Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 6 “The Scope of Dramatica”

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story

With all these forms of communication, isn’t Dramatica severely limited in addressing only the Grand Argument Story? No. The Grand Argument model described by Dra- matica functions to present all the ways a mind can look at an issue. As a result, all other forms of communication will be using the same pieces, just in different combina- tions, sequences, or portions. In our example, we indicated that the less we said, the more the audience could use its imagination. A Grand Argument Story says it all. Every point is made, even if hidden obscurely in the heart of an entertainment. Other forms of communication use “slices” of the model, chunks, or levels. Even if an author is un- aware of this, the fact that human minds share common essential concepts means that the author will be using concepts and patterns found in the Dramatica model.


This section is pretty straight-forward.  All it says is that the Dramatica model of structure describes the full size a structure can be.  Therefore, all other structural models are not in conflict with it, but contained within it.

Well, now, isn’t that arrogant?  Arrogant, yes, but also true.  You see, in the process of discovering Dramatica’s structural model, we came to realize that there is a maximum amount of information the human mind can hold and consider at one time without relegating some of it to memory to call up as needed.  We coined the phrase, “Size of Mind Constant” to describe this phenomenon.

Dramatica describes the totality of this “biggest thought” that anyone can have so, therefore (if you buy into that) all other structural models must, by definition, fall into it.  Implied: if they don’t, they’re wrong.  And we, as usual, are being arrogant again.  But also right.

Here’s why there’s a Size of Mind Constant.  There are four external dimensions: Mass, Energy, Space and Time.  Einstein messed around with those in his famous E=MC2.  What we discovered in story structure is that those four dimensions are reflected in the mind as Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire.  And we came up with our own logic equation to describe the relativistic relationship among them: T/K=AD.

Conversationally, Knowledge is the Mass of the Mind – it describes the discrete particles of what you know.  Thought is like Energy, it moves those pieces of Knowledge around to build things (like complex understandings).  Ability is like Space because it describes all the unknown in which your particle of Knowledge reside.  In other words, Ability is the comparison of how much you know in a given area to how much you don’t know.  And Desire is like Time because it is a comparison of how things are compared to how they were and how they might be.

Okay, enough with the science – for now…

So in non-math speak, you’ve got four external dimensions and four internal dimensions to work with.  Each is a different kind of evaluation of your world and yourself.  But, your mind has to go someplace, so you need to “stand” on one of the eight and use it as your baseline from which to measure the other seven.  Then, you jump from the one you are on and measure the new set of seven (this time including the one you were on originally) and see what that looks like.  When you have finally “stood” on all eight and seen all you can see, all of those perspectives are what make up the Dramatica model.

Recall, now, that we didn’t invent this model (way too complex for us! See, being non-arrogant here…).  Rather, we simply discovered the kind of out-of-focus existence of it in the conventions of narrative structure and simply sharpened the image.

Now, we stand on one at a time and look at seven.  If we want to move beyond that, we are beyond the capacity of our minds to see that much without treading over the same ground.  So, shift to look at new stuff, and when we do, it appears to be another topic or another category or another kind of thing.  Everything in our perception is really interconnected, but when we examine all we can from one perspective (jumping through all eight points to look at it) we see anything outside that as a separate topic.

So, here we come to the size of mind constant.  We are all quite capable, regardless of mental prowess, to jump around all eight of those dimensions and all of those resulting perspectives on a topic make up a Grand Argument Story – a complete description of all the different ways we might look at an issue.  That’s the Size of Mind Constant.

Now here are some fun reflections of that.  Average “short-term” memory is 7 items, which is why phone number ended up seven numbers long and perhaps why we divide things into seven day weeks.  Who knows?

Also, Size of Mind Constant is like thinking of your ability to hold a big thought as being the capacity of a box-car on a railroad track.  The ties on the track show the subject matter you are covering.  You stand in the box car and cover one tie.  The rest of the box car covers seven more ties.  You can move the car up and down the track to cover more subject matter, but you can never cover more than eight ties at the same time (including yourself).

Another way of looking at it is that the Dramatica model describes the biggest notions you can have (the “classes” in the model) while still being able to see the smallest details (the “elements”).  If you look at something bigger (like rising up over a landscape in a balloon) you start to loose the ability to see the details.  If you drop down to see the details, you loose sight of the Big Picture.

And so, the Size of Mind Constant describes the bandwidth you can perceive at the same time from the biggest broad strokes to the tiniest concepts.

And THAT is why all other structural models are not in conflict with Dramatica (unless they are flat-out wrong) but rather, fall within that scope because, quite simply, there’s nowhere else to go.

– Melanie Anne Phillips

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