Captain America Civil War Analysis - Main Character Question

Everyone in the entire story is dealing with the fallout from Cap’s efforts to protect Bucky. I feel like maybe I saw a different movie.

I am.

By your logic Star Wars, The Matrix, Unforgiven, and the 115 other films with an Overall Story Throughline in Activities should really be in Fixed Attitudes. Yes, they’re fighting because they disagree about the Accords, but the fighting is creating the death and destruction, NOT the Fixed Attitudes.

Fixed Attitudes in Doubt lead to more boys being raped. Fixed Attitudes in To Kill a Mockingbird continue the history of racial prejudice. These are stories where fixed attitudes create inequity.

If they stopped fighting and trying to save everyone, there would be no call for the Accords. They’re trying to contain the Avengers. Not because of their Attitudes, but because of the problematic Activities they inflict (not purposefully) on everyone.

I used hyperbole because it’s super clear the extent of conflict in this story.

No matter how much punching or kicking is going on, the cause of the conflict in Civil War has to do with fundamental disagreements over a fixed attitude about whether or not Superhumans are to blame for the casualties that come with their actions.

And if they stopped disagreeing over this, would people stop dying???

No, the Avengers would continue to avenge and more buildings would be dropped on innocent people.

Not only is this consistently argued (almost every second that isn’t spent punching is spent wrestling with this question), but it’s also not, as you contend, simply what the characters subjectively think it’s about – it’s what it really is about.

In other words, you’re focusing on Fixed Attitudes as subject matter - as if what they’re arguing about is actually creating conflict.

I also really need to address your point that “this story is so clearly revenge”. It’s really not. One of the criticisms of Civil War is that the entire Zemo subplot is unnecessary to the story. You could keep him out of the movie (and his attendant reveal of Winter Soldier having killed Tony’s parents) and the entire film functions just the same.

I’m not really sure what to say to this.

If Tony doesn’t see that the Winter Soldier killed his parents, then he doesn’t go after both the WS and Cap. That’s why they fought at the end. Tony seeking revenge (killing, i.e. ACTIVITIES) only happens because of this reveal.

I don’t know who contends that Zemo is unnecessary, but that is categorically kooky.

by any measure: what’s on the screen most of the time, what the writers have said about the film, what the audience thinks the film is about – is about superheroes fighting each other over whether or not the Accords should be signed.

YES!!! Superheroes fighting each other over whether or not the Accords should be signed is clearly what the film is about.

Fighting is an activity.

If you stop that activity, then there’s no film.

To your point about the RS: Steve and Tony have had no problem being friends up until now despite clearly viewing each other as having different beliefs. What’s causing havoc between them is that the situation keeps changing (generally for the worse) and their different reactions to it drive a wedge between them. Take the worsening external situation away and these two guys go off for a beer and make jokes about Tony being a playboy and Steve being an old man.

This is both a misunderstanding of the appreciation of Situation and its use specifically within the Relationship Story Throughline.

Again, you’re using the story point as subject matter. This is the same mistake writers make when they write, “Bob is in a difficult situation and he keeps thinking of the past” as if that somehow makes him both a Main Character in Situation and a Main Character with a Concern of the Past.

It doesn’t.

The relationship is NOT about what either side thinks is problematic - the relationship is about the inequity BETWEEN two individuals. It’s an actual thing that many writers–particularly male writers–have a huge problem understanding.

In the Mentorship Program I work diligently to help writers stop thinking in terms of he said/she said and instead thinking in terms of a relationship, and its purpose in the greater understanding of narrative. Linear thinkers like to think of what one side thinks and then what the other side thinks because that matches up with their idea of a relationship being a thing two people get into.

It’s not.

That was the big problem with the Main vs. Impact Character nomenclature and the idea that two soldiers meet and engage in an emotional argument. Conceptually this is OK, but it unfortunately leads everyone to think that the relationship story is an argument and that the subject matter of that argument is somehow reflected in the storyform.

It’s not.

For a Relationship Story Throughline to be in Situation - there has to be an actual fixed external problem between them. The easiest way to visualize this is To Kill a Mockingbird. The racism in the Overall Story – which is presented as internal problem – is reflected in the local racism of Scout scared of the boogie man (Boo). They’re externally situated next to each other and they’re externally situated to reflect the same kind of racisim in the larger picture in their own relationship.

Same thing in Doubt - there you have the situational conflict between a Priest and a Nun. That inequity with their positions is what is really at play between them. That’s where the power play comes into being.

Again, maybe I’m just misunderstanding the point of Dramatica domains, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen countless times where someone asks if Dramatica considers action movies to be de-facto about activities or situation and someone saying no, it’s the source of the conflict that defines the domain.

