Episode 87: The Conditions for Drama

On March 21, 2020, still practicing social distancing, Kasie and Rex took on the idea of stories in dramatic circumstances. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

The Conditions for Drama


  • How can you not be bursting with stories?
  • Circumstantial Drama
  • So how do you do it?
hand touching glass
Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

So we were going to work on the political drama angle — maybe step a little into genre fiction with that — but I asked this question on #wschat this week and was shocked at a few answers:

Q3: There are a dozen incongruences right now — emergency protocol but not likely to lose power or water (like a storm); local agencies making choices instead of federal leadership (or rescue) — what stories are unfolding around you? #wschat #NightOwls

One of our writers was like, “I’m at home. There’s nothing.”

GUFFAH. Are you kidding me right now? I can barely think with all the voices trying to burst through right now and tell their story.

What are some of the ideas bouncing around for you right now? Should we categorize by genre?

Science Fiction — disease metastasizes, turns victims into settlers from an alien race; early colonization of the Moon begins as a refugee effort;

Fantasy — zombies, obviously; a band of wizards or witches comes together to cure the people, meeting resistance from science purists and government agents;

Political — infrastructure breaks down and chaos reigns as high ranking officials hide to spare themselves and some immunity tribe seizes control; less dramatic – the previously maintained intricate systems of law are bared to essentials only and free people begin to realize they don’t miss their government;

Realism — secrets the family has been hiding slowly get revealed under quarantine (extra marital affairs, teenaged son’s sexuality, etc.); neighbors mend old wounds or severe old ties under the stress of stockpiling supplies; religious fanatics turn on their neighbors who refuse to repent

Business / Society — shysters and snake oil salesmen building dishonest businesses; price gouging and hoarding causing verbal and physical encounters; companies that stand to make a profit under the circumstances are accused of opportunism; one company is accused of starting the entire thing for financial gain.


We’re experiencing unusual circumstances, how could that NOT get a writer’s imagination (and Google searches) into overdrive?

Segment 2

Why so many stories? Because circumstances cause drama. So let’s talk about what those specific mechanisms are.

Okay let’s get a couple of definitions out of the way:

Given Circumstances (from Wikipedia) — the term popularized in Russian theatre to reference the environmental and situational conditions a character experiences; these can be established prior to the story beginning and the audience (reader) should be made aware of them right away.

There are 36 dramatic situations. Yep. Someone counted them all. Discusses them here.

Some that might be relevant to our unprecedented circumstances here:

  1. Deliverance — a rescuer
  2. Falling prey to misfortune — someone takes ill, loses business, loses job, etc.
  3. Revolt — people reject authority
  4. Daring enterprise — someone takes a risk to do things differently
  5. Enmity or Rivalry of kinsmen — like holiday stories, families forced together could produce these story types
  6. Murderous adultery — seems obvious but when the secrets come out…
  7. Fatal imprudence — um.. Spring Breakers? Duh
  8. Involuntary crimes of love — truths revealed could free one person while destroying another
  9. Sacrifice of the loved ones — like locking your children inside a la Flowers in the Attic; medical workers’ families
  10. Self sacrifice for an ideal — the martyr to test the antidote
  11. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one — again, secrets revealed
  12. Conflict with a God — disease as a punishment for sin?
  13. Mistaken jealousy — hoarding? People having access to resources you don’t
  14. Erroneous judgement — thinking of In an Instant and the idea of how we care for others’ children
  15. Loss of loved ones — either by death or separation

So that’s a lot. Nearly half that apply just given our circumstances.

But what I think really has people kind of dazed right now is the uncertainty. What’s going to happen? And we haven’t really felt this disoriented since 9/11.

Segment 3

The second half of the equation — after circumstances — is people. And how we respond to the circumstances is very often what drives the drama.

This blog suggests we not forget about the people and their role. Motivation is what drives our people and their actions.

So how do you do it?

This blog offers tips (of course it does):

  1. Decide if it’s a story (a series of occurrences) or a plot (a series of causally-related events)
  2. Create layers of conflict — external and internal
  3. Create multi-layers, conflicted characters — people who want one thing but need another
  4. Use disguise and deception — people lie. Let them.
  5. Add complications — forcing people into decisions, revealing their true nature or the things they had hoped would remain concealed

Stay safe out there, writers. SCWA has suspended workshops and suggested writers seek critique partners in a digital space. Consider sharing your work remotely for feedback.

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