Narrative theory and storytelling with AI

Modeling Alternate Realities in Narrative Applications

The relationship between the Failure and Consequence of a complete story

One of the most confounding aspects of the Dramatica theory of story is the relationship between the Consequence of a story and the Concern of the Relationship Story Throughline.

Using Artificial Intelligence as a Co-writer, Not a Parlor Trick

Developing a new way to develop meaningful stories

GPT-3 is incredible. The "Gee-whiz" factor is undeniable. And while initial results are nothing short of pure magic, the majority of work being done in this space treats the tech as a replacement, rather than a collaborator.

Traversing the Storybeats of a Complete Story

What it means to transition through a narrative

Subtxt generates an impressive blueprint of the meaning of a narrative. Based on the Dramatica theory of story, the 336 Storybeats present in each Storyform help transmit the intended message, or Premise, of a work to the Audience.

On Being a Story Consultant

Appreciating the often misunderstood

Recently, a student at Falmouth University in Cornwall (studying for a Master's Degree in Screenwriting and Storytelling), asked me a couple of questions about what I do as a story consultant. While many have a complete misunderstanding of what the work entails, my role as consultant really boils down to a single concept: collaboration without the ego.

Gaining Objectivity While Writing a Story

Stepping outside of yourself to appreciate what you have written

The easiest thing for writers to do is to jump inside their characters' heads and illustrate how the story's world looks from the inside. The hardest thing is to separate themselves from that experience and look back to see what it all means.

Writing Your First Act with Confidence

What it looks like to know the subtext of every scene

These past couple of months found us helping Authors write their stories with a confidence unheard of prior to the advent of our application, Subtxt. Compiled into a package we call Your First Act, this rapid session of brainstorming meetings leave the writer with an extensive and detailed outline for every scene within that key first section of any story. The feedback is sensational and the process helped us refine many of the tools and features of Subtxt.

Discovering The Origins of Narrative Structure

The Dramatica theory of story, twenty years before its time

Check this out.

Writing a Scene with Subtxt

Defining the elements at play beneath the surface

Meaningful story structure accounts for the storyteller. If our understanding of psychology is correct and we see who we are, then a productive model of organized thought (structure) must consider the observer. Subtxt's latest approach to organizing narrative adheres to this line of thinking.

How to Classify the Atomic Elements of Story Structure

Writing narrative events with intention and meaning

Effective story structure is more than an outline of what happens. For the order to mean something beyond the superficial, it must communicate something intrinsic to both the order and relationship between individual Storybeats. Knowing the elemental nature of events grants the purposeful writer a unique ability unheard of in other explorations of narrative structure.

The Holistic View of Time

Taking into account specific mindsets when organizing story structure

The Dramatica theory of story accounts for both Male and Holistic Mindsets. Recognizing the impact the observer plays on the observed, the original concept of Mental Sex (Mindset in Subtxt) sought to replicate the alternate "operating systems" present within humanity. Some trend more towards reason, others manage relationships and balance. And while both are available to all, one dictates the kind of stories we tell ourselves.

Understanding the Purpose of Backstory

Avoiding the crutch of avoiding conflict

After twenty years in the animation industry and five more helping writers 1-on-1 develop their stories, one thing is clear—writers will do anything to avoid writing real conflict.

The Obstacle Character is Not a Character

De-personalizing the personal in order to achieve balance

Too many writers new to Dramatica and Subtxt write the Obstacle Character Throughline as if the Main Character in their story. Part of this misunderstanding lies in how Subtxt used to present Storybeats; the other is the tendency for writers to look at the structure from the point-of-view of the characters.

The Confirmation Bias of Pattern Matching

A concept-first approach to understanding narrative structure

Many paradigms of story structure look at stories and identify common patterns. The Dramatica theory of story runs against the grain by looking to the psychological concept first and then looking to published works for confirmation. The resultant differential in each suggests a superiority of the latter over the former: Pattern-matching finds the same story over and over again; psychology-first sees different stories told within the same framework--the framework of the mind.

Intuition: Trusting The Intelligence Within

Allowing inference to open oneself up to potential

A recent discussion in the Discuss Dramatica forums illuminates the unfortunate consequence of a deductive mindset. Calling into question one of Narrative First's milestone articles, Writing Complete Stories, the conversation devolves into a whirlpool of reductive--and ultimately non-productive--proof of the meaning of meaning. Complete stories are equal parts logic and intuition; one must possess a command of both to see the totality of narrative structure.

The Problem with Scientific Analysis and Narrative Theory

A theoretical model of psychology for the best of the best

As a theory of story, Dramatica tends to attract scientists and mathematicians. With its claims of connections to General Relativity and its discovery of "Quad"-ronometry, many find themselves compelled to strike down any claims of viability. Their bias proves to be their undoing: blinded by the God of Deduction they drown in endless proofs, desparately clinging to whatever certainty they can find on the way down.

The Mathematical Balance Between Logic and Emotion

A scientific theory of the mind must account for both

The quest for perfect story structure often leads one to lean heavily upon scientific method. Deduction and definitions set stable ground for those uneasy beneath the umbrella of their own subjectivity. I need to see it in order to believe it is the kind of mindset that holds many back from truly understanding that we are as much a part of what is out there as what is out there.

Finding the Source of Conflict in Your Story

Reconciling your efforts with purpose and direction

The most challenging thing about writing a story is making choices. You can't write everything in your head and hope it all works out in the end. Our minds are notoriously bad storytellers; the feature that makes it possible for us to thrive and survive (shifting contexts) is the bug in the storytelling process. We need to be conscious that the story in our head is impossible to get down on the page.

Time and Space in Dramatica: Rewriting the Story Limit

Appreciating the flow of consciousness through a story

The Dramatica theory of story is more than a cookie-cutter template of popular story structures. Dramatica is a model of psychology, an attempt (a good one) at codifying the structural elements and dynamic forces that compose consciousness. While the original conceit and intent of the theory remain solid, some story concepts require a finer tuning.

The Relative Vibrations of Ford v. Ferrari

Reducing involved theoretical concepts to get to the heart of a story

For the past 25 years, a Dramatica aficionados group gathers every month to discuss and analyze a film. Dramatica co-creator Chris Huntley leads the class, and the result is a comprehensive understanding of thematic conflict known as a storyform. Unlike many other narrative paradigms where the same beats arrive in every story, a Dramatica storyform shifts relative Storypoints to capture a specific story's essence or meaning.

Adapting Character Motivations to the Story Goal

The specific type of conflict defines the drive of a narrative

Beyond simple wants and needs, entire categories of character motivations exist deep within the thematic structure of a complete story. Unearthing these hidden groupings of characteristics requires an appreciation of drive and its place within human psychology. The Dramatica theory of story offers a compelling approach to developing this understanding.

The Justification Process

The nature of all great conflict

The genesis of all motivation is justification. Whether entrenched deep within the psyche, or building towards an immovable force, the process of hiding characters from themselves is the key to dynamic conflict. Understand the why of your story and you understand what to write.

The Complete Guide to Justification

Appreciating the building blocks of effective narrative

Most, if not all, of Dramatica exists without caveat. What you see is what you get. The theory sits in stark contrast to other paradigms of story structure that often contradict themselves when you get past the generalities. There, in those fresh pastures, vague notions of narrative concepts reveal themselves to be worthless doublespeak.

Addressing the Recursive Nature of Dramatica

Down the endless rabbit hole of a narrative model

The attempt to unravel a complex psychological model without the key is a fool's errand. Guessing at relationships and substituting placeholders for concepts remains the only alternative for one given to such an adventure. The best thing to do when faced with the situation is to find a competent and knowledgable guide.

The Science Behind Dramatica

The definitive explanation of the magic behind the theory

Hubris is defined as "excessive pride, or self-confidence." In this series, I match hubris with hubris in the definitive defense of what I consider to be one of the most important narrative theories of all time.

The Bias of the Current Dramatica Model (2020)

Wrapping your head around your head

Nothing means nothing until you assume a frame of reference. The sky is “above” the Earth unless you stand on your head. This same reality of psychology applies to stories and story structure. A Goal is meaningless except when placed in an objective context and paired with a Consequence. Without context, we fall into the trap of not understanding one another.

Building Greater Sources of Conflict

Improving stories through greater inequity

Years ago, Dramatica theory co-creator Chris Huntley introduced me to the idea that all meaning is context. His exercise of “People need in order to” unlocked this understanding with practical experience, and I used it to teach both my students at CalArts and my teenage daughter all about the intricacies of great storytelling. I covered the education of the latter in the article, A Method for Generating Conflict. And I even used the technique during one of the classes in my on-going series, Writing with Subtxt.

Constructing Sources of Conflict for Your Story

Understanding the essence of narrative drive

How ironic is it that knowing about dramatic irony does nothing to make your writing more dramatic? Sure, it's fun to look at examples and get a general sense of why some stories work better than others. But try and apply what you learn to your work—and you quickly find incorporating irony difficult, if not impossible, to translate into action.

The Basic Concepts Underlying the Dramatica Theory of Story

The formula for predictive psychology

Obfuscation is not always an attempt to mislead. Sometimes, not revealing what's inside the box motivates another to seek out for himself what lies inside. Whether or not one finds something inside relies entirely on that individual's ability to open the box without cutting himself.

Dramatica and a Narrative Model of the Mind

Setting the record straight

Knowledge is the basic building block of logic. Once we know something, we can easily combine it with other bits of Knowledge to form a conclusion—a new block built upon the foundation of the earlier ones. When productive, these blocks of Knowledge manifest a higher level of thinking; when deleterious, those entrenched in beliefs can’t find their way out.

Writing a Story About Learning

Understanding the act of learning as a Source of Conflict

Learning the Dramatica theory of story is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you discover realities of narrative unspoken of in any other circles; on the other, you drive yourself mad coming to terms with the ignorance of your preconceptions. Learning about the process of Learning makes that sword only cut deeper.

The Inside-Out Approach to Writing a Story

Developing a story with purpose

Many writers buckle under the unrelenting pressure that is story structure. Beset with formulaic sequences and must-haves, they seek an alternative approach more in-line with their artistic natures. They scramble to find some life-preserver to keep them afloat—only to completely miss out on the dry land sitting right in front of them.

Why Story Structure Sometimes Feels Too Restrictive

The tendency of the Holistic to drift away from narrative structure

It’s probably not Earth-shattering to hear that a mindset more focused on the alignment of self would sometimes overlook matters of structure and order. With the dynamics of shifting relationships constantly in flux—yet continuously in the forefront—the Holistic removes the comfort food of clarity found in Outcome and Judgment off the menu—

Writing with Methods

The cognitive functions of thematic intent

Method actors are notoriously difficult to work with on-set; always locked into character, management, and crew suffers at the hands of a great artist. Method writers—those familiar with and skilled at seeing theme as a cognitive process—only make life easier for those further down the production line. Method writing, quite literally, saves lives.

On Becoming a Therapist to Your Characters

Making a meaningful connection between Author and Audience

The Dramatica theory of story sets itself apart from all other understandings of narrative structure with its objective appreciation of conflict. Most alternative paradigms encourage the Author to go inside of her characters. Dramatica wants you to take a step back—after all, it’s the only way one can truly gain a greater perspective.

The Three Essential Components of Every Storypoint

Making a meaningful connection between Author and Audience

If a complete story is an analogy to a single human mind working to resolve a problem, then a Storypoint is a bridge between that mind and the Audience engaging with it. Describing the totality of that mind all at once is an impossibility—especially with the format of a novel or film, where information trickles out at a snail’s place. Maintaining the integrity of that initial problem is the responsibility of the Author—the Storypoint their turnkey.

The Role of the Goal in a Holistic Story

The sophistication of holism lies in the eyes of the beholder

Many writers understand the purpose of a Goal. It offers their characters a shared sense of purpose and gives the Author something to work towards while developing a story. What is it about those stories where a common Goal feels forced and unnatural?

Understanding the Emotional Ladder of Relationships

Spiraling up from one emotional state and down to the next

For many writers in the Dramatica Mentorship Program, the Relationship Story Throughline is a revelation. Forced into thinking of the key relationship in their story as a character, they see beyond the individual to the bond itself. Required to remove all notions of he said/she said storytelling, these writers develop the intuition to define an unmentionable quality of conflict. This challenging process of diving into the Relationship allows writers everywhere to appreciate the space between as the seat of all growth.

Identifying Types of Plot in a Story

Understanding the relationship between Plot-level Concerns

The top level of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements emphasizes Genre. By juxtaposing a set of objective sources of conflict against another set of subjective sources, the Author creates a personality for the Audience to inherit. Genres and Sub-genres develop from this unique narrative ID.

