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Thoughts on Story Structure

October 12, 2016

Guess I'm more like Nathan than I thought—my deep thematic analysis of the excellent Ex Machina contains many inaccuracies. The worst part is learning that the mistake I made is the exact same thing I tell my Mentorship students and professional clients each and every day:

Dramatica's story points are indicators of the SOURCE of conflict in a narrative, NOT merely storytelling.

Chris Huntley on *Ex Machina*

Several Dramatica Story Experts engaged in our monthly Dramatica Users Group meeting. Led by Dramatica co-creator Chris Huntley, we worked our way through the narrative of Ex Machina. After an hour or so of back and forth--fueled mainly by my misconceptions--we finally arrived at a storyform that is so unbelievably represetative of the film, I don't know how I could have been so wrong.

But then I remembered the above about looking for the source of conflict, instead of using Dramatica's story points as storytelling--and it all made sense.

Once the Dramatica Users Group Video and Podcast are published you will be able to witness my error in judgment in action. Thankfully I'm more interested in getting it right than being right, so I was open enough to eventually reconsider and see the mistakes I made.

In short, Caleb is a Changed Be-er and Ava a Steadfast Influence Character. In hindsight it seems ridiculously obvious, but unfortunately I allowed my own understanding of the Audience Appreciations and my interpretations of them over the past couple of months cloud and alter my thinking.

The problem with Audience Appreciations is that they slip the Author into subjectivity—into opinions and personal takes on the concrete elements of story, rather than what actually is there. Perception, instead of Actuality.

The new analysis will be part of this week's podcast and article.

October 12, 2016

From Alex Epstein's Crafty Screenwriting: Writing Movies That Get Made:

I've only tried one screenwriting plotting program. Dramatica attempts to formalize the process by which a crafty screenwriter creates a story. It boils down story structure to a "branching tree" of thirty-two thousand possible "storyforms". By answering questions like "Does the Main Character succeed or fail?" And "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?" you settle on one storyform. It is supposed to take about a week to learn how to use Dramatica. I have no idea if Dramatica is worth the money, but the company has some happy reviews on their website. If you have trouble figuring out why your stories come out wrong, or just have trouble creating story structure, Dramatica or something similar might help.


A week and twenty years maybe. And even then you might end up completely borking your initial analysis of a great movie like Ex Machina. Dramatica is more than worth the money--if for nothing else than the way it opens up your mind to a greater understanding of story.

October 8, 2016

The Dramatica theory of story offers Authors a rare opportunity to look at their story from an objective point-of-view—from the perspective of what their story means, rather than how their story plays out.

Acts, Sequences, and Scenes exist in the Storytelling Domain. They help frame and illustrate meaning. Unfortunately, the infinite variety in which they can be appreciated and observed makes them deficient for an objective framework of story.

Keep Acts, Sequences, and Scenes for those paradigms and models of story that look at presentation and Audience Reception. But when it comes to Dramatica, the theory should likely pivot to ensure greater understanding of Dramatica's unique story points and structure.

Instead of Act, use Signpost and/or Journey.

Instead of Sequence, use Range.

Instead of Scene, use Dramatic Unit.

Less sexy to be sure, but inifinitely more accurate.

Yes, Signpost and Journey already exist and communicate their functions adequately. If it ain't broke, then why fix it?

The Dramatica concept of the Throughline Issue used to be called Range with the first version of the theory back in 1994. As Sequences travel through the Variation level of the model—where the Issues of a Throughline are found—why not use the original terminology to break free from ideas like the popular film-school Sequence Method? It allows those entrenched in that paradigm and their own preconceptions about what a sequence is to use both systems without cross-interference.

As far as Scenes go—as we develop an understanding of how Dramatica Scene Construction works, it becomes apparent that the idea of an actual "scene" varies depending on when you get into the Dramatic Unit (quad) and when you get out. Again, instead of relying on the physical concept of "the scene" to communicate the smallest meaningful part of Dramatica, why not start introducing Authors to this idea of a complete Dramatic Unit?

They can still start their "scenes" late into the unit and can, of course, leave whenever they want. The important part is that Authors and producers and directors alike begin to understand the PRCO, SRCA, TKAD, and PASS of a Dramatic Unit. Combining that knowledge with whatever techniques they mastered on the other side of communicating a story will result in an effective and efficient storyteller.

