General Questions

Does Dramatica limit ambiguity?

Dramatica requires authors to make specific decisions about their story. In contrast, most great artists prefer to keep things ambiguous so that the audience is left with a richer experience. Doesn't this indicate a limitation of Dramatica?

According to Webster, "ambiguous" means, "having more than one meaning":. By this definition, Dramatica would agree that ambiguity is a hallmark of great art. Please note that "ambiguous" does NOT mean "unclear", "cloudy", nor "obscure". Most artists do not desire to create a work that holds no meaning because no one can figure it out. If the audience doesn't get ANY feeling from the piece, then why create it in the first place? However, if the audience experiences CONFLICTING feelings, we have not only moved it, but created a potential within it that forces it to address an issue of interest to us as authors. The audience is forced to consider all sides of the issue logistically and/or emotionally. We, as authors, have then accomplished our intent.

If the point of "great" art is to create multiple meanings, then first we must build single meanings. Next, we combine them together - some on this side of the fence, some on the other. In this way, we temper the "emotional argument" of the work so that it falls somewhere in the range between one-sided and evenly balanced, thereby creating an overall ambiguous meaning. This is one of the concepts upon which Dramatica is based. The choices an author makes in working with Dramatica have been designed to represent these essential or "elemental" meanings that can be combined to create more complex meanings. This is not unlike the periodic table of elements in chemistry. Similar to the scientific chart, in stories there are "families" of emotions. Some react together, some do not. And just like elements, they all have individual identities. Lead is very stable. Gold is chemically inert. Both are malleable. One is dull, the other shiny. Both are heavy. But place Hydrogen and Oxygen together and they will quickly form water, which has properties that don't resemble either parent. Sometimes catalysts are needed and other times inhibitors will slow down reactions. Both "catalysts" and "inhibitors" can be found in the terminology of Dramatica, and these story equivalents provide much the same function.

The questions asked of authors in Dramatica that have the greatest impact on a story (and therefore limit out more alternatives) were placed so as to come right up front in the software where the new user can see them before anything else. They are designed to let the new user become familiar with Dramatica concepts while having some powerful tools to use right off the bat. But there are HUNDREDS of other much more subtle, sophisticated and complex questions later like "Relationship Story Catalyst" and "Objective Story Inhibitor". Experienced alchemists (authors) who understand these concepts, even intuitively, can jump right in and create magic. For the novice, like the Sorcerer's apprentice, he or she will need to work up to that level of sophistication.

Just as with the great masters, it is not only in their subject matter that we appreciate their work, but in the nature of the brushstrokes as well. The brushstrokes are the storytelling, the creative, intuitive, organic part of communication. Although Dramatica offers some insights into this part of the creative process, it is specifically designed to focus on the exploration of the rational or emotional topic of a work and provide a "periodic table of story elements" from which to fashion complex and, yes, "ambiguous" meanings.

Why would a master storyteller have an interest in such a program? Because not all works by a great master are great masterworks. It is not that intuition fails or skills diminish, but that each of us carries our own biases, givens and preconceptions to the creative process. If our purpose is simply to document these, then there is no need for Dramatica. But if our intent is to impact our audience in ways we can predict, then Dramatica is an extremely valuable tool for creating both complex and ambiguous meanings.

Can Dramatica describe all stories?

Can Dramatica describe all stories? Please give me an example of a story that does not fit into Dramatica theory.

Ostensibly, the answer is "Yes." If not completely, then at least to a competent degree. However, the current incarnation of Dramatica does not handle multiple Main Characters (e.g. Big Chill) very well. Though ensemble pieces like the Big Chill and many Robert Altman works are possible to work with in regards to the Dramatica theory, the software is not designed to handle them at this time. EVENTUALLY we hope to address this issue in a better manner.

Can Dramatica be adapated for short stories?

I have your software for a novel I'm working on but I wonder if your system could be adapted for short stories. Or maybe you already have it? Or perhaps a separate program for the shorter work.

Because short stories are, well, short, they generally do not have enough space to cover all the points necessary to make a grand argument story. Therefore, there are two techniques that are most commonly used.

The first is to cover the same "breadth" as a grand argument story, but limit the depth of exploration. This type of short story has the "feel" of a larger story (e.g. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor), yet still falls into the short story category. This type of story will have all four throughlines represented in the story (Objective story, Relationship story, Main Character, and Influence Character). Frequently one or two of the throughlines are more heavily emphasized, but all are present. The economy comes in limiting the depth of exploration.

