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Thoughts on Story Structure

October 8, 2016

The Dramatica theory of story offers Authors a rare opportunity to look at their story from an objective point-of-view—from the perspective of what their story means, rather than how their story plays out.

Acts, Sequences, and Scenes exist in the Storytelling Domain. They help frame and illustrate meaning. Unfortunately, the infinite variety in which they can be appreciated and observed makes them deficient for an objective framework of story.

Keep Acts, Sequences, and Scenes for those paradigms and models of story that look at presentation and Audience Reception. But when it comes to Dramatica, the theory should likely pivot to ensure greater understanding of Dramatica's unique story points and structure.

Instead of Act, use Signpost and/or Journey.

Instead of Sequence, use Range.

Instead of Scene, use Dramatic Unit.

Less sexy to be sure, but inifinitely more accurate.

Yes, Signpost and Journey already exist and communicate their functions adequately. If it ain't broke, then why fix it?

The Dramatica concept of the Throughline Issue used to be called Range with the first version of the theory back in 1994. As Sequences travel through the Variation level of the model—where the Issues of a Throughline are found—why not use the original terminology to break free from ideas like the popular film-school Sequence Method? It allows those entrenched in that paradigm and their own preconceptions about what a sequence is to use both systems without cross-interference.

As far as Scenes go—as we develop an understanding of how Dramatica Scene Construction works, it becomes apparent that the idea of an actual "scene" varies depending on when you get into the Dramatic Unit (quad) and when you get out. Again, instead of relying on the physical concept of "the scene" to communicate the smallest meaningful part of Dramatica, why not start introducing Authors to this idea of a complete Dramatic Unit?

They can still start their "scenes" late into the unit and can, of course, leave whenever they want. The important part is that Authors and producers and directors alike begin to understand the PRCO, SRCA, TKAD, and PASS of a Dramatic Unit. Combining that knowledge with whatever techniques they mastered on the other side of communicating a story will result in an effective and efficient storyteller.

October 7, 2016

On the discuss.dramatica site, Dramatica Story Expert Mike Wollaeger explains the difference between Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! paradigm and our personal favorite--the Dramatica theory of story:

It's important to remember that Snyder is talking about screenplays and Dramatica is talking about stories. Screenplays start on page one and go until they are finished, about 110 pages. Stories start when an inequity becomes problematic and ends when things are put back into balance. Stories are not confined to a physical form, they are a mental construct.

Which reminds me. Dramatica needs to pivot to different terminology when it comes to Scenes, Sequences, and Acts.

That's a fancy way of saying that Snyder (et al.) are talking about how a story is laid out.

Forget the Cat, and Save Yourself!. Start looking at story, and let the format sort itself out.

October 6, 2016

After working on the first Dramatica Scene Analysis last night, I discovered a more refined way of defining these elements of a dramatic unit.

The key is to always think of Author's Intent. When it comes to Dramatica—and looking at Scenes, Sequences, and Acts through that lens—the "message" or storyform the Author intends on communicating is the primary object of focus.

So think of the Potential of the circuit as the source of inequity for that dramatic movement as far as the Author is concerned. You're not looking at where the Scene starts, but rather where the Author believes the source of conflict eminates from. All Scene Events have purpose—it's a matter of where the emphasis is placed.

In A Separation the Potential for conflict lies within Nader's strict convictions. Remove his obstinate I'm always right no matter what attitude and there is no real conflict. No back and forth arguing. No problem with Simin leaving. And the judge could go on living his happy life without interruption.

It is clear from this scenes, and from many others, that the Author of A Separation intended to show Nader's attitude as one of the primary sources of conflict within the story. This scene is a microcosm of that intent.

The Resistance of a dramatic circuit amplifies or diminishes that Potential. In A Separation that amplification arrives in the form of the judge essentially siding with Nader. Overwhelmed by the system, he takes the easy way out figuring everything will work itself out.

Why is Simin's hope for a better life for her daughter not the Resistance to the Potential found in Nader? It certainly opposes his position, but in terms of the dramatic circuit of meaning constructed by the Author it neither amplifies nor diminishes that inequity.

This is where paradgims of scene construction that look simply at the wants and needs of characters fall short for many Authors. Butting one character's wants against the wants of another (A man wants a delicious taco, another won't let him have it) can lead to a zero charge for that scene. They effectively cancel each other out.

Dramatica, on the other hand, works with the Author to communicate his or her intention. In A Separation, the Author states that matters get worse for those involved because of this laissez-faire attitude in Iran that everything will work itself out. There's nothing wrong with Simin's attitude or their arguing—the Potential forumlated within Nader's convictions is amplified by the system. That is part of the message of purpose intended by the Author.

The Current of a dramatic circuit shows the play, or interaction, between Potential and Resistance. In A Separation that Current plays out with the back and forth arguing, the posturing and positioning between husband and wife as they try to make themselves heard.

In effect, the Author writes the conflict that arises from the Potential meeting up against the Resistance. It is possible the Author imagined this conflict first, then worked backwards to determine the Potential—the source of that inequity—and the Resistance that engendered the conflict in the first place.