The Domains define what the conflict looks like from the different perspectives. From an objective viewpoint, the kind of conflict the characters in Captain America: Civil War engage in is an activity.

Specifically, fighting, kicking, punching, throwing around, entangling in webs, blowing up buildings, accidentally blowing up buildings, car chases, motorcycle chases, chases through buildings, chases up and down stairs, fighting in an enclosed spaces, fighting in open spaces, and so on.

I’ve seen it pretty recently, and I’d argue that the effort to protect the Winter Soldier is almost entirely in the MC domain. Steve’s concerned about it, but most people are dealing with the Accords, what side to be on, and whether they’re willing to fight each other over that question. Tony’s top priority isn’t the Winter Soldier – he wants the Accords signed. Hawkeye doesn’t care about the Winter Soldier, he’s just siding with Steve against Tony. Natasha’s dilemma isn’t about the Winter Soldier, but about which of these two sides she’s going to choose given her past. At every turn, this is a story about choosing sides.

You’ve just described what every character is dealing with subjectively. That isn’t what Dramatica is looking at. Dramatica is looking at what the Author is presenting as the story.

Yes, they choose sides. But the actual conflict comes when the two sides actually fight.

The whole point of the narrative was to pit Captain America against Iron Man and split the Avengers apart. That was the overriding goal of the story. That is why Zemo works perfectly as the Protagonist, and why–for some reason–you feel yourself subconsciously rooting and waiting for that moment when they finally go at it.

Take out the Winter Soldier storyline and you’d still have Civil War as a complete story.

There would be no motivation for Tony to attack Captain America and therefore split apart the Avengers. There would be motivation for Captain America to fight against the German SAS or anyone else for that matter.

Bucky and Zemo are so integral to the narrative, I’m not really sure how anyone else can say otherwise.

Ha! You did: I saw “Captain America: Civil War” and you saw “Tony Stark: I’m Angry About Mom & Dad”.

Again, I think there’s a valid case for two story forms. If you collapse it to one, then without the Civil War part, all that would happen is this:

Tony: “They say Winter Soldier blew up a building.”
Steve: “He wouldn’t do that. I know him, Tony.”
Tony: “Okay, I believe you. Let’s find him and figure out what’s going on.”

For almost the entire movie, the Winter Soldier subplot is nothing more than a means to escalate the tensions created by the Accords. It could have been almost any other super hero or event and everything would still work the same because the problem is the Accords, not whether a particular superhero or villain is out there.

It’s only at the very end of the movie (after the OS through line is largely resolved because Tony has come to realize that Cap was right all along – remember when he says to the Avengers in prison something like, “Tell me where he is. I’m going to help him” and Falcon replies, “I believe you” – this is when the whole Civil War thing comes to an end.) We then get this kind of extra chapter that in many ways feels out of place in which we suddenly get a ton of exposition to explain why Tony and Cap are now at odds over Winter Soldier (throughout the entire movie, Tony doesn’t give a crap about Winter Soldier except that it’s causing problems with the Accords). We get a long, drawn out explanation of a set of motives that largely weren’t apparent in the rest of the film that justifies a fight between Iron Man and Cap.

Again, I think it’s totally fair to say it often feels like there are two MC’s in this film, and thus two story forms – one in which the Winter Soldier stuff is a device for giving us an excuse to let the divisions over the Accords to blow up into cinematic violence, and one in which it’s about the hunt for an ex-villain in which the Accords are just a backdrop.

But if you take away the divisions over the Accords, nothing in this movie would make any sense. The Avengers wouldn’t be fighting each other – they’d simply trust in Cap as they always do. Take away Winter Soldier, and all you need is General Ross calling Tony and saying, “The United Nations reached a resolution five minutes ago: every super being who’s refused to sign the Accords is to be arrested. Since America is a signatory, the Avengers have been ordered to go get them.”

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Audience reception is unique to the individual, yet the message of the narrative–the storyform–is objective, not subjective.

The missing point here is an understanding of the Dramatica definitions of Situation, Fixed Attitude, Activities, and Manners of Thinking and the way they contextualize conflict when placed under the perspectives of Overall Story, Main Character, Influence Character, and Relationship Story.

The simplest way I’ve learned how to understand how this all works together is to watch the films that have analyses already there and learn why the storyform that is there is there. Understand the various terminology and understand the perspectives.

You don’t have to take twenty years like I have – you can do it just by visiting and watching a film or two. Or many that have the same Genre (alignment of Throughlines) and begin to develop an understanding of how those narratives feel. Eventually you’ll develop an instinct and an intuitive understanding of where Throughlines fall.


Again, you’re making the classic mistake of looking to the subjective viewpoints of the characters in order to determine the storyform. It’s not about whether or not a superhero or villian is “out there” that is a subjective view from the character’s point of view.

