Using Dramatica for Short Stories

 A Writer Asks

Hi, I bought Dramatica in January and have been having a great deal of fun with it. I’m probably a bit dangerous, give me hammer and everything becomes a nail, etc. Do you talk to Dramatica users? I hope so. I’ve talked to a video producer about Dramatica and he immediately wondered if it could help with a 10 minute story. Any suggestions? On a broader scale, it has occurred to me that meaning and ‘story’ are inseparable. Everything that ‘means’ something fits into a story of some sort. Have you explored this aspect of story?


My Reply…

Sure, Dramatica can be used for short stories. The key is, every story must be complete WITHIN THE SCOPE OF THE ARGUMENT. So, to have a complete short story, one must have a balanced, but smaller scope.

In Dramatica this is done one of two ways. Either you limit your depth or breadth. If you limit depth, you might tell a story that only examines issues down to the Type level, for example, in the chart of Story Elements. In this way, the more nuanced exploration of Variations and Elements is left un-explored, and the scope of the argument is reduced.

Even though the Elements are what normally create characters, there is no reason why Types or Variations cannot be the basis for characters. So, you might have a Doing character, a Becoming character, or a Progress character, for example. The key is, once a level of the chart is assigned as the Character level, all of the dramatic appreciations (concepts) in that level must be explored as Characters.

In a sense, when you limit depth, you simple don’t explore one or more aspects of a story: Character, Plot, Theme, or Genre. This keeps the argument smaller so that it occupies less media real estate.

The other method, limiting breadth, keeps all four aspects of a story but narrows the point of view. Rather than examining all four throughlines (Main Character, Obstacle Character, Objective Story, Subjective Story) one or more is cut out. In this manner, you might have a single point of view, such as Main Character, but explore it in full depth through Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre.

This will also create a much shorter story, depending upon how many throughlines you explore. A rule of thumb is that you would want one, two, or all four throughlines. Why? Because a single throughline provides a perspective. Two throughlines provide a conflict. But three seems to be one conflict and another superfluous throughline that bounces off nothing. Of course, if that third point of view is important to you, use it, but be sure you telegraph to your audience not to expect conflict from this direction, but only another angle or take on the meaning of the story.

Finally, you can combine both techniques and limit both depth and breadth. In this case, you might have only a Main Character point of view and explore that only in terms of the Types. This will heavily cut down on the three dimensional scope of the argument as mapped out in the structural chart.

So, you have a lot of latitude as to which parts of a Grand Argument Story you wish to explore in a shorter story. The key is that you must let your audience know in some fashion not to expect a Grand Argument Story, and avoid including elements outside the scope of the argument you really want to make. Otherwise, if they see a few other elements creep in, they will demand that you make your point there as well, for they will not give you anything that is not within your scope, unless you fully develop it.

Also, to know which dramatic elements go together in a shorter story, you must still develop a complete story form for the entire Grand Argument Story, even though you don’t intend to tell it all. This is because any limited point of view does not stand alone, but is dependent upon all other points of view to which it is, in a larger sense, connected.

You don’t need to DEVELOP these other parts of the larger story, but you will need to include them in your storyform to make sure the piece you are presenting is consistent with a greater reality.

Since writing a short story is, in a sense, cutting vertical and/or horizontal layers out of the larger Grand Argument Story, in Dramatica we refer to this process as “Slicing and Dicing”.