And finally, the Power of the dramatic circuit displays the result or outcome of the other three—and the potential for conflict to arise in later scenes. In A Separation this Power lies in Simin's hope for a greater future for her daughter. That notion of misplaced potential that lies in her young child trapped in a country that diminishes her importance.

Rather than seeing this desire as the Potential that drives the scene, the Author decides to encode it as the eventual Outcome of all the awfulness that came before.

To summarize:

  • The Potential of a dramatic unit is where the Author sees the source of inequity. If it was removed, then there would be no reason for the scene.
  • The Resistance of a dramatic unit amplifies or diminishes the Potential. In short, what does the Author believe makes things worse?
  • The Current of a dramatic unit is the interaction between Potential and Resistance, the escalation or descalation of dramatic conflict as seen by the Author.
  • The Outcome of the dramatic unit is where the Author believes the Power of the circuit lies and where a possible potential for the next Scene arises.

There is a sense from this scene that not everything will work out the way it should. The alignment of these events within the dramatic unit and the order in which they are presented is the reason for that feeling. The PRCO and SRCA of every dramatic unit is purposeful and adds to the Author's message carried within the code of the storyform.

October 5, 2016

A complete perfectly structured scene consists of four Events. When using the Dramatica theory of story to analyze or create a scene, four modalities of Scene Construction exist:

  1. TKAD (Fixed Attitude, Situation, Activity, Mentality)
  2. PRCO (Potential, Resistance, Current, Outcome)
  3. SRCA (Setup, Revelation, Conflict, Aftermath)
  4. PASS (Passive, Active, Structural, Storytelling)

The first three modalities are applied to the four major Events of a complete Scene. Each Event gets one TKAD, one PRCO, and one SRCA. When the totality of the first three are exposed the scene feels complete both emotionally and logistically.

The last modality sets the mode by which the Author intends to illustrate the scene. In contrast to the first three, the Author does not apply a member of PASS to each of the four Events, but rather selects one to color the illustration of the first three modalities.

An Analysis of One of the Greats

In the first scene from A Separation, wife Simin wants to leave the country of Iran with her husband Nader and her daughter Termeh. Simin does not want her daughter to grow up within the current conditions of the country. The husband refuses to even consider—his father is ill and must be cared for at all times. Nader's determination to stay in Iran forces Simin to file for divorce.

This first scene is her application for that divorce.

Studying the scene we see four major Events:

  1. Simin desires a better life for her daughter.
  2. Nader refuses to consider.
  3. Husband and wife argue with the judge as they plead their side
  4. The judge refuses to decide in Simin's favor.

First we will go through the first three modalities:


Here we identify the source of conflict in each Event:

Situation: Simin and her daughter are women stuck in modern-day Iran.

Fixed Attitude: Nader's confidence that his way is the only way is the focus of his bad attitude.

Activity: Simin and Nader argue their point of view--interrupting one another.

Mentality: The judge passively aggressively scolds the parents for bringing their argument to court.

Applying TKAD colors the Event by enriching it with meaning and purpose. Instead of the judge simply refusing, he refuses through Mentality--and gentle manipulation.


Secondly, we identify the source of Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome of the dramatic unit in this scene.

Potential: Nader is absolutely dead set with his convictions. He has no doubt that his way is the way.

Resistance: The judge, overwhelmed with cases like this, prefers to take the easy way out.

Current: Husband and wife argue over what will most likely happen if the other wins.

Outcome: Simin sees great opportunity for her daughter elsewhere.

Again, the modalities enrich the Events by giving them greater dramatic impact. The judge leaving things open isn't the end, it's the juice that runs through this scene--the possibility of things working out in the future.


Thirdly, we decide the order. As the events unfold in a linear fashion (without any fancy StoryWeaving time-shifting techniques) identifying the order is as simple as jotting down the order in which the events were presented to us in the film.

Setup: Simin makes her appeal.

Revelation: Nader explains why it's a bad idea.

Conflict: Husband and wife plead their side

Aftermath: The judge refuses to decide in Simin's favor.

Pretty cut and dried. Note that SRCA does not match with the PRCO. This happens as a byproduct of dynamic choices made by the Author.


Lastly, we color these three modalities with our means of illustrating the scene. This is a Passive Structural scene. While it passes on information concerning the storyform, it does not further the story along the way an Active Structural scene would.

This means we color the above with Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre. Note that Dramatica sees Genre differently—almost as a Perspective—for the Event in consideration. The Dramatica Genre quad sees for Perspectives of narrative: Entertainment, Comedy, Drama, and Information.

The Author passes along important, yet passive, structural information through these Events:

Character through Nader's obstinate attitude.

Plot through the judge's decision not to side with Simin.

Theme: through husband and wife arguing back and forth. This is a thematic statement repeated throughout the film: Individuals more interested in arguing their side, rather than coming to a synergistic conclusion.

Genre: through Simin's situation we learn what it is like for women in Iran today and perhaps find out something we didn't know previously. We see her Situation in terms of Information.


