Dramatica is two things: a theory of story structure, and the most widely-acclaimed software program that assists writers of all kinds in the development of their stories.
That 1) the vast majority of fictional stories attempt to make an argument about the right or wrong ways to solve a problem; 2) the story embodies the author's perspective on that problem; and 3) the characters, plots, themes and genre form a model of a single mind trying to work its way through the problem.
Dramatica not only defines patterns in stories, but relationships between those patterns. By understanding those patterns, users of the Dramatica theory and software can find logic holes in their plot, characters, and themes.
Dramatica doesn't write for you. It's not a plot or idea generator, although it can be quite helpful in brainstorming your ideas. Dramatica can't replace creativity, originality, or talent.
Many of Dramatica's questions deal with determining the various themes and issues you wish your story to illustrate. There is special emphasis on locating the central problem(s) that reside in the Main Character and the Overall Story. Dramatica is particularly interested in how the Main Character goes about solving problems.
Dramatica doesn't know anything about the subject matter of your story. There are no right or wrong topics or themes. It doesn’t determine the commercial nature of your story. Dramatica only deals with issues at a structural level. For example, Dramatica may assist you in structuring your story so that you main character has a problem of "disbelief", but Dramatica doesn’t know how "disbelief" will be expressed in your story. That's up to you and outside Dramatica's structural view of your story.
There are many useful concepts in Dramatica that you can apply in your writing without using the software. Change/Steadfast, Main/Impact Character, the Archetypes, the Four Throughlines are all examples of some of Dramatica's unique and powerful concepts that you could apply on your own. The software allows you to answer structural questions about your story and provides active feedback, guiding you to other structural choices that are compatible with the story you wish to create. This active feedback would be time-consuming to figure out without the software.
As you begin using Dramatica, you will need to learn some key concepts and terms. You must understand what the questions are asking you in order to give accurate answers. It is not expected that a writer using the software for the first time will know much about Dramatica. However, the software provides interactive details that will teach you the concepts as you go along.
Dramatica is different from most of the story models proposed by other writing gurus. Many writing "systems" attempt to classify patterns in stories and give those patterns names. Dramatica takes this process several steps further: Dramatica's theory looks at deep structure, and proposes that the patterns of plot, theme, character, and genre that we see expressed in stories are interconnected . Dramatica tries to explain why these patterns might exist, and tries to postulate which patterns are compatible with other patterns.
Dramatica is a theory much in the same vein as other theories of story, such as deconstruction, semiotics, reader reception, structuralism, et al. So although Dramatica's patterns are compelling, it's difficult to prove them true with absolute certainty.
Dramatica is based on the concept that a story examines the different ways people look at problems. The characters of the story represent different perspectives on a particular problem, or issue. As an audience, we are interested in how these characters, especially the main character, goes about dealing with the issues in the story, in other characters, and within themselves.
Different writers have different experiences learning Dramatica. Some writers have an instant affinity to Dramatica. Those writers tell us that Dramatica is very similar to the way they think about story. For others it can take weeks, or longer, because Dramatica is a highly analytical way of looking at story structure.
Often writers will work with the software for a couple weeks and reach a point where everything suddenly clicks.
The intent of Dramatica is to make writing better, and to shorten the amount of development and rewriting necessary to get to a solid draft of your story. However, it is not a tool designed to replace hard work. In fact, the initial work you will put into developing a story using Dramatica will take more time than writing without Dramatica. Using Dramatica can help solve many story structure problems, and thus reduce the amount of rewriting you need to do in order to produce a solid story. Over the life of a project (or several projects), you may find the development process easier -- and the results more compelling.
Although many writers believe that learning to write well takes time, some are concerned when they find out that Dramatica has a learning curve. Writers expect that because Dramatica is a computer program, it will instantly solve story problems. While many writers experience quick results, for others Dramatica is more like a good writing class, where insight and understanding comes over time and exposure to its concepts.
It's often said you can't learn writing in a day. The same applies here.
Using Dramatica's easy-to-use interface is incredibly simple. Learning the paradigm to answer questions accurately takes more time. The more you understand about Dramatica's model, the more powerful a tool it can be in helping you to develop solid story structure.
Dramatica has its supporters and its detractors. Below are several reasons why some writers oppose Dramatica:
- Mistaken belief that the software "writes for you" or "replaces creativity". It doesn't, and we don't make any claims of that sort.
- Experience with other writing tools / paradigms that are simplistic compared to Dramatica, which leads to the conclusion that all story assistants are the same.
- Inability to understand or adapt to a new writing paradigm such as Dramatica means a writer can't recommend that method to others.
- Lack of understanding about the theory behind Dramatica. For example, some writers mistakenly believe that because it categorizes story structure that the theory is saying there are a limited number of stories that can be told. Dramatica doesn't say that.
- "Writers shouldn't be trying to unravel the mysteries of how stories work." The concern here is that Dramatica may in fact be a powerful, accurate model of story, but if the writer doesn’t understand Dramatica, then they don't want others to understand it either.
- Dramatica is hocus-pocus, smoke-and-mirrors, and snake oil. "Since I'm smart and I can't understand it, then it must be bogus."
- Fear that Dramatica is totally for real and offers a genuine competitive advantage to other writers.
- Anger that the authors of Dramatica aren't brilliant writers, nor do they have any advanced degrees. Why should they be the ones to have discovered something so useful?
