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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Character Development Tricks!

by Melanie Anne Phillips
creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

As trite as it might seem, as yourself "What would a story be withouth characters?" The answer can help you get a grip on exactly what characters really do in a story, and therefore how to build them effectively.

Although it is possible to write without the use of characters, it is not easy. Characters represent our drives, our essential human qualities. So a story without characters would be a story that did not describe or explore anything that might be considered a motivation. For most writers, such a story would not provide the opportunity to completely fulfill their own motivations for writing.

For example, we might consider the following poem:

Rain, rain, go away.

Come again another day.

Are there characters in this short verse? Is the rain a character?

To some readers the poem might be a simple invocation for the rain to leave. To other readers, the rain may seem to be stubborn, thoughtless, or inconsiderate. Of course we would need to read more to know for certain.

Suppose we wrote the sentence, "The rain danced on the sidewalk in celebration of being reunited with the earth."

Now we are definitely assigning human qualities to the rain. Without doubt, the rain has become a character. Characters do not have to be people; they can also be places or things. In fact, anything that can be imbued with motivation can be a character.

So, a fantasy story might incorporate a talking book. An action story might employ a killer wolverine. And a horror story might conjure up the vengeful smoke from a log that was cut from a sentient tree and burned in a fireplace.

When we come to a story we either already have some ideas for a character or characters we would like to use, or we will likely soon find the need for some. But how can we come up with these characters, or how can we develop the rough characters we already have?

Coming up with characters is as simple as looking to our subject matter and asking ourselves who might be expected to be involved. But that only creates the expected characters - predictable and uninteresting. Making these characters intriguing, unusual, and memorable is a different task altogether. But first things first, let us look to our subject matter and see what characters suggest themselves. (If you like, try this with you own story as we go.)


Suppose all we know about our story is that we want to write an adventure about some jungle ruins and a curse. What characters immediately suggest themselves?

Jungle Guide, Head Porter, Archeologist, Bush Pilot, Treasure Hunter

What other characters might seem consistent with the subject?

Missionary, Native Shaman, Local Military Governor, Rebel Leader, Mercenary

How about other characters that would not seem overly out of place?

Night Club Singer, Tourist, Plantation Owner

And perhaps some less likely characters?

Performers in a Traveling Circus (Trapeze Artist, Juggler, Acrobat, Clown)

We could, of course, go on and on. The point is, we can come up with a whole population of characters just by picking the vocations of those we might expect or at least accept as not inconsistent with the subject matter. Now these characters might seem quite ordinary at first glance, but that is only because we know nothing about them. I promised you a trick to use that would make ordinary characters intriguing, and now is the time to try it.

Of course, we probably don't need that many characters in our story, so for this example let's pick only one character from each of the four groups above: Bush Pilot, Mercenary, Night Club Singer, Clown.

First we'll assign a gender to each. Let's have two male and two female characters. Well pick the Bush Pilot and the Mercenary as male and the Night Club Singer and the Clown as female.

Now, picture these characters in your mind: a male Bush Pilot, a male Mercenary, a female Night Club Singer, and a female Clown. Since we all have our own life experiences and expectations, you should be able to visualize each character in your mind in at least some initial ways.

The Bush Pilot might be scruffy, the Mercenary bare-armed and muscular. The Night Club Singer well worn but done up glamorously, and the Clown a mousy thing.

Now that we have these typical images of these typical characters in our minds, let's shake things up a bit to make them less ordinary. We'll make the Bush Pilot and the Mercenary female and the Night Club Singer and Clown male.

What does this do to our mental images? How does it change how we feel about these characters? The Bush Pilot could still be scruffy, but a scruffy woman looks a lot different than a scruffy man. Or is she scruffy? Perhaps she is quite prim in contrast to the land in which she practices her profession. Since female bush pilots are more rare, we might begin to ask ourselves how she came to have this job. And, of course, this would start to develop her back-story.

How about the female Mercenary? Still muscular, or more the brainy type? What's her back story? The Night Club Singer might be something of a lounge lizard type in a polyester leisure suit. And the male Clown could be sad like Emit Kelly, sleazy like Crusty the Clown, or evil like Pennywise the Clown in Stephen King's "It."

The key to this trick is that our own preconceptions add far more material to our mental images than the actual information we are given - so far only vocation and gender.

Due to this subconscious initiative, our characters are starting to get a little more intriguing, just by adding and mixing genders. What happens if we throw another variable into the mix, say, age? Let's pick four ages arbitrarily: 35, 53, 82, and 7. Now let's assign them to the characters.

We have a female Bush Pilot (35), a female Mercenary (53), a male Night Club Singer (82), and a male Clown (7). How does the addition of age change your mental images?

What if we mix it up again? Let's make the Bush Pilot 7 years old, the Mercenary 82, the Night Club Singer 53, and the Clown 35. What do you picture now?

It would be hard for a writer not to find something interesting to say about a seven-year-old female Bush Pilot or an eighty-two year old female Mercenary.

What we've just discovered is that the best way to break out of your own mind and its cliché creations is to simply mix and match a few attributes. Suddenly your characters take on a life of their own and suggest all kinds of interesting back-stories, attitudes, and mannerisms.

Now consider that we have only been playing with three attributes. In fact, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of attributes from which we might select. These might include educational level, race, disabilities, exceptional abilities, special skills, hobbies, religious affiliation, family ties, prejudices, unusual eating habits, sexual preference, and on and on. And each of these can be initially assigned in typical fashion, then mixed and matched. Using this simple technique, anyone can create truly intriguing and memorable characters.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in all of this is that we have become so wrapped up in these fascinating people that we have completely forgotten about structure! In fact, we don't even know who is the Hero, Protagonist, or Main Character!

Many authors come to a story realizing they need some sort of central character and then try to decide what kind or person he or she should be from scratch. But it is far easier to first build a cast of characters that really excite you (as we did above) and then ask yourself which one you would like to be the central character.