The second type of short story is to go to the full "depth" as a grand argument story, but limit the breadth of exploration. This type of short story seems to focus solely on one throughline (generally the Objective Story or the Main Character) and may only hint at one of the other throughlines (e.g. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe). This type of story is frequently used in the shorter stories and often has "trick" endings (think O. Henry or The Twilight Zone). Longer form works don't support this type of story nearly as well as the short form does.

Now, how can Dramatica help you develop your short story idea?

The first thing you should do is determine a storyform that conforms to the part of the story that you know. Even though you may be limiting the breadth and/or depth of the exploration of the storyform, it is important that what you do explore fits together well. Starting from a complete storyform will dramatically reduce potential logistical and emotional "holes" in your finished work. You can achieve this fastest by using the Story Engine or the Quick Trip path in the Query System. However, most of the query system paths can be used to create a single storyform. Experiment a bit with the program to find one that asks the questions you are most interested in. In fact, only answer the questions you want and, if you desire, answer some questions in one DQS path and switch to others to answer other storyforming questions. Dramatica doesn't care how or where you make the choices, it just needs for you to make them.

Next, pick which type of short story you want to do and illustrate ONLY those parts that are relevant to your finished work. (You CAN illustrate the entire storyform, but you may end up not using a lot of the material because it won't "fit" into the limited space.)

Lastly, weave together the pieces of the story that is to appear in the story. This should be done in a word processing program. You should end up with a story which, even though not fully drawn, implies a larger picture than the sketch explored in the finished work.

Can Dramatica be adapated for half-hour TV shows?

I am interested in using Dramatica for 1/2 and 1 hour sci-fi type shows. The half hour show would be likened to Twilight Zone, thus no running plot. Could you give me some tips on how to do that?

There are basically two different approaches to using Dramatica with "short form" works. One is to cover all of the various story points quickly and economically (timewise). The other is to spend more time illustrating the story points, but limit the scope or depth of the coverage. Then, of course, there is the blend between the two. In all cases, it is best to explore all four of the story's throughlines: the Objective Story, the Relationship Story, the Main Character, and the Influence Character. Even if you only treat one or two of the throughlines superficially, by addressing them you avoid HUGE gaps in your story's argument.

Now, sometimes the intent in a short form piece is NOT to tell a story but to tell a tale (make a statement, but not fully argue the point). In these instances, you can use Dramatica to explore just one or two of the throughlines. Doing this will tend to lessen the long term emotional impact on the audience, but it can free up valuable screen time for a deeper exploration of the issues or subject matter you REALLY want to explore.

The one hour format, e.g. Outer Limits, is long enough to include all four throughlines, though one or two may not be explored as deeply as the others. If you try to tell a tale, your audience might get a little impatient unless your work is a non-stop entertainment. If it's not, the audience will be looking for "more," more than a tale can deliver.

Do I really need all 64 character elements in my story?

I've been working for some time now on my current script and I have a question that probably only you can answer. I seem to be having a really hard time getting a handle on the number of elements in the 64 Element Set that should be used in creating my chatacters.... I would appreciate if you could enlighten me on this.

"In a perfect world..." every character element would be represented and interacted with every other element.

"In a minimalist world..." the four character elements in the quad that contains the problem element will interact.

The "real" world exists somewhere between the two.

Generally speaking, it's best to describe the interactions of elements in quads (4), sets (16 elements), chess sets (64 elements), or super sets (256 elements = all elements in the four domains). The reason this is a generalization comes from the fact that the qualities that define ANY quad are similar. The difference is the "shading" and levels of subtlety. The more elements, the greater the subtlety. The reason for trying to keep to the factors of "4" is to maintain a semblance of balance. If you explore 12 of the 16 motivation elements, your argument to the audience is going to seem off balance. IF you only argue four, the argument will appear balanced but shallow.

Another factor is the type of finished work in which your story is to be written. A novel has far more "real estate" to explore story nitty-gritty of character element interactions than a screenplay. A screenplay has more room than a short story. A short story has more room than a ballad. Very often the form in which you tell a story may dictate how much time and space you have to tell it.

