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The item whose presence always pushes the story forward toward the climax

The Catalyst creates breakthroughs and accelerates the conflict, or conflict resolution, of the throughline it is in. In both the Overall and Main vs. Impact Stories there occur dramatic "log-jams" when things seem to be approaching a halt. This is when the Catalyst is necessary, for its introduction will either solve the puzzle that's holding things up or else make the puzzle seem suddenly unimportant so the story can continue.


Element Effect ↔ Cause

the specific circumstances that lead to an effect

The character containing the Cause characteristic is concerned with what is behind a situation or its circumstances. This can lead it right to the source of trouble, the source of control. However, sometimes many things came together to create a particular effect. In that case, the Cause characteristic may fail by either looking for a single source or trying to address them all while ignoring the option of simply dealing with the effect.

syn. reason for, effector, source, agent, antecedent


Element Potentiality ↔ Certainty

a conclusion that something is absolutely true

The character representing the Certainty characteristic is not a risk taker. It must be completely sure before it takes action or accepts information as true. The slightest potential for error or change will stop it in its tracks. On the plus side, it never goes out on a limb far enough to break it; on the minus side, it might never get out far enough to get the fruit either. Many opportunities are lost to it because it hesitates until it is too late.

syn. sureness, definiteness, having no doubts, total reliability, indisputability, irrefutability, unmistakability, certitude, conviction


Character Dynamic

The Main Character changes his essential nature while attempting to solve his problems

Every Main Character represents one special character element. This element is either the cause of the story's problem or its solution. The Main Character cannot be sure which it represents since it is too close to home. Near the climax of the story, the Main Character must demonstrate whether he is going to stick with his original approach in the belief that it is the solution or jump to the opposite trait in the belief he has been wrong. In "Leap of Faith" stories this will occur during a "moment of truth." In "Non-Leap of Faith" stories this will occur over the course of the story and be assessed for Change or Steadfastness at the end of the story. When a Main Character abandons his original story-long approach for its counterpart, he is said to Change.


Element Inertia ↔ Change

an alteration of a state or process

Change is the force that alters. A characteristic representing change is quick to adapt but also cannot leave well enough alone. It feels that if things have been one way long enough to establish a pattern, it is time to change it.

syn. altering, altering force, modify, reshape, adjust, adapt

Change Character

Character Appreciation

The Main vs. Impact character who changes his approach or attitude in a story

The Change Character is the single character who does change in a story in an attempt to resolve his personal problem. The Change Character must be either the Main Character or the Impact Character but cannot be both. A Change Character cannot tell until the end of the story whether or not he will change, and even then, a Change Character has no way of knowing whether or not changing will lead to success or to resolving his personal problem. However, in every story, either the Main Character or the Impact Character will Change in response to the other's Steadfastness and become that story's Change Character.

Changing One’s Nature

Type Playing a Role ↔ Changing One’s Nature

transforming one's nature

Changing One's Nature means achieving an identity with something. This is different from "playing a role" which merely requires posing as something. To change one's nature, one must do more than just pretend to be by mimicking all the traits of what one wants to become. Rather, one must also lose all those parts of oneself that are inconsistent with what one wants to become. "Giving up" a part of oneself is always the hardest part of changing one's nature and the reason so many characters spend a lot of time "playing a role" without ever changing their nature.

syn. embodying, manifesting, personifying, incarnating, transforming


Element Order ↔ Chaos

random change or a lack of order

Chaos is disorder, randomness, anarchy. The Chaos characteristic is brilliant at cutting through a Gordian knot. But then it just keeps cutting every rope it sees until the chandelier falls on its head. It "stirs the pot" just to see what will bubble up to the top.

syn. randomness, anarchy, disorder, formlessness, noncohesion



A temporal unit of dramatic construction usually employed in books

Stories contain too much information to be grasped in a single moment. As a result, the information is doled out over time in segments. Each medium gravitates toward its own kind of segments. Books, especially novels, usually employ Chapters. Chapters may represent complete dramatic explorations of one aspect of the overall story or they may be more arbitrary divisions, determined by changes in location, changes in central characters, or changes in storytelling mood or style. In fact, the Chapters in a single book may vary in what defines each one. The principal use of Chapters is to break the unfolding of a story into portions of a like nature which are small enough to be considered at one time by the audience. In this way, the audience is able to arrive at an understanding of parts of a story along the way, rather than waiting until the end of the whole. In a practical sense, Chapters allow the audience to digest a complete thought before moving on to another. In books, this provides the audience a convenient pause point with an accompanying sense of closure when reading intermittently.


