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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Difinitive Scientific Article on the Dramatica Theory

Here is a link to the definitive explanation of the Dramatica theory (in PDF) from 1993, that explains all of the key concepts in text and graphics, including descriptions of non-story uses of the psychological model and the functioning of the model in terms of the dramatic circuit created by Potential, Resistance, Current, and Power (Outcome) and its relationship to the prediction of temporal story progression in terms of a quad-based 1 2 3 4 sequence.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Introduction to Characters

Dramatica Unplugged

by Melanie Anne Phillips
creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

Section 2 - Characters

2.1 Introduction to Characters

Don’t get me started on characters: I could write about them forever. Not surprising, really, since characters are where story structure and humanity converge. It is the magical interface where mind and matter transmute from one to the other as things sometimes become people, and people sometimes become things.

But what really is a character? Well, like most dramatic elements in the world of story structure, it depends on who you ask. Some say characters are just ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Others say characters represent personality types. And, there are those who see characters as archetypes, personifying human ideals or exemplifying quintessential human qualities.

As usual, Dramatica see things a bit differently. First and foremost Dramatica always seeks to separate story structure from storytelling. We can actually separate characters into those two parts:

1. Those that have structural functions

2. Those that do not

To have a structural function, a character must have some impact on the flow of the plot or the growth of another character or even, perhaps, at least contribute to the thematic message.

If you were to take all of those functional characters out of a story, you’d still have a lot of people in it. In movies, they call them “extras”. In television series they are referred to as walk-ons. In books, they are “color”. But mostly they are just “window dressing” to make the story more interesting.

Each of these non-structural characters isn’t really a character at all – not as we define characters in Dramatica. Rather, we refer to them as players. In truth, every player in a story, be it person, place or thing, is capable of becoming a character. All it needs is a job to do that in some way changes the course of the story. Some may have a small impact, others a huge impact. Either way, if the player contributes in any way to the direction the story will take, it has graduated to become a Character.

So in a more refined sense, a character really isn’t a player at all, but rather occupies a player, much as a spirit might possess a body. The body (or tree or car) is simply a host in which the character resides.

That, of course, then raises the question, “If a character isn’t the physical host, what is it?” I’ll tell you.

In a conceptual sense, every story has a mind of its own, as if it were a single person, not an ensemble. This story mind’s psychology is represented as the story’s structure while its personality is presented in the storytelling.

Just as with characters, there is a structural side to stories and a storytelling side. Characters are found in the structure, players are found in the storytelling. And the combination of character with player creates that almost metaphysical marriage of substance and spirit.

Now, if characters are spirits, how can one every hope to define them? Fortunately, it’s not as ethereal as all that. In the story mind, character represent different facets of a single mind’s psychology.

Why this is so is covered way back in the first chapter of this book called, no surprisingly nor inappropriately, “The Story Mind.” In a nutshell (for those of you who skipped ahead to this chapter on characters as many are wont to do), in the course of hundreds of years of storytelling, the very process of communication between author and audience created a framework upon which to hang the ideas and feelings to be shared.

This framework, as a by product of this communion, established conventions upon forms and organizations that served to facilitate an accurate transmission of meaning between the two parties. And these conventions, as it turns out, are a picture of the very fabric of the common psychological elements of our shared humanity.

Hey, I know it sounds both flowery and scientific at the same time, but that’s because it is describing both story structure and storytelling.

Characters, then, appear in the structure and represent facets of our own psychology – facets we all have, though we all employ them in differing degrees and combinations. The Protagonist, for example, represents our initiative, and that is why the Protagonist is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the story’s goal.

The reason stories hold such universal appeal (beyond the simple thrill of the storytelling) is that we see ourselves in them. We see the aspects and processes of our own minds made tangible, incarnate, and can therefore look into ourselves from the outside and gain a much more objective sense of how we should feel and act in the situations explored by the story.

That characters are common facets of each of our own minds is the quality of story structure that gave rise to the concept of archetypes. But prior to Dramatica, story structure was generally not separated from storytelling and so each of the well-known archetypes (such as those proposed by Jung and later Campbell) are part facet and part expression of that facet; part character and part player.

When we split a character's function apart from its personality, we can far more clearly see what each part contains and how each works.

And so, armed with this basic understanding of the nature of the beast, we are ready to divide some common archetypes into their component parts to learn what makes them tick.

Based on the Dramatica Unplugged Video Program
(click for details)

What's the Big Idea?

Write Your Novel Step By Step

by Melanie Anne Phillips
creator StoryWeaver
co-creator Dramatica

Step 1 - What's The Big Idea?

How many times have you heard someone (perhaps even yourself) say, “That’d make a great story!” Usually this is uttered right after some unexpected event (observed in life or on television) or after hearing or reading about some new bit of information (in a conversation with a friend, on the radio or in the newspaper).

Such an idea is called high concept because the very notion is so intriguing that anyone who hears it becomes enthralled with the potential for how interesting and involving a story built around that idea could be.

High concepts are rare. Otherwise, as they say, “Everyone would be writing them.” But even if you are lucky enough to recognize a great idea for a story – even that only gets you partway there because you still need two other ingredients:

1. You need to have the abilities to write that particular kind of story. After all, just because you can recognize what would make a great story doesn’t mean you actually have the natural skills or insider knowledge that may be essential to bringing that concept to life.

2. You need to have the interest in the subject matter of such a story. No matter if the idea’s great and you have the required skill set – if you just aren’t personally excited by the material it doesn’t matter how great the idea is, you’ll never have the drive to carry it through to completion.

Take Step 1:

One: Since high concept ideas are few and far between, be sure to note them down at the moment when they occur. All too often a wonderful idea crops up in the midst of some frenetic activity, and by the time you get back home you can’t remember what it was for the life of you.

So, record it on your cell phone or mobile device, call your own number and leave it in voice mail, jot it down on a scrap of paper, or even just share it with someone you are with which doubles your chance of remembering it.

Two: Also, great new ideas generally don’t spawn from the same old ****. The more you expose yourself to new experiences, venture into new locations, different social circles, or even just watch television programs you’ve previously avoided – the more you fill yourself up with unusual (for you) information, the more likely you are to come up with an unusual idea.

Three: Once you’ve been fortunate enough to come up with a high concept, don’t just stop there. Though it is getting ahead of our step by step approach, it pays to do any development you can when you first think of the idea.

At that time you are enraptured with it and, if you are like most writers, a lot of other tangential ideas grow from that fascinating core. Take the time to follow them as far as you can before the inspiration evaporates, charting out as many details and timelines as you comfortably can. Every minute spent in this early stage will be worth an hour of effort later on.

Looking ahead to Step 2

Not surprisingly then, most books are not completed because the core idea was astonishingly captivating to begin with. Rather, it is because the author had some core interests and the skills and drive to make it happen.

So, if you haven’t got a high concept idea as we’ve outlined in step one, it makes sense that the second step in writing any book is coming up with an idea that isn’t high concept but will inspire you and falls within your experience and abilities.

Based on StoryWeaver Step By Step
Story Development Software

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dramatica Sequences, Acts, and Variations

Dramatica user just asked:

I have reached a small roadblock in reference to SEQUENCE, in terms of a division of ACT and organization of SCENE. The term is not covered in your theory book online.  It seems like an important concept to me since I am writing a novel.

I am confused about your use of Sequence as you talk about 4-ACT structure, since you talk about the Concern being looked at from the VARS of each type as it sequences through the 4 acts. Does this mean that in BEING you are looking at (CONCERN=BECOMING) as judged by [knowledge ability desire and thought]? Or am I judging BEING through those four variations: as in (BEING [knowledge, ability, desire & thought]) and applying that to BECOMING?

When I look at this second interpretation it makes more sense, but I don’t want to force myself into overburdened complication (which I have a tendency to do).

My reply:

Actually, both of your statements are true:

The Concern is valid throughout the entire course of the story, so it is going to be shaded and better understood by experiencing it (learning about it) through all four variations of a given act.

Equally true, the attempt to get to the center of the story’s problem will be enhanced by looking at each Type in each Act through the four Variations of that act. In this way, by the end of the story the location of the story’s central problem can be triangulated on (or actually quadrangulated, since there are four Acts and four Types).

But, it is not as complex as that sounds. In truth, because all our minds work alike beneath the level of our personalities, in storytelling, all one must do is make sure that the Concern, each Act’s Type, and each Act’s Variations are all represented. The reader/audience will assemble that information in the proper place all by itself so that the Variations act as “lenses” to clarify the location of the problem.

So, simply ensure that those elements are in the mix, and your reader/audience will actually do the hard work for you.