So, imagine.... What would this story be like if we chose the seven-year-old female Bush Pilot as the Hero. How about the eighty-two year old female Mercenary? Can you picture the 53-year-old male Night Club Singer as Hero, or the thirty-five year old male Clown?

And how would things change depending upon who we pick as the Villain or Antagonist? In fact, by choosing one of these characters as the Hero and another as Villain it will begin to suggest what might happen in the plot, just as picking the subject matter suggested our initial characters. Writer's block never has to happen. Not when you are armed with this technique to spur your passions.

Antagonist vs. Obstacle Character

by Melanie Anne Phillips
creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

Recently a writer asked:

As I strive to understand the main character/obstacle character dynamics, I am left wondering where does the antagonist fit into this new theory of story?

I believe I understand what you are getting at with the obstacle character, but it seems that something is missing...the antagonist!

I see that the selection of antagonist is available as a character type, but I do not see where one plots out the antagonist storyline. Isn't the Main Character/Protagonist vs Antagonist storyline just as important?

My Reply:

The characters in a story represent the facets of our minds. That's why we call the structure of a story the Story Mind. Archetypes are our broad personality traits, while the Main Character represents our sense of self. The Obstacle (or Impact) character is that part of ourselves that plays "devil's advocate" when we are trying to determine if we want to change our minds about a particular issue. If we do, the Main Character is convinced by the Obstacle Character's argument and changes. If we don't, the Main Character sticks to the old view and remains steadfast.

Protagonist and Antagonist are two of our personality traits. Protagonist represents our Initiative - our desire to change the status quo. Antagonist represents our Reticence to change, the desire to keep things as they are or return them to the way they were.

Often the character that fulfills the Protagonist function is also the character chosen as the Main Character. So, not only is this character the Prime Mover in the effort to change things by achieving a goal, but he (or she) also represents the audience position in the story. Such a character is the basis for the stereotypical "hero."

Similarly, the character who functions as the Antagonist is often chosen to also represent the Obstacle Character's opposing paradigm, world view, or attitude toward the "message issue" of the story. This creates the stereotypical "villain."

More sophisticated stories split these functions. Sometimes, as in the story To Kill A Mockingbird, they are completely split. In that story, the Protagonist is a small town lawyer (Atticus) whose goal is to free a black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl. But we don't see the story through his eyes. Rather, we experience the story through the eyes of a child - his young daughter named Scout.

The Antagonist is the father of the girl who was ostensibly raped. He wants justice to take its normal course for that town, which would be a conviction based on race. He wants the status quo. This fellow, Bob Ewell, is opposed to Protagonist Atticus' goal. So, the plot's logistics revolve around these two characters.

But Scout, as Main Character, has her devil's advocate voice that is her obstacle in the passionate story regarding the message issue. The character that has the greatest impact on her worldview, the greatest obstacle to maintaining her preconceptions is Boo Radley. Boo is a mentally challenged man who lives down the street in the basement of his parent’s home. All the kids in the neighborhood, including Scout, know him to be a monstrous "boogey man" who feasts on small children. But that is just a rumor based on fear. In fact, he is quite gentle and protective of the kids who never meet him directly. He looks out for them, but they don't see it and despise him. Only when he rescues Scout from a vengeful Bob Ewell does the truth of his caring nature come out. Scout must change her mind about Boo.

In this manner, while we root for the virtuous Atticus, we are suckered into being prejudiced ourselves as we identify with Scout and accept her prejudices without any direct evidence or experience of our own. This is clearly a wonderful use of the technique of splitting all four characteristics.

In other stories, the Protagonist character is also the Main Character but the Obstacle Character is the Love Interest and the Antagonist is the rival. Such an arrangement is the classic "dramatic triangle" in which the logistics of the plot regarding the goal are fought out between the Protagonist/Main Character and the Antagonist rival, but the passionate argument regarding changing one's nature is developed between the Protagonist/Main Character and the Obstacle Character Love Interest.

The film Witness does it a bit differently. The female lead, Rachel is the Love Interest, but also the Main Character. We actually see the story through HER eyes, not through the eyes of John Book (the Harrison Ford part). Rather, Book is the Obstacle Character, the one who tempts Rachel to abandon her Amish traditions and community to run off with him to the land of the "English."

The corrupt police captain (Book's boss) is the Antagonist. So, the plot revolves around Book against his boss, and the passionate story about changing one's mind revolves around Book and Rachel., but it is seen through HER eyes.

So, the Antagonist is quite important in Dramatica, as is the Protagonist, Main and Obstacle characters. What Dramatica brings to this part of story is a clear understanding of how these logistic and passionate attributes of the Story Mind can be distributed in other ways than just as the stereotypical hero and villain.

"Things" as Characters

by Melanie Anne Phillips

creator StoryWeaver, Co-creator Dramatica

A writer asks:

"My favorite creative writing book is 'Setting' by Jack Bickham. Use of setting as primary with characters, plot, theme, mood, etc derived from it and interacting with it seems of particular value in science fiction. Where would Deep Space 9 be without deep space and a space station! Setting is certainly the cauldron of my imagination.

So how can I best approach things this way with Dramatica? Do you have any examples where setting has been created as a character?

Can I have two antagonists, for example, one a person and the other a setting?"

My Reply:

In fact, the Antagonist in a story can be a person, place or thing – any entity that can fulfill the dramatic function of the Antagonist.

First, look at the movie "Jaws." The Antagonist is the shark. The mayor is the Contagonist.

Next consider the 1950s movie with Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner called, "The Mountain." Tracy plays an aging mountain climber whose nemesis is the huge mountain that looms over his home and nearly killed him years ago. He hasn't climbed since. The mountain claims new victims in a plane crash.

Tracy is the only one qualified to lead an expedition to rescue them. Wagner, his nephew, wants to rob the plane of its valuables and slyly convinces Tracy to lead the expedition on humanitarian grounds. The mountain is the Antagonist and Wagner is the Contagonist.

In the movie, "Aliens'' (the second film in the series), the Aliens themselves are the "Group Antagonist" and the Contagonist is Burke, the company man.

