Conflict - Or How is this a problem?

a rapist … not a problem yet

Sitcom Dad that breaks racial boundaries… not a problem yet

America’s example of a dad, moonlighting as a rapist…that’s a problem.

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Ooh, more sound bites for @MWollaeger’s news station!


But sometimes not doing something is the problem. Being too afraid, putting things off to some “tomorrow” that never happens, etc. …

The Piper’s Inaction is a real problem at the beginning of that short film. Why? Because it must learn to fend for itself, but it wants to just sit on the beach and let mama bring it food.

However, you’re right that it takes more than one thing to make a problem. The Piper’s inaction is only a problem now because mama bird has changed how she reacts to the Piper’s hunger cries: mama is no longer willing to bring baby food.

That’s why the term “dramatic circuit” is so useful. A battery (potential) is boring on its own, but hook it up to the resistance of a light bulb and suddenly something is happening, something is flowing (current), and then you have light (outcome)!


It’s a problem when it creates conflict within the story.
“Wanna watch some tv?”
“No, I got some things to do.”
“Okay, cool.”
No problem
“Wanna watch some tv?”
“No, I got some things to do.”
“But you said we would binge watch Lost in Space tonight.” *fold arms grumpily.
“Great, now I’m going to be conflicted about what to do.”
That’s a problem.

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Highly recommend

Third edition is a lot cheaper, but you should look at both. The chapter on interpersonal conflict in each. You’ll know a lot more coming out than going in, which is what you want. Especially handy if you are uncomfortable with conflict, as many are.

I did some work on this recently, a kind of conflict brainstorming map for real human being examples.

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I think of conflict as resistance. Somebody wants to change something. If that somebody is the protag, then we have a change protag if there is resistance to his change (from society, weather, fate, other characters, etc.). If the protag is providing resistance to that change, then it is a steadfast protag. A portag can provide his own resistance (that is, he can be conflicted internally) such as “should I spend time with my kid or get this clothes dryer fixed?” when he really wants to do both.

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I’m paraphrasing Melanie here from one of her seminars.

Conflict/tension is created by the dissonance between what is right for our personal narrative vs. what we are demanding of others or are, ourselves, obligated to do.


Conflict is the byproduct of effort to resolve a problem as it meets resistance.


I know I seem dumb as eff. I’m not, I swear. And I think these two things are where I’m having my disconnect. I’m not sure how to differentiate problem and conflict.

Let me take a stab at this with Piper
Piper is hungry (<–occurence), but she has a problem (expectation)–> because mom won’t feed her (<-- hungry but won’t be fed = problem)
So in order to resolve her problem she tries to get a nummy by herself (<–resolve the problem), but
doesn’t pay attention to the waves and gets swamped (<–resistance).
Now, she’s still hungry, mom won’t feed her AND she’s afraid of the waves (<conflict)

Am I anywhere close?

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The last part is outcome and not necessarily conflict. Otherwise, it all looks right.

The Conflict could be Piper interacting with the waves while trying to eat because her mom won’t help.

Often the Conflict and the Current are the same beat. So, maybe do the PRCO and SRCA for the scene. You have done half the work anyway by labeling the R and the O.

It seems like the P potential for conflict is between hunger and a witholding parent.

So, maybe the C needs more description. —this is why you are asking about it anyway, right?

The way to test your work is to see if each part matches the domains:

Fixed Attitude

You are doing great! This is hard work for all of us. If it were easy, movies would all be hits :wink:


My apologies Brian, Piper is not my story. It’s the Pixar Short - Piper @jhull used it as an example of a well done short story. What I described is only the first half of the story. The P and R, if you will. The C and the O aren’t described here. And since it is small, contained, and complete (and I can watch it over and over). I’m using it to tease apart the concepts, while I try to suss out what makes something one thing and not another. In this case conflict vs problem, because I’d always thought they were more or less the same thing. You can see the equivalence I bear them in the title to this thread.

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Respectfully, I would assert that a plot is the byproduct of effort to resolve a problem as it meets resistance and maintain that conflict is resistance.

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I’d characterize plot as the methodology used in the effort to resolve a problem/inequity.


I appreciate the time you take whenever possible to come to this forum and interact with people studying Dramatica. I submit, though, that I slightly disagree with your statement quoted above. I’d characterize plot as the method used in the effort to resolve a problem/inequity in the face of resistance. Rephrased, I’d characterize plot as the path taken to resolve a problem/inequity in the face of resistance. With that slight change, I also submit that plot is, simultaneously, the byproduct of effort to resolve a problem as it meets resistance and I maintain that conflict is resistance. The difference in these two definitions of plot all has to do with what point of view one takes in looking at conflict. A child walking through deep snow faces conflict with each step they take. Plot is the byproduct of that conflict. If you look behind the child, you’ll see a trail of steps in the snow. That trail is plot. I’m probably just showing my ignorance. The discussion in this forum is usually way over my head. I don’t have the background in narrative studies that everyone else here seems to have. I feel like a 6th-grader discussing cosmology with Hawking. So, I’d very much appreciate your insight and I’d find your response, if you have the time available to give one, very helpful.

Since an inequity exists, resistance is implied, otherwise the inequity would resolve itself.


Conflict is the byproduct of the attempt to resolve a problem/inequity when it meets resistance. Much like smoke is to fire, conflict indicates that the interaction of potential and resistance in the problem-solving process.

Conflict is expressed through plot, character, theme, and genre.


For some reason, I had it in my mind that resistance could be something that sends the potential away from the desired outcome or towards it.

That resistance could magnify or diminish current.

The whole idea that resistance and current could have a positive or negative relationship.

Is this incorrect?

Well, you’ve certainly given me something to think about. Thanks for the time. I need to get this all thought through before / if I respond further.

I believe you’re making the mistake of thinking that either potential or resistance is static. If you take a “snapshot” of them, then they are both best seen as static and the calculation of the current and power (or outcome) are also static. If you see them as variable – as one might over the course of the story, or from the context of a process – then their relationships may change creating increasing and decreasing (positive and negative) relative results.

Personally, I think overthinking all of this is moot if understanding this does not serve making your story better.


Can one use these drives/ motivations to create stronger illustrations of narrative conflict?




Being responsible
Being obligated

How things stand Emotionally
How things stand Rationally
Perceiving of self
Being One’s true self

Drive/motivation + dramatica element + problem = narrative power

Adding a level of justification gives more narrative power to the dramatica terms when it comes to making it a problem,

Can one dramatica element be a motivating factor for the source of conflict when story encoding?

For example:

Can doubt be a motivator for the process of trust

For example:

Taking time to trust