Why do the Position of Throughlines Determine Main Character Growth?

I have a somewhat technical question: why, when MC and OS throughline are aligned horizontally (external - Situation and Activity--or internal - Manipulation and Fixed Attitude), the story engine proposes Growth: Stop, and when they are aligned vertically (internal/external - Situation and Manipulation or Activity and Fixed Attitude) it proposes Growth: Start? Why, when the OS is in a domain opposite to the MC Throughline, we should expect from him something to start? Why, when the OS is in the same domain than the MC Throughline, we should expect from him as something stops? I mean what does that really mean dramaturgically?

Serious MC personal problems cannot be solved by adopting the MC Solution because the MC is blind to the problem, the solution, and for Change MCs both the problem and the solution. In order to get to the point where a MC has the option to change or remain steadfast, he must grow past the blinders or pressures that prevent him from recognizing both options open to him: the path he has always followed (represented by the MC Symptom and MC Response), and the path not chosen (represented by the MC Problem and MC Solution).

The IC embodies that alternative path, which is why the IC has influence/impact on the MC as the MC struggles with his personal problems. In a simple sense, when the MC and OS are in a horizontal (companion pair) relationship, their perspectives on the inequity at the heart of the story are more similar than not. Since conflict exists in that relative spatial relationship, the MC's personal problems are alike to the bigger issue and the MC's grows by learning to step away, step back, or just stop his bad behavior before he may seriously consider the IC's approach as a possible solution to his own problems.

Conversely, when the MC and OS are in a vertical (dependent pair) relationship, their perspectives on the inequity at the heart of the story are about as dissimilar as they can be. For this reason, the MC¹s growth requires him to step forward, step up, or just start doing what he knows should be done before he may seriously consider the IC's approach as a possible solution to his own problems. As the story unwinds over time, the relative positions and/or tensions move.

Melanie and I recognized these patterns once we created the Dramatica quad structure and mapped the story points onto the structure, both spatially and temporally. A storyform represents a process and a set of states. The state of the storyform pattern at the beginning of the story is different than at the end, and the comparison of the MC Resolve indicates the relative positions of those to states: Change or Steadfast. The MC growth represents the process that the MC goes through from the beginning state to the end state. I hope that sufficiently explains what it is and why we describe it the way we did.

Do all narratives have to be Grand Argument Stories?

In the Dramatica Theory Of Story book, you state:

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.

May I understand “To fully explore any issue” as an equivalent of “writing the ‘perfect’ screenplay”? If so, where can we put those French movies that are but a glimpse of how people fail or even if they succeed—they do so by accident? These films do not judge nor label, but put us in the position of accepting the human condition and learning from others, even if they are only fictional characters in a movie.

This seems to me a very different concept. Or am I missing an important point here?

The comment about the “author’s way is best” is not an evaluation of the validity of the author’s opinion, but that it represents the argument the author makes. It is a comment on the author’s intent, not the message represented by the author’s argument.

The comment about fully exploring any issue is a broad generalization about the nature of a grand argument story. In other words, the storyform represents a sufficient set of components to make a complete argument/grand argument story. It’s not meant to be hyperbole, but it may come off that way without providing the contexts and caveats a longer description might include.

Are all narratives grand argument stories? No. Not even close. Most stories contain aspects (story points) of a storyform, but only a grand argument story has them all (by definition).

Are all well received narratives based on grand argument stories? No. The storyform is only one of four major phases that go into the creation of a grand argument story, and positive reception may be indifferent to well ‘formed’ stories.

Are all grand argument stories successful narratives? No. Storyencoding, Storyweaving, and Story Reception play a great part in how well a finished work successfully communicates the underlying universal meaning/message baked into the storyform. Authors are responsible for the choices they make in creating and telling stories. Audiences are responsible for interpreting the stories in way meaningful to their own lives and experience. When there is a meeting of the minds between authors and audiences, there can be ‘magic.’ Our interest was to make the magic a bit more understandable and repeatable.

So, our comments are meant to be objective descriptions of grand argument stories, not all narratives, nor the success or failure of the efforts to communicate an author’s intent. Our primary goal was to describe as accurately as we could the elements and processes that comprise the creation and analysis of grand argument stories, as well as the larger connection to the processes of human problem-solving and psychology that they mirror.

Where does the “You and I are alike” concept come from?

I'm looking for articles that help explain the two sides of the same coin concept, but can't find anything.

I don't know where there are specific articles on the "You and I are alike" dichotomy, but the concept is simple:


In the back story (for a Change Main Character**) or at the beginning of the story (for a Steadfast Man Character**), there comes a point where the Main Character must choose a path to take because of some PERSONAL inequity or imbalance introduced by an event of some sort. The Main Character then goes down that path attempting to resolve the personal problem. The Influence Character represents the path not chosen -- the path that is intimately tied to that original choice consciously or unconsciously made by the Main Character at the point when and where the original inequity was addressed.


The part of the argument that ties the two perspectives together, those of the Main Character and Influence Character, is the point of origin -- the event that introduced the original inequity. They both have some relationship to the core inequity that is both the source of personal conflict for the Main Character, but also is the source of the Main Character's drive. This is what gives them a basis in similarity.


The part of the argument where the Main Character and Influence Character diverge is the path taken/chosen to address the original inequity. The Main Character represents the path taken. The Influence Character represents the path NOT taken by the Main Character and is the alternative to the Main Character's path. That is WHY the Influence Character cannot be ignored by the Main Character. The Influence Character represents a legitimate means to addressing the original inequity. However, legitimate does not mean it is the "right" (effective) means to address the "problem."

This divergence in paths/approaches to resolving the Main Character's inequity creates a tug-of-war between the two characters. There is no way for the Main Character to know if it is on the right path toward resolving it's personal problems, or if the Influence Character's path is the better of the two.


So, with the Main Character representing one path and the Influence Character representing the alternative path, a storytelling convention has emerged where the Main Character and Influence Character have a conversation that establishes this relationship. It often goes something like this:

IC: We're the same.
MC: No, we're not the same. You [insert an example of the different path]...
IC: True, but you [insert an example of the shared attention to the inequity], just like me.

... or an interchange that effectively communicates the same information.

In short order, the author has informed the audience about:

  • The Main Character's position on addressing the Main Character's personal problem
  • The Influence Character's alternative position on addressing the Main Character's personal problem
  • How the Main Character and Influence Character are similar in their approaches
  • How the Main Character and Influence Character are dissimilar in their approaches


In the storyform, the most visible expression of the Main Character/Influence Character approach divergence is seen at the Class level of the structure. One character searches for the solution externally (Situation or Activities), while the other uses an internal approach to resolving the inequity (Fixed Attitude or Manipulation/Psychology). That explains the "not alike" part of the argument.

The part that explains the similarity of their approaches relates to the axis of their dynamic (diagonal) pair relationship in the structure. Both characters will have throughlines in EITHER domains that explore processes (i.e. Activity and Manipulation) OR domains that explore the state of things (i.e. Situation and Fixed Attitude).

In this way the two have a basis in common ground (state or process) as well as a divergence in approach (internal or external).


A grand argument story does not begin until all four throughlines are present. [NOTE: This is not the same as how the story is presented to the audience through storyweaving. The AUDIENCE may not be aware of the presence of all four throughlines at the beginning of the work, but each of the four throughlines must be evident BEFORE the first act turn, and preferably much earlier than that point in the story.] A key part of the Main Character's purpose in the story is to explore the path it has taken in its attempt to resolve its personal issues. That exploration is unlikely to occur without the irritating effects on the Main Character's complacency (if any) by the Influence Character exploration (or embodiment) of the path NOT taken by the Main Character.

The inciting event sets into motion the collision (and cohesion) of the four throughlines that form the underlying basis of the story and the drive towards its resolution (or non-resolution).

- - - - - - - - - - - -

** As a general rule, the Main Character's personal inequity is established in the back story for Change Main Characters and at the beginning of the story for Steadfast Main Characters, but there are many exceptions to this rule, especially in stories that don't end well for the Main Character (Judgment: Bad).  

Do Dramatica Archetypes Sync Up with the Enneagram?

I have Characterpro 5, which helps create characters based on the Enneagram, and have studied it extensively through Poetics and other such books, and am wondering if there is a way to carry over the information into my use of Dramatica.

There is no direct correlation between the nine Enneagram personality types and Dramatica's eight archetypal characters, through there is some crossover.

2 - The Helper --- Guardian
5 - The Investigator --- Reason
6 - The Loyalist --- Sidekick

1 - The Reformer --- Elements of the Reason archetype
4 - The Individualist --- Emotion
8 - The Challenger --- Antagonist

3 - The Achiever --- (Skeptic?)
7 - The Enthusiast --- (Contagonist?)
9 - The Peacemaker --- (Protagonist?)

The primary difference between the Enneagram personalities and the Dramatica archetypes is the result of evaluations made from two vastly different points of reference AND looking at two different things.

The Enneagram looks at integrated personality types and organizes them by dominant traits.

Dramatica sees the entire collection of problem-solving functions as the basis for a SINGLE integrated persona and organizes the elements by problem solving functionality.

That's why there are obvious points of intersection and areas of equally clear divergence.

Melanie Anne Phillips suggested to me that the Enneagram personality types could be built in Dramatica's Build Character window and saved using the "Typecast" feature. If anyone is up to the challenge, I'd be happy to make them available to other Dramatica users by posting them to Dramatica.com. Let me know if you're interested!

Story Goal vs. Signposts

I have always thought a goal of the story should show up at the end of the story. However after playing around with Dramatica I often find the goal showing up as the first second or third signpost. How should I interpret this?

The story goal is a SPECIFIC instance of the Overall Story Concern (or Signpost) about which the Overall Story characters represent differing approaches to achieving it by resolving the underlying conflict.  The Story Goal should be explored in each of the four acts (signposts) of the Overall Story throughline followed by the resolution of the effort to achieve the goal identified by the Story Outcome (Success or Failure) somewhere toward the end of the story.

The Overall Story Signposts describe the various approaches toward achieving the goal while also exploring the alternatives, one of which is of the same nature (Type) as the story goal. 

For example, your story might have a Story Goal of OBTAINING, such as Finding the Lost Treasure.  It will also have an Overall Story Concern of OBTAINING, which is a more generalized concern that might include finding a map, winning the lottery, losing an election, losing a job, etc.  The various Overall Story Characters, some concerned with one thing while the others concerned with the other things, explore these in general. 

The signposts provide a broad context for a period of time in the story (an Act) that frames the effort to achieve the specific Story Goal, broad Overall Story Concern, and resolve the story's OS Problem(s). The Signpost that explores Obtaining might be thought of as "what do the characters gain or lose while trying to find the lost treasure?"  Another signpost -- such as Gathering Information/Learning -- might be thought of "what do the characters learn or what information is gathered while trying to find the lost treasure?" Thus all four acts are explored through the signposts within each throughline. 

There is no general difference if the Type (the structural item associated with the Story Goal and OS Concern and one of the Overall Story Signposts) shows up in the first, second, third, or last signpost.  The difference is the context in which the Type is found: whether it is the narrow focus of the Story Goal, the general area of the Overall Story Concern, or the temporary context provided by the Overall Story Signposts.

Why Do These Domains Impact Each Other?

From a broader perspective I've always wondered, "Why does a fixed attitude domain impact a situation domain and vice versa?", and "Why does a psychology/manipulation domain impact an activity domain?"   As in why are they so dynamically opposed that a situation could never impact an activity or an attitude upon a psychology?

The key to the dynamic pairs in the current incarnation of the model is that represent the opportunity for greatest direct conflict.  The companion, dependent, and component views are relevant, but do not provide the same type of relationship as the dynamic pairs.  We chose the dynamic pairs because they represent the relationships most aligned with Western (American) sensibilities and problem solving.

At the heart of a story is an inequity -- an imbalance.  The question is, "How does one best resolve the inequity."  To make sense of something, one must have (or create or decide on) a context with which to find meaning.  That means there must be some common base against which one measures everything else.

The domains (structural classes) are created by combining internal and external with state and process.  The four combinations create the four classes:


So, when evaluating an imbalance between a situation and a fixed attitude, the common basis is that they are both states -- that becomes the baseline or context within which to evaluate their differences.  The imbalance between the two classes then appears to be reduced to a question of where the 'problem' and 'solution' exist:  External (Situation) or Internal (Fixed Attitude)?

Activity and Psychology share 'process' as their baseline and then look to the balance between external and internal between them.

For the above reasons these classes are compared to create the domains and not the other possible combinations.

So for a Main Character, the domain that is most challenging to his personal perspective is the one that has a shared baseline ("We're alike, you and I"), yet ALSO offers an alternative approach ("No, we're nothing alike!").

The Influence Character’s Impact on a Steadfast Main Character

I was wondering that in knowing the existence of an Influence Character and how they challenge the Main Character emotionally -- get them to face their personal issues, and so on -- my question is:

"If the Main Character is steadfast, is the Influence Character still challenging the Main Character as if the Main Character were a change character?  Or is it that the Main Character challenges the Influence Character throughout the story to change the Influence Character's approach?

Both, though the frame of reference is always the Main Character.

The Influence Character's behavior creates greater and greater pressure* for the Main Character to change, which forces the Main Character to EITHER build up greater and greater resistance to the pressure, or slowly have the Main Character's resolve eroded.  By the end, the Main Character stays the course, either through conscious choice or perseverance. 

MEANWHILE, the Main Character's steadfastness challenges the Influence Character's determination, which either erodes the Influence Character's adherence to its paradigm, or makes the cost of maintaining the Influence Character's paradigm too challenging to hold.  By the end, the Influence Character gives in or gives up and changes by adopting the Main Character's perspective (in the context of the inequity).

* NOTE: The pressure increases in part because the Influence Character adapts as the Main Character adopts new approaches to resisting the Influence Character's alternative world view.  The changing approaches occur act-by-act, and are visible in the changing frames of reference represented in the four Signposts in the Main Character throughline, the Influence Character throughline, and the MC/IC Relationship throughline.

What story points are the most important in each Throughline?

If you have a moment, could you please help me understand the best order to write up Throughlines?  I have been starting at the top, Domain on down to Signpost 4. When I get to Problem, I realize I have not yet set up the problem properly.  If we were to number the Story Points from 1-14, what would be the best order to write them?  It seems PROBLEM should be #1, then what….?  I would GREATLY appreciate your help in understanding how to best attack these Story Points, as to the order they should be written (at least in general).

It doesn't quite work that way.  The only story points below that have a specific order are the four signposts.  Each of the other story points should be illustrated at least once within EACH signpost.  This means that by the end of MC Signpost 1 (Act 1), all of the MC story points are illustrated at least once (if not more). 

Which story point to illustrate first?  It depends on how you like to write.  However, here is another way to look at each of these story points:

  • DOMAIN:  This is the most genre-like and broadest aspect of the MC's throughline
  • CONCERN:  This is more plot-like and may be considered to be identified as the area in which the MC's personal goal exists
  • ISSUE & COUNTERPOINT:  These are the most theme-like as they relate to the MC's throughline
  • SYMPTOM, RESPONSE, PROBLEM & SOLUTION:  In a character-centric throughline, these are the story points most associated with character development.
  • UNIQUE ABILITY & CRITICAL FLAW: These story points tie the MC throughline to the OS throughline, so they seem both thematic and plot-like in nature.
  • BENCHMARK:  This story point indicates how progress is measured in the MC's development.

So, depending on your preferences, you may focus on the more genre-like, plot-like, thematic, or character-related story points first and then progress from there.  Or, mix them up in any order you want, so long as they appear within each act/signpost.

How can I make sure the audience knows who the Influence Character is?

In the Impact Character Throughline, the Symptom is where this character hopes to have the greatest impact, and Response is how he wants things to change because of that impact. Could you explain this for me in the context of preparing the story, because this is essentially the root of understanding the IC Symptom and Response regardless if they are Steadfast or Change, correct?

The idea of "how [the IC] wants things to change because of his impact" presupposes several things:  a(that the IC is aware of the MC, which it needn't be, b) that the IC is aware of its influence on the MC, which it needn't be, and c) that the IC is trying to influence the MC to change, which it needn't be trying to do.

The answer to your question is "no, it is not the root of understanding the IC Symptom and response..."  It is ONE understanding, and looking at it that way does not take into account the temporal nature of a story where the ebb and flow of influence waxes and wanes and builds (or decreases) as the story moves forward. You're looking for a spatial relationship between the story points to answer a temporal process. They are interconnected, temporally, spatially, and in the context of the other throughlines -- all of which describe the evolving/devolving effects of the inequity at the center of the story. Generalizations, like the one quoted above serve to clarify complex relationships, inadequately represent the entirety of those relationships and therefore fall short of providing "root understanding" for anything.

My recommendation about this whole IC business and your writing is to let it go. You're aware that there is an IC and you know the nature of the context within which the audience will view the IC. That is sufficient to write your story well enough that your audience should put the pieces (and connections) together for themselves.

Think of the four throughlines like composing a sentence. One throughline is a noun, another a verb, another an adjective, and the last like an adverb. Whichever noun, verb, adjective, and adverb you put in the sentence, readers glean meaning through both their understanding of the meanings of the vocabulary you choose, but also by your vocabulary's inherent relationship to one another because of the type of grammatical family into which each falls. You don't need to tell your audience that an adjective acts upon or moderates a noun because that is part of what makes an adjective an adjective.

You do not need to tell the audience that an IC influences or impacts the MC because that is built into the nature of the IC as defined by a storyform. The storyform holds the grammar and nature of the narrative (sentence) structure. You, as author, choose WHICH "noun", "verb", "adjective", and "adverb" fit within the storyform you've chosen, conform to the nature of the narrative elements, and illustrate your creative style and intent through your storyencoding and storyweaving. It is up to
the audience, through Story Reception, to unweave and decode your work to find the underlying storyform that indicates your story's underlying meaning.

