During my classes on story, I often talk about dramatic context, about the multiple layers that go into the crafting of a tale.
The inciting incident, turning points, pinches, and midpoint, are narrative units that help the writer to formulate, position and strengthen narrative incidents by locating them within a specific dramatic context—within the beginning, middle, and end; each unit has a specific function within each dramatic context.
Syd Field reminds us that another way to think of the dramatic context is in terms of its purpose: The purpose of the beginning is to set up the story, the middle is to create confrontation and complication, and the end, to bring about a resolution. But here’s the useful part: Each context can be formulated in terms of a specific question to guide the writer in creating scenes that, in effect, answer this question.
“The dramatic context organises story events by posing them as act-specific answers to act-specific questions.”
In the movie Legion, Archangel Michael disobeys God’s command to wreak vengeance on Man for his perpetual disobedience. Instead, Michael cuts off his wings, making himself human, and appoints himself protector of a waitress at a remote dinner, Charlie, and her unborn child, who, he declares, is mankind’s last hope. In choosing this path, Michael pits himself against the hordes of horrific angels led by Archangel Gabriel who have come down to earth to kill the unborn child. This causes Michael to sacrifice himself for his cause, a sacrifice, which, ironically, leads God to restore Michael to his former self, intact with wings and angelic powers. Michael then defeats Gabriel and saves the child, and by implication, mankind.
The film’s setup asks and answers the question: What is the purpose of the strange happenings occurring around the remote diner? The confrontation (middle), asks and answers the question: will Archangel Michael and his motley crew prevail against the hordes? The resolution (end) asks and answers the question: having beaten the horrific hordes, will Michael overcome the final obstacle by defeating Gabriel, thus saving the child and the world? Writing scenes that collectively pose and answer these questions provides a road map to your story which helps to keep it on track.
The dramatic context defines the kind of incidents that occur at the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Each can be formulated in terms of a question.