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4 minutes
September 8, 2015

When Dramatica Analysis Goes Bad

Story analysis with Dramatica is not subjective.

Online you’ll find a “Dramatica” analysis of Frozen that differs from the official Dramatica analysis and differs from my own personal Dramatica analysis. Citing subjective opinion as grounds for woefully inaccurate conclusions, this analysis only confuses those new to the theory and threatens the integrity of Dramatica. Homegrown interpretations of this complicated and refined theory serve only to diminish the hard work of the past two decades.

Every complete story consists of four major Throughlines: Main Character, Influence Character, Relationship Story and Overall Story. Every complete story takes a look at conflict from four different contexts: a Situation, an Activity, a Fixed Attitude, and a Way of Thinking. Four Throughlines, Four contexts. Assign one context to one Throughline and you have a complete story. Leave one out or double them up and you’ll have a hole—in short, a broken story.

The Author of the offending analysis believes that the Overall Story of Frozen focuses on Fixed Attitudes as the source of conflict. Frozen is about the furthest you can get from an Overall Story of Fixed Attitudes. Think of films like 12 Angry Men or Searching for Bobby Fisher or a novel like To Kill a Mockingbird and you can get an idea of what a Fixed Attitude story is all about. Prejudice, bias, stoic opinion—these are the trappings of an Overall Story mired in Fixed Attitude.

Frozen doesn’t even come close. You won’t find a single Dramatica Story Expert who agrees with this notion, nor would I suppose an endorsement from the theory’s creator, Chris Huntley. In fact, the official Dramatica analysis of Frozen (both podcast and videocast) features Chris leading a group analysis of the film. In it, you’ll find that experts themselves had trouble agreeing on the specific thematics of the piece as the film is simply broken narratively.

The one thing we did agree on though was the source of conflict in the Overall Story. Like Elsa’s heart, the landscape of Arendelle is frozen. Literally. Everyone is stuck in that Situation and suffers from that fixed external problem. No one is prejudice. No one is biased. Everyone suffers from the same predicament—they’re stuck in that town.

Dramatica Analysis is Not Subjective

The erroneous analysis offers this as preamble:

One cannot eliminate the subjective aspect of story analyses. We all see stories differently and certain elements carry more weight for some people than others.

This is a cop out—a defensive technique designed to hinder meaningful discussion. Story analysis is not subjective—at least not the type we do at the monthly Dramatica Users Group meetings. A consensus is always required and everyone is required to defend their point-of-view. One can’t just say “Well, that’s how I see it” and expect to find an actual storyform.

In order for Dramatica to work, definitive examples backed up by thorough analysis of every Throughline are required. One can always argue a single context for a single Throughline. I could make a case for Frozen as commentary on a Way of Thinking or Activities, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to make a case for the other Throughlines.1 It’s only when you’re able to argue coherent examples for each Throughline in its own context that you’re able to arrive at an accurate storyform.

During the theory’s infancy, it is important that examples of Dramatica analysis be vetted and agreed upon by experts in the field. If inaccurate analysis is left unchecked, the theory stands to lose much in terms of its clarity and insight. A model for comprehensive and thematically coherent storytelling is here; let’s not destroy it with homespun interpretations and subjective opinion.


  1. I would also be laughed out of the room. Or at least seriously chided. ↩︎

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