Once you've written your first draft, you can test to see if an audience understands if the IC is seen as the IC in the story. If it isn't, you may choose to be more explicit in illustrating the IC story points and how they influence the MC, but I recommend letting your muse guide you through your first go at writing the story. There are plenty of opportunities to
make adjusts during rewriting.

How does a story end when Protagonist and Main Character are not the same?

I know that Story Goal is primarily a concern of the Protagonist in the Overall Story throughline.  However, I tend to struggle when trying to map some of the Dramatica story appreciations to the beats of 'other' story paradigms -- terms like:  Inciting Incident/Catalyst, Break into Act 2, Point of No Return, rising conflict, Final Crisis, Climax.

In Dramatica, my understanding is that there is a Moment of Truth that leads to a Leap of Faith that leads to the Climax. These get tricky for me when the Main Character (the character through whose eyes the audience experiences the story)  is not the same as the Protagonist. Is the following true:

  • Story Goal (same term for other paradigms)--refers to Protagonist's goal?
  • Moment of Truth (analogous to Final Crisis in other paradigms)--refers to the Main Character?
  • Leap of Faith--refers to the Main Character?
  • Climax (same term for other paradigms)--refers to the Protagonist's effort to reach goal?

If so, it seems that the Moment of Truth and Leap of Faith (both related to the Main Character's effort) are not connected to the Goal and Climax (which are related to the Protagonist's effort). This feels like a problem to me.

Yes -- The Story Goal is the protagonist's goal.

Yes -- Climax refers to the protagonist's final effort to achieve the goal, generally against the greatest resistance and/or odds.

Yes -- The Moment of Truth and Leap of Faith both refer to the Main Character, and can describe the same moment.  My take is that both the Moment of Truth and Leap of Faith are 1) the conscious awareness of the choices (Moment of Truth) and 2) the decision to try a different path (Leap of Faith - Change).

That said, you can have stories where the character is changed over the course of the story, which would be a non-leap of faith story, and then the Moment of Truth is the test to see if the Main Character has changed his world view, or stayed the course and remained steadfast to his world view.

Can the Main Character decide both he and the Influence Character are wrong?

In my story, he MC (in the case of a Change MC) is on the wrong track and the IC character is trying to influence or persuade him otherwise. SO, my question is: will a story still be as solid and "Complete" if the MC changes, but finds Faith (again, in my story's case) in something else than what the IC was arguing or what the Main character believed before? In other words, is it possible to keep a solid story structure if two arguments are being made throughout the story from the IC and the MC, but at the end the MC discovers both their arguments were wrong and discovers some new path to take (in terms of his character change)? So is it okay to introduce a new argument at the end of the story as a big twist to the audience? 

For lack of a better example, let's say the IC is arguing that the blue pill is the best pill, and the MC is arguing that the red pill is the best pill, but in the climax of the story the MC realizes that there is something better than the blue AND red pill - and I introduce the green pill, so he chooses that and his Problem is resolved through that path. Or is that not something I should really be doing?

The IC argument is FAITH, not any particular incarnation of faith.  For example, Obi-wan tells Luke he needs to trust the Force, when really all Luke needs to do is to TRUST SOMETHING... ANYTHING -- himself, the Force, R2D2...it doesn't matter.  So your MC  has to have faith in something even if the IC is saying have faith in something else.  The point is that the conversation is no longer about Disbelief, which was the source of his personal conflict.  The 'conversation' has moved on and the MC Problem becomes a moot point -- it is of no consequence any longer because that story (argument) is over.  THAT IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PART OF THE CHANGE.  It may turn out that Faith isn't the answer either, but the fact that the MC has  released himself from the black hole created by the blind spot associated with the MC Problem is what allows the MC to move on with his life.

Blue pill vs. Red pill isn't the right kind of comparison.  The real issue is perceived world versus reality (perception v. actuality), but the pill representation is only meaningful to the MC (Neo) if he can conceive of the difference between the two, which he can't because he's not ready.  What the pills represent at that point in the story is the first step TOWARD being able to know the difference between the two. Just like your character, Neo has to get past the distractions of the pills so that he can let go of his disbelief and have faith that he could be the ONE.  It just so happens that he is so we have a happy ending, but you could have had an ambiguous ending like that of Inception where the MC has changed but the audience doesn't know if he ended up in reality or perception land.  For the MC it doesn't matter because that was not his personal problem.

What is the difference between a Problem and a Symptom?

More specifically, how can Support be my MC's Symptom if Disbelief is his Problem? I don't under the context of Support here.

It makes a bit of difference if your MC is a change character or a steadfast character, but let's assume he's a change character for a moment.

In a story like this, the MC with THINK his problem comes from support, and he THINKS the solution to his problem is to oppose.  What he doesn't realize until late in the story is that he is truly driven by disbelief and only if he has faith will he have the possibility of resolving his personal issues.

For example, George hates it when his step-father tries to be supportive and responds by begin opposing every effort to engage him.  George thinks that as long as he plays naysayer he can keep himself from being hurt further.  As a START character he holds back when a bit of effort on his part could smooth out conflict, and only after time and a lot of resistance does George eventually get to the point where he can recognize that it is his own fundamental disbelief that anyone would want to be his father is at the heart of his fear of rejection and his dream that his biological father will return.  At a critical moment in his personal struggle, George chooses to have faith that there can be someone who cares about him enough to become the father he never dared to think he deserved...

Dramatica…I Still Don’t Get It

In response to Dramatica...I Don't Get It:

I understand your explanation that Dramatica tailored some additional questions based on the implications of my initial answers.  I also get that it would be useful to have this theory-based program provide some kind of input or perspective when I am fleshing out a story, have holes in the story, etc.  That's exactly what interested me in it in the first place. I think what I don't see yet is how the one gets me to the other.  Or to state it another way, I think I don't yet see how the overall process is supposed to work.

That is, speaking in a very practical sense, what do I look at that gives me this kind of input/feedback/suggestion or whatever you want to call it?  In other words, after I go through and answer the questions as best I can, at level 1, or 2, or 3, or whatever, what do I then get back that helps me in some way to flesh out my story, fill in holes, etc.?  Is there a particular report or some other document that I can then look at that will help me understand what Dramatica is able to tell me?  I haven't yet seen anything that does that, or if it did, I didn't understand that it was doing so.

Perhaps I'm just not envisioning the process the way it really works.  But I'm assuming that, after I put in the information I put in, Dramatica gives me something back that provides whatever kind of guidance or perspective the program is able to provide based on the underlying theory.  (I understand, of course, that it doesn't make things up for me and it doesn't do the writing for me, but I still don't think I actually understand what it DOES give me.)

A related (or perhaps not, I'm not sure) question: what in the world is up with the Theme Browser?  I click on the icon and see a full screen of multicolored information, and it says "1 Storyform" at the top, so I speculate that the screen in some way represents the storyform that got created as a result of my answers, but I have no idea at all what I'm seeing, what it's supposed to tell me, or how it might be useful to me.

Again, I appreciate your time, and I don't expect you to hold my hand and teach me Dramatica, but if you could help me get oriented enough to have a sense of how it works and how I can use it, in a practical sense, I would appreciate it.

There are several purposes for using Dramatica for story creation or analysis:

  • Understand your story more fully
  • Identify and correct story problems
  • Create (or understand) the basic foundations of your story
  • Develop a step outline of your stories (in the StoryGuide / Query System)

A unique aspect of Dramatica that helps with the first three is the determination of the storyform and then identifying (analysis) or illustrating (story creation) the various story points.

The best way to see what it does is to see it in action.

- Go into Dramatica (Pro or Story Expert).

- Create a new document.

- Go to the Story Engine by clicking on the icon or using the menus.

- Notice that it says there are 32,768 storyforms remaining.

- We're going to do a quick analysis of Star Wars so make the following storyforming choices:

-- Main Character Solution (in the Main Character Story Points):  Trust​

(Always start with what you know about the story best, FIRST.  In Star Wars, Obi-wan comes back from wherever he is and convinces (finally) Luke to trust himself and "Trust the Force.")

Notice that many of the other items have gone from Any to Any of #.  These have been limited by your choice of Trust as the Main Character's Solution.

-- OS Throu​ghline (Domain):  Activity

(The battling between the Empire and the Rebellion is an ongoing conflict that creates troubles for everyone)

Notice that making these two choice brings the storyforms remaining down to 128 and identifies several other story points, such as the MC Problem of Test (Luke's tests to prove himself often get him into trouble, e.g. the Sand People, rescuing Princess Leia, etc.), and the OS Concern of Doing (The Empire is building the Death Star and searching for the location of the Rebels; the Rebels are attempting to keep their location secret and are trying to transport the plans of the Death Star to their home base; etc.)

-- Main ​Character Resolve:  Change 

(Luke goes from a whiney farm boy who does whatever anyone tells him to do to a Jedi Knight who makes his own decisions)

Notice that OS Issue of Skill (vs. Experience) is now an implied choice (The entire war between the Rebellion and the Empire is a match between skills and experience.  The Empire has a great deal of experience in quashing upstart groups, but its skills at doing so are rusty.  The Rebellion, which has far less experience, is made up of great numbers of raw talent like Luke.  This is counterpointed by the conflict between Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader.) 

It also identifies that the OS Problem is Test (Rather than trusting in the design and efficiency of the Death Star, the Empire determines it must have a test run on Alderaan--this clues Princess Leia, Obi Wan and subsequently the Rebellion, as to the terrifying nature of what they are facing.  This also allows the Rebellion forces to prepare for the worst which is the Empire's undoing.  The Rebellion, on the other hand, does not fully trust their information about the Empire's secret weapon and tests its accuracy by waiting until they actually have the plans in their hands.  Had they trusted their initial reports they could have moved the base and remained out of the Empire's reach.)

I think you can see where this is going. 

To continue:

-- Main Character Ap​proach:  Do-er

(Luke prefers to solve problems though action)

-- ​Main Character PS Style:  Logical or Linear

(Luke is a cause and effect, follow clues to a goal kind of guy)

-- Story Driver:  Actions (drive Decisions)

(Key events are Action-driven, e.g. discovery of the hidden message in R2D2, destruction of Alderaan, escape from the Death Star, Discovery of the Rebel base, destruction of the Death Star)

-- Story Limit:  Optionlock

(There are a limited number of ways the Empire can discover the location of the Rebel's base)

-- Story Outcome:  Suc​cess

(The Death Star is destroyed before it destroys the Rebels)

-- Story Ju​dgment:  Good

(Luke is one happy Camper, and so are all those siding with the Rebellion)

An voila, you're down to a single storyform with a whole lot of aspects of the story that you did not indicate to Dramatica but Dramatica has indicated to you based on the choices you have made.

To see the full extent of those choices in one place, you can either go to the Story Points window or the Reports Window.

Let's go to the reports window.

Select the Story Engine Settings report from the Advanced Reports list/menu.  This report gives a listing of each of the story points identified in the storyform -- both the items you chose and the items that are inferred by those choices.

If you'd like to see how these items might be interpreted, select the Four Throughline Themes report.  This is a (long-winded) textual report that begins to weave together the story points found within each throughline.  I recommend skipping to the summary of each section.  For example, here is the summary for the Main Character throughline taken from the latest version Dramatica Story Expert using the gists feature, which allows you to replace structural terms with your own story-specifc words or phrases:

"In summary, a situation or environment is the realm in which Luke primarily operates involves Being a farm boy stuck on Tatooine with untapped Jedi powers, especially in regard to How Little Progress He's Making, which is his chief Concern.  As an individual, Luke is focused on issues involving Fantasizing about Joining the Rebellion more than most, which makes him responsive to issues regarding Fact.  He often perceives a disparity between Fantasizing about Joining the Rebellion and Fact.  Luke is driven by an over abundance of Constantly testing himself and being tested by Others, which causes him to believe Having Things Be Open-Ended is the source of his problems and Finishing Something as the best response.  In fact, Luke's own excess of Constantly testing himself and being tested by Others is what prevents the story's problem from being resolved.  Luke is given the opportunity to see this as he becomes wholly involved in the effort to achieve the goal.  It is Luke's Unique Ability pertaining to Believing in his Jedi Heritage that holds the means to resolving the story's problem.  Unfortunately, his effectiveness is undermined by an aspect of Having Low Apparent Worth.  Over the course of the story Luke's growth (and backsliding) in effectiveness can be seen in the degree to which he engages in Being in the Moment."


The theme browser is a view of the structural model that is a WAY ADVANCED and not very writerly way to look at how the story point choices map onto Dramatica's structural model.  It's there for those interested in that stuff (and believe me, there are a lot of them), but most writers avoid using it like the plague.

Dramatica…I Don’t Get It

I just read about 2/3 of the theory book, which although complicated was clear and understandable. I was very interested to see how all that theory would be implemented through the software. I also watched and understood all of the video tutorials you have available on your site. As suggested on your site, I dipped my toe in by opening a new file and answering the Level One Story Guide questions for a pretend story. I did this twice, actually.

Having done all that, I confess I have no idea at all how the Dramatica software would ever help me create a story. I can only enter the information I already know, and I didn't see anything that was even remotely suggestive as to how I might think about going from there. I don't see how the dynamics and interrelationships described in the theory show up to help me as a creative tool.

Obviously I'm missing something, but I just don't get it at all, and that's disappointing after putting in the time to read the theory and orient myself to the software as recommended. So is it hopeless, or is there anything you can tell me or point me toward that might help me see whatever it is I don't get?

Thank you for your perseverance. To be sure, there is a 'there' there (to misquote Gerturde Stein).

First the caveats, then the answer I believe you seek.


First off, StoryGuide Level 1 is nearly the most simplistic way to get to a storyform and explore a bare minimum of what Dramatica has to offer in terms of illustrating those limited story points.  It's meant to be training wheels, and if you're an experienced writer--as I assume you are--it is far too simplistic to seem useful.

Secondly, the StoryGuide Level 1 is one of many tools in the software, all of which are more sophisticated and in depth.  Judging the extent of the software's usefulness by StoryGuide Level 1 is like judging the English language by learning the alphabet (Okay, maybe that's a stretch but you get my gist).


I believe you are unaware of what Dramatica did when you went through the StoryGuide Level 1.  Apart from asking you to fill in blanks about your story, the StoryGuide asked you to answer eleven storyforming, multiple-choice questions.  All of those storyforming questions related to either the 'big picture' Overall Story throughline or the Main Character. Some were dynamics questions while others were structural questions. Asking you to identify aspects of the story you already know may be clarifying but hardly warrants an expensive piece of software like Dramatica.

So what DID Dramatica bring to the table?  In addition to the eleven choices you made and the illustrations you added, Dramatica asked you to illustrate an additional ten story points (out of a total of 80+ story points in a storyform) based on the implications of YOUR choices. Specifically, all the story points about the Influence/Impact Character were determined by the storyform, as were the story points relating to the MC/IC Relationship throughline.  So instead of asking generic questions for you to illustrate those topics, Dramatica asks specific questions, e.g. "Describe how [the IC] Chuck's influence on Barry [the MC] concerns Innermost Desires".

The value of this is not obvious when you're making up a story that lacks any personal meaning for you.  Imagine, however, that you're working through YOUR story and are having troubles with:

  • Fleshing out a story
  • Having holes in the story
  • Having a story that 'doesn't' work
  • Having no idea how elements of your story can work together

THAT'S when using Dramatica is of greatest value. Dramatica indicates how to fill in those holes and identifies what is necessary for the story to make a complete argument to your audience -- to make your point as an author.

Let's face it, if you don't have any problems developing and writing your stories, then Dramatica is not going to be of much use to you except in an esoteric sense.  Dramatica is there to help tune up your writer's instincts and lend a hand when you need an objective third party (such as a writing partner) to show you what is or is not working in your story

Follow-up discussion: Dramatica...I Still Don't Get It

How do you illustrate an issue not covered by the Variations?

The Issue in my story is Intellectualism vs. Action -- a group of high-ranking military officers are set aside by a group of intellectuals. I can't find those listed in Dramatica's 64 Variations. Which ones should I use?

Really, it could be anything. If you haven't already done so, it might be helpful to identify the throughline in which this Issue resides. Also, assigning the throughline to a Domain (Situation, Activity, Fixed Attitude, or Manipulation) will help you even further.

Choosing the Throughlines, the Domains, and even the Concerns in your story provide specific context within which to understand the inequity you have chosen to examine. Treat the A vs. B conflict you described as the SUBJECT MATTER under examination rather than two pieces of a Dramatica thematic conflict. Dramatica helps you determine what YOU want to say ABOUT that conflict by giving you a thematic context within which you can explore it to its greatest depths.

Let's assume, for the moment, you haven't made ANY structural choices. I'll give you a sense of the variety of choices you have (though technically you have all 64 possibilities open to you).

Using the subject matter of "Intellectualism vs. Action", the Issue might be:

  • Preconception: There is a certain bias against military officers OR a bias in favor of intellectuals.
  • Security: Brain is favored over brawn in determining how to improve things as they develop. Or maybe the powers that be feel safer listening to intellectuals than the military.
  • Attempt: The intellectuals appear more capable in trying something new over a risk-averse military.
  • Approach: The intellectuals are called in for a diplomatic approach over the typically aggressive military approach.
  • Analysis: There is a need to learn more about an enemy for which the intellectuals are more capable than the military.
  • Truth: The intellectuals are thought to be better at recovering the truth from lost memories than the more assertive military's physical truth extraction tactics.
  • Denial: The intellectuals are chosen in order to deny the Military what it wants most.
  • Deficiency: The intellectuals are chosen because of a perceived (or real) deficiency in the military leadership.
  • Circumstances: The intellectuals are chosen in order to manipulate the circumstances in which a government finds itself, something for which the military may not be well-suited.