In conclusion the four Events of this Passive Structural scene are:

  1. Simin wants out (Setup, Situation, Outcome, Genre)
  2. Nader refuses to reconsider (Revelation, Fixed Attitude, Potential, Character)
  3. Husband and wife plead their case (Conflict, Activity, Current, Theme)
  4. The judge refuses to side with Simin (Aftermath, Mentality, Resistance, Plot)

With every modality accounted for, this scene in A Separation stands out as one of the greats. Storywise, it feels emotionally complete and logistically satisfying. In a fractal sense it works like a mini-story, a small dramatic unit that works as a part of a greater whole.

October 4, 2016

Dissecting Melanie's article on How Scenes Relate to Dramatica's Story Elements further, the analogy of the dramatic circuit is refined:

Although it has "flow" a circuit is really seen as a unit, comprised of these four parts.

This is why we can start with the Outcome, like we did in yesterday's post on how The Relationship Between Acts Carries a Message and then move on to the Potential. PRCO describes the relationship between the parts of that dramatic unit.

Active, Passive, Structural, Storytelling

There is a section at the end of the article that I skipped over when I began this discussion on Scene Structure with Dramatica. I skipped it because the section felt like one of those things that fit into the category of Underdeveloped Dramatica Theory, like the Lost Theory Book—fun to think about, not at all practical. After a weekend spent contemplating the deep thematic considerations of individual scenes, I wonder this section's impact on the modalities of scenes.

The quad of items discussed in that section consists of Active, Passive, Structural, and Storytelling. Collectively they indicate the particular mode of illustration for the Events in a Scene. They indicate the teaching of the storyform.

Structural or Storytelling

Structural Scenes illustrate these four Events in terms of Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre (no direct correlation here.)

Interesting that an Event could declare itself either Character, Plot, Theme, or Genre. And the other three Events claim the remaining three. This indicates a structural scene--one that conveys the storyform itself.

Storytelling Scenes illustrate these four Events in terms of audience impact (impacting the audience’s sense of their own Situation, affecting their Attitude, involving them in a vicarious Activity, or exploring the way their minds run by illuminating the Mentality).

I suppose Storytelling Scenes are the "fun" ones. The ones that thrill or chill or make us laugh. They perhaps have little to do with the structure or storyform at all. Remove them and the meaning of the story would remain the same--it just wouldn't be as much fun.

This is compelling because, as I started to consider various scenes for examples, there were several examples that I felt weren't robust enough. Their modality as a strict Storytelling Scene is likely the answer.

Active or Passive

Last week I indicated these two were part of that last, or fourth, modality--then changed my mind. I might change it back again.

Both Structural and Storytelling Scenes can be presented in Active or Passive fashion. Passive Scenes illustrate these Events in the Story or Audience. Active Scenes put them into motion, moving the story forward or invoking changes in the nature of the audience itself.

Now, for me, this is one of those Melanie pieces I need to write out again. Break the sentences down into something more visual.

  • Passive Structural Scenes illustrate the Events in terms of Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre
  • Passive Storytelling Scenes illustrate the Events by impacting the Audience's sense of Situation, Attitude, Activity, and way of Thinking
  • Active Structural Scenes use the four Events to move the story forward through Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre
  • Active Storytelling Scenes use the four Events to invoke changes in the nature of the Audience's Situation, Attitude, Activity and Way of Thinking

Examples of Illustrating the Events

Many of the Death Star Attack scenes in Star Wars involve the Audience in a vicarious Activity. As did the Desert Chase sequence from Raiders of the Lost Arc. Passive or Active? Active Storytelling.

The opening battle between husband and wife in A Separation? Passive Structural for sure. They illustrate the storyform, but don't push the story forward as they would with an Active Structural Scene.

The scene where Inigo Montoya stands up to the six-finger man in The Princess Bride? Active Structural. Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre pushing the story forward.

The deli scene in When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan proves to Billy Crystal that women can fake anything? Passive Storytelling meant to affect the Audience's prejudiced Attitudes towards the other sex.

The Fourth Modality

After working through these items, this section is more important than I originally gave it credit. And I'm pretty sure it replaces my idea of Proactive, Reactive, Defensive, and Inactive as the fourth modality. I was thinking Active and Passive when I developed those, but ignored Structural and Storytelling as I didn't find them pertinent.

Not anymore.

This quad illustrates TKAD and determines the force of Energy behind it. If the storyform—or TKAD—delivers the Understanding to the Audience, then PASS (Passive, Active, Structural, Storytelling) teaches that storyform to an Audience. The Learning to the storyform's Understanding.

A perfect candidate for that last modality.

October 3, 2016

What if we were to shift the sequence of PRCO at the Act level? Instead of following the usual--and perhaps, predictable--pattern of 1234 (or SRCA), what if we aligned the dramatic circuit to 4132? What would that do to the story? More importantly, what would it feel like?

Take our story from before, of the professor and the nephew and their struggle against the spy agencies of the world to bring a life-changing invention into existence. Thanks to the ingenuity of both, they succeeded and saved the world.

Let's tell a different story. Same players, same potentials, same major plot events--but this time, let's alter the order of the Plot Progression in the Overall Story:

  • Signpost 1: Learning
  • Signpost 2: Understanding
  • Signpost 3: Obtaining
  • Signpost 4: Doing

Already, it feels strange to think of our story in this order. The Learning used to come at the end. Now it's at the beginning and now we conclude with Doing. What's that going to be like?

