Demystifying Dramatica

What is Dramatica?

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.

What is the basic premise of the Dramatica Theory?

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.

What ISN’T Dramatica?

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.

What kind of questions does Dramatica ask?

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.

What does it mean, “Dramatica is content-independent?”

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.

Can I use the Dramatica Theory without using the software?

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.

Can I use the software without knowing anything about the theory?

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.

Why is it a “theory” of story? Why not a “model” or a “paradigm”?

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.

Why do a lot of Dramatica terms seem to have more to do with problem-solving than with writing?

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.

How long will it take to learn Dramatica?

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.

Will Dramatica make writing easier?

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.

Why do some people say Dramatica has a long learning curve?

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.

Why are some writers opposed to Dramatica?

Dramatica has its supporters and its detractors. Below are several reasons why some writers oppose Dramatica:

  1. Mistaken belief that the software "writes for you" or "replaces creativity". It doesn't, and we don't make any claims of that sort.
  2. Experience with other writing tools / paradigms that are simplistic compared to Dramatica, which leads to the conclusion that all story assistants are the same.
  3. Inability to understand or adapt to a new writing paradigm such as Dramatica means a writer can't recommend that method to others.
  4. 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.
  5. "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.
  6. 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."
  7. Fear that Dramatica is totally for real and offers a genuine competitive advantage to other writers.
  8. 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?
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

Why does Dramatica have so many supporters and such incredible press?

  1. 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.
  2. Dramatica introduces organizational tools and concepts that are new and useful for understanding, discussing, and fixing problems in story structure.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Dramatica gets serious results for many writers that take the time to learn how to use it.
  6. 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.
  7. Many writers haven’t been exposed to other narrative story structure models before, and find the exploration of story at that level fascinating.
  8. Dramatica demystifies stories by suggesting possible explanations for many common narrative patterns (e.g. act breaks).
  9. Dramatica provides enough depth and material to be used to augment high school and college writing courses.
  10. Dramatica provides objectivity for writers who don’t have writing partners.
  11. Dramatica can open a world of possible structural choices, freeing up blocked creativity.

What movies or books have been made with Dramatica?

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.

What Dramatica-assisted scripts have won awards?

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

Can Dramatica assist in structuring all types of stories?

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.

Why does Dramatica integrate Character, Plot and Theme?

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.

Why doesn’t Dramatica reduce central characters down to types like “Hero” or “Villain”?

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).

What has changed since Dramatica first came out?

Dramatica has undergone eight releases during the last eighteen years, so much has changed in the application. Overall, the program has become more reliable, easier to use, simplified the terminology, and has improved the quality of supporting materials. So the Dramatica of earlier days is not the same program as versions 3.0 and especially versions 4.0. (if you own an earlier version of Dramatica, the software can be updated for a nominal cost. Contact our sales department for more info).

1.0: June 1994. Initial Release. Mac only.

1.1: December 1994. Initial Release for Windows. Feature enhancements. Mac bug fixes.

1.5.1: May 1995. Very minor bug fixes.

1.6: June 1995. Windows bug fixes, cosmetic improvements. Report improvements.

2.0: March 1996. 100 enhancements, including: StoryGuide workbook. Improved questions. Win 95 and PowerPC compatible; additional examples. Improved on-line help; StoryPoints window improved; new theory book.

3.0: February 1998. Improved vocabulary. Integrated StoryGuide into program (ended manual paper process); new question paths; scene creation; export to Movie Magic Screenwriter; newly rewritten reports; plot progression; rewritten on-line help, including on-line theory book; story status bars; theme browser shows structural choices visually; floating dictionary of terms; 60+ story examples;

4.0: July 1999. Simplified terminology (Layman's Terms); reorganized, simplified and easier to use StoryGuide paths; structure templates for different writing forms (screenplay, short story, novel, etc.); new online help system, including online user's manual; easier installation; better postscript printing support; dropped install-based copy protection.

Why did the authors of Dramatica make up their own terminology?

Several reasons: first, Dramatica deals with a structural view of story. Most story terminology deals with the techniques for telling a story, not for describing its structure. Dramatica looks at ideas that are fundamentally different than what most writers have been taught.

Second, there are no fixed definitions for many of the writing terms writers take for granted. One experiment that we tried was to ask 100 writing teachers questions about basic concepts of story. Questions like, "What is the concept of theme mean?" and "How do you know what happens in the second act?" What we got was a wide variety of answers, with no real agreement on what the most basic story concepts mean. So while writers and teachers of writing all have an internal understanding of basic writing concepts, the actual definitions for those concepts vary widely.

Only a portion of Dramatica's terminology is "invented" ("contagonist", for example). Invented terms generally cover concepts that are unique to Dramatica. Most of the other terms are familiar and mean exactly what you think they do.

Isn’t Dramatica just “mad libs”?

Can't you just provide any answer to Dramatica's questions and have it make sense?

While random answers to Dramatica's questions may appear to make sense, they won't necessarily fit the story you have in mind. An occasional criticism of Dramatica is that it's similar to "Mad Libs", a game where you create a story by filling in blanks. While many of Dramatica's questions can be made to fit a particular part of a story, it's difficult to get most or all of Dramatica's structural points to make sense by supplying random answers. If you still think Dramatica is like "Mad Libs", see How do I know Dramatica is for real?.

