Z Patterns in the Dramatica Structure

In a recent message I described how the Dramatica structure gets “twisted up” like a Rubik’s cube to throw the Variations out of alignment in a way that represents how a human mind develops a warped view of reality based on observation/experience. Because the Variations represent progressive thematic topics of discussion in a story, one can take any quad of Variations and number the four items in the order in which they are explored. When this is marked directly on the quad, a line can be drawn “dot to dot” style, from the first Variation to the second, third, and then fourth. Often the pattern created by this line is a “Z” shape. When we first discovered this common pattern during the development of the theory we called it the “Z Pattern.”

Because the Z pattern represents a Western Cultural favorite order of exploration for Variations, we found it first, but there are others. In fact, the pattern might appear as a backward Z or as a sideways Z which is an N or backward N. Also, the pattern does not really indicate whether the number “1” Variation is at the top or the bottom of the Z. Actually, the order might move from top to bottom or vice versa.

The order of the Variations determines the emotional impact of the thematic message, and therefore must be appropriate to the overall message and emotional intent of the story as a whole.

Z and N patterns are not the only kind. A more cyclic pattern is the C, backward C, U or backward U. At first, we didn’t understand how or why these patterns were created. In those days, we were looking at the structure as being “fixed” in place, and the progressions in a story as being “plotted” on the structure as sequential patterns. But what actually created the patterns? We didn’t have a clue.

Then one day, I was taking my kids on an outing to the Los Angeles museum of Science in the mathematics section. There was a display that had twenty-one magnets mounted in a row on a long board, spinning freely on nails like compass hands, their poles nearly touching. When you turned one slowly at one end, the one next to it would turn in response to the magnetic force of the poles. If you turned slowly enough, you could move all 21 magnets at once, and get the first one to ultimately rotate the last.

Suddenly it hit me. The structure was not static or fixed, but in fact like a Rubik’s cube. When you look at the twisting of a Rubik’s cube from one side, it looks like a rotation, but from 90 degrees to the side it appears as a “flip.”

The Sturcture represents the human mind. When we feel pain (or any inequity) it irritates an item in a quad. The quad then “flips” so that Logic (for example) exchanges places with Feeling in our sample quad, exchanging “pole” positions, just like the magnets. This effect in the Dramatica model starts in an Element quad and ripples up to the Classes. In fact, by the time you flip the Classes, you are exchanging the positions of an external Class with an internal Class. This is reflective of the mind’s twisting in which it projects a truly internal problem as being external or vice versa.

We thought this solved our pattern problem, and it did for Z patterns, but in fact flips are only half of what goes on – the spatial or linear half. There is also a temporal or progressive kind of shift in the quad as well. This “rotational” shift is like turning a dial as you turn the quad to the right or left one “notch” (90 degrees). When the mind tries to get rid of an irritation by “projecting” it, flipping describes the technique. When the mind tries to get rid of an irritation of shuffling it around in a sequence, rotations do the job. Persistent problems are dealt with by a series of flips and rotates until both effects have rippled all the way to the top. At this point, the mind is so twisted up that it creates a blind spot and can no longer see the original problem for what it is. This is the process by which all our givens, our beliefs, “knowledge,” and prejudices are created.

Of all the levels of the structure, the Variations are the most topic oriented, and therefore the patterns are easier to see in the Variation quads as opposed to the Elements, Types, or Classes. In fact, you can find the Variation sequence showing up in dialog, sometimes even using the exact words! And, you can track the words across several quads (illustrating how all of the Elements, Variations, etc. eventually show up somewhere in every story.)

The Dramatica Story Engine uses a series of flips and rotates to wind up the dramatic tension of your storyform in the one sequence which supports the dramatic intent you have indicated by the answers to your questions. So, when you make choices based on what you want your story to mean and how you want it to feel, the Story Engine will generate a sequence which is available through the Plot Sequence report.

Please keep in mind that this sequence is the same thing we all do subconsciously as authors when we shift our topics from one subject to another in a story. It is not intended as a replacement for that or a “cut in stone” map that you have to follow. Rather, use your instincts first, but if they fail or are unsure, then use the report as a guideline to get you on the right path.