What is Dramatica?

by Chris Huntley

So, what exactly is Dramatica? Dramatica is a whole new theory of Story. Because it wasn't based on any pre-existing theories, much of what it has to say can sound pretty unfamiliar. Still, the amazing part is that with each new concept you learn, whole new worlds of understanding and skill will open up to you.

There are really only five central concepts that you'll need to know to understand all that follows.

The Story Mind

The one unique concept that sets Dramatica apart from all other theories is the concept that every complete story is a model of the mind's problem solving process. To fully explore any issue, an author has to examine all possible solutions to that issue and make an argument to prove to an audience that the author's way is best.

If you leave out a part of that argument or diverge from the point, your story will have plot holes or inconsistencies. Once you have covered every angle in your argument, you've mapped all the ways an audience might look at that problem and, therefore, all the ways anyone might look at that problem. In short, you have created a map of the mind's problem solving process.

Characters, Plot, and Theme are the thoughts of this Story Mind made tangible. An audience can see them and learn. When a story fully develops this model of the mind, we call it a Grand Argument Story because it addresses the problem from all sides.

The Overall Story Throughline

An audience is given two principal views of this Story Mind. The first is the Overall Story View, so called because it is a dispassionate look at the issues of the story.

Imagine the argument of a story as a battle between two armies. The Overall Story View is like that of a General on a hill overlooking the battle. The General focuses on the unfolding strategies and sees the soldiers not by name but by their function on the field: foot soldier, grenadier, cavalryman, scout. The General may care very much for the soldiers, but must concentrate on the events as they unfold. The Overall Story Throughline is often thought of as plot, but as we shall see later, plot is so much more!

The Main Character Throughline

There is a second view of the battle provided to the audience: that of the soldier in the trenches. Instead of looking at the Story Mind from the outside, what if that Story Mind were our own? That is what happens when we become a soldier on the field: we identify with the Main Character of the story.

Through the Main Character we experience the battle as if we were actually participating in it. We are much more concerned with what is happening immediately around us than we are for the larger strategies that are really too big to see. This is the personal argument of the story as experienced through the Main Character Throughline.

As we shall explore shortly, the Main Character doesn't have to be the soldier leading the charge in the battle as a whole. Our Main Character might be any of the soldiers on the field: the cook, the medic, the bugler, or even the recruit cowering in the bushes.

The Influence Character Throughline

For a moment, keep yourself in the shoes of the Main Character. You are right in the middle of the story's battle. Smoke from dramatic explosions obscures the field. You are not absolutely sure which way leads to safety. Still, before there was so much turmoil, the way was clear and you are confident in your sense of direction.

Then, from out of the smoke a shadowy figure appears blocking your way. You can't see well enough to tell if it is friend or foe. It might be a compatriot trying to keep you from stepping into a mine field. Or, it might be the enemy luring you into a trap. What to do! Do you keep on your path and run it over or try another path instead?

The shadowy figure is your Influence Character. Which way to go is the decision that faces a Main Character as their "leap of faith." Note: An Influence Character frequently is not the Antagonist of a story.

To make an argument, both sides must be represented. To completely explore the issue at the heart of a story, an Impact Character must present an alternative approach to the Main Character. The Influence Character Throughline describes the advocate of the alternative path and the manner in which its impact on the Main Character grows.

The Relationship Story Throughline

As soon as the Main Character encounters their Influence Character, a skirmish ensues in the midst of the battle as a whole. The two characters close in on one another in a theatrical game of "chicken." Each hopes the other will give in, eliminating the need for risk of bloodshed on both sides.

The Main Character shouts at their Influence Characterto get out of the way. The Influence Character stands fast, insisting that the Main Character change course, and even pointing toward the fork in the road.

As they approach one another, the interchange becomes more heated until the two are engaged in heart to heart combat. Which one is right?

While the Overall Story Throughline battle rages all around, the Main and Influence Characters fight their private engagement. The Relationship Story Throughline describes the course this passionate battle takes.


We have described a story as a battle. The overview that takes in the full scope of the battle is the Overall Story Throughline.

Within the fray is one special soldier through whom we experience the battle first hand. This is represented by the Main Character Throughline.

The Main Character is confronted by another soldier, blocking the path. Is it friend or foe? Either way, it is an obstacle, and the exploration of its impact on the Main Character is the Influence Character Throughline.

The Main and Impact Characters engage in a skirmish. Main says, "Get out of my way!", and Impact says, "Change course!" In the end, the steadfast resolution of one will force the other to change. This describes the Relationship Story Throughline.

Taken together, the four Throughlines send a message to the audience: when things look one way to you, they might appear differently to others. What do things look like in the "big picture?" Which perspective is the most appropriate for the central problem of the story?

Now that you've added Story Mind, Overall Story Throughline, Main Character Throughline, Influence Character Throughline, and Relationship Story Throughline to your writer's vocabulary, you have all the background you need to explore a whole new world of understanding: the Dramatica Theory of Story.

About the Author

Chris Huntley co-developed Dramatica over a period of fourteen years and is the Vice President and Academy Technical Achievement Award® winning co-creator of Write Brothers, Inc. His 29 years of experience with script formatting, word processing and software development are reflected in the acclaimed Dramatica theory of story. Mr. Huntley continues to develop writing tools for Write Brothers, Inc.


Dramatica Story Expert

the next chapter in story development

Buy Now