From the Skeptical

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.