You Got Me! (Both of Us!)

Arthur says:

I’m a great Dramatica fan so I’m a bit reluctant to take up Melanie’s challenge to refute the Dramatica Theory. My question was virtually identical to Armando’s but he put it better. Theory without practical application is not very helpful. Let’s try another. Supposing you wanted to create a story or play about a gifted female whose unique ability was “supreme self-confidence” and her critical flaw was “sophisticated self-deception.” How would dramatica help you arrive at those characteristics in order to get a Storyform? It can’t, can it? I refute the theory thus.


Okay, so I’m halfway into a deep consideration of this issue when suddenly it hits me…

“Wait just a cotton pickin’ minute!” I yell out loud to no one in particular.

Then, no one in particular shouts back, “What’s biting you?!”

I reply with recovered aplomb, “Did you notice the example in Arthur’s question?” “Yeah, so what?” no one taunts. “Think about it.” I bark bemusedly, “Arthur describes “a gifted female whose unique ability was supreme self-confidence and her critical flaw was sophisticated self-deception.” Sound like anyone you know?”

“Sounds like both of us,” No One replied thoughtfully, “but , we’re both the same person and you realize, of course, that you are having a conversation with your self – and out loud, I might add.”

“True, but in fact, you are my Self-Confidence, and I am your Self-Deception (and pretty sophisticated too, “I” might add!”

“I guess that makes ME “supreme” then! Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more—PLEASE say no more!”

“Ah, but that would prove Arthur’s point, wouldn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if your self-confidence is undermined by my self-deception, then the Dramatica theory is refuted!”

“Whoa, hold on there, pardner! First of all, I believe it is quite the contrary. My Confidence is only bolstered by your self-deception. I mean, think about it. The more Self-Deceived “we” become, the more our confidence grows.”

“Blimey, but you’re right!”

“I was confident I would be…”

“Okay, that was “first of all,” so is there more?”

“But of course!” Suppose Arthur was serious in his question (though I seriously doubt it). Then, the first point he makes is almost to say that a theory is invalid if it isn’t useful.”

“Now just hold on…. He didn’t exactly say THAT.”

“True, but since he was setting up a refutation of the theory, he established a context in which the “value” of a theory is tied to its practical usefulness. Then, by shifting the subject of the question to the validity of the concepts there is an emotional carry-over that appears to strengthen the logistic contention.”


“So, second of all, there are lots of theories that are almost totally wrong and still have a few concepts of practical value. And there are also a lot of esoteric theories which are almost certainly true, yet have no practical application at all. In conclusion, the ability to USE a theory has absolutely nothing to do with its validity.”

“I’ll give you that one, even though I don’t think it is self-deceptive enough.”

“Fine, let’s press on…. I think we’ve already dealt with the central contention that self-deception is a critical flaw to confidence. Arthur then asks a seemingly rhetorical question, “How would dramatica help you >arrive at those characteristics in order to get a Storyform? ” The rhetorical answer is, since that combination doesn’t work, Dramatica will not provide such a conjunction of story points.”

“’Scuse me…. but isn’t there ANY time in which I, self-deception, might undermine your self-confidence as a critical flaw?

“Sure, but not in a direct manner. In fact, a number of other writers on this list proposed very serious descriptions of how the “feel” Arthur was describing was quite achievable and in much more depth and nuance than his example would seem to indicate. Perhaps one of the most interesting came from Bill, who said:

“- Since the story is about this person, are these two attributes really the Unique Ability and the Critical Flaw? Perhaps self-deception is the Problem and self-confidence is the Focus. (Or some other combination like that.) Consider this mix of appreciations, straight from the Story Engine:

PROBLEM: Non-Accurate
SOLUTION: Accurate
FOCUS: Expectation
DIRECTION: Determination

(It’s interesting that the self-deception gets sort of a double-whammy with the problem being Non-Accurate and the Critical Flaw being Fantasy.)”

