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Moving Beyond Implied Conflict

Dramatica is not story-by-numbers; you really have to work hard at it.

Time to point out something I used to do all the time when I was first learning Dramatica. I would see Main Character Problem: Non-Accurate and think, Oh, that makes perfect sense. I can totally see conflict there. Mike acts outside of tolerances. Satisfied with this in-depth understanding of my story, I would confidently head into my first draft …

… only to find that I wasn’t any further than if I had started on my own. All the richness Dramatica was offering to me was completely left off the table because I forgot to serve the entire meal. What does Mike’s acting outside of toleraces involve and how is that personally causing problems for himself? And the answer has to be specific. The more specific the richer the story will be.

Each item in a Dramatica storyform consists of three parts:

  1. The Appreciation (or Story Point)
  2. The Domain, Type, Variation or Element (or Gist)
  3. The Contextual Conflict provided by 1. and 2.

Stopping with #2, like I did above, is lazy writing; it is that kind of storytelling-by-numbers that everyone worries Dramatica is all about. The real leap forward—the real magic—happens when you move beyond simply copying down what Dramatica offers and think of what that piece of the storyform is telling you. It is not enough to say Mike’s Problem is Non-Accurate. You have to image and write down what specific conflict arises from this Problem.

So instead of jotting down in my notes Mike acts outside of tolerances, I could write Mike’s counter-culture nature, a backlash against his strict conservative upbringing, comes off phony and inauthentic—effectively ostracizing him from the few friends he has, leading him to spend several painful nights alone. A bit of a run-on sentence, but you can see how this generates a wealth of scene ideas and vivid specific imagery. Picture a sad sack trying his hardest to be different and ending up sad and alone on a Friday night.

Don’t be lazy and assume the implied conflict presented by Dramatica's Storyform enough to get you going in your story. You have to take the time to illustrate that conflict and explore the meaning behind the story point. That will elevate your story to a higher plane.