The Path of the Write-ientious

Your premise is you.

To many, the writing process is magical and reserved for a chosen few. Beholden to a muse, you expect inspiration—and quit when your cry for help goes unnoticed. This adolescent fantasy of what it means to be a writer deludes the mind with images of a spiritual savior.

The Myth of Writer's Block

The way through lies in knowing your artistic intent.

If narrative structure exists as organized Truth, then the only thing the Author needs to learn is the essence of that Truth. Yes, strategies exist to communicate one's heart, but without knowing its depths, the process of writing it down becomes stilted. "Writer's block" is less a function of one's inability to write, and more a result of not knowing one's self.

Walking the Path of Virtue

Getting to know your creative impulse

Recent updates to Subtxt improve its interpretation of Premise. After a brief email exchange with Nick Schouten, Narrative First's resident fact-checker, it looks like the algorithms for Premise will alter again—this time, in the area of the Personal Triumph Story.

Cracking Open the Mind of the Storyteller

Breaking a few eggs on the path to greater understanding

Many Authors write because they enjoy the process of becoming someone else. They embody their characters and imagine what it would feel like to live in another space and time. Rarely do they consider that it is the characters themselves taking on the persona of the Author—the quality of that characterization relying on the level of self-awareness.

The Hegelian Chronicles

Learning to write your story

The romanticism of ancient philosophy often leads many a writer astray. The assumption of accuracy in centuries-old concepts blinds one to present realities and modern understandings of consciousness. Do we still adhere to Ptolemy’s Earth-centered Universe? Of course, not. And neither should we cling to the reductive nature of the Hegelian Dialectic.

Writing the Story That Is You

Getting to know your creative impulse

"Know thyself" is a phrase well-understood by Authors. The process of writing a story often turns out to be more of a revelation of self, rather than an exploration of imaginative worlds and characters. The greatest struggle, then, is not of plot and theme—but rather, of exposure to introspection.

Decoding the Structure of a Personal Tragedy

Rewriting the meaning of an ending

Intent dictates a narrative schematic consistent with purpose. Seek a story of triumph, and the order of events within will differ from those of a tragedy. Chase down something a little less black and white, and the particulars of that order become much more elusive.

The Story Consequence

Fine-tuning the relationship between dynamic storypoints.

Dramatica is a theory of story--not a set of dogmatic rules or narrative edicts to follow without thought. As groundbreaking and enlightening as the original text is, further development and practical application of the theory requires one to understand the thinking behind the concepts. The presence of the Story Consequence in a story is more than merely a function of Main Character Growth.

Dialing In the Consequence of a Story

The effect an outcome plays in the loudness of failure.

A successful broadcast consists of many finely-tuned switches and dials. Switches to flip from one camera to the next. And dials to adjust color and volume. Both work in tandem to deliver a clear signal from the studio to your eyes and ears. It may surprise you then, that these same switches and dials also exist within the narrative structure of that broadcast.

The Relationship between Character Growth and Consequence

The effect character arc plays in what it means to fail.

Learning the Dramatica theory of story is a continual process. After twenty-five years of study, I continue to learn something new every day. This reality explains my passion for the subject—it always feels like there's some new understanding just around the corner.

Returning to The Heart of the Matter

Giving up on Dramatica.

Every writer reaches a point where they eventually reject the Dramatica theory of story. Whether it be a particular concept or this sense that it’s all been a colossal waste of time, forgetting about Dramatica seems like the only alternative when it comes to getting on with life. And they’re right.

Moving Beyond the Oppression of Maleity

Understanding the path of much resistance.

Rational thinking reigns supreme in traditional Western culture. The observation of cause and effect fuels our economy and drives the engine of innovation. How impractical is it then, to be burdened with emotion? You would think, by now, these weights of progress to be bred out of us by evolution.

Story Structure that Eats the Author Alive

The greatest danger facing any writer is structure for structure's sake.

Recognizing the terror of story structure for story structure's sake is not hyperbole—its essential knowledge for the continuation of our species. Stories keep us alive. They teach us the most appropriate course of action given a particular set of circumstances, and they do in a way that affects both the heart and the mind.

The Effect of Premise on Narrative Structure

Encoding meaning into the order of events.

What you want to say with your story determines what you write. It seems simple enough—until you realize that the order in which those events appear in your story carries significance. Suddenly, your purpose becomes more than a reason to get out of bed in the morning. What you want to say, your Premise, orders your thoughts into a unique and meaningful narrative structure.

The Holistic Premise

An understanding of narrative structure from the other side.

A complete story is a model of the mind at work. Narrative structure depends on the nature of that mind's base operating system: does it prefer linearity or holism? While the Male approach to Premise building is clear-cut and forward, the Holistic approach is more complex.

The Ambiguous Author and the End of All Meaning

What it means to write with purpose.

Some suggest profundity in the unclear ending—as if ambiguity is its own reward. This recommendation, while enticing to the Author unsure of his Premise, leads to an ultimately forgettable product. The shroud of uncertainty allows one to dodge the challenging work of deep analytical thinking.

The Debilitating Scourge of the Trope

How to cure oneself from a tragic virus of the mind.

Nothing is more caustic to the conversation of narrative structure than the trope. A breeding ground for meaningless instances of pattern recognition, the trope is the nihilist's playground. The absurdity of life played out in plot devices and genre conventions.

Writing a Meaningful End to Conflict

Tying the climactic moment to a premise.

Many writers know how they want to end their stories. They know who dies, and who lives. They might even realize why they want things to turn out that way and how it relates to their theme or premise. The question is: does that ending resolve the conflict in a meaningful way?

When Synthesis is Not Enough (Hint: Always)

The model of our mind that is a story.

Stories convey meaning—something important that adds value to our lives. Telling you that resolution resolves conflict is no more additive to your life experience than 2+2=4. Yet, many continue to generate this line of thinking with the Hegelian Dialectic and its "insightful" progression of a thesis to synthesis.

The Purpose of an Ending: Star Wars and The Matrix Revealed

The effects of linearity & holism on structure

Many writers ask me the difference between a Male-minded story and one that is Holistic-minded. If the latter cares little for outcome, goal, and consequence, then how does it end? In contrast to the more obvious trappings of linearity, the aspects of holism seem antithetical to the creation of a story.

Story Structure We Can All Agree Upon

The unpredictability of values.

Effective story structure begins with setting up dramatic potentials. The competent Author then resolves these inequities with meaningful outcomes. Knowing the real source of both guarantees that the story makes sense and leaves the Audience with a feeling of fulfillment.

Theme Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Exposing the narrative elements of a story.

Great writers write without caveats. They don't backtrack, and they don't leave their purpose up to interpretation. Compelled to say something about our world and the experience of living in it, Authors take to characters and plot to state unapologetically: This is how I see the world.

Understanding the Purpose of Narrative Structure

Structure is order, and order is meaning.

Most believe narrative structure to be an affectation of a story. Acts exist because a story naturally falls into that kind of arrangement. This presumption that stories "have structure" misses out on the real purpose of structure: communicating an Author's Intent effectively to an Audience.

Skyfall: Finding the Synthesis in Dramatica

A modern understanding of conflict resolution.

When it comes to the structure of a functioning narrative, it should come as no surprise that we know more today than we did in the 1800s. Yes, photography and the steam engine were once modern miracles, but that was then. Today—and much to the chagrin of steampunks everywhere—we don’t continue to uphold the days of old.

A Synthesis in Search of a Solution

Presuming conflict to be a problem.

Finding a solution to a problem assumes the presence of a problem. While this approach works great for Moonshots and the building of bridges, its reliance on cause-and-effect reasoning blinds one to a reality bereft of problems. The assumption of problems in the presence of conflict forces the search for a solution that may never present itself.

The Illusion of Fixing Problems

Moonshots require something more than synthetic solutions.

A Male mindset finds solutions to problems. It develops hydro-electric power, discovers a cure for polio, and finds a safer spot to land the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. Our human experience requires solutions to problems if we are to endure for the next thousand years.

The Seductive Nature of Synthesis and Subject Matter

When a problem isn't a problem.

Synthesis sounds good. It reminds us that we're better together, that 1+1=3, and that a win-win situation is always better than a no-win situation. Reaching a synthesis draws us in because it feels like the very best way to resolve conflict.

The Curse of the Hegelian Dialectic

The rational alone is unreal.

Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis.

The Professional Screenwriter and Dramatica

The theory that defines the structure of a narrative argument.

Professional screenwriter and showrunner Craig Mazin would love the Dramatica theory of story.

The Holistic Experience of Watching the Matrix

The difference between thinking holistically and holistically thinking.

Everyone understands what it means to think holistically. In today's hyper-connected world, we can't help but think of both sides and work to balance out what used to be an either/or world. But only half of us truly appreciate what it means to employ holistic means as a method for understanding the balance of life.

Defining the Structure of a Premise

Order is everything.

The purpose of a Premise is to establish thematic intent. With a clear idea of what is being said, the Author begins to see what is essential to the story, and what can be left out. In short, the Premise is structure.

The Holistic Approach to Working Through Conflict

Justifying as a means of solving problems.

Our minds take one of two paths when faced with an inequity: the way of problem-solving or the path of justification. Problem-solving seeks to resolve the inequity. Justification aims to hide the inequity from the mind. The trick with the Holistic mind's approach to inequity is that its version of problem-solving is actually just another form of justification.

Disconnection and the Holistic Mind

The first casuality of separation is an isolated self.

A connection is everything to the Holistic. When you measure your experience in terms of balance and relationships, the separation felt from being cut off is one of life's greatest tragedies. It's almost impossible for a holistic to dwell in total isolation—which explains why there are so few stories about these horrible circumstances.

Heading Towards Being Present or Eventual Stagnation

A realignment of purpose that sends the mind in a new direction

In the previous article on A Holistic Understanding of Premise, the concept of applying an emotional state to a narrative argument found balance in aligning the self with the outside world. As many can attest, maintaining this state is an act of impossible defiance that far too often finds one off the intended path. Appreciate the differential between imbalance and outcome, and one begins to open themselves up to an entirely different story—that of being out-of-alignment.

A Holistic Understanding of Premise

Free your Storymind

One of the standout features of Subtxt is the Premise. Based on a previous article entitled How to Build a Narrative Argument, the breakdown on a premise allows an Author to determine the critical structural Storybeats of their narrative. Reducing the complexity of a Dramatica storyform down to a single sentence opens up greater understanding and draws the writer closer to their intuition.

The Relationship Story Throughline

The missing piece of narrative structure

Misunderstood for far too long, the Relationship Story Throughline balances the more objective concerns of plot with a complimentary subjective bond. Often felt as 'the heart of a story,' this relationship focuses on the dynamic conflict existing between individuals...and not always the two principal characters in a story.

Writing a Relationship that Counts towards a Premise

Balancing the objective with subjectivity.

While the heart of a story often feels good and sometimes brings tears to your eyes, the purpose it plays within the context of a narrative proves to be something much more meaningful. This emotional center, portrayed by the intimate bond between two characters, serves as a subjective balance to the more objectified concerns and issues of the central plot. Capturing the essence of this relationship rounds out a narrative and gives the Audience a sense of fulfillment that works with the satisfaction of a complete story.

Perspectives and Players in a Functioning Story

Understanding the purpose of a character.

Many attach the Throughline, or thread of a story, to an individual character. They might call it the “B” storyline and say it is all about the Protagonist of the story. Or they might merely track the events of a single character from beginning to end.

Separating the Relationship from the Individuals in a Relationship

You and I are not We.

Ask anyone to describe their closest relationship when it’s going well, and they’ll answer with “We’re doing so well together” and “We’re really happy.” Ask them that same question when things are rough, and they’ll reply with “He won’t talk to me” or “I feel like I want something more.” When there is flow, we naturally gravitate towards the relationship; when there are resistances and conflict, we see the individuals.

Re-Imagining the Key Relationship of Any Story

Measuring the dynamics of growth by the space in-between characters.

In my twelve years of coaching and educating writers both professional and amateur, one common trait stands out: no one understands relationships. They know conflict and plot. They know character and theme. And they know how to put it all together to create something engaging and compelling for bringing to end. But they’re missing one piece.

Separating Subject Matter from Story Structure

Digging deep to find intention.

Many Authors fall into the trap of confusing what they're writing about with what they write. The Dramatica theory of story compounds this delusion with terminology and concepts that play into common narrative themes of Destiny or Trust or Faith. Subject matter is what an Author writes about; story structure is what an Author writes.

