How To Tell If Your Story’s Structure is Right

  A Writer Asks…

My question is: how do you know when you’ve got your story’s structure (storyform) right?

I Reply…

There is no right or wrong storyform. The Dramatica software makes sure that every storyform is a dramatically valid one. In fact, you could conceivably calculate out all the different storyforms that can be created (32,768) and print them out, and just arbitrarily pick one.

So, why is a storyform “right” for a particular story, but not another? It has to do with what you, as author, are trying to say to your audience. What is the story you have in mind? Which storyform accurately reflects that?

A storyform is just the skeleton or framework of a story, so it is often difficult to determine which one is “proper” for a story you have in mind. What you are thinking of already has a lot of the story telling done: characters, scenarios, plot devices. All of these are a combination of the underlying structure and the manner in which it is expressed by your creative style and inspirations.

So, how can we determine when we have arrived at the best storyform to act as a pattern for our story? By feel. You need to “feel” that the words that crop up as Story Goal, or Main Character Domain express what you have in mind, both logistically and emotionally, for your audience. To do this, you must truly understand what is meant by Main Character Domain, or any of the other dramatic “appreciations” provided by the Story Engine. Also, you must develop an empathy with the words that fill those appreciations, such as Universe, or Psychology.

Getting to know the terminology in Dramatica is the hardest part! The reason it is hard is that our language tends to create lots of words to deal with common concepts, and hardly any to deal with less up front notions. For a story to be complete, ALL essential considerations need to be addressed to prevent holes. So, in the areas in which our culture does not focus, there are few (and sometimes no existing) words to do the job. This means that there will be appreciations and the words that fill them that are easily understood, and a whole range of other terms that are progressively more obscure. But, to have a feel for which storyform is “right” requires becoming familiar with all of these terms. The more you are comfortable with, the stronger your sense of which storyform is best will be. Your choices in creating a storyform will become more precise and meaningful, and the end product will better reflect what you had in mind.

It seems like even the examples you give in the documentation could go other ways just by changing the verbs used in describing them. For example, the story I’m working on is a mystery. The characters are trying to decipher the clues that will help them discover the identity of the mystery person so they can help her. What I can’t decide is: are they concerned with doing (helping someone), obtaining (the answer to the clues), or learning (the identity)? And then I wonder if I’m in the wrong domain—solving a mystery is an external activity, but maybe the mystery itself is an external situation. Is there a general blueprint for mystery stories?

The “mystery” is a genre of story. Some genres describe settings, like “westerns”. Others describe character relationships, such as “buddy pictures”, or “love stories”. A mystery can either describe characters who are trying to figure something out, as in the old “Columbo” series, where the audience knew who the killer was from the very start, or they can be mysteries to the characters AND the audience, such as most Agatha Christie stories, or the Sherlock Holmes stories. A few mysteries have the characters knowing the score, but the audience being in the dark. The one combination that is NOT a mystery is when both characters and audience know the facts up front.

This difference in focus prevents there from being a single, typical “mystery” storyform. If the mystery part resides with the audience, then it comes from the storytelling, not the storyform. If the mystery is at least partly with the characters, then it becomes part of the storyform as well.

The “Types” you mentioned above, Learning, Understanding, Doing, and Obtaining, are all from the Physics “class” and describe activities. This does not make them any more appropriate to a mystery than any of the Types in the other three “classes”. For example, in the Universe Class are the Types, Past, Present, Progress, and Future. If one were writing a mystery about finding the killer of a school boy twenty years ago before he can repeat his crime on the twentieth anniversary, these types might best describe the chase.

In fact, all sixteen Types (four from each class) will show up in EVERY storyform. The difference is: from what point of view are they explored? The Main Character Domain will be the Class that contains the Types that best describe what the Main Character is involved in or concerned with. The Objective Story Domain will be the Class that contains the Types that best describe what ALL the characters of the story are jointly involved in or concerned with. So, in creating a storyform that is “right”, you will need to consider which set of Types you want your characters to explore, which are right for your Main Character, your Obstacle Character, and your Subjective Story.

Think about the kinds of things you want each of these four areas to explore, or examine. Think about the kinds of scenes that might be created that revolve around these Types of Concerns. That can go a long way to determining how to make your selections that will lead to a storyform that fits your desires as an author.

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