And so on...Without context, the story can go in any direction.

Is a Signpost a condition or an event?

For example, which of these is more appropriate for MC Signpost #1?

a. MC yearns to change her nature by finding a sense of stability and a defined set of duties.
b. Desperate for a sense of stability and duty, MC leaves her baby brother with her neighbor and leaves home to join the Organization.

And again, for MC Signpost #4?

a. Finally understanding the value of family over duty, MC looks forward to a new life, embracing uncertainty.
b. In the final moment before it's too late, MC decides to betray the Organization's rules by taking her son to the hospital, saving his life. In doing so, she experiences an epiphany that positively illuminates an uncertain future.

Either can illustrate a signpost, depending no the nature of the signpost and the way in which you prefer to explore it. Option A sounds like the concern of the signpost in general. Option B sounds like a transition from one event (or signpost) to another. When looking at more internalized signposts (e.g. Convceiving, Memory, Understanding, etc.) an Option A-type exploration may be preferred. When more overtly action-related signposts (Doing, Obtaining, The Future, etc.) are explored, an Option-B style may be preferred.

Same suggestions...HOWEVER...

There are many other story points than signposts and journeys that make up the plot. There are also the static plot points, the dynamics (plot and character), and the thematic points of each throughline, each of which need to be explored as you weave your story together.

For example, I could easily see your illustrations of Option B as being descriptions of the Story Driver (the first an Action, the second a Decision). The MC Signpost Option A example could just as easily be describing the MC Resolve and Story Judgment (Change(?) / Good).

So peppered WITHIN each throughline will be the illustrations for the the various story points appropriate to that throughline, which together populates plot and illustrates theme and character while doing so.

Do the Signposts and Journeys have to sync up between the Throughlines?

Do the signposts and journeys from a given throughline need to correspond time-wise with the same signposts and journeys from the other throughlines? If so, how do you illustrate the Influence Character's impact on the main character at Signpost #1 if the IC isn't introduced until somewhere in MC/OS Journey #1?

In a perfect story world, the signposts happen simultaneously. HOWEVER, in the real world we dole them out in bits and pieces over time, and thus the need for Storyweaving. There are no RULES for storyweaving, only guidelines. For example, it's generally acceptable to finish weaving all four throughline signposts (e.g. Signpost 1) before moving to the next signpost. However, the Journeys, by definition, embody the transition of one signpost to the next. So, though it might be clearer 'logically' if all signposts are completed before you move on to the following journey or signpost, the reality is you can follow your gut and inter-cut and overlap them as you wish.

Can you change structural points halfway through a story?

Can you repeat the Classes (Situation, Activities, Fixed Attitudes and Manipulations) in your Throughlines? For example, can you change the Main Character Throughline of Activities to a Throughline of Fixed Attitude in the middle of a story?

Short answer: No and No.

Why? Because the entirety of a grand argument story is to explore a single inequity from multiple perspectives within a single context. Switching throughline domains before the inequity has been fully explored alters the context within which meaning is sought. Context creates meaning. Change the context and the meaning is altered. Some works have multiples grand argument stories or a main story and several sub-stories. Those techniques provide the best solution to having your Main Character explore inequities within different contexts.

Do Static Story Points Repeat?

Yes, static story points DO repeat -- at least once per signpost (ideally). Each throughline has its own static story points, which need to be explored within the confines of the respective domains.

For example, the Story Goal and Story Consequence should make an appearance at least once in the Overall Story Signpost 1, the Overall Story Signpost 2, the Overall Story Signpost 3, AND the Overall Story Signpost 4. (The same is true of all other static story points with the caveat that some works do not have the 'real estate' to explore everything in every Signpost.)

Why? Because each signpost creates a different context within which to explore / expose the static plot points in an attempt to discover the source of the inequity at the heart of the story. They can also be seen as ways to test the imbalances created by the story inequity by discovering what works to re-balance the conflict and what works to further push the conflict into greater imbalance.

By the end of the story, the source of the inequity is revealed by the various testing and retesting of the static story points within the changing contexts manifested by the signposts.

Are there good techniques for distinguishing Conceiving from Conceptualizing?

This has come up a few times as I compare movies with the story form on Dramatica. I have some grasp, but am not as sure as I'd like to be. Conceptualization (Developing a Plan) sometimes seems indistinguishable from Conception (Conceiving an Idea). One of the founders of the theory likened Conceptualization to figuring out how a lightbulb would work. Conception would be the thought of having a lightbulb.

Conceiving is about coming up with ideas or "getting it" (think lightbulbs going off).

Conceptualizing (Developing a plan) is figuring out what do with an idea once you have it, of working out a plan for something that you haven't quite figured out (conceived) yet.

For example, Fred knows he's going to come up with an idea to save his company (Conceiving) but in the mean time he's making plans to implement it so that he's ready when he finally figures it out (conceptualizing).

How does the Main Character Problem work within Steadfast Characters?

As I understand it, the MC Problem is what's "wrong" with the MC.

In a story where the hero Changes and the outcome is Success/Good, this is the character flaw the MC has to overcome in order to solve the story problem. In a story where the hero is Steadfast and the outcome is Success/Good, this is what everybody else thinks the MC is doing wrong. In reality the MC Problem is what allowed him to overcome the story problem. (For example, I think Dirty Harry or Jack Bauer's MC Problem could be that they're willing to break the rules to get results.)

Is this right?

Not quite. You've confused a few different story points.

Success is tied to the Story Outcome and determines whether or not the story goal has been achieved.

Good has to do with the Story Judgment and is related to whether or not the story inequity was resolved, as opposed to the MC Problem.

Change has to do with the Main Character Resolve and indicates that the MC has adopted the MC Solution.

Each of these are independent, which means you can have any combination of Outcome, Judgment,and MC Resolve. The audience may infer connections between these because each has part of the meaning in the story, but the CAUSALITY is non-obvious and non-linear.

For Steadfast MCs, it's best to think of the MC Problem as the source of the MC's drive. What other characters think it is may not be relevant and is not relevant to its functionality in the story development.

How do I know if I have a Negative Goal?

I watched Transformers: Dark of the Moon again recently. The options were pretty clear. Getting the pillars was the step of Signpost 2 and protecting Sentinel Prime was the step of Signpost 3. However, it turns out Sentinel has actually been acting for the Decepticons. He turns against our Autobot protagonists as Megatron hoped. Then, with all the pillars and Sentinel Prime to help, the antagonists start their plan for transporting Cybertron to Earth in Signpost 4, which I take to be the crisis. It seems happy when the Autobots win in the end, but this seems a failure story if you think of the options as prerequisites or requirements in pursuit of the goal. It's the same conundrum as in Michael Clayton or Ghostbusters.

That brings up my question. Would these have been Prerequisites and transporting Cybertron to Earth have been the actual Requirement at the end of the story to accomplish a goal? The goal would've been the purpose of transporting Cybertron.

Since my guess is that the goal has something to do with STOPPING the invasion, I think it would qualify as a SUCCESS story. I don't see the Decepticons as being protagonists. IMO, this is one of those negative goals where the goal is to prevent something from happening instead of trying to achieve something.

It's a bit different from Michael Clayton in that the subjective characters where on UNorth's team (employment-wise), so the goal was related to what UNorth was attempting to achieve. This is different than the human forces battling the Decepticons.

What effect does the order of elements have on a story?

I've been working with Character Build elements and thinking of ways to achieve the effects observed in real movies. There's a moment in Blast From the Past where the MC probes the IC for info. She reveals a self-evaluation about why relationships haven't worked out. This made me think of increasing the variety of unique moments by cross quad interaction. The MC interacts with a Motivation element while the IC interacts with an Evaluation element.

I also wondered what effect revealing at least one quad element of the MC before revealing the IC elements in detail. What if in Act One you revealed the MC quad elements early on? This bonds us with the MC first, so that the IC quad elements would feel more like revelations over the course of the movie.

With the exception of the problem/solution quads (one per throughline), the order in which you explore the other elements and levels of elements (characteristics) falls into the area of storytelling, for all intents and purposes.

Also, make sure you do not confuse the exploration of the SUBJECTIVE CHARACTERS (MC & IC) for those of the OBJECTIVE CHARACTERS (those in the Overall Story throughline). Those are different contexts and their explorations are throughline specific.

What is the difference between the Domain and the Problem?

Using the gists my Relationship Story Domain comes up as "Considering Something Unacceptable". When I look at the Theory information is says "the heart of the problem" and "this describes how the MC and IC relate to each other in the story". When I look in All Topics to the left and click on Relationship, this Considering something unacceptable shows up in RS Domain, not RS Problem. When I click on RS Problem, the only choice is Equity.

Would that mean they start off thinking each other's attitude/response is unacceptable, then the IC changes? Does the IC change if the MC is steadfast, or does he just fade away? Would it make sense for the IC at the end to consider himself kind of equal with the MC, giving him a tip that saves him, before fading out?

It's a matter of scale. As a domain, the main conflict in their relationship will be a clash of attitudes in terms of considering something as unacceptable. A RS Problem of Equity means that the heart of the conflict in the relationship grows out of equity (fairness; balance). For example, a married couple come into conflict in their marriage when everything has to be completely even (if one set of inlaws stays for two weeks, the other set of inlaws must stay with them for two weeks (even though neither of them can stand spending time with one set of inlaws) in an effort to be fair.

If the IC is change, the MC is steadfast, and vice versa.

Who does the Relationship Throughline apply to?

I am in the Determine the Relationship window. I have a steadfast MC. I chose the "considering something unacceptable" option. Is this just something unacceptable to the MC? The IC makes an offer to the MC that the MC considers unacceptable, so that works. Or is it necessary for the IC to consider something unacceptable, too, i.e. the refusal of the MC?

If you're looking at the relationship throughline, then "considering something unacceptable" would describe an aspect of the relationship. You did not indicate what story point you are exploring (e.g. Problem, Solution, Concern, etc.), which would allow a more specific answer since each is its own context to give it meaning.

For example, a Relationship Throughline Problem of Consider ("considering something unacceptable") would mean one thing, versus it being a RS Problem of Non-Acceptance, or a RS Concern of Contemplation, and so on. Plus, you may have it an attribute of the relationship ("the couple considers their current circumstances unacceptable") or something that is attribute to them ("a neighbor considers their relationship unacceptable").

How do I apply the concept of Justification Levels to my story?

I am thrilled with Melanie and Chris having come up with a way to define steadfast and change character growth instead of just making them be one-note. In a tape cassette lecture series, they explained the four levels of justification... which are different between steadfast and change. However, I'm foggy on how to sync what they said about shifting paradigms with my IC and MC

I'm not sure which part of which cassette you have referred to, but here are some general thoughts.


Steadfast justification is the process of building up internal walls (barriers) in an attempt to resolve a resistant inequity. The effort to try new ways to resolve the "problems" require greater and greater effort to stay the course. Ultimately, a steadfast character remains steadfast and their inequity (drive) is left unaltered -- even though the apparent internal/external inequity may appear to be in balance.


A change character begins with a back story where it was a steadfast character who built up justifications in order to hide the inequity to create the appearance of balance. The change character comes preloaded with these justifications and the character growth comes in the form of having those justifications (internal barriers) torn down, act by act. Ultimately, the change character has all justifications removed and addresses the original inequity (established in the back story) by choosing the alternate approach to resolving the inequity.


One area I think you are getting into trouble is treating the Change and Steadfast characters independently in your story. That is not the way it works. The Main Character is the center of the personal thread (whether change or steadfast) and the Influence Character is only important in its capacity to impact the main character.

In Star Wars, Obi Wan goes from having Luke think about the Force, to getting Luke to let the Force run through him, to being remembered by Luke, to instructing Luke to follow his feelings and use the Force. The IC throughline is not so much about the IC but how the IC influences the MC so that the MC GROWS.

What is the reason for seeing Act Transitions as Bumps and Slides?

I've been reading your presentation of Dramatica Act Structures, with some fascination. However, in among the bumps and slides is a basic question: To what end? By analyzing color changes brought on by these patterns, are you providing a way of instantly knowing where dramatic patterns are most effective?

I'll tell you what the bumps and slides mean to me.

Dramatica is a VERY logical and objectified view of story. It presents a way to analyze and structure stories in a manner that allows me to build stories like I might prepare a cooking recipe. It gives me categories of ingredients, procedures, order of preparation, etc. What is does NOT do well is give me the FEEL of the story (a view almost exclusively that of the audience).

The bumps and slides logically indicate to me what I can FEEL is going on in a story when I view it. It provides a fairly concrete connection between how the story is put together logically, and the feel of it when experiencing it. So for me, the patterns of the bumps and slides helps me connect the way I want the story to feel (or not feel) with the overall structure of the story. This gives me a general ideal of how my story may play with an audience.

For example, the Z-pattern (bump-slide-bump) explains the FEEL of a traditional three-act story BETTER than the three Journeys Dramatica uses. It does not negate the value or use of Journeys, it just explains the feel of a story more accurately than the explanation of Journeys ever did (which is one of the reasons I continued looking for other explanations in the first place.) Secondly, I can use the "feel" of the story an another standard of measure when I analyze a story. If it feels like an episodic story but is structured like a z-pattern, then that might indicate I should recheck some of my storyforming choices--as well as look to which throughlines are emphasized and which are not.

The short answer is that bumps and slides give me more ways to understand what goes on in a story, whether I'm creating one from scratch or analyzing a finished work.

Who are Optionlocks Tied To?

I started off thinking the Optionlock applied to the Protagonist in the OS, then just the OS itself, but a comment by Chris about the antagonist in Ghostbusters having options made me go through podcasts and realize actions of both should be realized in terms of the optionlock, not just reactions to each other. Thirteenth Floor has an MC seemingly with options of tracking down whodunnit, but he's not the protagonist. The optionlocks seem tied in with the driver turning points. I wondered if the driver characters (protagonist, antagonist, contagonist, guide) each tend to have optionlocks. The Passenger usually wouldn't, otherwise they wouldn't be passengers in the story.

Since the Story Limit brings the story to the climax, it seems easiest to tie the limit, optionlock or timelock, to the Story Goal in the Overall Story throughline. Once the limit has been reached...CRISIS, CLIMAX, CONCLUSION.

Contagonist: Why?

I have an intellectual understanding for the need of a Contagonist, but I don't have a practical understanding. Can anyone give me an example of a Contagonist in a well-known film? I've tried to figure out what a Contagonist's motivation might be. Why do they try to thwart or deflect the Protagonist? I can understand why an Antagonist would act like that, but I can't understand what motivates a Contagonist to do so. Are they deluded? Do they know something the Antagonist doesn't? Do they have mixed feelings? Everything I've read seems strong on theory, but not particularly enlightening in practice. Is the Contagonist supposed to be a subtle character who's not as easily quantified as a Protagonist or an Antagonist? Is the concept blurry because the character itself is supposed to be blurry?

First off, there is no need for Contagonists to WANT to tempt or deflect the protagonist or others, it is just what they do. In other words, intent is not needed for a Contagonist to function (the same is pretty much true for all objective characters in the overall story).

The simplest example of a Contagonist I can think of is the little devil that sits on someone's shoulder giving them all sorts of bad advice. Of course, he is balanced out by the Guardian angel. It's important to note that a Contagonist represents temptation and hinder, but is not necessarily applied in any specific direction. The Story Goal gives a useful barometer for an author to use, but that not required for the character to do his job. In Star Wars, Darth Vader is the Contagonist. He deflects the efforts of the protagonist Luke by killing Obi-wan, but also deflects the antagonists' efforts by squabbling with Empire officers, and even suggesting that Gran Mof Tarkin let Luke et al leave the Death Star with the tracking device, which allows the rebels to find and exploit the Death Star's weakness before the Empire blows the Rebel's base to bits. Darth also represents temptation, as in 'here's what happens to you if you give into the temptation of the dark side of the Force.' In subsequent films, he more actively tempts Luke to join him.

The Contagonist need not be blurry, but may appear to be less obvious if it's functions are shown using subtle storytelling techniques.

How do I create complex themes?

After reading the Dramatica Theory book, it stated that Gone with the Wind used archetypal characters to explore it's more complex theme. The problem is that in the book I learn to build complex characters but not complex themes, so I was wondering how to build complex themes, and how do I know if I have a complex theme.

In each throughline is an Issue. This is the MOST thematic point of exploration of the throughline. Exploring the throughline Issues is the minimum required for a grand argument story.

Each thematic point has a counterpoint, such as Morality vs. Self Interest, Desire vs. Ability, Security vs. Threat, etc. Exploring the balance between the thematic point and counterpoint develops theme to a greater level than just exploring the thematic Issue.

You can delve into even greater thematic depth by evaluating the thematic point and counterpoint in terms of the co-dynamic pair in the same structural quad in which the Issue is found. For example, Morality and Self Interest can be more deeply examined in terms of Attitude and Approach; Security and Threat can be more fully understood in terms of Fact and Fantasy. Creating relative and comparitive assessments of each item in an a throughline's Issue quad gives you the opportunity to explore your story's themes with a greater degree of subtlety than examining an Issue by itself.

Can the Preconscious mean absent-mindedness?

The Preconscious is often encoded in a very flamboyant way, like Tyler Durden in Fight Club or the Joker in The Dark Knight. I'm wondering, can The Preconscious also mean something subtler like the absent-mindedness of an author submerged in his work? Or having ADHD.

Absolutely. It can be big or small, such as a stammer or tic or being jumpy at loud noises. But make sure absent-mindedness is not seen as a matter of memory

In The Godfather, Preconscious shows up as a Story Precondition with Fredo fumbling with the with the gun, Sonny being impulsive, and Michael being calm under the threat of attack, which is what is required to be accepted and effective as the new don.

