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Building Characters with Dramatica

The Dramatica theory of story separates itself from every other theory by looking at the story itself, not at how the story looks to an audience.

Many writers new to Dramatica take to the theory's explanation of characters. The chapters on Star Wars and Jaws and The Wizard of Oz provide practical applications that make sense and seem easy to implement. The corresponding definitions for the different character elements of Pursuit, Disbelief, Temptation and Help spell out exactly how these characters should behave.

The only problem is that eventually the writer needs to move beyond these definitions if their characters are to become real. In the beginning those definitions are good to refer to, but after awhile they become a crutch and the writer spends too much time trying to match the definition, rather than spending that time infusing their story with the proper motivation.

It is best to look at the objective character elements as points of motivation for your characters, as in this elements motivates the character to...

Having explained this to a client of mine, he responded:

I will try to keep this in mind. There are so many layers of looking at a story in Dramatica, it sometimes makes my head spin. The character elements - as I understand them - function to make sure that the different motivations are accounted for. So that one of them asks ’Why don’t we look under the bed?’ before the audience asks ’Why didn’t they look under the bed?'

When using Dramatica, writers must find a way to separate their story from the Audience's reception. So much of film school and English Lit classes focus on how the story feels to the Audience, that they fail to recognize what actually goes into a story. Dramatica deals with the ingredients of story, not the taste of one.

Worry about what the audience will think or perceive later when writing your drafts. You can think about it when you read your story--as an audience member--but as the creator you need to focus on the points of story you're trying to communicate. You can't sit on both sides of your story at once: you must decide and create and then look to see how it works.

Dramatica is looking at the story--not how the story looks to the audience.