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The Latest in Story Structure & Story Analysis

2 days ago

What Story Structure Looks Like to Your Characters

It’s one thing to play God when writing a story, but wouldn’t it be great if you could see what the major plot points in your story look like from the point-of-view of your characters? Well, now you can.

In this episode, not only do we present our greatest impression yet, but we also manage to cover the Four Throughlines of Manchester by the Sea, speak about the objective and subjective nature of story paradigms, and lay down a detailed approach for connecting story structure to your characters.

The Dramatica Mentorship Program - our premiere service designed to give you the tools and techniques for applying Dramatica’s powerful concepts to your stories.

Show Notes & Links

Narrative First theme by Alex Hull. Hear more on his Soundcloud, Operation Solace

Great Stories

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3 days ago

This week we take a look at Kenneth Lonergan’s laugh-riot, Manchester by the Sea. Starring Academy Award-winning Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler—a janitor saddled with responsibility of raising his deceased brother’s teenage son—the film deftly covers the entire gamut of conflict. By crafting a complete story, Manchester tells more than a tragedy—it tells something lasting and meaningful.

Remember that the key to crafting a complete story lies in positioning the Main Character and Influence Character Throughlines diagonally across from each other and the Overall Story and Relationship Story Throughlines diagonally across from each other. This allows for greater instances of conflict while ensuring that the story addresses every possible kind of conflict. One can place each of these Throughline in a single area, but only one arrangement of all four feels right.

The Four Throughlines of *Manchester by the Sea*

Lee is a man with a bad Fixed Attitude. Whether lacking the simple courtesies of day-to-day interactions with tenants or completely oblivious to the subtle advances of those attracted to him, Lee couldn’t care less about his fellow man. Difficult at first, the structure of the narrative and the placement of Lee at the center of the Main Character Throughline makes it easy for us to empathize with what many would call an “unlikable” character. The Academy’s recognition of the brilliance of the performance and the story Lee exists in should likewise banish any future notes regarding characters who don’t save cats in the first ten minutes of a story.

Challenging Lee to consider a different approach to life is Lee’s teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). While facing a similar loss as Lee, Patrick refuses to withdraw in the same manner. Concerned with staying near friends and girlfriends who support his aspirations, Patrick refuses to be defined and locked down by his unfortunate Situation.

The complexity of the narrative reinforces this Influence Character Throughline by handing off the role of Influence Character to Randi (Michelle Williams), Lee’s former wife. Remarried and not bogged down by what happened, Randi is perfectly situated to challenge Lee to change his mind. At times, it even seems as if this town of Manchester itself play Influence Character to Lee’s Main Character.

The heart of the story, however, lies in the growing relationship between Lee and Patrick. Their pseudo father/son relationship defines the Relationship Story Throughline of Manchester and gives emotional balance to the logistical storyline of honoring Joe’s dying wishes. The dynamics of raising and taking care of a teenager without the accretion of childhood and preteen adolescence sparks an inequitable bonding. Patrick’s attempts to hookup with various girls and his attempt to get Lee to the do the same with the mother of his girlfriend threatens to keep them from truly understanding one another. Throw in the constant need to be driven to practice and the refusal to dig up Joe’s body and you have the foundation for a relationship facing problematic Activities.

Joe’s passing set one essential stipulation: that Lee take responsibility for raising Patrick. This plan positions everyone in the Overall Story Throughline against each other by way of their conflicting Manners of Thinking. Lee thinks himself “just a backup” while Joe’s lawyer thinks only of fulfilling his client’s dying wishes. Patrick thinks of the various elements he needs to arrange to set his life into motion while George (C.J. Wilson) thinks only of a life without any kids in the house. And Randi thinks there is someway she and Lee can somehow reintegrate themselves into each other’s lives.

Manchester by the Sea owes much of its ability to connect with Audiences to the arrangement of its Four Throughlines. By positioning them in a way that guarantees the greatest opportunity for conflict, the story locks us in to the argument at hand. Sometimes, you really can’t beat it.