Protagonist or Antagonist? I can’t decide.

As I understand it, Protagonist is the one trying to achieve something. The Antagonist is the one trying to hinder him. This makes a lot of "bad guys" be Protagonists. In Transformers, the Decepticons would often be the Protagonists. This makes James Bond an Antagonist.

It's all in how you position the goal. If you say the goal is to Stop the Decepticons from doing "fill in evil deed here", then the protagonists are the ones pursuing that goal, and the Decepticons ones trying to prevent or avoid that.

Keep in mind that the Story Outcome is tied to the Story Goal. This is a good indicator as to how the author wants the audience to understand who the protagonist and antagonist are.

Is the Story Driver an Action or Decision when it’s just a discovery?

What happens when the "Inciting Incident" (ie. the initial story driver) is just the acquisition of a new piece of information? Is that an Action or a Decision? For example, in Joe Versus the Volcano, the Inciting Incident is presumably Joe being told that he's dying. He didn't do anything, nor did he make a decision. What kind of story driver is that?

The nature of the setup for your action/decision scenario is vague and could be delivered either way.


A seemingly innocuous piece of paper slips from a book that the teenager is reading, with only one word handwritten on it: EDISON


BOB and SARA sit in the library. We see Sara deliberating on telling Bob something, but she is conflicted.

BOB: So....what did it say?

SARA: -- OK, but you can't tell anyone I told you. It said, "Edison."

The difference is minor, but that's because your setup did not establish which it was supposed to be: Action or Decision.

Usually an inciting event won't be "just the acquisition of a new piece of information." It's usually more substantive than that, because it demarcates the beginning of the story and establishes the major causal relationships between actions and decisions for the rest of the story.

What term is more accurate, Obstacle Character or Impact Character?

The original Dramatica terms uses Obstacle Character, while Layman's Terms uses Impact Character. The original Dramatica Dictionary refers Obstacle Character to Impact Character, and Impact Character carries the definition. What were the reasons that caused Obstacle to be chosen and why was it changed? Is the term Obstacle more accurate than Impact, and if so, why?

Our original intent was to view the OC as an obstacle preventing the MC from hiding from his personal issues. We revised the label to IMPACT Character to make the IC/OC more active than the seemingly passive "obstacle" to be circumvented.

Just to make your lives even more complicated, we're introducing a third interpretation of this character's label in the next version of Dramatica: the Influence Character. We feel it strikes a nice balance between the indirectness of an obstacle and the directness of an impact.

In point of fact, they are ALL equally valid interpretations of the purpose for having a character representing or proselytizing an alternative viewpoint to that of the MC in the MC's approach to resolving his personal issues. Active or passive, aware or unaware, the obstacle/impact/influence character represents an alternative paradigm to that of the main character.

What MC attributes does the IC Unique Ability undermine?

Does the Influence Character's Unique Ability undermine the Main Character’s personal problem or their Unique Ability?

The IC Unique Ability undermines the MC Unique Ability. The IC's Unique Ability acts to counter the effectiveness of the MC's Unique Ability, which is the quality that makes the MC uniquely suited to helping the Story Goal be achieved in the Overall Story throughline.

Why do Villains tend to be the Influence Character in Horror stories?

Why do villains tend to be the impact characters in horror stories? Also, are there any examples of horror that come to mind in which the Influence Character is not the Villain or Antagonist?

The Villains, who are also often the Antagonists, are frequently the Influence Character because the IC is one of the few characters whose perspective must exist until the end of the story. So the Villain is often the IC in horror stories because everybody else is dead or removed from the scene.

There are a couple of movies that come to mind where the Villains (or monsters) are not the IC, though several of them are mixed genres such as Horror/Fantasy, Horror/SciFi, or Horror/Drama"

  •  The Reaping: IC: The little girl; Villain: Doug (and the townsfolk)
  •  Pitch Black: IC: Riddick; Villians: Monsters
  •  Aliens: IC: Newt; Villains: Aliens/Mother Alien
  •  Stir of Echoes: IC: Ghost (Samantha Kozac); Villians: The neighbors that killed her and covered it up.
  •  Edge of Darkness: IC: Hit Man; Villains: Corporate and government cover-up guys
  •  30 Days of Night: IC: Stlla Oleson (love interest); Villains: Vampires

Granted, these are the exceptions rather than the rules, and each of these seem to be more than just "horror" movies.

Why does the core inequity of a story fall into different Domains?

Why does it seem to shift according to the Perspective (Throughline) chosen?

Context creates meaning. It is the combination of the four perspectives with the four domains that collectively describe and allow us to identify the nature of an inequity. You need look no further than the Dramatica table of Genres to see how combining perspectives with domains creates meaning. For example, combine the situation domain with the "they" OS perspective and you get a situation comedy OS throughline. If you combine the same perspective with the activity domain, you get a physical comedy OS throughline. Yet you need all four perspectives bound to the four domains to have a complete exploration of an inequity, which is one of the foundations of a Grand Argument Story.

Follow-up question:

So the true inequity of a story doesn't necessarily lie in one Domain or the other, but rather between all of them? In that case, an inequity can never truly be defined, correct? You can't say Well, the inequity of this story is injustice...You would need all four Domains to actually surround and approximate that inequity.

You are correct.

Why does the core inequity of a story fall into different Domains depending on the Perspective?

And by Perspective I mean Throughline...

Context creates meaning. It is the combination of the four perspectives with the four domains that collectively describe and allow us to identify the nature of an inequity. You need look no further than the Dramatica table of Genres to see how combining perspectives with domains creates meaning. For example, combine the situation domain with the "they" OS perspective and you get a situation comedy OS throughline. If you combine the same perspective with the activity domain, you get a physical comedy OS throughline. Yet you need all four perspectives bound to the four domains to have a complete exploration of an inequity, which is one of the foundations of a Grand Argument Story.

Why do all four Domains have to be explored?

Wouldn't it be just as good to look at the same Problematic Activity from the They perspective, the I perspective, the You and We perspectives so that one could understand what is truly wrong with that particular Activity?

An inequity is an imbalance between things, not the things themselves. It does not matter if the "things" are perspectives or domains in which the associated problems manifest because the inequity can be anywhere. The purpose of the problem-solving process is to identify, isolate, and address the inequity as best as possible. The largest areas in which the inequity can be identified are the perspectives and the domains. One way to identify the effects of an inequity is to look for conflict.

Conflict is the product of effort to resolve an inequity as it meets resistance. We look for conflict as we attempt to identify an inequity's source(s). If we neglect to look in all the possible places conflict can exist, we open ourselves (and the story) to missing the entirety of the conflict and a true understanding of the inequity, leaving the real likelihood of failing to resolve the inequity thoroughly. So, all four perspectives and all four domains must be explored in order to understand the nature of an inequity and the nature and source(s) of conflict generated by trying to resolve the inequity.

The storyform expresses the effects of an inequity differently in each domain because the context for each domain is different. The Situation domain shows the inequity in the context of an external state. The Activity domain shows the inequity in the context of an external process. The Fixed Attitude domain shows the inequity in the context of and internal state. The Manipulation/Psychology domain show the inequity in the context of an internal process.

Using different perspectives on the same domain shows the effects of the inequity within the different contexts of the perspective. This may give us a greater understanding of the difference in the perspectives, but it would not give us any greater understanding of the inequity as it is expressed in that single domain. Conflict does not exist BETWEEN a domain and a perspective, so shifting perspectives on a domain will not provide more insight into the nature of the inequity.

The true inequity of a story doesn't necessarily lie in one Domain or the other, but rather between all of them. An inequity can never truly be defined. One can't say, Well, the inequity of this story is injustice...You would need all four Domains to actually surround and approximate that inequity.

Why do all four Domains have to be explored?

According to Dramatica there are four different ways of defining a problem - a Situation, an Activity, a Fixed Attitude or a Way of Thinking. These correspond to the theory's four Domains, respectively Universe, Physics, Mind and Psychology.

In order to create a complete story Dramatica calls for each one of these Domains to be assigned to one of the Four Throughlines: the Overall Story Throughline, the Main Character Throughline, the Impact or Influence Character Throughline and the Relationship Story Throughline. These Four Throughlines correspond to the four different contexts one can take in order to assess meaning: They (Overall), I (Main Character), You (Impact Character), and We (Relationship).

The reason for the Four Throughlines, or Perspectives, seems clear -- an Author would have to explore a problem from all the different perspectives in order to understand what is really going on. But why do the four different Domains have to be explored? Wouldn't it be just as good to look at the same Problematic Activity from the They perspective, the I perspective, the You and We perspectives so that one could understand what is truly wrong with that particular Activity?

An inequity is an imbalance between things, not the things themselves. It does not matter if the "things" are perspectives or domains in which the associated problems manifest because the inequity can be anywhere. The purpose of the problem-solving process is to identify, isolate, and address the inequity as best as possible. The largest areas in which the inequity can be identified are the perspectives and the domains. One way to identify the effects of an inequity is to look for conflict.

Conflict is the product of effort to resolve an inequity as it meets resistance. We look for conflict as we attempt to identify an inequity's source(s). If we neglect to look in all the possible places conflict can exist, we open ourselves (and the story) to missing the entirety of the conflict and a true understanding of the inequity, leaving the real likelihood of failing to resolve the inequity thoroughly. So, all four perspectives and all four domains must be explored in order to understand the nature of an inequity and the nature and source(s) of conflict generated by trying to resolve the inequity.

Wouldn't it be just as good to look at the same Problematic Activity from the They perspective, the I perspective, the You and We perspectives so that one could understand what is truly wrong with that particular Activity?

The storyform expresses the effects of an inequity differently in each domain because the context for each domain is different. The Situation domain shows the inequity in the context of an external state. The Activity domain shows the inequity in the context of an external process. The Fixed Attitude domain shows the inequity in the context of and internal state. The Manipulation/Psychology domain show the inequity in the context of an internal process.

Using different perspectives on the same domain shows the effects of the inequity within the different contexts of the perspective. This may give us a greater understanding of the difference in the perspectives, but it would not give us any greater understanding of the inequity as it is expressed in that single domain. Conflict does not exist BETWEEN a domain and a perspective, so shifting perspectives on a domain will not provide more insight into the nature of the inequity.

Is Story Judgment really an Overall Story Plot Dynamic?

When looking at the Story Engine it has Judgment in as an OS Plot Dynamic though its definition seems to be more concerned about the MC journey.  I was wondering why it is in the OS Plot Dynamics window when, for me, it feels like it belongs more to the Main Character window?

Short answer: No and Yes.

The Story Judgment sits half in the Main Character Throughline and half as part of the story's plot dynamics.


The Story Judgment is about the resolution of the Main Character's angst. If it is resolved, that is 'good.' If it is not resolved, that is 'bad.' This is what makes it seem like Story Judgment should be part of the Main Character dynamics.


Most people do not make a distinction between Outcome and Judgment when thinking about story endings. They generally think of the ending as either a happy ending, a tragedy, or a bittersweet ending. AND, they tend to associate the story ending with the part that Dramatica identifies as the Overall Story throughline.

When we separated out the Outcome and Judgment components, we kept them together and put them in the Plot Dynamics since both were associated with how the story ended. Each throughline has character, theme, plot, and genre elements, so putting the Judgment with the plot dynamics is a valid way to understand that dynamic.

Must a new Act begin with a Story Driver?

Dramatica recommends at least five Story Drivers: before (or to start) each Act, and as the closing event. But say a story had six or seven drivers. Would four of them still have to line up as turns into each act, with the fifth as the closing event?

Or could seven drivers be evenly spaced between the four acts, with only the Inciting and Closing events lining up with act breaks?

Short answer: Yes


All act turn driver events must occur between the Inciting and Closing events in the Overall Story thoughline, which means the inciting and closing events cannot line up with act breaks because the open and close the story's argument. You can have material before the inciting event (prologue) and material after the closing event (epilogue) if you want.

The driver events in the Overall Story throughline move the throughline forward. While you can have more than the five drivers, they should be in addition to the locations of the five standard drivers (opening event, first, second, and third act turns, and closing event).


Each of the four throughlines has three act breaks, which gives you a total of twelve act breaks. When all four throughlines are synchronized, the story will seem to have only three act breaks. However, one can easily make them asynchronous and have more act transitions (though the drivers only control the Overall Story throughline). This technique is often used in television so that commercial breaks have the feel of act transitions.

Can Memories include imaginings and envisionings of future and present?

Memory is about recalling and forgetting. In most stories, memories are about something that has happened in the past and is being recalled or forgotten. Daydreaming about the future is still about the future, and daydreaming would not be considered recalling something or forgetting something.

Daydreaming aside, there are exceptions in special circumstances where events of the present or future may appear as memories.

If you have someone traveling outside of "normal" time, then it might be possible that memory could reflect recollections of something in the present or future. For example, the films Timecop and Millenium have main characters/protagonists that travel back and forth through time. There are points where these characters' personal timelines are at odds with the Overall Story timelines. Things they should remember that have happened in the OS and which they are part of (as protagonists) in the Overall Story timeline, have not yet occurred in their own main character throughline yet. Meanwhile, other times these main characters remember things in their throughline that have not yet happened in the OS throughline.

The trick to using memory in this non-linear fashion is to make sure the audience understands this non-traditional use of "memories," as well as making sure the audience does not confuse the memories with the Future, Present, etc. I remember quite a number of people were confused by Timecop because of the non-traditional flow of time. It was complicated by the "present" constantly being affected by changing events in the "past", as well as events in the present and past affecting the "future."

Another example appears the current season of Fringe. In it a character that was in the previous season was erased from history. This season, that same character pops up again, but other characters have no memory of the character, whereas this character's memories of the present challenge everyone else's understanding of the world. This is a more traditional use of memory, but it often borders on matters of the "present" and "future."

So, the short answer is that it can be done, but having memories of the present or future are unconventional, difficult to convey, and probably should be avoided unless you're telling a genre story that allows for non-linear use of time and memory.

Does the Influence Character’s Problem-Solving Style matter?

The Main Character's Problem-Solving Style can be chosen/viewed in both the Story Engine and the Query System. However, the Influence Character's Problem-Solving Style does not seem to be choosable or viewable anywhere within the software. Is it there somewhere that I missed? Or can it be determined 'by hand' by looking at other choices, such as the MC's Problem-Solving Style? Even if it doesn't matter I would like to know how to determine what the IC problem-solving style is.

It is not something you can choose in the software. I believe, theoretically--in a perfect story--the Influence Character's Problem-Solving Style would be the opposite of the Main Character's (Holistic when the Main Character's PSP is Linear and Linear when the MC's PSP is _Holistic). But I don't believe this is absolutely needed for complete comprehension of a story's meaning (storyform).

In other words, it is nice to have it in there, but it doesn't have to be opposite.

Why do Story Drivers always have to be the same?

Dramatica says that every major Plot Point, those that turn Acts and start and stop a story, are either all Actions are all Decisions. I can see in the example files and discussions with others that this pattern does exist, but the question is Why? In addition, what does this structural aspect of story have to do with the Story Mind concept? How does this similarity between the Story Drivers relate to the psychology of the human mind trying to solve a problem?

All static story points, including the Story Driver, must remain the same over the course of a story because they form the basis of the story's argument. This is true for the Story Limit, Main Character Approach, Story Goal, etc. Consistency is important when making an argument, and Dramatica grand argument stories are no different.

Having Actions or Decisions move the story forward at the five key turning points* of the Overall Story throughline shows one of those frames of reference for "how things work" in a particular story. Using inconsistent story drivers nullifies the meaning that story drivers bring to a storyform.

The Story Driver establishes the nature of the story's causality: Actions drive Decisions, or Decisions drive Actions. All stories have both actions and decisions (including deliberations). The question is, which moves (forces) the story forward toward its resolution?

Each story point provides a point of reference by which to measure the meaning in and of the story by the audience. The story dynamics indicate how the story moves -- how it flows and the directions it can and cannot turn. Consistency in the story points is essential because a storyform is like a snapshot of an entire argument, complete with perspectives, frames of reference, relationships, and even the flow of time from beginning to end of a story. Consistency provides the unchanging context that lets the audience make sense of the storyform.

(* Five key turning points for Story Drivers. The following are the recommended MINIMUM number of instances of the Story Driver in a story. Each turning point should use the same type of driver within a single storyform, either all actions or all decisions. These drivers are best understood in the context of the Overall Story plot:

  • Inciting Event: Starts off the story. Without it there is no story
  • First Act Turn: Turns the story from the end of Act I to the beginning of Act II
  • Second Act Turn: Turns the story at the midpoint of the story, between the end of Act II and the beginning of Act III
  • Third Act Turn: Turns the story from the end of Act III to the beginning of Act IV
  • Closing Event: Ends the story

Is ‘Negative Feeling’ merely descriptive or is it instrumental?

Does it 'twist' some part of the structure? Using my story and as well as made-up input, the only way I can get a 'Positive Feel' is to change the Judgment to Bad. 'BAD' works regardless of Success/Failure, Stop/Start, or anything else I've tried. From what I've read I assumed Bad + Failure AND Good + Success would be 'Positive.' What besides Good/Bad influences the 'Feeling'?

The combination of MC Growth (Stop or Start) and Judgment (Good or Bad) are the basis for the audience appreciation, Essence. The idea of 'negative' and 'positive' in this context describes how the story feels. A positive story is one where the characters are doggedly pursuing a solution to their troubles -- they seem to be in control. A negative story is one in which the problem is dogging the characters as they attempt to escape its effects -- they seem to be at the mercy of the problem.

  • Stop something Good, or Start something Bad = Negative
  • Start something Good, or Stop something Bad = Positive

Again, negative and positive in this context do NOT mean bad and good. Detailed definitions can be found in the dictionary:

What is the difference between Issue and Counterpoint?