October 7, 2016

On the discuss.dramatica site, Dramatica Story Expert Mike Wollaeger explains the difference between Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! paradigm and our personal favorite--the Dramatica theory of story:

It's important to remember that Snyder is talking about screenplays and Dramatica is talking about stories. Screenplays start on page one and go until they are finished, about 110 pages. Stories start when an inequity becomes problematic and ends when things are put back into balance. Stories are not confined to a physical form, they are a mental construct.

Which reminds me. Dramatica needs to pivot to different terminology when it comes to Scenes, Sequences, and Acts.

That's a fancy way of saying that Snyder (et al.) are talking about how a story is laid out.

Forget the Cat, and Save Yourself!. Start looking at story, and let the format sort itself out.

October 6, 2016

After working on the first Dramatica Scene Analysis last night, I discovered a more refined way of defining these elements of a dramatic unit.

The key is to always think of Author's Intent. When it comes to Dramatica—and looking at Scenes, Sequences, and Acts through that lens—the "message" or storyform the Author intends on communicating is the primary object of focus.

So think of the Potential of the circuit as the source of inequity for that dramatic movement as far as the Author is concerned. You're not looking at where the Scene starts, but rather where the Author believes the source of conflict eminates from. All Scene Events have purpose—it's a matter of where the emphasis is placed.

In A Separation the Potential for conflict lies within Nader's strict convictions. Remove his obstinate I'm always right no matter what attitude and there is no real conflict. No back and forth arguing. No problem with Simin leaving. And the judge could go on living his happy life without interruption.

It is clear from this scenes, and from many others, that the Author of A Separation intended to show Nader's attitude as one of the primary sources of conflict within the story. This scene is a microcosm of that intent.

The Resistance of a dramatic circuit amplifies or diminishes that Potential. In A Separation that amplification arrives in the form of the judge essentially siding with Nader. Overwhelmed by the system, he takes the easy way out figuring everything will work itself out.

Why is Simin's hope for a better life for her daughter not the Resistance to the Potential found in Nader? It certainly opposes his position, but in terms of the dramatic circuit of meaning constructed by the Author it neither amplifies nor diminishes that inequity.

This is where paradgims of scene construction that look simply at the wants and needs of characters fall short for many Authors. Butting one character's wants against the wants of another (A man wants a delicious taco, another won't let him have it) can lead to a zero charge for that scene. They effectively cancel each other out.

Dramatica, on the other hand, works with the Author to communicate his or her intention. In A Separation, the Author states that matters get worse for those involved because of this laissez-faire attitude in Iran that everything will work itself out. There's nothing wrong with Simin's attitude or their arguing—the Potential forumlated within Nader's convictions is amplified by the system. That is part of the message of purpose intended by the Author.

The Current of a dramatic circuit shows the play, or interaction, between Potential and Resistance. In A Separation that Current plays out with the back and forth arguing, the posturing and positioning between husband and wife as they try to make themselves heard.

In effect, the Author writes the conflict that arises from the Potential meeting up against the Resistance. It is possible the Author imagined this conflict first, then worked backwards to determine the Potential—the source of that inequity—and the Resistance that engendered the conflict in the first place.

And finally, the Power of the dramatic circuit displays the result or outcome of the other three—and the potential for conflict to arise in later scenes. In A Separation this Power lies in Simin's hope for a greater future for her daughter. That notion of misplaced potential that lies in her young child trapped in a country that diminishes her importance.

Rather than seeing this desire as the Potential that drives the scene, the Author decides to encode it as the eventual Outcome of all the awfulness that came before.

To summarize:

  • The Potential of a dramatic unit is where the Author sees the source of inequity. If it was removed, then there would be no reason for the scene.
  • The Resistance of a dramatic unit amplifies or diminishes the Potential. In short, what does the Author believe makes things worse?
  • The Current of a dramatic unit is the interaction between Potential and Resistance, the escalation or descalation of dramatic conflict as seen by the Author.
  • The Outcome of the dramatic unit is where the Author believes the Power of the circuit lies and where a possible potential for the next Scene arises.

There is a sense from this scene that not everything will work out the way it should. The alignment of these events within the dramatic unit and the order in which they are presented is the reason for that feeling. The PRCO and SRCA of every dramatic unit is purposeful and adds to the Author's message carried within the code of the storyform.