There IS a superhero/villian out there and his presence motivates all kinds of problematic Activities.

You can’t argue for two storyforms if you don’t understand the objective measure of a storyform.

Only saw your response after I’d already posted mine.

To just cut down to one – apparently overriding – aspect of this, if you say that the domains represent not the sources of conflict but the expression of it, then okay: all action movies are Activities, all Fixed Attitude movies are talking heads. The thing is, that kind of removes any utility for the four domains, rendering them only a means of grouping the sub-elements beneath them. It means that in any action movie, the RS can never be about fixed attitudes. Sure, you can have one car crash in the story, but get to two, and that RS better be in manipulation.

I’m framing it a bit facetiously here but only to press for clarity: if Civil War’s OS Domain is defined inexorably by the fact that there’s a lot of punching and kicking on the screen, then that simply puts all action-based stories in Activity. From the standpoint of a novelist, I can’t imagine limiting myself to that degree.

And that’s the real problem here.

You’re thinking like a novelist and thinking subjectively about the storyform. Novelists traditionally struggle the most with Dramatica because they’re always looking towards the motivations of their characters and where they’re coming from because in a book they’re inside the heads of their characters for so much of the time.

Screenwriters find Dramatica easier because they can’t write the character’s thoughts–they can only describe what is seen on-screen from an objective viewpoint.

This isn’t to say Dramatica is any less useful because of the medium. Harper Lee wrote complete storyforms. As did Shakespeare.

When it comes to Dramatica, it’s the message of the narrative being presented that is most important, now what characters think conflict is coming from.

Your facetious example fails to take the time to understand what an objective view of conflict looks like within a storyform. There are several action movies where the Relationship Story is in Fixed Attitude. The Fugitive is one classic example.

Civil War’s Overall Story Domain is defined by the kind of conflict seen in the story. The conflict seen in the story, from an AUTHOR’S point-of-view, is the punching and kicking and fighting–basically the whole CIVIL WAR part.

The arguments that you see as to why one sees the Accords as necessary and one as bad are represented by the two perspectives found in the Main Character and Influence Character Throughlines.

And I can pretty much guarantee – without every having met them – that the author of that story would not agree that the conflict is the punching/kicking. They would, I’m almost positive, tell you that the conflict is over their different positions over the essential thematic question: should superheroes be allowed to operate freely or not? The reason I’m so confident in that assertion is that I’ve never in my life met an author who thought the source of conflict was punching and kicking. It is the response to a source of conflict.

I’ve read the Fugitive analysis a bunch of times over the years, and I honestly can’t make the leap that the OS is in situation. The MC is in a tough situation, but everyone else is concerned with finding him. What situation are the Marshals in? What situation is the real killer in?

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Wouldn’t it be useful to contrast/compare with the storyform of the incredibles (in addition to the fugitive)? It’s a superhero action movie with its OS Domain in Psychology/Manipulations, so not Mind/Fixed Attitude, but still something other than Physics/Activities.


By Author, I mean:

  1. Hi, I have an idea for a story
  2. I want to write some words to communicate this story to someone
  3. Hey, I put some words together to illustrate conflict in this scene
  4. the conflict in this scene is a bunch of problematic Activities like punching and kicking
  5. great, i’m finished with that scene. now i’ll write another one.
  6. in this scene I’m going to have a big bomb blow up a building. another problem Activity.
  7. in this scene I’m going to have the supposed good guy punch his way through a bunch of police in order to extricate a villain. More problematic Activities.
  8. in this scene i’m going to have two groups of superheroes square off against each at an airport–
  9. –you know what, let’s make this all about their Fixed Attitudes and how they’re unwilling to consider a different approach.
  10. oh wait, the entire momentum of the story came to a screeching halt
  11. oh that’s right, they were squaring up against each other to fight. OK, cool. More problematic Activities.

They would, I’m almost positive, tell you that the conflict is over their different positions over the essential thematic question: should superheroes be allowed to operate freely or not?

Yes, and as I said before, the reason behind these positions is covered in the Main Character and Influence Character Throughlines.

It’s like you’re using Fixed Attitudes to describe how a story works – how Main Character is positioned against Influence Character. And that’s not what Dramatica means by Fixed Attitude within the context of a Throughline’s Domain.

Not to completely derail the conversation, but this once again is looking at the storyform from the character’s perspective. It’s not about what situation the Marshals are in or what situation the killer is in. The entire film is about a man unjustly accused of his wife’s murder. It’s the same exact Overall Story Throughline found in Shawshank Redemption.

The Princess Bride has the overall story in an internal domain (Manipulation) but still has a lot of great action. When you look at it objectively though, you can see how the action (climbing, sword-fighting, etc.) is not the root source of conflict. You can kind of feel it too – the action somehow feels different than most action movies.