Monday, July 12, 2010

The Audience and the Main Character

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Suppose your audience/reader and your Main Character do NOT agree in attitudes about the central issue of the story. Even so, the audience will still identify with the Main Character because he or she represents the audience’s position in the story. So, if the Main Character grows in resolve to remain steadfast and succeeds, then the message to your audience is, “Adopt the Main Character’s view if you wish to succeed in similar situations.” If the Main Character remains steadfast and fails, changes their view and succeeds, or changes and fails, completely different messages will be sent to your audience/reader.

Clearly, since either change or steadfast can lead to either success or failure in a story, when you factor in where the audience itself stands in regard to the issues of your story a great number of different kinds of audience impact can be created by your choice.

Do you want your story to bring your audience to a point of change or to reinforce its current view? Oddly enough, choosing a steadfast Main Character may bring an audience to change and choosing a change character may influence the audience to remain steadfast. Why? It depends upon whether or not your audience shares the Main Character’s point of view to begin with.

From the Dramatica Pro Software

The Narrative Archetype

A writer recently asked:

Hi Melanie.

I had a question. Have you ever heard of the term Narrative Archetype? What does it mean to you in theory and to all of us who use your products “Dramatica” and last but not least, Could you tell me a little bit more about your new software “StoryWeaver” and how it can benefit me and make life a little easier for me as a storyteller?

My reply:

Although I’ve heard the term Narrative Archetype somewhere or other, I honestly have no idea what it means! I can tell you that in Dramatica theory, the narrator is seen as the author speaking, even if the author also appears as a character in the story.

For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is ostensibly the author and relates the piece as an older woman. But, she also appears in the story as Young Scout. When she is in the story, she is one of the characters, but when she addresses us directly as older Scout, she is acting as narrator.

Crucial to this difference is the understanding that there is a difference between a Player and a Character. A Character is a particular collection of human traits, whereas a Player is simply the host that manifests them.

So, when one player dies and another player picks up his or her dramatic functions, that new player may actually be the same character. Now, getting back to the narrator, in Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams has written himself as a character in this loosely autobiographical piece. But, from time to time, he steps toward the audience and addresses them directly. Then, he returns into the stage to continue as if he was unaware of the audience. This is the player as character, then dropping that role to adopt the role of narrator and then returning the role of character. Basically, it’s the same “person,” but with different functions.

In comedy, you’ll often see a player do an “aside” to the audience – a look directly through the “fourth wall” of the stage or into the camera that breaks the fiction. It forms an author’s commentary on the action that is clearly meant to indicate that at that moment the player is speaking to the audience directly and therefore carrying the author’s message.

A great example of this is in the old series Northern Exposure. There is an episode where two major characters are about to fight a duel. The series lead, Joel, tells them to wait. He then launches into a discussion about the script and it’s implications. One of the other characters, Maggie, says that he can’t to that: he can’t just step out of the story and discuss the script in front of the audience. He goes on to argue that they are doing this whole thing for the audience and are obligated to make it come out right.

So, then enter an “impromptu” story conference until they all decide to skip the duel scene since they can’t figure out how to make it work out without a tragedy and go directly to the scene at the end where both parties survived and everyone are friends again.

Now what is particularly interesting about this is that they stay “in character” while stepping out of character! In other words, their personalities, attitudes, and approaches remain consistent while arguing about the script, even though they have all become narrators!

So, it is often a fun storytelling technique to blur the line between the two!

Keep in mind; audiences and readers come to a story to ignite their passions. They only need enough structure to support that passion, never to get in the way of it.

Which brings me to your second question about StoryWeaver, the new software program I’ve created specifically to deal with the passionate side of storytelling.

As co-creator of Dramatica, my purpose was to define structure absolutely, so we could all know what pieces we had to work with, and how they could fit together to create different combinations that were always sound drama. But there was something lacking – the heart and soul of storytelling! And that’s where StoryWeaver comes in.

Since Dramatica was first released in 1994, I’ve struggled to devise a passionate approach to story creation that was both consistent with Dramatica’s structural view, but focused on the heart line, not the head line. StoryWeaver is the first release of the result of that work.

By listening to the students in my UCLA course in Dramatica theory, by getting back in touch with my own roots and reasons for writing, and by answering email like this, I’ve come “full spiral” back to the joy of writing, but carrying a bag of structural tricks. And that’s what I’m sharing in StoryWeaver.

StoryWeaver is a step-by-step approach to working out the details of what your story is about and how it unfolds. But, it doesn’t mention structure at all. Rather, the structural side is hidden behind the questions, not right up front where you would have to turn away from your muse to figure something out.

There are four stages in StoryWeaver – Inspiration (where you come up with ideas for your Plot, Characters, Theme, and Genre to supplement what you already have in mind), Development (where you add detail, depth, and richness to you ideas), Exposition (where you work out how these ideas will actually show up in your story), and Storytelling (where you develop a timeline as to how these ideas will be revealed to your reader or audience as the story unfolds).

By the time you get through all the questions (about 150 of them!), you’ll have devised a complete, detailed, sequential treatment of your story, ready to write OR to take to Dramatica for further structural development.

You can’t import directly to Dramatica (at least not yet!) but if you work out your story passionately in StoryWeaver first and THEN approach Dramatica, you’ll have created so many interesting characters and so much involving action that Dramatica won’t dry up the muse.

Thanks for the email, and I hope this helps!

Subjective Characters and the Objective Story

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

One of the most common mistakes made by authors of every level of experience is to create a problem for their Main Character that has nothing to do with the story at large. The reasoning behind this is not to separate the two, but usually occurs because an author works out a story and then realizes that he has not made it personal enough. Because the whole work is already completed, it is nearly impossible to tie the Main Character’s personal problem into the larger story without a truly major rewrite. So, the next best thing is to improve the work by tacking on a personal issue for the Main Character in addition to the story’s problem.

Of course, this leads to a finished piece in which either the story’s issues or the Main Character’s issues could be removed and still leave a cogent tale behind. In other words, to an audience it feels like one of the issues is out of place and shouldn’t be in the work.

Now, if one of the two different problems were removed, it wouldn’t leave a complete story, yet the remaining part would still feel like a complete tale. Dramatica differentiates between a “tale” and a “story”. If a story is an argument, a tale is a statement. Whereas a story explores an issue from all sides to determine what is better or worse overall, a tale explores an issue down a single path and shows how it turns out. Most fairy tales are just that, tales.

There is nothing wrong with a tale. You can write a tale about a group of people facing a problem without having a Main Character. Or, you could write a personal tale about a Main Character without needing to explore a larger story. If you simply put an Objective Story-tale and a Main Character tale into the same work, one will often seem incidental to the real thrust of the work. But, if the Main Character tale and the Objective Story-tale both hinge on the same issue, then suddenly they are tied together intimately, and what happens in one influences what happens in the other.

This, by definition, forms a Grand Argument Story, and opens the door to all kinds of dramatic power and variety not present in a tale. For example, although the story at large may end in success, the Main Character might be left miserable. Conversely, even though the big picture ended in failure, the Main Character might find personal satisfaction and solace. We’ll discuss these options at great length in The Art Of Storytelling section. For now, let us use this as a foundation to examine the relationship between the Subjective Characters and the Objective Story.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Story Justifications

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

An author builds an argument that the Main Character was either justified or not in his actions, then “proves” the point by concluding the story with an outcome of success or failure and a judgment of good or bad. In this way, the author hopes to convince an audience that actions taken in a particular context are appropriate or inappropriate. The audience members hope to become convinced that when the proper course of action is unclear, they can rely on a more “objective” truth to guide them.

In real life, only time will tell if our actions will ultimately achieve what we want and if that will bring us more happiness than hurt. In stories, it is the author who determines what is justified and what is not. Within the confines of the story, the author’s view IS objective truth.

The author’s ability to decide the validity of actions “objectively” changes the meaning of justification from how we have been using it. In life, when actions are seen as justified, it means that everyone agrees with the reasons behind the actions. In stories, reasons don’t count. Even if all the characters agree with the reasons, the author might show that all the characters were wrong. Reasons just explain why characters act as they do. Consensus regarding the reasons does not determine correctness.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

The Purpose of Stories

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

This is the purpose and function of story: to show that when something has previously served you well one hundred percent of the time, it may not continue to hold true, or conversely, that it will always hold true. Either message is equally valid and depends wholly upon the author’s personal bias on the issue, which arbitrarily determines the slant of the message. Obviously, the outcome is not arbitrary to the author, but it is completely arbitrary to the story.

Whether the Main Character is change or steadfast, the outcome success or failure, and the judgment good or bad, determines the audience’s position in relationship to the correct and incorrect approaches to the problem, and therefore the impact of the message upon them.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

The Four Stages of Communication (Class Transcript)

Dramatica : I’m going to start tonight with the four stages of communication.

Pete P 432 : Okay

Dramatica : In Dramatica theory, we see all communication as having four distinct stages. Now, its important to realize we are talking about “communication” here. There are all kinds of artistic endeavors that are not attempts to communicate. For example, you might just want to follow your muse, document the path, and let the audience make of it what they will.