October 5, 2016

A complete perfectly structured scene consists of four Events. When using the Dramatica theory of story to analyze or create a scene, four modalities of Scene Construction exist:

  1. TKAD (Fixed Attitude, Situation, Activity, Mentality)
  2. PRCO (Potential, Resistance, Current, Outcome)
  3. SRCA (Setup, Revelation, Conflict, Aftermath)
  4. PASS (Passive, Active, Structural, Storytelling)

The first three modalities are applied to the four major Events of a complete Scene. Each Event gets one TKAD, one PRCO, and one SRCA. When the totality of the first three are exposed the scene feels complete both emotionally and logistically.

The last modality sets the mode by which the Author intends to illustrate the scene. In contrast to the first three, the Author does not apply a member of PASS to each of the four Events, but rather selects one to color the illustration of the first three modalities.

An Analysis of One of the Greats

In the first scene from A Separation, wife Simin wants to leave the country of Iran with her husband Nader and her daughter Termeh. Simin does not want her daughter to grow up within the current conditions of the country. The husband refuses to even consider—his father is ill and must be cared for at all times. Nader's determination to stay in Iran forces Simin to file for divorce.

This first scene is her application for that divorce.

Studying the scene we see four major Events:

  1. Simin desires a better life for her daughter.
  2. Nader refuses to consider.
  3. Husband and wife argue with the judge as they plead their side
  4. The judge refuses to decide in Simin's favor.

First we will go through the first three modalities:


Here we identify the source of conflict in each Event:

Situation: Simin and her daughter are women stuck in modern-day Iran.

Fixed Attitude: Nader's confidence that his way is the only way is the focus of his bad attitude.

Activity: Simin and Nader argue their point of view--interrupting one another.

Mentality: The judge passively aggressively scolds the parents for bringing their argument to court.

Applying TKAD colors the Event by enriching it with meaning and purpose. Instead of the judge simply refusing, he refuses through Mentality--and gentle manipulation.


Secondly, we identify the source of Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome of the dramatic unit in this scene.

Potential: Nader is absolutely dead set with his convictions. He has no doubt that his way is the way.

Resistance: The judge, overwhelmed with cases like this, prefers to take the easy way out.

Current: Husband and wife argue over what will most likely happen if the other wins.

Outcome: Simin sees great opportunity for her daughter elsewhere.

Again, the modalities enrich the Events by giving them greater dramatic impact. The judge leaving things open isn't the end, it's the juice that runs through this scene--the possibility of things working out in the future.


Thirdly, we decide the order. As the events unfold in a linear fashion (without any fancy StoryWeaving time-shifting techniques) identifying the order is as simple as jotting down the order in which the events were presented to us in the film.

Setup: Simin makes her appeal.

Revelation: Nader explains why it's a bad idea.

Conflict: Husband and wife plead their side

Aftermath: The judge refuses to decide in Simin's favor.

Pretty cut and dried. Note that SRCA does not match with the PRCO. This happens as a byproduct of dynamic choices made by the Author.


Lastly, we color these three modalities with our means of illustrating the scene. This is a Passive Structural scene. While it passes on information concerning the storyform, it does not further the story along the way an Active Structural scene would.

This means we color the above with Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre. Note that Dramatica sees Genre differently—almost as a Perspective—for the Event in consideration. The Dramatica Genre quad sees for Perspectives of narrative: Entertainment, Comedy, Drama, and Information.

The Author passes along important, yet passive, structural information through these Events:

Character through Nader's obstinate attitude.

Plot through the judge's decision not to side with Simin.

Theme: through husband and wife arguing back and forth. This is a thematic statement repeated throughout the film: Individuals more interested in arguing their side, rather than coming to a synergistic conclusion.

Genre: through Simin's situation we learn what it is like for women in Iran today and perhaps find out something we didn't know previously. We see her Situation in terms of Information.


In conclusion the four Events of this Passive Structural scene are:

  1. Simin wants out (Setup, Situation, Outcome, Genre)
  2. Nader refuses to reconsider (Revelation, Fixed Attitude, Potential, Character)
  3. Husband and wife plead their case (Conflict, Activity, Current, Theme)
  4. The judge refuses to side with Simin (Aftermath, Mentality, Resistance, Plot)

With every modality accounted for, this scene in A Separation stands out as one of the greats. Storywise, it feels emotionally complete and logistically satisfying. In a fractal sense it works like a mini-story, a small dramatic unit that works as a part of a greater whole.

