Story Structure for Professional Writers

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3 minutes
September 27, 2016

Writing the Perfect Scene Leads to a Lifetime of Study

Dramatica offers stunning insight into the science of story. Decades of insight. And study.

Developing more material to look at how to structure Scenes within Dramatica, I stumbled across commentary from a former workshop student of mine:

The best thing I've personally heard on the topic of how much of Dramatica to try and pin down was from Jim Hull when I attended his workshop last spring. He said (paraphrasing) some people need to know everything, they want the theory down to a "T" and want to know all the interactions of each and every facet of a Storyform but those ones tend to not have as much material written when it comes the amount of stories completed albeit having absolutely pristine Grand Argument Stories of course! But they mainly become teachers of the craft, Jim included himself in that category. Stories are still generated but you can go 10+ years and still be learning the theory.

This is very true. I discovered Dramatica 22 years ago and my personal portfolio today consists of three screenplays and one treatment. Contrast this with the 500+ articles, blog postings, podcasts, and analyses covering Dramatica and narrative structure and you can see where in-depth theory diving leads you.

Now, I much prefer working with different writers and producers and directors on a variety of different films, novels, and plays in contrasting genres and formats…but not everyone wants to start their own narrative science consulting firm.

Most just want to write.

He also mentioned that some people can learn just enough about Dramatica (relative), to incite inspiration and they'll take off and have pages upon pages of material, completing story after story, ultimately becoming a "writer" in the classical sense of the word (blemishes and all). Yes some of the fine details of Dramatica are left behind but these individuals don't really care either, obviously risking accuracy, coherency and filled out arguments.

Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator of the Dramatica theory of story, recently became a champion of this attitude. "No one goes to a story for perfect structure" is her latest idea—one painful for someone like me with the amount of truth it contains. As she puts it:

The main point is that that no one reads a book or goes to a movie to experience a perfect structure but rather to have their passions ignited. So if it comes to a choice between an exciting thing and a structural thing, go with the excitement whenever you can, but be sure never to break structure completely or your readers or audience will not be able to cross that gap and will cease to follow you on your journey.

I struggle with this daily in my own writing, and in working with writers and producers alike. They love the idea that Dramatica can help them to get to that perfect structure—but some spend so much time getting everything perfect, that they forget why they started writing in the first place.

They forget their passion.

The choice comes down to the individual. I appreciated this choice. Not only did it unburden me from worrying that there was only one option, one way to complete this journey but it helped me position myself down the path I saw for me personally. A way to navigate both ends of the spectrum and land on coordinates that feel best for me.

Regardless of one's familiarity with Dramatica the balance between perfection and reality is one every Artist must contend.

Concepts covered: Dramatica.

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