Many fine works are great not because the “communicate” but because they provide a fertile environment for conjecture. Dramatica deals only with the act of communication. Now to communicate, it means you must have an idea you want to get across. That idea may be a point of view on an issue, a logical conjecture, a feeling that you want to share, or an emotional result that will change your audience.

But only if you, the author, know what it is that you want to get across, (Hi Moon!)

MoonBailey : hi!

Dramatica : will you be able to figure out how to communicate it. Moon, we are working our way into plot, by way of the four stages of communication.

Stage one is to have an idea in the first place, that you want to communicate.

MoonBailey : OK, I’m interested to see how it works

Dramatica : This is true of ANY kind of communication. When we are talking about communicating through the medium of stories, Dramatica calls that first stage StoryFORMING. Storyforming is the process of working out just what it is you want to say. Once you have completely FORMED your idea, you move to the second stage of communication, StoryENCODING.

Encoding is where you symbolize what you are trying to communicate, so it can be transmitted over a medium, and understood by your intended audience. Now, what is this symbolizing process? Suppose you have a feeling that you want to impart, Well, then you know how you feel, that’s a Storyform. But what kinds of things do you have to show your audience, that will make them feel the same thing. You can’t just come out and say what you feel, as there is no single word for it.

Perhaps it is a feeling that you felt on a particular rainy day as a kid, and only then, never again. No single word or event in the world, will be able to handle that kind of description. So, you come up with some kind of setting or progression of events that makes it happen again for you. And then hope your audience will be similarly affected by what you have presented them. For the very first storytellers in ancient times, They might be hungry or looking for something in the distance, and have to find non-verbal symbols, like rubbing their stomachs while pointing at their open mouths, or holding their hands to shade their eyes and pointing, to symbolize what they meant.

And they would assume that any other human being would be able to tune in to that, and understand the meaning. But they were just describing things, or physical states. And because we all share the same basic physiology, and live in the same physical world, we can assume that the nature of our physical selves, being much the same, would lead to an understanding at an intuitive level of the symbols we use. But the minute you want to get across logic, or feelings, those are both internal. How can it even be possible?

In fact, the very fact that we CAN communicate such things, seems nothing short of miraculous. Unless…there is something just as similar about our minds, as there is about our bodies. And that is the case. We don’t all think the same things, but we think the same way. So, when we want to communicate, a society first begins to build symbols, that describe the basic feelings, and logical givens that are common in that society. We fashion words and scenarios, that each of us learns through cultural indoctrination, that generate within us, a predictable logical or emotional response.

MoonBailey : What about serendipity or having things emerge from the characters as you write?

Dramatica : Serendipity in message or symbol?

MoonBailey : message

Dramatica : As we write a work, in any format, we are telling about the pieces that make up our message, and also about the way they hang together to create the “big Picture” message of what it all means when the smoke clears. Since we do not write the story all in one moment, we are only describing a piece of it at a time, and because a partial message always has many options, that only close down as we add constraints through additional influences that we describe in our work, then we have the opportunity to change our message anywhere within the remaining options, without violating, the integrity of the finished product. But if we become “inspired” and do something that is not consistent, then we will either have a work with holes, or we will rewrite what came first or not do what we were inspired to do.

MoonBailey : Good. I agree with your premise, I just think there is also self-discovery in writing/art

Dramatica : Yes, self-discovery is very important to many, but not all, writers. For example, James A Michner, works out all of the details of what he wants to write about before he writes a word, then he just describes the outline he has created. But other writers like to explore their topic, until they understand how THEY feel about it, and then go back and either write from scratch, or rework what they have so far to conform to the way they now see what their message is. The final kind of writer, just wants to document the journey, and doesn’t care a hoot about internal logic. just wants to document the journey, and doesn’t care a hoot about internal logic. And that is just fine too, and can be very moving and entertaining. It just won’t come to a point.

MoonBailey : Yes, you must create consistency and internal logic.

Dramatica : Okay, so we have stage one as coming up with the message. Storyforming, whether it is done before you write or in rewrite, but ALWAYS before the work is given to the audience, if your purpose is to communicate. The second stage is Storyencoding. Where we symbolize what we want to communicate in culturally specific symbols that we have learned have a particular meaning in our society.

Narrative theory has it that stories are transportable from one medium to another. But as we all know, that doesn’t always work in practice. That is because each storyform, is the same in any culture or time, but the symbols used in the finished work, are culturally specific, and perhaps even medium or format specific. This is why books don’t always translate to the screen and vice versa.

Now, for stage three. Once we have these symbols, how do we unfold them for our audience. Suppose our goal is to Obtain the stolen diamonds… Do we have someone come out and tell us that in the first scene, or do we have a bunch of people involved in some unknown activity, and only make it clear what they are doing, as the story winds down to the end. Only in the last scene does our audience realize what everybody was after. And do we want to tell our audience the whole truth, or through them red herrings and put things out of context, so that they think things have one meaning, and then we spring a larger context on them that shows the friend was really the foe, etc.

Well, how and when we unfold the true dramatics of our story, is the stage three process, of StoryWEAVING. Now, it is important to note, that the internal logic of the storyform or message, REQUIRES a particular order and meaning for events. For example, a slap in the face followed by a scream, is not the same as a scream followed by a slap in the face! The order makes a difference. When we are constructing our story each series of events, scene by scene and act by act, scans across the mind of the audience, like the scanning lines on a TV set.

By the time they have all been played out, the audience can stand back in retrospect and see the big picture created by the lines they had followed one by one. Each line must make sense in and of itself. Colors and shading must come in the right order that does not violate the “givens” of the story, nor the givens of the audience. But they also must do a double duty. When all the parts have been laid out, they HAVE to describe the message you started out to tell.

This happens in all linear-progressive art forms. You don’t see the finished product all in one moment, but strung out over time, and then you reassemble it. So, you start with the message, stage one, encode it into symbols, stage two, and then transmit it through storyweaving, stage three. But the order of transmission can be scrambled, so that the audience needs to decode it in time as well as space, to put the internal logic of the story back together. So, the storyform actually calls for the order of dramatic events, but storyweaving allows the author the ability to play with their audience by choosing what order and how much for these events in the telling.

And finally, we have stage four. Reception. We all see pictures in clouds. We make figures out of constellations, we look at ink blots in which there is no intended meaning, yet find some. This is because we seek order out of chaos. The mind IMPOSES patterns on that which it observes. So it is with the audience. An audience will seek to find meaning in the story being presented to it. BUT Each member of the audience is coming to the story with its own preconceptions, its own experiences. So, the symbols it sees, may not be interpreted the same as the author intended.

This means, that when you want to communicate, the more broad your symbols, the wider the audience that will see them the same way, but the more specific your symbols, the more narrow your audience. As a result, to get complex concepts and feelings across to a mass audience, we must use broad symbols, each of which, does not do the job, but taken together, in the order in which they are presented, build up an understanding in the audience, much like winding string in a circle will build a baseball.

We use our inexact symbols, to get all around the issue, like a dot to dot picture. By the end of the story, we hope our audience will connect the dots and then make the intuitive leap and say, “If this is where all these things are, then THIS must be what’s at the center of it.” And that thing at the center is what you wanted to communicate in the first place. Questions at this point?

Pete P 432 : not yet.

Dramatica : Okay,

Dan Steele : the film writer must also worry about how the chosen encodings could be changed during that last stage is Stage four: Reception.

Dan Steele : the production process

Dramatica : Yes, Dan, for the film writer, their audience is not the good folks that sit in the chairs in the theater, but the cast and crew. You tell your story to the artists and technicians, you hope they get your intent, and then they go out as your messengers and hopefully interpret your work correctly.

Dan Steele : which is why film writing differs from books, in part

Dramatica : It is one of the BIGGEST differences in writing for film vs. books. Okay, so with these four stages of communication, we can see how the StoryWEAVING phase is what is commonly thought of as plot, but is really only half of what is going on. The essential internal logic of the story contained in the StoryFORM, is the first part, and the order in which it is presented is the second.

Now when it comes to the Storyweaving part, Dramatica can make some suggestions, but it is really up to the desires of the author, because it is an unlimited opportunity to play around with the order of things. Like flashbacks or flash forwards for example. Take a flashback that moves the essential dramatics along, one in which the characters are aware they are “flashing back” or remembering, and it is part of the storyform, because the characters ARE aware and therefore, it effects them after they have flashed back.

But take something like “Remains of the Day.” The characters know nothing about the flashbacks. They are only seen by the audience. So flashbacks IN the story are Storyform, Flashbacks OUTside the story are Storyweaving. It is the storyforming part that Dramatica can be very specific about Do either of you have the structure charts?

Dan Steele : no

Pete P 432 : no.

Pete P 432 : ?