SRCA is NOT Storyweaving

Note that our markers for Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome remain the same:

  • Signpost 1: Learning is still the Outcome
  • Signpost 2: Understanding is still the Potential
  • Signpost 3: Obtaining is still the Current
  • Signpost 4: Doing is still the Resistance

As mentioned before, changing the order like this is not akin to time-shifting Storyweaving techniques found in films like Memento or Pulp Fiction. We can change the order in which the events from our first story are revealed to the Audience and the story will carry the same meaning. Changing the order of PRCO though--and thus, how the components relate to each other--will have a significant impact on the meaning of our story.

Let me show you.

The Beginning of a Different Story

An English professor screws over Chinese Nationalists by trading bogus inside information for access to secret technological hardware. The stealing of these secrets is the initial inequity. The Nationalists want revenge for being duped and the Professor wants to use the secrets to invent a device to change the world. Tracking the Professor and Gathering Information on Him and his Nephew represents the Outcome, or Power, of conflict in this story.

How is this the Outcome of the story, rather than the Potential?

Time to Discuss Time

Contrary to what many think, time is not strictly a progression of cause to effect. The idea that this happens, then that happens, and then finally that happens is a very linear way of looking at the universe. From another point-of-view, it all happens at once. What will be was, and what is will be.

Unfortunately the telling of a story is a linear process. We show one scene then move onto the next and then the next. Novels have sentences, movies have scenes. We can't deliver the storyform holistically so we approximate it by delivering the Outcome with the Setup.

When it comes to understanding PRCO and its relation to SRCA within the storyform, Authors must find a way to become comfortable with seeing space and time all at once. This is not something many are used to doing. For predominantly linear thinkers this may be even more difficult, perhaps impossible; for the more holistically inclined the response may be Well, duh, yeah...

The holistically inclined already see the Outcome of this dramatic circuit from the beginning. The relationship between other dramatic potentials and this first Signpost of Learning telegraph this final stage.1 Linear thinkers often attribute this to "intuition" as they don't understand how one could arrive at a conclusion before proceeding from beginning to end. They don't get how you can write a narrative without thinking cause and effect in every instance.

But you can.

The great things is—Dramatica offers linear thinkers a chance to see the other side.

Developing the Potential and Completing the Circuit

The Outcome of the dramatic circuit doesn't mean what happens in the end of the story, but rather the stage at which we appreciate the power of the Potential meeting Resistance. The next stage, the Revelation, is the reveal of the Potential in this circuit.

Continuing on with our story...

In an effort to help his uncle, the nephew absconds with the secrets. Unfortunately, not only does he make off with the tech, he also ends up setting it off--creating a wormhole in the universe that transports him into the heart of the NSA's new neural network for spying on the world. The confusion surrounding this event and Misunderstanding that occurs with the introduction of this bug in the system--both in the neural network and within the Chinese spy network--represents the Potential for conflict in the story. The imbalance between the forces at work that seek resolution finds genesis in this section.

How weird is that? We started with the Outcome of the circuit, and now we move back to the Potential, or genesis of the circuit. Same events, but the story feels somewhat stranger…

Outcome meets Potential and creates the Current of our story. The nephew works to get a message of warning to the professor while the Chinese and US spy agencies work to Permanently Extract the Bug from the Network (Obtaining). Agents from both sides delete each other as they work towards neutralizing the nephew.

The Current finds itself in the same position as the original story. And while the same exact things happen, by proceeding it with the Outcome and Potential of the circuit is putting the young boy on a different path.

The only thing left to cover is the Resistance of this circuit.

Completing the Circuit

Funny to consider the Resistance of our circuit at the end of our story, but one doesn't argue with Dramatica when it comes to matters of time and space.

We know the Power of dealing with these thematic considerations finds us in Gathering Information. And we know the Potential finds its genesis in Misunderstandings. And the Current finds tangible existence in Extraction and Deletion. But where is the Resistance in the circuit?

Everyone knows you can't have Power without Resistance.

Running from the Chinese Nationalists already in the network and the NSA agents who have identified an intruder is the Resistance (the Doing) to that Potential. Especially since returning to the professor would drag attention to the old man and destroy any chance of his invention coming to fruition.

And it does.

The nephew makes it out of the network and back to reality alive only to witness the professor's murder at the hands of the Chinese Nationalists. The NSA could have prevented his untimely end, but chose not too--preferring instead to avoid any conflict and make it possible for the boy to continue running for his life. And continue to engage the wormhole device. And continue to expose vulnerabilities in their system and in the Chinese spy network.

The professor's invention lies unfinished.

And the world stays the same.

The Circuit Now Complete

Same Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome. Same characters. Same "wants and needs". Same major plot points.

Different ending.

The story had to end in failure because of the order in which the storyform progressed through PRCO. That Resistance of Doing increased the Potential of Misunderstanding and Confusion. Continuing the confusion. Not resolving it. Creating that sense of dissatisfaction by ending everything in failure.

