Drama Triangle: Enhancing Victimhood with Vengeance and Sacrifice

I don’t denounce structuralism.  Every time I watch a Disney or Pixar movie with my daughters and tears start welling up in my eyes by simple structural tactics, like music and camera angles, I’m reminded there is a reason it works.  But I’m a literary writer and we are defiant bastards and we like to take structuralism and bend it our will.  So we can look in the mirror and say to ourselves, “The industry will not make me a slave.”


The above diagram is one of the tools I use to write fiction.  I learned this from an adjunct professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where I obtained my BFA in Creative Writing.  It has helped tremendously.  I use it over and over and weigh each character against it.

So to create a dynamic character in your story, you have to apply all three to your main characters, including the antagonist.  This will have your character looking three dimensional, like a real human being.  Easy enough.

But I’m a nerd and a writerly nerd at that so I think about writing often and techniques and how they’re applicable to what I’m working on. Right now, I’m revising my first novel so I spend a lot of time thinking about the above diagram.

Mostly, of recent, I’ve been thinking of the victim dimension, and it, like the other two, can appear to be straight forward.  Then I start to ask:  What kind of victim?  How many victim types can there be?  Then I start to make an interesting list.  There is the wallow in self pity victim.  There is the weaponize my victimhood victim.  There is the vengeful victim.  And then there is the savior victim.

What I’ve come to find is a character is more dynamic and interesting and resonates when the character can exhibit as many traits of the victim as possible.  Why?  For the same reason you want your main character to have all three dimensions in the diagram above, because it makes them appear more complex, more real, more human.

What is more interesting to me is that when you mix victim with the rescuer you get the savior victim (those who have been violated and have returned to rescue you from your own brutality), and when you mix victim with the persecutor you get the vengeful victim (those who have been violated and have returned to make you pay).  The main character in my novel, Dean, plays victim/rescuer to certain individuals in the novel, but toward the antagonist he plays victim/persecutor.

But what makes me most excited about my novel is when Dean exacts vengeance on the antagonist he is doing it in the name of all the victims the antagonist has metaphorically killed in the novel, so subsequently he blends rescuer and persecutor.  More or less, he throws himself on a grenade.

What are your thoughts?  How might you blend the three different roles listed above?  Have you applied the drama triangle to your writing?  What was the outcome?

(Works Cited: The above image was borrowed from Wikimedia commons.)

8 thoughts on “Drama Triangle: Enhancing Victimhood with Vengeance and Sacrifice

  1. Dr. Atul Gawande gave a commencement address last week to graduates of UCLA Medical School. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/curiosity-and-the-prisoner

    He began with an anecdote from his medical career: “We’d been summoned to see a prisoner who’d swallowed half a razor blade and slashed his left wrist with the corner of the crimp on a toothpaste tube. He was about thirty, built like a boxer, with a tattooed neck, hands shackled to the gurney, and gauze around his left wrist showing bright crimson seeping through.” This patient immediately said something to deliberately offend or frighten one of the doctors. Gawande observed: “When people speak, they aren’t just expressing their ideas; they are, even more, expressing their emotions. And it’s the emotions that they really want heard.” So he addressed the patient: “You seem really angry and like you feel disrespected.” The patient agreed, began to calm down, and told Gawande some of his personal story. “You don’t have to like or trust everyone,” Gawande says, to see their humanity.

    In this real-life case, the injured prisoner initially presented himself as a Persecutor but really saw himself as a Victim. Acknowledging his Victim narrative allowed him to tell an interesting story and reduced the tension and danger.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Coincidentally, an automatically cropped triangle appears as the feature image. The top (victim point) is cut off, making a trapazoid. I think the coincident accurate portrays the broadness we seek to portray in a victim.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t written much fiction (I write mostly poetry and essays), but I want to comment on your article. The book A Course in Miracles says that we have a need to sometimes believe that we are innocent victims, and that we can buy our innocence at the expense of someone else’s guilt. Because we (consciously or unconsciously) believe that we are guilty, and because we cannot handle that upsetting belief, we project our guilt onto others and see them as guilty and bad. Then we hate them for what we believe they are, and in some cases they fulfill our expectations, and play the role that we have assigned to them. However, if we all share the same essence, then either that essence can be permanently corrupted, or it cannot; either that essence is permanently guiltless, or its innocence can be lost and tragedy is unavoidable. If this world is all there is, then tragedy and despair seem unavoidable. On the other hand, if we cannot destroy our eternal essence―no matter what we do in this world―then there is reason for hope. Just my two cents.

    Liked by 2 people

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