These are those huge chunks of narrative Aristotle uncovered way back when. He said there were only three—beginning, middle, and end—when in reality the structure of the story dictates the number of Acts in a work. Two Acts. Three Acts. Four Acts. It all depends on other dynamic factors and could be different across different
Throughlines. Thankfully, Dramatica figures it all out for us so we can concentrate on writing the story our heart tells us to write.
This is the character who works to
Preventthe Protagonist from winning. Couple this motivation with a penchant for getting people to
Reconsiderand you have the workings of a classic Antagonist. Give them the
Influence Characterrole and suddenly you have the makings of a classic
Villain(think the Joker in The Dark Knight). And no, James Bond is NOT the Antagonist no matter what someone tells you, it just doesn’t play out.
Everyone thinks Archetypes represent some sort of aspect of the Hero’s Journey. The Protagonist, the Sword-Weilder, the Doorstop, and the Gateway Guardian. They don’t. Archetypes function as analagoies to forces and drives within our own minds. The Protagonist represents our tendency towards Initiating action. The Antagonist represents Reticence within the mind. Once you see characters as parts of a
Story Mindthese other names seem silly and made-up.
Most, if not all, of Dramatica deals with story points that the Author appreciates when looking at their story. Some story points indicate how an Audience member might appreciate the story. The difference is in the point-of-view: the Author approaches from the perspective of creating meaning; the Audience from the perspective of understanding that meaning. The Audience Appreciations define that understanding based on the storyform.
Everything before the
Forestory—or what most people just call the story. This is where
Justificationsare built and
Problemsbegin. If you want to know why a character is motivated to do what they do, you’ll find the answer in here. There is nothing wrong with Backstory—in fact, you kinda need it. But you need a sophisticated way to present it without someone standing there explaining it all.
Changed Influence Character
In any awesome story, one of the principal characters will do a complete 180 on what they believe while the other principal will stand their ground. If the Main Character flips their perspective, the Influence Character will remain steadfast. If the Influence Character flips—or has their perspective Changed, then the Main Character will remain steadfast. This concept explores the latter situation wherein the Influence Character adopts the Main Character’s point-of-view.
Changed Main Character
In any awesome story, one of the principal characters will do a complete 180 on what they believe while the other principal will stand their ground. If the Main Character flips their perspective, the Influence Character will remain steadfast. If the Influence Character flips—or has their perspective Changed, then the Main Character will remain steadfast. This concept explores the former situation wherein the Main Character adopts the Influence Character’s point-of-view.
In Dramatica, Character can be found at the Element level. This is where you will find the Motivations, Methodolgies, Evaluations, and Purposes of the Story Mind. Some characters act as objectified versions of forces and influences while others act as subjective points-of-view held within the mind. Once you stop seeing them as “real” people and start seeing them as individual parts of one whole, you will start to understand how to write better characters.
This is how a character changes over the course of a story, right? Not quite. That is part of it, but Dramatica looks deeper into that change and explains in detail all the components that make up that “change”. First you have your
Resolvewhich tells whether or not they grow into their point-of-view or grow out of their point-of-view. And then you have their
Growthwhich explains if they grow by dropping an unwanted characteristic or by grabbing a new one. Combine the two together and you have what most people commonly refer to as Character Arc.
You know the characters in your story, but do you know what they are actually made up of? Who is driven by Faith. By Temptation. By Support or Pursuit or Avoid or driven to Hinder? Who is Proactive? Reactive? Inactive? Who Trusts? Tests? Tries to Prove their point or Expects the worst from others? Who seeks out how things Actually are and who would rather examine their own Perceptions or look for greater Knowledge or Chaos? Do you have any characters who share the same elements? Then you will probably want to change that, otherwise they will come across as redundant and ineffective.
You have likely heard of the Inciting Incident of a story, but have you ever considered the Closing Event? Dramatica really doesn’t even refer to the beginning and end of a story in this sort of subjective viewpoint. Instead it looks to the
Story Driversto see what forces begin the inequity of a story, and what bring them to some kind of resolution. You need to know both ends of your story in order for it all to make sense.
Want to write a story that everyone will love? Want to make sure you don’t have any story holes? Then you are going to have to learn how to write a complete story. In Dramatica this is easily done by making sure you cover all the
Four Throughlinesneeded to make a complete argument. Main Character, Influence Character, Relationship Story, and Overall Story. Cover all those bases and you will have a complete and fulfilling story.
Everyone wants a fully fleshed-out set of complex characters, don’t they? Not necessarily. Some would rather spend their time on settings and entertaining action sequences and for them, we have
Archetypal Characters. But for everyone else we have Complex Characters. Take what is the expected set of character elements that work together for a certain aspect within the Story Mind and mix them up. That’s a Complex Character.
