Is the Dramatica Theory Too Narrow?

Is it my imagination (or ignorance) or does Dramatica have a very narrow approach to story telling? For example, how do you fit your characters into Dramatica's archetypes? I have no Main character... they are all equally important. I have no hero; but I do have one character who is probably more evil than the rest. Is there some aspect of Dramatica that allows you to create a main character that is an antihero--or just plain evil. There is no "Helper" or "Skeptic" or "Guardian" etc. In fact the Dramatic types make very little sense to my story. The instructions suggest something about creating complex characters, but this seems so tedious. Is there another way to fit an unconventional story line into this program?

Archetypes are simple by definition. If you'd like more complex characters, you'll need to move away from the convenience of archetypes and into the world of complex characters. Complex characters are not difficult to create--it's just a matter of choosing their component elements in the Build Characters window. "Complex" refers to the degree to which a character's internal and external characteristics are in harmony (archetype) or at odds (complex).

Personally, I think Dramatica's description of story is far from simplistic. It is rich in depth and breadth. Please do not use the StoryGuide as an indication of Dramatica's reach into your story. The StoryGuide is DESIGNED to be simple and linear because it is designed to be used by Dramatica newbies and therefore uses the archetypes instead of suggesting more sophisticated character choices. However, Dramatica need not be used in either a simple or linear manner. Look to any of the other Query System topic lists or the Story Points window to get a better idea of the Dramatica's scope.

For example, Dramatica does NOT describe characters such as a Hero or Villain. Those are storytelling conventions that are not very useful if you want to do something even slightly less conventional. Instead, Dramatica see characters as having functions in different areas (throughlines) of the story. By separating the functions, an author may combine the "pieces" in interesting ways to create non-traditional characters. By way of example, you may combine the Main Character with the functions of an antagonist or a sidekick or any type of complex character instead of the typical MC/protagonist pairing.

With that said, Dramatica IS best used to develop a particular form of story--one in which an author wishes to present an argument to an audience in the form of a story. If you're not interested in developing a "Grand Argument Story" then Dramatica may not be the tool for you to use. Otherwise, it's by far the best story development tool available and the only one that makes suggestions about your story based information you give it in areas of the story you DID NOT describe.

Is a Success Outcome dependent on whether the Protagonist wins?

If the Protagonist in an archetypal story is pursuing something bad and the Main Character (who is the Antagonist) is trying to stop him, how does this affect the outcome of a story? Is a Success outcome dependent on whether the Protagonist wins, or whether the Main Character wins?

The Outcome is always dependent on what is going on in the Objective Story and does not directly relate to the Main Character or the MC’s wishes. For instance, the Objective Story might be about an assassination attempt on the President. If the Protagonist was the prime mover toward killing the President, then Outcome would be based on whether or not he succeeded in doing so (Success if he dies, Failure if he lives). Conversely, if the Protagonist was trying to protect the President from assassination, then the Outcome would be based on how effective he was at preventing the murder (Failure if he dies, Success if he lives).

If the Main Character is the Protagonist, should the Crucial Element be part of the Archetype?

If a Main Character is also the protagonist of the story should the Crucial Element always be one of the elements that make up a Protagonist archetype (pursuit, consider etc.) or can it be any element you choose?

The simple answer is that the crucial element can be any element you want. HOWEVER, you bring up some other issues and they warrant a little follow up commentary.

If your Main Character is a FULLY archetypal main character, then the crucial element would be one of the MC’s eight elements (pursue, consider, actuality, knowledge, proven, effect, certainty, or proaction). Our Star Wars example, on the other hand, is a bit of a cheat. Though the eight principle characters align themselves at the Motivation level into a Dramatica Archetypal Character pattern (and therefore have the “appearance” of truly archetypal characters), the pattern does not hold up as you explore the three other levels of character: Methodology, Purpose, and Means of Evaluation.

Since Star Wars emphasis is decidedly NOT on character, the other levels are not nearly as well drawn as the character Motivations. This works reasonably well because the audience is given enough information to infer that the characters are archetypes. Encoding characters this way frees the author from having to illustrate every function of a character because the rest of the functions are implied. The author only needs to be explicit when a character represents a non-archetypal characteristic.

If the Antagonist changes, will that result in a Happy Ending?

I have a wife as the Antagonist, but I want in the end for the husband and wife to come back together again. Is it possible?