In the movie, "The Old Man & the Sea." Anthony Quinn is the Protagonist, the Great Fish is the Antagonist, and the Sea is the Contagonist.

In a short story called, "The Wind," which appeared in an anthology released by Alfred Hitchcock, the wind itself it the Antagonist, having sentience and stalking down and eventually killing an explorer who accidentally stumbled upon the knowledge that the winds of the world are alive.

These examples illustrate that all of the dramatic functions (such as Protagonist, Antagonist, and Contagonist) need to be represented, but can easily be carried by a person, place, or thing. Still, there is only one Antagonist, and the other negative force is usually the Contagonist.

There are two exceptions to the "rule" that there should be only one Antagonist. One is when the Antagonist is a group, as in the "Aliens" example above, or with an angry mob or the Empire in Start Wars. The other is when the function of the Antagonist is "handed off" from one player to another when the first player dies or moves out of the plot.

A hand-off is different than a group insofar as the group is fulfilling the same dramatic function at the same time as if it were a single entity, but the hand-off characters fulfill the function in turn, each carrying forward the next part of the job like runners in a relay race.

Although the hand-off is often done with Obstacle characters (i.e. the ghosts in "A Christmas Carol or the argument about the power of the Lost Ark made to Indiana Jones in the first movie by both his boss at the university (Brody) and his companion/protector, Sulla), hand-offs are seldom done with Antagonists for reasons I'll outline in a moment.

This is because Obstacle characters are each carrying the next part of linear argument regarding value standards and/or worldviews, but the Antagonist represents a consistent force. It is much harder for an audience to shift its feelings from one Antagonist to another, than to "listen" to one character pick up the moral argument from another.

In summary, it is best to have only one Antagonist, but that character can easily be a person, place or thing (including setting).

Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex

by Melanie Anne Phillips

creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

Perhaps the most fundamental error made by authors, whether novice or experienced, is that all their characters, male and female, tend to reflect the gender of the author. This is hardly surprising, since recent research finally proves that men and women use their brains in different ways. So how can an author overcome this gap to write characters of the opposite sex that are both accurate and believable to their own gender?

In this Dramatica Tip, we'll explore the nature of male and female minds and provide techniques for crafting characters that are true to their gender.

At first, it might seem that being male or female is an easily definable thing, and therefore easy to convey in one's writing. But as we all know, the differences between the sexes have historically been a mysterious quality, easily felt, but in fact quite hard to define. This is because what makes a mind male or female is not just one thing, but also several.

First, let's consider that gender has four principal components:

Anatomical Sex

Sexual Preference

Gender Identity

Mental Sex

Anatomical sex describes the physicality of a character - male or female. Now, we all know that people actually fall in a range - more or less hairy, wider or narrower hips, deeper or higher voice, and so on. So although there is a fairly clear dividing line between male and female anatomically, secondary sexual characteristics actually create a range of physicality between the two. Intentionally choosing these attributes for your characters can make them far less stereotypical as men and women.

Sexual Preferences may be for the same sex, the opposite sex, both, or neither (or self). Although people usually define themselves as being straight, gay, bi, or celibate, this is also not a fixed quality. Statistics shows, for example, that 1/3 of all men have a homosexual encounter at least once in their lives.

Although it often stirs up controversy to say so, in truth most people have passing attractions to the same sex, be it a very pretty boy or a "butch" woman.

Consider the sexual preference of your characters not as a fixed choice of one thing or another, but as a fluid quality that may shift over time or in a particular exceptional context.

Gender Identity describes where one falls on the scale between masculine and feminine. This, of course, is also context dependent. For example, when one is in the woods, at home with one's family, or being chewed out by the boss.

Gender Identity is not just how one feels or things of oneself, but also how one act’s, how one uses one's voice, and how one wishes to be treated. Often, a male character may have gentle feelings but cover them up by overly masculine mannerisms. Or, a female character may be "all-business" in the workplace out of necessity, but wishes someone would treat her with softness and kindness.

Actually, Gender Identity is made up of how one acts or wishes to act, and how one is treated or wishes to be treated. How many times have we seen a character who is forced by others to play a role that is in conflict with his or her internal gender self-image? Gender Identity is where one can explore the greatest nuance in creating non-stereotypical characters.

Finally, Mental Sex describes where one falls on the scale from practical, binary, linear, logistic, goal-oriented thinking to passionate, flexible, emotional, process-oriented thinking. In fact, every human being engages in ALL of these approaches to life, just at different times and in different ways.

Now, in creating characters, consider that each of the four categories we just explored is not a simple choice between one thing or another, but a sliding scale (like Anatomical Sex) or a conglomerate of individual traits (like Gender Identity). Then, visualize that wherever a character falls in any one of those four categories places absolutely no limits on where he or she may fall in the other categories.

For example, you might have a character extremely toward male anatomical sex, bi-sexual (but leaning toward a straight relationship at the moment), whose gender identity is rough and tumble (but yearns to be accepted for his secret sensitivity toward impressionistic paintings) who is practical all the time (except when it comes to sports cars).

Any combination goes.

But when it comes to Mental Sex itself, there are four sub-categories within that area alone which tend to define the different personality types we encounter:





In brief, each of these "levels" or "attributes" of the mind can lean toward seeing the world in definable or experiential terms. Pre-conscious is a tendency to perceive the world in components or as processes that is determined before birth. It is the foundation of leaning toward the tradition "male" or "female" personality traits. Subconscious determines the tendencies we have to be attracted or repelled from component or process rewards.

Memory relies on our training to organize our considerations in a give situation toward components or processes. And every character always has a Conscious choice to focus on the components or processes at any given moment. In other words, in a given situation, at each level of Mental Sex does a character center on the way things are or the way things are going? At each level is the character more interested in getting his or her ducks in a row or in a pond?