Concernof a Throughline can often be seen as the Goal of that Throughline. In fact, if you look closely enough you will see that the
Overall Story Goaland the
Overall Story Concernare always one and the same in every storyform. This is because the Concern sits at the
Typelevel of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements, the place where you find the Signposts (or
Acts) of each Throughline. Type appreciations are the closest thing you will find to “plot” appreciations within Dramatica.
Conflict does not exist without context. One man’s problem looks like another man’s solution; it all depends on how you look at it. Dramatica is a context machine. By setting the individual Throughlines to the various Domains, an Author determines the context for conflict within each Throughline. Don’t kid yourself: if you don’t know the context, you don’t have conflict. And if you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story.
You might see this character pop up from time to time in Dramatica. An
Archetypal Charactermade up of equal parts Temptation and Hinder, the Contagonist screws things up for both the bad guys and good guys alike in a story. Dramatica coined this phrase to describe the character of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars as he clearly didn’t operate as the
You really could swap the definitions for Context with
Conflictas they both mean the same thing in the world of story. Conflict does not exist without context. One man’s problem looks like another man’s solution; it all depends on how you look at it. Setting the context determines why something is even seen as a problem in the first place.
Sounds pretty important, right? Turns out the Crucial Element isn’t as crucial to the formation of a story as you would think. It simply marks the element that exists at the intersection of the
Overall Story Throughlineand
Main Character Throughline. Crucial to the
storyform, but not crucial to implementation of that storyform. In other words, don’t freak out if you don’t get it.
This is the general area where you will find a problem for a particular Throughline. Our minds classify problems into four different areas: Situations, Fixed Attitudes, Activities, and Manners of Thinking. By lining up the
Four Throughlineswith each of these Domains, an Author sets the stage for conflict within their story.
The world’s most advanced understanding of narrative—the Dramatica theory of story rests on one simple idea: that a functioning narrative acts as a model of a single human mind trying to solve a problem. Have a story hole or an unmotivated character? That’s because your story doesn’t reflect the kind of thinking process that goes on within the human mind. Get to know Dramatica and get to know the psychology of your story.
The smallest bit of story we can see without losing sight of the bigger picture. The Element level of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements is where you will find the Problem, Solution, Symptom, and Response of a Throughline. These Elements are the closest thing you will find to “character” in Dramatica as they deal with forces directly at play within the individual players of a story.
From the Audience’s point of view, the essence of the dramatic tension within a narrative is found within the character arc of the Main Character. Sometimes that arc will have the Main Character chasing after the problems; other times those problems will be chasing after the character. The degree to which these problems feel overwhelming or surmountable determines what that tension will feel like to the Audience.
This is by far the smallest amount of resolution one can reach before looping back towards the top of the Dramatica model of story. The model is recursive, which means the bottom looks like the top and here, the Events consist of Situations, Fixed Attitudes, Activities and Manners of Thinking. In a perfectly structured story a Scene consists of four Events—one in each of these Classes. Life is full of chaos, and so should a story if it is to be embraced as expressing the a familiar experience to an Audience.
Great stories—and we mean the really great ones—share one thing in common: they cover all four Throughlines. That means they have a
Main Character Throughline, an
Influence Character Throughline, a
Relationship Story Throughlinebetween the two of them, and an
Overall Story Throughlinethat covers everyone in the story—even the Main and Influence Characters. Put all four of these in a story and you will be lightyears ahead of anyone else (Except, of course, those who already have).
Dramatica’s idea of
Genreis not your idea of Genre. No Romantic Comedies. Or Westerns. Or Dramas. Or Science Fiction Action/Adventures. No, Dramatica’s idea of Genre is more about the personality of a narrative, rather than the particulars of the storytelling. The arrangement of Throughlines will create a different kind of story depending on what
Domainthey fall into.
Introduced to the world with the release of Dramatica Story Expert, Gists make life way easier when it comes to working with the theory. Before you might have terms like Conceptualizing or Reduction or Induction to deal with in your story. Now you have Scheming to Steal the Money or Keeping One’s Backpack Light or Inferring Something about Someone. Bridging the gap between structure and storytelling, Gists bring Authors closer to their material.
Archetypal Characterthat represents the drive for Prudence within the Story Mind. One part Conscience and one part Help, this character often acts as a counsel to the
Protagonistof a story.
Probably the worst concept ever to hit the world of narrative, the idea of the Hero wrecks any meaningful discussion of story. Tied to his equally lame “Hero’s Journey”, this character is supposed to be the most important. But that is an entirely subjective determination. Dramatica’s interpretation of a Hero is simple: the character who represents the personal point-of-view of the Main Character and serves the Protagonist function in the Overall Story. You don’t have to make them both the same character. But when you do, a Hero is born.