Certainly. Scrooge in A Christmas Carol is certainly the Antagonist (though he happens to be the MC as opposed to the IC), and as a result of his change he is now back in the graces of his fellow Londoners, including his nephew, his debtors, and Bob Cratchet and family.

Can the Antagonist change?

I wouldn’t suggest that the Antagonist change so much as the Impact Character, who just happens to be the Antagonist as well, change. An Antagonist can change after they have won or been beaten, but they shouldn’t do so before that point, otherwise the Objective Story will not have any sense of closure—providing you want to tell a Grand Argument Story that is, in fact, a closed story, i.e. a complete argument.

Can an Antagonist be redeemed?

That’s a storytelling and Story Reception issue more so than a storyforming issue. You can certainly have an extremely “bad” or antagonistic person find the err of their ways, BUT modern audiences may not buy into the happy ending business. This goes in and out of fashion. Modern adult American audiences have a jaundiced view toward “easy” changes of heart and tend to distrust them.

Does the Impact Character have to be a Driver character?

In the Archetypal structure, does the Impact Character have to be among the drivers?

No. The Impact Character can be on the sidelines. However, the IC has a tendency to look more active than many of the Objective Characters purely because of the screen time or book space they take up in the exploration of their personal point of view and with their involvement in the Relationship Story.

Do you have to keep the Archetypal Motivations Dramatica assigns?

Once you have assigned a character a role as an Archetype, does it matter if you change their motivation? Or must you keep the Archetypal Motivations that Dramatica assigns?

The purpose of using archetypal characters in a story is as a storytelling shorthand. The characters appear much more simplistic (less complex) than “real” people, though they still are well rounded (motivations, methodologies, etc.). It doesn’t matter to Dramatica if you reassign motivations after you assign an archetype to a character, providing that you understand that you are thereby making the character more complex and “less” archetypal. We use archetypes in the StoryGuide because it is simpler to lead you (and every other writer who follows it) through the process.

Why are character interactions limited only to the Motivations set?

I have been using the Star Wars example as a guide to understand archetype interaction and organization in the “motivation” set. But the objective story problem is listed as “Physics: test vs. trust” which would be found in the evaluation set. Why then are the character interactions limited only to the “motivations” set?”

The Star Wars characters are actually archetypal only at the motivation level. The other character dimension sets are in completely non-archetypal arrangements. The purpose of using archetypal characters is to show the patterns that exist in the Dramatica model of story. In point of fact, very few stories (other than children’s stories) contain lots of Dramatica archetypes. Most stories are populated with complex characters. Remember, the StoryGuide is designed to “guide” writers through the Dramatica process. It still requires that the writer bring their own writing skills and intuitions to bare.

Is the Emotion Archetype always the Love Interest/Influence Character in a story?

Is the Emotion Archetype most often the Love Interest and also the Impact Character in a story?

That is perhaps the current convention in action pictures, but has not been the case in the past. In 40s films, for example, the Impact/Love Interest is often the Guardian, or even the Reason archetype.

Perhaps the one thing that IS rather consistent is that the Love Interest (if there is one) is often the Impact Character, regardless of the objective role, archetypal or complex. Still, in Star Wars, Obi-wan is the Impact Character, but Leia is something of the Love Interest.

That is one reason that thinking about Heroes, Villains, and Love Interests is much too indelicate to describe what is really happening in stories. Though certain combinations may come in and out of vogue (such as the anti-heroes of the late sixties and early seventies) thinking in conventional terms is contrary to coming up with unique combinations of one’s own that elevate a story as being not quite like anything else.

One final note: In Aliens the Archetypal role of Guardian is split between the Michael Biehn part and the Paul Burke part, each getting half of the Guardian characteristics and half of the Contagonist characteristics.. Biehn is Help from the Guardian, but Temptation (“Nuke them from orbit” - which will never make Ripley face her fear) from the Contagonist, whereas Burke is Hinder from the Contagonist but Conscience (“You gotta get back on the horse!” - which is just what she really needs to do) from the Guardian.

In short, there are no right or wrong combinations, just commonly used conventions which on the positive side are immediately recognizable by the audience, yet on the negative side are predictable and pedestrian.

Can one character replace another within the structure?

Can a character archetype function (I’m thinking of Contagonist here) be displayed by one character who then drops out of the story about half way through, and then this function be taken up by another character - whether new or not???

Yes. We call this a “hand-off” and is briefly spoken of in the Dramatica theory book. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to indicate this in the Dramatica software at this time. Hint: Avoid having the hand-off characters in the same place at the same time. It is redundant and can be confusing for the audience.