How a Steadfast Character Changes the World

Appreciating a different way to solve conflict in our lives.

Most believe the Main Character of a story needs to change herself. Riddled with elementary school level renditions of narrative structure, the modern Author often grafts a meaningless change of character onto their story. The result is a work that means nothing—a duplicitous offering that leaves an Audience feeling their time wasted and misspent.

How to Illustrate Effective Narrative Conflict

Coding the machine within the machine.

One of the more powerful features of Subtxt is the ability to convert complex theoretical concepts into actionable writing prompts quickly. Prerequisites become “taking baby steps,” and Preconscious becomes “responding inappropriately to something.” When combined with the focal point of a Throughline, either a single character or a group of characters, these illustrations transform into the essential beats of a story.

The Narrative Structure of Christopher Nolan's Memento

Supporting premise through experience.

Everyone loves out-of-sequence storytelling. Pulp Fiction, Arrival, and The Usual Suspects top the list of films that ignore the exact chronological order of events. Authors develop the narrative structure of these films the same way they do when working a more linear approach. While seemingly complex and unknowable, the path to a structure is clear: Know what it is you want to say with your story.

King's Canyon: Another Incomplete Blacklist Script

Propaganda masquerading as a story.

Once the screenplay for King’s Canyon kicks in, it’s hard to put down. A unique flashback structure builds tension and suspense as it unravels the real-life story of David Steeves—a USAF who mysteriously emerged from the High Sierras months after being lost in 1957. The script culminates in a visually stunning climax that juxtaposes the present with the past and leaves one with a better appreciation of the man.

Unveiling the Narrative Elements of Story Structure

The very words we use hold us back.

The Dramatica theory of story is a complex and sophisticated model of story. Instead of wasting the Author’s time with notions of heroic journeys or requirements to save a cat in an attempt to gather likability, Dramatica seeks to concretize the Author’s purpose—and then graft that intention into the very fabric of the narrative structure.

Understanding How Character Arc Works

The purpose of growth is to support the premise, not the character.

Writers first stumble upon this concept of the character arc in high school. Whether in a creative writing class or a snarky YouTube video, the aspiring Author assumes that for a story to "work," she must showcase the central character changing. Great transformation becomes the focus of her writing endeavors, and anything less—regardless of how it resonates with her intuition—falls by the wayside.

Why Your Script is on the Blacklist

Gender politics factor little when it comes to writing a complete story.

In January, I announced a new feature for the Writers Room in Subtxt: script analysis. For those who don’t know, The Writers Room is a weekly masterclass in narrative theory, held exclusively for subscribers to the service, and hosted by me (Jim Hull. I built Subtxt, and I write everything you read on Narrative First).

The Problem with Writing a Story about Characters

Characters are not real people.

Some writers struggle with the dual appreciations of Protagonist and Antagonist. Note the use of the word appreciations to describe these two—not characters or players. That’s because the Antagonist of a story is not a real person. Same with the Protagonist. Almost all problems relating to constructing or deconstructing a story lie in thinking of characters as if they’re real people.

Creating Complex Characters in Complex Times

Moving beyond Archetypes to subtle complexity

Character Archetypes like Protagonist and Antagonist are the building blocks of solid story structure. Those familiar with the Dramatica theory of story also know them as the virtual "training-wheels" of narrative construction. In this series, we dive down into the specifc Character Elements that form Protagonist and Antagonist, and then move out to explore the other Archetypes found in elementary understandings of story.

Writing Characters as Facets of a Single Human Mind

Breaking down the personality of a story.

The quickest path to a broken story is thinking of your characters as real people. Infusing the same helpings of motivation and purpose across the spectrum dilutes the message of the story and leaves the Audience wondering what you're trying to tell them. When you think of your story as an analogy to a single mind, you start to see the holistic relationships between all the characters—and you guarantee a more meaningful experience.

Developing Complex Characters that Defy Expectation

Fascination involves moving away from Archetypal concepts of characterization.

Archetypal Characters are the shorthand of characterization. Protagonist and Antagonist function as both Author and Audience expect, opening up and easing the channels of communication between both. When working with writers across all genres, I always recommend starting out with Archetypes—then slowly moving away from them as the story requires.

Writing Characters Who Break the Mold

Moving away from the familiar and into the unexpected.

In the previous two articles in this series on Creating Complex Characters in Complex Times, characters were seen not as real people, but rather as analogies to the forces at work in a single mind. Eschewing notions of good and evil, this objective appreciation of story as psychology allows Authors to see the Players in their story for the very first time.

Understanding the True Motivations of Your Characters

Moving beyond altruism to determine drive.

Many look to notions of good and evil to determine the relative altruism level of their characters' motivations. The "good guys" are the characters we care about, the "bad guys" are not. Subjective appreciations like this will always steer the Author wrong when it comes to developing integrity within their stories. And Audiences flee when you break that trust.

The Definition of a Protagonist and Antagonist

Something more than simply the good guy or the bad guy of a story.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse features a cast of characters who defy the law of physics. Tumbling through the air, smashing through walls, and stopping massive machines with the touch of a hand, amazing superheroes save the day and bring conflict to an end. Yet as individualistic and fantastical as they appear on the surface, underneath it all these characters portray various facets of the same human mind.

The Lingering and Lasting Effects of a Story's Outcome

A discovery out of left field ignites the development of new story theory.

Developing the next iteration of the Dramatica theory of story requires one to look at a story in a particular way—a perspective off the beaten path of the theory's previous two-and-a-half decades. We trade a structural view of the structure for a dynamic view of structure—one that measures the power coursing through the meaning of a narrative.

On Building a Narrative Argument for Your Story

Moving beyond the general to make a difference in your storytelling.

The Narrative Argument found in our story outlining app Subtxt is powerful and precise: a straightforward sentence that sheds light on an Author’s reason for writing her story with laser-like focus. However, most writers view the purpose of a film in more general terms than what is provided in Subtxt.

Writing Short Stories with Dramatica

Your Audience knows you're not telling them a complete story.

How do you possibly squeeze in all 75 storypoints of a Dramatica storyform into a story 6,000 words long, or a short film that runs less than 5 minutes?

Dramatica: A Specific Approach to Understanding Narrative Structure

The problems of the generalist stand out upon closer examination.

When first introduced to Dramatica, many writers find familiarity in narrative Elements like Pursuit, Avoid, Temptation, and Conscience. Writing a story based on these problematic motivations is easy.

Uncovering the Major Plot Points of a Complete Story

Tying Act Turns to the source of conflict ensures integrity in the narrative.

Writers intuitively know the ending of their story. What they often fail to appreciate is where it all starts. The major plot points of a narrative find commonality in causality, in the space between one Act of narrative consideration and the next. Understanding them allows writers the convenience of not only knowing what is coming next but also why it is happening next.

Rethinking an Analysis of The Florida Project

A film that stays with you does so through a substantial and meaningful story structure.

Time reveals all in everything we do. As an initial understanding fades, a better appreciation of purpose and intent rises to the surface. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get a film the first time around—a great story forces you to work your way through to its message.

Understanding the Continuum of a Narrative

The meaning of time and space and their impact on the order of events

Faced with a confusing or undefined narrative, writers sometimes defer to the easy-get of the ticking time clock. When things slow down, or a story plods from one scene to the next, why not induce a little tension with a looming deadline? Unfortunately, the nature of that deadline can lead many a writer astray in the construction of their stories.

How to Build a Narrative Argument

Support now exists for writers looking to strengthen their story's thematic argument.

Codifying the thematic argument of a story is no longer a guessing process reserved for the few. Methods and understandings exist today that propel a neophyte Author’s appreciation of narrative structure into the stratosphere. The question is: Will you jump aboard or be left behind on the dying and increasingly hostile planet of blind ignorance?

Dramatica: The Journey Towards a Better Understanding of Story

With an objective theory as your guide, a path to greater clarity exists.

A productive and meaningful exploration of narrative structure requires a specific strategy. One must be rigid in the application of proven theoretical concepts while simultaneously leaving themselves open to the possibility of merely being wrong about how they see things. To rest on the defense of self-perception is to cut one’s journey of development off before it even begins.

Not Your Usual Approach to Developing Stories

An innovative tool that helps you write a complete story in under an hour.

NOTE: Our service for writers, Subtxt, was originally called the "Atomizer". While several of the screenshots below still refer to this older name, the same exact functionality exists in Subtxt (actually, it's even better now!)

Unraveling the Story Structure Of Tangled: The Series

Thoughtful children’s programming delights old and young with purpose and meaning.

Every writer dreams of delivering something that lasts and strikes a chord within the hearts of their audience. To connect on a deep emotional level and share our experience of life with another is why we create. An understanding of the structure of that communication ensures a win-win on both sides of telling a great story: author and audience member appreciate each other.

The Same Story: Aliens And Blade Runner: 2049

Stories that argue the same approach to resolving an inequity share the same narrative structure.

Many recognize the similarities in the structure of different narratives. While many point to a familiar sequence of beats seemingly inherited from one generation to the next, the reality is the similarity lies in a like-minded purpose. With shared intent comes a shared structural foundation.

The Power of Implied Story Points to Frame a Narrative

A single story point does not a story make; the totality of all story points relate in a great schematic of meaning.

Anyone can tell a story. This event happens, then that happens, and then finally that happens. Listing events in chronological order is indeed one way to tell a story—an even better idea is to find a meaningful relationship between those events.

How to Use Dramatica the Right Way

Taking the easy route only makes it more difficult to grow as a writer

The Dramatica theory of story makes writing harder, not easier. To make the experience of learning Dramatica easier, I recommend two important tasks at the outset: discard the training wheels and go above and beyond what seems to be the purpose of the theory. A great narrative requires careful consideration—the development of your understanding of narrative requires even more.

How To Use Dramatica The Right Way: Part Two

The Dramatica theory of story: extra effort not included.

The promise of an application to help construct working narratives incites visions of plug-n-play storytelling. Enter a name and setting here, Command+Print a finished screenplay there. Imagine the consternation and aggravation that arises when one discovers a useful narrative technology only makes writing more difficult.

How to Use Dramatica the Right Way: Part One

Make it harder to learn in order to make it easier to understand.

The Dramatica theory of story is a complex and sophisticated model of narrative. Abstract and seemingly arcane to many, the concepts and terminology repel artists used to feeling their way through a story. And for a good reason—without that distancing effect, the theory loses all sense of its ability to accurately predict the mechanism behind a great story.

Training the Next Generation of Storytellers

Accuracy and consistency in our understanding of the mechanism behind story paves the way for a brighter tomorrow.

Teaching narrative structure to subsequent generations is key to our survival as a species. Understanding the mechanism by which we fool ourselves into taking actions and making decisions for what we assume are the "right" reasons allows our children to avoid the blind injustices of the past. Tantamount to this education is an accurate appreciation of narrative dynamics and structures.

Your Story is Schrödinger's Cat

Quantum theory and its application in the telling of great stories.

A story is not a story until the Author observes it into existence. Whether an account of real-life events or the fantasies of an over-active imagination, narratives depend on perspective to make them work. They require the Author to solidify their unique point-of-view.

The Fugitive: When A Situation Isn’t A Situation

Returning to original terminology clears up misrepresentations of conflict found in narrative.

One of the most difficult things for someone new to the Dramatica theory of story is understanding the difference between problems found in the Universe Domain and conflict present in the Physics Domain. Part of this has to do with the switch in terminology designed to make things easier (yet, more confusing), and the other part has to do with how difficult it is for writers to split up the different ways they perceive conflict.

Finding The Plot Of Your Story Through Theme

Determining the progression of events is easy once you identify the family of Thematic issues present in your story.

Regarding the argument over the integration of Characters into Plot, the barometer of Theme rarely enters the conversation. Understood more as a simple statement of right and wrong, Theme observes from a distance–an outcast on the sideline of storytelling. The truth calls for Theme to step forward and play an integral part in the development of a narrative.

Identifying The Storyform Of A Complete Story

Figure out what it is you want to say and the rest is easy.

Many writers write without any clue as to the relevance of their last scene. Self-doubt and panic sets in the moment they start to question if what they wrote fits in with the rest of their story. A Dramatica storyform erases this skepticism by guaranteeing a purpose-driven approach to scene writing.

Identifying The Obstacle Character Of A Complete Story

The Obstacle Character is not a character, it is a perspective.

New ways of thinking conflict with the tried and true. Thought breaks up knowledge and rearranges the fallout into a new understanding. In turn, this newly formed bit of experience creates potential within the mind for even greater thoughts. And the cycle continues.

