Friday, December 16, 2005

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations--Part 5

So how do the 36 situations fit with the Campbell/Vogler Hero’s Journey? Just fine. They’re two different aspects of a story.

You can take any story, as we did with Esther yesterday, and ferret out the various situations used within it. However those situations are put together, the protagonist still needs to weave through all the conflicts that arise in order to obtain his/her desire in the end (or not obtain it, as the author might have it). That pattern of steps the protagonist must go through (regardless of the situations involved) form the “hero’s journey.” The protagonist is still going to start in the Ordinary World, then Receive the Call and want to Reject the Call, etc., as the steps go. (If you are not familiar with the steps in the hero’s journey,
Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey is a must read for your shelves.) This is going to happen whether your story is mostly based on the Supplication situation, or Remorse, or Pursuit, or whatever.

When it comes to creating a story, the 36 situations can be another helpful way to come up with twists. (Note to you new BGs—I covered my approach to creating twists in a series of posts beginning August 31.) What if the premise of your plot looks like it’s one situation, when a major twist reveals it’s really been about another situation all along? This is particularly effective when the two situations are opposites.

This is what happened in that wonderful twisty movie The Sixth Sense. (Warning—spoiler ahead. If you’ve somehow managed to miss seeing this movie, rent it before you read on.) After a near fatal injury, the protagonist sets out to help a young boy who claims he sees dead people. Apparently these dead folks come to the boy not to scare him, but because they need his help in some way. The protagonist wants to help him stop seeing them. It looks like this is a movie based on situation #2—Deliverance (rescuer of his own accord helping the distressed). But after it’s all over, and we see the protagonist had actually died from his wound before he met the boy, we realize the movie was really about #1—Supplication (someone in a weak position, e.g., the protagonist, begging help from someone in a position to help—the boy).

What if situation #3—Crime Pursued by Vengeance—twists into #5—Pursuit (where the fugitive is often innocent)?

What if #7—Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune—twists into #17—Fatal Imprudence?

What if #20—Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal—twists into #16—Madness?

Hm. All sorts of interesting possibilities.

I used the 36 situations once when I needed to create a story (already contracted) and had absolutely no idea for one. I knew I wanted a cool twist. So I looked for those situations that are opposite in nature and went from there. How could the premise, based on the first situation, twist into the second? This method got me started when I had no inspiration.

And that—lack of inspiration—is one huge reason for this kind of study of the craft of fiction. Not just studying how to write POV and dialogue, but the underpinnings of story. Because sooner or later, all of us will need to write and will have no inspiration whatsoever to do so. (Trust me, if you keep writing, this will happen.) It’s one thing for it to happen when you’re not contracted, and you can just give yourself a rest. But what if you have a deadline—and no idea? All you have to fall back on is your knowledge of the craft.

Comments/questions?

See y'all Monday.

4 comments:

C.J. Darlington said...

I've been meaning to watch the Sixth Sense for awhile now. Now I can just go rent that thing since Brandilyn says we must!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

It blew me away when we got to the end and he was dead!!

Just what you stated today is how I've been working my WIP this week. the 36 creat unlimited possibilities, you could even combine three of them

C.J. Darlington said...

Oh, man, Bonnie. I hadn't seen the movie! Why'd you give away the ending? Guess I won't bother renting it now ... :-(

Jenny said...

I'm curious about how one might categorize Sliding Doors with Gwenneth Paltrow? It has two scenerios going--a kind of what if this decision instead of that and they play out both side by side. I've only seen it once and would like to study the idea in depth. Has anyone else seen it? What are your thoughts?
Abundant blessings!