Breathing Life Into Your Appreciations

by Mark Haslett

Your first look at a Storyform can be baffling. "This is my story?" you ask yourself, holding your Story Engine Settings report close to your face. "What have I done!?" Obviously, there is a long distance between having completed a Storyform and having written a story. Even when you know that each dramatic appreciation in the Story Engine is set the way you want, it can still be hard to imagine the steps needed to bring those appreciations to life. In this article, I would like to suggest some ways for getting to know your Storyform.

A Storyform is a listing of the dramatic appreciations that work together to create the emotional and rational arguments of a story. The appreciations are specific sites of meaning in a story that calibrate and guide the direction of a story's emotional and rational arguments. One can look at a Storyform as the skeleton or the dehydrated arguments at work inside of any particular story. They are what you would see if you could look underneath all the storytelling and gloss.

Perhaps the first thing you notice about Dramatica appreciations as they appear in the reports is that they have no specific context. Creating the context in which you will present them is the work of writing a story. It is from the combination of appreciation and context that audiences receive meaning in stories, and until you can imagine the appreciations of your Dramatica Storyform in a particular light, you won't really know if you have the right Storyform.

Even a strong vision of one of the four story throughlines may not be enough to give you concrete ideas of how to illustrate appreciations from the other sides. "What is a Relationship Story Benchmark of Conceptualizing? How do I write from that?" These are reasonable questions and they have to be answered before Dramatica really becomes of use to the writer who asks them. Fortunately, these questions actually lead somewhere good.

A technique for getting hold of your story's appreciations and playing with them in your hands, so to speak, is to write "Context examples" for each of them. Set aside the goal of illustrating your particular story and write any example that comes to mind. Go wherever your mind takes you, as long as your examples illustrate the appreciation. This way you can get inside an appreciation, look around, and hopefully find sparks that will connect your appreciations to the story you want to write.

To write Context examples, you need two things. First you need to know what the appreciation in general means, i.e. what is a Relationship Story Benchmark? or a Main Character Unique Ability? There are descriptions of all of the appreciations in the Dramatica support materials such as the Dramatica Dictionary and the Topic, Background, and Definition buttons in the Dramatica Query System of the program itself. A little reading on each appreciation will answer a lot of questions. It is important to see what "part" of the story each appreciation is meant to capture and to hold fast to that perspective. Caution: Do not blend any of the perspectives -- like those of the Main Character and the Objective Story, for example. All four throughlines must be kept independent when one is identifying or illustrating the appreciations which make them up.

But grasping that is only half of what you need in order to write context examples. You also need to know precisely what Dramatica means by the term that describes how a particular appreciation will appear in your story. For example, what does "Being" mean in Dramatica? The terms are used quite specifically, with definite boundaries to their meanings. When "Morality" appears as a term in your Storyform, it is intended to mean specifically the concept of doing for others without concern for yourself. Connotations and other baggage which a term might be carrying from its usage in regular conversation should be banished from your mind while looking at your Storyform. People are almost never as precise with their language as Dramatica has to be. Knowing what a term does and does not mean is fundamental to seeing how an appreciation can be properly illustrated.

Armed and ready then, with your Story Engine Settings report, your Dramatica books, and having set aside any notes from the actual story you are writing, you may begin jotting down contexts. Each one should represent a way in which these dramatic meanings could conceivably be presented. When beginning, it will be easiest to write illustrations for the contexts that make the most sense to you. That way the ideas will start flowing and you will feel progress right off the bat. There are pre-written context examples available in the Dramatica Query System for virtually every appreciation. These will help demonstrate the limits of what is and what isn't a context example. Looking at these might prepare you to write examples for the appreciations which you find to be the most obscure.

Toward this same purpose, we have written other Context examples below to help you gather all the right strings in your hands when you do it yourself. The more examples you come up with for each appreciation, the more prepared you will be when you return to writing your story. In a way, your story will seem to restrict you at that point because of the choices that you have made about how to encode your storyform. In writing the appreciations into your story, you will have to string them together so they describe and develop your story's throughlines. Becoming familiar with your appreciations will help you develop control and nuance in the way you weave them together into the tapestry that will be your story.