Identifying The Domains And Throughlines Of A Complete Story

A balance of all four Throughline perspectives guarantees the integrity of a narrative.

Many focus on determining the wants and needs of principal players to the exclusion of anything else. They stop on the why and what of individuals, instead of moving on to the more important why and how of the narrative itself. To maintain the integrity of narrative, successful Authors bridge the gap between character and plot with thematic issues consistent within particular contexts.

Identifying The Protagonist And Antagonist Of A Complete Story

Narratives develop integrity by ignoring commonly accepted value judgments of good and bad.

To many, the determination of key players within a narrative remains simple: identify the good guy and identify the bad guy. Unfortunately, assumed notions of altruism fail to take into consideration the actual inequity of the story. Sometimes the efforts to resolve an inequity turn out to be a good thing; other times, they do not.

Preparing to Write a Complete Story

A step-by-step introduction to crafting a great narrative

The foundation of all great narrative lies in the clarity of intent. Identifying the initial inequity, setting the Goal and Consequence, and then preparing the Protagonist and Antagonist to resolve conflict--these are the initial steps towards developing a strong story.

Identifying The Goal And Consequence Of A Complete Story

A look towards the initial inequity sets the stage for a meaningful narrative.

Many writers new to the Dramatica theory of story, and even those with several years of experience, struggle to reconcile what they know about story with what Dramatica tells them. Accumulated interpretations of Villains, Protagonists, Heroes, and Goals clash against the theory’s very specific definitions.

Why You Need Four Acts Instead of Three

The middle of a story requires greater definition than the beginning or the end.

Many writers break narrative down into Three Acts. After all, what could be simpler than Beginning, Middle, and End? Unfortunately, this idea that the “Middle” somehow stands equivalent to Beginning and End leads many to write incomplete and broken stories.

Narrative Structure Gives Purpose to Story

Story structure may not be everything, but every story needs structure.

The structure of a narrative defines the purpose of a work. More than simply giving an Audience what they expect, the proper formation of character, plot, theme, and genre communicates the Artist’s deepest Intent. Story structure may not be everything, but everything purposeful needs structure.

Plotting Your Story with Dramatica

The difference between Dramatica and other paradigms of story structure? Dramatica takes your Original Intent--what it is you want your story to mean--and gives you back the order in which you should present your material. Tragedies move through a different sequence of events than Triumphs; some characters change by growing while others grow by changing--the specific sequence of the narrative thematic material in your story shifts depending on what it is you are trying to say.

Generating Dramatic Tension Within Each Act of Your Story: Part Five

The right to write rests within anyone possessing the inclination to say something meaningful and true.

For years, Authors relied on instinct alone to source effective tension within their stories. Some found success while many others eventually gave up and turned towards other pursuits. The drive to tell a story is a sacred one and exclusive to no one. An approach now exists to help those stumbling in the dark find their way.

Generating Dramatic Tension Within Each Act of Your Story: Part Four

The path through narrative begins on one side of the internal/external fence and ends on the other.

Crafting effective tension from the point-of-view of your characters requires a deeper understanding of your narrative's unique thematic structure. Some stories begin with internal sources of tension then move to the external, while others start in the external and shift back to the internal. Developing pressure is not a guessing game--if you know where to look.

Generating Dramatic Tension Within Each Act Of Your Story: Part Three

When it comes to increasing pressure on the characters in a story, look to the negative influences available within the structure.

When drafting the tension for a powerful narrative look to the stick, not the carrot. The reward is delicious, alluring, and attractive. Alone, it only generates positive motivation in those who desire. The stick, on the other hand, increase strain as it draws one away from peaceful resolution.

Generating Dramatic Tension Within Each Act Of Your Story: Part Two

For Two-Act structures, tension exists with the juxtaposition of two key plot points.

The Goal of a story demands a specific progression of events from beginning to end. Drafting tension onto these events involves less guesswork and more precision if the Author hopes to completely enthrall the Audience. Great tension demands greater intention.

Generating Dramatic Tension Within Each Act Of Your Story: Part One

Understanding how your characters feel requires stepping out of their shoes and looking at them from a dispassionate objective view.

When developing Scenes, Sequences, and Acts many writers focus on their ability to supply enough effective tension in their stories. Placing themselves within the heads of their characters, they look out and ask What is my greatest concern? While seemingly effective, their greatest concern should be trying to answer of question of development from a purely subjective view.

Dramatica: A Fractal Model Of Story Structure

Acts within Acts within Acts within Acts; the structure of a story cascades into an unending pattern.

Throughout the Universe our minds find evidence of iterative patterns. The Fibonacci spiral approximates the golden spiral by drawing circular arcs through smaller and smaller squares arranged in an infinite ratio. If story exists as an analogy to the processes within our minds, it only follows that a functioning model of story structure maintain this observable pattern.

Finding The Major Dramatic Question Of Your Story

An accurate account of the tension within a story requires writers to take an objective view of their story.

Writers love to place themselves in the shoes of their characters. Pretending to be someone else and emoting with the needs and desires of another mark the starting block of the writer's initial foray into a lifetime of discovery. One problem: without a proper map they end up lost and confused, doubling back on themselves without even noticing.

Identifying The Number Of Acts In Your Story

The number of Acts in your story depends on the underlying thematic material you wish to explore.

In Hollywood, every film is a Three Act structure. Roam the halls of the story department at one of the big animation studios or saunter in to a lunch meeting for production executives on a live-action film and you encounter the same sight on every white board: a sequence of events broken down into three separate sections.

The Difference Between Becoming And Being In Dramatica

Apply oneself to the study of the differences in the types of conflict found within a complete narrative.

With the Dramatica theory of story you do more than simply fit your Hero into a prearranged journey of sequences. In sharp contrast, you assume the role of Author and determine the source of conflict in your narrative's individual storylines. While the end result is greater effectiveness in communicating your story's unique thematic message, it can be difficult figuring out exactly where your conflict falls.

The Purpose Behind Every Great Story

By reflecting ourselves, a great narrative challenges us to grow beyond our own preconceptions.

Stories entertain, they inform, the make us laugh and they make us cry. Yet regardless of the means with which they express themselves, great stories all share a common purpose. Once you recognize the similarities between the human mind's problem-solving process and the structure of a story, you begin to understand story as an analogy of ourselves.

Rethinking And Revisiting The Reservoir Dogs Analysis

As understanding grows, so too does the appreciation of a well-crafted and thoughtful narrative.

Twenty-five years since the debut of Tarantino's directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs. Twenty-three years since the initial release of the Dramatica theory of story. More than two decades of study and research into the complex fabric of narrative results in a greater understanding of what makes this film so great.

The Crucial Element to Telling a Great Story

The most important part of any story exists at the intersection of the objective and subjective points-of-view within the narrative.

Audiences gravitate towards great stories because they can experience something unattainable in their own lives. They can feel the story's problem personally, while at the same time reason the problem from a distance. With this in mind, the most important part of any great story lies at the nexus point between this subjective and objective points-of-view.

Building a Story Outline for NaNoWriMo

30 days is plenty of time--if you're prepared

Wanting to write a novel and knowing what to write about are two different things. The daily support that comes with participating in National Novel Writing Month helps, but a structural map of what those days ahead look like clears up any uncertainties. This series outlines a fun and inventive way to capture that motivation to write and convert it into a meaningful and engaging story.

Finding Your Own Unique Voice When Writing for Nanowrimo

Learn how to connect your heart's deepest desires with the structure of your story to create a compelling and meaningful narrative.

When it comes to writing a novel or a screenplay, some writers go with the flow. They sit down, start their timers or zero out their word counts, and begin connecting to their Muse. But what if there was a way to define your heart's desire and tie that voice directly to the structure of your story?

Finding Inspiration for Nanowrimo Within a Great Story

If moved by a particular story, Authors can use the storyform at the heart of it to relay the same meaningful message to their own Audiences.

Some writers find the motivation to write in some personal experience, some struggle they overcame that they want to share with an Audience. Others find inspiration in the works of others. Wanting to relay the same kind of message, but with different characters and a different setting requires an understanding of the thematics deep within the narrative.

Brainstorming a Brand New Genre for Nanowrimo

By combining our Gist Collections, writers can challenge their preconceptions of story to create something never seen before.

Why limit yourself to the tried and true? Westerns, Sci-Fi, Action/Adventure, Romantic Comedies--all successful and effective genres for reaching a broad Audience. For the true artist looking to expand their creativity, these categories of narrative only begin to speak of the enormous potential for story.

Creating a Story from Scratch for Nanowrimo

Enthusiasm and dedication can take you only so far--a strong foundation and meaningful story structure will give you purpose and direction.

Writing an entire novel in a single month challenges Authors everywhere to simply get it done. While well-meaning and encouraging, efforts to participate in Nanowrimo finds some writers floundering without any sense of purpose or direction. Quickly setting up a framework for your literary endeavor keeps the flame of inspiration alive and works as a helpful guide those thirty days.

How to Find the Narrative Code Within a Great Story

Great writers need to be great analysts in order to fully understand the mechanism of their stories.

Within every great narrative sits a comprehensive and elaborate tapestry of story points. The reason a particular story feels good eliciting that Oh, that's a great movie reaction is because these points resonate on a frequency that touches upon the way our own minds work. Those looking to communicate effectively with Audiences across the world must understand this narrative code that rests at the foundation of every great story.

The Varied Scene Illustrations of Ex Machina

Great stories blend structure and experience in their attempt to reach out and connect with another.

Story is structure. To embrace this statement is to assume that every moment must propel and communicate an essential story point or thematic message. A well-crafted work walks the line between form and format, sprinkling in the occasional spice to mimic and call to the mind the very chaos of life.

Ex Machina: The Narrative Code Hidden Within the Machine

In order to unlock the thematic message locked deep inside a story, both Author and analyst must maintain an objective point-of-view.

Misdirection and misconception. Lies and predictions of grandeur. The hubris of an intellectual ass that guides everyone towards a tragic misunderstanding of true intention. While all this could easily be said about the fantastic Ex Machina—these judgments also land squarely on our initial analysis of the film.

Writing Perfect Scene Structure with Dramatica

Advanced narrative theory now offers writers an opportunity to achieve the ultimate structure for their stories.

The perfectly structured scene. Some writers dream of it, others would never dare dream of it. The likelihood of an Author writing a perfect story increases exponentially with the Dramatica theory of story.

Unlocking the Empathy of Your Audience

The combination lies in the application of a key Dramatica concept--the Main Character's Approach to solving personal problems.

In last week's article The Essential Ingredients of Every Complete Story, Dramatica's core dynamic questions took center stage. Beginning with the twin story points of character arc—the Main Character Resolve and Main Character Growth—the theory explains the necessity of seeing character development from two different angles: as a state and as a process. More than an Audience Appreciation of want or need, these two story points underline the benefit of knowing the exact ingredients to add to your story.

The Essential Ingredients of Every Complete Story

Instead of relying on taste, Authors should look to what they have to work with in order to create the most delicious story.

When carefully crafting the ultimate meal, chefs obsessively focus on choosing the right ingredients. They know that taste relies on choosing how much of each to put in and when they choose to add them into the dish. In a way, an Author is like a chef and should know the ingredients they have to choose from—not rely on how they think their story will taste.

The Audience Appreciations of Story

Understanding how the other side interprets your work

When we think of story structure, we often tend to focus on characters and plot--never thinking for once how the Audience understands our structure. The Dramatica theory of story features a handful of Audience Appreciations that help Authors understand where their story crosses over from intent to interpretation.

The True Nature of Story

Wrapping up our series on Audience Appreciations, we elevate our understanding of narrative and begin to see it as a complex web of relationships.

Many see story superficially. They take characters and events at face value, and seek to interpret meaning behind their actions and circumstances. They see sequences and questions and characters as actual people. Approaching narrative in this way diminishes the very essence of what it means to tell a story.

The Refusal of the Call: The Resistance or Flow Through a Narrative

The Main Character's personal problems define the flow of energy through a story.

When faced with the unknown, many Main Characters of a narrative balk and recede back into the comfort of their present surroundings. Seen by many as an indication of "refusing the call to adventure", this unwillingness on the part of the central character to participate seemingly correlates with a key story point in Dramatica. Unfortunately, this similarity exists only in semantics and if left unexplained could lead to confusion and a misappropriation of narrative focus.

How To Tell If Your Main Character Faces Overwhelming Or Surmountable Odds

Understanding the science behind narrative opens up the channels of communication between Author and Audience.