October 4, 2016

Dissecting Melanie's article on How Scenes Relate to Dramatica's Story Elements further, the analogy of the dramatic circuit is refined:

Although it has "flow" a circuit is really seen as a unit, comprised of these four parts.

This is why we can start with the Outcome, like we did in yesterday's post on how The Relationship Between Acts Carries a Message and then move on to the Potential. PRCO describes the relationship between the parts of that dramatic unit.

Active, Passive, Structural, Storytelling

There is a section at the end of the article that I skipped over when I began this discussion on Scene Structure with Dramatica. I skipped it because the section felt like one of those things that fit into the category of Underdeveloped Dramatica Theory, like the Lost Theory Book—fun to think about, not at all practical. After a weekend spent contemplating the deep thematic considerations of individual scenes, I wonder this section's impact on the modalities of scenes.

The quad of items discussed in that section consists of Active, Passive, Structural, and Storytelling. Collectively they indicate the particular mode of illustration for the Events in a Scene. They indicate the teaching of the storyform.

Structural or Storytelling

Structural Scenes illustrate these four Events in terms of Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre (no direct correlation here.)

Interesting that an Event could declare itself either Character, Plot, Theme, or Genre. And the other three Events claim the remaining three. This indicates a structural scene--one that conveys the storyform itself.

Storytelling Scenes illustrate these four Events in terms of audience impact (impacting the audience’s sense of their own Situation, affecting their Attitude, involving them in a vicarious Activity, or exploring the way their minds run by illuminating the Mentality).

I suppose Storytelling Scenes are the "fun" ones. The ones that thrill or chill or make us laugh. They perhaps have little to do with the structure or storyform at all. Remove them and the meaning of the story would remain the same--it just wouldn't be as much fun.

This is compelling because, as I started to consider various scenes for examples, there were several examples that I felt weren't robust enough. Their modality as a strict Storytelling Scene is likely the answer.

Active or Passive

Last week I indicated these two were part of that last, or fourth, modality--then changed my mind. I might change it back again.

Both Structural and Storytelling Scenes can be presented in Active or Passive fashion. Passive Scenes illustrate these Events in the Story or Audience. Active Scenes put them into motion, moving the story forward or invoking changes in the nature of the audience itself.

Now, for me, this is one of those Melanie pieces I need to write out again. Break the sentences down into something more visual.

  • Passive Structural Scenes illustrate the Events in terms of Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre
  • Passive Storytelling Scenes illustrate the Events by impacting the Audience's sense of Situation, Attitude, Activity, and way of Thinking
  • Active Structural Scenes use the four Events to move the story forward through Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre
  • Active Storytelling Scenes use the four Events to invoke changes in the nature of the Audience's Situation, Attitude, Activity and Way of Thinking

Examples of Illustrating the Events

Many of the Death Star Attack scenes in Star Wars involve the Audience in a vicarious Activity. As did the Desert Chase sequence from Raiders of the Lost Arc. Passive or Active? Active Storytelling.

The opening battle between husband and wife in A Separation? Passive Structural for sure. They illustrate the storyform, but don't push the story forward as they would with an Active Structural Scene.

The scene where Inigo Montoya stands up to the six-finger man in The Princess Bride? Active Structural. Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre pushing the story forward.

The deli scene in When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan proves to Billy Crystal that women can fake anything? Passive Storytelling meant to affect the Audience's prejudiced Attitudes towards the other sex.

The Fourth Modality

After working through these items, this section is more important than I originally gave it credit. And I'm pretty sure it replaces my idea of Proactive, Reactive, Defensive, and Inactive as the fourth modality. I was thinking Active and Passive when I developed those, but ignored Structural and Storytelling as I didn't find them pertinent.

Not anymore.

This quad illustrates TKAD and determines the force of Energy behind it. If the storyform—or TKAD—delivers the Understanding to the Audience, then PASS (Passive, Active, Structural, Storytelling) teaches that storyform to an Audience. The Learning to the storyform's Understanding.

A perfect candidate for that last modality.

October 3, 2016

What if we were to shift the sequence of PRCO at the Act level? Instead of following the usual--and perhaps, predictable--pattern of 1234 (or SRCA), what if we aligned the dramatic circuit to 4132? What would that do to the story? More importantly, what would it feel like?