How much does it matter which is the Issue and which is the Counterpoint of a throughline? Both will obviously play a role since the conflict between them is being explored. Using the example of "Morality vs Self Interest", the book says "Because Morality is the issue, it would be in the forefront and appear as the topic or subject matter". But Self Interest will by necessity appear just as often, will it not?

The Issue is the context by which the counterpoint is seen and frames the throughline problem, solution, symptom and response.

A throughline with Morality as the Issue puts Morality front and center. Self Interest is seen as the contrast to Morality. Both of them are seen in the larger context of Obtaining (the Concern).


A small school is trying to raise enough money to stay open (Concern of Obtaining). The teachers are so dedicated to their students that they agree to give up a part of their salary to keep the school open (Issue of Morality). The principal, however, sees this as a great opportunity to boost his reputation, especially since he has plans to get a job on the Board of Education (Counterpoint of Self Interest). Both Morality and Self Interest are explored in terms of Faith, Disbelief, Conscience and Temptation.

A throughline with Self Interest as the Issue puts Self Interest front and center. Morality is seen as the contrast to Self Interest. Both of them are seen in the larger context of Obtaining (the Concern).


A small school is trying to raise enough money to stay open (Concern of Obtaining). The teachers are dedicated to their students but they refuse to give up a part of their salary to keep the school open (Issue of Self Interest). The principal, however, sees this as a personal mission and petitions the Board of Education to use their rainy day fund to keep the school going after he has tapped out all his personal contacts (Counterpoint of Morality). Both Self Interest and Morality are explored in terms of Pursuit, Avoidance, Control and Uncontrolled.

What movies or books have been made with Dramatica?

I've looked everywhere and can't find one professional writer who admits they use Dramatica. How can I be sure I'm not wasting my time learning these complicated and sometimes frustrating concepts?

We have the most inside scoop on the TV and Film industries, so most of the intel we have gathered is in that area. Many of the following projects have multiple writers on them, and one or more used Dramatica. Some examples (firsthand, secondhand, and rumors) with which you might be familiar include:

  • TV Series: Dead Like Me
  • TV Series: Band of Brothers
  • Author Tracy Hickman
  • Author: Tom Clancy (secondhand rumor)
  • Various video games and RPGs, including the Firefly RPG
  • Movie: Contact
  • Filmmaker: Wes Craven
  • Several Michael Mann movies

There are a whole bunch more that we've been asked NOT to mention, some of which are the biggest grossing films in the last five years. It is irksome, but understandable. Dramatica is seen as a competitive advantage by many in super-competitive Hollywood.

Is there a different storyform for Hamlet that would support the idea of him going nuts?

In the answer to this question about leaps of faith, Chris mentions that he believes Hamlet does not actually go crazy. Is there a storyform that would underlie a very similar play, but make you more convinced Hamlet does indeed go crazy?

A different storyform would create a different story, though one could dress it up to look similar.

However, I do not think it would be necessary to use a different storyform to reach those ends. The example storyform for Hamlet has one story point that could make the difference depending on how it is interpreted and illustrated by the author. The Benchmark for the Main Character throughline is Changing One's Nature. A benchmark indicates the progress through the development of a particular throughline. One could choose to emphasize Hamlet's transformation into some other psychological way of thinking (crazy or otherwise) by emphasizing the MC Benchmark.

Additionally, the Signposts for the MC throughline are as follows and give more areas to play up or play down the crazy card:

  • Developing a Plan (Figuring out how to deal with one's father's death)
  • Playing a Role (Pretending to be crazy)
  • Changing One's Nature (Slowly changing into the character one pretends to be)
  • Conceiving an Idea (Coming up with the idea that one's fate is in the hands of Providence)

As you can see, it is set up to easily be one way or the other, depending on how you illustrate "Changing One's Nature" in the context of the story. One could equally interpret that as going from playing crazy to being crazy, as well as going from passive to active, or growing up, or anything that fits within the broad context of "Becoming" someone/something.

Can an absent IC affect the MC via the MC’s presumption of what the IC would do?

We've all changed our behavior to deal with what we fear is coming -- a teenager stops to get gum to cover up the smell of alcohol that his parents will be looking for when he comes home, for example. If an IC is separated from the MC for an extended period, can the MC's imagination ("I know he's out there doing X.") fill the role of the IC? Or must there be a hand-off?

Yes, an absent IC can affect the MC. However, as an author communicating to an audience, it is important that you make the connection between the IC and MC even during the absence.

In your example above, you talk about a teenager getting gum to cover up alcohol breath in order to hide it from his parents. Showing or describing a teenager getting gum to cover up alcohol breath is insufficient. SOMEHOW, you must indicate to the audience that the teenager is doing this BECAUSE he wants "to hide it from his parents." Without that connection, we cannot see the influence the parents have on their teenager.

There are many techniques for conveying the position or perspective of a character in its absence. Objects belonging to the character, character mementos or pictures -- especially pictures of the MC and IC together -- can work well to let the audience know about the impact the IC has on the MC. Memories of the IC doing something or saying something are popular, if not overused. You can also bring it up the IC in dialogue with other characters who say something like, "You know what [IC] would say about that!" or something more subtle. Yet another way is to show symbols of important events in the Relationship throughline (MC/IC), or have a third party use an IC phrase or an item symbolic of the IC. In each case, these symbols, phrases, places, or events must be set up ahead of time so the audience can attribute them properly to the IC.

In extreme cases, where the IC is gone for an Act or more, you may need to hand off the function to another character. This is particularly true if your story emphasizes Character above Plot, Theme and Genre. The original Star Wars got away with having Obi-Wan (IC) gone for nearly half of the story because Character was emphasized less than Genre and Plot, and about equal with Theme development. As it is, Act III has Luke remembering Obi-Wan and missing him -- for about fifteen seconds, and then Obi-Wan's disembodied voice comes in toward the end of Act IV to give Luke one last push, "Use the Force, Luke. Let yourself go."

Most stories, with Impact Characters gone that much, hand off the job to a different character. But you don't HAVE to.

Are Objective Characters aware of the Problem and Solution in a story?

Are Objective Characters as blind to the Problem in their Throughline as the Main Character is? If not, then how come they don't simply solve the Issue at hand (with the appropriate Solution).

No and yes.

Objective characters are not a single group of characters working in concert with one another. There are many factions, as well as many varied functions performed by the various characters. They never all have the same agenda. In fact, as much as the protagonist works toward resolving the OS Problem, the antagonist works against its resolution.

The bulk of the objective characters are not aware of the Overall Story Problem and OS Solution until the last act of the story. Some may never be aware of them, even after the story is over. They might see them but not recognize them for their importance. Others may never be aware of the OS Problem and Solution, seeing only the OS Symptom and OS Response.

There will be one or two or more objective characters peppered in the story that can see what is going on, or at least partially so. They provide the voice drowned out by the crowd of other characters that gives insight into the story mechanisms that drive the Overall Story throughline. Sometimes it is the protagonist that does this (e.g. Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird), sometimes the Guardian character, the Antagonist, or a combination of characters (e.g. Obi-Wan and Princess Leia each have incomplete, privileged knowledge about what is really going on in Star Wars: A New Hope).

Even then, these characters may not know about the OS Problem and Solution until later on in the story. Like the Main Character development, it is not a matter of being all or nothing, but a matter of WHEN they know -- or suspect -- what is causing the troubles. Unlike the Main Character development, the Overall Story throughline present the logistical problem to be solved. Instead of the layers of justifications blinding the MC from the source of his troubles, there is a Story Goal in the OS throughline, with Requirements, Prerequisites, Preconditions and more to wade through in order to achieve the Story Goal while resolving the OS Problem.

Lastly, there is the matter of when the AUDIENCE finds out about the OS problem and solution. That is mostly a matter of storyweaving -- controlling WHEN essential information about the storyform is revealed to the audience. There may be a difference between when the characters know, and when we, the audience, know, and when we know THEY know. Fortunately, it's up to us as authors to make those distinctions as we see fit.

What are the Leap of Faith choices?

What is the Main Character choosing between when he/she makes a Leap of Faith?

The answer is that the Main Character needs to make a choice between going with the MC Solution, or going with the MC Response when he makes a "leap of faith" at the personal crisis point in the Main Character throughline.


Change characters come to a story with baggage. The baggage consists of the MC Problem hidden by blinders (layers of justifications), which are replaced by the MC Symptom as the apparent source of the MC's personal troubles. In comes the Impact (Influence) Character who disrupts the MC's equilibrium by introducing an alternate way of addressing the MC Problem -- one that MAY be more effective.

As the acts progress, the MC's blinders are torn (or worn) away. By the end of the story, all the blinders are removed and the MC can now see BOTH pathways open to him. The argument for continuing to use the MC Response to address the MC Symptom is balanced by the potential effectiveness of the MC Solution to resolve the MC Problem. Unfortunately for the MC, the amount of pressure applied on the MC by BOTH approaches is such that the MC must choose one or the other or risk a psychic break. Since there is no telling which approach will resolve the personal inequity of the MC, the MC must make a 'leap of faith' by choosing to discard his old way of doing things and adopt the MC Solution with the hope that he makes the correct choice (for him).


Steadfast characters' stories are slightly different. Generally-speaking, steadfast MC's do not have baggage at the beginning of the story -- at least baggage related to the personal issues to be explored in the story. Then, SOMETHING HAPPENS to throw the MC off balance (MC Symptom), which requires the MC to make a choice or do something in response (MC Response). This response to the event becomes the cornerstone of his apparent inequity. (For example, Dr. Richard Kimble's wife is murdered and he is wrongly convicted for her death.)

Unlike a change main character who comes fully-loaded with back story baggage and whose resolve is eroded as the story progresses, the story of a steadfast main character is the process of building UP the blinders. This works to focus the MC's resolve on the MC Symptom over the MC Problem (which acts as the source of the MC's drive). The Impact (Influence) Character performs the same function by increasing the pressure on the MC. With each act turn, the MC must shore up his resolve to counter the pressure placed on him by the IC.

By the end of the story, the amount of effort it takes the MC to maintain his resolve, matched by the IC's pressure to force him to change, threatens to overload the MC completely. Like a Change Main Character, the Steadfast Character cannot tell if continuing to try to resolve his personal issues by pursuing the MC Response is better than throwing away the source of his drive (MC Problem) and adopting the MC Solution. So, he makes a 'leap of faith' by blindly picking to stay the course and hopes it will resolve his personal issues.

Is there always a Leap of Faith moment for the Main Character where he is conscious of the choice?

Most understandings of story stress this moment for the Main Character. What does Dramatica have to say about it?

No, there does not always need to be a leap of faith.

Another way for a character to change is one where the character changes gradually over the course of the story without awareness of the change. We call it a creep instead of a leap.

One of the best examples I can think of is Hamlet in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Hamlet starts the story as someone who thinks too much (Thought as MC Problem). When given knowledge (MC Solution and OS Solution) of his father's murder by his father's ghost, Hamlet's reaction is to think it away ("Maybe the ghost is really a demon from hell sent to trick me" [paraphrased]). Hamlet is supposed to reveal his uncle, the new king, as the murderer.

Fast forward to the end of the play. The last scene has Hamlet in a duel with Laertes. Hamlet is acting as the King Claudius's proxy (!) in the duel. When the Queen, Hamlet's mother, drinks wine poisoned by King Claudius, Hamlet does not give a moment's thought, acts on the knowledge and kills the king on the spot.

At no point does Hamlet make a conscious choice to change, though he is changed over the course of the story.

Case in point: One big debate through the years is whether or not Hamlet was crazy. When the ghost tells Hamlet about the murder, Hamlet's approach as a Be-er is to pretend to be crazy. Since he is changed over the course of the story in a 'creep', not a leap of faith, it is unclear if part of the change includes going from pretending to be crazy to becoming a nutcase. My vote is the former, primarily because of my understanding of the storyform for the story.

What are some examples of State of Being as an Issue?

The dictionary describes State of Being as:

State of Being: one's true nature, State of Being describes the actual nature of a character -- essence, one's true self, true self, essential nature, core being

Are there any examples of this Issue in play within a story (besides those found in the Example Storyforms)? Be sure to include the throughline (Overall Story, Main Character, Influence Character or Relationship Story) since the context will have an influence over how it is colored.

This one is tough for me because I see "State of Being" and all I think of is Hamlet's MC throughline ("To be or not to be...").

So, I'll give an example by making one up on the spot. This will be the Relationship throughline with the following settings:

  • Domain: MANIPULATION (Psychology) -- Pretending to be Someone Else
  • Concern: DEVELOPING A PLAN -- Outdoing Someone by Skillful Planning
  • Issue: STATE OF BEING -- Seeing Someone's True Self
  • Problem: SPECULATION -- Guessing Something
  • Solution: PROJECTION -- Projecting the Present into the Future
  • Symptom: DESIRE -- Being Desirous
  • Response: ABILITY -- Being Someone Unable to do or be Something
  • Catalyst: SENSE OF SELF -- Understanding One's True Nature
  • Inhibitor: SUSPICION -- Being Suspect
  • Benchmark: CHANGING ONE'S NATURE -- Changing into something else

RELATIONSHIP: A famous actor (Marcus) and his body double (Aaron) as unequal co-workers.

Tension exists between teen idol Marcus Black and his equally photogenic and talented body double, Aaron as they work together closely on the pilot for a new cable series, "Burbank Rules." Spending so much time together let's them see each others true colors. Marcus is pompous, self-serving and insecure but famous, whereas Aaron is equally talented and driven, but unknown and inexperienced. The nature of their top dog / underdog relationship is made starkly visible to all concerned as the two become more agitated as first the crew, then the media begin to call them, "The Marcus Twins." (Issue of State of Being).

This gives 'the Twins' the idea of switching identities during a one week break in the filming schedule, a la Prince and the Pauper (Domain of Manipulation, Pretending to be Someone Else). Things get complicated by the fact that Aaron wants a shot at replacing Marcus...permanently, which he thinks might be possible if he plays things right (Concern of Outdoing Someone by Skillful Planning). They both think the problem in their relationship is the desire for what the other has (Symptom of Being Desirous), but feel safe as they look at each others different skill sets (Response of Being someone unable to do or be something).

Sparks fly in their relationship when Marcus asserts his 'obviously' superior talent (Catalyst of Sense of Self), but are squelched when their behavior makes each suspect they are more alike than not (Inhibitor of Suspicion).

As their experiment moves forward, the nature of their relationship slowly changes from top dog / underdog to that of peers and possibly even friends (Benchmark of Changing into something else). It is only as someone begins guessing about the nature of their relationship and ruse does any real trouble come between them and threaten to break up their teamwork (Problem of Guessing Something). But if they look at where their relationship might go given its present track, both Marcus and Aaron are happy with the prospects (Solution of Projecting the present into the Future).

Why does the Story Limit sometimes have no effect on the storyform?

Out of 32,767 unique storyforms that Dramatica can identify, there are some that appear to be duplicates. For example, if you make the following storyform choices:  Steadfast, Stop, Be-er, Holistic, Decision, Failure, Good, Psychology, Becoming, Commitment, Avoidance you are left with two possible storyforms -- the Story Limit being the deciding factor. Neither selection seems to have any appreciable effect on the final storyform, i.e. the Limit doesn't seem to make a difference. Why is this, and are there other appreciations that share this same quality?

The Story Limit does effect the storyform, just not in ways that are obvious (or visible) within the Dramatica Pro software. The biggest place this choice affects is the audience appreciation (story point) of AUDIENCE REACH. Audience Reach identifies which parts of your audience are likely to empathize with your Main Character. Audience Reach is determined by combining the choices for Story Limit and Main Character Problem Solving Style. Here are the combinations:







NOTE: The results of these story dynamic combinations are generally true, though results may differ for particular audience members.

*Previously known as Mental Sex: Male or Female

How Many Chapters in a Novel?

I am writing a novel and I am having difficulty with creating chapters. I know there is the “Step by step” process in Dramatica Pro that talks about the 28 character events and suggests that one each should be put into a single chapter. I will say that given that I have probably created something like 400 to 500 points of interest, to now drop them into 28 chapters in a way that makes sense seems like quite a challenge. Any suggestions?
Do NOT feel constricted to 28 chapters. That is one way to build them, but it primarily focuses on act sized plot elements. You may find it easier to construct scenes and then organize those scenes into chapters at a later point (or vice versa, for that matter). There is no generic way to write the correct number of scenes or chapters in a novel. I recommend looking at novels similar to your own to get ideas for organizing and presenting your story. Some novels are very formalized (such as Huckleberry Finn) and have titles that say what is going on in the chapter. Others break every major beat in a story into its own one or two page chapter. Whatever works, is my motto. I also recommend that you be flexible and feel free to change your mind as you go along.

How can I identify the Influence Character?

How can I identify who my Influence Character is when he/she is also involved in the rest of the story as an Objective Character?

First of all, try thinking about your story only in terms of what is REALLY going on -- not what SEEMS to be going on. This is the viewpoint that most clearly identifies the storyform. After you know what your story is truly about, then you can hide it, hint at it, and otherwise obfuscate it from your audience. The events as they TRULY transpire make up the story's Plot. The events as they are presented to the audience is what we call Storyweaving. In works that rely on mystery and suspense, the storyweaving will present things much differently than the linear progression of the Plot.

The questions you should then ask yourself is this: What is my Main Character's PERSONAL concern? This issue is something that the MC would take with him or her even if the other characters went away. That will help define the MC's point of view. Then ask the question: Who in the story has a fundamentally different and alternative Point of View on the same type of issues. Identifying that individual will help you identify WHO your Influence Character is.

The alternative approach is to PICK a character as the Influence Character and GIVE him/her an alternative world view to that of the MC. Sometimes that works -- especially if you do not have a clear idea who the Influence Character is.