What about stories with too many characters?

What does one do when one has so many characters, as in James Clavell’s Shogun?

Well, in something like Shogun, there are MANY substories intertwined with the main story (a Portuguese pilot stranded in Japan who falls in love with an “off limits” woman and becomes embroiled in local conflicts while trying to get himself and his shipmates back home). Adding substories (which can include sub-plots, sub-characters, sub-themes, and even sub-genres) adds a richness and density to the work, but are not essential to relating the “message” (storyform) of the main story.

Protagonist or Antagonist? I can’t decide.

As I understand it, Protagonist is the one trying to achieve something. The Antagonist is the one trying to hinder him. This makes a lot of "bad guys" be Protagonists. In Transformers, the Decepticons would often be the Protagonists. This makes James Bond an Antagonist.

It's all in how you position the goal. If you say the goal is to Stop the Decepticons from doing "fill in evil deed here", then the protagonists are the ones pursuing that goal, and the Decepticons ones trying to prevent or avoid that.

Keep in mind that the Story Outcome is tied to the Story Goal. This is a good indicator as to how the author wants the audience to understand who the protagonist and antagonist are.

Contagonist: Why?

I have an intellectual understanding for the need of a Contagonist, but I don't have a practical understanding. Can anyone give me an example of a Contagonist in a well-known film? I've tried to figure out what a Contagonist's motivation might be. Why do they try to thwart or deflect the Protagonist? I can understand why an Antagonist would act like that, but I can't understand what motivates a Contagonist to do so. Are they deluded? Do they know something the Antagonist doesn't? Do they have mixed feelings? Everything I've read seems strong on theory, but not particularly enlightening in practice. Is the Contagonist supposed to be a subtle character who's not as easily quantified as a Protagonist or an Antagonist? Is the concept blurry because the character itself is supposed to be blurry?

First off, there is no need for Contagonists to WANT to tempt or deflect the protagonist or others, it is just what they do. In other words, intent is not needed for a Contagonist to function (the same is pretty much true for all objective characters in the overall story).

The simplest example of a Contagonist I can think of is the little devil that sits on someone's shoulder giving them all sorts of bad advice. Of course, he is balanced out by the Guardian angel. It's important to note that a Contagonist represents temptation and hinder, but is not necessarily applied in any specific direction. The Story Goal gives a useful barometer for an author to use, but that not required for the character to do his job. In Star Wars, Darth Vader is the Contagonist. He deflects the efforts of the protagonist Luke by killing Obi-wan, but also deflects the antagonists' efforts by squabbling with Empire officers, and even suggesting that Gran Mof Tarkin let Luke et al leave the Death Star with the tracking device, which allows the rebels to find and exploit the Death Star's weakness before the Empire blows the Rebel's base to bits. Darth also represents temptation, as in 'here's what happens to you if you give into the temptation of the dark side of the Force.' In subsequent films, he more actively tempts Luke to join him.

The Contagonist need not be blurry, but may appear to be less obvious if it's functions are shown using subtle storytelling techniques.

Do Dramatica Archetypes Sync Up with the Enneagram?

I have Characterpro 5, which helps create characters based on the Enneagram, and have studied it extensively through Poetics and other such books, and am wondering if there is a way to carry over the information into my use of Dramatica.

There is no direct correlation between the nine Enneagram personality types and Dramatica's eight archetypal characters, through there is some crossover.

2 - The Helper --- Guardian
5 - The Investigator --- Reason
6 - The Loyalist --- Sidekick

1 - The Reformer --- Elements of the Reason archetype
4 - The Individualist --- Emotion
8 - The Challenger --- Antagonist

3 - The Achiever --- (Skeptic?)
7 - The Enthusiast --- (Contagonist?)
9 - The Peacemaker --- (Protagonist?)

The primary difference between the Enneagram personalities and the Dramatica archetypes is the result of evaluations made from two vastly different points of reference AND looking at two different things.

The Enneagram looks at integrated personality types and organizes them by dominant traits.

Dramatica sees the entire collection of problem-solving functions as the basis for a SINGLE integrated persona and organizes the elements by problem solving functionality.

That's why there are obvious points of intersection and areas of equally clear divergence.

Melanie Anne Phillips suggested to me that the Enneagram personality types could be built in Dramatica's Build Character window and saved using the "Typecast" feature. If anyone is up to the challenge, I'd be happy to make them available to other Dramatica users by posting them to Let me know if you're interested!