The Hero's Journey
5,892 steps for the Hero’s Journey? Really?? How can anyone in their right mind think that is anywhere near helpful for Authors. It might be interesting from a cultural standpoint, but to suggest that it helps Authors craft meaningful stories is misleading. The Hero’s Journey suggests that every great story is about a Hero who loses his state of perfection, moves to the city to get a sword, and returns home with the elixir. It is a weak attempt to attach story-like symbology to the problem-solving process of the mind that is really at work within a story. The Hero’s Journey, like the cultures it reflects, is a thing of the past.
Another nightmare concept of narrative that should go the way of the Dodo, the Inciting Incident is supposed to indicate the start of a story. The tens upon thousands of subjective interpretations of where that start lies require true narratists to ban the concept from their vocabulary. Better to understand Dramatica’s concept of the
Story Driverand how that works in concert with the inequity that exists at the center of every story.
Anytime we sense a difference between us and something else, we are sensing an inequity. Super smart philosophy majors might call this gestalt, but as far as Dramatica is concerned an inequity—or imbalance seen between two things—is the fuel for narrative conflict. Once identified, our minds have to either work to solve that inequity or find an opportunity to balance it away in a process known as
The Influence Character’s only purpose in a narrative is to challenge the Main Character to resconsider his or her justifications. This influence can be on purpose or it can be accidental—regarldess, it is the perspective that matters, not the character. Because of this, the Influence Character role can be handed off to a bunch of different people (the Ghosts in A Christmas Carol, the Joker, Robin, Alfred and Barbara Gordon in The LEGO Batman Movie).
Influence Character Critical Flaw
While the Influence Character applies considerable pressure on the Main Character to change his or her approach to solving problems, there is one special quality that undermines this influence. The Influence Character’s Critical Flaw is the kind of thing that, when applied, weakens the impact and makes it easier for the Main Character to avoid their personal problems.
Influence Character Resolve
In order for a story to work, the Influence Character’s Resolve must be the inverse of the Main Character’s Resolve. If the Main Character’s Resolve is
Changedthen the Influence Character’s Resolve is
Steadfast. If the MC Resolve is
Steadfastthen the IC Resolve is
Changed. You cannot write a story where both paradigms shift and hope to have it mean anything. The Audience keys in on this dynamic to make sense of the story you told them.
Influence Character Signpost
Every Main Character sulks around in the shadows of their own psychology. It is only once the Influence Character arrives and starts poking around at their psyche, that the Main Character finally feels enough motivation to grow and develop into something new. These pokes find themselves labeled the
Influence Character Signpostswithin the Dramatica theory of story. They work act-by-act to push or pull the Main Character into moving into their next stage of development.
Influence Character Symptom
Direct or indirect, the Influence Character’s focus on their
Symptomcreates a stirring within the Main Character. That stirring is often enough to help motivate the Main Character to re-examine his or her own preconceptions and perhaps grow in their resolve or eventually grow out of their resolve.
Influence Character Throughline
The Influence Character Throughline is that part of a story that expresses the point-of-view needed to force the Main Character to deal with all their stuff. Separated into four acts (like every other Throughline), the IC Throughline won’t stop until the MC sits face-to-face with their own personal blind spot.
Influence Character Unique Ability
This story point represents the Influence Character’s unique ability to force the Main Character to change his or her paradigm. In much the same way that the
Main Character Unique Abilityreflects the quality that allows him or her to effect a resolution in the
Overall Story Throughline, the Influence Character Unique Ability reflects the quality that allows the IC to effect a resolution in the Main Character’s Throughline. The Unique Abilities tie the individual Throughlines to one another; the IC Unique Ability ties the Influence Character to the Main Character.
Closest to Theme in the Dramatica Table of Story Elements, the Issue acts a touchpoint for conflict within a particular Throughline. Situated between the Plot-like Concern appreciation and the Character-like Problem appreciation, the Issue works in tandem with the Counterpoint to offer Author’s commentary on the efforts to resolve the Throughline’s inequity. To be honest though, the Issue is simply another way to say “problem” in Dramatica.
Justification is Dramatica’s sophisticated way of explaining how characters manage to hide problems away deep inside their psyche. Rather than
Problem-Solve, a character who justifies buries the inequity deep within the recesses of their mind…only to have it resurface through the prodding and poking of an
The most important part of a complete and effective narrative, the
Main Charactergives the Audience a way into the story. Leave this perspective out and you will find yourself faced with a cold and lifeless narrative. Embue them with personal baggage that they would take into any story and the Audience will latch onto them.
Main Character Approach
Main Characters have a preference for either trying to solve problems by changing the world around them, or by changing themselves first. If they try to change the world, Dramatica sees them as a
Do-er. If they prefer to change themselves first, then we label them a
Be-er. Cool fun fact: whatever Approach you choose for the Main Character, the Influence Character will have the opposite one. Boom!
