How do I create complex themes?

After reading the Dramatica Theory book, it stated that Gone with the Wind used archetypal characters to explore it's more complex theme. The problem is that in the book I learn to build complex characters but not complex themes, so I was wondering how to build complex themes, and how do I know if I have a complex theme.

In each throughline is an Issue. This is the MOST thematic point of exploration of the throughline. Exploring the throughline Issues is the minimum required for a grand argument story.

Each thematic point has a counterpoint, such as Morality vs. Self Interest, Desire vs. Ability, Security vs. Threat, etc. Exploring the balance between the thematic point and counterpoint develops theme to a greater level than just exploring the thematic Issue.

You can delve into even greater thematic depth by evaluating the thematic point and counterpoint in terms of the co-dynamic pair in the same structural quad in which the Issue is found. For example, Morality and Self Interest can be more deeply examined in terms of Attitude and Approach; Security and Threat can be more fully understood in terms of Fact and Fantasy. Creating relative and comparitive assessments of each item in an a throughline's Issue quad gives you the opportunity to explore your story's themes with a greater degree of subtlety than examining an Issue by itself.

What is the difference between Issue and Counterpoint?

How much does it matter which is the Issue and which is the Counterpoint of a throughline? Both will obviously play a role since the conflict between them is being explored. Using the example of "Morality vs Self Interest", the book says "Because Morality is the issue, it would be in the forefront and appear as the topic or subject matter". But Self Interest will by necessity appear just as often, will it not?

The Issue is the context by which the counterpoint is seen and frames the throughline problem, solution, symptom and response.

A throughline with Morality as the Issue puts Morality front and center. Self Interest is seen as the contrast to Morality. Both of them are seen in the larger context of Obtaining (the Concern).


A small school is trying to raise enough money to stay open (Concern of Obtaining). The teachers are so dedicated to their students that they agree to give up a part of their salary to keep the school open (Issue of Morality). The principal, however, sees this as a great opportunity to boost his reputation, especially since he has plans to get a job on the Board of Education (Counterpoint of Self Interest). Both Morality and Self Interest are explored in terms of Faith, Disbelief, Conscience and Temptation.

A throughline with Self Interest as the Issue puts Self Interest front and center. Morality is seen as the contrast to Self Interest. Both of them are seen in the larger context of Obtaining (the Concern).


A small school is trying to raise enough money to stay open (Concern of Obtaining). The teachers are dedicated to their students but they refuse to give up a part of their salary to keep the school open (Issue of Self Interest). The principal, however, sees this as a personal mission and petitions the Board of Education to use their rainy day fund to keep the school going after he has tapped out all his personal contacts (Counterpoint of Morality). Both Self Interest and Morality are explored in terms of Pursuit, Avoidance, Control and Uncontrolled.

What are some examples of State of Being as an Issue?

The dictionary describes State of Being as:

State of Being: one's true nature, State of Being describes the actual nature of a character -- essence, one's true self, true self, essential nature, core being

Are there any examples of this Issue in play within a story (besides those found in the Example Storyforms)? Be sure to include the throughline (Overall Story, Main Character, Influence Character or Relationship Story) since the context will have an influence over how it is colored.

This one is tough for me because I see "State of Being" and all I think of is Hamlet's MC throughline ("To be or not to be...").

So, I'll give an example by making one up on the spot. This will be the Relationship throughline with the following settings:

  • Domain: MANIPULATION (Psychology) -- Pretending to be Someone Else
  • Concern: DEVELOPING A PLAN -- Outdoing Someone by Skillful Planning
  • Issue: STATE OF BEING -- Seeing Someone's True Self
  • Problem: SPECULATION -- Guessing Something
  • Solution: PROJECTION -- Projecting the Present into the Future
  • Symptom: DESIRE -- Being Desirous
  • Response: ABILITY -- Being Someone Unable to do or be Something
  • Catalyst: SENSE OF SELF -- Understanding One's True Nature
  • Inhibitor: SUSPICION -- Being Suspect
  • Benchmark: CHANGING ONE'S NATURE -- Changing into something else

RELATIONSHIP: A famous actor (Marcus) and his body double (Aaron) as unequal co-workers.

Tension exists between teen idol Marcus Black and his equally photogenic and talented body double, Aaron as they work together closely on the pilot for a new cable series, "Burbank Rules." Spending so much time together let's them see each others true colors. Marcus is pompous, self-serving and insecure but famous, whereas Aaron is equally talented and driven, but unknown and inexperienced. The nature of their top dog / underdog relationship is made starkly visible to all concerned as the two become more agitated as first the crew, then the media begin to call them, "The Marcus Twins." (Issue of State of Being).

This gives 'the Twins' the idea of switching identities during a one week break in the filming schedule, a la Prince and the Pauper (Domain of Manipulation, Pretending to be Someone Else). Things get complicated by the fact that Aaron wants a shot at replacing Marcus...permanently, which he thinks might be possible if he plays things right (Concern of Outdoing Someone by Skillful Planning). They both think the problem in their relationship is the desire for what the other has (Symptom of Being Desirous), but feel safe as they look at each others different skill sets (Response of Being someone unable to do or be something).

Sparks fly in their relationship when Marcus asserts his 'obviously' superior talent (Catalyst of Sense of Self), but are squelched when their behavior makes each suspect they are more alike than not (Inhibitor of Suspicion).

As their experiment moves forward, the nature of their relationship slowly changes from top dog / underdog to that of peers and possibly even friends (Benchmark of Changing into something else). It is only as someone begins guessing about the nature of their relationship and ruse does any real trouble come between them and threaten to break up their teamwork (Problem of Guessing Something). But if they look at where their relationship might go given its present track, both Marcus and Aaron are happy with the prospects (Solution of Projecting the present into the Future).

How do the Issue and Counterpoint interact?

Moving through the Story Guide, I got to the part where you're asked to rate if an ISSUE or COUNTERPOINT is advantageous or disadvantageous. I'm not sure how to interpret this. I "suspect" it is strictly judged by its utility to the characters. Seems straightforward when dealing with a positive story goal.

Faux example: If I'm writing a story about a couple of guys snatching purses from elderly blind women in order to raise money to go on a seal-clubbing safari and I'm presented with a ISSUE/COUNTERPOINT of MORALITY vs. SELF-INTEREST ... well, obviously "self-interest" is an advantage and "morality" a liability. Is this the way to view it? Or, do I guage it depending on the Story Judgement (ie: the author's standard?)

(The former version is about the only way I can even envision "MORALITY" being a disadvantage.)

Is it different in other throughlines?

The evaluation of a thematic point being advantageous or disadvantageous is from YOUR (the author's) perspective not the characters'. It's so you can objectively make a note to yourself how you want they are to be seen by the audience at the end of the work. You'll most likely want to "gray" the evaluation by showing positives and negatives for each thematic point. The slider tool in Dramatica is to let you indicate how you'd like everything to balance out after all is said and done.

In your faux example with the purse-snatching, seal-clubbing safari boys, I don't see that there's any clear advantage to "self-interest" or disadvantage to "morality." Don't take for granted your values are the same as others. You must say (or show) WHY one is more advantageous than the other. It's all a matter of context. For example, in a world where seals are overpopulating the world and threatening to destroy the ocean's fish supply, the stingy woman's reluctance to part with her purse (self interest as disadvantageous) contrasts the risks the thieves run by using her money to finance a trip to club seals in order to prevent world starvation (morality as advantageous).

You're the story god. You say what is right and wrong in your story world--what is advantageous or disadvantageous and how much it is.