Can you feel the dramatic difference in how this story feels compared to the last? That has everything to do with Dramatica's ability to translate time and space into a singular meaning. That has everything to do with the Storyform.

That Power of Gathering Information? That was always going to be the end all of the meaning of this storyform. That's why you already know where the story will end up intuitively, even after the first Act. Your mind's ability to holistically appreciate the process of Problem solving locked in the code of a complete narrative gave you that answer even before you read the whole thing. That feeling of dread for the boy and his uncle that you felt towards the beginning of the 2nd act? That's the storyform informing you that it's not going to end well for them.

More to the Story

With stealing initiating the inequity and the Setup focusing on the last stage of the dramatic circuit, the stoyform hardwired the failure of the professor to change the world into the story's code. PRCO is Space. SRCA is Time. Combine the two and you create a holographic image of Author's intent.

The Dramatica model of story is a fractal model from top to bottom, from Act to Scene. Tomorrow we will look at how the combination of PRCO and SRCA works at the Scene level. Hint: it's the same as described in the Act level above.

  1. Yes, I wove other Story Appreciations into this example apart from the first Signpost of the Overall Story. ↩︎

October 2, 2016

Continuing our discussion yesterday regarding PRCO and Scene Construction, consider a typical Plot Progression for an Overall Story Throughline in Activity:

  • Signpost 1: Understanding
  • Signpost 2: Doing
  • Signpost 3: Obtaining
  • Signpost 4: Learning

From this we can identify the SRCA, or 1234, of the Throughline, but we can't appreciate PRCO. As a reminder the SRCA reflects the Setup, Revelation, Conflict, and Aftermath of a quad.

Let's imagine for a second that it follows the typical Z pattern through a quad.

  • Signpost 1: Understanding would be the Potential
  • Signpost 2: Doing would be the Resistance
  • Signpost 3: Obtaining would be the Current
  • Signpost 4: Learning would be the Outcome

This could play out in a story like this:

An English professor screws over Chinese Nationalists by trading bogus inside information for access to secret technological hardware. This Misunderstanding manufactured by the Professor is the inequity of the story. The imbalance between forces is the source of Potential for conflict in the story: the Nationalists want revenge for being duped and the Professor wants to use the secrets to invent a device to change the world.

This would be an extremely boring and mundane cat-and-mouse tale if it weren't for the Professor's nephew who shows up and accidentally absconds with the secrets. In fact, he not only makes off with the tech, he ends up setting it off--creating a wormhole in the universe that transports him into the heart of the NSA's new neural network for spying on the world. Running from the Chinese Nationalists already in the network and the NSA agents who have identified an intruder is the Resistance (the Doing) to that initial Potential. Especially since returning to the professor would drag attention to the old man and destroy any chance of his invention coming to fruition.

Potential meets Resistance and creates the Current of our story. The nephew works to get a message of warning to the professor while the Chinese and US spy agencies work to Permanently Extract the Bug from the Network (Obtaining). Agents from both sides delete each other as they work towards neutralizing the nephew.

The only thing left to cover is the Outcome of this circuit.

The nephew makes it out of the network and back to reality alive. Unaware of the results of his attempt to communicate to the professor, the boy races back home only to witness the professor's murder at the hands of the Chinese Nationalists. They gave the boy his access back into the real world, avoiding conflict in order to Track the Boy and Locate the Whereabouts of the Professor (Learning). But the Chinese weren't the only ones following the boy's every move. The NSA arrives and terminates the Chinese agents as well. In doing so, the Americans reveal to the boy that they helped deliver his message to the professor.

The boy beams as the professor rises to his feet revealing a bulletproof vest beneath his clothing: he knew all along what was going to happen thanks to the boy and prepared for the occasion. And what's more...the professor had time to hide away his invention from the prying eyes of the NSA.

The professor changes the world with his invention.

Order Carries Meaning

With the professor saving the world, we complete the dramatic circuit of our story. By aligning the 1234 order with PRCO we tell a certain kind of story. If we were to alter this story by changing 1234 to match say OPCR, then we would be telling a different kind of story. **The order of the progression of events through the storyform carries meaning. **

Note that this is separate from any Storyweaving techniques applied to the storyform during the Storytelling process. Films like Memento, Pulp Fiction, and Remains of the Day may play with the order in which they reveal the storyform, but they do not alter the message, or meaning, of the story. SRCA is not time-switching.

Tomorrow we will cover this difference in meaning and show how it relates back to the structure of a scene.

October 1, 2016

After this week's breakthrough in understanding Scene Construction from a Dramatica point-of-view1, questions arose concerning the application of these new Scene Modalities. In particular, the function of PRCO (Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome) and its relation to the storyform.

If every Scene of a narrative is to further the argument, then the same kind of logic we find in the upper levels of Acts and Sequences should exist way down below. The storyform is the progression and component relationship of the argument in both space and time. The Scene level, then, is the smallest resolution possible in formulating that argument--without losing sight of the top.

Acts find themselves in the Type level and are identified by the Signposts. Sequences show up in the Variation level and find homes in the various thematic Issues. Scenes reveal themselves at the Element level and work a path through semantic items typically reserved for Problems, Solutions, Symptoms, and Responses.

