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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, capacity, faculty


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. Although all characters will have abilities of one sort or another, only the character containing the Ability characteristic will seem to have them all. This does not mean he may have developed any of his Abilities, but just that he has the capacity to do so. The positive side is that the character containing the Ability Characteristic can develop any skill he may need. The negative side is that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done. In other words, sometimes Ability is more a curse than a blessing because it can motivate a character to exercise capacities that may be negative.

syn. innate capacity, capability, talent for, inherent proficiency


Element Non-Acceptance ↔ Acceptance

a decision not to oppose

When a character represents Acceptance, it simply adapts to whatever comes its way without opposition. Of course, this can eliminate many potential conflicts by refusing to stand against inequity. On the other hand, if the source of the inequity keeps churning out trouble Acceptance will allow that negative process to continue unencumbered.

syn. acquiescence, tolerance, allowance for, consent, submission


Element Non-Accurate ↔ Accurate

being within tolerances

Not all concepts work all the time. When an understanding has uses within limitations or is mostly or often true, it can still provide a useful way of looking at the broad issues. The more accurate an understanding, the more specifically one can apply it with certainty. The character possessing the Accurate characteristic will accept rough approximations and will make judgments and perform activities that are "within tolerance" or "good enough" for the purpose at hand. The advantage is that little energy is wasted on "the law of diminishing returns." The disadvantage is that appraising things as Accurate can lead to gross generalizations. If the character containing Accurate is not careful it may assume that an understanding applies to every instance all the time.

syn. within tolerance, sufficient, adequate, acceptable, passable


Structural Term

The largest sequential increments by which the progress of a story is measured

An Act is a noticeable shift or division in the dramatic flow of a story which is created by the convergence of dynamics pertaining to Character, Theme, and Plot. These dynamics are represented in Dramatica by a sequential progression through different categories of subject matter called Types. Each of the four throughlines has four different Types of subject matter. For example, one throughline's Types might be Learning, Understanding, Doing, and Obtaining. If we look at each Type as a signpost along a road, then Learning would describe where that throughline's story began and Obtaining where it ended. Between the four signposts are three journeys. In our example, a journey from Learning to Understanding, Understanding to Doing, and Doing to Obtaining. In a story, an author usually designs the structure by setting up the signposts. An audience experiences the story by taking the journey. So, in a sense, an author works with a four act (four signpost) structure, and an audience perceives a three act (three journey) structure. Since both co-exist, the meaning of the term "Act" changes depending upon how one is coming to a story.


Plot Dynamic

in terms of the objective plot, actions force decisions

All stories have both Action and Decision, however one will take precedence over the other. Typically, one defines an Action story as having more Action or more intense Action than a Decision story. This view is overly influenced by how the story is told rather than what it represents. Dramatica takes a different view of Action and Decision. Either Actions force the need for Decisions or Decisions force the need for Actions in order to advance the plot. Over the course of the story as a whole (independent of the nature of the Main Character), if Actions precipitate the progression of the plot, it is an Action story. The question to ask in regards to any particular story is which comes first to move the story along, not which is there more of. Action stories will begin with an Action, be marked at the beginning and end of every Act by an Action, and will end with a climactic Action. If it were not for unforced Actions taking place in an Action story, the story would dwindle until another Action occurred.



an external activity

The Activity Class is one of action. Whereas the Situation Class describes a fixed situation, Activity is a Class of dynamics. Situations evolve, develop, and change. Activities are engaged in and endeavors undertaken.

syn. an activity, an enterprise, an initiative, an endeavor, an operation

Actual Dilemma

Overview Appreciation

The Main Character's decision to change results in success

In an Actual Dilemma, the Main Character cannot succeed if he keeps to the path he began on. Unless he changes, he is doomed to failure. Of course, the Main Character cannot see the future and therefore can never be absolutely sure if he should change or not. That is why Main Characters must often make a "leap of faith" at the moment of climax and decide to Change or Remain Steadfast. Other times, the Main Character is slowly drawn towards his Resolve of Changing or Remaining Steadfast, however it is still clear which way he's gone by the end of the story. In stories where the Main Character Changes and succeeds as a result, he is said to have been in an Actual Dilemma.