Take our story from before, of the professor and the nephew and their struggle against the spy agencies of the world to bring a life-changing invention into existence. Thanks to the ingenuity of both, they succeeded and saved the world.

Let's tell a different story. Same players, same potentials, same major plot events--but this time, let's alter the order of the Plot Progression in the Overall Story:

  • Signpost 1: Learning
  • Signpost 2: Understanding
  • Signpost 3: Obtaining
  • Signpost 4: Doing

Already, it feels strange to think of our story in this order. The Learning used to come at the end. Now it's at the beginning and now we conclude with Doing. What's that going to be like?

SRCA is NOT Storyweaving

Note that our markers for Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome remain the same:

  • Signpost 1: Learning is still the Outcome
  • Signpost 2: Understanding is still the Potential
  • Signpost 3: Obtaining is still the Current
  • Signpost 4: Doing is still the Resistance

As mentioned before, changing the order like this is not akin to time-shifting Storyweaving techniques found in films like Memento or Pulp Fiction. We can change the order in which the events from our first story are revealed to the Audience and the story will carry the same meaning. Changing the order of PRCO though--and thus, how the components relate to each other--will have a significant impact on the meaning of our story.

Let me show you.

The Beginning of a Different Story

An English professor screws over Chinese Nationalists by trading bogus inside information for access to secret technological hardware. The stealing of these secrets is the initial inequity. The Nationalists want revenge for being duped and the Professor wants to use the secrets to invent a device to change the world. Tracking the Professor and Gathering Information on Him and his Nephew represents the Outcome, or Power, of conflict in this story.

How is this the Outcome of the story, rather than the Potential?

Time to Discuss Time

Contrary to what many think, time is not strictly a progression of cause to effect. The idea that this happens, then that happens, and then finally that happens is a very linear way of looking at the universe. From another point-of-view, it all happens at once. What will be was, and what is will be.

Unfortunately the telling of a story is a linear process. We show one scene then move onto the next and then the next. Novels have sentences, movies have scenes. We can't deliver the storyform holistically so we approximate it by delivering the Outcome with the Setup.

When it comes to understanding PRCO and its relation to SRCA within the storyform, Authors must find a way to become comfortable with seeing space and time all at once. This is not something many are used to doing. For predominantly linear thinkers this may be even more difficult, perhaps impossible; for the more holistically inclined the response may be Well, duh, yeah...

The holistically inclined already see the Outcome of this dramatic circuit from the beginning. The relationship between other dramatic potentials and this first Signpost of Learning telegraph this final stage.1 Linear thinkers often attribute this to "intuition" as they don't understand how one could arrive at a conclusion before proceeding from beginning to end. They don't get how you can write a narrative without thinking cause and effect in every instance.

But you can.

The great things is—Dramatica offers linear thinkers a chance to see the other side.

Developing the Potential and Completing the Circuit

The Outcome of the dramatic circuit doesn't mean what happens in the end of the story, but rather the stage at which we appreciate the power of the Potential meeting Resistance. The next stage, the Revelation, is the reveal of the Potential in this circuit.

Continuing on with our story...

In an effort to help his uncle, the nephew absconds with the secrets. Unfortunately, not only does he make off with the tech, he also ends up setting it off--creating a wormhole in the universe that transports him into the heart of the NSA's new neural network for spying on the world. The confusion surrounding this event and Misunderstanding that occurs with the introduction of this bug in the system--both in the neural network and within the Chinese spy network--represents the Potential for conflict in the story. The imbalance between the forces at work that seek resolution finds genesis in this section.

How weird is that? We started with the Outcome of the circuit, and now we move back to the Potential, or genesis of the circuit. Same events, but the story feels somewhat stranger…

Outcome meets Potential and creates the Current of our story. The nephew works to get a message of warning to the professor while the Chinese and US spy agencies work to Permanently Extract the Bug from the Network (Obtaining). Agents from both sides delete each other as they work towards neutralizing the nephew.

The Current finds itself in the same position as the original story. And while the same exact things happen, by proceeding it with the Outcome and Potential of the circuit is putting the young boy on a different path.

The only thing left to cover is the Resistance of this circuit.

Completing the Circuit

Funny to consider the Resistance of our circuit at the end of our story, but one doesn't argue with Dramatica when it comes to matters of time and space.

