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The Elusive God of Originality

Pandering to the gatekeepers

Dan Hoffman, story consultant and contributor to Creative Screenwriting, spreads disinformation about Dramatica is his answer to the question What are the best alternatives to the Dramatica Story Expert, if any?:

If you aim to, one day, become a professional screenwriter, stay away from all these programs whose purpose it is to generate formulaic concepts. I’ve been a studio reader for years, a script consultant for the professional film industry even longer and one of the most frequent reasons for rejecting a script was un-originality.

Originality is a function of storytelling, not storyforming (structure). Dramatica’s purpose is to help organize an Author’s thoughts and artistic intent. The only formula is an understanding of how the mind resolves problems when faced with an inequity (conflict).

Dan, like many, conflates Dramatica with commonplace narrative paradigms more given to subjectivity (Save the Cat!, et.al.)

The thing is: a formula can’t teach you to write anything original. That’s the whole purpose of a formula; to generate generic stories.

If I told you that the secret formula behind Dramatica is this:

t/k = a*d

How on Earth does that help you generate a generic story?

Thought divided by knowledge equals ability times desire. Does that sound anything like one of Dan’s rejected screenplays?

No. Because narrative structure, as theorized in Dramatica theory, plays no part in the originality of a story. Dramatica is not a theory of popular screenplay structure, it’s a theory of how we put together coherent thoughts into a complete and well-balanced argument.

Originality is one of the most important criteria for choosing screenplays in the professional industry. Put these two factors together and what does that tell you?

Placing aside the fact that this is really just one thought repeated twice, advocating for subjective intangibles like “originality” is one sure-fire way to keep your Audience guessing. Dramatica, and the work done here at Narrative First, is not meant to keep the writer on the hook.

There is an objective appreciation of narrative that once understood, vastly improves the quality of a story. You learn the theory and you move on—you’re not left trying to predict the moving target of someone’s opinion (also known as originality).

Stay away from it and all similar devices that teaches you that stories that can touch the human heart, stories that resonate with people, stories that elicits feelings, stories that convey experiences about the human condition—can ever be generated by a formula.

Beautifully written, but in the final analysis, ultimately disposable advice. It's akin to telling a chef to create something delicious—without a single word about the ingredients.

Put all formulas aside and write something original.

Awesome. Is this your notion of originality or someone else’s?

I want to make sure I pander to the right gatekeeper.