Actual Work

Overview Appreciation

The Main Character's decision to remain steadfast results in success

A Work story is one in which remaining steadfast is the path to success. When the Main Character's appraisal matches the reality of the situation, his assessment of the Work required is said to be Actual.


Element Perception ↔ Actuality

an objective reality of the way things are

Actuality refers to the true state of things. A character who represents Actuality sees right through image and pretense, preferring to get to the heart of the matter. It also will not accept foregone conclusions until they have materialized. It feels that without substance there is no meaning. The problem is that anything that does not meet its strict definitions is ignored as irrelevant. It's often surprised when the undefined or unformed turns out to be very real.

syn. the true state of things, objective reality, factuality, demonstrable existence, demonstrable reality


Variation Strategy ↔ Analysis

evaluation of the situation and/or circumstances

Analysis sits on one side of planning and strategy sits on the other. Analysis is the interpretation of available data in order to establish the approach most likely succeed. If the Analysis is faulty, it limits the potential of a Strategy. If a Strategy is faulty, it limits the effectiveness of Analysis.

syn. evaluation, examination, breakdown of situation, close investigation, scrutinization


Archetype Protagonist ↔ Antagonist

An archetypal character who is in every way opposed to the Protagonist

Antagonist and Protagonist are diametrically opposed. What the Protagonist pursues, the Antagonist seeks to avoid or prevent. Together, Antagonist and Protagonist form a Dynamic Pair centered around the story's Goal. In order for one to succeed the other MUST fail.

Apparent Dilemma

Overview Appreciation

The Main Character's decision to change results in failure

Apparent Dilemma describes a story where the Main Character mistakenly believes he is on the wrong path. An Actual Dilemma story, by contrast, is one in which the Main Character's original path cannot lead to success. If the Main Character Changes when only Remaining Steadfast would have led to success, he is said to have been in an Apparent Dilemma.

Apparent Work

Overview Appreciation

The Main Character's decision to remain steadfast results in failure

Apparent Work describes a story where the Main Character mistakenly believes he is on the proper path. An Actual Work story is one in which Remaining Steadfast is the path to success. If the Main Character maintains his course when indeed he needs to Change, he is said to have been in an Apparent Work story.


Variation Reappraisal ↔ Appraisal

an initial understanding

When determining which parts of evidence he should investigate and which parts he doubts and therefore chooses to ignore, a character makes an initial Appraisal of where the evidence seems to be leading. Although there is not enough evidence to really draw a conclusion, there is enough to indicate the direction evidence seems to be leading. That which is not in line is doubted, and the more out of line, the more doubt. That which is in line is investigated. Of course, since this Appraisal is based on insufficient evidence, the big picture can change dramatically over the course of investigation. Yet, like everyday people, a character is strongly influenced by first impressions and can become attached to an Appraisal and fail to see that the direction of evidence has changed.

syn. first impression, preliminary understanding, initial approach, initial assimilation



Commonly shared dramatic concepts

Appreciations are items of dramatic meaning that are common to all stories. When a person attempts to deal with troubles, certain considerations and perspectives are commonly adopted; "goals," for example, "requirements," and "consequences." Stories, which represent analogies to this problem solving process, also incorporate these aspects. In Dramatica, these shared considerations are referred to as "appreciations."


Variation Attitude ↔ Approach

one's methodology of doing or being

Approach is the manner in which a character chooses to seek the solution to a problem. This might be a specific method or just a general set of tools or guidelines that is deemed appropriate for the job. These tools can be physical or mental ones, depending upon the nature of the problem and the determined solution.

syn. method, procedure, style, manner, manner of doing, one's own way

Archetypal Characters


The eight simple Overall Characters that can be employed in a story's thematic arguments