Dramatica Term

a specific perspective or collection of dramatic elements that are embodied by a player

In Dramatica, there are two major divisions of Characters: the Main vs. Impact Characters and the Overall Characters. In the most frequently told kinds of stories, Main vs. Impact Characters are the smaller group, consisting of only the Main Character and the Impact Character. Both of these are concerned with providing the audience with a Main vs. Impact view of the story. There can be, and frequently are, many more Overall than Main vs. Impact Characters. An Overall Character is defined as a specific collection of dramatic Elements or characteristics that remains consistent for the entire story. There are sixty four elements in the Dramatica Structure which represent the building blocks of Characters. All sixty four elements must be used to fully develop the story's argument. To have meaning to an audience, the group of elements that makes up each Overall (Objective) character must present a consistent viewpoint (with regards to the story goal/problem) during the course of the story. In this way the relative attributes of each of these elemental approaches can be clearly explored during the course of the story. Sixty four elements may at first sound too limited to create interesting characters, but when you consider that the number of arrangements of the elements is multiplied by the way the might be grouped, the total number of characters that can be created is in the millions. The Overall Characters present the story to the audience and the Main vs. Impact Characters allow the audience to participate in the story. Because of this, Main vs. Impact Characters are unique in that they do double duty by having a special relationship with the audience and pulling their weight as Overall Characters as well. This is because they are concerned both with the Main Character's personal problem and also the Overall Story problem.

Character Dynamics

Dramatica Term

dramatic potentials which determine a Main Character's Resolve, Growth, Approach, and Problem Solving Style

Some characters are used for entertainment purposes only. Others have dramatic functions they fulfill. Of those that have functions, the Main Character is the most important for it represents the audience position in the story. As a result, the audience sees more of the forces that drive the Main Character than of any other. These forces are the Character Dynamics. There are four primary Main Character Dynamics, each of which provides the audience with a different kind of information about how it relates to that character. Main Character Resolve determines if the Main Character will ultimately Change or Remain Steadfast in regard to the central issue of the story. Main Character Growth determines if the audience will, in regard to the Main Character, be waiting for something to Start or Stop in the story. Main Character Approach determines if the Main Character is a Do-er or Be-er by preference. And Main Character Problem Solving Style determines if the Main Character uses Logical (Male Mental Sex) or Intuitive (Female Mental Sex) problem solving techniques.


Dynamic Term

a means of identifying the position of a pair within a quad

Since there are two of each kind of pair in a quad (Dynamic, Dependent and Companion), it is useful to have a way of identifying each one by its position in the quad. Dramatica uses the concept of a dramatic CHARGE to accomplish this. As with electrical charges, positive or negative does not mean one is good and the other bad but simply that they have opposite attributes. So in a quad the Dynamic (diagonal) pair that is negatively charged simply means that it runs from the upper right item in the quad to the lower left unit of the quad. The other Dynamic pair is referred to as positively charged. The top Companion (horizontal) pair is positive; the bottom Companion pair is negative. The left Dependent (vertical) pair is positive; the right Dependent pair is negative. By using the CHARGE method, any pair in any quad can be directly and specifically referred to.


Variation Delay ↔ Choice

making a decision

Choice is simply a decision as to which is the best path toward resolving a problem. A character will ponder all the information and factor in all his feelings and arrive at a decision. Sometimes a character will choose before all the information is in. This can lead him to take steps that may ultimately prove to be counter-productive or even self-destructive. On the other hand, such intuitive leaps can bypass a number of obstacles on the way to a story's conclusion. Still, "snap judgments often lead to regrets for those whose only exercise is jumping to conclusions." -- Dramatica fortune cookie

syn. decision, selection, determination, pick


Variation Situation ↔ Circumstances

the relationship of oneself to the environment

Circumstances describes the way a character feels about his environment. Whereas Situation is rated in terms of satisfaction, Circumstances are rated in terms of fulfillment. Emotion, therefore, is the standard of measurement a character uses to evaluate his Circumstances. Often a character must accept unfulfilling Circumstances because he needs the benefits of the Situation. Or a character may accept an unsatisfying Situation because it comes with fulfilling Circumstances. Over the course of a story, the balance between the two measurements can vary greatly.

syn. how things stand emotionally, emotional evaluation of the environment, value of existing conditions, relationship to others


Structural Term

The broadest, most genre-like classification of a story's structural nature

The possible places where problems can exist can be divided into four areas, and we call these areas the four Classes. The Classes are separated by distinctions between inner and outer states and processes. Situation (Universe) and Activities (Physics) represent external states and processes respectively, and Fixed Attitudes (Mind) and Manipulation (Psychology) represent internal states and processes respectively. Though Classes have the same names as Throughlines, they represent only a structural ordering of semantic terms and are not the same as Throughlines which are more dynamic story points created by matching a Class with one of the four throughlines.