Dramatica : Well, there is a four level structure in Dramatica. Keep in mind, Dramatica is not just a structure, You might consider including the chart when you separately issue the book, by the way half of it is dynamics that rearrange the structure. Actually, Dan, the chart is in the book already, and the book is already available. Anyway, the top level of the structure is most akin to Genre, the next level down is most akin to Plot.

Pete P 432 : which book? The ones with the program?

Dan Steele : At end tell title and availability

Pete P 432 : I do then have the chart, but I haven’t looked at it. I will tonight.

Dramatica : We have written the Dramatica Theory Book, which comes with the software, but is also available for $24.95, I believe, as a separate item. Now this plot level, consists of sixteen “Types”. These are called “Types” because they are the Types of things that will be going on in the plot at any given point. And in fact, all sixteen will show up in every complete story. Its just that they will show up in different orders, depending on the overall impact (big picture message) you are trying to create at the end.

These sixteen types are divided into four groups, called quads. One of the groups is in the Universe Domain, which just means they describe a situation. They are Past, Present, Future, and Progress.

Pete P 432 : okay, now I remember what you mean.

Dramatica : Good. There are four others in the Mind (or attitude) domain, Conscious, Subconscious, Memory, Preconscious.

Dan Steele : what would a parallel world correspond to in that scheme? It is not past, present or future, or progress but alternative, as in maybe Mad Max

Dramatica : Well, a parallel world would depend on whether you wanted it to be A: A situation in which the characters find themselves B: an activity where one world is taking over from another, pushing the first one out (that would be Physics Domain for B) C: an alternative world where the problem is created by two opposing attitudes by the leaders.. Which would be Mind (a fixed attitude or prejudice) or D: an alternative world that has supplanted the old world, and the problems are caused because the way one responds to problems, (psychology domain) is no longer appropriate to the new world.

As you can see, the concept of an alternative or parallel world is a storytelling one, as all “high concept” ideas are. For example, do you want to do a story about a State of war, which would be Universe, or the activity of waging war, which would be Mind. Either one is just fine, but Dramatica forces you to consider, just what kind of problem you are talking about that drives the struggle in YOUR story. At the Type level, we see groupings of these sixteen Types in four quads that help us see the kinds of concerns that will come up in each different domain, each different kind of story. And, in fact, all four domains will be in every complete story as well. One will be the Domain of the Objective Story. This is the area in which ALL the characters are involved. For the audience, it is the THEY perspective.

Dan Steele : so there are what, maybe 4×4×4×4=256 different basic story types?

Dramatica : Actually, Dan, by the time you get down to the element level where characters are created, there are 32,768 different unique storyforms. The other three perspectives are the Main Character Domain (Me, to the audience) The Obstacle character Domain (YOU to the audience) And the Subjective Story Domain about the relationship between the Main and Obstacle Characters. (WE to the audience)

All four Domains and therefore all sixteen types will be in each story, but with point of view gets involved in which TYPES of activities, describes the most broad stroke, overview of your story’s plot.

There is MUCH more to say about plot in Dramatica, but we’ve run out of time for tonight!

Dan Steele : how does Dramatica SW handle bookkeeping for subplots? whoops, okay

Dramatica : Here’s an answer, Dan.. Right now, Dramatica only carries you through encoding. To weave, you take out the old 3×5 cards and begin figuring out which “appreciations” from the Dramatica reports, you want to illustrate in which scenes. Then you can change the scene order around for your storytelling.

Dan Steele : so I would have to set up subplots as separate stories with Dramatica oh, I see

Dramatica : Yes, Dan, each subplot should have its own separate storyform. We are working right now on a future upgrade, that will allow all that kind of manipulation to be done within the program, with the goal of making Dramatica capable of carrying the author from forming through encoding all the way through weaving.

Pete P 432 : Great, when will we see it?

Dramatica : Well, I hope to see that version out this year. Its a lot of complex work, but we recognize the value.

Pete P 432 : One quick question?

Dramatica : Sure, shoot!

Pete P 432 : After Storyforming, when D asks me to illustrate something I’ve answered in SF, Do I think in very specific terms or more symbolically

Dramatica : Yes. Each storyform point needs to be illustrated in your story, or the audience won’t know about it. There will be a hole. Think specifically at this point for example, Suppose your goal is “obtaining” Obtaining WHAT? You must pick the specific way in which Obtaining is the goal in YOUR story. Once you know that, you know a great deal about a lot of other things that must happen to support and grow from that.

Medium and Format

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Up to this point [in the Dramatica Theory Book], we have explored the encoding process as if storyform and storytelling were the only concerns. This is only true in a theoretical sense. In practice, a story cannot be transmitted from author to audience except across a medium. The medium in which a story is presented both limits the tools available to the author, and provides uniquely useful tools. For example, motion pictures are not known for the capacity to present stories told in taste or touch or smell. Stage productions, however, have made effective use of all three. Also, a novel allows a reader to jump ahead if he desires, and examine aspects of the story out of order, something one cannot do in a movie.

Stories in many media are recorded to play back directly to the audience. Others are recorded as cues to performers and translated through them to the audience. Still others are not recorded at all and simply told. There can be as many media as there are means of conveying information.

Even within a single medium there may exist several formats. For example, in television there are half-hour three-camera formats, half-hour single-camera formats, one-hour and two-hour and mini-series formats. Also, time is not the only quality that defines a format. Soap operas, episodic series, and multi-storyline episodic series are but a few variations. Each of these formats offers dramatic opportunities and each operates under constraints. By exploring their demands and benefits, the process of encoding can be related to best advantage in each.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Storyweaving and Structure

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Part of the purpose of Storyweaving is to communicate the underlying dramatic structure or message of a story. The other part is to make that process of communication as interesting and/or effective as possible. In addition, the manner in which the structure is expressed can have a great impact on how the audience receives the message which extends far beyond simply understanding the message.

Our first job then is the somewhat mundane task of describing how a structure can been communicated through exposition. Once we have laid this foundation, we can cut ourselves free to consider the enjoyable aspects of using weaving techniques to build suspense, create comedy, shock an audience, and generally have a good time putting the frosting on the cake.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

A Word of Warning About Propaganda

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Propaganda is powerful but using it involves risks. It is like a virus or engaging in germ warfare. Once an audience is exposed to a propagandistic message, the only way they can neutralize it is to balance it with an equal but opposite force. Audiences frequently don’t like to think they are being manipulated. If the audience becomes aware of the nature of your propaganda, the equal but opposite force can take the form of a backlash against the author(s) and the propaganda itself. Look at the strong reaction against advertisers who “target” their advertising to specific demographic groups (e.g. African Americans, women, Generation X, etc.), particularly if they are trying to sell liquor, tobacco products, or other items considered “vices” in America.

Once released, propaganda is difficult to control and frequently becomes subject to real world influences. Sometimes propaganda can benefit from real world coincidences: The China Syndrome’s mild propaganda about the dangers of nuclear power plants got a big boost in affecting its audience because of the Three Mile Island incident; the media coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder case may not have tainted potential jurors, but Natural Born Killers’ propaganda against the media’s sensationalization of violence got a little extra juice added to its punch. Often real life or the passage of time can undermine the effectiveness of propaganda: it is possible that Reefer Madness may have been effective when it first came out, but audiences today find its propaganda against drug use obvious, simplistic, risible and, more importantly, ineffective.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Misdirection as Propaganda

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

The most subtle and possibly most effective form of propaganda from a single exposure is the use of misdirection as a way to impact an audience’s Subconscious. Like “smoke and mirrors” used by magicians, this form of propaganda requires focusing the audience’s Conscious attention in one place while the real impact is made in the Subconscious. Fortunately for propagandistic minded authors, this is one of the easiest forms of propaganda to create.

This technique comes from omitting parts of the storyform from your storytelling. What you leave out becomes the audience’s blind spot, and the dynamic partner to the omitted storyform piece becomes the audience’s focus. The focus is where your audience’s attention will be drawn (the smoke and mirrors). The blind spot is where your audience personalizes the story by “filling-in-the-blank.” The story’s argument is thus linked directly to the audience’s subconscious, based on the context in which the story is presented.

Let’s look at some dynamic pairs of partners that appear in a storyform. The following pairs concern the nature of the impact on your audience:

Motivation <­p;> Purpose
Means of Evaluation <­p;> Methodology

Should you wish to impact your audience’s motivations, omit a particular motivation in the story . The audience, then, focused on the purpose they can see will automatically supply a motivation that seems viable to them (e.g.: Thelma and Louise ).

Here are the storyform dynamic pairs that relate to story/audience perspectives:

Objective Perspective <­p;> Subjective Perspective
Main Character Perspective <­p;> Obstacle Character Perspective

Combining a nature with a perspective gives an author greater control over a story’s propaganda. For example, if you wish to impact your audience in how they view the means of evaluation employed by the world around them, omit the Objective Story means of evaluation elements and the audience’s attention will be distracted by focusing on the methodologies employed (e.g.: Natural Born Killers).