Why do some Main Characters find the conflict they face manageable while others balk under the pressure of insurmountable odds? More than a random reality at the mercy of the Author's Muse, the feeling of dramatic tension within a narrative is traceable and discernible. The direction of development within the Main Character and the overall emotional state of the story itself gives writers a clue as to the nature of that tension.

Predicting Who Will Listen To Your Story

Slight adjustments to the structure of your story can guarantee a larger audience.

Writing a story is one thing, finding an Audience to sit still and embrace your story is quite another. Many understand now that a functional narrative functions because it models the mind's problem-solving process; and many understand that men and women solve problems differently. Appreciating that difference makes it possible for writers to predict who will be drawn into their story, and who will simply be observers.

Structuring Narratives in the Real World

Applying meaning to what is essentially meaningless

We turn to stories in order to find some meaning in our lives. By setting the context and unique perspectives at play, we construct a framework of narrative thematics that help teach us the best way to resolve conflict and balance out that which cannot be resolved. Understanding that stories function as a model of the problem-solving process within our own minds, it becomes easy to define and set the narratives present in our everyday lives.

Using Dramatica To Assess Narratives In The Real World

By understanding the structural and dynamic appreciations of narrative, the storytellers of today can be masters of their own destinies.

A deep understanding of the underlying structure of narrative makes it possible for individuals and organizations to predict where their stories are leading them. If the outcome turns out to be undesirable, key leverage points exist that--if engaged--turn the tide of narrative and align the flow to a different path. The only question to be asked is--what story do you want to tell?

9 Steps Towards Telling Your Story

Create a framework of narrative around the events in your life and transform the inconsequential into something truly meaningful.

Everyone has a story tell, whether you are an individual, a local group, or a business striving to define itself narrative helps put the events of our lives into context and gives meaning to the day in and day out. But putting that story into action and telling it in a way that is compelling and engaging can be quite overwhelming.

Transforming Real Life into a Story

Turning the events of our lives into meaningful narrative requires an understanding of how our minds operate.

If Dramatica is a theory of story based on the psychology of the human mind, then it only follows that that very same model can be used to understand the narratives of our own lives. Real life can seem pointless at times, meaningless within the chaos of living day-to-day. Crafting a narrative gives context to the conflict, and offers meaning to our own experience.

Star Trek: The Case For Writing A Screenplay With Dramatica

If it worked the first time, why change it up?

Writer and producers wonder if the Dramatica theory of story is an effective tool for developing a narrative. Without concrete evidence to support the theory's claims, they often cite complexity and perceived low adoption as reasons for discounting it altogether. One need only turn to the Star Trek franchise for proof of concept.

The Difference Between Star Trek And Star Wars

If you remove what you think is the source of conflict from a story and there is still trouble, you haven't properly identified the source of conflict.

Beyond the superficial differences of science fiction and science fantasy, both the original Star Wars and the 2009 version of Star Trek diverge in their approach to narrative. One explores trouble in the act of rebelling, the other in the act of revenge. Seeking the source of conflict in both films helps to delineate possible alternatives to story structure.

Understanding the Personal Goal of Your Main Character

The Dramatica theory of story makes it easy for Authors to determine what is of utmost concern to their Main Characters--if you understand what Dramatica is asking.

Beyond their concerns in the larger Objective Story of a narrative, every Main Character finds themselves focused on a concern personal and intimate to themselves. With so much attention focused on this area, this concern often comes across to the Audience as a goal for the Main Character. Whether conscious of it from the beginning or something they synthesize towards the end, the Main Character exists in the narrative to achieve that concern.

When Backstory Is Not Backstory

Writers can determine what is necessary and what isn't by looking to the storyform of their narrative.

Everyone hears that backstory is a crutch. That it slows down the narrative and takes the Audience out of the story. But what about backstory that isn't? How can an Author determine what if their sequences need to be in the story or if they should be cut?

Writers Who Write The Same Main Character

Writers gravitate to that emotional irritant deep within them and use a story to help work through solving their own personal problems.

Artists tend to tread the same narrative ground. They feel drawn to themes and issues that resonate with their own personal issues and use storytelling to work through those problems. Director Christopher Nolan is no different.

The Forces Of Influence Felt Between The Two Principal Characters Of A Story

In addition to actual concrete connections, there are forces of influence that bind the Main Character and Obstacle Character of a story together.

In last week's article we took a look at Finding Connections Between the Two Principal Characters of a Story, the two principals being the Main Character and Obstacle Character. Starting at the top Domain level, we worked our way down illustrating the various story points that connect these two very important characters together. It is only once you reach the bottom Element level that those connections merge into more of an influence that is felt.

Finding Connections Between The Two Principal Characters Of A Story

Look for meaning in Dramatica's story points and you will be hard pressed to find it; look for an answer as to where to go next in your story and you will find nirvana.

Great authors don't throw characters into a story and hope for the best. They purposefully develop and establish points of view that bounce off and influence one another through a process of growth. Instinctively, authors search for a better understanding of this connection yet find trouble when they look in the wrong place.

The Veil Between Author And Audience

Writers get into trouble when they try to understand what their story means while they are creating it.

There exists an event horizon between the one telling a story and the one receiving it. What looks right from one side will look completely different from the other. Understanding Author's Intent would be impossible if it weren't for tiny pinholes piercing that veil.

Dramatica And The Importance Of Relationships

The key to really getting Dramatica is to understand that it is all about the narrative relationships the theory models.

Dramatica is a complex and complicated theory of narrative and it has to be: it models the way our minds solve problems. Those new to the theory often make assumptions about what Dramatica is and what it isn't. Writers new to the theory can save themselves a world of hurt by understanding the thought process behind the development of the actual model.

How To End Writer's Block Forever

Know what it is you want to say and learn to use a tool that keeps you on the straight & narrow as you write that first draft.

That scary creature that awaits just at the edge of the ocean, its tentacles reaching out and dragging the ship of your creative endeavors into oblivion? All of us run into this creative monster one time or another. How are we to continue on when we have no idea what direction to head? If only there was a tool, a map, that once engaged would end this cursed writer's block once and for all.

Using Dramatica to Come Up with New Story Ideas

Finding inspiration in the Playground Exercises

Tired of writing the same story over and over again? With the Dramatica theory of story (and Subtxt, our practical application of the theory), you can quickly develop a unique and engaging story unlike anything you have written before. In this series, I show how to use the Narrative First Playground Exercise to access an unlimited source of great new ideas for your next story.

Discovering the Story You Never Knew

A strong and resilient system for looking at narrative makes it easier to play at writing.

In the previous two articles I discussed how I used my invention of the Playground Exercises to broaden my creativity and open up new avenues towards discovering my true self. In this final article I want to show you how I take those previous exercises and fold them back in to my original story idea.

Finding Your True Self Through Writing

Continuing last week's article on generating story ideas, we take a look at how to get up close and personal with your deepest intentions.

Going with your first impression is usually a recipe for disaster when it comes to writing. Far too many times, the first thing we come up with is simply a rehash of something we have already seen or read. Pushing ourselves to move beyond our comfort zone opens up worlds of story we never even knew we had inside.

Generating An Abundance Of Story Ideas

If you want to write something unique and original, identify your story's deep meaning and then write similar stories as a means to brainstorm a better, fresher approach.

Screenwriting With Outliner4D And Dramatica On A Mac

Keep track of your story's rich thematics with the powerful Outliner4d.

Developing a story with Dramatica is a fun and imaginative process. Starting with a basic idea, an afternoon spent with the program can result in a thematically rich and engaging narrative. The struggle comes in translating these elaborate and detailed story points into something someone can read...and enjoy.

How To Write A Television Series

Crafting a serialized narrative is easy once you know the storyform.

Writing and producing a television series is difficult. With the recent popularity of streaming services and "binge watching", writing and producing a television series is daunting. Trying to tell a serialized story over the course of a season or several seasons overwhelms even the most accomplished writer.

The Problem With Reverse-Engineering Dramatica

Unraveling the mysteries of story theory is another way of avoiding writing.

Interesting discussion this week over on Discuss Dramatica about the theory and how it works "behind the scenes." To many, Dramatica is magic. You take what it gives, you feel inspired and encouraged to write with it, and you end up with a decent story that makes sense and hits quality emotional beats.

The Fault In Our Stars: An Anatomy Of An Analysis

An effective analysis of a film requires an objective sounding board. Dramatica offers that opportunity.

Earlier this year on Discuss Dramatica, someone linked to an analysis of the Disney animated film Frozen by Glen C. Strathy. In his analysis of the film, author Strathy states:

A Method For Generating Conflict

Position one truth against another and you'll find the foundation for a great narrative.

Long extended Thanksgiving road trips are for nothing more than opportunities to learn about effective storytelling. Trapped in a small box and surrounded by others sharing the great misery, writers can't help but be creative. Discovering this truth and the joy it brought to the artists in my family, I felt it beneficial to share our experience.

Dramatica's Definitions Are Not Your Own

Dramatica improves commonly understood concepts of narrative in an effort to improve our understanding of story.

An important thing to understand when diving into the Dramatica theory of story is that it has a very specific take on narrative terminology that some may take for granted. Protagonists, Heroes, Goals, Problems and Solutions--simple enough to comprehend for any writer beyond grade school, yet concepts that this theory narrowly and accurately defines. And in some cases, redefines.

Dramatica And What It Means For Story

Look closely and you will see more than a rebranding of ancient texts.

Many find themselves uncomfortable when faced with the task of unlearning what they have learned. Entrenched in their own beliefs and bias, they refuse to take the time to investigate closely new understandings of narrative. The result is often a sad and disappointing attempt at discounting what is undeniably a breakthrough advance.

How An Inequity--And A Story--Is Made

Human psychology dictates story structure.

Stories reflect the mind’s problem-solving process. The story of how a mind arrives at the point where it requires this process is known as backstory. More than a background history lesson, this pre-story story can also be understood as a process of justification.

The Actual and Apparent Nature of Story

Is the dilemma facing the Main Character real?

When seen in its entirety, a story maintains a certain nature. Whether something external the Main Character needs to work through or something they themselves need to personally work through, the resolution of the story's central inequity carries a code of greater understanding.

A Collaborative Environment Unlike Any Other

Dramatica keeps a room full of writers focused and productive.

This weekend marked the third installment of my advanced writer's workshop for writers and producers interested in learning how best to use Dramatica to improve the narrative structure of their stories. Purposefully designed to answer the question OK, I have a storyform, now what?, the twelve hour workshop takes a story from idea to detailed sequence outline with several opportunities for digressions related to deep narrative theory.1 Having taught story at the California Institute of the Arts for seven years, I'm familiar with the creative leaps students take when inspired; I wasn't prepared for the explosion of creative growth that this collection of writers brought to the table.

Using Dramatica in the Real World

Using story theory to fix broken stories.

Learning Dramatica is one thing; using it effectively in a professional environment is a completely different beast.

The Fallacy of the Two Hander

No such thing as a two-hander, just a misunderstanding of story.

When it comes to the reception of a story, the receiver, or Audience member, can often mistake the elements of story for something else. In the same way one finds difficulty estimating the ingredients of their favorite dish when they only have the meal, looking at story from the outside leads to misinterpretations of the meaning, or meat, of the story. The problem deepens when accompanied by confidence.

The Idea of the Script Consultant

They're not as sinister as the professionals make them out to be.

Developing a story. Some believe it to be a magical process best handled within a vacuum. Toss aside education and personal development and write write write. Others believe it can thrive and potentially excel when mixed with the influence of those well-versed in narrative structure.

All You Ever Needed to Know About Dramatica

Dramatica differentiates itself by making the optional essential.

Unlearning what you have learned can be a difficult process, especially if you have achieved a relative amount of success. Why fix what isn't broken? Giving up and proceeding blindly because that is where one finds comfort marks the difference between a serviceable story and an enduring one.

Outlining a Television Series with Dramatica

By crafting purpose and meaning into every episode, the writer/producer guarantees an Audience for the entire season.

Television is the new. With feature films becoming epic rollercoaster rides of spandex and spectacle, vibrant kiddie fare and immature thematic explorations, the television series grants fans of narrative an opportunity to become lost in meaningful complexity. The long-form story promises fulfillment; the long-form story demands a form to story.

Always Be Reading

Garbage in, garbage out. For any artist, one of the most important workflows--yet, the one most easily forgotten--is the filling of the well. Flooding the mind with new ideas and new perspectives inspires a greater creative consciousness and opens our minds to a better understanding of our own unique voice.

Outlining Screenplays with Dramatica and Fountain

When it comes to writing a story nowadays, remembering where you left off is a challenge. Whether it's the latest in tech or whatever it is you're devouring on that tech, getting back to the business of putting one word in front of the other can be difficult. If only there was some way to easily remind yourself of the point of every scene ...