We know the Power of dealing with these thematic considerations finds us in Gathering Information. And we know the Potential finds its genesis in Misunderstandings. And the Current finds tangible existence in Extraction and Deletion. But where is the Resistance in the circuit?

Everyone knows you can't have Power without Resistance.

Running from the Chinese Nationalists already in the network and the NSA agents who have identified an intruder is the Resistance (the Doing) to that Potential. Especially since returning to the professor would drag attention to the old man and destroy any chance of his invention coming to fruition.

And it does.

The nephew makes it out of the network and back to reality alive only to witness the professor's murder at the hands of the Chinese Nationalists. The NSA could have prevented his untimely end, but chose not too--preferring instead to avoid any conflict and make it possible for the boy to continue running for his life. And continue to engage the wormhole device. And continue to expose vulnerabilities in their system and in the Chinese spy network.

The professor's invention lies unfinished.

And the world stays the same.

The Circuit Now Complete

Same Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome. Same characters. Same "wants and needs". Same major plot points.

Different ending.

The story had to end in failure because of the order in which the storyform progressed through PRCO. That Resistance of Doing increased the Potential of Misunderstanding and Confusion. Continuing the confusion. Not resolving it. Creating that sense of dissatisfaction by ending everything in failure.

Can you feel the dramatic difference in how this story feels compared to the last? That has everything to do with Dramatica's ability to translate time and space into a singular meaning. That has everything to do with the Storyform.

That Power of Gathering Information? That was always going to be the end all of the meaning of this storyform. That's why you already know where the story will end up intuitively, even after the first Act. Your mind's ability to holistically appreciate the process of Problem solving locked in the code of a complete narrative gave you that answer even before you read the whole thing. That feeling of dread for the boy and his uncle that you felt towards the beginning of the 2nd act? That's the storyform informing you that it's not going to end well for them.

More to the Story

With stealing initiating the inequity and the Setup focusing on the last stage of the dramatic circuit, the stoyform hardwired the failure of the professor to change the world into the story's code. PRCO is Space. SRCA is Time. Combine the two and you create a holographic image of Author's intent.

The Dramatica model of story is a fractal model from top to bottom, from Act to Scene. Tomorrow we will look at how the combination of PRCO and SRCA works at the Scene level. Hint: it's the same as described in the Act level above.

  1. Yes, I wove other Story Appreciations into this example apart from the first Signpost of the Overall Story. ↩︎

October 2, 2016

Continuing our discussion yesterday regarding PRCO and Scene Construction, consider a typical Plot Progression for an Overall Story Throughline in Activity:

  • Signpost 1: Understanding
  • Signpost 2: Doing
  • Signpost 3: Obtaining
  • Signpost 4: Learning

From this we can identify the SRCA, or 1234, of the Throughline, but we can't appreciate PRCO. As a reminder the SRCA reflects the Setup, Revelation, Conflict, and Aftermath of a quad.

Let's imagine for a second that it follows the typical Z pattern through a quad.

  • Signpost 1: Understanding would be the Potential
  • Signpost 2: Doing would be the Resistance
  • Signpost 3: Obtaining would be the Current
  • Signpost 4: Learning would be the Outcome

This could play out in a story like this:

An English professor screws over Chinese Nationalists by trading bogus inside information for access to secret technological hardware. This Misunderstanding manufactured by the Professor is the inequity of the story. The imbalance between forces is the source of Potential for conflict in the story: the Nationalists want revenge for being duped and the Professor wants to use the secrets to invent a device to change the world.

This would be an extremely boring and mundane cat-and-mouse tale if it weren't for the Professor's nephew who shows up and accidentally absconds with the secrets. In fact, he not only makes off with the tech, he ends up setting it off--creating a wormhole in the universe that transports him into the heart of the NSA's new neural network for spying on the world. Running from the Chinese Nationalists already in the network and the NSA agents who have identified an intruder is the Resistance (the Doing) to that initial Potential. Especially since returning to the professor would drag attention to the old man and destroy any chance of his invention coming to fruition.

Potential meets Resistance and creates the Current of our story. The nephew works to get a message of warning to the professor while the Chinese and US spy agencies work to Permanently Extract the Bug from the Network (Obtaining). Agents from both sides delete each other as they work towards neutralizing the nephew.

The only thing left to cover is the Outcome of this circuit.