The same meaningful order and relationship that exists at the Type level within the Signposts (found in the Plot Progression window) and at the Variation level within the Issues (found in the Plot Sequence Report) is also found at the Scene level.

We just can't see it.

And I mean literally, not figuratively.

The Dramatica application fails to provide an accurate assessment of the order and relationship between items at the Scene level.

We can only guess.

Resolution and Meaning

At this time it also becomes necessary to point out that at this level, the order and relationship loses importance in the conveying of the meaning wrapped up in the storyform. Running a Signpost 3 before Signpost 2 has a significantly greater impact on the meaning of a storyform than misconstruing a 3rd Scene of Control for a 2nd Scene of Avoid. The first will result in a demonstrably recognizable difference in the emotional meaning of a story; the second will be attributed to a loss of signal due to noise.

Looking at a wooden table, a change in the texture of the grain will still convey to the observer a wooden table. It doesn't suddenly become a chair. Perception of meaning is a function of resolution.

Understanding PRCO

In addition to the order of Signposts found within the Plot Progression window, each Signpost receives a marker of Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome. These are the essential components of the dramatic circuit found in Dramatica. Think of them as the Problem, Symptom, Response, and Solution for every quad.

The Problem arises with the introduction of an inequity and creates the Potential for dramatic conflict.

The Symptom represents Resistance to that inequity in the form of misconstrued focus.

The Response acts as the Current to the combined application of Potential and Resistance.

And finally, the Solution functions as the Power, or Outcome, of that dramatic circuit--the result of the first three interacting with each other.

Note that the Power of a dramatic circuit does not necessarily mean equity returns. In fact, if caught in the midst of a larger argument, the retention of greater Potential in subsequent moments is the Outcome's primary function. In other words, try not to zero out the Potential for conflict with every Outcome.

Unfortunately, as with events at the Scene level the application fails to provide the identification of PRCO at the Signpost/Type level.

Theoretically, though, it is still there.

Tomorrow we will take a look at this dramatic circuit in action and provide a foundation for understanding how PRCO works within a scene.

  1. At least, it was a breakthrough for me. I'm sure Chris and Melanie, the co-creators of Dramatica, felt it covered some familiar ground. ↩︎

September 30, 2016

From time to time, bloggers give up and quit. Sadly, it seems as if the "Screenwriting Screenwriter", an occasional Dramatica blogger--and one I linked to in the past with my article Dramatica: Mad Libs or Madly Accurate--is now defunct.

I hate seeing stuff like this disappear off the grid.

So now it won't:

From May 15, 2011, at 12:33pm: Another Dramatica post because, frankly, I like it. It has transformed the way I write. It also drives me nuts, but for all the right reasons.

Case in point: I've been working on a story for, like, a year now. I'm convinced it's good. I can see the movie in my head. For whatever reason, though, I just can't write it.

So I lean on Dramatica to help me. I run it through the software's alchemical algorithms over and over. I ask the guys on the Convore discussion group for help, and they are patient with my ignorance. And then I run it through again and again. And it never works. I can get one throughline right, but the others never fit.

This is what's maddening about Dramatica sometimes. You get your main storyline worked out exactly the way you want, and Dramatica tells you "okay, so your main character's problem should have something to do with Perception vs. Actuality". And you thought your main character's problem was about flesh eating bacteria, so you want to kick Dramatica hard in the stupid face it doesn't have.

But here's the thing... somehow, magically, insanely... Dramatica is never wrong. I'm wrong. It just occurred to me this morning... the movie I've been seeing in my head has no middle. It's a bunch of characters discovering something, doing something vague for about an hour, and then wrapping things up. The Underpants Gnomes of stories.

It occurred to me that I don't even really have a clear sense of the what the story's central problem is. I was getting ready to throw Dramatica aside and start writing this thing, and I don't even know what the story's about. It would have been a horrendous waste of effort.

And that is the reason why my Dramatica experiments were not working. If I'm getting the very first question wrong--the Story Problem--how can I possibly expect it to help me with the answers that follow? I need to really stop and think about these answers, not just throw something in that sort of feels like it fits.

I'm sure a lot of people try out Dramatica briefly, get frustrated just as I have, and then discard it forever. I can almost guarantee you, it wasn't Dramatica's fault. It is not madlibs; it demands a lot of a writer to use it properly. And if it's not giving you the answers you want, you really need to stop and examine why that is. It will be worth it.

I'll stop with these posts. Jim Hull is much better at them than I am.

That's right.

The part about Dramatica that is. Dramatica is never wrong. I can guarantee too that it is never Dramatica's fault.

Welcome back, Screenwriting Screenwriter!

September 30, 2016

Going through and cleaning up many of the broken links throughout the site, I ran across this oldy, but goody from 2007: Ratatouille: Why The Film Seems Too Long. I cleaned it up and placed it in the Vault along with some of the other articles I wrote when I first started out.

Please forgive some of the grammar. I would love to go through and rewrite them, but the history of it all is keeping me from following through.