Screenwriting with Fountain

To many, modern day screenwriting involves a set of Benjamin Franklins and a proprietary file format. Restrained by their own nescience, these writers miss out on a truly rapturous experience waiting for them with a tool they already own. By returning to a simpler time, writers return to the essence of their art.

Always Be Writing

No excuse. No reason for not following your dreams. No justification for leaving your story stagnant even for a single day. With today's tools and technology, writers can fulfill their life's passion irregardless of location or motivation.

Understanding Dramatica's Complex Terminology Made Easier

Big or small, appreciations of story structure point to the same thing.

Complex story theory without the complications--is it even possible? With vocabulary rivaling even the most obscure foreign language dictionary, the Dramatica theory of story scares off many candidates. The key lies in understanding the importance of assessing the proper context.

Don't Use Other Movies as Reference

Complete stories do not share the same structure.

Some people can't resist telling you about their favorite movie. Whether their favorite sci-fi flick seen in adolescence or one of AFI's top 100, film buffs love to share scenes. Problems set in the moment they bring up said love affair in a story meeting. Does the beloved scene or group of scenes actually apply to the story point being discussed? Or is it simply an unfortunate instance of fancy taking control?

On The Need For Plot Points

An objective view of story helps Authors better understand the events that drive their narrative forward.

Some cry contrivance. Others lament convention. And even more bemoan the influence of the ideologue. Writers will do anything, it seems, to avoid understanding what it is they are really doing.

The Secret Behind Great Character Relationships

Look to the dynamics of a relationship: the ebb and flow, the growth and the dissolution.

What we know simply marks the beginning. While comprehensive and enlightening, our understanding of story today will seem simple and elementary ten twenty years from now. Our responsibility as writers lies in excavating the truth beneath our superficial grasp on reality and applying that to the characters we bring to life.

Dramatica Success: The Skeptic's Worst Nightmare

When theory moves beyond the theoretical and finds triumph in practical application.

The easy road to success. Everyone wants it. Relatively few admit it. The hypocrisy of the skeptic reveals itself the moment the agent of doubt calls for proof.

Structure Is Not What Happens When

A comprehensive understanding of story structure leads one to appreciate what is being said, not what is seen.

Separating out structure from writing leads to disaster. Failure to understand that the two work in concert to provide a message of intent to the audience fractures productions and removes responsibility of content from the creators. Story is structure.

When Stories Feel Like Other Stories

Stories that argue the same basic message do so with a similar structure.

Sometimes you feel like you've seen this movie before. The faces may have changed. Or they may be rocketing through space instead of riding horses through Monument Valley. Still, something about the overall feeling of the experience screams familiarity.

A Playground for Writers

Writing your story by writing another story

In this series you will learn an exciting and fun way to brainstorm new story ideas by using Dramatica’s powerful Gists feature. These Playground Exercises are the cornerstone of our Dramatica Mentorship Program. In short, they help you transform theory into story.

Expanding the Playground

Broaden the depth of your storytelling by leaning heavily on story structure.

Dramatica functions like a time machine. Speeding you past months of rewrites and dead-end alleys, the theory sheds light on bad story choices while it offers up potentially better ones. Unfortunately, learning how to use it slows time down to a crawl. You need to trick your brain into thinking it's not using Dramatica in order to get back up to speed.

Finding Your Main Character

The very best way to get to know the most important character of your story is to write something else.

Discovering a character true to your voice is one thing. Making sure that character fits with everything else you want to say is quite another. Thankfully, writers of the 21st century now have a tool to make that process easy and productive.

The Main Character Playground

A new writing exercise for writers promises to unlock their creativity.

Many writers rail against story theory. How can a construct of chains possibly compete with the intuition of the artist? Story gurus and theoreticians can pontificate all they want, but their uncertified claims lie dormant. The proof, it would seem, lies in a writing exercise designed to elicit the strengths of both the inspiration of the artist and the wisdom of the structuralist.

The Tragedy of James Bond the Antagonist

It can be misleading to suggest that Bond works against a successful resolution.

Learning to work with Dramatica challenges the mind. On an intuitive level writers sense the accuracy of its concepts and endeavor to incorporate these new understandings in their work. Unfortunately, trouble can sometimes arise when putting theory to practice.

The Crucial Element of Screenwriting in Action

The connection point between subjective & objective throughlines highlights a key narrative element.

When does story theory overcomplicate the writing process? The drive to understand all that is Dramatica sometimes works against Authors. In a case where too much knowledge can be a bad thing, suppressing the urge to overthink may prove beneficial.

On Dramatica's Extraordinary Sense of Perception

The theory feels like magic because it is based on psychological processes we don't usually consider.

Dramatica can read your mind. Sure, it can help you define the conflict in your story, silo off motivations for your characters or even prevent your story as a whole from becoming an unintelligible mess, but the real magic happens when it starts predicting what happens in your mind.

The Schizophrenic Stories of Pixar's Brave

Two directors resulted in two stories masquerading as one.

'Tis not a typo. If a functioning story resembles a single human mind trying to solve a problem then the duplicitous and haphazard nature of Pixar's Brave suggests a split-personality. A psychotic mess of storytelling, this film of two minds exemplifies the need for a better understanding of story structure.

The Wormhole Between Author and Audience

A hidden report in Dramatica bridges the gap between the two sides of a story.

When we see things the way they appear, we don't notice the distortion. Without a demarcation line marked TRUE in big bold letters, we have no idea the true nature of what it is we are looking at. This dissonance between the observed and observer pinpoints a major pain point for writers: the failed first draft.

The Mechanism of Story at Work

The purpose of Acts is to set different contexts for the resolution of a story's central problem.

A process for delivering meaning. Story exists as a carrier wave for an Author's intent. Many want to say much, but much gets lost in the many ways of sending that message. Writers who comprehend the machine can convey their purpose with greater accuracy.

The Relationship Behind Every Great Story

Understand what must be done for the relationship to succeed and you will find the source of conflict between them.

Protagonists fight for the central Goal of a story. Antagonists prevent it. Amidst this epic struggle a relationship develops between two principal characters, a relationship that reflects and balances out the more obvious fight between good guy and bad guy. To maintain this parity between big picture and bonding, Authors may find the idea of a Relationship Story Goal helpful.

Unraveling the Uselessness of the Trope

Many writers waste their time codifying what essentially boils down to opinion.

A malaise threatens the landscape of screenwriting. A dark pretentious cloud of misunderstanding and misdirection, this fiend fogs the minds of would-be Authors and reduces the beauty of subtle complication to clickable buzz words. It's name? The Trope.

Problems of Character Reflected in Story

The personal issues of the Main Character reflect issues in the larger world.

Effective story structure is more than hitting familiar emotional beats or rising complications of plot. Structure exists to grant Audiences a better appreciation of the problems in their lives. The narrative's ability to shift contexts while looking at the same thing presents an opportunity of understanding unheard of, and thus demands careful consideration.

A Blueprint for Effective Character Development

A convincing character arc consists of two key appreciations of story structure

Wants. Needs. Character Arc and Backstory. When it comes to developing a strong central character, many do the best they can with these simple-to-grasp, yet disparate concepts of story. Effective character development calls for a system of story points that function as a cohesive whole.

The Problem with Problems of Character

Complete stories balance sources of conflict with instances of resolution

When granted a new understanding of story, writers tend to latch onto one or two key items. They sense the benefit of a new story point for their writing and quickly add it to their tool belt. The problem lies in assuming this new understanding a lone operator.

The Story Structure of True Detective

The same psychological process that fuels film also runs through television

Format does not determine structure. Whether screenplay, novel, or play, a complete story calls for the same basic ingredients. Television series work the same--they simply take longer to simmer.

Bringing Gravity to Gravity

A missing piece of narrative structure, key to establishing a complete story, left this film with left to offer except one helluva' ride.

Audiences loved Gravity. Critics praised the film. And while the filmmakers' peers loved Gravity--as evidenced by the 7 Academy Awards it won including Best Director and Best Cinematography--there was one award they kept from it.

Dumbing Down Dramatica

Narrative theorists managed to dilute their insights by trying to make their work more palatable

Familiarity and ease of use comes with a cost. Making things simpler confuses something that needs a degree of complexity to be understood. Stories exist as analogies to our minds ability to solve problems. While those minds might be simple, the tools to examine them shouldn't.

The Science of Storytelling

The Dramatica theory of story is the most comprehensive understanding of our need to tell stories.

Monumental leaps in understanding herald the progress of man. Fire. The wheel. Indoor plumbing. Dramatica. The latest development in our understanding of narrative has the potential to improve things far better than the ability to cook our meat.

The Toy Story Dilemma

Does Woody really have a change of heart...or does he strengthen his resolve?

In the search for a grand unified theory of narrative, many land short. Whether myopic in their understanding or limited in their perspective, these paradigms of the past left many a writer shaking their head no. If it works it should work, without exception.

Tying the Towers of Story Structure Together

Ever wonder why the works of Shakespeare endure hundreds of years later? What of Tolstoy or Shaw? One possible explanation exists, an explanation that has everything to do with the integrity that comes with a solid story structure.

A Deep Analysis of A Separation

When a masterpiece demands a closer look

Some films require a closer look--one that seeks to understand the greatness of the storytelling within, and why it feels so different from anything else. A Separation stands out as the simple story of a divorce that turns out to be something much more dramatic and complex in the end.

A Separation: Predicting Greatness

For years, the crafting of a solid story required little more than the ability to guess. Writing. Rewriting. Repeat ad nauseam until the work found its voice. The challenge always seemed to be finding the necessary pieces to tell a complete story.

A Separation: Blueprint of a Masterpiece

Look no further than this gem from Iran for a lesson in superior storytelling.

When it comes to writing a good story, many feel the process to be a mysterious expedition into the unknown. Lacking greater insight into why some stories work better than others, these very same people take the time-tested, yet often failed approach of "We’ll know it when we see it."

Screenwriting: Beating the Odds

A recent trend reveals filmmakers mourning the demise of story. Everyone, it seems, senses something amiss.

A Positive Spin on Problems

A character at rest tends to stay at rest. Newton's laws apply to story as well as they do to the physical world. What exactly then motivates a character to get up and start moving?

Story Consultants: The Snake-Oil Salesmen of Screenwriting

Flimflammers or people who have grown tired of incomplete and pointles stories?

Treacherous waters await those who set out upon the seas of storytelling. While the tossing and turning of indiscriminate waves threaten stability, it is the the company kept within that calls for caution.

Directly Solving Problems Indirectly

Some characters do things even their own Authors don't understand. Understanding how the problem-solving technique of a character works within story can help clear things up and hopefully bring those Authors closer to their own work.

Losing Sight of the Main Character

Without a properly defined Main Character Throughline, Audiences quickly lose interest.

Audiences come to story with the hope of experiencing the new. Key to drawing them in and keeping them there lies with the proper application of the Main Character's perspective. Lose sight of the Main Character and writers risk losing their Audience.

Genius Doesn't Know Genius

Do as I do, not as I say.

For almost two decades, the artists at Pixar Animation Studios have delighted audiences everywhere with captivating and compelling stories. Creatives everywhere have long respected the studio's ability to fuse heart and soul into enduring classics of narrative. How is it then that Pixar apparently has no idea how they do what they do?

Why The Main Character's Approach

The central character of a narrative focuses their initial efforts on the source of their personal problems.

Main Characters make decisions and they take actions. They engage in deliberation and they get things done. Yet for some reason, Narrative Science seemingly requires both Analysts and Authors to force their Main Characters into choosing one or the other.

Flipping Perspectives

An effective character arc measures both the growth and resolve of the point-of-view.

Parsing meaning from story requires an eagle-eye for detail and a refusal to participate in generalities. Along with this greater focus on accuracy, however, comes the responsibility of making allowances for deeply held beliefs over how and why a story operates.

A Reason for Rules

Structure grants meaning and gives purpose to a complete story.

Rules tend to offend the sensibilities of creative writers. The intricacies and nuances of crafting living, breathing characters from ink and type require free abandon. They rebel at the very thought that there could somehow be some order to their chosen form of expression.

The Scientific Study of Story

Learning to see all that there is to see

A question I'm often asked is "How can you possibly take a beautiful creative expression like the art of writing and quantify it into tiny little boxes and mathematical equations?"

Narrative Science and the Evolution of Story

Set adrift on an ocean of mediocrity, many stories list to one side, neglected deep within black and murky waters. An occasional one will shine, a beacon of promise, a bellwether for others to follow. But without a complete understanding of why this one connects and those others reject, the sea level of disappointment continues to rise one shipwreck after another.

