Art of Dramatic Writing, Part 4: Crisis, Climax and Resolution

Dramatic Writing 5

Once you’ve defined your premise and created 3-dimensional characters with a “Unity of Opposites,” how to realize your plot on the page…?

Point of Attack

At what point do you attack a story?  People always say “start late, end early.”  What does that really mean?  What sets a story in motion?  What makes a character act?  What makes a character embark on a journey that will reward him or destroy him?

Necessity is what motivates.

Necessity is what initiates a story.  A character must have a need.  Something thing must be at stake.  Something must be pressingly urgent and important.

The point of attack should be the moment when something vital is at stake.  A character must need to act.  To affect change.  They must not be able to abide the conditions of their situation any longer.

The need must be expressed with the first line of the script.

From the very first moment that a character comes on screen and utters a line of dialogue, they must be driven by their need.  A character’s background, skills, talents, quirks, etc. must be subsumed to their need to change.

Once you have clearly established WHAT they want and WHY they want to achieve their goals, only then will the audience be interested in WHO they are and HOW they are going to achieve it.

This need – this motivation – is the culmination of what happens before your play begins.

It is essential to remember that your story is possible only because of the things that happened before the play begin – and specifically, what happened immediately before the play started.

In other words, your play actually begins in the middle of your characters’ journeys, long after the beginning created the environment that made the play necessary and vital.

Crisis, Climax and Resolution

In your plot, crisis, climax and resolution must follow each other.

In every act, crisis, climax and resolution must follow each other.

In every scene, plot, crisis, climax and resolution must follow each other.


Crisis is when an undeniable need exists.  A character can no longer tolerate the current conditions and, therefore, must take action in an attempt to resolve this crisis.

It is a state of being in which a decisive change, one way or another, must occur.

The major crisis of a play is what initiates the action.  It motivates the protagonist to want to change.  Once this course of action has been undertaken, every moment or resistance and failure in itself is a “micro-crisis.”

Every crisis is a turning point.  It is a moment in which a character, for reasons internal or external, is compelled to act – whether they want to or not.  And usually, they act despite not wanting to.

When you have a clear unity of opposites between your characters, every action taken by each of them will be perceived as a crisis by the other.

In a play, the opening moments are in fact not the beginning of a crisis; they are a culmination  of one.  Prior to the start of your play, decisions were made, characters experienced some kind of inner climax which resulted in a greater crisis that is the focus of your play.


Dialogue must flow naturally from the character.  Every word spoken must be true to the three dimensions of that individual – physiological, psychological and sociological.

Dialogue must reveal character.  With each line, dialogue should tell the audience something new about the character speaking.  If the audience already knows what’s being said, the dramatic action of the story has become static.

Dialogue also foreshadows coming events.

It hints, implies and suggests future conflicts for the character speaking.

Sacrifice brilliance for character. 

Let the characters speak in language that is true to them and their world.

Don’t get on a soapbox.

Have a reason for writing your play, but never put those reasons into the mouths of your characters because they are not you.



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