Why Dramatica Keeps Harping on Problem Solving

  A Writer Asks…

Problem Solving, Problem Solving……..and..more……..problem solving.

I know how if fits into Dramatica………. but I also know of a very well intelligent, published author who teaches individuals and organizations how to create what they want and the first thing he teaches…..”creating is not problem solving.”

I REALLY wish you could have this author look at the Dramatica program and give a brief overview…………he may provide a fresh look at scriptwriting like never before. He teaches his “Creating” seminars by watching movies and then discussing what is seen and or not seen.

Please let me know.

I hate to always be in a problem solving mode……..or worse….. a teaching and preaching mode.

But I do hunger for the correct perspective.

Understanding opposites…………which “He” calls establishing “structural tension”. Sound interesting?

ps: Opposite of problem solving is?

My Reply:

Hi, Russell! Thanks for your note. You bring up some very important points, and I’d like to take a moment to, at least briefly, address them.

In your letter you quote an author who teaches creativity as saying, “creating is not problem solving.” I couldn’t agree more! The process of creating comes from the heart. Still, unless one is satisfied to be his or her own audience, often the fruit of the heart speaks clearly only to the author. This is because storytelling is not about creating a story, but communicating a story. And, it is the process of communication that requires problem solving.

An author often works from real experiences. Even if he or she is building a fictional scene between fictional people, the emotions that arise can only be expressed because at some point in his or her own life the author has felt those emotions, even if under different circumstances.

We do not feel our emotions as singular events. Rather, every emotion is “tied” to many others and connected in a whole network of both strong and weak forces. When an author conjures up a feeling for a scene, this feeling will bring with it all kinds of baggage.

As a result, an author is likely to carry those additional feelings right over into the scene under construction without actually writing them in. This creates a scene in which the primary emotions are well covered, but all the supporting emotions are either missing or so personal that, overall, the scene fails to communicate anything in depth at all.

This is where problem solving comes in. By focusing on the primary emotions (and information) to be communicated and determining the context in which the author wishes to present these topics and experiences, Dramatica can “calculate” the necessary supporting components to the story’s “argument”. The argument, by the way, is just a short hand way of saying the story’s “overall consistent and fully explored message.”

Now, for a story that is not designed to have either a message or point of view, Dramatica is really pretty useless. Still, such stories can be quite moving as an audience experience. They are an art form all their own. Free form stories follow a course that is unpredictable and creates its impact by the layering of experiences. A story that is an argument, however, is structured in such a way that all dramatic parts ultimately focus on the same central issue, and are seen as reflections of the “problem” at the heart of the story. It is here Dramatica can be of service.

This seems a good point to talk about the “opposite of a problem” question you also pose in your note. The opposite of a problem would be a solution. This fits in with tradition binary opposites. Dramatica, however, is not based on binaries, but on the relationships among four things. For example, in Dramatica we cannot consider only a problem or just a problem and solution, but must also consider “focus” and “direction” as well.

“Problem” and “solution” are well-understood terms dramatically, but “focus” and “direction” are not nearly as often considered. As an analogy, if we think of a problem as a disease, then the solution would be the cure. Focus would be the principal symptom of the discease, and Direction the treatment for that symptom.

Sometimes a body can heal only by curing the disease. Other times, there is no cure and the body can heal only by continuing to treat the symptom until the body heals itself. In story, it is the choice to go with the cure or the treatment of the symptom that determines if characters are on the right path, and it is their choice to stick with that path or jump to the other that determines if they will remain steadfast or change as human beings. The quad structure is a much more descriptive model of real dramatics than simple binary opposites.

To go a step farther, Dramatica is not only concerned with the problem, but (as you indicated at the top of you note) with problem solving as well. It is important to note the difference between the structural “problem” and the dynamic of “problem solving”.

A problem is something that is out of balance, which creates an inequity. Problem solving is the effort to eliminate that inequity. Pursuing your line of inquiry a bit farther we might ask, “What is the opposite of problem solving?” The answer to this question is “Justification”.

If problem solving is the process to eliminate an inequity, justification can be seen as the process to try and balance the inequity. As examples, if you are hungry and you eat you have eliminated an inequity, hence: problem solving. In contrast, if you are on a diet and get hungry, but instead of eating you light up a cigarette, you have created a new inequity to balance the first one, hence: justification.

