“Gozzi maintained that there can be but 36 tragic situations, Schiller took great pains to find more, but he was unable to find even so many as Gozzi.” – Goethe
There are 36 situations of drama or tragedy which can be used as a sort of template. This list stems from the 19th century and is a popular writing aid. It was made to categorize every dramatic event that might happen in a story. Go ahead, wreck your mind and try to find 37!
What you need: a persecutor, a suppliant and a power in authority whose decision is doubtful.
What happens: The Persecutor accuses the Suppliant of wrongdoing, and the Power makes a judgment against the Suppliant.
What you need: an unfortunate, a threatener and a rescuer.
What happens: The Unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the Threatener is to carry out justice, but the Rescuer saves the Unfortunate.
3 Crime pursued by vengeance
What you need: an avenger and a criminal.
What happens: The Criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the Avenger seeks justice by punishing the Criminal.
4 Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
What you need: avenging kinsman, guilty kinsman, remembrance of the victim and a relative of both. (What is a kinsman? A man sharing the same racial, cultural, or national background as another.)
What happens: Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both.
What you need: punishment and fugitive.
What happens: The Fugitive flees Punishment for a misunderstood conflict.
What you need: a vanquished power and a victorious enemy or messenger.
What happens: The Power falls from their place after being defeated by the Victorious Enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the Messenger.
7 Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune
What you need: an unfortunate and a master or a misfortune.
What happens: The Unfortunate suffers from Misfortune and/or at the hands of the Master.
What you need: a tyrant and conspirator.
What happens: The Tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the Conspirator.
9 Daring Enterprise
What you need: a bold leader, an object and an adversary.
What happens: The Bold Leader takes the Object from the Adversary by overpowering the Adversary.
What you need: the abductor, the abducted and a guardian.
What happens: The Abductor takes the Abducted from the Guardian.
11 The Enigma
What you need: an interrogator, a seeker and a problem.
What happens: The Interrogator poses a Problem to the Seeker and gives a Seeker better ability to reach the Seeker’s goals.
What you need: a solicitor and an adversary who is refusing or an arbitrator and opposing parties.
What happens: The Solicitor is at odds with the Adversary who refuses to give the Solicitor what they Object in the possession of the Adversary, or an Arbitrator decides who gets the Object desired by Opposing Parties (the Solicitor and the Adversary).
13 Enmity of kinsmen
What you need: a malevolent kinsman and a hated or reciprocally hated kinsman.
What happens: The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together.
14 Rivalry of kinsman
What you need: the preferred kinsman, the rejected kinsman and the object.
What happens: The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman.
15 Murderous Adultery
What you need: two adulterers and a betrayed husband or wife.
What happens: Two Adulterers conspire to kill the Betrayed Spouse.
What you need: a madman and a victim.
What happens: The Madman goes insane and wrongs the Victim.
17 Fatal imprudence
What you need: the imprudent, the victim or the object lost.
What happens: The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim.
18 Involuntary crimes of love
What you need: the lover, the beloved and the revealer.
What happens: The Revealer betrays the trust of either the Lover or the Beloved.
19 Slaying of a kinsman unrecognized
What you need: the slayer and the unrecognized victim.
What happens: The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim.
20 Self-Sacrificing for an ideal
What you need: the hero, the ideal, the “creditor” or the person or thing sacrificed.
What happens: The Hero sacrifices the Person or Thing for their Ideal, which is then taken by the Creditor.
21 Self-sacrificed for kindred
What you need: the hero, the kinsman, the creditor or the person or thing sacrificed.
What happens: The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor.
22 All sacrificed for a passion
What you need: the lover, the object of the fatal passion and the person or thing sacrificed.
What happens: A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.
23 Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
What you need: the hero, the beloved victim, the necessity for the sacrifice.
What happens: The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice.
24 Rivalry of superior and inferior
What you need: the superior rival, the inferior rival and the object.
What happens: A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry.
What you need: a deceived husband or wife and two adulterers.
What happens: Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.
26 Crimes of love
What you need: the lover and the beloved.
What happens: A Lover and the Beloved enter a conflict.
27 Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
What you need: a discoverer and the guilty one.
What happens: The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.
28 Obstacles to love
What you need: two lovers and an obstacle.
What happens: Two Lovers face an Obstacle together.
29 An enemy loved
What you need: the beloved enemy, the lover and the hater.
What happens: The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.
What you need: ambitious person, a thing coveted and an adversary.
What happens: The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary.
31 Conflict with God
What you need: a mortal and an immortal.
What happens: The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.
32 Mistaken jealousy
What you need: a jealous one, an object of whose possession he is jealous, a supposed accomplice and a cause or an author of the mistake.
What happens: The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.
33 Erroneous Judgementa
What you need: a mistaken one, a victim of the mistake, a cause or author of the mistake and the guilty one.
What happens: The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause of the Author of the Mistake and passes judgment against the Victim of the Mistake when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.
What you need: a culprit, a victim or the sin and an interrogator.
What happens: The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.
35 Recovery of a lost one
What you need: a seeker and the one found.
What happens: The Seeker finds the One Found.
36 Loss of loved ones
What you need: a kinsman slain, a kinsman spectator and an executioner.
What happens: The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman Spectator.