Finally, beyond all of these considerations is the cultural indoctrination we all receive that leads us to respond within social expectations appropriately to the role associated with our anatomical sex. These roles are fairly rigid and include what is proper to wear, who speaks first, who opens the door or order the wine, who has to pretend to be inept where and skilled where else (regardless of real ability or lack there of in that area), the form of grammar one uses in constructing sentences, the words one is expected to use ("I'll take a hamburger," vs. "I'd like a salad"), and the demeanor allowable in social interaction with the same and the opposite sex, among many other qualities.

In the end, writing characters of the opposite sex requires a commitment to understand the difference between those qualities, which are inherent and those, which are learned, and to accept that we are all made of the same clay, and merely sculpt it in different ways.

Types of Character Growth

by Melanie Anne Phillips

creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

Does your Main Character Change or Remain Steadfast? A lot of writers think a character must Change in order to grow. This is simply not true. Characters can also grow in their Resolve. In that case, they Remain Steadfast as they must grow stronger in stronger in their beliefs in order to hold out against increasingly powerful obstacles.

Regardless of whether your Main Character changes or not, how does he or she get there? Does your character simply flip a switch at the end of the story? Or does he or she grapple with and grieve over the issue right up to the moment of truth?

In fact, there are a quite a number of different dramatic pathways by which a Main Character can arrive at the moment of truth. The more you have in your writer's bag of tricks, the more dramatic variety you can bring to your characters' journeys. Let's look at a few of your options....

1. The Steady Freddy

This kind of Main Character starts out with a fixed belief about the central personal issue of the story. Act-by-Act, Scene-by-Scene, he gathers more information that leads him to question those pre-held beliefs. His hold on the old attitude gradually weakens until, at the Moment of Truth, he simply steps over to the other side - or not. This kind of character slowly changes until he is not committed to either his original belief or the alternative. It all comes down to which way the wind is blowing when he ultimately must choose one or the other.

2. The Griever

A Griever Main Character is also confronted with building evidence that his original belief was in error. But unlike Steady Freddy, this character suffers a growing internal conflict that starts to tear him apart. The Griever feels honor-bound or morally obligated to stick with his old loyalties, yet becomes more and more compelled to jump ship and adopt the new. At the end of the story, he must make a Leap of Faith, choosing either the old or the new, with such a balance created that there is not even a hint as to which way would ultimately be better.

3. The Weaver

The Weaver Main Character starts out with one belief system, then shifts to adopt the alternative, then shifts back again, and again, and again.... Like a sine wave, he weaves back and forth every time he gathers new information that indicates he is currently in error in his point of view. The intensity of these swings depends upon the magnitude of each bit of new information and the resoluteness of the character.

4. The Waffler

Unlike the Weaver, the Waffler jumps quickly from one point of view to the other, depending on the situation of the moment. He may be sincere but overly pragmatic, or he may be opportunistic and not hold either view with any real conviction.

There are also two kinds of characters who change, but not really.

5. The Exception Maker

This character reaches the critical point of the story and decides that although he will retain his original beliefs, he will make an exception "in this case." This character would be a Change character if the story is about whether or not he will budge on the particular issue, especially since he has never made an exception before. But, if the story is about whether he has permanently altered his nature, then he would be seen as steadfast, because we know he will never make an exception again. With the Exception Maker, you must be very careful to let the audience know against what standard it should evaluate Change.

6. The Backslider

Similar to the Exception Maker, the Backslider changes at the critical moment, but then reverses himself and goes right back to his old belief system. In such a story, the character must be said to change, because it is the belief system itself that is being judged by the audience, once the moment of truth is past and the results of picking that system are seen in the denoument. In effect, the Backslider changes within the confines of the story structure, but then reverts to his old nature AFTER the structure in the closing storyTELLING.

An example of this occurs in the James Bond film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." This is the only Bond film in which 007 actually changes. Here, he has finally found love which has filled the hole in his heart that previously drove him. He resigns the force and gets married. End of structure. Then, in additional storytelling, his wife is killed by the villain, and his angst is restored so good ol' James Bond can return just as he was in the next sequel.


Each of these kinds of characters may be aware that he or she is flirting with change or may not. They may simply grieve over their situations, or just breeze through them, not considering how they might be changing in either case. Each of these character may arrive at a Leap of Faith where they must make a conscious decision to do things the same way or a different way, or each may arrive at a Non-Leap of Faith story conclusion, where they never even realize they have been changed, they just are. The important thing is that the AUDIENCE know if the Main Character has changed or not. Otherwise, they cannot evaluate the results of the dramatic argument.

There are many ways to Change or Not to Change. If you avoid getting stuck in a simply linear progression with a binary choice, your characters will come across as much more human and much more interesting.

Psychoanalyze Your Story

by Melanie Anne Phillips
creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

Does your story suffer from "Multiple Personality Disorder"?

In psychology, Multiple Personality Disorder describes a person who has more than one complete personality. Typically, only one of those personalities will be active at any given time. This is because they usually share attributes, and so only one can have that attribute at any particular moment.

Stories can also suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder if more than one character represents a single attribute. In such a case, both should not be able to appear in the story at the same time. If they do, the audience feels that the story is fragmented, or more simply put, the story has developed a split-personality.

Dramatica sees a story as representing a single mind. Most writers have been taught that characters, plot, theme, and genre are people, doing things, illustrating value standards, in an overall setting and mood. In contrast, Dramatica sees characters, plot, theme, and genre as representing different "families of thought" which go on in the story mind as it grapples with a central problem.

Characters are the "drives" of the Story Mind, which often conflict as they do in real people. Plot describes the methods used by the Story Mind in an attempt to find a solution to its central problem. Theme represents the Story Mind's conflicting value standards, which must be played out one against another to determine the best way of evaluating the problem. Genre describes the Story Mind's overall personality.

Traditional story theory states that each character must be a complete person to be believable to an audience. But because the characters represent the independent drives of a single Story Mind, each is not really a complete person but is rather a facet of a complete mind. In fact, if you make each character complete, they will all be overlapping, and will give your story a split-personality.

It is in the story TELLING stage where characters take on the trappings of a complete person, not in the story STRUCTURE. Each character needs to be given traits and interests, which round out the character's "presence," making it feel like a real human being. But these trappings and traits are not part of the dramatic structure. They are just window dressing - clothes for the facets to wear so the audience can better relate to them on a personal level.