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Conditioning As Propaganda

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Presenting an audience with an alternative life experience is yet another way to impact your audience. By ignoring (or catering to) an audience’s cultural bias, you can present your story as an alternative reality. This impacts an audience by undermining or reinforcing their own personal Memories. By experiencing the story, the message/meaning of the story becomes part of the audience’s memory base.

The nature of the propaganda, however, is that the story lacks context, which must be supplied by the audience. Thus personalized, the story memory is automatically triggered when an experience in the audience’s real life summons similarly stored memories. Through repeated use, an audience’s “sensibilities” become conditioned.

In Conditioning propaganda, audience attention is directed to causal relationships like When A also B (spatial), and If C then D (temporal). The mechanism of this propaganda is to leave out a part of the causal relationships in the story, such as When A also B and If ?? then D. By leaving out one part, the objective contextual meaning is then supplied automatically by the audience. The audience will replace ?? with something from its own experience base, not consciously considering that a piece is missing because it will have emotionally arrived at the contradiction: When A also B and then D.

This type of propaganda is closest to the traditional usage of the term with respect to stories, entertainment, and advertising. For example, look at much of the tobacco and alcohol print advertising. Frequently the Main Character (the type of person to whom the advertisement is supposed to appeal) is attractive, has someone attractive with them, and appears to be well situated in life. The inference is that when you smoke or drink, you are also cool, and if you are cool then you will be rich and attractive. The connection between “cool” and “rich and attractive” is not really in the advertisement but an audience often makes that connection for itself. In Conditioning propaganda, more than in the other three forms of propaganda, the degree of impact on your audience is extremely dependent on your audience’s life experience outside the story experience .

Crimes and Misdemeanors is a film example that employs this conditioning technique of propaganda. The unusual aspect of the film is that it has two completely separate stories in it. The “Crimes” story involves a self-interested man who gets away with murder and personally becomes completely OK with it (a Success/Good story). The “Misdemeanors” story involves a well meaning man who loses his job, his girl, and is left miserable (a Failure/Bad story). By supplying two competing stories instead of one, the audience need not supply its own experiences to arrive at a false context while viewing this work. Audiences will come to stories, however, with a particular cultural bias. In our culture, Failure/Bad stories which happen to nice people are regrettable, but familiar; Success/Good stories about murderers are uncommon and even “morally reprehensible.”

The propaganda comes into effect when the audience experiences in its own life a Failure/Bad scenario that triggers a recollection of the Success/Good story about forgetting the grief of having murdered – an option that the audience would not normally have considered. Lacking an objective contextual meaning that sets one over the other, both stories are given equal consideration as viable solutions. Thus, what was once inconceivable due to a cultural or personal bias is now automatically seen as a possible avenue for problem-solving.

Awareness as Propaganda

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Another method is to be up-front about the nature of the propaganda, letting your audience know what you are doing as you do it to them. This impacts an audience at a Conscious level where they must actively consider the pros and cons of the issues. The propaganda comes from controlling the givens on the issues being discussed, while the audience focuses on which side of the issues they believe in.

A filmic example of this technique can be seen in JFK. By choosing a controversial topic (the assassination of President Kennedy) and making an overly specific argument as to what parties were involved in the conspiracy to execute and cover-up the assassination, Oliver Stone was able to focus his audience’s attention on how “they” got away with it. The issue of who “they” were was suspiciously contentious as the resulting media bru-ha-ha over the film indicated. Who “they” were, however, is not the propaganda. The propaganda came in the form the story’s given which is that Lee Harvey Oswald had help. By the end of the story, audiences found themselves arguing over which of the parties in the story were or were not participants in the conspiracy, accepting the possibility that people other than Oswald may have been involved.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Shock as Propaganda

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

One tried-and-true method is to control what an audience knows about the story before experiencing the storytelling process so that you can shock them. Within the context of the story itself (as opposed to marketing or word-of-mouth), an author can prepare the audience by establishing certain givens, then purposefully break the storyform (destroy the givens) to shock or jar the audience. This hits the audience at a Preconscious level by soliciting an instantaneous, knee-jerk reaction. This type of propaganda is the most specific and immediately jarring on its audience. Two films that employed this technique to great effect are Psycho and The Crying Game.

Psycho broke the storyform to impact the audience’s preconscious by killing the main character twenty minutes or so into the film (the “real” story about the Bates family then takes over). The shock value was enhanced through marketing by having the main character played by big box office draw Janet Leigh (a good storytelling choice at the time) and the marketing gimmick that no one would be allowed into the movie after the first five or ten minutes. This “gimmick” was actually essential for the propaganda to be effective. It takes time for an audience to identify on a personal level with a main character. Coming in late to the film would not allow enough time for the audience member to identify with Janet Leigh’s character and her death would have little to no impact.

The Crying Game used a slightly different process to achieve a similar impact. The first twenty minutes or so of the film are used to establish a bias to the main character’s (and audience’s) view of reality. The “girlfriend” is clearly established except for one important fact. That “fact,” because it is not explicitly denoted, is supplied by the mind of the main character (and the minds of the audience members). By taking such a long time to prep the audience, it comes as a shock when we (both main character and audience) find out that she is a he.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Four Levels of Propaganda

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Here are the things an author should consider while creating a propaganda story:

1. Nature of Impact

How you want to impact your audience? Do you wish to play with your audience’s:

Motivations (what drives them)

Methodologies (how they go about doing things)

Purposes (what they are striving for)

Means of evaluation (how they measure their progress – their personal yardsticks)?

Pick only one as the area of primary impact. This will become the area of the storyform that you purposefully omit when storytelling. The remaining three areas will be used to support your intent by drawing attention away from the missing piece(s).

2. Area of Impact

What part of your audience’s world-view do you wish to impact?

View of the world around them – “objective reality” (Objective Story)

View of relationships (Subjective Story)

View of themselves (Main Character)

View of others (Obstacle Character)

Choose one of the perspectives. This will be the domain in which to place the “hole” in the storyform. The area of impact determines which part of your audience’s world-view the propaganda will “infect.”

3. Type of Impact: Specific vs. General

Do you want the impact on your audience to be of a specific nature, or of a broader, more general nature?

The more specific you make the propaganda, the more specific and predictable its impact will be on an audience. The upside (from an author’s point of view) is that specific behavior (mental or physical) can be promoted or modified. The downside is that specific propaganda is more easily identifiable and therefore contestable by the audience.

Specific propaganda is achieved by intentionally not encoding selected story appreciations, such as the Main Character’s motivation or the story Outcome (Success or Failure). The audience will supply the missing piece from its own personal experiences (e.g. the Main Character’s motivation in Thelma and Louise.; what happened to Louise in Texas that prevents her from ever going back is specifically not mentioned in the film – that blank is left for the audience to fill).

The more general you make the propaganda, the less specific but all-pervasive its impact will be on an audience. Instead of focusing impact on the audience’s motivations, methodologies, purposes, or means of evaluation, generalized propaganda will tend to bias the audience’s perspectives of their world. The upside (from an author’s point of view) is that generalized propaganda is difficult for an audience to identify and therefore more difficult to combat than the specific form of propaganda. The downside is that it does not promote any specific type of behavior or thought process and its direct impact is less discernible.

General propaganda is achieved by intentionally not encoding entire areas of the story’s structure or dynamics. For example, by leaving out almost all forms of the story’s internal means of evaluation, Natural Born Killers forces its audience to focus on the methodologies involved and question its own (the members of the audience) means of evaluation.

4. Degree of Impact

To what degree do you wish to impact your audience? The degree to which you can impact an audience is dependent on many variables not the least of which are your storytelling skills and the nature of the audience itself. There are some basic guidelines, however, that can mitigate and sometimes supersede those variables when skillfully employed.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Propaganda and Symbols

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Knowing (or preparing) your audience can have a tremendous effect on how your propaganda will impact them. Here are some rules of thumb:

The more specific the symbols you use to encode your story, the more limited an audience it will affect. The less specific the symbols, the greater potential audience.

The more specific the symbols used to encode the story, the greater the likelihood it will have an impact on the portion of the audience that understands the symbols. The less specific the symbols, the less impact the story will have.

The more familiar an audience is with the symbols used to encode a story, the more susceptible they are to propaganda. The less familiar, the less susceptible.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

The Basics of Propaganda

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

The human mind seeks to understand itself and the world around it. It does this through various ways including organizing information into meaningful patterns. Depending on the quantity of the information and the accuracy of its interpretation, a mind will identify a pattern (or several potential patterns) and supply the apparently “missing” pieces to make the pattern, and therefore meaning, complete. This pattern matching and filling in of missing pieces is intrinsic to the processes that create the human “mind.” By choosing which piece(s) of the storyform to omit, authors can manipulate the impact a story will have on the minds of their audiences.