Main Character Concern
Main Character Concerncan sometimes act as an indicator of the Main Character’s personal Goal—but it doesn’t have to be. Because we find the
Concernon the Type level along with all the other Plot elements, it can sometimes feel like it is a Goal. Really, Concern is just a bigger way of saying
Main Character Growth
Two parts to a Main Character’s arc: the
MC Resolveand the
MC Growth. This is the second part, the part that has more to do with the process of arcing from where they are at the beginning of a story to where they are at the end. Main Characters will grow by either dropping an element or gaining a new one. If they drop, they are a
Stopcharacter; if they gain, then they are a
Main Character Problem
Every character is driven by something. That something is an inequity—a separateness between things—and is inidicated in the narrative by this story point. If the Main Character ends up changing their
Resolveand adopting the Influence Character’s paradigm then the
Problemwill be the thing they move towards. If instead they stay true to their paradigm and steadfast in their
Resolve, then this
Problemwill actually seem more like source of drive and will be an exceelent way to describe the
Main Character Problem-Solving Style
Not enough that we have to determine whether or not the Main Character prefers to solve problems externally or internally through the
Main Character Approach, we also have to figure out whether or not the Main Character solves problems linearly like most men, or holistically like most women. Usually this is as simple as selecting the one that most resembles how you yourself solve problems, but you can switch it up to make things more interesting. Setting this does all kinds of things in terms of determining the Act order of different Throughlines.
Main Character Resolve
Every Main Character comes to a story with some kind of baggage, some kind of personal problem that gives them grief. Encountering the
Influence Characterthey grow to a point where they have to decide if they were always on the right path and the Influence Character is wrong—or if the IC is right and they need to change their approach. If they decide the latter and shift their paradigm, then their Resolve is said to be
Changed. If instead they maintain their paradigm, then their Resolve is said to be
Main Character Response
This story point works hand-in-hand with the
Main Character Symptom. Whatever the MC thinks their problem is, their Response is what they try and do about it. It is like treating the symptoms of a disease rather than attacking the disease directly—only this disease exists in the mind of the Main Character.
Main Character Solution
This story point demotivates the Main Character by resolving his or her
Main Character Problem. Usually only encountered towards the end of a Changed Main Character’s journey, the Solution can show up from time-to-time in a Steadfast Main Character’s journey. When this happens it only temporarily lessens the motivation or drive of the Main Character. Eventually the Problem kicks back in and motivation resumes.
Main Character Symptom
All Main Characters have a
Problem. This Problem motivates them and drives them to do all kinds of different things that create problems for themselves. But they don’t do anything about this Problem, because they don’t see it—they are too busy focusing their attention on the
Symptomof the problem instead. It is only towards the end of a narrative that they can finally see the difference between the two. At that point they will make the decision to continue treating the symptoms, or attack the problem directly.
Main Character Throughline
The Main Character is that part of a story that reveals an intimate personal look at problem-solving. Covering the personal baggage that exists within the Main Character and the Main Character alone, this Throughline gives an Audience the opportunity to experience act-by-act, the process by which one goes about resolving their personal differences.
Main Character Unique Ability
This story point reflects that unique quality of character that makes it possible for the Main Character to resolve any of the issues within the
Overall Story Throughline. Whether an intergral part or attributed to, this Unique Ability ties the Main Charater into the Overall Story and answers the question why he or she needs to be in the story at all.
This is what the
Main Character Problem-Solving Styleused to be called back when Dramatica was first discovered. A
Holistic. The story point still functions the same—it sets the order of Signposts and other niceties—but it comes in a more easily digestable package now.
This is a fancy way of saying how characters do the things they do. One of the four parts of a full developed character (along with
Purposes), the Methodology elements of the Overall Story Characters cover things like Proaction, Reaction, Acceptance and Non-Acceptance.
Why, oh why won’t this go away? Once you understand Dramatica and its concept of the Story Mind, you see the Monomyth and its cousin The Hero’s Journey as a failed attempt to codify the problem-solving process of the human mind. They attach words like Swords and Elixirs and Gateway Guardians because that is what they have seen repeated time and time again in stories. Understanding why they keep reappearing in different cultures requires looking to psychology and Dramatica.
The easiest and first thing anyone learns when they first arrive at Dramatica, the Motivations of the Overall Story Characters indicate what drives them to do the things they do. Motivations like Pursuit and Avoid and Conscience and Temptation tell an Audience what they can expect from that character. The Motivations work in concert with three other aspects of character—
Purposesto help round out the characters in a story.
The nature of a story is either a
Dilemma. On top of this you apply either
Apparentto create a quad of options for this Story Point. Either the characters were right to participate in the Work or the Dilemma, or they were wrong and it only seemed like a Work or a Dilemma. The latter is Apparent, the former Actual. This Story Point is a part of Dramatica’s four
Audience Appreciationsand is a combination of the
Main Character Resolveand the
Who wants to write an objective character? Characters are fun and lively and emotive and interesting—why stifle them with objectivity? The answer is: characters function as parts of a larger whole, as a part of the
Story Mind. Sure, you have
Subjective Charactersin the Main and Influence Character, but the objective
Overall Story Throughlinedemands objecctive characters. Here, characters are seen less as people, and more as functions within the narrative.
Overall Story Concern
Overall Story Problemkicks in and the story begins, the characters in the story will start to become concerned with the
Overall Story Concern. Every Throughline exists to offer an opportunity for an Audience to see the
Problemof that Throughline in varying degrees of magnification. The
Overall Story Concernis a very broad take on the story’s
Problemand the conflict that arises from it. This Concern will receive so much attention that the
Overall Story Goalwill be of the same
Overall Story Concern.
Overall Story Consequence
You cannot have a
Story Goalwithout a
Story Consequence; one does not exist without the other. Sometimes referred to as the “stakes” of a story, the Consequence motivates the drive towards a successful resolution in the
Overall Story ThroughlineIf you are looking to increase the conflict in your story, the Story Consequence is the first place to look.
Overall Story Goal
This is the Goal everyone is focused on. Some are for it. Some are against it. Once the initial
Story Drivercreates the story’s central inequity and
Overall Story Problem, the
Overall Story Solutionbecomes apparent. The
Story Goalis an attempt to reach that Solution.
Overall Story Issue
Overall Story Throughlineexplores the efforts to resolve the story’s problem at varying degrees of magnification. At the
Themelevel of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements, the Problem appears as a thematic
Issuethat measures the relative value of the efforts to resolve that very same Problem. Every Issue comes complete with a matching
Counterpointin order to measure both sides of the argument.
Overall Story Prerequisites
Impossible to type quickly, the Prerequisites of the
Overall Story Prerequisitesrefer to the steps that lead up to the
Overall Story Requirements. Think of them as the Inception of Overall Story Points: the same way the Overall Story Requirements lead up to the Overall Story Goal, the Overall Story Prerequisites lead up to the Overall Story Requirements. Thankfully, that’s as far down the story structure rabbit hole Dramatica goes.
Overall Story Problem
This is it. The whole reason why all the characters in a story come into conflict with another. The
Overall Story Problembegins with the initial
Story Driverand continues until someone resolves it with the
Overall Story Solution. Discover this Problem and your story will never falter for a lack of drive. Overall Story points are boring to describe because they’re objective and devoid of emotion. That’s a good thing—no place for feelings in objectivity.
Overall Story Requirements
If characters could just skip to the end and resolve the
Overall Story Goalthey would. Unfortunately, Authors like to make it super difficult for them to accomplish their objective, so instead they have to work their way through the
Overall Story Requirements. This story point defines the kind of things needed to make it possible to actually resolve the
Overall Story Goal. If you’re looking to develop that Second Act, the
Requirementswill see you through.
Overall Story Solution
Protagonistworks for the
Overall Story Solutionin an effort to resolve the problems created by the
Overall Story Problem. Once in place, the story can end with a
Success. Fail to reach it, and the story ends with a
Failure. Overall Story points are lifeless and logical—as they should be. They showcase the objective elements of a narrative. Feeling has no place in objectivity.
Overall Story Throughline
When you step outside of a story and look at all the characters as “Them”, you are looking at the
Overall Story Throughline. From here the characters look more like functions rather than actual people.
Skeptic. Their roles within the story take center stage from this perspective. When you think of a story, you’re thinking of the
Overall Story Throughline.
The fourth modality in the quad of delivering Scene Events is PASS: Passive, Actual, Structural, and Storytelling. Like
SRCA, PASS marks the individual Events of a scene, giving that smallest unit of narrative a feeling of completeness and purpose. Think of this quad as the method by which the Author may “pass” on the meaning coded within the storyform to an Audience.
The good guys lose and the
Main Charactergoes home happy. That is the basic definition of a
Personal Tragedystory. Mix a
Goodand you get this bittersweet ending that falls more towards the sweeter side of things.
You know that feeling when you finally succeed at something, but you still feel miserable about yourself? That’s a
Personal Triumphstory. The good guys win, but the
Main Charactergoes home sad and angst-ridden. Mix a
Badand you get this bittersweet ending that falls more towards the bitter side of things.
Is there a difference between
Plot-oriented stories and
Character-driven stories? No, that’s a silly idea. Both Plot and Character work together in unison to help support and develop the story’s central argument. Plot Dynamics like the
Story Driver, the
Story Limit, the
Story Outcome, and the
Story Judgmenthelp set the stage for the events to come.
Plot Pointin Dramatica is essentially one of the
Story Driversthat helps turn the story from one
Actto the next. You need one to start the story and one to end the story. One to break it up in the middle and one in each of the halves to break the story down into four movements, four
Acts. You can have more, but you need to have at least these five to define the edges of the story for your Audience.
How does a Throughline develop from one
Actto the next? By progression through the four
Signpoststhat define the context of the conflict of that Throughline. Once a story explores all four Signposts, the Audience will know the location of the story problem and how best to solve it.
Dramatica features a crazy advanced report that actually shows an Author what the structure of the story looks like to the characters. That is insane. It is one thing to present an objective view of story dynamics and how they all work together, but then to also show what the narrative looks like subjectively is almost too much to handle. Stay away from this report unless you want to cheat.
The dramatic circuit of narrative consists of four components: Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome (or Power). Outcome sits in for Power to avoid doubling up the use of ‘P’ in the anachronym. While not a strict translation of an electric circuit, the analogy exists as a means of communicating the spatial relationship between these components. Combine them together and you create a unit of narrative.
Each Throughline exists to provide an Audience an alternative way of looking at the story’s central problem. While this problem can be seen at varying degrees of magnification, the absolute smallest finest resolution at which we can determine this problem is the
Problemof that Throughline. Every
Problemfeatures its own
Solutionand a key towards the efforts of the characters in that story to resolve that problem.
Problem-Solving is what we do when we aren’t involved in
Justification—that is, when we’re trying to actually resolve the differences in our lives, rather than trying to hide from them. Interesting fun fact: a linear-thinker’s approach to problem-solving is seen as justification from a holistic-thinker’s point-of-view and vice versa. If that doesn’t make sense, substitute “man” for linear and “woman” for holistic and you’ll see why we can so easily see into each other’s blind spots.
When Dramatica first came out,
Problem-Solving Stylewas called
Mental Sex—the idea being that men and women solved problems differently. Males approach problems from a
Linearpoint-of-view, while females approach things from a
Holisticperspective. Since then, the theory adjusted the Story Point to the less controversial
Problem-Solving Stylewhile maintaining the core concept of the idea. Setting this Story Point dictates the order of
Signpostswithin a Throughline.
Want to manipulate your Audience into thinking a certain way? Leave out key portions of the narrative argument—the Audience can’t help but fill in the blanks—often times, without them even realizing they’re doing it. What exactly did Louise do in Thelma and Louise? What happened to Chiron those years in-between in Moonlight? Propaganda used smartly draws the Audience in and makes them a part of the storytelling process. Do it overtly and you risk alienating a signficant portion of your Audience (Dunkirk and Okja).
No, this isn’t who the story is about. It’s also not the person we care the most about. And it certainly isn’t interchangeable with
Hero. In Dramatica the
Protagonistis very clearly defined: that objective character that both Pursues and Considers the
Story Goal. Now, sometimes this character can also be the Main Character (in which case he or she is considered a
Hero), but it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Everything in Dramatica is based on the quad. Work long enough with the theory and you will begin to notice that everything is broken down into 4s. Four
Signposts, four Character Dynamics, four Plot Dynamics, four
Domains, and so on and so fourth (!). This is because this is how our minds differentiate the external and internal worlds. Know the quad and you will know Dramatica.
Believe it or not, the structure of your story determines who will be sitting in the Audience. Guys can’t stand it when Main Characters think holistically. Girls can’t stand it when a story has a deadline or some kind of time limit. Sure, there are exceptions to everything, but for the most part stories that feature a Main Character who solves problems linearly and limit that problem-solving to a set number of options gather the greatest Audience. The smallest audience? Try pairing a holistic problem-solver with a time limit. No bueno.
Relationship Story Issue
Elsewhere you will read that this Story Point represents the philosophical argument between Main and Influence Character. Wrong. The
Relationship Story Issueof a story is less concerned with an argument between the
Influence Characterand more concerned with the issue that exists in the relationship between these two. If their Issue is Commitment, it doesn’t mean they will be arguing about Commitment; it means their relationship will have Commitment issues.
Relationship Story Problem
Less the source of a problem between them and more a motivator towards engaging in the relationship, the
Relationship Story Problembrings Main and Influence Character together. Whether or growing or dissolving relationship, this
Problemcontinues to motivate interaction until the story ends or until their relationship resolves with the
Relationship Story Solution.
Relationship Story Throughline
The heart of every story. Without this Throughline, a story feels emotionless and concerned more with satisfaction than any real fulfillment. Covering the relationship between the
Main Characterand the
Influence Character, the
Relationship Story Throughlineis where true emotion happens and where we as an Audience can visit the conflict and attempts to resolve that conflict that exist in the space between us. Once erroneously referred to as the “Main vs. Impact” Throughline, this part of the story is all about the conflict that arises in our relationships with others.
Throughlinethere is a
Problemthat motivates everything. However, the
Problemis obscured because the attention is focused on the
Symptomof that Problem, not the Problem itself. In an effort to alleviate perceived conflict arising from the
These are the smallest chunks of narrative people usually think of when writing a story. Technically, a smaller resolution exists—the
Eventswithin a scene—but for most writers, the Scene is enough. In a theoretically perfect structure, four Scenes exist within a Sequence. But the world is not perfect, and neither should a story. Understanding the purpose behind a Scene within the greater argument makes it easier to decide which Scenes to leave in, and which ones to blend into others.
Apparently, this is how students at the University of Southern California were taught screenwriting. You break up a story into Eight Sequences because, you know, reels were only ten minutes long—so why not base the sequencing of an entire narrative on something arbitrary like the size of a film reel? Subjective points-of-view by definition lack accuracy, yet clue Authors in on the experience of running through a narrative. Take this bit of story structure with plenty grains of salt.
Structure is structure regardless of medium, and regardless of size. A short story functions the same way as a “tall” story, only there isn’t enough time to explore everything. Take any quad in the Dramatica Table of Story Elements and you have yourself a story. Audiences want to see the entirety of a quad explored.
Throughline, four Acts per storyline. Acts, or
Signpostsas Dramatica calls them, exist to offer an Audience that chance to see how conflict could possible be resolved within different contexts. Each
Throughlinebreaks down into four different ways to resolve the problems in that storyline. Once all four ways have been explored, the story is over, and the Audience can determine what it was the story was trying to say.
The Debbie-downer of the group, the
Skepticrepresents both the motivation to Oppose everything and to proclaim Disbelief towards any action taken towards the contrary. An
Archetypal Characterfound often in films that play down the importance of characters, the
Skepticis always there to chime in with “Game over, man!”
Throughlinethere exists a
Solutionresolves that problem and restores equity. Unfortunately, there is a certain amount of unawareness to the ‘Problem’ in each Throughline as well. Instead, attention focuses on the
Symptomof that Problem, and the
Responsetaken to alleviate those symptoms. Eventually both
Symptomare seen for what they really are and a choice is made to continue engaging in the
Responseor try something new with the
Solution. Regardless of the choice made, only the
SRCA stands for Setup, Revelation, Conflict, and Aftermath. The numbers 1234 can be substituted for SRCA as they both reflect the order in which a dramatic circuit is revealed to an Audience. Note that SRCA is NOT a Storyweaving time-shifting technique found in films like Memento or Pulp Fiction. The order is determined by the
storyformand carries with it a unique signature that helps define the story’s dynamics.
When you hear that a character “arcs”, the growth of that character’s development is either away from something, or towards something. Believe it or not, those are two very different ways of telling a story. If the character is growing towards something, then their
Main Character Growthis
Steadfast Influence Character
In any awesome story, one of the principal characters will stand their ground and stay true to their belief system while the other principal will do a complete 180. If the
Main Characterstands their ground, the
Influence Characterwill flip their perspective. If the Influence Character stands their ground, then the Main Character flips—or has their perspective Changed by the Influence Character. This concept explores the latter situation wherein the Main Charcter adopts the Influence Character’s point-of-view.
Steadfast Main Character
In any awesome story, one of the principal characters will stand their ground and stay true to their belief system while the other principal will do a complete 180. If the
Main Characterstands their ground, the
Influence Characterwill flip their perspective. If the Influence Character stands their ground, then the Main Character flips—or has their perspective Changed by the Influence Character. This concept explores the former situation wherein the Influence Character adopts the Main Character’s point-of-view.
When you hear that a character “arcs”, the growth of that character’s development is either away from something, or towards something. Believe it or not, those are two very different ways of telling a story. If the character is growing away from something, then their
Main Character Growthis Stop.
What starts, stops, and moves a story forward—this is the realm of the
Story Driver. Do Actions drive Decisions or do Decisions drive Actions? The answer is yes. And like the conundrum of the chicken and the egg and which one comes first, an author dealing with narrative has to determine which came first. Cool pro tip: all your major plot point will be of the same type—either all Actions or all Decisions.
The Audience wants to know the emotional state of the Main Character at the end of the story. Were the events of the narrative worth it, or are they still troubled and angst-ridden about their personal baggage? Theoretically speaking this story point reflects the emotional state of the narrative as a whole—meaning, does the Author feel like the efforts to solve the problem were a
Goodthing or a
You know those films, novels, and plays that seem to go on and on and on with no end in sight? That’s because they don’t have in place a strong and consistent
Story Limit. Set up whether the story is limited by
Timein the very first Act, remind us in the subsequent Acts, and have the final Option or Second tick away in the last Act. That is how the Audience will know a story is over. Oh. Break the
Story Limitby changing it or disrespecting it and the Audience will not forgive you.
Usually this is as simple as asking, Do the good guys win or lose? But sometimes you can run into narratives where the “bad guys” actually function as the
Protagonist, in which case a
SuccessOutcome would feature the bad guys winning. Confusing? Here’s an easier way. Did the efforts to reach the
Story Goalend in
Failure? Answer that and you will know the
Both Author and Audience share a common ground—a thin veil of communication wherein they can see through to each other’s respective point-of-view. These points of commonality are referred to as
Story Pointsand can be found delineated within Dramatica’s concept of the
storyform. The clearer your Story Points the more your message will get through to the other side.
Four stages in the transmission of message from Author to Audience: Storyforming, StoryEncoding, StoryWeaving, and Story Reception. The Author maintains control over the first three, but abdicates the last. The quality of the theater and its sound system, the mood of the Audience, and the general level of distractions and interruptions can limit or weaken the Reception of the Author’s intended message. Best not worry about something you have no control over.
This is the second stage of the process whereby an Author tries to communicate something of import to an Audience. The first stage is
Storyformingwhere the Author chooses individual Story Points to carry the message out into the world. In this second stage, the Author crafts the Story Points into points unique and personal to his or her own message. In this way, no two stories can be the same even if they maintain the same
storyformat the base.
The storyform is a collection of 75 story points that form a holistic image of a story’s intended meaning. What does that mean in plain English? The storyform is a bunch of story points that make up the structure of your story. We say holistic because they all work together—they’re not independent. The current version of Dramatica sees at least 32,767 unique storyforms. There are more, but they require further development and it’s hard enough teaching everyone the current model.
Storyforming? Is that anything like terraforming? I guess so—if building a story was like building a planet. The Storyforming stage is where an author begins to predict how their story will turn out and what kind of effect it might have on their intended audience. In short, it’s where the Author structures their story. There are three more subsequent phases—Storytelling, Storyweaving, and Story Reception.
Storymindconcept rests at the heart of everything that is Dramatica. In short, Dramatica sees every story as a model of a single human mind trying to solve a problem—and any deviation from this model results in story holes or inconsistent and schizophrenic stories. This is one of the givens for the Dramatica theory—if you can’t buy into this concept then everything that follows is not worth your time.
Less about how to tell a story and more about how a story is told,
Storytellingin Dramatica is everything that is unique and special to the Author’s creative muse. It is where an Author brings life to lifeless terms like
Preconditionsand where the story takes on a life of its own.
Throughlinefinds its conflict motivated by a
Problem. The only reason this
Problemcontinues to wreck havoc is because the attention of those in the Throughline is focused on the
Symptomsof the problem, not the
Problemitself. In essence, the Throughline is blind to the
Problembecause of this focus on the
Nothing wrong with a tale. Especially if you don’t care about Audience members remembering your tale 48 hours later or you don’t mind them not recommending your work to anyone else. Tales are great in the moment, but are soon forgotten as they don’t add up to anything more than what they are. A
Complete Storyoffers so much more than a
Tale, and Audiences nowadays are wise to them.
Remember the ridiculous notion that a “Hero” must always “Refuse the Call”? Talk about reductive. Some Main Characters exhibit a willingness to participate in solving the story’s big problem, while others would just rather do something else. This story point matches the Main Character’s Approach against the Story Driver to determine their tendency to shift the Overall Story from one Act to the next.
Want to know something cool about
Theme? Get this, if a great story is really just an analogy to a single human mind trying to solve a problem, then
Themeis really just the evaluations of that single human mind at work. Awesome, right?
Themeis no longer this big imposing intimidating thing—just another aspect of the mind along with
Thought, Knowledge, Ability, and Desire function as the base for everything in Dramatica. And when we say everything, we mean everything. From top to bottom, left to right, and everywhere in-between take a quad of four items within the Dramatica Table of Story Elements and you will find equivalents to Thought, Knowledge, Ability, and Desire. Think of these as the building blocks of the storymind. Because they are.
Want to make everyone in the Audience miserable? Write a
Tragedy. The good guys lose and the Main Characters goes home sad (assuming he or she actually survives). Put a
Failurealongside the equally depressing
Badand you have yourself a
Tragedy. Worked for Shakespeare more than once; might work for you.
Everyone loves a happy ending, right? Put a
Successalongside the equally chipper
Goodand you have yourself the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Of course, if everyone is making
Triumphswho is serving the remaining 75% of storytelling?
Ugh. Who really wastes their time thinking of who the
Villainis in their story? Better to leave that kind of subjective interpretation to the Audience and concentrate on writing a great story. Dramatica’s interpretation of a Villain is simple: the character who represents the alternative point-of-view to the Main Character (the
Influence Character) and serves the
Antagonistfunction in the
Overall Story Throughline. You don’t have to make them both the same character. But when you do, you have a
You and I
“You and I are both alike.” “NO! We’re nothing alike!” This cliched bit of dialogue owes itself to the relationship between the Main Character and Infuence Character Throughline perspectives. In one context, they are alike—while in another, they are completely different. The answer to their similarities and differences lies in a greater understanding of Dramatica’s Table of Story Elements. For now, it’s enough to know that when you hear this line, it’s a pretty good bet you’re witnessing an exchange between these two principal perspectives of a narrative.