Practical Dramatica

How do I convert Signposts and Journeys into chapters or scenes?

Proceeding with my first attempt with a novel story up to Storyweaving in Level 2, I find Scene Creation, Scene Tutorial and Scene Label under Storyweaving; and in Plot Progression, I find SignPosts and Journeys.

How do I convert these into Chapters?

The terms "scenes" and "chapters" are defined fairly loosely and can be used interchangably--the difference is the medium. There are many ways to build chapters/scenes. The instructions in the StoryGuide are one way. Examine the suggested chapters in the Novel Structural Template to see another.

Chapters/cenes can be defined in many different ways and therefore there can be many different "appropriate" numbers of them. Personally, I think you need as many (or few) chapters/scenes as is necessary to tell your story. You can wing it and do it by "feel," or you can use some sort of "logical" approach such as following the structure template, the storyweaving suggestions in the StoryGuide, etc. There is no "right" or "wrong" number of chapters/scenes.

With that said, I'd like to point you toward a resource you might find helpful - Armando Saldana Mora's book Dramatica for Screenwriters. You might find Section 5 of particular interest. It is called: 3 Acts, 16 Sequences And 48 Scenes—How To Get The Complete Plot From Dramatica. I think you'll find it easily readable, highly entertaining and surprising informative.

If I’m writing a Sitcom, why do I need 28 scenes?

I am developing a Pilot for a Sitcom Series for our local television station. However, I am a little confused. As I set about to create scenes for my story, I read that the software recommends starting with 28. Do I need so many scenes for the average half hour sitcom? Is there a specific sitcom format? I also need pointers about how to proceed in creating scenes. Please advise.

There are no specific number of scenes needed to tell a story. Each medium sets its own requirements. The suggested 28 scenes is a suggestion for a "generic" story and is only intended as a place from which to start. Sitcoms are a much shorter form than novels or screenplays, so they necessarily will be explored in fewer scenes and to a much shallower depth.

We currently do not have a template for building scenes for a Sitcom. However, you might want to give the Short Story structure template a look at, as well as look at some of the scene related materials from a  book we're published called, Dramatica for Screenwriters. Section Five may prove to be useful for you.

One recommendation I have for you is to determine which throughline(s) you are planning on emphasizing in the sitcom. Though you'll want all four throughlines to be represented, there isn't enough time to explore them all equally. Situation comedies traditionally tend to emphasize the Overall Story throughline. Some newer sitcoms (e.g. Will and Grace) give a lot of emphasis to the MC/IC (relationship) throughline. How you balance the four throughlines will impact the overall "feel" of the sitcom.

Another thing to think about is the effect that "comedy" has on the four domains.

  • Comedy + Situation = situation comedy
  • Comedy + Activity = physical comedy (e.g. slapstick)
  • Comedy + Fixed Attitude = comedy of manners (i.e. a humorous clash of attitudes)
  • Comedy + Manipulation = comedy of errors (e.g. gender and identity confusion, etc.)

If your sitcom is comedy across the board, then all four domains will be explored comically. How you assign your throughlines to those domains, combined with which throughlines you choose to emphasize, will effect the over type of comedy you create. Section Two of "Dramatica for Screenwriters" has some good insights into "classic" traditional genres.

What advice can you give to someone new to Dramatica?

One of the best tips I can give to new Dramatica users is this: Test drive Dramatica BEFORE you try to fix your story's problems. Do not try to introduce yourself to Dramatica's concepts while struggling with your story. Learn what Dramatica has to offer. Then run your story through Dramatica's paces. Here's how to do this.

Put whatever story you're working on to the side for a moment and do the following:

  • Open one of the structure template files (screenplay, novel, or short story) and SAVE AS... "Test Story."
  • Click on the StoryGuide tile (the one that says "Start Here")
  • Select Level One
  • Get yourself an egg timer or one of those three-minute "hour glasses" that come with some board games.
  • Pick a familiar fairy tale or decide to make up a story.
  • Proceed through the Level One StoryGuide with the fairy tale or made-up story as your test story. The important thing is to get a sense of what Dramatica can do for you first--BEFORE you try fixing your own story's problems.
  • Have fun. Don't take this "exercise" too seriously. This is only a test story, not a story in which you have personal investment.
  • Spend no more than three minutes on ANY topic. Use the timer or hourglass if you need reminding.
  • For fill-in-the-blank questions, enter one or two sentences, or leave it blank if you run out of time.
  • For multiple choice questions, choose anything arbitrarily if you run out of time.
  • Continue on through the StoryGuide until you reach the part where you begin creating and describing scenes or chapters. At this point you can choose to stop this exercise or continue until the end of the scene building.

Once you have gone through the Level One StoryGuide once, you'll have a better understanding of the basics of what Dramatica can do for your writing. Take what you've learned and go through the process with your own story.

How can I use Dramatica to help structure a massive trilogy?

I have started writing the first of a trilogy of fantasy novels, using Dramatica.

I have found Dramatic very useful in developing the structure of the first novel. I am struggling with how or whether I can or should use Dramatica to ensure that the trilogy has structure in itself and that integrity is sustained between the stories of the individual novels and the overall story of the trilogy.

The success of the classical 3 act structure suggests to me that each novel should represent an act on the trilogy's story. I am interested in any suggestions as to how I can best use Dramatica in this satiation and am sure such advice might be useful to others.

There are several ways of developing trilogies:

  1. Simple Segmented Trilogy -- Basically, take your storyform and break the storyweaving into three parts. The transitions between books are generally at Overall Story transitions, and frequently combined with one or more transitions in the other throughlines. This works for fairly simple stories, such as children's stories or novellas. Advantage: Easy-to-follow story development. Disadvantage: Books do not stand well on their own as complete story.
  2. Multi-Story Segmented Trilogy -- Blend two or more storyforms (such as those described in Simple Segmented Trilogy) and break the storyweaving into three parts. Exploring more than one storyform at a time gives you a LOT of latitude (and material) for pacing each segment of the trilogy. The Lord of the Rings trilogy loosely fits this category. Each of the stories introduced in volume 1 develops in volume 2 and resolves in book 3. The pacing of each story, however, can be radically different for each throughline. This is an advantage to this form. This works for complex stories. Advantage: Multiple stories allows for interesting storyweaving with many opportunities for "cliff-hangars." Disadvantage: Books do not stand well on their own as complete story.
  3. Single-Story Trilogy -- Take three stories and put them together in sequence. This is, essentially, a trilogy consisting of a core story and two sequels. Each book is a complete storyform. There are many tricks to link the books together, but the books are separate and stand alone. This works well for episodic stories. Advantage: Each story stands on its own. Disadvantage: Less compelling story connection between "episodes."
  4. Combination Trilogy -- By far the most complex form, this combines Single-Story Trilogy stories with either a Simple Segmented Trilogy or a Multi-Story Segmented Trilogy. Each book will have a complete, stand alone story that begins, develops, and concludes within the confines of the book. It will also have elements that span the full length of the trilogy, each book exploring a part of the whole storyform. When this works, it's amazing. It's very tough to do because you have to develop a LOT of material for each book. Advantage: Each book stands alone but also encourages reading the sequel. Disadvantage: Can be too complex for some audiences and authors, particularly during the "set-up" period in book 1.

Of course, these are generalizations. Many works exist somewhere between them.

In case you're interested, the fantasy trilogy The Bronze Canticles was written by Tracy Hickman (New York Times best-selling author). Mr. Hickman is both a Dramatica user and very interactive with his readers. I'm sure he'd be open to answering some of these questions himself.

How do I write a short story with Dramatica?

Do you have a step by step procedure on how to write short stories with Dramtica? I want to write shorts with Dramatica and I get lost trying to translate long format to short. It would be nice to have a special tutorial or guide specifically to do short formats with Dramatica. Can you help this struggling writer?

Have you tried using the Short Story structure template that comes with the software (located in the Structure Templates folder)? That might give you some of the assistance you're looking for.

Though Dramatica is admittedly overkill for short story work, the key to using it for short stories is to limit the scope or depth of the story development to fit the "size" of the short story. Another technique is to touch on the various story points but only with a word, phrase, or sentence.

Here's an exercise you can use for creating a short story:

  • Pick any quad in the Dramatica structural chart, such as Truth-Falsehood-Suspicion-Evidence.
  • Note where that quad is in the chart, for example the above quad is connected to Memory and Fixed Attitude as well as the sixteen elements beneath them.
  • Pick one of the items in the quad as the topic you want to explore most thematically, for example Truth.
  • Note the elements beneath the chosen item, such as Knowledge-Thought-Perception-Actuality
  • Assign each of those items in the quad below your chosen topic in the chosen quad to characters. In this example, you will have a Knowledge character, a Thought character, a Perception character, and an Actuality character. You can keep them extremely simplistic, or use the archetypes that embody those characteristics to populate your story, though doing so may complicate your story beyond its short story limitations.
  • Pick an order for the quad items in the chosen quad, e.g. Suspicion-Falsehood-Evidence-Truth. This will become the "act" order for your short story. Start off exploring the first item, move to the next, the next, and finish with the last. This assumes a limited throughline approach to the story.
  • An alternative method is to assign a throughline to each of the items in the quad, e.g. Suspicion is the Main Character throughline, Falsehood is the Overall Story, Evidence is the Impact Character throughline, and Truth is the MC/IC throughline. Explore the "argument" by exploring the perspective using their unique contexts.
  • Play around with the relationships between the items and the structural levels.

Using Dramatica this way is very imprecise, but may help narrow Dramatica's materials to a manageable level.

Can I use Dramatica to craft a non-fiction book?

Can I use Dramatica to craft a non-fiction book? I bought the software a few years ago to write an historical novel but, after much research and many false starts, I've concluded that the material lends itself better to some sort of roots-search-turned-biography. Please advise.

Dramatica can be used for non-fiction if you're writing something with an opinion, such as an essay or a piece of non-fiction told in a slightly novelized fashion. If your intent is to create a piece of non-fiction in which the author does not make any value judgments, then Dramatica will not be of much use. Dramatica is designed to help a writer create a compelling argument to his audience, one that has definite opinions.

Many biographies and histories are fictionalized to make them more interesting and accessible to an audience, often achieved by omitting or rearranging events. The movie "Ray" is a recent example. However, many biographies and histories are written as objective observations and recollections of events in a person's life or in a particular place at a particular time. Dramatica is great for the former, not much use for the latter.

How can I effectively use Dramatica’s structure templates?

I have tried 3 different runs at storyforming and am noticing on this latest, which is coming together very well, that the program didn't automatically "assign" archetypal roles to the characters. This makes me think I didn't open up a Structure Template when I started this time. As a fiction novice I assume I would be well served to have that running as I build the story. Is there a way to take the story file I have developed and somehow add on/overlay a Structure Template even though I am half way through the queries?

Unfortunately, there is no way to apply a structure template to a file. You have two avenues open to you. The easiest is to open the novel structure template and print the "Treatment with Structure" report. Use this as a guide line for building your scenes or chapters. Then go into the Character window and create your additional six characters and assign all eight characters an archetype (if you want to work with archetypes as a starting point). The second option is to start over and rewrite the illustrations or copy and paste the illustrations.

When moving text from one place to another within the same document, highlight the text in the StoryGuide or Story Points window, cut it using the keyboard command or Edit menu command, go to the place you want it added, and paste it. You must be in "edit" mode to cut or paste. The Story Points window requires you to select the topic and press the Edit button (or double-click on it) to get into edit mode. The StoryGuide/Query System illustration topics require you to simply click in the text edit box before copying, cutting, or pasting.

If you're moving text from one document to another, you must have both documents open at the same time. To do this, make sure the General Preference "Window Options" is checked to allow File menu to open multiple windows. Then, open the files you want using the File menu Open command, not the Open tile on the desktop. Once you have both files open, copy or cut the material from the one document and then paste it in the other.

How do I use Dramatica’s reports to help write my story?

I am brand new to Dramatica. I have done the suggested level one entry of a fairy tale and printed the report. Now what? How do I use this report? I am working on a story, the details of which I will enter into the program. But until I understand how to use the report/reports, it's sort of a useless exercise. So I need help. Please!

Now that you've gone through the process once it should be easier for you to use it on one of your own stories. Even though the StoryGuide is presented in a linear order, you CAN use much of it non-linearly by answering questions about your story that you know FIRST and going back to the topics you're not as sure about later.

The value of Dramatica is two-fold. The first is the process of going through storyforming, storytelling (illustrating), and storyweaving your story. During that process, you learn more about your story than you probably would otherwise.

The second benefit are the reports. If you've created scenes or chapters, the Treatment report collects them into a story treatment or step outline. The other reports are valuable in different ways. Some organize the material you entered which is useful as reference material for writing the finished work. Other reports make observations about your story. Like any set of tools, use the reports that work for you and ignore the rest. You'll find that you end up with favorites and hardly use some others.

How can I use Dramatica to write interactive fiction?

I am writing interactive fictions mostly (RPG etc). Since I can’t know if the players are going to be “be-ers” or “do-ers”, if they are going to “success” or not, I can't finish the Storyform. I am interested in (any kind of) tips on what Dramatica can offer in ways of improving a plot with an open ending.

There are all sorts of ways to use Dramatica for interactive, open-ended stories. However, the more open-ended the story is, the less Dramatica can do for you. Why? Because the way the Dramatica software is set up assumes that there is an author's intent—a message, if you will—and that the story's meaning is built into an argument. "Open-ended" implies that meaning is not determined by the author and that there isn't any explicit meaning in the story.

With that said, here are some ways to use Dramatica for interactive stories:

  1. Create a storyform (or set of storyforms) for your underlying story. Use the storyform for the "story" portion of the interactive fiction/game, particularly the Overall Story throughline. For example, specific tasks can be set up and achieved or not. If they're "storyform necessary" tasks, then certain criteria need to be met before moving on.
  2. Use the concepts of Dramatica's story points as conceptual guidelines for building the loose structure of your interactive fiction. For example, include the ideas of Story Goal, Requirements, Consequences, etc. in your story even though they may not be structurally related (not connected by a storyform). This will give the fiction the appearance of a "story" without the constraints of author's intent.
  3. Use the character elements as building blocks for creating characters and/or character "powers." These can give you an idea of how the character elements might interact.

The great thing about interactive fiction is that it is interactive—it responds to the desires of the role playing user. The greatest downside is that the story cannot "mean" anything and the user cannot enjoy the first person experience without a storyform (author's intent) molding the events into something meaningful. Grand argument stories are more complete than real life, even if "real life" is experience through role playing. Real life does not have story Outcomes because it is never over. There are no absolute beginnings or ends--everything is contextual. The closest things are birth and death and we're not really around before or after those events.

What movies or books have been made with Dramatica?

I've looked everywhere and can't find one professional writer who admits they use Dramatica. How can I be sure I'm not wasting my time learning these complicated and sometimes frustrating concepts?

We have the most inside scoop on the TV and Film industries, so most of the intel we have gathered is in that area. Many of the following projects have multiple writers on them, and one or more used Dramatica. Some examples (firsthand, secondhand, and rumors) with which you might be familiar include:

  • TV Series: Dead Like Me
  • TV Series: Band of Brothers
  • Author Tracy Hickman
  • Author: Tom Clancy (secondhand rumor)
  • Various video games and RPGs, including the Firefly RPG
  • Movie: Contact
  • Filmmaker: Wes Craven
  • Several Michael Mann movies

There are a whole bunch more that we've been asked NOT to mention, some of which are the biggest grossing films in the last five years. It is irksome, but understandable. Dramatica is seen as a competitive advantage by many in super-competitive Hollywood.

What story points are the most important in each Throughline?

If you have a moment, could you please help me understand the best order to write up Throughlines?  I have been starting at the top, Domain on down to Signpost 4. When I get to Problem, I realize I have not yet set up the problem properly.  If we were to number the Story Points from 1-14, what would be the best order to write them?  It seems PROBLEM should be #1, then what….?  I would GREATLY appreciate your help in understanding how to best attack these Story Points, as to the order they should be written (at least in general).

It doesn't quite work that way.  The only story points below that have a specific order are the four signposts.  Each of the other story points should be illustrated at least once within EACH signpost.  This means that by the end of MC Signpost 1 (Act 1), all of the MC story points are illustrated at least once (if not more). 

Which story point to illustrate first?  It depends on how you like to write.  However, here is another way to look at each of these story points:

  • DOMAIN:  This is the most genre-like and broadest aspect of the MC's throughline
  • CONCERN:  This is more plot-like and may be considered to be identified as the area in which the MC's personal goal exists
  • ISSUE & COUNTERPOINT:  These are the most theme-like as they relate to the MC's throughline
  • SYMPTOM, RESPONSE, PROBLEM & SOLUTION:  In a character-centric throughline, these are the story points most associated with character development.
  • UNIQUE ABILITY & CRITICAL FLAW: These story points tie the MC throughline to the OS throughline, so they seem both thematic and plot-like in nature.
  • BENCHMARK:  This story point indicates how progress is measured in the MC's development.

So, depending on your preferences, you may focus on the more genre-like, plot-like, thematic, or character-related story points first and then progress from there.  Or, mix them up in any order you want, so long as they appear within each act/signpost.

Story Goal vs. Signposts

I have always thought a goal of the story should show up at the end of the story. However after playing around with Dramatica I often find the goal showing up as the first second or third signpost. How should I interpret this?

The story goal is a SPECIFIC instance of the Overall Story Concern (or Signpost) about which the Overall Story characters represent differing approaches to achieving it by resolving the underlying conflict.  The Story Goal should be explored in each of the four acts (signposts) of the Overall Story throughline followed by the resolution of the effort to achieve the goal identified by the Story Outcome (Success or Failure) somewhere toward the end of the story.

The Overall Story Signposts describe the various approaches toward achieving the goal while also exploring the alternatives, one of which is of the same nature (Type) as the story goal. 

For example, your story might have a Story Goal of OBTAINING, such as Finding the Lost Treasure.  It will also have an Overall Story Concern of OBTAINING, which is a more generalized concern that might include finding a map, winning the lottery, losing an election, losing a job, etc.  The various Overall Story Characters, some concerned with one thing while the others concerned with the other things, explore these in general. 

The signposts provide a broad context for a period of time in the story (an Act) that frames the effort to achieve the specific Story Goal, broad Overall Story Concern, and resolve the story's OS Problem(s). The Signpost that explores Obtaining might be thought of as "what do the characters gain or lose while trying to find the lost treasure?"  Another signpost -- such as Gathering Information/Learning -- might be thought of "what do the characters learn or what information is gathered while trying to find the lost treasure?" Thus all four acts are explored through the signposts within each throughline. 

There is no general difference if the Type (the structural item associated with the Story Goal and OS Concern and one of the Overall Story Signposts) shows up in the first, second, third, or last signpost.  The difference is the context in which the Type is found: whether it is the narrow focus of the Story Goal, the general area of the Overall Story Concern, or the temporary context provided by the Overall Story Signposts.

Where does the “You and I are alike” concept come from?

I'm looking for articles that help explain the two sides of the same coin concept, but can't find anything.

I don't know where there are specific articles on the "You and I are alike" dichotomy, but the concept is simple:


In the back story (for a Change Main Character**) or at the beginning of the story (for a Steadfast Man Character**), there comes a point where the Main Character must choose a path to take because of some PERSONAL inequity or imbalance introduced by an event of some sort. The Main Character then goes down that path attempting to resolve the personal problem. The Influence Character represents the path not chosen -- the path that is intimately tied to that original choice consciously or unconsciously made by the Main Character at the point when and where the original inequity was addressed.


The part of the argument that ties the two perspectives together, those of the Main Character and Influence Character, is the point of origin -- the event that introduced the original inequity. They both have some relationship to the core inequity that is both the source of personal conflict for the Main Character, but also is the source of the Main Character's drive. This is what gives them a basis in similarity.


The part of the argument where the Main Character and Influence Character diverge is the path taken/chosen to address the original inequity. The Main Character represents the path taken. The Influence Character represents the path NOT taken by the Main Character and is the alternative to the Main Character's path. That is WHY the Influence Character cannot be ignored by the Main Character. The Influence Character represents a legitimate means to addressing the original inequity. However, legitimate does not mean it is the "right" (effective) means to address the "problem."

This divergence in paths/approaches to resolving the Main Character's inequity creates a tug-of-war between the two characters. There is no way for the Main Character to know if it is on the right path toward resolving it's personal problems, or if the Influence Character's path is the better of the two.


So, with the Main Character representing one path and the Influence Character representing the alternative path, a storytelling convention has emerged where the Main Character and Influence Character have a conversation that establishes this relationship. It often goes something like this:

IC: We're the same.
MC: No, we're not the same. You [insert an example of the different path]...
IC: True, but you [insert an example of the shared attention to the inequity], just like me.

... or an interchange that effectively communicates the same information.

In short order, the author has informed the audience about:

  • The Main Character's position on addressing the Main Character's personal problem
  • The Influence Character's alternative position on addressing the Main Character's personal problem
  • How the Main Character and Influence Character are similar in their approaches
  • How the Main Character and Influence Character are dissimilar in their approaches


In the storyform, the most visible expression of the Main Character/Influence Character approach divergence is seen at the Class level of the structure. One character searches for the solution externally (Situation or Activities), while the other uses an internal approach to resolving the inequity (Fixed Attitude or Manipulation/Psychology). That explains the "not alike" part of the argument.

The part that explains the similarity of their approaches relates to the axis of their dynamic (diagonal) pair relationship in the structure. Both characters will have throughlines in EITHER domains that explore processes (i.e. Activity and Manipulation) OR domains that explore the state of things (i.e. Situation and Fixed Attitude).

In this way the two have a basis in common ground (state or process) as well as a divergence in approach (internal or external).


A grand argument story does not begin until all four throughlines are present. [NOTE: This is not the same as how the story is presented to the audience through storyweaving. The AUDIENCE may not be aware of the presence of all four throughlines at the beginning of the work, but each of the four throughlines must be evident BEFORE the first act turn, and preferably much earlier than that point in the story.] A key part of the Main Character's purpose in the story is to explore the path it has taken in its attempt to resolve its personal issues. That exploration is unlikely to occur without the irritating effects on the Main Character's complacency (if any) by the Influence Character exploration (or embodiment) of the path NOT taken by the Main Character.

The inciting event sets into motion the collision (and cohesion) of the four throughlines that form the underlying basis of the story and the drive towards its resolution (or non-resolution).

- - - - - - - - - - - -

** As a general rule, the Main Character's personal inequity is established in the back story for Change Main Characters and at the beginning of the story for Steadfast Main Characters, but there are many exceptions to this rule, especially in stories that don't end well for the Main Character (Judgment: Bad).