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.

To be skeptical is to take the easy way out and the first line of defense for an insecure mind. The Dramatica theory of story too confusing? Too frustrating trying to force your broken story into a comprehensive model of narrative? Then blame your lack of comprehension on "pseudo academic language" and marketing schemes. Heaven forbid you admit your own deficiency and do something to try and fix it.

Simpler to take the easy road yourself.

The skeptic hides behind its call for verification as a means of avoiding the uncomfortable task of growing. Want to take the real easy road? Ask another to prove themselves.

The Skeptic's Call to Task

From time to time a frustrated writer, fed up with the psychological struggle that is the comprehension of complex theories of narrative, takes time off to lambast and denigrate the work being done with Dramatica. [This latest diatribe][1] expresses the vexation one feels working through Dramatica's Query System:

Now with a Ph.D in Shakespeare I don’t think I’m that thick, but I find the whole process [of working with Dramatica] deeply de-motivating, confusing and counter-productive. The software forces me to follow very strictly delimited paths, with the end goal of producing a treatment from which the actual piece of fiction can be created. My problem is that by this point I’ve lost all interest in the story and characters, and most of the will to live.

Well that' s not good. But it is a common response from writers new to the theory. One must liken the process of working with Dramatica as coming to terms with an objective perspective on one's own process of rewriting. These paths the skeptic refers to only become delimited as a consequence of narrative choices made earlier in the process. No different than reading a draft and determining which scenes to keep and what lines of dialogue must go. The Author makes choices and delimits future options down the road. Dramatica merely provides a framework for making those decisions.

In the end, it's the same process writers have been using for hundreds upon thousands of years. Write, analyze, rewrite, analyze, rewrite, analyze, write and so on and so on. Only now writers have the opportunity to be objective about their their own work.

A Process of Developing One's Sense of Narrative

One can approach Dramatica holistically, eschew the linear story guide and the "boxes" of restriction, and find consistent success but they need to toss aside preconceivied notions of what a software application provides to them. This is not EasyCalc or GarageBand. You won't end up with a pretty graph to frame or a finished song to impress your friends.

Dramatica is a theory of story. It sees a piece of narrative as an analogy to a single human mind trying to solve a problem. As such it doesn't tell one what to write but rather helps solidify a coherent line of thinking before putting words to paper. Dramatica restructures one's concept of story, removes it from the ethereal world of make-believe, muse and intent and concretizes the drive to connect with an Audience. Why waste time stumbling in and out of drafts, searching for artificats of cognition when an understanding of the end of the road can be arrived at midstream?

Working with Dramatica, filling in those blanks and challenging one's own preconceptions of narrative develops the Author's mind and focuses their efforts towards something palatable and illuminative. You may not end up with a step-by-step outline to plug into Scrivener but you will understand the various expressions of conflict, the nature of backstory and the justifications characters encounter as a result. In short you are learning as you struggle. More importantly, and as a consequence of this education, you will develop your sense of story to the point where you can confidently and accurately identify areas of concern for those you write for.

Good in the Room

"Good in the Room" refers to a Hollywood professional's ability to inspire confidence. Whether facing the studio executive, the head of marketing, or the fellow executive producer a writer intent on "selling" their story must have an unbelievable knowledge of narrative itself. Studio executives want the assurance that they won't have to hold the writer's hand throughout the development process. Executives shouldn't have to give notes or figure out why a character would be motivated to act a certain way or what to do about a slow and plodding plot. That's the writer's job!!

An understanding of Dramatica provides Authors the knowledge needed to give "the money" exactly what they're looking for. They want a complete story. They want something figured out. They want to be told a story. They don't want to have to write one.

As someone proficient in Dramatica, I've found it easy to quickly identify areas of concern within a narrative and provide ready solutions to quickly resolve it. Many look back with faces scrunched and dumbfounded at a perspective of story presented several steps removed. Where did that come from? crosses their minds, soon followed by But something about it feels right. They don't know where it originated, but they know what they like. They like stories that work.

And they like that they have one less thing to worry about.