On your point about what the Main Character's personal issue is, if his or her problem is "Disbelief" AND he or she is a character that ultimately changes to resolve his/her personal issues, this would indicate that FOR THIS CHARACTER looking at things in a skeptical manner leads to conflict or errors (or other such problematic behavior). This would imply that the personal solution for this character would be to open his or herself up to belief in order to resolve his/her personal issues. If the character ultimately Remains Steadfast to his/her skeptical approach in an effort to resolve his/her personal issues, then disbelief would be better understood to be the source of his/her drive and not so much as a "problem."

Concerning the teacher as an Influence Character, the teacher need not be aware of the MC or his/her impact on the MC for them to act as the IC. Of course, this is more difficult to storytell, but it is very doable. However, the IC must represent an alternative attitude or approach (paradigm) to that of the MC when considering the issue that is key to the MC. Having a different pov is not enough. It must be a different POV on a single issue -- the issue that is pivotal to the story in general and the MC specifically.

Let me reiterate about being "objective" about your own story. For the moment, dismiss the storyweaving from your considerations. Determine what is really going on in your story. Then, and only then, re-look at the Dramatica questions and answer them based on this purely Author's point of view. You should find this process a little easier, and hopefully determine the answers to the questions that are nagging at you.

Does the Influence Character have to be a person?

Does the Influence Character (or any other character for that matter) have to be a person? For instance, if the story is about someone facing the desert alone.

No. No character must be a person. They may be animals, minerals, or vegetables. HOWEVER, giving an inanimate object like a desert a "point of view" or "alternative paradigm to that of the Main Character" may take some clever storytelling for your audience to understand. Do not confuse normal, every day obstacles (like cacti, snakes, heat, etc.) for the type of personal impact that the Influence Character has on the Main Character. The IC helps strip away the MC's justifications or, in some instances, helps to build the MC's justification. The IC's impact is very personalized, whether or not the IC is even aware of the MC.

Can the Influence Character role be played by different characters?

Can the Influence Character be one thing for a time and then hand off to another player in Grand Argument Story? In other words, does IC have to be there from start to finish in the same player?

The Influence Character function can be handed off successfully from one Objective Character to another, but it is tricky. There is a section in the theory book on "hand offs" and it covers this topic pretty well. The idea is that the Influence Character function has to be felt throughout the entire story, whether they are actually present or not. The Influence Character is a presence whose impact is felt by the Main Character, forcing the Main Character to face their personal problems. This function can be held in one player and then picked up by another, but the same appreciations have to be at work in both players when they are being the Influence Character; i.e. the same Concern, Issue, Problem, Solution, Critical Flaw, Benchmark, etc.. If two characters in your story carry this function, then they should never meet in the same scene because it will feel like you have two of the same character in there. In a hand off, it is probably best to have the original Influence Character drop back to be less important to the story when a new player becomes the Influence Character. Maybe the original IC should drop out of the story altogether, it's up to you. But the more they hang around after giving up their original function, the more potential for confusion there will be.

The best hand off I've noticed yet is done in Clint Eastwood's In the Line of Fire. The Influence Character function is first held in Renee Russo's character, the woman agent who eventually becomes Clint's partner. But when Clint's first partner is murdered by John Malkovich's character, then the John Malkovich character takes over the Influence Character position. At this point, Renee Russo becomes pretty much an archetypal sidekick. The thrilling storytelling at the time of this switch helps hide what's really happening. The author's also seemed to really have a firm grasp of how they wanted this to work, so they never violated the hand off and successfully had two characters represent the Influence Character function.

Your question makes me think of another example of how an Influence Character can be woven into a story in an unconventional way. The play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams has an Influence Character who doesn't actually appear on stage to say any lines until the last third of the play. The Main Character in this play is Laura, the meek daughter who is kind of hidden in the play by her lack of dialogue and activity. But her devotion to an unrequited love from her old high school is brought up regularly in the play, and this person is coincidentally invited over for dinner toward the end of the play. This gentleman caller is the Influence Character, and the final scenes allow Jim O'Conner to continue his role as the Influence Character in person. This example illustrates how the Influence Character has to be present throughout the whole play in some manner or other (like in Laura's little shrine to Jim), but does NOT have to actually be there in person for every single act.

Why can’t the Main and Influence Characters both grow and change?

I don't understand why the Main Character and the Influence Character can't *both* grow and change in a story, for instance in a story of a marriage. In order for the marriage to be successful, chances are that both characters need to change.

Both the Main Character and the Influence Character do grow over the course of the story. However, character growth is different than fundamentally changing your outlook on an issue. The change/steadfast issue concerns the characters' resolve. The growth issue concerns the direction of the growth: out of something or away from something (stop), or into something or toward something (start). Besides, a "marriage" can have, figuratively speaking, a life of its own complete with its own central issues -- issues that are related to but different from those of the Main Character and Influence Character. In Dramatica, we call this relationship between the MC and the IC the Relationship Story Throughline.

Must you maintain the relative position of a character throughout the Build Characters window?

Must you maintain the relative position of a character throughout the sequence of motivation, method, evaluation, and purpose? (A review of some of the examples would suggest otherwise, however, there appear to be more than a few "hidden" relationships and limitations and thought the answer to this might save me time and effort.)

For Archetypal Characters, the answer is "Yes." For more complex, and generally more interesting, characters, the answer is "No." Archetypal characters are archetypal BECAUSE their motivations, methodologies, standards of evaluation, and purposes are completely supportive of each other. You can create very interesting characters by breaking the pattern between the "layers." For instance, an archetypal Protagonist "pursues" through a methodology of "Proaction." That is completely different than a complex character that "pursues" by using the methodology of "inaction" or "protection."

Are there any rules as to what objective elements the Main and Influence Character should have?

REGARDING the Objective Story Problem and Solution (and Symptom and Response), the answer is, "Yes, these elements will appear in the characters." The Main Character's objective function will be to embody one of these four elements with the Influence Character embodying its dynamic opposite. Which is which is dependent on a LOT of variables which I won't go into at this time. In a future version of Dramatica Story Expert we hope to have it determine it for you. Until that time, go with your instincts.

How do I interpret the objective character elements when forming complex characters?

How do I interpret the objective character elements when determining the formations of complex characters who do not respect the traditional archetypes?

Complex objective character interactions are similar to archetypal character interactions, just a little more . . . well, complex. What I mean is that you must interact the characteristics on a case by case basis using whichever characters they inhabit to make your point. Archetypal characters cluster non-conflicting characteristics together into each archetype, thereby simplifying the interactions. Complex characters might conflict in their methodology (e.g. Proaction vs. Reaction), for instance, yet be completely compatible in the motivations (e.g. Avoidance vs. Oppose -- little direct conflict here).

When using the suggested storyweaving methodologies, try thinking less in terms of the interactions of the "players" (i.e. you cast members), and think more in terms of the characteristics interactions. The players that have the characteristics will interact but potentially in different ways on different levels. Especially when you compare them to the rather simplistic interactions that archetypal characters have.

The bottom line is, the characteristics must be shown how they relate to one another. Characters (and players) are the means by which authors typically express those relationships/interactions. Our storybook worksheets are designed to show you how to work at presenting these interactions, but they favor the more simplified archetypal character relationships (to accommodate a more generalized audience). It may be time for you to use some of the concepts from the worksheets (introduction, interaction, etc.), but expand on them to fit your own needs.

How does Dramatica predict the order of character development?

The theory goes so far as to suggest that it can predict the necessary order and appearance of these dynamic elements. I feel like I have missed something very important about the structure of my story and the employment of character. Not only do I not know how to assign the elements effectively, I am beginning to unravel what I do understand about the structure and its relationship to my character formation. Where do I find such a prediction of character dynamics? How does the structure make such predictions?

That's why we refer to Dramatica as a theory of story. The program COULD do that type of prediction, but we do not allow it to. To do so, Dramatica begins to micro-manage the story development process which is completely antithetical to the creative process. In other words, don't look for this in Dramatica because you won't find it in any version of the software that has been released.

My recommendation to you is to loosen up a little on your objective characters. Understand that, from Dramatica's point of view, it doesn't matter which character elements each of your objective characters has. That is COMPLETELY a storytelling choice determined by you, the author, and will not have any bearing on the meaning of the STORYFORM. It will, however, have a potentially strong impact on your STORYTELLING (storyencoding and storyweaving). So even though it makes no difference to Dramatica, it will make a difference to you. SO . . . create characters that you want to populate your story. Follow the rule of 3's as a general guideline. Be aware of each character's characteristics when they interact to determine the nature and direction of those interactions. But most importantly, write it the way that FEELS and LOGICS right for you.

Why are the character examples from “Star Wars” limited to only the motivation set?

I have been using the Star Wars example as a guide to understand archetype interaction and organization in the "motivation" set. But the objective story problem is listed as "Physics: Test vs. Trust" which would be found in the evaluation set. Why then are the character interactions limited only to the "motivations" set?"

The Star Wars characters are actually archetypal only at the motivation level. The other character dimension sets are in completely non-archetypal arrangements. The purpose of using archetypal characters is to show the patterns that exist in the Dramatica model of story. In point of fact, very few stories (other than children's stories) contain lots of Dramatica archetypes. Most stories are populated with complex characters. Remember, the StoryGuide is designed to "guide" writers through the Dramatica process. It still requires that the writer bring their own writing skills and intuitions to bare.

Do I need to explore ALL the character interactions Dramatica suggests?

Am I to understand that I must complete interactions for the entire dimension which contains my crucial problem (evaluation)? The relationship between element quads is clear and the "Rule of Three's " is something I have known for years. But how do I handle the different dimension sets that I am using to describe my characters? Does the theory suggest that if I argue conflicts in motivation, evaluation, and methodology, I have to describe the interactions of all of my characters in each of these sets? That would add up to 72 interactions!

That's right. An absolutely, air tight, fully developed story will explore are four dimensions fully, but this is an exception rather than a rule in screenplays. Novels have the luxury of storytelling "real estate" in which to explore all of the character elements and their interactions in depth. Films are generally much more limited in the time (and "space") with which they have to spend illustrating the character element interactions. Therefore, exploring one dimension fully acts as a short-hand for exploring all four (much as Archetypal Characters act as a short hand for complex characters). You need only touch the other dimensions that differ from the "norm" that should be explored explicitly. I should note that more than one interaction can be done at a time, particularly if you have many objective characters present. Try to get as much mileage out of your storyweaving as possible by doubling or tripling up on your interactions, etc.

How do I build my characters using the Storyguide?

The StoryGuide is designed to lead you through a PARTICULAR method of creating a story in Dramatica using Archetypal Characters. It is far from the only way, rather it is a guideline for how a writer MIGHT approach developing a story using Dramatica. Since you are not using Archetypal Characters, do not follow the specific directions in the StoryGuide. Just keep in mind that each of your complex characters must be introduced, they must interact, and then they must be "dismissed" or be shown where they stand after the interactions. It's best not to think of Dramatica telling you what you HAVE to do, particularly when it concerns objective characters. The only thing that Dramatica is concerned with (re: objective characters) is that the character elements are shown in action. Dramatica doesn't care one whit about the distribution of the character elements into characters -- that's your storytelling choice as an author.

Can a character portray any characteristic?

Is it possible for any character to portray a characteristic as long as the character's characteristic(s) don't conflict?

This is iffy. Part of the function of the Objective Characters is to provide a certain constancy of approach or attitude in order for the audience to gauge what is what in the story. You can get around this by using "hand-offs," the technique of passing a function from one player to another. If you have a single player representing an OS function in one scene, and then a completely different, and possibly contradictory, function later on, your audience is likely to be confused. Since all of the Objective Characters are part of a single story point of view, the Objective Story point of view, their function is to represent those functions objectively. Your MC and IC, on the other hand, will change over the course of the story. They each contain the entire set of 64 elements -- the same elements that make up the entire "cast" of Objective Characters.

Regarding the Plot Sequence Report, should I look at purposes in terms of motivations?

In the Plot Sequence Report found in Dramatica Story Expert, Act I in the Objective Storyline says: "The Past is explored in terms of Rationalization, Obligation, Commitment, and Responsibility." So, here's the question: The Past is a Universe Type. Rationalization, Obligation, etc., are Psychology Variations. Does that mean that I should look at the objective characters' purposes in terms of their motivations with regard to the psychology variations?

Purposes and Motivations aren't really pertinent to the Objective Story's Thematic arenas. Rather than looking at what the Characters are doing, keep in mind that the Objective Throughline represents a point of view for the audience. From the objective view they will see not only characters, but plot, theme, and genre as well. Of course, this is most clearly seen in the Storyforming stage, and from encoding onward, the view may not be as consistent or clear.

So the point is, forget about characters when using this report and consider the whole point of view. Using the report this way means that the Act itself centers on an exploration of the Past. In other words, when you are exploring the grand scheme of the big picture of your story in an arm's distance sort of way that gives the audience a change to look at the dynamics involved without being personally involved, THEN you will be examining the Past, in Act 1.

Another way to say this is that all four throughlines will have an area around which they center in Act 1. The Past will be one of those four items that serve as the focus of attention for the audience. In your story, in Act 1, the Past will be looked at Objectively (or impersonally, though not necessarily without feeling.)

Now we add in the thematics. What kind of things about the Past will the audience be looking at? Or, turned around a bit, what measuring sticks will be used to judge things that happened in the Past? The answer is: Rationalization, Obligation, Commitment, and Responsibility. These four items describe more specifically than just the notion of "The Past" the areas of interest in the Past that Act 1 will explore most closely from an Objective point of view.

So, look at the wide-ranging plot events, the behaviors that affect or are exhibited by all your characters, the overall genre of your story as it develops in Act 1, and then see that from an Objective sense. Your audience will see these things as all revolving around the Past and being examined in terms of Rationalization, Obligation, Commitment, and Responsibility.

How do the Static Plot Appreciations work together?

Okay, so unless I misunderstand your meaning, for there to be 2 kinds of forewarnings, there may also be 2 different kinds of consequences (sort of); one is things worsening (or getting better) and the other is things not changing--i.e., "the Goal will not be achieved" (which, is a type of worsening or getting better from the audience's point-of-view).

All of the Dramatica story appreciations (or story points) in any single perspective have a relationship to each other. My example involving the story Forewarnings put forewarnings in two different contexts. The first was in terms of the Consequences (forewarnings as indicators of an impending Consequence). The second was in terms of the Goal (forewarnings as indicators that the Goal will not be achieved). Since Consequences are "what happens if the Goal is not achieved," then the second example could be read as: forewarnings as indicators of the Consequence (which is conceptually, if not linguistically, identical to the first example).

I'm not trying to play games with words here. What I'm trying to communicate is that there is a relationship between each of these items and ALL of its compatriot items. You may choose the context in which to look for understanding, but realize that changing the context of your understanding will not alter the relationship between the items.

Here is a COMPLETELY non-story related analogy that I hope gives you a "feel" for what I mean. Imagine a family consisting of one Father, one Mother, and one Child. The Father and Mother are married to each other. We can look at the child in terms of the Father, the Mother, or both (the marriage). Forewarnings are like the child of Goal and Consequences. They can be seen in either context, both of which are valid. The Child can be shown to be related to the Mother directly (the Child is the offspring of the Mother), or indirectly through the Father (the Child is the offspring of the wife of the Father). Both expressions of the relationship are accurate, but convey slightly different information. It's your job to pick which is most appropriate to the way you want to present the information.

Is an Objective Character the same as the Influence Character?

I have a handle on most Dramatica terms but I'm having troubles conceptualizing Objective Character. Is an Objective Character the same as an Influence Character?

No, they are quite different.

  1. Objective Characters have structural roles and are identified by their functions.
  2. The Influence character is a SUBJECTIVE character, which are identified by their points of view.

Here's a bit more background on how it all fits together...

A central concept of the Dramatica theory is that every complete story represents a model of a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity.

This occurs because in order to communicate an author must make a copy of what they have in mind and show it to the audience. This model of the author's perspective on his or her subject is called the Story Mind.

The audience examines this Story Mind from four different points of view. They are the Objective view (where we find the Objective Characters), The Main Character view (which is the subjective character who represents the audience position in the story), the Influence Character view (which is the subjective character who is trying to change the Main Character's point of view on the issues), and the Subjective view (which describes the growth of the relationship between the Main and Obstacle Characters).

The first view we will examine is from the outside looking in. This is the Objective View. From here, the audience sees characters like soldiers on a field viewed by a general on a hill overlooking the dramatic battle. There are foot soldiers, grenadiers, etc., all identified by their functions in the battle. In stories, we see these as the Protagonist, Antagonist, Sidekick, etc.

The second point of view with which an audience becomes involved with a story is for them to step into the story as if the audience were one of the players. When the audience leaves the general's hill and zooms down to stand in the shoes of one of the soldiers on the field, that soldier becomes the Main Character. The Main Character is simply the name of the player who represents the audience's position in the story.

Because Main Character is a point of view, it can be attached to any of the Objective Characters. So, in one story, the Main Character might be the Protagonist, creating the typical "hero". In another story, however, the Main Character might be the Sidekick, so that the audience observes what the Protagonist is doing without feeling like they are driving the story forward themselves. This is how things are set up in To Kill A Mockingbird, in which Atticus (the Gregory Peck part in the movie) is the Protagonist (driving the action forward) while his young daughter Scout provides the audience position in the story (which is told through her child's eyes) making her the Main Character.

Now, as the Main Character makes his or her way through the dramatic battle, he or she encounters another "soldier" blocking the path. The other soldier says, "change course!" But is it a friend trying to prevent the Main Character from walking into a mine field or an enemy trying to lure the Main Character into an ambush. This other solder is the Influence Character.