Variation Denial ↔ Closure

bringing something to an end

Closure can be seen in two ways. One, it can be an ending. In this sense, it prevents what has happened from being changed; it protects a memory or a situation because the window of opportunity for change has ended. In the other sense, Closure can be seen as a continuance. This is because a process made into a closed loop will just go on forever, repeating the same course. In some stories Closure settles all the dramatic potentials to show that the issue of the story has been resolved. In other stories, Closure is used to show that even though the immediate problem has been resolved, the volatile relationships among the characters is never-ending. Closure is useful in letting one know when the job is done. Negatively, Closure tries to bring everything to a conclusion even if it is a continuously growing process that is completely open-ended. The attempt to stop such an evolution would be either fruitless or disastrous. But is a process closed or not? When is a career at an end?

syn. finishing, completion, resolution, recursive

Co-Dynamic Pair

Structural Term

the other dynamic pair in a quad with a Reference Pair

When one of the two dynamic pairs in a quad is selected as the "Reference Pair," the remaining dynamic pair is referred to as its CO-DYNAMIC PAIR.


Variation Responsibility ↔ Commitment

a decision to stick with something regardless of the consequences

A commitment forms the essence of the steadfast character. When a character makes a commitment, it is a decision not to quit regardless of the obstacles that may come. This allows the character to accept much higher costs on the way to a goal than he would if he re-evaluated every time something went wrong. A problem arises, however, when one of those obstacles turns out to be impassable. If a character reaches this point, he cannot achieve the goal. But since he is Committed, he does not re-evaluate and instead continues to beat his head against a brick wall.

syn. dedication, devotion, steadfastness, zeal

Companion Pair

Structural Term

items in a quad that share a horizontal relationship

In any given quad, the two top items share a relationship between them in the same way the bottom two share a relationship. What separates the two pairs is what dramatic focus they create. Each pair in each quad will be focused in a slightly different place, creating a gradual shift in the model from one point of view to its opposite. In many quads, the top pair will appear to be more oriented toward the environment in comparison to the bottom pair which is more oriented toward the mind. Either the top or bottom pair can be referred to as a Companion Pair, meaning that the two items that make up the pair are companion rather than in conflict.

Complex Characters

Dynamic Term

an arrangement of character elements that cannot be classified as Archetypal

Whenever even a single element is added or removed or swapped in an Archetypal character, that character becomes Complex. The more elements that differ from the Archetypal, the more complex the character becomes. Characters in a story need not all be Archetypal or all be complex. Making some characters more complex than others is a valuable storytelling tool that allows for more exploration of certain areas of the story while underplaying others.


Type Conceptualizing ↔ Conceiving

coming up with an idea

Conceiving is the process of arriving at an idea. If there were no artificial light in the world, one might conceive the need for some form of electric torch. That would be conceiving. But the design of an actual incandescent bulb versus a fluorescent one would require conceptualizing a specific implementation of the idea one has conceived. Conceiving need not come before conceptualizing. For example, a common dramatic technique is to give a character a very clear mental image of an object or arrangement that holds the solution to the story's problem. But the character does not know the solution lies in the conceptualization. It is only when he finally conceives of the need for a particular kind of solution that he realizes he had the answer all along. Simply put, Conceiving defines the question, Conceptualizing clarifies the answer.

syn. originating, inventing, devising, engendering, hatch ideas

Conceiving an Idea

Type Developing a Plan ↔ Conceiving an Idea

coming up with an idea

Conceiving An Idea is the process of arriving at an idea. If there were no artificial light in the world, one might conceive the need for some form of electric torch. That would be conceiving. But the design of an actual incandescent bulb versus a fluorescent one would require developing a plan for a specific implementation of the idea one has conceived. Conceiving An Idea need not come before developing a plan. For example, a common dramatic technique is to give a character a very clear mental image of an object or arrangement that holds the solution to the story's problem. But the character does not know the solution lies in the conceptualization. It is only when he finally conceives of the need for a particular kind of solution that he realizes he had the answer all along. Simply put, Conceiving An Idea defines the question, Developing a Plan clarifies the answer.