1 week ago

Throughline Thursdays is back!

After an extremely long hiatus, the ever popular Narrative First feature returns to give writers and producers of narrative fiction everywhere greater insight into how conflict in a great story works.

The key to the diagram below is this: When identifying the source of conflict in a complete story, only one arrangement works across all Four Throughlines. You can always find elements of each Domain in every Throughline, but there were only be one Domain for a Throughline that resonates with the other three Throughlines.

At times it may seem as if we shoehorn stories into different boxes in order to somehow prove Dramatica right. You may sense hints of confirmation bias in our analyses or in our articles on story structure & story theory. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dramatica is a self-checking theory of story. In fact, the source of all frustration with the theory lies in the fact that it won’t let you get away with confirmation bias or caveats. You can try to shoehorn in a singular source of conflict or a problematic issue for a particular Throughline, but you won’t find that balance on the other side. In short, when you can easily find examples of conflict for all Throughlines at once, the entire hologram of narrative dynamics for that story will click into place.

Developing that sense of story is the foundation for a life of great writing.

The Four Throughlines of a Complete Story

As a reminder—or brief introduction if you are new to Dramatica—the Four Throughlines provide an Audience different perspectives on the central inequity of a story:

As you start to identify the source of conflict in each of these Throughlines, two rules exist:

  • The Main Character & Influence Character Throughlines sit diagonally across from each other
  • The Relationship Story & Overall Story Throughlines sit diagonally across from each other

The explanation why one must adhere to these rules lies in the development of the Dramatica itself. In addition to the fractal nature of model, Dramatica places emphasis on dynamic opposites as the greatest opportunity for conflict within a story. This is why you will find Pursuit diagonally across from Avoid, Faith diagonally across from Disbelief, and Conscience diagonally across from Temptation. Put those two elements in a room or scene together and watch the sparks fly.

Same with the Main Character & Influence Character and the Overall Story and Relationship Story. Conceptually, the latter might be more difficult to comprehend but the dynamic between the two remains. Consider Arrival below: the relationship between Louise and the aliens directly impacts the Overall Story of trying to understand these creatures and vice versa.

The Only Arrangement of Conflict that Works

In Arrival, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) struggles with painful memories of her daughter. Her “flashbacks” bring us into the story by offering the personal, intimate perspective found in the Main Character Throughline. As Audience members we grow with Louise and overcome our own Fixed Attitudes regarding time and our mind’s ability to deceive.

Challenging the linguist to think differently, the Hectapod’s concerns meet with Louise’s concerns to form the foundation of the Relationship Story Throughline. The endeavor to manipulate how she thinks pulls the two closer and closer together until there exists a deeply felt sadness at the loss of one of the aliens.

The Four Throughlines of *Arrival*

The Hectapods find themselves in a difficult Situation: if Earth doesn’t get it’s act together in the past, there will be no future for the Hectapods. Their ability to cross space and time to deliver an enigmatic message fulfills the Influence Character Throughline’s purpose of impacting Louise to adopt a different approach.

And only by adopting a different approach herself, can Louise finally offer the key to resolve the Overall Story Throughline that finds Earth on the brink of all-out war. Communicating with aliens, leaking information, dissolving alliances, and committing treason define problems of Activities.

As you can see, arranging the Four Throughlines to cover these four sources of conflict feels right. You might be able to find instances of Louise struggling with her Situation of being alone, but would you be able to find issues of Fixed Attitudes in the Hectapods? They don’t impact Louise’s Situation, they impact and challenge her Attitude.

Likewise, you can find instances where the Hectapods manipulate characters other than Louise, but then can you find examples of just Louise and the Hectapods trying to understand one another? Not really—that struggle exists for everyone in the story and therefore belongs in the Overall Story Throughline.