The Influence Character represents the alternative paradigm to the Main Character's existing opinions about the central issue of the story. It is their dramatic purpose in the story to force the Main Character to reconsider changing his or her long-held views. This provides the other side of the story's argument, making it a full exploration of the topic, not just a one-sided statement.

Sometimes the Influence Character is right, and sometimes wrong. And sometimes the Main Character chooses the good path and sometimes the bad one. Also, the Influence Character may not even know they have such an influence on the Main Character as to make him or her consider changing attitudes or approaches. The Influence Character can be a role model, even one on TV or from the past, whose presence or recorded works argue the alternative paradigm and influence the Main Character.

The fourth perspective is the Subjective view. This is simply a tale of the growth of the relationship between the Main and Obstacle Characters, as the Main Character is progressively influenced to change even while seeking to hold on to the tried and true. It is this view that gives a story its passionate flavor for an audience, as they watch the two "boxers" circling each other in the "ring".

When all four points of view are provided, all the principal ways of looking at a story's issues are built into the Story Mind. The Main Character is the "I" perspective for the audience - first person singular. Influence Character is "you" (for we never see things from the Obstacle's point of view, but rather look AT the Influence from the Main Character's point of view). The Subjective view is "we" as it describes the relationship between Main and Obstacle. The Objective view provides the "they" perspective, as the audience watches the Objective Characters from the outside looking in.

So, one must develop a complete set of Objective Characters. Then, one of those characters needs to be selected as the audience position in the story (which will affect the whole feel of how the battle unfolds). This will become the Main Character. Next, another Objective Character must be selected as the Influence Character. Which one will determine the complex nature of the relationship between Main and Influence, as part of their interchange will occur between their Objective Character aspects in the Objective story, and part will occur between the Subjective Character points of view in the Subjective story (Relationship Story).

Keep in mind that looking at a character as a doctor, mother, bum, or husband does NOT say anyting about whether they are a Protagonist, Antagonist or any other Objective Character. Objective Characters determine who is for something, who is against it, who acts primarily according to Reason and who with Emotion, and so on. The Mother may be the Protagonist, the Reason character, or even the Sidekick. And choosing her as the Main or Influence would add another level of complexity.

So, it is important for consistency and completeness of the argument made through the Story Mind to assign all the Objective Characters a role in your story and to make one a Main Character and one an Influence Character. But, the "feel" of your story won't truly develop until you assign the social roles these characters fulfill in your story world as well.

Often an author will wish to start with a Mother character or some other social role. Only then does the process begin of determining who is Main and Influence, and then determining what Objective Characters each represents.

How you approach the creation of the full complement of Characters and their roles is up to you. That it must be done is a result of the necessity of creating a Story Mind for the audience to both inspect and possess as the conduit of communication between author and audience.

If the Influence Character is a passenger in the Overall Story, will it weaken that story?

Is having your Influence Character as a passenger in the Overall Story an acceptable situation, or does it weaken that Overall Story?

It is quite an acceptable situation and in no way weakens the OS. Typically, the IC is given a stronger role in films/screenplays because of the limited length of the work. It is easier to have the IC do multiple duty (the MC as well) in order to economize on time. That's why Archetypes appear so frequently. They are storytelling shorthand for potentially complex relationships. Longer works or novels have the luxury to examine a "passenger" IC to the fullest.

Is there an example where the Influence Character is a mere passenger in the Objective Story?

Die Hard (#1). John's wife is the Influence Character to his Main Character. She is definitely NOT a "mover and shaker" or "driver" in the story sense. Another example is Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird. Boo is the Influence Character to Scout's Main Character.

In the Archetypal structure, does the Influence Character have to be among the Drivers?

No. The Influence Character can be on the sidelines. However, the IC has a tendency to look more active than many of the Objective Characters purely because of the screen time or book space they take up in the exploration of their personal point of view and with their involvement in the Relationship Story.

What relationship does the Influence Character have to the rest of the Objective Characters?

The Influence Character (IC) is tied to one of four characteristics in the Objective Story (OS): the OS problem, OS solution, OS focus, or the OS direction. The Main Character (MC) is also tied to this quad of elements. Determining which one is a little beyond the scope of this email, but suffice it to say that these are the ONLY elements that are required to tie the MC and IC to the OS. Traditionally, however, authors tend to make their MC and IC a little more integrated into the "big picture" Objective Story.

Does Dramatica account for stories with multiple Main Characters?

I have written a novel that has three points of view (POV, i.e., three limited omniscient characters through whom we see the story) as most writing sources describe, i.e., as Al Zuckerman defines them in his book, “How to Write the Blockbuster Novel.” Zuckerman recommends multiple points of view and it is a very popular and successful technique (Ken Follett, Clancy). Yet it seems Dramatica is set-up to only deal with one Main Character or one POV. How do I use Dramatica for a story like mine with two main characters/protagonists and one antagonist for both main characters? Each chapter is from the POV of only one of the three characters.

First of all, there are actually FOUR POVs in Dramatica—one for each of the throughlines: Main Character, Impact Character, Objective Story (where the Protagonist and Antagonist do their stuff), and the Relationship Story. The Main and Impact Character POVs are the most obvious source of at least TWO points of view. The Protagonist and/or the Antagonist (or any other character in the Objective Story throughline for that matter) can present even more points of view. The big question is, are the multiple points of view truly different from each other, or are some of them the same “paradigm” but shown through the eyes of two or more players? You can have a Main Character point of view that seems to float from one character to another—the bodies change but their take on the world around them is the same. It’s tough, but it is frequently done, particularly in novels. Another approach is to enhance the main story with substories. Each substory will have its own Main Character thereby adding to the multitude of POVs going on in the work. Stephen King uses this approach A LOT.

Getting inside a character’s head doesn’t necessarily make them the “Main Character.” It’s a storytelling device that works particularly well in novels and not quite as well in films or television. We can do this with ANY character in the work, but there should be some indication somewhere in your story as to who you want your audience to most identify with. If you don’t, you have chosen not to make an argument and the interpretation of the work will be left in the hands of the audience (sometimes this is desired). However, if you ARE trying to make a point and you would like your audience to follow you to its conclusion, then, and only then, should you clearly delineate the four throughlines. Your audience need not be able to identify each throughline from the beginning of the story, but by the end they should be able to reconstitute it in its “true” form.

How can I use Dramatica to help write a story with two Main Characters?

If I can’t have two Main Characters in one story, how do I use Dramatica to structure two stories with the same characters but different main characters when the plots depend each on happenings in the other plot?

Create separate story files for each of the two stories. If you create your character list in one first, you can then use the “Save As…” or “Save A Copy…” commands to create a duplicate with which to work on the second story.

You assign the Main Character and Impact Character designations by bringing up the story info window for the character you want. Use the “Special Identification” popup to set the MC or IC designation.

Assign Objective Story characteristics (the items which comprise the Protagonist, Antagonist, etc.) in the Build Characters window or by using the “Type” popup in the character info window. If you use the Type popup, it will make archetypal characteristic assignments. It is unlikely that you will have full-on archetypes so you should futz with adding and removing characteristics until you are comfortable with the settings. Note: even though all of the characteristics must be used in your story, writers frequently assign only the characteristics they feel are clearly represented by a character. Elements that are not clearly represented may not be assigned to a specific character (though still need to be addressed in the body of the story).

Your description of the shorter and longer stories in the novel is a common technique in epics, series TV, and other longer form or complex works. You really should work out each story separately, even if they share the exact same character set. Once you have your two separate stories thought through, you will then need to determine how you plan to weave the separate stories together.

What Dramatica term/s is analogous to “obstacles” the Main Character must overcome?

The nature of the personal “obstacles” that the Main Character needs to overcome are tied to his problem and symptom. The Main Character Problem is the source of his drive which MAY be severely problematic for him. The Main Character Symptom is the primary symptom of the problem and will generally be where the Main Character thinks his problem really is. The Main Character will also be dealing with difficulties arising from the Relationship Story—the relationship between the Main Character and the Impact Character. The nature of those conflicts may or may not be thematically linked to each other. Another way to look at it is in terms of the MC Resolve: Change or Steadfast? This describes what the Main Character does (not what he should do). Obstacles from this point of view are generally events or scenarios that challenge the Main Character’s Resolve. These are most frequently associated with the Impact Character. Originally, the Impact Character was referred to as the Obstacle Character for this very reason.

Can a Main Character’s Goal change?

For example, if a Main Character has a goal is to be a concert violinist, but then ends up in jail, can he change his Goal to one of survival?

A Main Character can have a personal goal at the outset of the story which can change before the first act of the story is completed. The new goal should be the same through the end of the story (at which point the original one might pop up again to start a different story). Over the course of the story, the MC’s personal goal will have its own requirements, prerequisites, preconditions, consequences, etc. that he must address on the way toward achieving his goal.

Warning: Do not confuse the MC’s personal goal with the Protagonist’s efforts to achieve the Objective Story Goal. Though you may design a character that is both the MC and Protagonist, do not make the mistake of combining the MC’s Goal and the Objective Story’s Goal—they are different.

Can you clarify the difference between Equity and Inequity?

For example: a man is a good guy and equitable. Now something happened to him that seems like inequitable. Is the MC-problem now equity or inequity? Inequity drives him on so I would choose inequity. Is this OK or not?

If when you use the terms “Equity” and “Inequity” you are referring to the Dramatica elements of those names, then the answer is YES—Inequity would be the Main Character’s problem because it is the source of his drive. (I think that this is the answer you’re looking for). If, however, you are using the terms “Equity” and “Inequity” in a more generalized sense to indicate states of balance and imbalance respectively, then the Dramatica term “Inequity” would only be one of the possible 64 choices for the Main Character’s problem.

Why can’t the Main and Influence Characters both change?

I don’t understand why the Main Character and the Impact Character can’t both grow and change in a story, for instance in a story of a marriage. In order for the marriage to be successful, chances are that both characters need to change.

Both the Main Character and the Impact Character do grow over the course of the story. However, character growth is different than fundamentally changing your outlook on an issue. The Change/Steadfast issue concerns the characters’ resolve. The growth issue concerns the direction of the growth: out of something or away from something (stop), or into something or toward something (start). Besides, a “marriage” can have, figuratively speaking, a life of its own complete with its own central issues—issues that are related to but different from those of the Main Character and Impact Character. In Dramatica, we call this relationship between the MC and the OC the Relationship Story throughline.

What can I do about a story with two Main Characters?

I have two Main Characters in my story. I also have a problem in that another characters seems to be both the Protagonist of the Objective Story and the Impact Character in the Main Character’s story. How do I insert these distinctions?

Dramatica does not allow for more than one Main Character in a story. By Main Character, we are referring to the character through whose eyes the audience experiences the story, the very personal, “in the trenches” point of view. This is not the same thing as a Protagonist, nor the same as a principle or primary character, nor the “player” that these characters are played by. Very few stories have multiple Main Characters within a single story. Usually, when there is more than one Main Character, there is more than one story going on. If that is the case in your story, then you will want to create a different storyform for each Main Character. Stories that have multiple Main Characters work because the MC’s share exactly the same world view and they “hand off” the role back and forth. This is quite difficult to do—principally because the audience is unaccustomed to “body hopping” in their normal experiences.

The terms Antagonist, Protagonist, Main Character, and Impact Character have a very specific meaning in Dramatica. The Antagonist and Protagonist are part of what we call the Objective Characters which represent various approaches to problem solving in the Objective Story throughline (the “big picture”). The Main Character and the Impact Character are participants in the Relationship Story throughline and are identified by their points of view, not their functions. These objective and subjective characters are put into “players,” be they human or otherwise. For example, the “player” Luke in Star Wars is both the Protagonist and the Main Character. He functions as both the prime mover in the Objective Story throughline (trying to blow up the Death Star) and the personal point of view in the Relationship Story throughline (training to be a Jedi Knight). This is different from the way most story theorists approach story.

What about stories with too many characters?

What does one do when one has so many characters, as in James Clavell’s Shogun?

Well, in something like Shogun, there are MANY substories intertwined with the main story (a Portuguese pilot stranded in Japan who falls in love with an “off limits” woman and becomes embroiled in local conflicts while trying to get himself and his shipmates back home). Adding substories (which can include sub-plots, sub-characters, sub-themes, and even sub-genres) adds a richness and density to the work, but are not essential to relating the “message” (storyform) of the main story.

Can one character replace another within the structure?

Can a character archetype function (I’m thinking of Contagonist here) be displayed by one character who then drops out of the story about half way through, and then this function be taken up by another character - whether new or not???

Yes. We call this a “hand-off” and is briefly spoken of in the Dramatica theory book. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to indicate this in the Dramatica software at this time. Hint: Avoid having the hand-off characters in the same place at the same time. It is redundant and can be confusing for the audience.

Is the Emotion Archetype always the Love Interest/Influence Character in a story?

Is the Emotion Archetype most often the Love Interest and also the Impact Character in a story?

That is perhaps the current convention in action pictures, but has not been the case in the past. In 40s films, for example, the Impact/Love Interest is often the Guardian, or even the Reason archetype.

Perhaps the one thing that IS rather consistent is that the Love Interest (if there is one) is often the Impact Character, regardless of the objective role, archetypal or complex. Still, in Star Wars, Obi-wan is the Impact Character, but Leia is something of the Love Interest.

That is one reason that thinking about Heroes, Villains, and Love Interests is much too indelicate to describe what is really happening in stories. Though certain combinations may come in and out of vogue (such as the anti-heroes of the late sixties and early seventies) thinking in conventional terms is contrary to coming up with unique combinations of one’s own that elevate a story as being not quite like anything else.

One final note: In Aliens the Archetypal role of Guardian is split between the Michael Biehn part and the Paul Burke part, each getting half of the Guardian characteristics and half of the Contagonist characteristics.. Biehn is Help from the Guardian, but Temptation (“Nuke them from orbit” - which will never make Ripley face her fear) from the Contagonist, whereas Burke is Hinder from the Contagonist but Conscience (“You gotta get back on the horse!” - which is just what she really needs to do) from the Guardian.

In short, there are no right or wrong combinations, just commonly used conventions which on the positive side are immediately recognizable by the audience, yet on the negative side are predictable and pedestrian.

Why are character interactions limited only to the Motivations set?

I have been using the Star Wars example as a guide to understand archetype interaction and organization in the “motivation” set. But the objective story problem is listed as “Physics: test vs. trust” which would be found in the evaluation set. Why then are the character interactions limited only to the “motivations” set?”

The Star Wars characters are actually archetypal only at the motivation level. The other character dimension sets are in completely non-archetypal arrangements. The purpose of using archetypal characters is to show the patterns that exist in the Dramatica model of story. In point of fact, very few stories (other than children’s stories) contain lots of Dramatica archetypes. Most stories are populated with complex characters. Remember, the StoryGuide is designed to “guide” writers through the Dramatica process. It still requires that the writer bring their own writing skills and intuitions to bare.

Do you have to keep the Archetypal Motivations Dramatica assigns?

Once you have assigned a character a role as an Archetype, does it matter if you change their motivation? Or must you keep the Archetypal Motivations that Dramatica assigns?

The purpose of using archetypal characters in a story is as a storytelling shorthand. The characters appear much more simplistic (less complex) than “real” people, though they still are well rounded (motivations, methodologies, etc.). It doesn’t matter to Dramatica if you reassign motivations after you assign an archetype to a character, providing that you understand that you are thereby making the character more complex and “less” archetypal. We use archetypes in the StoryGuide because it is simpler to lead you (and every other writer who follows it) through the process.

Does the Impact Character have to be a Driver character?

In the Archetypal structure, does the Impact Character have to be among the drivers?

No. The Impact Character can be on the sidelines. However, the IC has a tendency to look more active than many of the Objective Characters purely because of the screen time or book space they take up in the exploration of their personal point of view and with their involvement in the Relationship Story.

Can an Antagonist be redeemed?

That’s a storytelling and Story Reception issue more so than a storyforming issue. You can certainly have an extremely “bad” or antagonistic person find the err of their ways, BUT modern audiences may not buy into the happy ending business. This goes in and out of fashion. Modern adult American audiences have a jaundiced view toward “easy” changes of heart and tend to distrust them.

Can the Antagonist change?

I wouldn’t suggest that the Antagonist change so much as the Impact Character, who just happens to be the Antagonist as well, change. An Antagonist can change after they have won or been beaten, but they shouldn’t do so before that point, otherwise the Objective Story will not have any sense of closure—providing you want to tell a Grand Argument Story that is, in fact, a closed story, i.e. a complete argument.

If the Antagonist changes, will that result in a Happy Ending?

I have a wife as the Antagonist, but I want in the end for the husband and wife to come back together again. Is it possible?

Certainly. Scrooge in A Christmas Carol is certainly the Antagonist (though he happens to be the MC as opposed to the IC), and as a result of his change he is now back in the graces of his fellow Londoners, including his nephew, his debtors, and Bob Cratchet and family.

If the Main Character is the Protagonist, should the Crucial Element be part of the Archetype?

If a Main Character is also the protagonist of the story should the Crucial Element always be one of the elements that make up a Protagonist archetype (pursuit, consider etc.) or can it be any element you choose?

The simple answer is that the crucial element can be any element you want. HOWEVER, you bring up some other issues and they warrant a little follow up commentary.

If your Main Character is a FULLY archetypal main character, then the crucial element would be one of the MC’s eight elements (pursue, consider, actuality, knowledge, proven, effect, certainty, or proaction). Our Star Wars example, on the other hand, is a bit of a cheat. Though the eight principle characters align themselves at the Motivation level into a Dramatica Archetypal Character pattern (and therefore have the “appearance” of truly archetypal characters), the pattern does not hold up as you explore the three other levels of character: Methodology, Purpose, and Means of Evaluation.