- Different + unfamiliar = bad. Dramatica deals with structure at a very deep level, one that is unfamiliar to writers that don't have a classical education in narrative structure. It's just so different from the way most writers have been self-taught about writing.
- Dramatica has some special vocabulary terms, and that offends some writers who believe that there is nothing new that can be added on the subject of story.
- Fear that Dramatica, being one of the most complete models of story, is trying to supplant the good work of other writing gurus, narratologists, writing teachers and writing structure systems. (Actually, we believe Dramatica can coexist with most other writing paradigms).
Many of Dramatica's detractors are quite vocal because they have an earnest belief in their own knowledge, skill and training, and genuinely feel they want to protect other writers from the perceived dangers.
- Dramatica actually tells you things about your story you didn’t put in. In other words, it doesn’t just "parrot" back the text you enter, it gives active guidance by keeping structural choices consistent with your intent.
- Dramatica introduces organizational tools and concepts that are new and useful for understanding, discussing, and fixing problems in story structure.
- Dramatica has an almost magical ability to be "predictive" about story, where it can correctly intuit structural choices that a writer intends for their story -- without being told what they are.
- Dramatica is completely unlike other software or story models. Because it focuses on other areas that have been barely touched upon, it provides a new and useful set of tools to support story development.
- Dramatica gets serious results for many writers that take the time to learn how to use it.
- Dramatica isn't just a model of screenwriting or movies, it's a model of story. This makes it applicable to all kinds of mediums.
- Many writers haven’t been exposed to other narrative story structure models before, and find the exploration of story at that level fascinating.
- Dramatica demystifies stories by suggesting possible explanations for many common narrative patterns (e.g. act breaks).
- Dramatica provides enough depth and material to be used to augment high school and college writing courses.
- Dramatica provides objectivity for writers who don’t have writing partners.
- Dramatica can open a world of possible structural choices, freeing up blocked creativity.
It's hard to know for sure. We only have quotes from professional writers and filmmakers who have proactively contacted us and volunteered quotes. Many writers who use Dramatica do so quietly, to avoid stigma by disapproving peers or the impression that they need "assistance." As more writers have come to realize that Dramatica is just a useful tool, we've been getting more and more anecdotal reports from professionals.
Novelists, screenwriters, TV writers, game developers and playwrights have used Dramatica to assist in the structuring of their stories.
We know of at least three writers who have used Dramatica to write award-winning screenplays or plays:
"Dramatica is an essential tool for developing a story's structure. I used it extensively to develop a screenplay that was awarded first place in the SlamDance Screenwriting Competition."
—Carl Weaver, 1st Place Winner, SlamDance Competition
"My comedy won the first prize in the 'Salzburg Screenplay Competition' today. The jury said that my script was miles ahead of all others."
—Virgil Widrich, Winner, Salzburg Screenplay Competition
"The first time I used the Dramatica program, was when I decided to write a radio play in order to participate in the BBC Africa Performance contest…I won second prize in the contest, and was told I wasn't awarded the first because there were some places where my play was more visual than radio could handle and they had to improvise a bit. ...By the way, on the interview they did for the BBC when I won, I said I had been studying Dramatica, the Theory of Story! I really believe it was an important factor in my writing a well-rounded radio play. Thank you!"
—Rosemary Smith Kebe
For the most part, yes. Dramatica can be used to help structure most stories that attempt to make an argument about a particular issue (i.e. a Grand Argument Story). Dramatica is particularly helpful with longer narratives, such as plays, screenplays and novels. While the basic concepts in Dramatica might be used in shorter forms such as short stories, poetry, or even a three panel comic strip, most authors of shorter forms might find Dramatica's detailed assistance overkill.
Isn't character more important than anything else?
Characters are important, but no more important than any other part of your story.
Interesting characters in stories with no plot are not going to be interesting. Great plot with interesting characters but no thematic point may be entertaining, but ultimately not very satisfying or impactful.
In order for a story to have the power to make a strong argument and to affect its audience, a writer must draw the connections between a story's characters, plot, and themes.
Dramatica helps guide you as to the reasons why you will select certain characters that are appropriate for your story's plot and themes.
Some approaches to story will refer to the central character of a story as a "hero" or a "villain". These types work for many stories, but not all stories. A central character might not be "heroic", and working from these perspectives can lead to biasing a writer's thinking.
While Dramatica does permit the easy construction of archetypal characters, it does so by giving writers the essential elements that form all characters. Dramatica's "characteristics" encourage experimentation and the development of richer, more complex characters that don't fit stereotyped notions of basic "Hollywood" character types.
Dramatica takes character development a step beyond simple type identification. Dramatica defines two special characters, the Main Character and the Influence Character, that carry with them essential aspects of the story's underlying argument.
The Main Character is not always the same character as the story's Protagonist, and the Influence (Obstacle) Character is frequently not the same as the story's Antagonist. To Kill A Mockingbird is an example of one such story where the roles of Main Character, Protagonist, Impact Character and Antagonist are actually four separate roles (played by different actors).
You can approach Dramatica from several directions:
- Read the theory book (available for FREE here)
- Use the software (or the free demo version of the software) to examine the example stories that come with the software.
- Use the software (or the free demo version) to develop the storyform for a story you make up.