Story Judgment

The Audience wants to know the emotional state of the Main Character at the end of the story. Were the events of the narrative worth it, or are they still troubled and angst-ridden about their personal baggage? Theoretically speaking this story point reflects the emotional state of the narrative as a whole--meaning, does the Author feel like the efforts to solve the problem were a Good thing or a Bad thing?

07-19-2005

Dramatica Simplified

A simple way to look at the theory's eight essential dynamic story points of narrative.

Dramatica can seem a bit overwhelming when you first start out. One need only flip casually through the theory book dictionary before instantly coming to the conclusion, “This is insane!”

06-02-2009

How to End a Movie

Meaningful endings are a result of orchestrating a compelling argument.

There are basically four different ways you can end a movie: Happy, Sad, Bittersweet Happy, and Bittersweet Sad. Afraid that might be a little reductive? Not when you realize that there are a zillion different ways of presenting these endings.

06-08-2009

How to Write a Tragedy

Mix equal parts objective failure with subjective angst.

Nobody likes a sad movie. When audiences go to see a movie they want to be uplifted, right?

06-28-2009

Writing the Personal Triumph

The combination of failure and a sense of peace creates this bittersweet narrative.

Having examined both Triumphant Stories and Tragic Stories, the focus shifts now to stories with a more sophisticated ending. These last two categories represent my favorite kind of story.

07-08-2009

Writing the Personal Tragedy

The combination of success with unresolved emotional states creates this bittersweet narrative.

Feeling good about losing out is one thing, feeling miserable about winning is something else. Like the personal triumph, the personal tragedy straddles the emotional bridge between an all out rejoicing and an overwhelming depression.

07-17-2009

Of Tragedies and Triumphs

A meaningful ending is one where the Author communicates a complete argument.

There are tragic endings, and there are triumphant ones. There are celebrations of personal achievements, and cautionary tales of pushing too far. The meaningful ending is the purpose of a story, it is the essence of what the author is trying to say.

09-07-2009

The End Of A Main Character's Arc

Peaceful resolutions come in many different ways, regardless of how reprehensible.

Main Characters, like the people in real life they portray, find peace in their own personal way. Sometimes they achieve this resolution by means most would consider sad or even reprehensible. What happens when an Author’s judgment on a Main Character’s growth clashes with societal standards?

04-28-2010

You Don't Know Jack

Effective story structure supports the Author's message.

The purpose of story structure is to provide an audience with meaning. When done right, as it is with this film, the story engine leaves a lasting impression of the message the Authors hoped to convey.

11-16-2010

When Failure Becomes a Good Thing

Not every story needs to work out for the best. In fact, one could argue that greater truth can be found in stories that closer approximate the bittersweet moments in life.

In How To Train Your Dragon, things don’t quite work out the way Hiccup had intended. While smiles abound and the music swells, there still seems to be a sense of loss. The reason why this is goes far beyond the obvious physical changes: something quite meaningful has transpired.

11-30-2010

Writing a Screenplay with Dramatica

Misguided conclusions abound regarding the Dramatica theory of story with many claiming that this revolutionary look at structure is only good for after-the-fact analysis, not writing. Such thinking flows from a lightweight understanding of what the theory is, and isn’t.

05-26-2011

Dramatica: Mad Libs or Madly Accurate?

Confusion abounds when it comes to understanding story structure. Many believe all paradigms of structure equal. This popular, yet incorrect assumption, leaves many a writer in the dark when it comes to unravelling the meaning behind their story.

06-19-2011

The Difference Between Neo and Sarah Connor

One is a Protagonist. The other is not.

How can there possibly be a difference between these two characters? They're both heroes. They both refuse the "Call to Adventure." And they both emerge from their respective ordeals transformed into the great saviors of destiny. Aren't all heroes essentially the same?

06-30-2011

Black Swan and Star Wars: Cousins of Story Structure

These two disparate films share common thematic elements—and it has nothing to do with the Hero's Journey.

One tells the story of an Earth-bound dancer who dreams of being the best that ballet has to offer; the other tells the story of a whiny farmboy who leaves his dusty home to fight against an Evil Empire. Two dreamers at far corners of separate galaxies. How exactly can one claim that there is anything remotely similar between the two?

08-21-2012

Change Your Character Doesn't Need

Everyone knows the clever adage about what happens when you assume something about someone. But what of those moments when an Author assumes something about writing? Do they make an ass out of their story as well as themselves?

07-02-2016

Video Montages of Meaningful Endings

A collection of clips showing the different meaningful endings an Author can portray simply by combining how things turned out with how they feel about how things turned out.

My first series of articles covered the concept of the Meaningful Ending. The video montages that went with the articles were the cornerstone of these series and of my weekend workshops and course at the California Institute of the Arts. I'm happy to say that I finally found the time to reupload these videos and embed them within their respective articles.

08-04-2016

Transforming Real Life into a Story

Turning the events of our lives into meaningful narrative requires an understanding of how our minds operate.