1 week ago

The Most Boring Storyform in the Entire World

In this episode we cover the world’s most familiar—and therefore, drabbest and dreariest—story structure. A popular message out of America in the mid to late 20th century, this storyform speaks of the essence what it is to be Male and focused on achievement.

Show Notes & Links

The Dramatica Mentorship Program - our premiere service designed to give you the tools and techniques for applying Dramatica’s powerful concepts to your stories.

Narrative First theme by Alex Hull. Hear more on his Soundcloud, Operation Solace

2 weeks ago

We just uploaded the Dramatica storyforms for Arrival and The Yellow Birds to our Storyforms section here at Narrative First—and boy oh boy, were we delightfully surprised.

The storyform we published for our initial analysis of Arrival called for an Influence Character Unique Ability of Prediction and an Influence Character Critical Flaw of Suspicion. If there were ever two more descriptive words of the Alien Heptapods influence over the actual story of Arrival, those two would be them.

The Influence Character Throughline for *Arrival*

The Influence Character Unique Ability is the one thing that makes the Influence Character able to uniquely challenge and impact the Main Character to change his or her way of approaching problems. Unbridled by time, the Aliens come from the future and are uniquely able to predict the future for Louise…Prediction, therefore, is a wonderful indicator of this ability.

The Influence Character Critical Flaw is the one thing that weakens or lessens the impact the Influence Character has over the Main Character. Clearly, their silence and enigmatic ways make the Aliens suspicious of nefarious and underhanded schemes…Suspicion, therefore, makes sense as the kind of thing that would dampen their ability to inspire Louise to change her way of thinking.

When we set out to do an analysis of a film, we often find ourselves away from our computer—at least, one with Dramatica Story Expert installed. We wrote our analysis of Arrival during a story meeting and finished it up afterwards in a nearby coffee shop. Finding out after the fact that the selections we made implied these two very important story points only confirms that the choices we made were accurate.

This is the best part about a holistic approach to story structure—error checking inherent to the system. If one part of the understanding fails, the entire thing falls apart. If, on the other hand, all the parts “sing” then you know you found the most accurate definition of the story’s dynamics.

Note that the Downloadable Storyforms section of Narrative First is a Members Only feature—a service provided for those patrons of our work into story structure & story analysis. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can become a member, please visit the Narrative First Membership page.

Mar 5

Dramatica co-creator Melanie Anne Phillips prepends a forward to one of her many insightful articles in this post on Protagonist v Antagonist | Dramaticapedia:

Now in reading this through today, I realize that doesn’t sound much like the way most writers go about creating their characters.  In fact, the usual approach is to start with a protagonist and antagonist in mind, then populate the story with supporting characters to fill out the conflicts and the logistics of the battle over the goal.

This is, in fact, the approach I instinctively take and the one I follow when working with other writers. To me, the Protagonist and Antagonist of a story stand out as the most easily identifiable character in a story. One is for the Story Goal; the other works to prevent it.

Of course, identifying the Goal of a story is not always easy and different techniques exist to navigate this process. But Melanie explains it in a way that is both simple and complex at the same time:

In our own minds, we survey our environment and consider whether or not we could improve things by taking action to change them. The struggle between the Protagonist and Antagonist represents this inner argument: is it better to leave things the way they are or to try and rearrange them?

The Protagonist represents Initiative; the Antagonist Reticence. Follow that and your story finds purpose.

Mar 1

The Best Picture of 2016 Doesn't Have a Story

Welcome back!

In this, our first episode of the second season of the Narrative First Podcast, we catch up on all things story structure & story analysis including a look into the Oscar winner for Best Picture in 2016. Tons of links and articles and blog posts from the past three months for you to review. In fact, too many to summarize in this short paragraph. Best to scroll down to the Show Notes and follow along while you listen.

If you have any questions or would like help structuring your story with Dramatica please contact us at

Show Notes & Links

Narrative First theme by Alex Hull. Hear more on his Soundcloud, Operation Solace

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