“Well, Ms. “Supreme Self-Confidence”… I suppose you’re pretty pleased with yourself.”

“But of course! Still there are yet two remaining points to be made.”

“Pray tell, what are they?”

“First, Arthur responds to his rhetorical question, “How would dramatica help you arrive at those characteristics in order to get a Storyform? ” with “It can’t.” That’s not quite accurate….”

“Ah, so this is where self-deception comes into play?”

“Sort of… It’s not that Dramatica “can’t” help you do arrive at that combination. It’s that it “won’t.”” If it did, it would be leading you right into an invalid storyform.”

“Is that it, are you FINISHED YET!!!”

“Almost. The final line of Arthur’s post reads, “I refute the theory thus.”


“So you don’t refute a theory by refuting an application of it.”


“Let’s start at the beginning… Dramatica starts with a hypothesis: Every complete story is an analogy to a single human mind, trying to deal with an inequity.” The hypothesis says “what” but not “how.”

“Go on.”

“The “theory” of Dramatica describes a structure and the dynamics which manipulate it. That winds up the model with dramatic tension.”


“Now, each of the story points is “mapped” onto that structure. Each is determined by a separate formula, each is a separate application. “

“So are you saying some of the algorithms in Dramatica some of the formulas might be wrong?!”

“Sure, they “might” be. I personally don’t think so (remember I AM self-confidence), but of course it is possible. You see, the real value of the theory is to look at every story as a SINGLE mind in which the characters, plot, theme, and genre are but aspects: families of different kinds of thought which interact so as to mimic the internal processes of the mind coming to a solution—it makes them TANGIBLE, so we can watch our own internal mechanism to learn how to best respond under different conditions.”

“Whoa! That’s a mouthful!”

“You bet it is, but it’s really what Dramatica is all about. If writers can just start looking to each story as a complete mind, as a person with a personality (genre), methods (plot), value standards (theme), and driving forces (characters), then the parts of stories would start to work together SO much better!”

“And if some of the particular formulas DO turn out to be in error?”

“Then they need to be re-written so they are more accurate. You see, the “theory” of Dramatica can’t really be proven or disproven. Either stories can be understood as a model of the mind or not. But if they can, then the applications and formulas of the theory need to be constantly questioned, amended, discarded, and added to. The advancement of practical applications and understanding of the theory is an ongoing process which will likely never be completed. After all, how much is there to learn about the mechanism of the mind? The key to improving the theory is to call every suspicious formula into question, lay it out for public viewing. The theory will only “advance” into more practical use if others more skilled than “you” (self-deception) or “I” (confidence) contribute our efforts.”

“That’s quite a concession, Confidence, to admit there are others more capable and you.”

“Hey, you know as well as I do that in spite of our self-deception to believe we are some sort of next-gen Einstein, we’re really just a couple of smart cookies who worked with ol’ Chris for a few years, tripped over a new concept (the Story Mind) because we were too intellectually inept to know better, and then spent the better part of a decade putting in good old-fashioned hard work to try and document it and make something out of it. Truth of the matter is that we’ve gone about as far as we can go! In your heart, you know its true. You keep thinking of yourself as 18, but just because we’re both 46 doesn’t mean we’re each 23!!!”

“Yeah, you’re right. I, of all people, can’t deceive myself on that one. It’s time to hand it off to those with degrees, and practical experience. Time to put it out there, let the world have it and make of it what they will.”

Then, both halves of myself joined in unison, both confidence and self-deception in Greek Chorus “singing”:

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”

“Stop it!” I shouted to both of them.”Shut up!”

“And now, the hour is late, and I have reached the final curtain…”

“I said SHUT UP!!! I still have a lot of good, creative years in me. LOTS…. REALLY!”

“Cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon…”

“WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP!!!!! I know, I’ll show you! I’ll come up with a whole NEW theory. Something even more extensive and complex than Dramatica! I’m not dead yet!”

“It’s a dead man’s party…”

“Ah, the hell with it.”