Complete Stories and Dramatica
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.
There are some films that you only see once. As great as they may be, there really isn’t much of a compulsion to experience them again. These are the unwanted ones. And then there are those films that you want to see over and over again. These cherished works are the subject matter of this article.
Dramatica is a comprehensive holistic model of story that covers the structures beneath meaningful narrative fiction regardless of the medium. The concepts within the theory accurately explain the timelessness of great plays like Hamlet and deeply moving novels like To Kill A Mockingbird as well as it does The Godfather or Star Wars. Great story is great story no matter how it is transported to an audience.
There have been many films made that are missing components Dramatica states are necessary for a meaningful story. Taken and Inglorious Basterds from 2009 are just two examples of films that found an audience without meaning. These popular movies relied on the charisma of their actors and the thrills of their set pieces to engage the public. But taken as a whole, both these films leave one feeling strangely empty as the credits roll. When given an option on a Friday night between Brad Pitt’s Nazi scalper or Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, most lovers of story would choose the latter. Both feature charismatic actors, yet only one delivers the story. Dramatica explains why.
Yet, this explanation comes with a cost. Resistance is met from many corners of the screenwriting world as those firmly entrenched in their own understanding of story find it difficult to latch on to the unique perspective that Dramatica offers. But as an infamous group of cybernetic organisms will one day tell us, “Resistance is futile.”
The only reason anyone has had trouble answering the questions posed by the theory is because there were significant inconsistencies with the story they were trying to tell. If you spend enough time with the theory and make the effort to really understand what it is trying to say, you start to realize that the reason great stories work out so well (Hamlet, Godfather, Chinatown, Shawshank Redemption, Casablanca), is because they had these inconsistencies worked out. Dramatica points out the errors with your thinking.
Many recognize the difference between what the Protagonist wants and what he or she really needs. Dramatica shines by explaining exactly why this dynamic exists and why a character would be so focused on their wants when focusing on their needs would really satisfy the problems in their lives. Other paradigms recognize the pattern, yet offer little in terms of understanding why. In addition, the theory forces a writer to decide what kind of ending they want and its connection with what they really want to say with their story. These are good things.
Every writer has his or her own personal blind spots. It is what drives them to write, compelling them with the need to say something worthwhile. Many writers don’t like Dramatica because it points out their blind spots. Unfortunately for them, that is the main purpose of the theory. It says to writers, “Look, you’re not perfect, you’re actually missing an entire side to the argument you are trying to make, and if you leave it out the audience is going to call you out on it (by not going to see your movie).” Dramatica won’t let you write an incomplete story.
The reason so many of the terms seem obtuse is because the English language was created predominantly by males. As much as we’d like to pretend that we are the only ones that matter, there is another half of the population that sees the world in a different light. Dramatica tries to compensate for this male bias by using words or terms that are the closest approximation to what they really should be in accurately describing what goes on within a story. Again, the theory is a complete model of the human mind, both male and female. There will be some wonkiness to it as the systems for communication in our culture tend to favor one side over the other.
Dramatica really is the best model of story we have available to us today. It does not dictate style, pacing, or narrative (linear or non-linear). These highly subjective elements of writing are left up to the artist - the way it should be. When helping authors achieve rock-solid story structure, I always make a point of first understanding what it is the individual artist is trying to say with their work. Only then can I accurately apply the theoretical concepts behind Dramatica to their work. It is an objective approach to constructing a story that many are unfamiliar with as most analysts rely on their experience and instinct—both heavily subjective in nature. Opinion and the specifics of creative expression should be left in the hands of the artist. It is the construction of a meaningful argument that always requires assistance.
It is surprising how so many consider Dramatica formulaic or by-the-book storytelling when it makes great efforts to free writers from the creative shackles imposed by Field, McKee and Snyder. Unlike Snyder who dictates that one has to have a “Dark Night of the Soul” moment or that the “Final Image” must be directly related to the “Opening Image,” Dramatica leaves the particulars of how a story should be presented up to the creativity of the author. Structure does not dictate how a story should be delivered, only that it be delivered completely.
Dramatica accounts for all these previous paradigms and moves on to tell you, “You know what? You want to write something unique, something different, something the world has never seen before, well then here you go. Here’s how to make it work, now you go do the actual writing. Just know that if you try and write something meaningless or broken, I’m going to call you out on it.”