The Dramatica Structure

The following  excerpt is taken from

The Dramatica Class Transcripts

Dramatica : Let’s talk about quads for a moment. Imagine a square, divided into four parts. (Hello Jenny!)

JennyCrusi : Hi, sorry I’m late.

Dramatica : No prob, Jenny!

William S1 : You lose a letter grade!

Pete P 432 : Hi Jenny!

Dramatica : So, we have effectively, four little squares that make up one big square. Now, take the following items: Put “Universe” in the upper left square of the quad. Actually go ahead and draw this, if you don’t have the software and it will help you visualize. Now, put “Mind” directly opposite “Universe”, diagonally, in the lower right hand corner. Put “Physics” in the upper right hand corner. And put “Psychology” in the lower left, across from physics. Everybody have that in front of them?

Dan Steele : My mind is in the lower right corner and my keyboard is in front of me, yes, okay.

Dramatica : Notice that the top two items are both external.

William S1 : Absolutely…

Dramatica : And the bottom two items are internal. So, one of the relationships we see in the quad, is that horizontal pairs have a relationship. Horizontal pairs are called “companion” pairs in Dramatica quads, because they are most compatible. Now, notice that Universe means a situation, or fixed state of things. Physics means “an activity”. Mind is a fixed state of mind (prejudice, fixation) and Psychology is a manner of thinking or manipulation.

Universe and Mind are both “states” which means they are unchanging. Physics and Psychology are both processes, which means they are always changing. So we have a new relationship in the quad, a diagonal pair of states, and a diagonal pair of processes. Diagonal pairs in Dramatica are called Dynamic Pairs. Because they are most opposed. Now this quad I have given you, is at the top of the Dramatica structure. But keep in mind that structure is only HALF of Dramatica. The other half is the dynamics, represented by the questions we have been talking about, like, does your Main Character change or remain steadfast? Is your story drawn to a conclusion by a timelock or an optionlock? and so on.

The structural half of Dramatica, starts with these four items, and says, that any problem you might want to classify has got to be found in some combination of these four things: an internal or external state or process. There is just no other place a problem could reside.

William S1 : Does the “pairs” relationship hold as the quads are broken farther and farther down into other quads?

Dramatica : Yes, William, but not with the same meanings as internal, external, etc. In fact, that is what is really changing as we look deeper and deeper into one of the four “Classes” of problems. Each “Class” is like a filter on the problem. We look through it and try to make out what is going wrong at the bottom. So, if you see a diagram of the Dramatica structure, you’ll see that each of these four breaks down into four sub-classes called Types, and each Type breaks into four Variations and each Variation breaks down into four Elements. This creates four “levels” of the story mind.

RDCvr : Could you give a concrete example of how this works?

Dramatica : Sure, RDC…The top level, the Class level, is most like Genre, the Types most like Plot, The Variations feel most like Theme and the Elements are where characters are created. This just says what their “topic” is, but the dynamic questions determine how that topic grows and evolves over the course of the story. RDC, I’ll break down the structure further on, but for now, I want to describe something else about the four classes we’ve identified.

RDCvr : Okay.

Dramatica : Remember I talked about the Objective and Subjective views of story? Well, another way to look at that is the Objective view is what you are looking at, and the subjective view is where you are looking from. So, the structure represents, the four items or topics we might look at in a story to see the problem at the most broad stroke, unrefined level. But where are we looking from? The question really is: how do you want to position your audience in relationship to each of these potential places the problem might be?

Well, there is a DYNAMIC quad of four points of view. Step out of the role of author for a moment, and pretend you are the audience. You are looking at the story. When you look through the eyes of the “Main” Character, the audience feels as if the story is happening to them, so they are looking from the first person singular point of view, which is “I”. They feel as if, “this is happening to ME”. Which is why people drive their cars funny after an action movie! But if you are the soldier in the trenches, there is the other soldier coming at you through the smoke. You can’t see to tell if they are friend or foe, but they ARE coming at you! This is the character Dramatica calls the “Obstacle” character, because they stand in the path the Main Character would like to take. They might be an enemy, but they might also be someone who cares for you and wants to steer you away from something dangerous or bad.

When the audience sees through the Main Character’s eyes, and sees the “I” point of view, the Obstacle character looks like “you”. And that is the relationship the audience has to them. Second person singular. Some famous Obstacle Characters are Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, or Girrard in The Fugitive, for example. They don’t HAVE to be the antagonist, or the enemy, these are SUBJECTIVE characters, because they are defined by their point of view.

Now the Main and Obstacle are a dynamic pair, not of items or topics but of points of view. To fill out this POV quad, we still have two more points of view that show up in all complete stories. What about the relationship BETWEEN the Main and Obstacle characters? This is called “we” and is the realm of the Subjective Story throughline. You can hear Main and Obstacle all the time saying, “We don’t agree on this”. or, “This is the center of our problems”. The “We” or subjective story POV, is where the “passionate” argument of a story is made.

Eventually, one of the two parties to that argument will be won over, one will change, the other will remain steadfast. That is how the argument ends. But there is one final point of view. “They”! This is the objective view of the general on the hill. It is where the audience observes characters as if they were not actually in the story, but watching a play on a stage. We might care about the outcome, but we are not actually involved directly. You can feel these four points of view in EVERY complete story.

Now….Objective and Subjective are another diagonal, dynamic pair: The subjective story is the passionate argument, the objective story is the dispassionate or “analytical” argument of the story. Reason and Emotion. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they come to different conclusions, and that is where dramatic tension is created. But wait, there’s more! Now how much would you pay! (Just kidding, couldn’t resist!)

What you need to do, is determine which POV gets attached to which topic. In other words, MC, OC, OS, SS, the four points of view, each will be attached to one of the four classes. This positions the audience in relationship to the story’s problem. Questions on this part before I talk about the actual attaching of the POV’s?