If Dramatica is a theory of story based on the psychology of the human mind, then it only follows that that very same model can be used to understand the narratives of our own lives. Real life can seem pointless at times, meaningless within the chaos of living day-to-day. Crafting a narrative gives context to the conflict, and offers meaning to our own experience.

08-11-2016

9 Steps Towards Telling Your Story

Create a framework of narrative around the events in your life and transform the inconsequential into something truly meaningful.

Everyone has a story tell, whether you are an individual, a local group, or a business striving to define itself narrative helps put the events of our lives into context and gives meaning to the day in and day out. But putting that story into action and telling it in a way that is compelling and engaging can be quite overwhelming.

08-18-2016

Using Dramatica To Assess Narratives In The Real World

By understanding the structural and dynamic appreciations of narrative, the storytellers of today can be masters of their own destinies.

A deep understanding of the underlying structure of narrative makes it possible for individuals and organizations to predict where their stories are leading them. If the outcome turns out to be undesirable, key leverage points exist that--if engaged--turn the tide of narrative and align the flow to a different path. The only question to be asked is--what story do you want to tell?

09-01-2016

How To Tell If Your Main Character Faces Overwhelming Or Surmountable Odds

Understanding the science behind narrative opens up the channels of communication between Author and Audience.

Why do some Main Characters find the conflict they face manageable while others balk under the pressure of insurmountable odds? More than a random reality at the mercy of the Author's Muse, the feeling of dramatic tension within a narrative is traceable and discernible. The direction of development within the Main Character and the overall emotional state of the story itself gives writers a clue as to the nature of that tension.

09-20-2016

Looking To Tension To Define Structure

Figure out how the conflict feels to the Main Character and you'll find the structure of the narrative.

I mentioned this in the podcast today, but wanted to get it down on paper for all to read: I feel like the substitute semantic values of Overwhelming and Surmountable I wrote about in How to Tell If Your Main Character Faces Overwhelming or Surmountable Odds make a huge difference in analysis. Knowing that the Main Character Throughline is somehow connected to the essence of dramatic tension makes it easier to determine whether the MC is a Do-er or Be-er.

10-13-2016

Ex Machina: The Narrative Code Hidden Within the Machine

In order to unlock the thematic message locked deep inside a story, both Author and analyst must maintain an objective point-of-view.

Misdirection and misconception. Lies and predictions of grandeur. The hubris of an intellectual ass that guides everyone towards a tragic misunderstanding of true intention. While all this could easily be said about the fantastic Ex Machina—these judgments also land squarely on our initial analysis of the film.

10-17-2017

se7en

An effective account of telling a story about the dangers of the stories we tell.

Director David Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker delivered a taut and disturbing thriller back in 1995. Detailing the exploits of John Doe (Kevin Spacey), a serial killer bent on teaching humanity the errors of its way, se7en frightened the Hell out of many and inspired even more to repeat its brash and dark narrative. While studio heads begged to reverse course on the disturbing and depressing ending, both creatives instinctively knew the result of a decision based on fear:

02-27-2018

How to Build a Narrative Argument

Support now exists for writers looking to strengthen their story's thematic argument.

Codifying the thematic argument of a story is no longer a guessing process reserved for the few. Methods and understandings exist today that propel a neophyte Author’s appreciation of narrative structure into the stratosphere. The question is: Will you jump aboard or be left behind on the dying and increasingly hostile planet of blind ignorance?

06-27-2019

Defining the Structure of a Premise

Order is everything.

The purpose of a Premise is to establish thematic intent. With a clear idea of what is being said, the Author begins to see what is essential to the story, and what can be left out. In short, the Premise is structure.

10-01-2019

The Ambiguous Author and the End of All Meaning

What it means to write with purpose.

Some suggest profundity in the unclear ending—as if ambiguity is its own reward. This recommendation, while enticing to the Author unsure of his Premise, leads to an ultimately forgettable product. The shroud of uncertainty allows one to dodge the challenging work of deep analytical thinking.

10-08-2019

The Effect of Premise on Narrative Structure

Encoding meaning into the order of events.

What you want to say with your story determines what you write. It seems simple enough—until you realize that the order in which those events appear in your story carries significance. Suddenly, your purpose becomes more than a reason to get out of bed in the morning. What you want to say, your Premise, orders your thoughts into a unique and meaningful narrative structure.

12-23-2019

Walking the Path of Virtue

Getting to know your creative impulse

Recent updates to Subtxt improve its interpretation of Premise. After a brief email exchange with Nick Schouten, Narrative First's resident fact-checker, it looks like the algorithms for Premise will alter again—this time, in the area of the Personal Triumph Story.

03-17-2020

Why Story Structure Sometimes Feels Too Restrictive

The tendency of the Holistic to drift away from narrative structure

It’s probably not Earth-shattering to hear that a mindset more focused on the alignment of self would sometimes overlook matters of structure and order. With the dynamics of shifting relationships constantly in flux—yet continuously in the forefront—the Holistic removes the comfort food of clarity found in Outcome and Judgment off the menu—