In its most basic form, propaganda is a way for authors to have an audience share their point of view. Closed (or complete) stories allow authors to present their points of view in the form of an argument which the audience can then take or leave. Open (or incomplete) stories require their audiences to supply the missing pieces in order to get meaning from the story. Just creating an open story, however, does not create propaganda. There must be a pattern to what is missing.

The amount and nature of the missing pieces have a tremendous effect on the story’s propagandistic impact. If you leave too much out of your story, an audience may not make the effort to “fill-in-the-blanks.” The story may then be interpreted by the audience as meaningless. If, however, you selectively leave out specific pieces of the storyform, the audience may unknowingly fill in those holes with aspects of its personal experience. In this way, the story changes from an argument made by the author to the audience, to an argument made by the author and the audience. Unwittingly, the audience begins to share the author’s point of view and perhaps even become coconspirators in its propagation: ergo, propaganda.

Since a propaganda story is based upon a tenuous relationship between an audience and an author, both perspectives should be considered to understand the techniques that can be used and the results that can be achieved.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Introduction to Propaganda

by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory

Propaganda, n. 1. any organization or movement working for the propagation of particular ideas, doctrines, practices, etc. 2. the ideas, doctrines, practices, etc. spread in this way. (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary)

Propaganda: 3. a storyforming/storytelling technique used to impact an audience in specific ways, often employed to instigate deliberation and/or action. (Dramatica)

Propaganda is a wondrous and dangerous story device. Its primary usage in stories is as a method for an author to impact an audience long after they have experienced the story itself. Through the use of propaganda, an author can inspire an audience to think certain ways, think about certain things, behave certain ways, and take specific actions. Like fire and firearms, propaganda can be used constructively and destructively and does not contain an inherent morality. Any morality involved comes from the minds of the author and his audience.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Both Sides of the Thematic Argument

by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator of Dramatica

Every powerful theme pits a “Message Issue” against a “Counterpoint”, such as “Greed vs. Generosity”, or “Holding On To Hope” vs. “Abandoning Hope”.

The Message Issue and Counterpoint define the thematic argument of your story. They play both sides of the moral dilemma. The most important key to a successful thematic argument is never, ever play the message issue and counterpoint together at the same time.

Why? Because the thematic argument is an emotional one, not one of reason. You are trying to sway your reader/audience to adopt your moral view as an author. This will not happen if you keep showing one side of the argument as “good” and the other side as “bad” in direct comparison. Such a thematic argument would seem one-sided, and treat the issues as being black-and-white, rather than gray-scale.

In real life, moral decisions are seldom cut-and-dried. Although we may hold views that are clearly defined, in practice it all comes down to the context of the specific situation. For example, it may be wrong to steal in general. But, it might be proper to steal from the enemy during a war, or from a large market when you baby is starving. In the end, all moral views become a little blurry around the edges when push comes to shove.

Statements of absolutes do not a thematic argument make. Rather, your most powerful message will deal with the lesser of two evils, the greater of two goods, or the degree of goodness or badness of each side of the argument. In fact, there are often situations where both sides of the moral argument are equally good, equally bad, or that both sides are either good nor bad in the particular situation being explored in the story.

The way to create this more powerful, more believable, and more persuasive thematic argument is as follows:

1. Determine in advance whether each side is good, bad, or neutral.

Do this by assigning an arbitrary “value” to both the Message Issue and the Counterpoint. For example, we might choose a scale with +5 being absolutely good, -5 being absolutely bad, and zero being neutral.

If our thematic argument is Greed vs. Generosity, then Greed (our Message Issue) might be a -3, and Generosity (our Counterpoint) might be a -2. This would mean that both Greed and Generosity are both bad (being in the negative) but that Generosity is a little less bad than Greed since Generosity is only a -2 and Greed is a -3.

2. Show the good and bad aspects of both the Message Issue and the Counterpoint.

Make sure the examples of each side of the thematic argument that you have already developed don’t portray either side as being all good or all bad. In fact, even if one side of the argument turns out to be bad in the end, it might be shown as good initially. But over the course of the story, that first impression is changed by seeing that side in other contexts.

3. Have the good and bad aspects “average out” to the thematic conclusion you want.

By putting each side of the thematic argument on a roller coaster of good and bad aspects, it blurs the issues, just as in real life. But the reader/audience will “average out” all of their exposures to each side of the argument and draw their own conclusions at the end of the story.

In this way, the argument will move out of the realm of intellectual consideration and become a viewpoint arrived by feel. And, since you have not only shown both sides, but the good and the bad of each side, your message will be easier to swallow. And finally, since you never directly compared the two sides, the reader/audience will not feel that your message has been shoved down its throat.

Author's Intent

Simply having a feeling or a point of view does not an author make. One becomes an author the moment one establishes an intent to communicate. Usually some intriguing setting, dialog, or bit of action will spring to mind and along with it the desire to share it. Almost immediately, most authors leap ahead in their thinking to consider how the concept might best be presented to the audience. In other words, even before a complete story has come to mind most authors are already trying to figure out how to tell the parts they already have.

As a result, many authors come to the writing process carrying a lot of baggage: favorite scenes, characters, or action, but no real idea how they are all going to fit together. A common problem is that all of these wonderful inspirations often don’t belong in the same story. Each may be a complete idea unto itself, but there is no greater meaning to the sum of the parts. To be a story, each and every part must also function as an aspect of the whole.

Some writers run into problems by trying to work out the entire dramatic structure of a story in advance only to find they end up with a formulaic and uninspired work. Conversely, other writers seek to rely on their muse and work their way through the process of expressing their ideas only to find they have created nothing more than a mess. If a way could be found to bring life to tired structures and also to knit individual ideas into a larger pattern, both kinds of authors might benefit. It is for this purpose that Dramatica was developed.

Communicating Through Symbols

How can essential concepts be communicated? Certainly not in their pure, intuitive form directly from mind to mind. (Not yet, anyway!) To communicate a concept, an author must symbolize it, either in words, actions, juxtapositions, interactions — in some form or another. As soon as the concept is symbolized, however, it becomes culturally specific and therefore inaccessible to much of the rest of the world.

Even within a specific culture, the different experiences of each member of an audience will lead to a slightly different interpretation of the complex patterns represented by intricate symbols. On the other hand, it is the acceptance of common symbols of communication that defines a culture.

For example, when we see a child fall and cry, we do not need to know what language he speaks or what culture he comes from in order to understand what has happened. If we observe the same event in a story, however, it may be that in the author’s culture a child who succumbs to tears is held in low esteem. In that case, then the emotions of sadness we may feel in our culture are not at all what was intended by the author.

Sybmolizing Concepts in Dramatica

It has been argued that perhaps the symbols we use are what create concepts, and therefore no common understanding between cultures, races, or times is possible.

Dramatica works because indeed there ARE common concepts: morality, for example. Morality, a common concept? Yes. Though not everyone shares the same definition of morality, every culture and individual understands some concept that means “morality” to them. In other words, the concept of “morality” may have many different meanings — depending on culture or experience — but they all qualify as different meanings of “morality.”

Thus there can be universally shared essential concepts even though they drift apart through various interpretations. It is through this framework of essential concepts that communication is possible.

The Free Form Author

While some authors write specifically to make an argument to an audience, many others write because they want to follow their personal Muses. Sometimes writing is a catharsis, or an exploration of self. Sometimes authoring is a sharing of experiences, fragmented images, or just of a point of view.

Sometimes authoring is marking a path for an audience to follow, or perhaps just presenting emotional resources the audience can construct into its own vision. Interactive communications question the validity of a linear story itself, and justifiably so.

There are many ways to communicate, and each has just as much value as the next depending upon how one wishes to affect one’s audience.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Writing A Novel or Screenplay Step by Step

Let's not kid ourselves. It's not really possible to write a novel (or screenplay) step by step because that's not how the creative mind works. Rather, we come to a story with a whole bag of bits and pieces of ideas, some complete, some half-baked.

What's more, the ideas we do have are from all across the board: a snippit of dialog, a setting, a bit of action, a type of personality for a character (even though we don't yet have any idea if it's a protagonist or antagonist or even if it is the Main Character).

You see, inspiration - the desire to write a story and an idea of what it will be about - comes from the subjects that interest us. But stories themselves come from the structure that holds them together. And that is the age-old author's dilemma: "How do I turn my interests and motivations into a finished novel that makes sense?"

When embarking on a new writing project, it often seems as if the whole process is summed up in that old saying, "You can't get there from here." And for many writers, once the novel is written, they can't really see how they did it, or more aptly, "You can't get here from there."

Yet, there is hope. There is an approach you can take that works with your Muse, rather than against her. And, it is a real step-by-step method that will actually take you from concept to completion of your novel or script. (Read More....)