Of all the ways the 64 Overall Character elements of Dramatica might be grouped, there is one arrangement that is akin to an alignment of the planets. When all elements from one "family" of like elements are placed in each character, eight Archetypal Characters are created. They are Archetypal because their homogeneous nature accommodates all levels a character must have to be fully dimensional, yet line up by content so well there is little internal dissonance. Archetypal Characters are useful in stories that seek to concentrate on plot, action, or external themes. This is because they do not "get in the way" or clutter the Author's purpose. However, because they are so predictable, Archetypal Characters are not easily used to explore the human psyche and are most readily employed in stories designed more for entertainment than message.



the progression of logistic and emotional meanings that combine to prove a story's message

A story's message is proven by a progression of logistic (dispassionate) and emotional (passionate) meanings which are created by the interactions of Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre. The dispassionate argument is the story's contention that a particular approach is the most appropriate one to solve a particular problem or achieve a goal in a given context. The passionate argument is the story's contention that one world view is better than another in terms of leading to personal fulfillment. An author can use his story's argument to convey his message directly, indirectly by inference, or by making an exaggerated argument supporting what he is against. (Also see Grand Argument Story)


Variation Work ↔ Attempt

applying oneself to something not known to be within one's ability

When there is a question as to the match-up of one's abilities to the demands of a task, one may still elect to attempt to complete the task. However, sometimes a character has lost sight of the purpose of the task or underestimated his progress and has actually done the work while continuing to try beyond the point originally aimed at. Why does one beat a dead horse? Why does a billionaire struggle to earn one more million?

syn. try, uncertain undertaking, speculative endeavor, dubious effort, endeavor, unlikely venture


Variation Approach ↔ Attitude

one's demeanor while doing or being

Attitude describes the manner in which a character proceeds with an approach. One character might be hard-driven, another laid back. One may be willing to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of a pleasant approach. Another might sacrifice pleasure in order to make the approach most efficient. Sometimes an approach can be pushed too hard or not hard enough. It requires not only the proper approach but the appropriate attitude to arrive at the solution to a problem.

syn. demeanor, manner of approach, countenance, behavioral outlook, perspective on doing


Variation Repulsion ↔ Attraction

drawing or being drawn to something

How hard should one try? How much work should one do? This is modulated by the Attraction of what one is trying to achieve. Attraction is a directional factor that indicates what lies ahead is a positive reward. When a character strives toward a goal, he passes many veils along the way. Each one is a curtain to the future that must be ripped away to see what lies beyond. Attraction describes the nature of the curtain itself. Can you judge the pleasure of a book by the art on its cover? In the parable of the carrot and the stick, Attraction is the carrot.

syn. allure, enticement, charm, captivate, appeal, draw, lure

Author’s Proof


The epilogue or follow-up to a story that proves the "outcome" of the story is real or imagined, good or bad

Technically speaking, the moment of climax in a story is the intersecting point where the nature of the Main Character crosses paths with the nature of the Overall (Objective) story. It is here that the course of one, both or neither of them may be altered by the interaction. The only way an audience can be sure what, if anything, has changed course is to plot one more dramatic point past the climax, as part of Act 4 to illustrate the new direction of the Overall (Objective) story and Main Character. This might be the "?" after the words "The End" in a monster story or a formerly mean man sharing his sandwich with a stray dog on the way home. The purpose is simply to illustrate that the suspected effect of the climax has or has not truly resulted in a change in course. As such, it functions as the Author's Proof and is a key component of the denouement.


Element Pursuit ↔ Avoid

stepping around, preventing or escaping from a problem rather than solving it

Like its counterpart Pursue, the Avoid characteristic causes a character to be a real self-starter. The difference is that just as strongly as Pursuit tries to close in on the something, Avoid tries to escape it. Avoid can take the forms "escape" or "prevent" depending upon whether the focus of the effort is an object or a process. Avoid might be seen as running away, but that has its place. And certainly, when seen as "prevent" it might be applied to stopping something very negative from happening. Of course, it could also prevent something positive or really just be running away from something that should be faced. Pursue and Avoid are not value judgments but directions.

syn. evade, dodge, elude, escape, steer clear of, prevent


Element Self-Aware ↔ Aware

being conscious of things outside oneself

A character that represents Awareness misses nothing that happens around him. A drawback is he may forget to figure himself into the equation.

syn. outward perceptiveness, external sensitivity, consciousness of the external, responsive