Think about the characters you have seen in successful stories. They might represent Reason, Emotion, Skepticism, or function as the Protagonist or Antagonist, for example. Each of these kinds of characters is an "archetype" because it contains a whole family of drives in one character. For example, a Protagonist may contain the drive to "pursue," and also the drive to be a self-starter, "pro-action." Because these drives work together in harmony, the character becomes archetypal.

The individual drives don't have to be bundled in an archetype, however. In fact, each single drive might be assigned to a different character, creating a multitude of simple characters. Or, characters might get several drives but conflicting ones. These characters are more "complex" because their internal make-up is not completely consistent.

Regardless of how the drives (also called character "elements") are assigned, each drive should appear in one and only one character. If not, your story may develop Multiple Personality Disorder and leave your audience unable to relate to the story as a whole.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Love Interests & the Dramatic Triangle

by Melanie Anne Phillips

creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

A lot of books about writing describe the importance of a "Love Interest." Other books see a Love Interest as unnecessary and cliché. What does Dramatica Say? As with most dramatic concepts, Dramatica pulls away the storytelling to take a clear look at the underlying structure.

A Love Interest has both storytelling and structural components. The storytelling side is what most people think of - A Love Interest is the character with whom the "hero" or "heroine" is in love. Simple! But what does that tell us about the kind of person the Love Interest is, or even what kind of relationship the two have between them? Not a whole lot!

For example, the Love Interest might be the leader of the enemy camp, in which case he or she is the Antagonist! Or, the Love Interest might be the supportive, stay-in-the-background type, in which case he or she is the Sidekick. In both cases, the hero is in love with this person, but structurally each positions the relationship on different sides of the effort to achieve the story goal. Also, the Love Interest might be a person of noble heart, a misguided do-gooder, or even a crook! And, any of these types of people might fit into either of the two example scenarios we've just outlined.

As we can see, the structural and storytelling elements have little to do with one another, other than the fact that there will be some of each. So, what can Dramatica do to help provide some guidelines for developing a Love Interest that works?

Lets start with some basics. Dramatica sees there being two types of characters in every story (and a prize in every box!). The first type contains the Objective Characters such as the Protagonist, Antagonist, Sidekick, or Guardian, who are defined by their dramatic functions.

The Protagonist strives to achieve the goal; the Antagonist tries to prevent that, for example. In and of itself, this aspect of character outlines how the participants line up in regard to the logistic issues of the story. But there is a second side of the dynamics of every story that center on the second type of characters - the Subjective Characters.

There are two Subjective Characters, and unlike their Objective relatives who represent functions, the Subjective Characters represent points of view. These characters are the Main Character and the Obstacle Character. The Main Character represents the audience position in the story. The Obstacle Character represents the point of view, ideology, or belief system opposite that of the Main Character.

The Objective Characters represent the "headline" in the story and the Subjective Characters represent the "heartline." Often, the character who is the Protagonist is also given the Main Character job as well. This creates the archetypal "hero" who drives the story forward, but who also represents the audience position in the story. Of course, the Main Character (audience position) might be with ANY of the Objective Characters, not just the Protagonist. For example, in most of the James Bond films, Bond is actually the Antagonist and Main Character because although he represents the audience position, he is also called into play AFTER the real Protagonist (the villain) has made his first move to achieve a goal (of world conquest.) It is Bond's functional role as Antagonist to try and stop it!

Not quite as often, the Antagonist is given the extra job of also being the Obstacle Character. In such a case, not only does the Antagonist try to stop the Protagonist, but he (or she) also tries to change the belief system of the Main Character, whether the Main Character is the Protagonist or another of the Objective Characters by function.

The worst thing you can do is to make the Protagonist the Main Character and the Antagonist the Obstacle Character. Why? Because then the two "players" in the story are not only diametrically opposed in function regarding the story goal, but are also diametrically opposed in belief system. As a result, it is difficult for the audience to figure out which of the two throughlines them is being developed by any given event between them.

What's worse, as an author it is easy to get caught up in the momentum of the drama between them so that one skips steps in the development of one throughline because the other "carries" it. Well it may carry the vigor, but it doesn't hold water. Both throughlines must each be fully developed or you end up with a melodrama or worse, plot holes you could drive a truck through.

The solution is either to assign the Main Character and Protagonist functions to one character and split the Antagonist/Obstacle Character functions into two separate characters, or vice versa.

And this brings us to the Dramatic Triangle and how it is used to create a sound Love Interest relationship.

First, let's assume we assign the Main Character and Protagonist jobs to the same player to create an archetypal hero. Now, this hero (we'll call him Joe) is a race car driver who is vying with the Antagonist for the title of best overall driver of the year. Each race is a new contest between them with their balance so close that it all comes down to the last race of the season.

But there is something troubling Joe's heart - his relationship with Sally. Sally is very supportive of Joe (a Sidekick, in fact) but Joe feels that if he really loves Sally, he should quit racing to avoid the potential of an accident that would leave him dead or crippled and ruin her life. Why does he feel like this? Because his own dad was a racer, whose untimely death on the track left his mother devastated, and ultimately committed to an asylum. (Hey, I never said this example would be creative!)

In any event, Sally doesn't feel that way at all. She would rather see Joe go out in a blaze of glory having done his best than to spend her life with a limp shell. She tries to tell him, but he just won't be convinced. He starts to play it safer and safer as his worries grow (because the closer he gets to the final race, the more it resembles the chain of events that happened to his dad.) Finally, he has lost his edge and his lead and it all comes down to that final event.

Now, realizing that she would never be able to live with Joe if she felt that he lost the title because of her, Sally tells him at the final pit stop that if he doesn't win the race, she is leaving him. Joe must now decide whether he should stick with his approach born from fear of hurting another, or let Sally be her own judge of what is right for her and put the pedal to the metal.