This exercise should feel a bit like taking a doll and bending its limbs around to see how much it can do. Can its elbows move? Can you spin the arms all the way around or only part way? Appreciations have their limits, that is what gives them the potential for meaning. Context examples have to describe those limits, capturing the essence of both the appreciation and the term that describes its nature.


There are four perspectives in every story, each with its own throughline of appreciations in Dramatica. These are the Objective Story, the Relationship Story, the Main Character and the Influence Character. The appreciations of a Storyform are strung along these four throughlines and end up fully exploring all four perspectives.

The structural terms, which become matched to these appreciations by choices which you make in Dramatica, can be seen in four levels of resolution. There are four terms on the Class level, 16 terms on the Type level, 64 terms on the Variation level, and 64 terms on the Element level. So you can see that a large number of potential appreciations exists. But appreciations all have structural coordinates relating their particular level, structurally, and their specific throughline, dynamically.

In the following examples, all four throughlines and all four structural levels will be represented. (Look at the structural charts in the back of the Theory book to see a full representation of all the terms and their relationships.) Again, more examples are available in the Dramatica program itself by using the "Context" button in the Dramatica Query System.

Objective Story Domain: Mind as the Objective Story Domain -- All of the Objective Characters are concerned with a fixed aspect of the mind. For example, a city of people committed to not complying with a law voted in by the rest of the country; a corps of engineers determined to build their bridge over a stubborn shepherd's watering hole; a U.S. President's conviction to continue campaigning, even though an assassin is gunning for him, throws the secret service into a panic; a crooked cop's complete focus on killing anyone who can finger him puts in danger a community of Amish people who are committed to nonviolent protection of a witness; etc.

Relationship Story Benchmark: Conceiving as the Relationship Story Benchmark -- The invention of ideas that indicate the degree of progress in the Relationship Story. For example, a prisoner of war and his guard coming up with ideas together of how to spend their time in the prison; a father's Conceiving of ideas for comic-book stories to give his daughter who started drawing comics against his will; a pair of lovers Conceiving of different ways they will spend their retirement; etc.

Main Character Unique Ability: Reappraisal as the Main Character Unique Ability -- Reappraisal is the quality that makes the Main character uniquely able to counter the effects caused by the story's problem. For example, a scientist's Reappraisals of the conditions surrounding a dangerous experiment allow him to constantly adjust his own work so the whole thing doesn't blow up in his face; a comedienne's Reappraisal of world events allows her to keep her improvisation timely and effective as her massive success threatens to make her irrelevant; an airplane mechanic's Reappraisal of the remains from a plane crash allows him to motivate the crash survivors to rebuild the plane and fly to safety; a boxer's Reappraisal of his opponents at the beginning of each round allows him to approach them with the attack most appropriate for the moment and win all of his fights; etc.

Influence Character Symptom: Control as the Influence Character Symptom -- The Influence Character's attention is focused on Control. For example, a samurai warrior focuses on what he feels is the excessive control a religious leader has over her followers; a movie director focuses on the lack of control he has over his lead actor's performance; a detective focuses on a mother's control over her son who, if he were allowed to come forward, could help him convict a criminal; a squadron leader focuses on the Control his best pilot has over the morale of the squadron; etc.

Each of these examples contains the meanings of the appreciation they illustrate. They still do not constitute a story, but they certainly point the direction which the story will take. After writing a number of these, you will get a feeling for the size of an appreciation and for what it will take to weave them together in a storyform.

Eventually, you will have to return to writing your own story. Once you feel you have the idea behind each appreciation in your Storyform, it becomes time to write illustrations of them that fit with the specifics of your story. How is "Reappraisal" your Main Character's Unique Ability? How and when will it appear in your story? These illustrations for your story (which can be written in the Storytelling windows of Dramatica) will provide the proverbial 3x5 cards and notes-on-the-back-of-paper-napkins that authors often call upon to push them through from scene to scene. This kind of preparation will make your Storyform truly your own. When it is familiar and well-explored, your Storyform will become a valuable map for your story, giving you directions on how to "get-there-from-here" without saying how fast you have to drive or what kind of transportation you have to take.

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