syn. originating, inventing, devising, engendering, hatch ideas


Type Conceiving ↔ Conceptualizing

visualizing how an idea might be implemented

Conceptualizing means coming up with a practical implementation of an idea. It is not enough to simply have the idea. To conceptualize, one must develop an actual mental model of how such an idea might be made manifest. In other words, one might have an idea to build a spacious house. But to conceptualize the house one must imagine everything that makes up the house -- the design, the layout, the colors and textures, everything that is essential to understanding what that specific house is. A character that deals with conceptualizing would be well aware of the kind of solution that will eliminate the problem but spend his time trying to devise a specific way of achieving that solution.

syn. visualizing, imagining, envisioning, visualizing implementation



The principal area of concern in a throughline

The category or nature of that for which the characters in a given throughline are most anxious, eager, or which they hope to protect or affect.


Variation Instinct ↔ Conditioning

responses based on experience or training

Conditioning describes learned responses to various stimuli. Similar to Instinct in that the Consciousness in not involved until after the fact, Conditioning differs insofar as it was not inherent in the basic nature of a character but acquired though training or familiarity to impose its triggers on the mind. Since Instincts are intrinsic and Conditioning is learned, they frequently come in conflict over how to respond. This concept alone has provided the theme for many intriguing stories.

syn. habituation, trained response, accustomed response, adaptive adjustments


Variation Worry ↔ Confidence

belief in the accuracy of an expectation

Confidence points to the future. It is not a rating of the present situation but a positive evaluation of how things will turn out. Confidence, therefore, is a great motivator in unknown situations. This is because Confidence is not based on predicting a situation but on the experience of past situations. The downside is that Confidence erodes the motivation to prepare for the unexpected. If past experience has always shown that even the most threatening disasters have worked themselves out, then one will ignore potential danger that may turn out to be real. We see this in history time and time again, such as the way the people of Pompeii remained in their homes while Vesuvius bellowed smoke for the umpteenth time.

syn. hopeful prospects, positive expectations, faithful anticipation, optimism


Element Temptation ↔ Conscience

forgoing an immediate benefit because of future consequences

Conscience is the motivation that negative consequences are unavoidable if a present desire is acted upon. Conscience can serve a character well in overcoming strong transient desires that would bring disasters upon him. If the negative consequences are purely imaginary, however, Conscience constricts the free expression of one's heart.

syn. forgoing for fear of consequences, forgo, forbearance, temperance, abstinence, restraining oneself


Type Memory ↔ Conscious


When one has all the facts, knows all the impact -- both positive and negative; when one is fully aware of detrimental consequences and still decides on the poor course of action, there is something wrong with the way one arrives at conclusions. This is the subject of stories focusing on the Conscious. The key here is not to redefine who a character is but to lead him to relearn how to weigh an issue so his conclusions are less destructive to himself and/or others.

syn. considerations, sensibilities, cognizant, ability to consider, sensible, informed contemplation, contemplation



the result of failing to achieve the goal

For every goal there is a consequence. Consequence describes the results of failing to achieve the goal. This predisposes the goal to be something desirable but this is not necessarily true. Sometimes the difference between goal and consequence can be one of choosing the lesser of two evils. More optimistically put, goal and consequence might be measures of magnitude of two favorable outcomes. Sometimes the Consequence will occur if the goal is not met, other times the consequence already exists and can only be eliminated by meeting the goal. So if they are close in their negative or positive value, it may be difficult to be sure which is the consequence and which is the goal. An easy way to be certain is to see which one the protagonist hopes to achieve.


Element Reconsider ↔ Consider

weighing pros and cons

A Consideration is the act of deliberation. A character possessing the Consideration characteristic keeps pondering an issue, running it over in his mind. Once he has latched onto a topic, he refuses to let it go until it is resolved. This trait aids in keeping one's motivations impervious to erosion. On the other hand, the Consideration characteristic may not let sleeping dogs lie. Therefore it can lead to stirring up all kinds of negative reactions.

syn. deliberate, contemplate, ponder, weigh in the mind, mull


Archetype Guardian ↔ Contagonist

an Archetype representing the motivations of temptation and hinder

A concept unique to Dramatica, the Contagonist is the character that balances the Guardian. If Protagonist and Antagonist can archetypically be thought of as "Good" versus "Evil," the Contagonist is "Temptation" to the Guardian's "Conscience." Because the Contagonist has a negative effect upon the Protagonist's quest, it is often mistakenly thought to be the Antagonist. In truth, the Contagonist only serves to hinder the Protagonist in his quest, throwing obstacles in front of him as an excuse to lure him away from the road he must take in order to achieve success. The Antagonist is a completely different character, diametrically opposed to the Protagonist's successful achievement of the goal.