Justifications are not necessarily bad. They are just our way of putting off immediate gratification for long-term goals, or sometimes becoming conditioned to a particular way of doing things to the point we become inflexible. Either way, problem solving and justification can be seen as opposites.

What about the Dramatica quad as it pertains to problem solving? One binary in the quad would be problem solving and justification. The other would be Male and Female Mental Sex.

At face value, this seems hardly likely. What, after all, do Male and Female Mental Sex have to do with problem solving or justification? Well, to solve a problem or to justify, one must determine if it is a problem now or could be a problem later. The NOW problem is a spatial appreciation – looking at the structure of the beast. The LATER problem is a temporal appreciation – looking at the dynamics that might come together to create a problem.

As it turns out, although we all have space and time sense, men and women emphasize them differently. As a result, what appears as problem solving to one Mental Sex, is likely to appear as a justification to the other. One cannot absolutely say that something is problem solving or justification unless one knows whether the effort is being advanced by a Male or Female Mental Sex character.

Well, I must close now, as to go any further would be to step beyond the scope of the questions you posed in your note.

I hope I have been able to clarify the difference between the structure necessary to clear communication and the dynamic of the personal creative process. Also, I hope I have adequately described the differences between binary opposites and Dramatica’s rather more detailed approach of dealing in quads.

Your thought about having the creative writing teacher/author look at Dramatica is a good one. I hope it can be arranged. After all, we’re just authors ourselves who worked out a paradigm of story which we have found useful. There’s always room for improvement, although I know we often get so excited and wrapped up in our enthusiasm that we can come off sounding rather preachy. We’re working to improve that too!Writer Response…

Thanks for such a wonderful reply…have saved to review and contemplate.

Opposite of problem solving…….creating. I get a “frustrating” sense that most people, if not all, are brought up in a mind set of looking at everything as problem solving, possibly as a result of formal education training.

Is it possible to write a script without a main character whose goal is to solve a problem?

Reason I suggested another author: Looking at “dramatics” from a different perspective for a more complete understanding.

Author, Robert Fritz (CREATING, PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE and soon to be released CORPORATE TIDES) writes that the basic STRUCTURE for Creating is: A person describes as clearly as possible what they want and then describes their current reality which results in “Structural Tension.”

Seems most people in society today do exactly the opposite which results in self limitation………..so if we script write in the same “mind set” I get a sense that our scripts would also be self limiting.

I know, I know…….. may not be sounding real clear in this area but I’m trying to understand the “bottom brick” of scriptwriting so that I don’t develop bad scriptwriting habits as I believe most people have in life, looking at EVERYTHING as a problem to be solved.

Can you point my needle a bit more north…. recommend a movie to see or something?



My Reply…

In your message you said:

Thanks for such a wonderful reply…have saved to review and contemplate.

I’m glad you found it useful. I think we are all learning about the implications of the Dramatica theory every time we question it. The answers to those questions often open up new insight for ourselves and improve the theory at the same time.

Opposite of problem solving…….creating. I get a “frustrating” sense that most people, if not all, are brought up in a mind set of looking at everything as problem solving, possibly as a result of formal education training.

Don’t get me started on that! I believe there is a tremendous binary/linear bias to all societies world-wide. This belief grew out of the work Chris and I did on Mental Relativity, the psychology behind Dramatica. If you’d like to explore some of those non-story concepts, visit my Mental Relativity pages on the web at storymind.com/mental_relativity/
Is it possible to write a script without a main character whose goal is to solve a problem?

Sure! The way the software and documentation currently reads, both Male and Female Mental Sex Main Characters are out to solve a problem – the difference being in their “problem solving technique.” That is another limited binary appreciation. In fact, both Male and Female Mental Sex Main Characters might be driven by a completely different kind of concern: they might want to be at peace.

Male Mental Sex Characters would seek satisfaction, Female Mental Sex Characters would seek Fulfillment. Currently, Satisfaction and Fulfillment are lumped together in the Dynamic question of”Judgment: “Does your Main Character resolve his or her angst?”