How do I know Dramatica is for real?

Is there any way to prove it?

While there is no PROOF that Dramatica is 100% accurate (it's just a theory, you know), there are a number of things you can do to give you confidence that the theory is correct:

  1. Try it on your own story. This has been one of the most effective methods of demonstrating Dramatica's power. By understanding Dramatica's questions and answering them, Dramatica will "predict" certain things about your story that you didn’t provide in your answers. Generally, for a story that doesn’t have structural problems, these answers will line up with what you know to be true. That usually gives you the confidence to try Dramatica on one of your stories that has problems you're trying to work out.
  2. Carefully examine the example stories. Open some of the excellent stories, like The Verdict or Hamlet (or a story you're familiar with) and look at the StoryPoints window. There you will have a summary of structural points about the story, and you can read the storytelling that illustrates those points. Compare what you know about the story to Dramatica's perspective. Does it make sense? Is it insightful? This is a great way to see and learn about Dramatica's concepts in action.
  3. Attempt to make a different storyform match an example story. For hard-core skeptics who want to take active steps to disprove the validity of the theory, try this little exercise: Choose one of our example stories, one you're familiar with. Create a new story document, and select one of the 32,768 storyforms at random (you can either use the "Spin-the-Model" feature or just randomly answer questions). Now, try to illustrate the key structural points in the StoryPoints window, and see if you can make the storyform you've selected make sense for example story you've chosen. In other words, can you pick another very different storyform and illustrate it to make as much sense as the storyform for, say, The Verdict? If you can make random choices sound as good as a storyform created by careful analysis, then you've just created substantial doubt as to the validity of that storyform. If you can do it for many stories, you've shot down the theory. Good luck.

Isn’t Dramatica just a mechanical method of writing a story?

Won't it create formulaic "cookie-cutter" stories?

No. Dramatica doesn’t tell you what to write. It doesn’t tell you what subjects to write about, or the specifics of what characters or plot points to use to illustrate your subjects. Dramatica guides you to create a structure for the underlying argument of your story, and prompts you to come up with writing that illustrates that argument.

Although this may sound pat, "form" is not the same as "formula". "Structure" is not the same as "expression." There are certain elements that are required to make a house structurally sound, but not all houses look the same.

If I select the same storyform as another writer, will others recognize our work as the same story?

There are 32,768 storyforms in Dramatica, but a storyform isn’t a story, it's an argument. An infinite number of stories can be created from the same storyform.

Two writers working with different subject matter might not even realize they have worked from the same storyform. There are probably thousands of stories that have been done that would match some of the more commonly selected storyforms, and it's doubtful that a reader would ever even recognize that those stories are making the same underlying argument.

Won’t selecting options in Dramatica somehow limit my creativity?

Unlikely. Although some writers are temporarily slowed down by having to take the time to learn new concepts and integrate them into their working methods, others find that process liberating and creatively energizing.

Making choices is part of the creative process. When you make choices, you decide not only what you want to do in story, but also specifically what you don't want to do. Two quotes do a superb job of illustrating this issue:

"At first sight, the idea of any rules or principles being superimposed on the creative mind seems more likely to hinder than to help, but it is quite untrue in practice. Disciplined thinking focuses inspiration rather than blinkers it."
-- G. L. Glegg, The Design of Design

"The Enemy of Art is the absence of limitations."
-- Orson Wells

I’ve heard Dramatica is able to “predict” certain aspects of stories. How does it do that?

Dramatica is a model of the human problem solving process, as reflected in stories. When you answer Dramatica's questions in Dramatica about your story's characters, plots and themes the software limits out choices that aren't compatible with the story you desire. As choices are eliminated, you are left with only those pieces that fit with your intent.

Dramatica's ultra-accurate story engine then provides information about your intended story that you didn't enter. More often than not, these provided pieces match up exactly with what you already knew about your story. Frequently it seems that the software is "predicting" the dramatic pieces of your story.

Dramatica's ability to automatically provide these answers enable it to be helpful to a writer who may need assistance for a particular aspect of their characters, plots, or themes.

What if I don’t agree with what Dramatica says about my story?

As the writer of your story, you can always choose to ignore what Dramatica believes is the most dramatic approach to telling your story. You can also emphasize or de-emphasize any aspect of Dramatica's advice.

There are usually a few reasons why you won’t agree with Dramatica's advice:

  1. You've selected the wrong storyform. An easy way to tell if you have the wrong storyform is that many of the Dramatica-generated StoryPoints don’t make sense. In this case, it's best to go through all the questions you've answered carefully, and see if your choices are really compatible with the story you wish to describe.
  2. You have no idea what a few of the StoryPoints mean. This is quite common. Usually, the unclear StoryPoints represent areas of your story that are underdeveloped. These are important hints that you need to put some more work into these areas.
  3. You don't like where your storyform takes the story. This can indicate that the story may not really be about what you initially thought it should be. That's a common process for writers, to "discover" the story as they are writing. Dramatica can significantly shorten that discovery time.

What’s the best way to learn the Dramatica theory?

You can approach Dramatica from several directions:

  1. Read the theory book (available for FREE here)
  2. Use the software (or the free demo version of the software) to examine the example stories that come with the software.
  3. Use the software (or the free demo version) to develop the storyform for a story you make up.

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.

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).