Since Star Wars emphasis is decidedly NOT on character, the other levels are not nearly as well drawn as the character Motivations. This works reasonably well because the audience is given enough information to infer that the characters are archetypes. Encoding characters this way frees the author from having to illustrate every function of a character because the rest of the functions are implied. The author only needs to be explicit when a character represents a non-archetypal characteristic.

Is a Success Outcome dependent on whether the Protagonist wins?

If the Protagonist in an archetypal story is pursuing something bad and the Main Character (who is the Antagonist) is trying to stop him, how does this affect the outcome of a story? Is a Success outcome dependent on whether the Protagonist wins, or whether the Main Character wins?

The Outcome is always dependent on what is going on in the Objective Story and does not directly relate to the Main Character or the MC’s wishes. For instance, the Objective Story might be about an assassination attempt on the President. If the Protagonist was the prime mover toward killing the President, then Outcome would be based on whether or not he succeeded in doing so (Success if he dies, Failure if he lives). Conversely, if the Protagonist was trying to protect the President from assassination, then the Outcome would be based on how effective he was at preventing the murder (Failure if he dies, Success if he lives).

What is the Overall Story Problem?

What is the source of the central problem that affects all your characters in the story?

As an author you will want to know what drives your Main Character. Selecting the Main Character problem determines the nature of this drive. Choose the item(s) that best describes this issue. Main Character Problem: the source of The Main Character's motivation; the source of the Main Character's problems.

Without motivation - without a Problem - there is no inequity that spurs the Main Character to better his lot. Sometimes it may seem that Problems exist in our environment. Other times, we may perceive a Problem with ourselves: the way we act or feel. In truth, Problems really exist between ourselves and our environment as an inequity between the two.

As example, we may hang on to our desires, even though it causes trouble around us. Conversely, a whole situation might be faltering because of one stubborn individual. These are really two ways of looking at the same inequity. One casts the Problem in the environment, the other places it in the person. So when we look at the Main Character's Problem, we are really looking at the inequity of the story at large as it is reflected in the Main Character.

The relative importance of knowing the underlying Overall Story Problem varies depending on the choices you have made about Main Character and Plot. Once again, it is a matter of emphasis rather than elimination. In some stories, the Problem will be the key to determining how you will approach the Storytelling illustrations, while in others it will seem less relevant to the story's thematic progression.

In the case of Jurassic Park, the Problem is more essential than the Thematic Range to the storyline. Within the Issue of Fate, the story explores the imbalance between Chaos and Order. But its message is felt as an underlying sensation rather than a constant point of focus as the primary characters try to save themselves by containing the huge dinosaurs within the park's electric fences.

Examples of Overall Story Problems:

  • A Doll's House--Awareness
  • Being There--Chaos
  • Barefoot in the Park--Control
  • Body Heat--Pursuit
  • Chinatown--Desire
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral--Disbelief
  • The Fugitive--Help
  • The Glass Menagerie--Pursuit
  • The Great Gatsby--Faith
  • Hamlet--Thought
  • In the Line of Fire--Trust
  • Jurassic Park--Order
  • The Verdict--Disbelief
  • Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?--Order

What is the Overall Story Issue?

What is the thematic issue that affects all of your characters in your story?

In stories, it is not only important what you wish the audience to look at but also in what light you want them to see it. The point of view from which the audience evaluates the meaning of the story is crucial to supporting the conclusion to a given argument. Issue helps select a filter through which the author can control the shading of the events that unfold. In a sense, Issue provides the audience with a yardstick and tells them, “measure what you see by this scale.”

Examples of Overall Story Issues:

  • A Doll’s House—Senses vs. Interpretation
  • Being There—Situation vs. Circumstances
  • Barefoot in the Park—Hope vs. Dream
  • Body Heat—Self-Interest vs. Morality
  • Chinatown—Interdiction vs. Prediction
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral—Commitment vs. Responsibility
  • The Fugitive—Preconception vs. Openness
  • The Glass Menagerie—Delay vs. Choice
  • The Great Gatsby—Dream vs. Hope
  • Hamlet—Truth vs. Falsehood
  • In the Line of Fire—Confidence vs. Worry
  • The Verdict—Openness vs. Preconception
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf—Situation vs. Circumstances

Overall Story Issue: The thematic interpretation of the scenario against which a story takes place

Impact Character as Protagonist

I'm wondering if you could point me to examples of a stories where the Impact Character is also the Protagonist?
In order to determine the protagonist, one must determine the Story Goal. The protagonist is the character leading the charge toward that goal. Here are some examples that come to mind: Road to Perdition: The story goal is to protect Sullivan's son from the organized crime families. Father (Tom Hanks) is the Impact Character and protagonist. His son is the Main Character. Sherlock Holmes novels, generally: The story goal is to solve the case. Holmes is the protagonist/Impact Character. Watson is the Main Character. NOTE: This is NOT true for the Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes, which has an MC Protagonist. The Terminator: The story goal is to protect Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese is the protagonist/Impact Character. Sarah Connor is the Main Character. The Great Gatsby: The story goal is to win the love of Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby is the protagonist/Impact Character. The writer Nick Carraway is the Main Character. All About Eve: The story goal is to become a star and be famous. Though these are complex characters, Eve Harrington is the IC/Pursue character. Margo Channing is the Main Character. The Shawshank Redemption: The story goal is to escape prison. Red is the Main Character. Andy is the protagonist/Impact Character.

What is the Overall Story Concern?

Which area of concern are ALL the characters in your story interested in or worried about regarding the overall story goal?

Within the scenario against which your story takes place, there is an area of shared importance to all the characters in your story. Select the item(s) that best describes this Concern. Overall Story Concern: the purposes or interests sought after by the Overall Characters.

Problems can manifest themselves in several ways. Therefore, simply defining the nature of a Problem does not necessarily predict its effect. For example, if the Problem is that there is not enough money to pay the rent, it might motivate one person to take to drink but another to take a second job. The effects of a Problem are not necessarily bad things, but simply things that would not have happened quite that way without the existence of the Problem. So it is with Concerns.

The choice of Concern determines the principal area affected by the story’s Problem and serves as a broad indicator of what the story is about.

The Concern of a story tends to revolve around a definable area of activity or exploration. This central hub may be internal such as Memories or Conceiving an Idea (coming up with an idea). Or, it may be external such as Obtaining or How Things are Changing. When choosing a Concern it is often useful to ask, “Which of these items do I want the characters in my story to examine?”

Keep in mind that the Concern only describes WHAT is being looked at. HOW to look at it is determined by choosing the Issue. The choice of Concern sets limits on how much dramatic ground the Theme can potentially encompass and therefore includes some kinds of considerations and excludes others.

Three of the 16 Concerns are Obtaining, Understanding and How Things Are Changing. For example, an Obtaining Concern can be seen in Body Heat as both the wife (Matty Walker, played by Kathleen Turner) and the lawyer (Ned Racine, played by William Hurt) are concerned with obtaining money. This propels them to plot the murder of her rich husband, which leads to further complications for the naive lawyer.

An Understanding Concern is seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind as both Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler (played by Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon) are trying to understand why they’re drawn to Devil’s Tower. At the same time, the scientists are trying to understand what’s happening in the heavens through the increased number of extra-terrestrial sightings, the consistent musical tones they are receiving from Space, and other unusual signs from above.

A How Things Are Changing Concern is explored in Dances With Wolves as both the Sioux and Lt. John Dunbar (played by Kevin Costner) are concerned with how things are going between the Native Americans and the white men who are encroaching on their land and eliminating their traditional means of survival—primarily the buffalo. The white soldiers are also concerned about how things are going between the Native Americans and themselves in addition to the progressive influence the railroad is having on the Western frontier.

Examples of Objective Story Concerns:

  • Blade Runner—Obtaining
  • Body Heat—Obtaining
  • Chinatown—The Past
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind—Understanding
  • Dances with Wolves—Progress
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral—Becoming
  • Hamlet—Memory
  • In the Line of Fire—The Preconscious
  • The Fugitive—The Future
  • The Verdict—The Future
  • Who’s Afraid of Virigina Woolf?—Conceptualizing

What is the Overall Story Throughline?

If you pull back and look at the story from a bird’s eye view, which general area best describes the nature of the problems ALL the characters are dealing with? Does the story’s conflicts stem from a Situation, an Activity, a Fixed Attitude, or Manipulations?

An author cannot successfully make an argument promoting a solution until he or she has identified the Problem. In stories, Problems can be identified as falling into four broad categories: Situations, Activities, States of Mind, and Manners of Thinking.

These categories are named by the four Classes, Situation (a situation), Activity (an activity), Fixed Attitude (a state of mind), and Manipulation (a manner of thinking).

  • Situation represents an External State
  • Activity an External Process
  • Fixed Attitude is an Internal State
  • Manipulation is an Internal Process

Since they are related, all four of these Classes will figure in every story as the Problem works its influence into all areas of consideration. However, only one Class will ultimately prove to be both the source of the Problem’s roots and therefore the place it must ultimately be solved.

The Overall Story Throughline is the throughline which describes how all of the story’s characters have been brought together. By choosing this Throughline, the author sets the background against which the story will be told. Therefore, its influence is gently felt throughout the story.

A SITUATION story deals with an unacceptable situation - one in which the external environment is seen as problematic. This could be a job situation with poor working conditions, being trapped in a sunken ship, waking up as someone else, living next to an orphanage that keeps you awake at night with its screaming waifs or any other intolerable state of affairs. Often, the best way to see a Situation Overall Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Situation: The Past, How Things are Changing, The Future, and The Present. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Overall Characters in a Situation Overall Story.

An ACTIVITY story employs an activity that needs to arrive at a solution. This might be the effort to steal the crown Jewels, win the love of your heart’s desire, make the Olympic team, or raise the money to buy the orphanage and evict all the screaming waifs. Note that if the existence of the orphanage is the focus of the story, it is a Situation (Situation) Throughline. However, if the effort to buy it is the focus, it is a Activity (Activity) Throughline. Often, the best way to see a Activity Overall Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Activity: Doing, Gathering Information, Understanding, and Obtaining. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Overall Characters in a Activity Overall Story.

In a like manner, the Fixed Attitude Throughline reflects a state of mind and the Manipulation Throughline describes a mental activity (or manner of thinking). A FIXED ATTITUDE story might be about prejudice, a lack of self-worth (if it is a fixed view), or a refusal to see the value of someone’s desires. Remember that, as an Overall Story Throughline, these fixed states of Mind will be the source of the problems that everyone in the Overall Story deals with. This would be an Overall view of problems of fixed states of mind, and not looking at how it feels to have these fixations. Often, the best way to see a Fixed Attitude Overall Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Fixed Attitude: Memories, Impulsive Responses, Innermost Desires, and Contemplation. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Overall Characters in a Fixed Attitude Overall Story.

A MANIPULATION Throughline supports stories where people take too many risks, are egocentric, or make light of serious situations. Overall Stories of this Throughline will look at the effect of a person’s or persons’ thinking in these ways to manipulate others. Placing the Overall Story in this Throughline means in essence that the story will objectify Manipulation, taking an Overall view of these ways of thinking and their effects. The problems that everyone in the Overall Story deals with will come from ways of thinking and their manipulations. Often, the best way to see a Manipulation Overall Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Manipulation: Developing a Plan, Playing a Role, Changing One’s Nature, and Conceiving an Idea. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Overall Characters in a Manipulation Overall Story.

As a final note, it is important to keep in mind that stories are often not about a problem that exists but a desire to be fulfilled. Stories of this nature can create a much more positive feel as exemplified in a Situation story in which an heiress must spend a million dollars in 24 hours to inherit 30 million more, a Activity story where a mountaineer hopes to be the first to scale a mountain on Mars, a Fixed Attitude story of unconditional love, or a Manipulation story about overcoming a dependence on sedatives. The choice of Throughline narrows the playing field of a story. Without actually putting up walls, choosing a Throughline shifts the focus of audience attention by establishing the center around which broad scale dynamics will revolve. The Dramatica engine is calibrated to this center. To illustrate the differences between throughline classes, let’s consider how different story concepts might be illustrated in each of the four perspectives:

Overall Story Throughlines that deal with a Situation

All of the characters are concerned with maintaining or demolishing a situation (e.g. The Verdict or The Fugitive). For example, a country under the thumb of an authoritarian dictator; the condition of a dysfunctional family; a utopian society; a submarine trapped under the ice; progress in one-sided relationships; a murder that occurred 30 years ago; the future of gay rights; the forces that bring on an ice age.

Overall Story Throughlines that deal with an Activity

All of the characters are concerned with an activity or endeavor (e.g. Star Wars or Blade Runner). For example, searching for lost treasure; engaging in a sport; exercising as a way of life; self-flagellation; taking part in a cattle drive; learning about DNA; obtaining secret plans; understanding messages from space, etc.

Overall Story Throughlines that deal with a Fixed Attitude

All of the characters are concerned with a fixed aspect of the mind (e.g. Hamlet or The Client). For example, a community’s firm belief in the occult; a family’s commitment to the memory of its ancestors (ancestor worship); TV addiction; a culture’s fixation on celebrities; a Martian’s prejudice against humans; unthinking responses to the conditions of war; essential desires and drives, etc.

Overall Story Throughlines that deal with Manipulations

All of the characters are concerned with a mental process or manner of thinking (e.g. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Four Weddings and a Funeral). For example, curing a mental illness; determining why someone’s relationships always fail; becoming a new person; being more responsible to the environment; working through childhood trauma; mass manipulation through propaganda; a group of young people coming of age; a team’s creative effort to work out an idea; people pretending to be things they are not, etc. Overall Story Throughline: The scenario against which a story takes place.

What is the Story Judgment?

Does the Main Character resolve his personal problems and feel Good (such as Luke finally trusting his skills in Star Wars) or not resolve them and feel Bad (such as Clarice Starling still being haunted by her childhood memories in The Silence of the Lambs)?

The notion that the good guys win and the bad guys lose is not always true. In stories, as in life, we often see very bad people doing very well for themselves (if not for others). And even more often, we see very good people striking out.

If we only judged results by success and failure, it wouldn’t matter if the outcome was Good or Bad as long as it was accomplished. The choice of Good or Bad tempers the story’s success or failure by showing whether the Main Character resolves his personal problems or not.

The Story Judgment provides you with an opportunity to address good guys that win and bad guys that fail, as well as good guys that fail and the bad guys that win. It also allows you to comment on the success or failure of your characters’ growth as human beings.

An example of a story where a Main Character’s personal problem—finding inner peace—remains unresolved at the end is The Silence of the Lambs. The abduction of the Senator’s daughter initiates the Overall Story so her rescue provides its resolution. But Clarice’s personal problem—her recurring nightmares of lambs crying as they’re being slaughtered—is emphasized as she plays “cat and mouse” with Dr. Lecter. When he asks her in the end whether “the lambs are still crying,” it is clear by her silence that they are. She will not be at peace until she releases her need to save innocents, so the story ends with a Bad feeling even though the Overall Story is successful and her future as an FBI agent seems bright. This juxtaposition creates a bittersweet ending which is further emphasized by the somber music playing over the final shots.

In contrast, Charlie Babbott (played by Tom Cruise) in Rain Man is seeking to collect an inheritance left by his wealthy father to the autistic brother he’s never met. When Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) turns out to be a “idiot savant” in mathematics, able to memorize an entire phone book and “count cards,” Charlie schleps him to Las Vegas. There he hopes Raymond will make him some fast cash to save his failing business although Charlie’s girlfriend’s protests and ultimately rejects him as he uses Raymond for selfish means. Along the way, however, depth of feeling Charlie discovers for his long-lost brother surprises and changes him. At the end, Charlie is forced to return Raymond to the hospital where he can be cared for properly, but it is clear to the audience that the bond Charlie feels for Raymond is real when he promises to visit Raymond. He has gained both family and self-respect through their journey so although Charlie fails to get the inheritance at the end, what he has gained personally outweighs what he has lost financially. As the story fades out, it is clear the author judges this Failure/Good to be positive and the audience feels hopeful for Charlie even though his money problems remain unresolved.


  • Rain Man—Charlie Babbott resolves his conflicts with his family
  • Tootsie—Michael Dorsey is able to get and keep acting jobs as himself
  • Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?—George is able to start his marriage’s healing process
  • The Verdict—Frank Galvin is able to give up drinking and other bad influences


  • The Silence of the Lambs—Clarice Starling still hears the lambs crying
  • Unforgiven—William Munny becomes a heartless, cold-blooded killer
  • The Remains of the Day—The Anthony Hopkins character will continue to be lonely and unfulfilled

What is the Story Outcome?

Do your character’s efforts to achieve the overall story goal result in Success (such as killing the shark in Jaws) or Failure (such as not being able to open the dinosaur theme park in Jurassic Park)?

Although it can be tempered by degree, Success or Failure is easily determined by seeing if the characters (in general) have achieved what they set out to achieve at the beginning of the story.

Certainly, the characters may learn they really don’t want what they thought they did and choose not to pursue it any longer. Even though they have grown, this is considered a failure because they did not accomplish their original intention. Similarly, they may actually achieve what they wanted, and even though they find it unfulfilling or unsatisfying, it must be said they succeeded. The point here is not to pass a value judgment on the worth of their success or failure. It is simply to determine whether or not they achieved their original objective.


  • Star Wars—the Death Star is destroyed
  • The Silence of the Lambs—the killer is identified and killed
  • The Verdict—the defendant wins the case and gets a lot of money
  • Unforgiven—the bad guys are killed and the reward is claimed


  • Rain Man—the inheritance is not shared
  • Basic Instinct—the killer (Catherine Tramell) successfully frames Dr. Garner and gets away with murder
  • The Glass Meangerie—the family falls apart (and no husband is found for Laura)
  • Hamlet—everybody is killed and the royal family is destroyed

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