How Might We Apply the 36 Dramatic Situations?

Not too long ago, I came across the “36 Dramatic Situations that may be found in many stories,” developed, according to ChangingMinds.com, by 19th century French writer Georges Polti, in turn, based, Polti said, on the list identified by Goethe who said it was originated by Italian Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806).

swordfight.jpg The first thing you’ll notice is the dated feel to many of these situations. I don’t even get some of them; what, for example is an “involuntary crime of love?”

The ChangingMinds site notes that some folks have taken the list of 36 as definitive. Although “Polti initially said there was ‘exactly 36 dramatic situations … and therein we have all the savour of existence,’” based on books like Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, it seems likely that the 36 situations could edited and condensed. Vengeance is vengeance, and self-sacrifice is self-sacrifice, so their underlying motivations seem superfluous.

How would you edit and modernize the list?

Antiquated though the list may be, it’s worth pondering. The situations could be used as story prompts. Over 36 days, you could each day choose one and write a story about it. You could analyze books and movies based on how these situations fit.

Can you think of any contemporary plot situations that aren’t covered by the list, perhaps because of the way the world has changed since the 19th century?

  1. Supplication
  2. Deliverance
  3. Vengeance of a crime
  4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. Enigma
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of kinsmen
  14. Rivalry of kinsmen
  15. Murderous adultery
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal imprudence
  18. Involuntary crimes of love
  19. Slaying of a kinsman unrecognized
  20. Self-sacrificing for an ideal
  21. Self-sacrifice for kindred
  22. All sacrificed for a passion
  23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
  24. Rivalry of superior and inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of love
  27. Discovery of the dishonor of a loved one
  28. Obstacles to love
  29. An enemy loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict with a god
  32. Mistaken jealousy
  33. Erroneous judgment
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of a lost one
  36. Loss of loved ones

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