Type Memories ↔ Contemplation


When one has all the facts, knows all the impact -- both positive and negative; when one is fully aware of detrimental consequences and still decides on the poor course of action, there is something wrong with the way one arrives at conclusions. This is the subject of stories focusing on Contemplation. The key here is not to redefine who a character is but to lead him to relearn how to weigh an issue so his conclusions are less destructive to himself and/or others.

syn. considerations, sensibilities, cognizant, ability to consider, sensible, informed contemplation, contemplation


Element Uncontrolled ↔ Control

a method based on organization and constraint

The Control characteristic causes a character to methodically direct its actions and deliberations to the specific purpose at hand. This leads to a great degree of focus. The drawback is that when one focuses, one loses peripheral vision. The purpose can become so all consuming that many peripheral yet essential parts of the equation are ignored until it is too late to save the whole project.

syn. regulate, organized management, steer, conduct, guide, manipulate, focused organization



the price that must be paid while meeting the requirements of the goal

Requirements are not always met just by applying effort. Sometimes they involve trade-offs necessitating the acceptance of loss in another area in order to meet the requirement. The damages sustained in the process of meeting the requirement are the Cost of achieving the goal. Cost should not be confused with Consequence. Consequence is a state of things that either exists and will be vanquished by the goal or will come to exist unless the goal is achieved. In contrast, Cost builds over the course of the story all the way to the climax. Sometimes by the end of the story, the consequence of not achieving the goal is far less than the cumulative cost of achieving it. If there is a single large cost to be paid right at the moment of the climax, the Main Character may decide he has paid enough already and determine the goal is just not worth it, electing to stop trying. If there is no large cost at the end, the Main Character may decide to keep on going for an insignificant goal motivated by the thought of how much they already invested. In the words of the songwriter/singer Don McLean, "The more you pay, the more it's worth."

Critical Flaw


the Main vs. Impact Character trait that inhibits or undermines the effectiveness of that Main vs. Impact Character's Unique Ability

To balance the Main Character's extraordinary status conveyed by his Unique Ability, he must also be shown to be especially vulnerable in one area as well. This vulnerability is called his Critical Flaw. The Main Character's Critical Flaw is his Achilles heel that prevents him from being too one-sided. Just as with Unique Ability, the Critical Flaw can be quite mundane as long as it can threaten him with failure from an unprotected direction. The specific Critical Flaw must be unique to the Main Character in the story. However, the more common the Critical Flaw is to the audience, the more it will identify with the Main Character's predicament. In Start stories, the Critical Flaw inhibits the Main Character from using his Unique Ability. In Stop stories, the Critical Flaw undoes the work done by the Unique Ability after the fact. Only when the Main Character learns to either Start or Stop as required by the story can the Critical Flaw be avoided, allowing his Unique Ability to solve the problem. The Impact Character in any story also has a Unique Ability which makes him uniquely qualified to thwart the Main Character. But in his character as well is a Critical Flaw which prevents him from just totally overwhelming the Main Character. This is again a trait which is unique to this particular character, but its effects are felt in a different area than the Main Character Critical Flaw because of the Impact Character's different purposes.

Crucial Element


a character element that ties throughlines together at the Element level

The single dramatic element that links the Overall and Main vs. Impact stories together. The Main Character's decision regarding the Crucial Element ultimately leads to an Outcome of Success or Failure and a Judgment of Good or Bad.


Dynamic Term

the flow of a process

One way to measure the relationship of items in a quad is to classify them as Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome (or Power). In this manner, we can see how dramatic components operate on each other over the course of the story. Current simply means the flow of a process. When a dramatic current exists it does not necessarily create change. Rather, until it is directed to a specific purpose as Power, the current will have no impact at all. So in a quad, assigning one of the items as the current does not mean it will alter the course of the story. Instead, it might function to encourage purpose by providing a ready motivation. This is a useful tool for Authors since it allows for the subtle relationship of unused, inferred, threatened, or anticipated dramatic interactions that shape the fabric of a story in ways other than conflict.