Using Dramatica and StoryWeaver Together

A writer who has both Dramatica and StoryWeaver Story Development Software recently asked me what was the best way to use them together. Specifically, how could he take the information he got for one of the programs and apply it to the other.

Here's my response:

Each one provides reports on different aspects of your story.

Dramatica provides dozens of reports about your characters, about your plot, about your theme, and so on. StoryWeaver provides two reports - a treatment of your story describing everything that's in it and what happens and also a time-line report which describes the order in which everything happens.

You don't use the reports from Dramatica to do anything with the reports from StoryWeaver or vice versa. Rather, each set of reports educates you about different parts of your story - Dramatica telling you about the structure and StoryWeaver telling you about your story's world and the people in it.

Then, you take all that information and use it to actually write your story in the word processor of your choice.

It's kind of like Math and Language. Each is an area of study. Each is a form of communication. Some things are better said in Language and other things are better said in Math. So, if you were to decribe a building, for example, you might be able to get all the dimensions and the colors right using math, but it wouldn't convey what it felt like to live in or look at the building. But, no matter how well you might try to describe the engineering of the building in language, you couldn't build it just from that description alone.

The end product is your story, but you don't write it in either program. Rather, you learn about the structural side in Dramatica and learn about the passionate side in StoryWeaver and then bring those two understandings together when you actually sit down to write your story.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Grand Argument Story

The question arises: Is telling a story better than telling a non-story? No. Stories are not “better” than any other form of communication — just different. To see this difference we need to define “story” so we can tell what a story is and what it is not. Herein lies a political problem. No matter how one defines “story,” there will be an author someplace who finds his favorite work has been defined out, and feels it is somehow diminished by not being classified as a story. Rather than risk the ire of countless creative authors, we have limited our definition to a very special kind of story: the Grand Argument Story.

As its name indicates, a Grand Argument Story presents an argument. To be Grand, the argument must be a complete one, covering all the ways the human mind might consider a problem and showing that only one approach is appropriate to solving it. Obviously, this limits out a lot of creative, artistic, important works — but not out of being stories, just out of being Grand Argument Stories. So, is a Grand Argument Story better than any other kind? No. It is just a specific kind.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Communication vs. Storytelling

The process of communication requires at least two parties: the originator and the recipient. In addition, for communication to take place, the originator must be aware of the information or feelings he wishes to transmit, and the recipient must be able to determine that meaning.

Similarly, storytelling requires an author and an audience. And, to tell a story, one must have a story to tell. Only when an author is aware of the message he wishes to impart can he determine how to couch that message so it will be accurately received.

It should be noted that an audience is more than a passive participant in the storytelling process. When we write the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” we have communicated a message, albeit a nebulous one. In addition to the words, another force is at work creating meaning in the reader’s mind. The readers themselves may have conjured up memories of the fragrance of fresh rain on dry straw, the trembling fear of blinding explosions of lightning, or a feeling of contentment that recalls a soft fur rug in front of a raging fire. But all we wrote was, “It was a dark and stormy night.” We mentioned nothing in that phrase of straw or lightning or fireside memories. In fact, once the mood is set, the less said, the more the audience can imagine.

Did the audience imagine what we, the authors, had in mind? Not likely. Did we communicate? Some. We communicated the idea of a dark and stormy night. The audience, however, did a lot of creating on its own. Did we tell a story? Definitely not!
From the Dramatica Theory Book

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Writing For Oneself

In the Great Practical World of the Almighty Dollar Sign, it might seem trite or tangential to discuss writing for oneself (unless one expects to pay oneself handsomely for the effort). In truth, the rewards of writing for oneself DO pay handsomely, and not just in personal satisfaction. By getting in touch with one’s own feelings, by discovering and mapping out one’s biases, an author can grow to appreciate his own impact on the work as being in addition to the structure of the work itself. An author can also become more objective about ways to approach his audience. (And yes, one can gain a lot of personal insight and satisfaction as well.

The Author as Main Character

As an experiment, cast yourself in a story as the Main Character. Cast someone with whom you have a conflict as the Obstacle Character. Next, answer all the Dramatica questions and then go to the Story Points window. Fill in as many of the story points as seem appropriate to you. Print out the results and put them aside.

Now, go back and create the same story again — this time with your “opponent” as the Main Character and YOU as the Obstacle Character. Once again, fill in the story points and print them out. Compare them to the first results. You will likely find areas in which the story points are the same and other areas in which they are different.

These points of similarity and divergence will give you a whole new perspective on the conflicts between you and your adversary. Often, this is the purpose of an author when writing for himself. Thoughts and feelings can be looked at more objectively on paper than hidden inside your head. Just seeing them all jumbled up together rather than as a sequence goes a long way to uncovering meaning that was invisible by just trotting down the path. After all, how can we ever hope to understand the other person’s point of view while trying to see it from our perspective?

A wise woman once said, “Don’t tell me what you’d do if you were me. If you were me, you’d do the same thing because I AM ME and that’s what I’m doing! Tell me what you’d do if you were in my situation.”

Documenting Oneself

Another purpose in writing for oneself is simply to document what it was like to be in a particular state of mind. In a sense, we jot down the settings of our minds so that we can tune ourselves back into that state as needed at a later date. The images we use may have meaning for no one but ourselves, and therefore speak to us uniquely of all people. The ability to capture a mood is extremely useful when later trying to communicate that mood to others. To bring emotional realism to another requires being in the mood oneself. What better intuitive tool than emotional snapshots one can count on to regenerate just the feelings one wants to convey. To make an argument, accept the argument. To create a feeling, experience the feeling.

Who is “Me”?

A simple note is stuck to the refrigerator door: “Call me when you get home.” Who is “me?” It depends on who you are asking. Ask the author of the note and he would say it was “myself.” Ask the recipient of the note and they would say, “It’s him.” So the word “me” has different meanings depending upon who is looking at it. To the author, it means the same when they wrote it as when they read it as an audience. To the intended audience, however, it means something quite different.

In life, we assume one point of view at a time. In stories, however, we can juxtapose two points of view, much as we blend the images from two eyes. We can thus look AT a Main Character’s actions and responses even as we look through his eyes. This creates an interference pattern that provides much more depth and meaning than either view has separately.

My “Me” is Not Your “Me”

When writing for others, if we assume they share our point of view, it is likely that we will miss making half of our own point. Far better are our chances of successful communication if we not only see things from our side but theirs as well. Overlaying the two views can define areas of potential misunderstanding before damage is done. Still, “Call me when you get home” is usually a relatively low-risk communication and we suggest you just write the note without too much soul-searching.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Who Are You Writing For?

What if you are writing not for yourself but to reach someone else? It might be that you hope to reach a single individual which can be done in a letter to a friend, parent, or child. You might be composing an anecdote or speech for a small or large group, or you could be creating an industrial film, designing a text book, or fashioning a timeless work for all humanity.

In each case, the scope of your audience becomes more varied as its size increases. The opportunity to tailor your efforts to target your audience becomes less practical, and the symbols used to communicate your thoughts and feelings become more universal and simultaneously less specific.

The audience can thus range from writing for yourself to writing for the world. In addition, an author’s labors are often geared toward a multiplicity of audiences, including both himself and others as well. Knowing one’s intended audience is essential to determining form and format. It allows one to select a medium and embrace the kind of communication that is most appropriate — perhaps even a story.

Author & Audience: A Collaboration

Few authors write stories without at least considering what it will be like to read the story or see it on stage or screen. As soon as this becomes a concern, we have crossed the line into Reception theory. Suddenly, we have more to consider than what our story’s message is; we now must try to anticipate how that message will be received.

One of the first questions then becomes, how do we want it to be received. And from this, we ask, what am I hoping to achieve with my audience. We may wish to educate our audience, or we may simply want to bias them. Perhaps we are out to persuade our audience to adopt a point of view, or simply to pander to an existing point of view. We might provoke our audience, forcing them to consider some topic or incite them to take action in regard to a topic. We could openly manipulate them with their informed consent, or surreptitiously propagandize them, changing their outlook without their knowledge.

No matter what our author’s intent, it is shaped not only by who we are, but also by who the audience is that we are trying to reach.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dramatica Story Structure Encyclopedia - "Ability"

From the Dramaticapedia:

What's "Ability" have to do with story structure?

If you look in Dramatica's "Periodic Table of Story Elements" chart (you can download a free PDF of the chart at ) you'll find the "ability" in one of the little squares.  Look in the "Physics" class in the upper left-hand corner.  You'll find it in a "quad" of four items, "Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire".

In this article I'm going to talk about how Dramatica uses the term "ability" and how it applies not only to story structure and characters but to real people, real life and psychology as well.

To begin with, a brief word about the Dramatica chart itself.  The chart is sort of like a Rubik's Cube.  It holds all the elements which must appear in every complete story to avoide holes.  Conceptually, you can twist it and turn it, just like a Rubik's Cube, and when you do, it is like winding up a clock - you create dramatic potential.