Starlight and Character Arc

Comparing the phyiscal universe to our internal universe.

Why is it characters cannot see their own problems? Simple logic suggests that if a character knew the source of his or her own troubles they would employ the necessary solution and move on. Countless narratives, it would seem then, thrive on a character's lack of awareness.

Change Your Character Doesn't Need

Everyone knows the clever adage about what happens when you assume something about someone. But what of those moments when an Author assumes something about writing? Do they make an ass out of their story as well as themselves?

Perfect Story Structure

The perfect story. One that excites, one that enthralls, and hopefully one that enlightens. Writers strive for the pinnacle of their craft, but often fall short. Is there a way to circumvent the disappointment of failure?

Avoiding the False Moment

Audiences know when a writer or filmmaker runs foul. They call the poor sap out, lambasting the creator on Twitter or their Facebook accounts, easily picking apart holes and identifying moments that simply felt false. Everyone, it seems, knows best how a story should be told.

The Shawshank Analysis

The love for this film stems from our shared psychology.

Why is it we can't turn away when this film pops up during one of those weekend marathons? We've all seen it before, we know what's going to happen, yet we still delight in re-experiencing the struggle of these character to overcome overwhelming odds. Why is that?

Character and Change

The psychology behind character arc

While many writers understand the idea of a character arc, the specific storypoints that define that development receive little consideration. Parsing the Main Character's path through a story reveals two key appreciations of story structure: the Main Character Resolve and the Main Character Growth. A better understanding of these two principles allows a writer to see that an arc is more than merely change.

The Story Goal

Identifying the unique purpose of every story

When looking for what a character wants, look to the Story Goal. Often seen as something to acquire, goals of attitude and psychology account for many a sophisticated narrative. Goals are something to acquire, but the nature of those goals can range from the physical to the mental and all spaces between.

The Goal of Every Story, The Goal of Every Author

Focus determines narrative structure.

When tragedy strikes, protagonists leap into action. Battling the forces of antagonism and facing deep-seeded justifications, the central character of any story climbs from one treacherous Act to the next, their eyes transfixed on the prize. But what meaning does this intense area of focus hold?

Rearranging the Broken Psychology

Seeking resolution by changing how others think, not what they think.

Some characters suffer from deficient psychologies. They may be strong, they may have the right moves, and they may have the right attitude, but when it comes to solving their problems something inside of them simply doesn't work right.

Overcoming Difficult Universes

Story goals that find characters breaking free of being stuck in the external world.

Neighboring countries lock themselves in an epic struggle. Families fight to maintain slowly slipping bonds. Estates exorcize the ghosts of residents past. Resolving these rather tenuous conflicts requires focused purpose.

Uprooting the Fixed Mindset

Story goals that find characters breaking free of being stuck within their own mind.

When an Author considers what it is the Protagonist in their story wants they often conjure up a new country the characters can call their own, a treasure chest full of rare emeralds, or the hand of a beautiful girl. Whether it be better living conditions or fantastic riches, the focus almost always remains on the external world. Where else, after all, would you find something worthy of so much attention, something valuable enough to be labeled the Story Goal?

Achieving Story Goals That Are Not Achievements

Clearly defining the type of Goal needed to resolve a story.

Far too often, Authors take what a Protagonist wants for granted. Acknowledging that this drive provides momentum for their narrative, they simply assign a task or reward for this character to work for. True freedom finds shape in the separation of the concept of the Story Goal from the Goal itself.

Unlocking the Structural Code of the Story Goal

Understand that the Goal of a story is more than something that is won or lost.

Stories that amble along needlessly often suffer from the lack of a clearly defined Goal. Without that drive towards resolution, a work of fiction can meander from one pointless scene to the next. Determining the source of difficulties guarantees clarity of purpose for any story.

The True Champion of Chinatown

The identity of the real Protagonist in this narrative will shock you.

Lurking within the darkness of 1930s Los Angeles a lone figure shifts in and out of trouble, his purpose solid and true. A heavy responsibility--that of bringing balance to an unfortunate situation--weighs firmly on his shoulders. While hidden forces others work to prevent his success, this man's relentless pursuit of a favorable outcome continues without hesitation.

Why Theory Matters

Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym. And those whose authority rests in peer review and professional status find every opportunity they can to trash and diminish the honest and hard work of others.

Protagonist and Antagonist: Beyond Hero and Villain

Considering their functional purpose within a story helps establish a sound and effective narrative.

Every writer knows they need them. Successful stories always seem to feature heroic good guys locked in glorious dramatic battle with villainous bad guys. Leave these key characters out and a writer rightfully risks losing his or her audience. Why they need them, however, has always been a foregone conclusion.

Unraveling Tangled

Without a doubt, Disney's Tangled delivers some of the best 3D character animation, rivaling the skill and artistry of the company's traditional 2D legacy. Yet, while following in the footsteps of their legacy brings visual success, maintaining the company's unique brand of storytelling does not.

The Inciting Incident of Star Wars

Every complete story begins with the creation of an inequity, an inequity that requires resolution.

What starts a story? Is it the moment when the Hero receives his Call to Adventure? If one believes stories are transformational journeys of legend, then the answer would be yes. Everything before can simply be thrown out.

Distrust the Process

Nothing worse than winging it. If you have no purpose, you have no purpose telling stories.

You hear it all the time. "Trust the process." "Story is hard." And the ultimate cop-out, "No one in Hollywood knows what they're doing." Each one of these excuses relies upon the belief that somehow story is this magical mysterious thing that can only be acquired through months of sweat and heartache.

Conflict of a Different Nature

Seeking internal conflict within a predominantly external medium.

In story, the forces of conflict arrange themselves in unique and natural patterns. When balanced properly, a story can deliver substance and meaning on a scale unheard of in lesser delivery mechanisms.

Patterns of Conflict

The basis of genre in the positioning of narrative inequity

Writing great conflict into your stories is as simple as finding the context for an inequity, for without context there can be no conflict. Thankfully, the Dramatica theory of story offers writers several different ways to understand and create effective conflict. This multi-article series will reveal to you patterns of conflict you never knew existed.

Drawing the Audience In

The path towards empathy requires a clear Main Character personal Throughline.

Only one way to capture the attention of an audience: give them a personal look at one character's struggle with conflict. Leave this important passageway undefined and an Author risks disinterest and disdain.

Exotic Story Structure Often Unexplored

Moving off the beaten path of narrative structure and into uncharted territory.

The challenge of the new. No writer wishes to repeat themselves. No writer wishes to simply rehash conflicts of old. Yet, without knowing truly what it is they are writing, many authors blindly follow the well-worn path of conflict.

Naturally Structuring a Story for Conflict

Forcing a narrative into a predetermined structure plasters a story with artificiality.

Effective stories deliver meaning to an Audience. The degree with which the structure of the story matches the thought processes going on within the receptive minds of those watching or reading shapes how cogent that message, or meaning, will be.

Not-So Familiar Patterns of Story Structure

Shifting the conflict experienced by the Main Character into a different area creates a unique kind of story.

Crafting a story that examines conflict from a different angle challenges the expectations of an Audience familiar with the same old thing. While some prefer to see the templates of commonality within story, the real key to unique storytelling lies in understanding the power of perspective.

Familiar Patterns of Story Structure

Exploring the same kind of conflict within a narrative results in a common structural conceit.

The types of conflict within a story carry with them a unique narrative code, much like the genetic code within DNA. And just as a different combination of certain genomes determines the eventual type of human they're responsible for, the mixture of these dramatic narrative forces decides the personality of a story.

A Conflict Unlike Any Other

A complete story sources conflict from four different distinct areas.

Every engine needs a fuel source. Without a constant supply, the mechanism sputters and fails, eventually coming to a rest dormant and forgotten on a dried plain. How does one keep the bristling and shiny furnace of story steaming down those tracks?

The End of the Three-Act Structure

The time has come to obliterate Aristotle's stranglehold on narrative fiction. With the amount of information and different perspectives available to Audiences today, a simplified beginning-middle-end approach simply doesn't cut it anymore.

Chasing the Protagonist

The Protagonist: more than someone who wants something 'badly enough to drive a story.'

Story structure based on recognizable patterns garner legions of fans. They draw many in with their easy “fifteen steps to Hollywood success” and their claims of having unlocked the keys of story. Unfortunately, with simplicity comes great inaccuracy.

To Tell a Tale, To Craft a Story

What writer wants obscurity? To spend weeks, months, crafting a work of fiction only to have it become an afterthought in the minds of an audience mere moments after its conclusion? Devastating.

Blockbuster Films and the Main Character

Writers dream of capturing the hearts of their audience. To grab the attention of a group of people and have them become so involved with a character's struggle that they forget their daily lives stands as the Holy Grail of word-smithing. But how do writers expect this to happen if they don't give the audience a way in?

The Magic of the Storyform

Rare is the opportunity for us nowadays to experience something truly wondrous. Sure, we might witness the birth of our own child or watch with bated breath as a satellite a billion miles away navigates its way through the rings of Saturn. But what about story?

Harry Potter and the Amulet of Story Structure

The first film may have provided a clue to the narrative structure of the entire series.

Some stories come to light over a flickering fire. Some need two hours in a darkened theater. Still, others find refuge in episodic serials that span several months. And then there are those stories that can take ten years to tell.

The Religion of Story Structure

Picture a fanatic, and the mind fills with images of single-minded zealots forcing their way of thinking upon the great unwashed. Unreasonable and extreme, these often irrational creatures strike fear in the hearts of many.

Story Goals and Why They Exist

A storytelling cliché pops up from time to time, an easy get that reeks of desperation from low screening numbers: Characters who proclaim their goals out loud. Why must we suffer through this ridiculous conceit?

The Sound of Music: Making History Meaningful

Some Authors find themselves inspired by a bit of character, a few lines of dialogue, or a genre that they themselves wish they could explore. Others find their muse within the real life actions of those who overcame insurmountable odds.

Female Main Characters Who Think Like Female Main Characters

Excitement abounds with Pixar's latest announcement that next year's film, Brave, features the studio's first female lead character, Merida. Long seen as a boys-only studio, Pixar's bold move captures the hearts and minds of those left unrepresented with the lamp's past offerings.

Black Swan and Star Wars: Cousins of Story Structure

These two disparate films share common thematic elements—and it has nothing to do with the Hero's Journey.

One tells the story of an Earth-bound dancer who dreams of being the best that ballet has to offer; the other tells the story of a whiny farmboy who leaves his dusty home to fight against an Evil Empire. Two dreamers at far corners of separate galaxies. How exactly can one claim that there is anything remotely similar between the two?

How to Figure Out Your Character's Arc

Many a story begins with a great character. That flash of inspiration that says I have to write a story about this person. Yet, so many stories stall out just short of that all-important finish line. Why is that?

The Difference Between Neo and Sarah Connor

One is a Protagonist. The other is not.

How can there possibly be a difference between these two characters? They're both heroes. They both refuse the "Call to Adventure." And they both emerge from their respective ordeals transformed into the great saviors of destiny. Aren't all heroes essentially the same?

Dysfunctional Families and Their Stories

Stories of dysfunction are popular among writers who want to explore the conflict that can arise when the psychologies of characters clash. Nailing down exactly what those problems are and how best to dramatize them can be difficult, especially given the basic understandings of story prevalent today.

Framing Devices and What They Mean

While many may suggest that change is always good when it comes to storytelling, using that approach to describe the intent behind the use of "bookends" or a framing device can be potentially misleading. As always, a deeper look into the purpose behind such concepts can illuminate the reasons why they exist and how they can be best applied to one's work

Dramatica: Mad Libs or Madly Accurate?

Confusion abounds when it comes to understanding story structure. Many believe all paradigms of structure equal. This popular, yet incorrect assumption, leaves many a writer in the dark when it comes to unravelling the meaning behind their story.

Forget the Cat, Save Yourself!

There is a new sickness running through the screenwriting world, a sickness that attempts to twist every instance of narrative fiction through the reductive filter that is the "Save the Cat!" story structure paradigm.

Understanding the Arc of a Main Character

Is it possible? Can a work of narrative fiction relate the journey of a character who refuses to back down on their most important personal issues and still mean something? Yes, it can. The key becomes separating the emotional from the objective.

The True Nature of the Inciting Incident

Stories begin with an inequity, one that isn't tied to the central character.

It is the event that starts every complete story. Whether an action or an act of deliberation, this inequity-producing force lights the engine that lay dormant within the context of Backstory. It is not, as is so often misunderstood, development of another problem.