About the Examples

When analyzing someone else's work, it's often difficult to identify every bit of the author's intent. Big stuff, such as Story Goal or Main Character Problem might be easy, but dissecting the Overall Story Characters is often little more than guess work. Our example files try to identify the character elements where intent could be identified. Where it was unclear or conflicted, we left the elements blank. It's important to keep in mind that Dramatica's tools are just that--tools. Use them to fix things that aren't working properly or to tune them up. Don't trying fixing aspects of your story that aren't "broken." Just because you have a hammer does not mean everything is a nail.

Why won’t Dramatica let me pick the story structure points I want?

Just when I get a grasp on the 4 Classes and Throughlines, I have reached a point where I can't make the decisions I really want in the Storyform. For example, since I chose an MC Throughline of Situation, I can't choose a concern of How Things Are Changing or The Present because of something else I chose in another Throughline.

I understand the Dynamic Pairs of Throughlines (for which ever Throughline you choose in one persepective, chooses the other), but the way the program automatically picks Concerns, Issues, and Problems doesn't make sense to me.

When you pick a single Concern, you limit the other throughline Concerns to the same position in the quad. When you pick a Concern, you also limit the Domain / Throughline above it.

Dramatica is organized like four different pairs of glasses (perspectives) looking at the same inequity. Each pair of glasses distorts the view differently because they're looking from different places--kind of like the blind men describing an elephant. Each one describes what he sees and comes to different conclusions because of the limitation of their view (one feels the trunk and thinks it's like a snake, another feels the leg and thinks it's like a tree, another feels the ears and thinks it's like a fan, etc.). All of the are partially correct, but also incorrect in their conclusions.

The four domains work in a similar fashion. When we look at the Concerns, for example, the Past is similar in its relationship to a Situation as Memories' relationship is to Fixed Attitude. They aren't the same thing, but are similar in nature within its own context.

Every time you choose an item in one throughline, you limit (and sometimes pick) other choices in the remaining throughlines. This is what keeps the "argument" you are making consistent. Comparing apples to apples, so to speak.

Can Dramatica help write a story with only one character?

If I have only one character (a'la Castaway), how do I define the character via Dramatica, when the minimum number of characters is two (Main and Influence)?

Cast Away actually has two characters on the island-- Chuck Noland and Wilson (the soccer ball). Even though Wilson cannot talk, Chuck voices the alternative perspective to his own. You'll notice that time on the island is equally spent between the four throughlines. Stranded on a deserted island is the OS throughline. Obsessed workaholic is the MC. Stoic sidekick is the IC. And the strained relationship is the RS. So, even though there isn't another PERSON on the island, the storyform necessities are nicely handled.

I suggest that you do the same for your one character piece. The "other" can be the character's absent parent, teacher, child, boss, or whatever. Just make sure that IC perspective (in fact, all four perspectives) are communicated.

Whether you have one player or one-thousand players, you need to communicate the four throughlines to your audience. The throughlines form the basis of your airtight argument (if, in fact, your intention is to create a Grand Argument Story [GAS]).

With two players, it's easy to tell a GAS. One is the MC. The other is the IC. Their relationship is theRS. And the larger scenario in which they find themselves is the OS.

You can have one player describe all four perspectives if you want. For example, the MC might say, "You know, your problem is that you're bias blind's you to obvious flaws in your logic (IC=Fixed Attitude). Sure, I'm stuck in a rut and can't seem to get out (MC=Situation), but that doesn't explain why we have to play games with one another instead of just recognizing the fact that we're meant for each other (MC/IC=Manipulation). And if you don't get up off your ass and start shoveling this stuff, that foreman over there is going to ship our asses off to some worse work camp (OS=Activity)."

You see, the number of players does not limit your ability to express any or all points of view in your story.

Why do the character elements change position in the different throughlines?

My understanding from the Theory Book and all the examples I've seen shows the Motivational Quads with Consider/Logic/Feeling/Reconsider in the top left quad, and the others played out accordingly. After completing my storyform, the top-left quad looks like this: Consider/Pursuit/Avoidance/Reconsider, with other changes accordingly. The replacement of Logic by Pursuit and Feeling by Avoidance is throwing me. Is this what is supposed to happen after I complete a storyform?

The arrangement of the elements is different in each of the four throughlines/domains. For the sake of consistency, the arrangement we usually show in the book and reference material is the arrangement found in the Activities class. The arrangement you describe for your story suggests that your Overall Story Throughline is in the Fixed Attitude class.