What does he do? Up to you the author. He wins the race and Sally's heart. He hasn't got the courage and loses both race and girl. He loses the race, but Sally realizes how deep his love must be and decides to stay with him. He wins the race, but there is such a dangerous near-fatal crash that Sally realizes Joe was right and leaves him anyway because she discovers she really can't take it after all.

Or, you could have Sally want him to quit and Joe refuse, resulting in four other endings with a more cliché flavor.

Why this long example, to show how the conflict of the logistics of the plot occur between Joe and the Antagonist, but the emotions of the personal relationship occur between Joe and the Sidekick, Sally.

If you charted it out, there are two throughlines. Both hinge on Joe, and then they split farther and farther apart to connect to the Antagonist on one and to the Obstacle Character, Sally on the other. In this way, the events that happen in the growth of each relationship are much easier to see for the audience and much easier to complete for the author, yet they both converge on the "hero" to give him the greatest possible dramatic strength.

Now, you could hinge them both on the Antagonist, as in a James Bond film, and slip the Protagonist from the Obstacle Character. Look at "Tomorrow Never Dies." The Protagonist is the mad newspaper mogul. The Obstacle Character is the beautiful Chinese agent (whose function is muddled dramatically by Bond's relationship with the mogul's wife). Bond is Antagonist AND Main Character, but the dramatic triangle is still functional.

Silence of the Lambs: Starling is the Main Character / Antagonist, Jamie Gumm (Buffalo Bill) is the Protagonist (after all, she didn't go looking for a crime and THEN he committed one!) Hannibal is the Obstacle Character and perhaps a Love Interest of a sort (as described by the director on the Criterion Edition DVD.)

For a different approach, consider Witness: John Book is the Obstacle Character / Antagonist, the crooked Chief of Police is the Protagonist. Rachel, the Amish Girl is the Love Interest and Main Character. Or is John Book (Harrison Ford) the Love Interest to Rachel? It's hard to tell because John is such an active Objective Character that he carries more momentum than Rachel, even though we are positioned in her shoes. The important point is that even if the Protagonist is made to be the Obstacle Character and the Antagonist and Main Character are split into two different people, the dramatic triangle still exists!

The dramatic triangle is one of the best structural ways to focus attention on one character even while splitting the headline and heartline to make a more pleasing and complete story. It can be used for "buddy" pictures and even used when the heartline isn't between lovers or even likers but between two people who would like to see each other's emotions destroyed by slyly manipulating the other to change his or her beliefs. Think of all those "cheat the devil" stories in which the Main Character/Protagonist is after something and the devil tries to convince the Main Character to sell his soul to get it. Yep, the dramatic triangle at work again!

So, in considering whether or not to have a Love Interest in your story, simply consider whether that would make your storytelling cliché or not. Either way, consider the dramatic triangle as a means of putting heart into an otherwise logistically mechanical plot.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

The Chemistry of Characters

by Melanie Anne Phillips

creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

To make an argument that a particular element is or is not a solution to a particular problem, Character make-up must remain consistent throughout the story.

In order for the argument of a story to be complete, all approaches to solving a problem must be represented. This is the purpose of Characters. Each Character illustrates one or more ways in which one might address a problem. These different approaches are commonly referred to as Character Traits. We call them Character Elements.

If we think of the traits as elements, we can imagine that the chemical compounds created by various combinations can lead to an extraordinary number of different "substances", or personalities from a relatively small number of building blocks.

Picture the Author as Chemist, filling several jars with samples from a rack of elements. She might put a single element in one jar but a number of them in another. Depending upon the selections she makes, a given jar might grow cold or boil, turn red or blue, crystallize or form polymers.

Now suppose this Author/Chemist was operating under laboratory guidelines that she must use each chemical element off the shelf, but only once - in only one jar. It is conceivable she might put them all into a single jar, but what a mess it would be, trying to determine which element was responsible for which effect. The interactions would become muddled beyond understanding.

Certainly, in a story, such a hodgepodge would fail to fulfill the mandate of making a full and meaningful argument. No, if we are to cover the field, but not at the expense of clarity, we must examine the interactions of smaller groups of elements, which calls for several more jars.

Obviously, if we used a separate jar for each element, nothing would react at all, which means to an author that virtually all of the conflict within Characters would be lost with only the potential of conflict between Characters remaining. Certainly each element could be fully understood, and indeed, from time to time, an author may find good reason to keep a few Character elements solo, so that they might be absolutely defined. More often, however, it serves the story better to combine more than one element in more than one jar.

In this way, very specific combinations can be fully explored, and not at the expense of clarity.

Each of the Character Elements must be employed in one character or another. None must be left out. Otherwise the argument of the story will have a hole in it. None must be represented in more than one Character, otherwise the argument will be redundant, confusing, and become less interesting.

Even within these guidelines, a huge number of different types of Characters can be created. Yet, in many stories, we see the same Characters appearing over and over again. Characters like the Hero and the Villain and the Sidekick recur in a plethora of stories in a multitude of genres. This is not necessarily due to a lack of creativity by these authors. Rather, of all the elements, there is one central arrangement that is something like an alignment of the planets. It is a point of balance where each Character looks exactly like the others, only seen through a filter - or with different shading.

Characters made in this special alignment are called Archetypal. Out of all the myriad of ways in which Elements could be arranged, there is only one arrangement that is Archetypal. Is this good or is this bad? For the author who wants to explore Character nuances, Archetypal Characters are probably a poor choice. But for the author who wants to concentrate on Action, it may be a very prudent choice.

It should be noted that just because a Character is Archetypal, does not mean she is a stick figure. Archetypal Characters contain the full complement of elements that any other Character might have. It is the arrangement of these so that all Elements of a like kind make up a single Character that simplifies the complexity of the interactions between Characters. This un-clutters the field and allows for more attention to be paid to other areas such as action, if that is the Author's intent.

In our example of the Author/Chemist, the jars she uses fulfill an essential purpose: they keep the Chemical compounds separate from one another. That is the function and definition of Character:

A Character is a unique arrangement of solely possessed elements that does not vary over the course of the story.