In addition, I found some comments (when this site used to have comments) that I thought would be interesting to share:

On July 10, 2007 at 9:57am Graham asked:

Could you consider the 2 year timelock regarding ownership of the restaurant to be part of a sub-plot, and not the limit of the main story? I didn’t feel any lull or sense of completion before the end of the film. Also, the opening scenes feel like they are more about limited options than limited time (there are only so many ways a rat can try to get food). I don’t remember how early in the film Skinner reveals the will’s 2 year requirement, so maybe it’s sooner than I think. But I think the main story is Remy becoming a chef (or being generally accepted as one), and that story does culminate with the critic’s review. I’d love to hear what you think, and thanks for a great site.

To which I replied (at 10:12am):

Remy’s wanting to become a chef is more of what Dramatica refers to as the Main Character Throughline. Remy’s longing to become something the world will not let him is felt most personally by us, the audience. It’s the “I” perspective on a story’s problems that Dramatica calls the Main Character Throughline.

The Objective Story (Dramatica’s fancy yet more accurate name for main story) is the one that all the Objective Characters are concerned with - the “They” perspective. From this vantage points the Objective Characters can be seen as chess pieces working together and against each other in concert with a common goal. Here it is best to think of characters in terms of their role: the rat, the garbage boy, the head chef, the assistant chefs, the food critic, the patrons, the waiters, etc. The reason being that now you are looking at the characters instead of from within them - an objective view.

From this perspective, the first storyline presented to us is that of the transfer of ownership of the restaurant. The problems in this Objective Story are resolved once Linguini is revealed as the heir to the restaurant. The second storyline begins and this one is resolved once the food critic gives the meal his seal of approval.

Again, the lull that I referred to was short lived, but I felt it was enough that it took me out of the picture and made me question where the film was headed.

Andrew Dickson then asked on Jul 11 at 11:22am:

This is an excellent analysis of a movie I really enjoyed. I saw it over the weekend and thought it was easily on par with the Invincibles[sic] and in many ways emotionally richer.

I do however agree with Graham that the two-year timelock is not actually essential to the overall story. For me the overall story goal was to restore the reputation of the restaurant and return it to its five star glory. This was damaged first by Ego who Manipulates public opinion in his review and later by Skinner in his mismanagement of the Gasteau legacy (including frozen foods). The fact that Linguini is Gasteau’s son plays into the Manipulations but is really a complication along the road.

The MC story was about Remy and his gift (Situation), and the pressures to choose between the human world (of cooking) and the rat world (of his father and brother).

The IC character is Linguini, because he’s the person through whom the human world expresses its Fixed Attitudes about cooking and rats. And he’s the one who most worried about what others think about him. But the more he tries to reinforce those attitudes through the manipulations in the OS, the worse things get until the whole edifice comes crumbling down. His confession, and the departure of the cooking staff is the key moment. The dynamic of fixed attitudes is reinforced by the character of Linguini’s girlfriend who struggles to overcome fixed attitudes as the only woman in the kitchen.

The MC/IC relationship is all about Activities in the kitchen. Remy is able to cook by physically manipulating Linguini. Up until then the relationship between rats and humans is defined by chases and violence. The uniqueness of their relationship bonds them together for most of the movie, but when Remy helps Linguini with a kiss, it’s clear that they can’t go on like that forever.

So, for me its a failure/good story. They don’t save Gusteau’s restaurant, but Remy in his own way brings harmony to the world of rats and humans, and fulfills Gusteau’s philosophy that anyone can cook. The ending is set-up by that astonishing scene where Ego bites into the “peasant dish” and his transported. After that, the world never looks the same again.

To which I responded (at 12:28pm):

Interesting. I didn’t see it that way. I do like the OS Goal of “Restoring the Reputation of Gusteau’s” though and the notion of Failure/Good. But was Gusteau’s reputation in the tank from the beginning?

Ahh, yes, it was. Ego wrote the review it dropped to 4 stars, Gusteau fell into depression and died; it dropped to three. I don’t know how I forgot about that.

Something about that moment where Linguini takes over though still doesn’t sit right with me. Now I’m not so sure why. Where do you see the Limit then?

And then after awhile I decided (at 7:12am the next day):

I’ve had some more time to think about this.

I still think there are two separate stories at work here. The first is as Andrew described above: Remy as the Main Character, Linguini as the Impact Character, and their Relationship (or Subjective Story) revolving around their problematic Activities in the kitchen.

The second, and the first one we are introduced to, has Remy as the Main Character and his father Django as the Impact Character. Their Relationship is of the classic father/son type where father knows best, yet the son yearns for more. Whether or not their relationship is a conflict of Fixed Attitudes or one of mutual Manipulation would require further investigation. The important point is that their relationship is definitely not one of conflicting Activities; this relationship and the one with Linguini are significantly different.

Therefore, because the two Subjective Stories reside in different Domains their opposing Objective Stories must also reside in separate domains. In other words - two different stories. While I think the “Restoring the Reputation of Gusteau’s” works nicely with the second story, I’m not really quite sure what the first one would be. It still feels to me like it ends when Linguini acquires the restaurant.

