Dramatic Alignment or Dramatic Conflict

After The Moment of Engagement, one of two things will be true. The Forces will either have objectives that align or objectives that conflict.

If their objectives align, they will have either the same objective or complementary objectives. An example of two Forces having the same objective would be my example from before in which the two prisoners both wanted to escape from the cell. An example of two Forces having complementary objectives would be if one of the prisoners did not want to escape but did want to help his friend escape. They would both be working toward the same thing, but one's objective would be phrased, "I want to escape," while the other's objective would be phrased, "I want to help my friend escape."

If their objectives conflict, they will have opposing objectives and one will not be able to succeed unless the other one fails.

In our example above, if Dana were to tell Camille that she couldn't do her jazzercise later because her personal trainer told her how important it was that she stuck to a rigid routine and she would never—not ever—do anything to betray the trust of her personal trainer, then their objectives would conflict and we would be setting the stage for a scene of Dramatic Conflict.

If, on the other hand, Dana were to realize how insensitive she was being after Camille was out working all day long, how sorry she was that she wasn't more considerate, how much she appreciates Camille letting her live in the apartment without paying rent until she gets back on her feet following her emotional breakup with Brad, and offer to not only turn off the DVD but also to do everything in her power to make sure that nothing and nobody disturb Camille for the rest of the evening so that she could get some well-deserved sleep, why, then we'd be setting the stage for a scene of Dramatic Alignment in which both Forces would have complementary objectives involving getting Camille to bed.

In a scene of Dramatic Alignment, the Forces cooperate in order to achieve their common or complementary objectives. In a scene of Dramatic Conflict, the Forces work in opposition to each other in order to achieve their own objective at the expense of the other.

Here is the beginning of a flowchart to help visualize the divergent directions in which a scene can unfold:



Transition, exposition, and introduction of Main Forces


The objective of one Main Force has a direct and significant impact on the other. The two objectives will either align or conflict.

DRAMATIC ALIGNMENT The two Forces cooperate to achieve their common or complimentary objectives,

DRAMATIC CONFLICT The two Forces struggle to achieve their objectives in opposition to each other.

From Dramatic Conflict to Resolution

In a scene of Dramatic Conflict, the Forces employ tactics in order to achieve their objective in the face of the opposing Force. For example, if Dana refused to stop doing her jazzercise and the scene between Dana and Camille became one of Dramatic Conflict, then Dana might employ the following tactics in order to achieve her objective:

• She might explain the importance of maintaining her rigid jazzercise routine, for fear of upsetting her personal trainer.

• She might try to persuade Camille to jazzercise with her.

• She might seek a compromise by offering to turn the volume down lower.

• She might complain that Camille sets all the rules and that isn't fair.

• She might play on Camille's sympathy by reminding her that she recently broke up with Brad, that she's still an emotional wreck, and that jazzercise is the only thing that helps her feel good about herself.

Camille, of course, would counter Dana's tactics with tactics of her own:

• She might discount Dana's argument that she needs to stick to a rigid jazzercise routine because Dana always says things like that and she never ends up sticking to anything.

• She might reiterate how tired she is and how she can't possibly do any jazzercise right now.

• She might reject Dana's compromise because even if the volume is turned down, all of Dana's jumping around would still keep her awake.

• She might defend her right to set all the rules because it's her apartment and Dana has been living there for six months, now, without paying rent.

• She might threaten to kick Dana out if she doesn't stop jazzer-cising and let her get some sleep.

There are two important things to notice about the interchange of tactics in the example above, as they apply to improvisation.

First, the tactics not only serve to create the Dramatic Conflict of the scene by successfully pitting the two opposing Forces against one another but they also help to further develop the characters themselves. Perhaps the improviser portraying Dana had not yet discovered that Dana frequently tries to manipulate people by playing on their sympathy. Once that is employed as a tactic, however, it is revealed to the audience as a character trait, and the character of Dana is suddenly drawn more clearly.

Second, there is an important difference between two Forces employing tactics in order to achieve an objective in the face of their opposition and two improvisers arguing on stage, or blocking each other's offers, or making each other "wrong." The difference is sometimes difficult to tell when you're the improviser on stage, but—I promise you—it is never difficult to tell when you're in the audience. Substantial Scene work such as this is a sophisticated thing, and it involves an advanced understanding of the principles of improvisation.

In order to explore this a bit, let's take another look at the three basic principles of improvisation that I mentioned earlier:

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