The last few words above are italicized because the stability of the arrangement of elements is essential to identifying a Character. If elements could swap around from Character to Character, the story would lose its strength of argument, since an approach begun by one Character might only be shown to succeed or fail in another.

When we, as audience, watch a story, we hope to learn that we should or should not use a particular approach, so that we may grow from that experience in our own lives. But how can that point be made if a Character does not finish what she starts. We may see the element as failing, but the argument is left open that perhaps if only the Character who started with that element had stuck with it she would have succeeded.


What about Jekyl and Hyde? Is that not an inconsistent Character? Yes, it is not. This is because Jekyl and Hyde are two different Characters. Two Characters in a single body? Exactly.

There is a great difference between a Character and the body it inhabits. We have all seen stories about spiritual possession, split personalities, or Sci-Fi personality transfers. In each of these instances, different Characters successively occupy the same body or physical host. We call these hosts Players.

A Player is a host in which a Character Resides

A Player does not have to be a person. It can be an animal, spiritual force, a car, a toy - anything that can be shown to possess a personality. Character is the personality, Player is where it resides. So, Jekyl and Hyde are two separate Characters who vie for the same Player's body.

Conclusion to Objective Characters

We have now defined all of the elements or traits that can be combined to create Characters. We have also arranged these traits in meaningful groupings. We have described methods and rules governing the combining process. And, we have related each aspect of the Character Structure concept to the other aspects.

But something is missing. So far we have created a Structure, but it is a static Structure. We have not at all discussed the manner in which Characters interrelate and conflict. In effect, we have not created a set of Dynamics to drive the Structure.

As you may have noted, the Section headings of this book are divided into Structure and Dynamics, indicating that all Structural considerations will be explored before they are put into motion. There is a reason for this. When we had first completed discovering the sixty-four elements of Character, and had arranged them in the Author's perspective, we thought that Character conflict would be the next door that opened to us. It was not. Try as we might, we could not perceive any kind of definable pattern that governed the interactions among Characters or even Character traits.

Instead, we found something most unexpected: that there was a definitive relationship among the structures of Character, Theme, Genre, and Plot. In fact, Plot did not just describe the Dynamics of Character, but Theme and Genre as well. So to see the Plot operation of Character conflict, Theme progression, and Genre perspectives, we first needed to finish our Structural model of Story, by building a Structure for Theme and Genre as well. Once this was accomplished we would then be able to discern and quantify the functioning of story Dynamics.

Therefore, we move on to the next set of bricks in our DRAMATICA Structure, edging ever closer to that elusive overview.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Writing from a Character's Point of View

by Melanie Anne Phillips

creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

Perhaps the best way to instill real feelings in a character is to stand in his or her shoes and write from the character's point of view. Unfortunately, this method also holds the greatest danger of undermining the meaning of a story.

As an example, suppose we have two characters, Joe and Tom, who are business competitors. Joe hates Tom and Tom hates Joe. We sit down to write an argument between them. First, we stand in Joe's shoes and speak vehemently of Tom's transgressions. Then, we stand in Tom's shoes and pontificate on Joe's aggressions. By adopting the character point of view, we have constructed an exchange of honest and powerful emotions. We have also undermined the meaning of our story because Joe and Tom have come across as being virtually the same.

A story might have a Protagonist and an Antagonist, but between Joe and Tom, who is who? Each sees himself as the Protagonist and the other as the Antagonist. If we simply write the argument from each point of view, the audience has no idea which is REALLY which.

The opposite problem occurs if you stand back from your characters and assign roles as Protagonist and Antagonist without considering the characters' points of view. In such a case, the character clearly establish the story's meaning, but they seem to be "walking through" the story, hitting the marks, and never really expressing themselves as actual human beings.

The solution, of course, is to explore both approaches. You need to know what role each character is to play in the story's overall meaning - the big picture. But, you also must stand in their shoes and write with passion to make them human.

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Character Purposes

by Melanie Anne Phillips
creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

A writer recently asked me the following question about feedback he received from the Dramatica software which suggested his character's Purposes should be Knowledge and Actuality:

He wrote:

I don't understand what Dramatica means by a character's Purpose. Purpose in life?--Nobody knows what that is although some think they do. I understand Knowledge and Actuality as stated in Dramatica Dictionary. But I cannot put Purpose, knowledge, and actuality together in a meaningful, parallel context without Purpose meaning the same thing as Methodology, i.e., he uses "knowledge" and "reality". I feel there is a SIMPLE explanation and I'm making it complex.

I replied:

In regard to "simplicity", Dramatica theory is like Zen. There are simple explanations if all you want it a specific solution to a specific problem. But, the deeper you go, the more the simple explanations begin to form larger patterns until an overview of the whole durn mechanism of story begins to clarify. With that view comes a mastery of structure that guides creativity, channels it, but never inhibits it.

In regard to your particular problem...

First of all, Dramatica divides character into two aspects - the Subjective qualities, which represent character points of view (what the characters see) and Objective qualities, which represents how the characters function in the big picture.

From the Subjective view, one cannot see what can be seen from the "God's Eye View" of the big picture - the view we can't get in real life, the Objective view.

When answering questions about character Motivations, Methodologies, Evaluations, and Purposes, Dramatica is focusing on the Objective View. So, from that perspective of standing outside the story and looking in, we not only can, but MUST know our character's Purposes. If we do not, how can we frame a cogent argument about the relative value of human qualities to our audience?

Of course, the Character will never see ANY of these aspects: not Motivations, Methods, Evaluations, nor Purposes. You see, the qualities that make us up are like the carrier waves of our self-awareness, the operating system of our personality, the foundation of our outlook. They describe where we stand, not what we are looking at. So, when choosing elements for your characters' qualities, make sure to describe what each character really is, as seen from an Objective outside view. Describe how it functions, now how it feels. Describe how it is to be seen, not how it sees.

This phase of story creation is where you, as author, determine what the ACTUAL meaning of the story is, when all the smoke clears, when the audience can look back on the finished story and say, "This is what this character was really like - this is what kind of attributes he had, these are the human qualities it represents."

