Monday, January 11, 2010

Building Drama

I was watching football this weekend interspersed with other things that I had to do, such as cleaning, cooking and playing poker. (Only a 10th place finish.)

However, these games were pretty boring until the final game on Sunday. The reason being is that there wasn't any drama after the first scores of the game. The games were blow outs for the most part and that makes for some boring television and storytelling. The last game, however, was the lone exception.

As anyone who reads stories, watches movies or television shows, the key to what keeps you interested is the drama: the conflict, tension, and feelings that are evoked within you. Take for example the Packers/Cardinals game Sunday night. I'm going to break it down into a 3-act structure because I want to and I think it shows this lesson nicely.

For the example purpose, the Packers are going to be the hero, and the Cardinals are going to be the Villain.

Act 1 starts, I'm all excited because this should be a good game, two high powered offenses with decent defenses. (Packers were actually a better defense than the Cardinals in the regular season.)

Act 1:

So the game starts, the ball is kicked off to the Packers, good start for the hero, he has the opportunity to create some action. Drive the plot forward so to speak.
However, the first obstacle to their goal happened on the first play. The interception. Now this can be related to the first plot point of the story, also referred to as the inciting incident, where the hero's world is turned upside down.

The Cardinal's score, building the drama even further, because now the hero has to catch up, which builds the emotion of the reader because they can relate to the situation and feel bad for the hero. Now the hero gets another chance to make a move. They start a drive, and fumble soon afterwards. This further puts pressure on the hero to perform because now they are down two scores. This once again ups the tension, but the reader will get frustrated if the villain gets too far ahead, almost give up on the hero, so now you have to show some glimpses of the hero coming back. Plot Point 1.

Act 2:

The moment where the hero makes a resolve to solve his problems. The packers hold the Cardinal's to a field goal, so it shows something is about to change. Now the hero starts to execute his plan. He scores a couple of times to bring the game back within striking distance. The villain is still in control of the situation, but things are starting to work for the hero. He's starting to gain some ground. He just needs that little bit extra surge.

The middle point of the story is when the story takes another twist the to make it harder for the hero, this case is that Cardinal's get the ball back after half and promptly score. This makes things look bleak, the hero is disheartened, yet over time we have started to believe in him, but right now it looks hopeless. However, now the hero has to make the final push, save the day, girl, world, etc. He makes a little leeway with a score then goes for the final grab, take the bull by the horns so to speak. The Packers kick an onside kick and recover it. A surprise, something that catches everyone off guard, including the reader.

Act 3:

They use this to hook the reader into the final Act. Now the hero is on a blazing trail and nothing is going to stop them. They are a runaway train and no matter what the villain attempts to do, it just doesn't stop the hero.

This is where the reader starts to really think the hero can do it, he's chased the villain into the abandoned warehouse and killed all of his goons, but the villain doesn't give up. No he still has one trick under his sleeve and is desperate. This is where the game would have ended as the Cardinal's scored on a defensive touchdown to the end the game in overtime. In most stories though, the hero thwarts the villain's last ditch effort and saves the day. Everyone cheers, celebrates, you the reader smile and feel satisfied with the ending.

The End: (of the example, not my post :P)

Hope you enjoyed this because unlike real life, you, the writer, have control over the outcome and you usually make your hero win if you want to and readers expect that most of the time.


  1. Good point. Games or novels that show an "easy win" don't foster much interest, tension, or, in your words, drama. There's a reason why I root for the underdog. It makes life a lot more interesting...and I get to play Devil's Advocate! (But only for the "good," of course.) :)

    Nicely done, John S. I will post this as a link on my blog. I'm working on building traffic, too. Spreading the word, spreading the word.

  2. A great post - and from all reports a great game. My mom even called to tell me about it.

    I'll link to you, too! Hurray for traffic!!!

  3. I've heard of this three act structure. *shudders* I'm so not a structural person. But I see the value of it, and AFTER my stories are done I evaluate how well I've done. Great post!