Sterile Terminology

Skeptics love to rally against Dramatica's language:

This is one of the biggest problems with Dramatica Pro, it has it’s own terminology, or uses concepts in a way that makes it extremely hard to grasp what the program is asking for, even with copious explanatory notes.

And this comment from another:

Any sane person can see that the terminology in the software is so vague and twisted that it could mean anything.

The assertion that Dramatica's language is anything closely related to vague speaks volumes of the comprehension skills of the accuser. In order to define a theory that is 100% accurate regardless of medium (film, novel, play, short story), certain accepted terms needed to be redefined. Protagonist and Main Character needed to be separated, the concept of "change" within a character more accurately defined and paired with Growth. In addition there are areas of the current Dramatica model that are difficult to describe with the English language--the difference between Being and Becoming a prime example.1

While this approach might seem vague and pseudo-scientific to the simpleton, the gain in accuracy is a welcome addition to those who work in story day in and day out.

Gregory, an advocate of Dramatica's approach had this to add:

All the sterilizing is not Dramatica’s fault, yet this review wants to make this Dramatica’s fault, as if it is ruining story telling. This is no more true then the theory of relativity ruining the experience of watching a moonrise. If you want to understand how it works it is going to be a totally different experience. It is up to the one who makes that choice to set that aside so they can enjoy the magic of the result once again. It is almost a cliche to say that ‘I wanted to learn how something worked, to only find after it had lost it’s magic.’ But if you want to be able to do it, and do it well, you have to understand how it works. Dramatica helps you understand how it works and makes sure that those choices make sense. You can of course break those rules but most often for most stories those rules will make it a better story not a worse story. [emphasis added]

Only Good for Analysis

Another favorite of the skeptic dwells in the attempt to stifle Dramatica's use as a creative tool:

If you look at the website you can see lots of examples of the method being applied retrospectively to films, which makes me think that it has more appeal as a rather odd method of formalist critique than as a writer’s tool.

Thrice now I have personally witnessed the silence and lack of substantial notes after pitching stories crafted with Dramatica. As touched upon in the previous article Structure is not What Happens When these stories left no room for critique by design. Once may have been coincidence. Repeated exposure to this effect leads one further away from Providence and closer to fervent belief.

Yes, the theory helps you analyze what you're written, but Dramatica goes one step further and tells you information about your story that you never told it..that's beyond groundbreaking. Now you have an objective writing partner helping you with the actual process of rewriting pointing out exactly how to fill those "holes" in your argument.2 There really is nothing else like it. Whether you're looking back and analyzing or looking forward and creating, Dramatica has you covered.

Moving On

some of [Dramatica's questions] would baffle Aristotle: “Which personal issue affects the hero: Chaos, Knowledge, Order or Thought?”

I agree Aristotle would have been baffled by Dramatica. But he would have been equally baffled by Copernicus. The guy who came up with the ground-breaking concept that stories have a “beginning, middle and end” would stare slack-jawed at the idea of a Main Character Unique Ability or an Objective Story Benchmark. Best not to equate one's line of thinking with that of someone ill-informed on the reality of the Universe.

Skeptics don't know because it is simply the easier way to lead one's life. Ignorance is bliss and all that. Rewiring takes time, patience and fortitude. Many don't have these qualities. One wonders what the skeptics will say in the wake of Dramatica success stories now at their genesis. Will they take the time to really understand or will they continue to attack superficial concerns?

It took thousands of years for people to realize that the Sun was the center of the Solar System. Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long for our own collective understanding of story to evolve.

[1]: http://johnguycollick.com/software-for-writers-dramatica-pro"Dramatica Pro – software for writers | John Guy Collick"

  1. Where does merely being something transition to becoming? In English the dividing line rests fluid between these two. In Spanish you have ser and estar. Concrete definitions of these common placed words in the context of narrative needed to be addressed. 

  2. Story is an Argument after all. 

Download the FREE e-book Never Trust a Hero

Don't miss out on the latest in narrative theory and storytelling with artificial intelligence. Subscribe to the Narrative First newsletter below and receive a link to download the 20-page e-book, Never Trust a Hero.