Next, there is a common misunderstanding of what "Purpose" is. This actually occurs because writers often look at Purpose as if it were a Motivation. For example, if you ask an author what a character's motivation is, he might say, "to be president." But in fact, achieving the office of the presidency is his Purpose - simply defined as, what he hopes to accomplish, arrive at, or possess. His Motivation, on the other hand, is WHY he wants to be president. And, this might be any one of a number of things, such as that he never had any power as a child, or that he feels inadequate and needs the accolades. For any given Purpose, there can be any number of Motivations, and vice versa.

So, when choosing your characters' Purposes, you need to ask yourself, what kinds of things (what categories of things) do I want this character, driven by his Motivations, to be trying to achieve? There are no limitations as to which Purposes can be the particular "goals" for any given motivations. In fact, it is the combination you choose that gives a unique identity to your character, either as an archetype where the Motivations are topically connected to similar associated Purposes or as more complex characters in which the Purposes are of completely different kinds of thing than the Motivations.

Now it might seem that a character will, in fact, see what his Purpose is. After all, if he wants to be president, he's gotta be aware of that fact! True, but what he doesn't see is that his UNDERLYING Purpose is "Actuality." In such a story, there might be a character that is a power broker behind the scenes. He is the President de facto, because the actual president merely rubber-stamps our character's decisions, and reads the speeches our character writes. But, our character's Purpose is Actuality, so he feels as if he has achieved nothing. Only if he ACTUALLY becomes president will he ever feel he has accomplished his Purpose.

It is important to note that ANY of the Purpose Elements could show up in the story as "wanting to be president." For example, "Knowledge" as a purpose could be written so that our character wants to KNOW what it is like to be president. He has stood next to the president, he can imagine what it is like, but unless he sits behind the desk in the Oval Office himself, he'll never really KNOW.

So, using Knowledge and Actuality together, our character has Purpose of becoming president because he must Know what it is Actually like. ANY subject matter can be fit to ANY elements. This might seem as if nothing definitive is really being determined about your structure. In fact, it is the choice as to which elements are to be represented in the subject matter that give the subject matter a specific flavor, or spin, and thereby makes it more than simple storytelling. Only when the subject matter is presented as representing particular outlooks does it take on the mantle of dramatic significance. The matching of functional elements to the subject matter creates perspective, and it is perspective in which all dramatic meaning is held.

Again, like Zen, the exploration of story structure has many levels of depth and meaning. The more one learns about Dramatica and the Objective Character Elements, the more sophistication one develops in sculpting interesting characters of unusual identity yet valid composition. And it is upon such characters that a cogent and complete argument regarding the relative value of human qualities must be built.

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The Main Character's "Resolve"

by Melanie Anne Phillips

creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

Dramatica asks 12 Essential Questions every author should be able to answer about his or her story. Four deal with the Main Character, four with Plot, and the remaining four with Theme.

The first of these questions is Main Character Resolve, and asks:

By the end of your story, has the Main Character "Changed" or remained "Steadfast?"

Traditionally, it has been taught that a character must change in order to grow. This is not actually the case. A character may grow in his resolve. For example, Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive never changes the nature of his character. Rather, he redoubles his resolve in order to cope with the increasing obstacles placed in his path.

There is a character in The Fugitive who DOES change, however, and that is Sam Girard, the Tommy Lee Jones character. At the beginning of the story, he tells Kimble, "I don't care," when Kimble says that he didn't kill his wife. At the end of the story, Girard comes to believe in Kimble's innocence, removes Kimble's handcuffs and offers him a compress to ease the soreness they caused. Kimble says, "I thought you didn't care..." Girard replies with gentle sarcasm, "I don't," then adds, "Don't tell anybody..."

Girard is the Obstacle Character to Kimble's Main. For every Main and Obstacle character, one will change as a result of the others steadfastness. In essence, because Kimble cares so much (as evidenced by the many people he helps even when on the run) Girard changes his nature and begins to care himself.

Another example of this can be found in the James Bond film, "Goldfinger." In this story, Bond remains steadfast but someone does change. Again, it is the Obstacle Character, Pussy Galore (the Honor Blackman part) who runs the Flying Circus. She changes her mind about helping Goldfinger, spills the beans to the CIA and changes the gas canisters from poison to harmless oxygen. It was Bond's resoluteness, which eventually leveraged her to change.

Examples of Change Main Characters are Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and Chief Brody in Jaws. In the case of Scrooge, he ultimately makes a conscious decision to change the very foundations of his nature. In contrast, Luke only changes a small aspect of his nature - at the crucial moment he decides to trust the Force (in effect to trust his own abilities, himself) and is therefore able to win the day. Other than that, Luke remains pretty much the same personality he was before. Finally, Chief Brody is afraid of the water and won't even wade into it. But, after defeating the shark, he has a conversation with Hooper as they swim back to shore. He says, "You know, I used to be afraid of the water." Hooper replies, "I can't imagine why." Brody has also changed, but not by conscious decision, more by attrition. In a sense, Brody has BEEN changed by his story experiences. So, we can see that Change may be universal (Scrooge), specific (Skywalker), or unintentional (Brody).

When a character must make a conscious (active) decision to change, regardless of whether it is his whole personality or just an aspect, it is called a Leap of Faith story. When a character IS changed by the story experience without an active decision, it is called a Non Leap of Faith Story. Both kinds of Change are equally sound dramatic structures, but each creates a different feel over the entire course of the story.

It is important to recognize that Change may lead to success if it is the right choice, or it may lead to failure if the character should have remained Steadfast. Similarly, remaining Steadfast may lead to a positive or negative conclusion.

Also, characters may flip-flop over the course of the story, changing for a while and then changing back. Or, they may grow closer and farther from changing as their experiences proceed. But in the end, the character will be the same person, albeit older and wiser, or they will have some fundamental trait of their character altered, large or small, for better or worse. Regardless of the propriety of the outcome, if the character is different in nature he has changed. If he is the same, he has remained Steadfast.

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