Triumphs of Tragedy: Black Swan and The Wrestler

All tragedies are not created equal. In fact, when it comes to constructing one, great Authors understand the structural definition of a downer ending and how to use it to create an emotional response unlike any other.

How to Fix Hanna

While this story lacked a significant change of perspective, the pieces were in place to accomplish this important task.

Hanna is an exciting, pulsating thriller that tells the story of a young girl seeking revenge for the death of her mother. With compelling performances from its key characters and tense action-packed sequences, this film almost delivers a satisfying and emotionally fulfilling story.

Mildred Pierce

The American tradition of a night out at the movies is slowly coming to an end. Like the captains of the music and publishing industries before them, movie producers and studio executives alike are coming to terms with the destructive force of technological instant gratification.

What Story Structure Is and Isn't

Beginning, middle and end. Aristotle figured it out centuries ago and the rest of us are simply repeating his work with new fangled terminology, right? Far from it.

The Real Magic Behind Great Stories

Spend a few moments perusing the articles on this site and you'll soon pick up on a pattern. Most story structure/screenwriting sites expectorate the same ol' Hero's Journey/transformational arc paradigm. This site takes a decidedly different approach.

Never Trust a Hero

You never know when your assumptions about story structure will turn on you

One of the first things you learn when it comes to writing is the idea of the Hero. You may even hear about how important his Journey is (and in recent years, how much her Journey is). You may even come to the conclusion that you have to have a Hero in order to write a great story, or at the very least, an Anti-Hero. Both conclusions are wrong, you don't need either concept and in fact, thinking in those terms will limit the kinds of stories you can tell your Audience.

Heroes That Aren't

The central character of a story is a perspective, not a champion.

Heroic characters have their spot in narrative fiction. Taking us along for the ride, they a drive a story to its inevitable ending. But what of stories that strive for something more elegant?

The Mechanics Behind Want Vs. Need

The difference between the two lies within the concept of justification.

When one first approaches story structure, they become introduced to the concept of a Hero's wants clashing with what he or she truly needs. As useful as this tool can be in analyzing a story after the fact, it is what lies beneath it that is of import to an Author.

Heroes Who Don't Change

Growth is one thing, significantly changing your point-of-view is another.

It would be irresponsible to suggest that one could craft a story without character development. Stories without this growth fail in the delivery of the Author's intended message. What of stories that have at their core a character who does adopt a new way of seeing the world?

Learning Heroes vs. Teaching Heroes

Understanding the importance of the Resolve of the Main Character.

The latest trend in Hero worship differentiates between central characters that educate and central characters that receive education. While accurate in certain contexts, digging deeper into story structure one can see that an important distinction calls for attention.

Writing a Screenplay with Dramatica

Misguided conclusions abound regarding the Dramatica theory of story with many claiming that this revolutionary look at structure is only good for after-the-fact analysis, not writing. Such thinking flows from a lightweight understanding of what the theory is, and isn’t.

Writing the Antagonistic Hero

When the drive to prevent puts you on the wrong side of success

To most, the idea of Protagonist and Antagonist is clear cut and simple: the Protagonist is the "good guy" and the Antagonist is the "bad guy." But what happens when the efforts to resolve conflict put both good and "not-so-good" forces against one another. Who is the Antagonist and who is the Protagonist? Connnecting motivation to the Goal of the story is the best way to delineate both sides and to ensure a story that doesn't fall apart at the end.

What It Means to Fail

Every story is an effort to resolve some kind of problem. The Protagonist’s success in this endeavor is largely determined by whether or not the appropriate solution is found.

Many stories, and not surprisingly many of Hollywood’s favorites, tell the tale of a Protagonist who injects the solution into the story’s problems, thereby bringing order and balance back into the lives of the characters. Stories of Triumph and Personal Triumph abound with Protagonists who win and Antagonists who lose. It is within the other side of the equation, the Personal Tragedy and Tragedy, where the success of these two dramatic opponents switches hands, leaving the original problem intact.

When Failure Becomes a Good Thing

Not every story needs to work out for the best. In fact, one could argue that greater truth can be found in stories that closer approximate the bittersweet moments in life.

In How To Train Your Dragon, things don’t quite work out the way Hiccup had intended. While smiles abound and the music swells, there still seems to be a sense of loss. The reason why this is goes far beyond the obvious physical changes: something quite meaningful has transpired.

How to Train Your Inciting Incident

Understanding that what incites is something easily definable

When it comes to the construction of a solid story, there seems to be some confusion over how it actually begins. In an attempt to generalize and make easily accessible the idea of the initial plot point, many have reduced meaningful storytelling to a generic assumption that can cause confusion among new writers.

Applying Pressure to the Main Character

Keeping the balance between internal and external pressures.

While the growth of the Main Character through a complete story is regarded as one of the most important aspects of a story, it is also the most difficult to quantify.

What You're Missing By Not Understanding Dramatica

An appreciation of narrative that moves beyond the superficial.

Writers, at least those who wish to be great, aspire for something more with their writing--a connection with others that the mundane cannot provide. This is the kind of story Dramatica tries to help writers write, the kind of story that lives on within the hearts and minds of those who have experienced it.

The Delectable and Exquisite Themes of Ratatouille

When it comes to the theme of a story, most fall back on the Controlling Idea principle, that is, the one overriding thematic concept that flows through an entire piece of narrative fiction. Saddled with this bit of knowledge, most first-time writers ponder incessantly over their one perfect idea, spending a year or two trying to force every scene under its repressive umbrella.

Meaningful Storytelling: An Analysis of Inception

Great stories move beyond spectacle. By crafting character, plot, and theme in such a way that those concepts bounce meaningfully off each other, they grant audiences a deeper insight into the world around them.

Sophisticated Story Goals

Comic book movies are huge nowadays. Whether because it's easier to sell a known property with a built-in audience, or because that built-in audience is now in charge of what gets made, the numbers don't lie. Hollywood wants tights.

The Structure of a Short Story

Story is story, regardless of length, format or delivery device. There is no specialized structure for a two-act play anymore than there is one for a Saturday morning cartoon. Assuming that the purpose of narrative fiction is to create some greater meaning that we cannot experience in our own life, the process to deliver that meaning will always be the same.

The Antagonists of Inception

The Antagonist of a story represents the forces of reticence in the narrative.

Protagonists need someone to stand in their way, someone who will challenge them and create the conflict necessary to drive a story forward. The Antagonist provides one aspect of this opposition.

Accurate Story Structure Ain't Easy

Storytelling cannot be broken down into fifteen basic sequences. Nor can it be learned and practiced over the course of a weekend seminar. Instead it should be seen as a lifetime pursuit that begins with the recognition that there is more to it than the simple journey of a Hero.

The Reason for Acts

When tackling the immense project that is a work of narrative fiction, many writers begin by dividing up the events that occur in their story into separate general areas commonly referred to as Acts. Whether done instinctively or because of something once read, most agree that this practice is both universal and helpful.

Organizing Your Screenwriting Life with the iPhone and iPad

So many programs to choose from, so many options. An embarrassment of riches so exhilarating, many an aspiring writer is left wondering where to start.

Four Acts, Not Three

The idea of a Three Act structure dates itself as an incomplete understanding of the flow of narrative.

From Aristotle to McKee, stories have always been seen as having three movements, or Acts. How can there be anything more to a story than the Beginning, the Middle, and the End?

Plot Points and the Inciting Incident

Understanding when the problem of the story starts sets an author straight.

Plot points can sometimes be difficult to pick out, especially when there is confusion as to the purpose of such a device in a story. If one accepts the idea that stories are about solving problems, the reason for Inciting Incidents and Act Turns becomes all too clear.

The Illusion of Change

The appearance and the reality of narrative structure

Transformation is a process of letting go, a discarding of old ways with the hope that relief may come with new resolve. Growth of character, however, makes no such assumptions of metamorphosis.

When Film Analysis Goes Bad

Sometimes you just get it wrong. The purpose of in-depth story analysis should be to uncover the truths that make great storytelling timeless, not to prove how brilliant the analyst is. It is with that in mind that your humble StoryFanatic confesses to having made yet another mistake.

The True Definition of a Protagonist

Many think they know, but the comfort of their preconceptions blinds them to the complexity of sophisticated storytelling. For thousands and thousands of years, many believed the Earth to be the center of the Universe. A lie mutually agreed upon is still a lie.

Successful Short Story Adaptations

Adapting a popular story for the cinema is a simple process. The key lies within an accurate comprehension of the original source material's structure.

Avoiding The False Moment Of Character

Fixing a story requires a proper understanding of narrative structure.

Character development, and its inherent impact on plot, develops naturally over the course of a story. When that organic journey is somehow interrupted by an illogical or emotionally inaccurate progression, a false moment occurs and the story breaks down.

The Handshake and the Machine

Deus Ex Machina and the end of meaning.

An unspoken bond of trust exists between Author and Audience the moment a work of fiction begins. This emotional handshake guarantees delivery of something far and beyond simple entertainment. Break that trust and one risks losing the goodwill of the Audience.

The Difference Between Neo and Luke Skywalker

While some contend these two share a similar heroic journey, an understanding of conflict personal to them proves otherwise.

While a superficial understanding of story principles makes for a great YouTube video, it does nothing but further the confusion that can exist over effective character development. The greater the level of accuracy on the part of the writer, the greater the experience for the audience.

Not Everything Is A Hero's Journey

Time for this nonsense to finally come to a resounding end.

There is a sickness running through the world, a sickness that attempts to twist every instance of narrative fiction through the siphon of errors that is the "Hero's Journey" story structure paradigm.

The Pacific vs. Band of Brothers

The structural difference between triumph and tragedy.

Historical narrative fiction, especially war drama, often seeks to find meaning in events that at times can seem meaningless. By employing proper story structure strategies, writers can find success in communicating a message that both enlightens and pays respect to those who sacrificed it all.

Avatar and the Broken Main Character

An unclear Resolve breaks empathy and trust with the Audience.

There can be no better way to alienate an audience than to write a story where the Main Character's personal issues are either unclear or not even there at all. James Cameron's latest spectacle, while entertaining and fascinating to watch, is the latest example of a film without a center.

Avatar and Star Wars: Spectacle Over Substance

The Archetypal Characters found in both blockbusters serve an important function.

James Cameron's latest sci-fi action spectacular has taken quite a few hard knocks in the story department, the predominant being that the characters are far too simplistic. But those same people who so easily cry foul would be shocked to learn that this same issue afflicts one of their most cherished films of all time, Star Wars.

Dramatica: Story Theory for the 21st Century

Moving beyond Aristotle and remedial explanations of story structure.

In the 80s, it was Syd Field. In the 90s, it was Christopher Vogler and Robert McKee. In the 'aughts it was Blake Snyder and McKee yet again. What do the teens, the 20s and beyond hold in store for writers?

Why The MacGuffin Is A Joke

The idea of the MacGuffin was never intended to be, nor should it ever be, taken seriously.

Seriously. If anyone comes at you using the MacGuffin as an explanation for why something is the way it is in a story, do yourself a favor and run.

You Don't Know Jack

Effective story structure supports the Author's message.

The purpose of story structure is to provide an audience with meaning. When done right, as it is with this film, the story engine leaves a lasting impression of the message the Authors hoped to convey.

Up In The Air

Connecting the Main Character's personal problem with the story's larger problem creates a meaningful and lasting narrative.

A well-crafted story moves beyond the simple trappings of drama and entertainment to provide an audience with something that lasts long after the curtain falls. Unfortunately few and far between, these are the films we cherish most because they have something meaningful to say about the human experience.

The Main Character's Central Problem

Tying the personal problem to the bigger conflict facing everyone in a story.

You've heard your Main Character needs some inner conflict, a goal for them to work towards. But you're never told why that exists or how to develop this very important part of your story. Until now.

Narrative Drive and Weak Protagonists

The drive to resolve inequity fuels the engine of story.

Protagonists are responsible for driving a story forward towards its ultimate goal. If there is some confusion over who they are, or the goal itself is unclear, an audience's interest in the events that unfold on screen will quickly fade.

Redefining Protagonist and Main Character

Understanding the signficant difference between these two concepts of narrative.

The currently accepted definition of the Protagonist as being the character the audience empathizes most with is inaccurate. Those who hold onto it are robbing themselves of the opportunity to create unique stories that defy convention.

Writing Complete Stories

The secret to success lies in a consistent use of the Four Throughlines of narrative.

Psst! Hey, buddy...wanna know the secret to Pixar’s success?