How is this dramatic potential created?  The chart represents all the categories of things we think about.  Notice that the chart is nested, like wheels within wheels.  That's the way our mind's work.  And if we are to make a solid story structure with no holes, we have to make sure all ways of thinking about the story's central problem or issues are covered.

So, the chart is really a model of the mind.  When you twist it and turn it represents the kinds of stress (and experience) we encounter in everyday life.  Sometimes things get wound up as tight as they can.  And this is where a story always starts.  Anything before that point is backstory, anything after it is story.

The story part is the process of unwinding that tension.  So why does a story feel like tension is building, rather than lessoning?  This is because stories are about the forces that bring a person to chane or, often, to a point of change.

As the story mind unwinds, it puts more and more pressure on the main character (who may be gradually changed by the process or may remain intransigent until he changes all at once).  It's kind of like the forces that  create earthquakes.  Tectonic plates push against each other driven by a background force (the mantle).  That force is described by the wound up Dramatica chart of the story mind.

Sometimes, in geology, this force gradually raises or lowers land in the two adjacent plate.  Other times it builds up pressure until things snap all at once in an earthquake.  So too in psychology, people (characters) are sometimes slowly changed by the gradual application of pressure as the story mind clock is unwinding; other times that pressure applied by the clock mechanism just builds up until the character snaps in Leap Of Faith - that single "moment of truth" in which a character must decide either to change his ways or stick by his guns believing his current way is stronger than the pressure bought to bear - he believes he just has to outlast the forces against him.

Sometimes he's right to change, sometimes he's right to remain steadfast, and sometimes he's wrong.  But either way, in the end, the clock has unwound and the potential has been balanced.

Hey, what happened to "ability"?  Okay, okay, I'm getting to that....

The chart (here we go again!) is filled with semantic terms - things like Hope and Physics and Learning and Ability.  If you go down to the bottom of the chart in the PDF you'll see a three-dimensional representation of how all these terms are stacked together.  In the flat chart, they look like wheels within wheels.  In the 3-D version, they look like levels.

These "levels" represent degrees of detail in the way the mind works.  At the most broadstroke level (the top) there are just four items - Universe, Physics, Mind and Psychology.  They are kind of like the Primary Colors of the mind - the Red, Blue, Green and Saturation (effectively the addition of something along the black/white gray scale).

Those for items in additive color theory are four categories describing what can create a continuous spectrum.  In a spectrum is really kind of arbitrary where you draw the line between red and blue.  Similarly, Universe, Mind, Physics and Psychology are specific primary considerations of the mind.

Universe is the external state of things - our situation or envirnoment.  Mind is the internal state - an attitude, fixation or bias.  Physics looks at external activities - processes and mechanisms.  Psychology looks at internal activities - manners of thinking in logic and feeling.

Beneath that top level of the chart are three other levels.  Each one provides a greater degree of detail on how the mind looks at the world and at itself.  It is kind of like adding "Scarlet" and "Cardinal" as subcategories to the overall concept of "Red".

Now the top level of the Dramatica chart describe the structural aspects of "Genre"  Genre is the most broadstroke way of looking at a story's structure.   The next level down has a bit more dramatic detail and describes the Plot of a story.  The third level down maps out Theme, and the bottom level (the one with the most detail) explores the nature of a story's Characters.

So there you have the chart from the top down, Genre, Plot, Theme and Characters.  And as far as the mind goes, it represents the wheels within wheels and the sprectrum of how we go about considering things.  In fact, we move all around that chart when we try to solve a problem.  But the order is not arbitrary.  The mind has to go through certain "in-betweens" to get from one kind of consideration to another or from one emotion to another.  You see this kind of thing in the stages of grief and even in Freud's psycho-sexual stages of development.

All that being said now, we finally return to Ability - the actual topic of this article.  You'll find Ability, then, at the very bottom of the chart - in the Characters level - in the upper left hand corner of the Physics class.  In this article I won't go into why it is in Physics or why it is in the upper left, but rest assured I'll get to that eventually in some article or other.

Let's now consider "Ability" in its "quad" of four Character Elements.  The others are Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire.  I really don't have space in this article to go into detail about them at this time, but suffice it to say that Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire are the internal equivalents of Universe, Mind, Physics and Pyschology.  They are the conceptual equivalents of Mass, Energy, Space and Time.  (Chew on that for awhile!)

So the smallest elements are directly connect (conceptually) to the largest in the chart.  This represents what we call the "size of mind constant" which is what determines the scope of an argument necessary to fill the minds of readers or an audience.  In short, there is a maximum depth of detail one can perceive while still holding the "big picture" in one's mind at the very same time.

Ability - right....

Ability is not what you can do.  It is what you are "able" to do.  What's the difference?  What you "can" do is essentially your ability limited by your desire.  Ability describes the maximum potential that might be accomplished.  But people are limited by what they should do, what they feel obligated to do, and what they want to do.  If you take all that into consideration, what's left is what a person actually "can" do.

In fact,  if we start adding on limitations you  move from Ability to Can and up to even higher levels of "justification" in which the essential qualities of our minds, "Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire" are held in check by extended considerations about the impact or ramifications of acting to our full potential.

One quad greater in justification you find "Can, Need, Want, and Should" in Dramatica's story mind chart.  Then it gets even more limited by Responsibility, Obligation, Commitment and Rationalization.  Finally we end up "justifying" so much that we are no longer thinking about Ability (or Knowledge or Thought or Desire) but about our "Situation, Circumstance, Sense of Self and State of Being".  That's about as far away as you can get from the basic elements of the human mind and is the starting point of where stories begin when they are fully wound up.  (You'll find all of these at the Variation Level in the "Psychology" class in the Dramatica chart, for they are the kinds of issues that most directly affect each of our own unique brands of our common human psychology.

A story begins when the Main Character is stuck up in that highest level of justification.  Nobody gets there because they are stupid or mean.  They get there because their unique life experience has brought them repeated exposures to what appear to be real connections between things like, "One bad apple spoils the bunch" or "Where there's smoke , there's fire."

These connections, such things as -  that one needs to adopt a certain attitude to succeed or that a certain kind of person is always lazy or dishonest - these things are not always universally true, but may have been universally true in the Main Character's experience.  Really, its how we all build up our personalities.  We all share the same basic psychology but how it gets "wound up" by experience determines how we see the world.  When we get wound up all the way, we've had enough experience to reach a conclusion that things are always "that way" and to stop considering the issue.  And that is how everything from "winning drive" to "prejudice" is formed - not by ill intents or a dull mind buy by the fact that no two life experiences are the same.

The conclusions we come to, based on our justifications, free out minds to not have to reconsider every connection we see.  If we had to, we'd become bogged down in endlessly reconsidering everything, and that just isn't a good survival trait if you have to make a quick decision for fight or flight.

So, we come to certain justification and build upon those with others until we have established a series of mental dependencies and assumptions that runs so deep we can't see the bottom of it - the one bad brick that screwed up the foundation to begin with.  And that's why psychotherapy takes twenty years to reach the point a Main Character can reach in a two hour movie or a two hundred page book.

Now we see how Ability (and all the other Dramatica terms) fit into story and into psychology.  Each is just another brick in the wall.  And each can be at any level of the mind and at any level of justification.  So, Ability might be the problem in one story (the character has too much or too little of it) or it might be the solution in another (by discovering an ability or coming to accept one lacks a certain ability the story's problem - or at least the Main Character's personal problem - can be solved).  Ability might be the thematic topic of one story and the thematic counterpoint of another (more on this in other articles).

Ability might crop up in all kinds of ways, but the important thing to remember is that wherever you find it, however you use it, it represents the maximum potential, not necessarily the practical limit that can be actually applied.

Well, enough of this.  To close things off, here's the Dramatica Dictionary description of the world Ability that Chris and I worked out some twenty years ago, straight out of the Dramatica diction (available online at :

Ability • Most terms in Dramatica are used to mean only one thing. Thought, Knowledge, Ability, and Desire, however, have two uses each, serving both as Variations and Elements. This is a result of their role as central considerations in both Theme and Character

[Variation] • Desire<-->Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • Ability describes the actual capacity to accomplish something. However, even the greatest Ability may need experience to become practical. Also, Ability may be hindered by limitations placed on a character and/or limitations imposed by the character upon himself. • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency

[Element] • Desire<-->Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • An aspect of the Ability element is an innate capacity to do or to be. This means that some Abilities pertain to what what can affect physically and also what one can rearrange mentally. The positive side of Ability is that things can be done or experienced that would otherwise be impossible. The negative side is that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done. And, just because one can be a certain way does not mean it is beneficial to self or others. In other words, sometimes Ability is more a curse than a blessing because it can lead to the exercise of capacities that may be negative • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency