Dramatica for Structural vs. Intuitive Writers

There are structuralist writers and intuitive writers. The Dramatica software can be used by both, but in a completely different way.

The software almost insists that you storyform first, then encode. This is fine for a structuralist who wants to draft the blueprints before raising the building. But, it works against the intuitive writer who wants to mold a lump of clay into a meaningful form.

If you are an intuitive writer, encode FIRST and then storyform.

Here’s how to do it:

Open Dramatica with a new file and go directly to the Story Points Window (available through the main Dramatica Desktop) The Story Points Window provides a tabular list of all the story points Dramatica “tracks.”

Even without storyforming, these story points provide a rather complete shopping list of the key dramatic elements of any fully developed story.

Scroll down the list and you’ll notice the story points are grouped into categories like “Main Character,” or “Central Plot Points,” for example.

As an intuitive writer, select the category that is most meaningful to you. Scan through the list of story points in that category and pick the one that is most important or meaningful to you. It might be the Main Character’s Critical Flaw or the Story Goal, for example. (Don’t use the Plot Type Order areas though. In another post, I’ll describe how writers who want to develop the plot progression might first approach the software).

By double clicking on the empty column on the far right of the window, you will bring up a screen where you can describe each story point. So, if we double clicked on Story Goal, we see a question at the top asking us to “Illustrate how the central “objective” of the Objective Story (Goal) concerns an unchosen item {an unchosen item}. You can pretty much ignore that or any of the other questions at the top of a story point description window.

Instead, just describe how you see your story’s Goal. “My story is about a guy who wants to be President.”

Go through the entire list of story points, filling in any of them with the subject matter you want to explore in your story. If you don’t know what to put in for a particular story point, leave it blank for now. When you have gone through all story points once, go back and re-consider the blank ones. You may be surprised to find that by virtue of the process of answering the story points you could, you may have already generated ideas you can now enter in the ones you left blank before. Just going through the list helps you marshal your thoughts!

When you have filled in every story point that brought something to mind, read over the whole list. See what you have had to say about your story. See if it feels like what you had in mind, or perhaps even brings the overall big picture into greater clarity than ever. In fact, you may even find that by taking the wider, all-encompassing view, you are now ready to fill in a few more story point descriptions!

When you are finally finished, even if some story points are left blank, you could probably sit down and start writing a fairly complete story. Still, there would be some holes, and it is also likely there would be some story points that really didn’t seem to work with some of the others. That is why it is NOW time to storyform!

What we want to do is to “find” the structure that most closely describes what we have written, then clarify or fine-tune our encoding to become more structurally sound. To do this, open up the Dramatica Query System (also available from the main Dramatica desktop).

At the top left of the Query System Window is a little pop-up menu that shows the word “Home.” When you click on the menu, a list of different question paths appears. Go down a little more than halfway into the list and select an item called “Storyforming—Complete.” This will bring up a list of all the storyforming questions the software has to offer.

Skim over the list to see what questions it has to offer. Then, zero in on the one question that overall it the single most important story point to you, passionately. You see, Dramatica has no preference among story points – any one is just as important as any other. But as an intuitive writer, there are going to be certain aspects of your story’s structure that are vastly more interesting or crucial to your message.

So, pick the most important story point to you, then open its question window by selecting it from the list. Now you’ll notice there is a row of “HelpView” buttons running from left to right across the middle of each question screen. One near the middle is labeled “Storytelling.” If you click that button, then the encoding you already did for that story point in the Story Points Window will show up in the bottom half of the question window.

If we opened Story Goal as the most important story point then, as described in our earlier example, our words, “My story is about a guy who wants to be President.” will show up. To find the structure closest to that story point, we look at the list of available structural choices.

If Story Goal was the first story point we decided to structure, then we would have 16 different descriptive words from which to choose. Among these would be the words, “Obtaining” and “Being.” By referring to the storytelling (encoding) we already wrote, we may decide that our story is about a guy who wants to Obtain the office of president, or alternatively it might be about a guy who wants to Be presidential.

Do you remember the story “Dave” about a man asked to impersonate an ailing president? In that case, the Goal is not Obtaining, but Being. By thinking about the implications of each choice, we are forced to refine what we had in mind, to find the structure closest to our nebulous intent.

We continue to answer questions in the Storyforming Complete list in the order of next greatest importance. Eventually (due to Dramatica’s Story Engine) we may encounter a question for which all the available word choices don’t seem to fit. This is an indication that our storytelling has structural inconsistencies. In other words, structurally, some of what we wanted to talk about in our story doesn’t fit in dramatically with other areas.

If you want to strengthen your structure, then you simply choose the word that is most acceptable and then adjust your storytelling on that point to match that choice. Because you started with the story points that were most important to you, by the time you reach a question with choices that don’t match, it will probably be so far down your list of importance that you don’t mind adjusting the storytelling.

But, if you are really in love with that particular storytelling item, you can simply ignore the structure and go with what excites you as an intuitive writer. An audience is not looking for a perfect structure – they are looking for a fulfilling story experience. Therefore, they are likely to overlook a few inconsistencies if the storytelling is moving. A truly poor structure, however, can distract the audience from that experience.

Some story points are more impactful to the overall meaning of the story. And, some storytelling that is not consistent may still be close, or may be really off the mark. The key is to recognize the relative value of accuracy vs. passion when the two diverge. And that is a judgment call every author must make for himself or herself.

Either way, you will eventually reach a complete storyform structure which will then “predict” the kind of subject matter which ought to occur in every story point including the story points for which had not done any storytelling. You can then use this structural guideline to fill in the missing storytelling. You can do this by returning to the Story Points Window and reviewing what you had previously written, the structural items which the storyform has now associated with that storytelling, and the structural items suggested for the story points you haven’t yet storytold. With all this information on which to draw, it should help you find the inspiration you need to fill in those remaining story points.

Finally, as an intuitive writer you won’t likely want to use the storyform, or even your own story encoding as a guideline for writing. Rather, you’ll probably want to use that information to understand your story, then put it aside and write from the heart, now that you have that sound background.

When you have completed a draft, it will likely have drifted again from a sound structure. You won’t have noticed it while writing, but as your point of view and interests shifted during the writing process you may have gotten a bit off course.

To bring things back into structural focus, return to the software and go through the process again, but this time with a brand new file from scratch. Instead of describing what you intend to do, this time you need to analyze what you have already done.

Fill in the storytelling you actually did, then answer the storyforming questions based on what you actually wrote. Again, you may find inconsistencies in which case you are faced with the same choice: adjust the storytelling or keep it with the awareness it isn’t structurally on the mark.

Repeat this process as many times as necessary to hone your story into just the structurally sound, passionately strong work you wanted it to be.

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