Acts and Signposts
Everyone wants to know, “Do any professional screenwriters use Dramatica?”
Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve found irrefutable evidence that the answer to that question is “yes.”
The proof lies in one of the better episodes of The X-Files - “Milagro.” And like Mulder used to say, “The truth is out there,” you just have to know where to look for it…
Thanks to recently declassified FBI files, we now have photographic evidence of Dramatica in use. If you’ll look to the right of this frame, you’ll see four rows of index cards pinned to this writer’s wall. While the first three rows vary in length, the last row consists of seven cards.
Should Padgett (the writer in this episode, played expertly by John Hawkes) be taken in for questioning? Would he admit to using Dramatica?
Probably not, for fear of being labeled the follower of a cult. But chances are, if we delve further into this story, we might unearth some more ”truth.”
Let’s take a closer look at Padgett’s cards.
(Milagro - Padgett’s Cards - image missing)
Those familiar with Dramatica will perhaps see a similarity between the way these cards are laid out and the Plot Progression screen in the software.
Dramatica sees four throughlines in a complete story:
These four throughlines weave in and out of each other through the course of the story; each representing one of the four perspectives on the central story problem. The Objective Story represents the dispassionate “They” perspective. The Main Character and Impact Character take over the “I” and “You” perspective, respectively. And the Subjective Story assumes the passionate “We” perspective.
Furthermore, Dramatica sees four Signposts and three Journeys in each of these throughlines. These Signposts and Journeys are the “Acts” that most writers are familiar with. You start with Signpost 1, then progress to Journey 1, then Signpost 2, then Journey 2, and so on until you have seven “acts” for each throughline.
Just like Padgett has there at the bottom of his chart.
Now, to be completely accurate, Dramatica does not see seven acts at once. It all depends on how you are looking at your story. If you’re looking at it from “outside,” then the four Signposts will be most apparent. If you’re looking from “within” your story, then the three Journeys will stand out. Both exist at the same time.
If you’re looking at a typical adventure film, the Signpost perspective would look something like this:
Whereas the Journeys in that same film would read like this:
But you can use both if you want to. Like all things in Dramatica, if it helps you, then by all means use it. And it appears Padgett is using all that he can to write his novel.
Now, I know what you’re thinking - the coincidence of seven cards pinned to the wall is a little shaky when it comes to proving whether or not Dramatica was used in this episode. And to be fair, I wouldn’t count this as proof-positive either. In fact, I remembered it as being 4 rows of 7 cards. So, I was a little bit disappointed when I went to make screen caps for this article.
However, I was not disappointed when I watched the rest of the episode. The Plot Progression in “Milagro” is so obvious and so conspicuous that Dramatica had to be used.
More on that in my next article - The Truth about Dramatica and The X-Files.
Writer Frank Spotnitz only confirms my initial speculation:
[Frank] noted that the cards that hang on Padgett’s wall were put up to emulate the original writing style of The X-Files, saying, “The cards that are on the writer’s wall are the same format that we wrote The X-Files in. We would use those same cards when figuring out stories for the series.” Spotnitz wrote the notes himself “because the prop guy couldn’t do it as well as we could because that’s really the way we did it. It’s a very emotional love story and it’s really about our love for these characters as writers”
Interesting aside: Except for the first card which reads “K.N. murders his own best intentions,” the rest of the cards on Padgett’s wall contain the first 40 lines or so of Ezra Pound’s “Canto 1.” Now, knowing little to nothing about 20th century poetry, I have no idea the connection between this poem and the rest of the episode. The only thing I could find with minimal research was that Pound was credited with saying “The artist is the antenna of the race” — which, perhaps, many of the writers of the X-Files felt during the 90s.
At any rate, the full text of Pound’s Canto can be found here. And here is a link to an interesting connection between The X-Files and Ezra Pound.
The Impact Character Throughline is now referred to as the Influence Character Throughline. The Subjective Story Throughline is now referred to as the Relationship Story Throughline. Both were changed to improve the accuracy of the theory. ↩︎