The nephew makes it out of the network and back to reality alive. Unaware of the results of his attempt to communicate to the professor, the boy races back home only to witness the professor's murder at the hands of the Chinese Nationalists. They gave the boy his access back into the real world, avoiding conflict in order to Track the Boy and Locate the Whereabouts of the Professor (Learning). But the Chinese weren't the only ones following the boy's every move. The NSA arrives and terminates the Chinese agents as well. In doing so, the Americans reveal to the boy that they helped deliver his message to the professor.

The boy beams as the professor rises to his feet revealing a bulletproof vest beneath his clothing: he knew all along what was going to happen thanks to the boy and prepared for the occasion. And what's more...the professor had time to hide away his invention from the prying eyes of the NSA.

The professor changes the world with his invention.

Order Carries Meaning

With the professor saving the world, we complete the dramatic circuit of our story. By aligning the 1234 order with PRCO we tell a certain kind of story. If we were to alter this story by changing 1234 to match say OPCR, then we would be telling a different kind of story. **The order of the progression of events through the storyform carries meaning. **

Note that this is separate from any Storyweaving techniques applied to the storyform during the Storytelling process. Films like Memento, Pulp Fiction, and Remains of the Day may play with the order in which they reveal the storyform, but they do not alter the message, or meaning, of the story. SRCA is not time-switching.

Tomorrow we will cover this difference in meaning and show how it relates back to the structure of a scene.

October 1, 2016

After this week's breakthrough in understanding Scene Construction from a Dramatica point-of-view1, questions arose concerning the application of these new Scene Modalities. In particular, the function of PRCO (Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome) and its relation to the storyform.

If every Scene of a narrative is to further the argument, then the same kind of logic we find in the upper levels of Acts and Sequences should exist way down below. The storyform is the progression and component relationship of the argument in both space and time. The Scene level, then, is the smallest resolution possible in formulating that argument--without losing sight of the top.

Acts find themselves in the Type level and are identified by the Signposts. Sequences show up in the Variation level and find homes in the various thematic Issues. Scenes reveal themselves at the Element level and work a path through semantic items typically reserved for Problems, Solutions, Symptoms, and Responses.

The same meaningful order and relationship that exists at the Type level within the Signposts (found in the Plot Progression window) and at the Variation level within the Issues (found in the Plot Sequence Report) is also found at the Scene level.

We just can't see it.

And I mean literally, not figuratively.

The Dramatica application fails to provide an accurate assessment of the order and relationship between items at the Scene level.

We can only guess.

Resolution and Meaning

At this time it also becomes necessary to point out that at this level, the order and relationship loses importance in the conveying of the meaning wrapped up in the storyform. Running a Signpost 3 before Signpost 2 has a significantly greater impact on the meaning of a storyform than misconstruing a 3rd Scene of Control for a 2nd Scene of Avoid. The first will result in a demonstrably recognizable difference in the emotional meaning of a story; the second will be attributed to a loss of signal due to noise.

Looking at a wooden table, a change in the texture of the grain will still convey to the observer a wooden table. It doesn't suddenly become a chair. Perception of meaning is a function of resolution.

Understanding PRCO

In addition to the order of Signposts found within the Plot Progression window, each Signpost receives a marker of Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome. These are the essential components of the dramatic circuit found in Dramatica. Think of them as the Problem, Symptom, Response, and Solution for every quad.

The Problem arises with the introduction of an inequity and creates the Potential for dramatic conflict.

The Symptom represents Resistance to that inequity in the form of misconstrued focus.

The Response acts as the Current to the combined application of Potential and Resistance.

And finally, the Solution functions as the Power, or Outcome, of that dramatic circuit--the result of the first three interacting with each other.

Note that the Power of a dramatic circuit does not necessarily mean equity returns. In fact, if caught in the midst of a larger argument, the retention of greater Potential in subsequent moments is the Outcome's primary function. In other words, try not to zero out the Potential for conflict with every Outcome.

Unfortunately, as with events at the Scene level the application fails to provide the identification of PRCO at the Signpost/Type level.

Theoretically, though, it is still there.

Tomorrow we will take a look at this dramatic circuit in action and provide a foundation for understanding how PRCO works within a scene.

  1. At least, it was a breakthrough for me. I'm sure Chris and Melanie, the co-creators of Dramatica, felt it covered some familiar ground. ↩︎


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