I’ve had trouble with The Fugitive myself; Jim has helped me on that. I think what makes it tricky is that the “stuck external thing” is not a physical location but a fixed state of affairs – an innocent man has been found guilty (and is on the run). That situation affects everyone, including the marshals and the real killer. They can’t escape that situation without catching Dr. Kimble. (Technically the marshals could quit their jobs and move to Australia, but that’s outside of the context of the movie as presented.)

Anyway, thanks for this debate guys, it’s been very informative so far! :slight_smile:


This is the most fun thread in a while. Two great giants having a friendly go at their storyforms. I’m a novelist (almost completed my fantasy novel) and I understand where Sébastien is coming from so intimately and at the same time I co-own a little animation studio so I also get Jim’s POV from a screenwriters perspective. The Storymind is fascinating. It’s like the whole self organizing phase Mel’s always talking about. Soon a unanimous voice will emerge. Best thread EVER!

What is likely needed is more of a subjective perspective towards the storyform itself (like my series on Generating Dramatic Tension was all about).

In fact, if you look at the Plot Sequence Report–the closest thing we have to a subjective view of the storyform–you’ll note that the Issues within the Overall Story Throughline source from the Psychology Domain. Not quite the Fixed Attitudes Sebastien calls for, but close enough to what the characters themselves are dealing with…while they engage in ACTIVITIES :smile:

In act one, “appreciating the meaning of something” (Understanding) is explored in terms of Permission, Need, Expediency, and Deficiency.

Act two concentrates on “gathering information or experience” (Gathering Information) and is explored in terms of State of Being, Situation, Circumstances, and Sense of Self.

Act three focuses on “engaging in a physical activity” (Doing) and is explored in terms of Knowledge, Ability, Desire, and Thought.

And act four illustrates “achieving or possessing something” (Obtaining) and is explored in terms of Commitment, Responsibility, Obligation, and Rationalization.

What do you know…the first sequence is all about PERMISSION…lol.

How insanely prescient are these sequences? They read like a Beat Sheet for the entire film. Ending in Rationalization??? They’re all justifying their actions during that closing sequence.


OK @jhull. You brought out the big guns! Never seen u do that. “Jim referring to the PSR?!” I’m just geeking out about the whole thing really! You both are amazing. Jim is a master of Story, Sébastien is also a master storyteller(his Greatcoats series is one of the best in Fantasy). Like I said earlier, Best Thread EVER!

This gets down to whether you think the source of the conflict is manipulation and the action merely the result of it, or whether – per Jim’s point – all the conflict is, in fact, manifesting through sword fights, chases, duels, murders . . . etc.

I’d also have to disagree with the notion that the action is different than in most action movies. It almost perfectly parallels that of all of its antecedents from The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, Robin Hood, Scaramouche . . . etc (essentially, almost anything with Errol Flynn in it.) Like those films, Princess Bride is a Romance (not in the sense of romance movie or romantic comedy, but in the classical sense of a story of romantic idealism – Three Musketeers was a Romance, despite having relatively little romance in it, if you get my drift.) The Princess Bride was both written as, and executed as, an homage to those earlier films and novels.

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Except that in the case of The Fugitive the entire movie is about the efforts to capture the main character and his efforts to escape. In The Shawshank Redemption, the entire story is about the nature of being incarcerated – how people deal with it, how sometimes they can’t deal with it. So for me, the OS being in situation makes sense.

Except that as far as a storyform is concerned its not what the story is about, but rather how the problem in the story manifests itself. Both Fugitive and Shawshank share the same problem of an innocent man unjustly labeled (external fixed) guilty of his wife’s murder.

@mlucas is the expert on The Princess Bride and spent a considerable amount of time actually defining all the story points for that storyform. His complete analysis of the film is a remarkable achievement and a great place to start if you’re trying to understand what conflict looks like from an objective Author’s point-of-view.

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That’s just the problem: to me, those sequences don’t make any sense at all. The second act of that movie (breaking into four rather than three here), everyone is concerned with capturing (obtaining) Winter Soldier. They spend almost no time trying to figure out where he is: that information gets handed to everyone involved. The final act is all about Gathering Information: they travel to that remote location to find the truth about what happened. Tony finds out how his parents died.

You have to really stretch events to force them into those four boxes in that sequence.

Only if you don’t understand what conflict looks like in that film from an Author’s point-of-view:

1- Understanding - understanding that the Avengers have gone too far without supervision, misunderstanding their intentions
2- Learning - gathering information about Bucky, disinformation about who was behind the murder of Panther’s dad
3 - Doing - the entire airport sequence
4 - Obtaining - exacting revenge and splitting apart the Avengers

In each of these Signposts, those sequences from the PSR read like tea leaves!