Another interesting observation I had, and perhaps another reason why I felt dramatica tension was resolved at that point: If Remy and Linguini’s relationship is one of Activities, their Plot Progression would consist of Understanding, Doing, Learning and Obtaining. It seems to me that these are all covered by the time Linguini is revealed as the natural heir:

Understanding - Linguini discovers Remy getting “fancy with the spices.” They come to a mutual understanding by the side of the river.

Learning - All the wonderfully entertaining moments as they try to coordinate their cooking skills.

Doing - “Let’s do this thing!” Working their magic in the kitchen.

Obtaining - They acheive success - everyone wants their soup. Remy helps Linguini keep his job and then some, when he steals the will.

A full dramatic loop has been progressed through and their relationship really has nowhere else to go - under this context. This could also contribute to my feeling that something “ended” at or around that moment that the will was made public.

Andrew replied (at 12:24pm that day):

Those are good points and now you’ve got me thinking. I also appreciate the way you fleshed out my version of the relationship storyline with some details I’d forgotten. From that perspective the entire MC/IC throughline seems to be nested in the middle of story - basically the second act (in the old three-act structure) which seems weird. It’s also interesting, because once they achieve that success, the whole thing unravels: they stop doing, they stop learning, and eventually they lose their initial understanding.

On the other hand, since the consequence of failing to meet a goal is always associated with the MC/IC throughline, perhaps having the throughline resolve itself early really just hastens us on to the third act.

I also agree with you that there is still room for a second story. And I’m still not convinced that I’m understanding the Linguini storyline correctly, so maybe there’s three storis? I previously thought of the father/son relationship as part of the MC throughline, but you may be on to something.

One of the things I struggle with in my own stories is understanding how to use secondary characters in the MC, IC, and MC/IC throughlines. I understand how the perspectives work, but how much story can you have in a throughline before it becomes a sub-plot? And what are the limits placed on the MC perspective before you’re really shifted the focus up to the Overall story?

One other thought. I wonder if a completed storyform would reveal that one of the throughlines has an episodic structure (rather than Z or hairpin) which would explain the sense of things stopping and then starting again? (The MC/IC throughline already has a natural break in the middle because it’s a hairpin, I think).

What I’m really getting from this movie is that each of the Dramatica throughlines is so crammed full of character and detail that the throughlines themselves feel like individual stories; storyforms within storyforms.

To answer the question in you’re previous post, I think the story has an option lock related to winning the approval of all the characters in the OS: the restaurant patrons, the critics, the kitchen staff, the rats, and most importantly, the health inspector. Eventually, they run out of options and the restaurant is closed.

And then on Jul 15, 2007 at 8:55pm Dramatica co-creator Chris Huntley added:

I saw the movie late last night and really loved it. Here are a couple things that popped out at me.

The story goal seemed to be restoring Gusteau’s reputation with the rat (Remie) acting as complex protagonist. Gusteau’s mantra, “Anyone can cook,” is proven true as illustrated by new restaurant “Le Ratatouille.”

It seemed to me that Remy’s MC throughline was in the Psychology (Manipulation) domain. His main concern is “playing a role:” is he a rat or a cook? Should he walk on all fours or upright? Should he play puppeteer or chef?

Conflict in the OS seems to come from Fixed Attitudes — low brow and high brow. The number of stars is connected to expectations not performance. Ego is biased against the idea of Gusteau. Skinner exploits Gusteau’s image by using it to sell fast food and therefore degrade Gusteau’s image/reputation. The restaurant crowd is snobby contrasted by the super lowbrow attitudes of the rats.

I think there is a “false” limit introduced with the two year anniversary timelock. I say false because the story doesn’t conform to the feel and structure of a timelock. But it is definitely there and chops up the story unnecessarily.

It’s also unfortunate that Skinner is so tightly tied to the timelock. Once it’s up, Skinner is demoted from antagonist to contagonist.

Ego seems to have a substory of his own. We see very little of it except his transformation. It gives a strong emotional moment for the audience but is not imtimately connected to the rest of the story.

Those are just a few of my inital thoughts. All said, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. And IT IS BEAUTIFUL.

Please note that since this article we performed an official Dramatica analysis of Ratatouille that contradicts Chris's original assessment. The Main Character Throughline is in Situation (a Rat who wants to be a chef) and the Overall Story Throughline is in Psychology/Manner of Thinking (Convincing Others that Anyone Can Cook).

On Nov. 8, 2007 at 5:28pm John Ludwick commented:

Hello, Mr. Hull. You have a remarkable way of disseminating story.

I’m considering Ratatouille as a top 5 of all time - it has simmered on its little stovetop and served up on DVD, and I still relish its scenes in the same way Anton Ego relishes the ratatouille dish.

I looked at the entire piece as an Optionlock depicting the journey of an artist. Remy is a rat - the antithesis of the kitchen standard. How will he even be able to get in a kitchen to practice his craft? When he does, he can’t do it in the open - enter Luigi. Luigi doesn’t have control, how will they continue? Briefly exit Skinner. Luigi falls for Collette - how can Remy keep Luigi focused for his own dream? I see Ego not as a different story, but as the last in a series of hurdles to Remy’s dream - the man who brought his mentor down.

That’s my take; thank you for your excellent article. I’ll definitely return to this site!


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