In other words, Dramatica shows you the arrangement (and groupings) of the story elements appropriate to your Overall Story Throughline's domain.

How does Dramatica define point-of-view (POV)?

I'm trying to integrate my understanding of traditional point of view concepts (e.g. first person, third person etc) and dramatica's four throughlines. If I'm writing in two first person's povs (Main Character and Impact Character), how do I get the Overall Story throughline and the Relationship (MC/IC) throughline across? Asked differently, can I write all four throughlines from the eyes of one character, say the Main Character?

The throughline perspectives are completely different than “voice” which tells the story (first person, third person, etc.). For example, let’s look at the fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood.” I’ll have to add a bit of material because the tradition version of the story is almost all Overall Story material, material developed from the objective, external, “big picture” perspective.

Overall Story: A young girl sets out to bring a basket of goodies to her grandmother. On her way through the forest, she meets with a wolf who convinces her to take another path with the promise that it is a shortcut. In fact, it is a longer path that delays the girl’s arrival at her grandmother’s house. In the extra time it took the girl to get there, the wolf was able to get to the house first, eat her grandmother, and then dress as the grandmother in order to fool the girl to get close enough to eat. The girl notices that “grandmother” doesn’t look the same but is too late and it eaten. A passing hunter notices and chops the wolf in two, rescuing the girl and her grandmother, who were eaten whole.

Main Character: Little Red Riding Hood is an overly confident twelve-year old girl who gets into trouble because she is impulsive and overly trusting. Her credibility, and often safety, are undermined by her flights of romanticism and fantasy.

Influence Character: The Wolf is a vicious, yet charming, man-eater that has seen the game in the forest disappearing due to human hunting. He is hungry and growing desperate.

Relationship throughline: The cat and mouse nature of the relationship between The Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood has The Wolf pretending to be another Traveler in the forest in order to fool and mislead LRRH. He manipulates her to take a longer path, promising that it is shorter, etc. and later impersonates her grandmother in order to lure LRRH close enough to eat.

As you can see, the four throughlines emphasize different aspects of the story. The Overall Story shows the “big picture.” The Main Character shows the personal perspective. The Influence Character shows an alternative, and challenging perspective to that of the Main Character. And the relationship shows the passionate counterpoint to the dispassionate view of the Overall Story. The “point of view” used in telling a story, or what I like to call the writer’s voice, let’s the writer describe the four throughlines as if they were from different perspectives, but are not limited to the views available to those perspectives. Here are some examples:

  • FROM THE THIRD PERSON VOICE: Once upon a time there was a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood who was on her way through the forest when she met a wily wolf at a crossroads. Little Red Riding Hood thought the Wolf was charming. The wolf thought Red smelled delicious and was going to eat her when he found out she was on her way to her grandmother’s house. He thought two meals was better than one, so he tricked Little Red Riding Hood into taking the long way to grandma’s house.
  • FROM THE FIRST PERSON VOICE: I was skipping along the path through the forest on my way to grandmother’s house when a HUGE, handsome but strange-looking man stepped in front of me. He had a big smile with very white teeth. What I didn’t know at the time was that he was really a nasty wolf dressed to look like a rich man, but I digress. I found the man very charming and helpful and briefly fantasized having a romantic dinner and running my fingers through his hair. After I told him where I was going, he pointed me toward a short cut that should save me lots of time. If I’d been paying a little more attention, I should have noticed the way he drooled as he looked at me, like he wanted to ravish me on the spot, or worse.
  • FROM THE SECOND PERSON VOICE: You were skipping along the path completely unaware of the danger you were in. You didn’t see the Wolf until you’d practically run into him. If you’d known he was a wolf, not a Wolf, you would have run screaming. But this Wolf charmed you instantly. You told him you were going to grandmother’s house, but you could hardly hide your attraction to him. His hunger for you was equally obvious, but the promise of having you AND your grandmother gave him an idea. He convinced you to take another path, “A short cut to grandmother’s house,” he said. And so you took it.

There are elements from all four throughline in each of the three examples. That is the difference between the Dramatica perspectives and the traditional point of view. For novels, use whichever point of view (voice) you want while telling your story. If you ever write a screenplay, scripts are always told in Third Person, present tense.

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!").

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.