts as a proxy for the old way of doing things—and he’s not doing them very well. Having been left for dead by the country he has sworn to protect, Bond returns only to find himself at odds with his environment. With his aim off, his psycho-analysis lacking, and his physicality barely holding on by his fingertips, Bond represents the passing of the old ways.

M also stands for the old way of doing things—and she’s not doing it very well either. She is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the old guard running because that’s the best way she knows how to protect Britain. Unfortunately for Bond as far as M is concerned, the value of an agent’s life ranks below her country and her mission in importance. If she happens to break a few eggs on her way to making the perfect omelet, that is Britain, so be it.

They both share a perspective on the Subject Matter of Duty.

Bond approaches this subject matter seated in a Universe point-of-view. Bond is physically insufficient to fulfill the obligations of his job as a secret agent, and it might be time to quit. That is the inequity and dilemma that motivates him throughout the story.

M approaches the same subject matter from a Mind point-of-view. Mother is calm when it comes to being asked to take early retirement. Quitting is not an option because Britain needs MI6 to persevere—regardless of any fallout, whether political or personnel in nature. That is the inequity driving her influence on Bond.

Universe and Mind. Thesis and anti-thesis.

Diving further down into detail, we see that they are not merely opposites. Bond’s Main Character Throughline Problem Element is Deviation—an evaluation of existing outside of tolerances. M’s Obstacle Character Problem Element is Unending—an assessment focusing on continuation.

The Meaning of the End

The Synthesis of a Changed Resolve is not merely the Main Character Solution of Accurate, nor is it the Obstacle Character Drive of Unending. The eventual Synthesis is a broader appreciation of inequity resolution. The result is a greater understanding of what is an appropriate response to the same inequity in the future.

At the end of Skyfall, Bond Changes his Resolve and adopts M’s perspective—but he doesn’t simply flip a switch from Deviation to Unending. His Main Character Solution of Accurate (“Fit for duty, sir.”) is a synthesis of M’s Unending drive and a new-found appreciation for Accuracy.

Bond moves from Universe to Mind, but it’s not a complete 180 reversal. It’s more growth, or greater appreciation, of how to make sure that Deviation isn’t a Problem anymore—brought about by the influence of M’s Unending impact.

So Much More

When discussing the Synthesis portion of the Hegelian Dialectic, early practitioners—and even more modern apostles—illustrate this concept of Main Character Resolve without genuinely understanding their actions. They know the solution to be something beyond what the Main Character or Obstacle Character fight for, but they’re not entirely aware of the nature of that final resolution.

The Dramatica theory of story accounts for the broader interpretation of conflict resolution afforded by the Hegelian Dialectic—but it doesn’t merely stop there. The theory’s model of the mind’s problem-solving process details the specific nature of that eventual Synthesis, allowing the Author to pinpoint the exact source of conflict in their story.

Download the FREE e-book Never Trust a Hero

Don't miss out on the latest in narrative theory and storytelling with artificial intelligence. Subscribe to the Narrative First newsletter below and receive a link to download the 20-page e-book, Never Trust a Hero.