Note the difference here. In problem solving, we have all kinds of problems represented by the sixty-four elements. The “nature” of the problem can be defined in an extremely detailed manner. That is a structural approach, based in logic. But Judgment (a dynamic) is only available in two flavors: “Good” and “Bad”. It almost makes you laugh when you compare the degree of sophistication of the logic based problem to the simple binary appreciation of the emotion based Judgment.

Why this imbalance in the software? It is necessary! Just as one cannot see light being a particle and a wave AT THE SAME TIME, so too in Dramatica, one cannot explore the logistic AND the emotional at the same time. Development costs of a product as revolutionary and complex as Dramatica made it impractical in a business sense (and also from the strain on the developers!) to try to create two completely different implementations of the theory. Since Western culture (as is true with most cultures world-wide) emphasizes logic over emotion, we opted to first create a logic-based system that focused on problem solving. In fact, in Western storytelling, problem based stories account for at least 90% of what is written, so our practical decision made Dramatica available to the most writers in the most expedient manner. It is my hope that additional software development will some day implement the emotional side of the theory, thereby opening a whole new door to the organic writer.

Getting back to the question that started all this…. Currently you need to do some mental gymnastics with the software to “convert” the concept of problem-solving to one of Satisfaction or Fulfillment. Here are a few tips and suggestions about how to approach this…

When using logic, Male Mental Sex Characters will seek to solve a problem. When using emotion, Male Mental Sex Characters will seek satisfaction. Problem solving is seen here as a binary notion of things being “correct”, satisfaction is a holistic sense of things being “right”.

When using logic, Female Mental Sex Characters will ALSO seek to solve a problem. But when using emotion, Female Mental Sex Characters will seek fulfillment. Problem solving is seen here as a comparrison of things being “balanced”, fulfillment is a holistic sense of feeling “good”.

So, both Male and Female Mental Sex Characters can use either reason or emotion as their principle standard of evaluation from which they derive their drive. But, one will seek satisfaction emotionally and the other fulfillment, and even though both will engage in problem solving (which makes them appear the same) they interpret problem solving differently (which makes them un-alike.)

To develop a satisfaction or fulfillment based story, one must currently emphasize the Subjective Story Throughline, which means that one is thrown back into the logistic nature of the appreciations in order to construct something of a framework around the emotional “arguement”.

But there is an easier way. Well, perhaps not easier but much more nuanced. Get in touch with your own feelings. Use the structured aspects of the Dramatica software to handle the logistics of the plot and the topics of the theme and the objective characters. But when it comes to the Main Character, put yourself right in his or her shoes.

The software examines the Main Character as being where the audience is positioned in the story – the “I” perspective; first person singular. But rather than putting the author in that perspective, it takes an outside view of this character so that the author can construct the appropriate concerns that will connect the journey of the Main Character to the development of the story as a whole.

What is not yet provided is support for actually jumping into your Main Character’s skin and seeing what the story looks like from there. Early on in the development of the theory, Chris and I did some preliminary work on “skewing the model” so that a subjective view of what the story looked liked from ANY character position might be provided. With all the other areas we needed to address, however, we never had the time to fully develop that aspect of the theory.

Until we are able to incorporate that approach in the software, it is really a simple matter to do it yourself. Pay attention to two things: the “static appreciations” of your Main Character that remain the same for the whole story (such as his or her Concern and Unique Ability) and also the “progressive appreciations” which change over time, such as the act progression through the four “Types” that describe the Main Character’s signposts and journeys.

Imagine what it would be like to be in this particular story, having these overall concerns, and also being focused on other immediate concerns of the moment. How would you feel? How might your feelings change the longer you explored these issues? What might be your “gut reaction” to the impact of the Obstacle Character.

By using the logistic output of the software as a guide, you can then follow your heart within that context and be confident that your character will start to take on an honest humanity yet function appropriately in the Grand Scheme as well.

If you don’t wish to focus on problem solving at all, make your story an exploration of the Main Character’s feelings only. The logistic sense will come by itself between the lines as the Main Character illustrated the both the static and progressive appreciations by the way he or she feels, responds, reacts, and by the shadings that temper his or her observations of the story at large.

Well, I’d better draw this to a close before I write a whole new theory book in one setting!

Keep those questions coming, and best of luck in your writing endeavors.