Category Archives: Dramatica

The Reasoning Behind Dramatica 2

Another installment in my ongoing series explaining why things are the way they are in Dramatica.

The Four Classes: Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology

As mentioned in the previous episode of this series, in our efforts to explore how story structure worked, we had early on determined that exploring the psychology of the main character might be the key to unlocking it, for reasons described there.

So, we began looking at many different kinds of stories for anything having to do with the main character’s motivations and manners of thinking, and whenever we found something that described such things, we put it on a post-it note and stuck it to the wall.

Eventually we saw patterns in the notes that had by now absolutely covered the wall in our conference room.  For example, we could see that some of theses psychological attribute seemed to be opposite attitudes such as Faith and Disbelief or to represent two ways of looking at things, such as Hope or Fear, or two approaches such as Pursue or Avoid.

So, we organized as much as we could of the notes we’d already gathered into pairs of opposites.  When we’d done that, we found we had a lot of single items left.  Naturally, we figured that once all the pairs were pulled aside, these remaining single that we had observed in stories probably also had opposites that we just hadn’t noticed or encountered yet.  Rather that go looking for them, which would take quite a while, we thought it would be a lot easier just to calculate what the opposite of a single item should be.

Now this is a pretty important decisions because it marked the first time we built a part of the model not just from observation but by extending patterns we had observed into new patterns never directly observed (at least not then, though all these “predictions” have now been verified in thousands of stories).

The notion was, in pulling together the initial pairs from data, we had developed a “feel” for the relationships between the two items.  Based on that feeling, we could take any of the single words and determine a pair for it so that the semantic relationship between the two words, between their meanings, would be just like the relationship between the pairs we had already observed.

The development of Dramatica is largely a story of seeing relationships in data, then extending the theory/model to fill in other patterns that were only partially complete.

As we continued, we saw that some of the pairs seemed like a counter-point to another pair, such as the pair of Support and Oppose seemed related to the pair of Help and Hinder – the first pair being more about attitude and the second pair more about action.

So, we started gathering as many pairs as we could  into groups of two related pairs.  As it turned out, the pairs from data did best as groups of just two pairs.  Any more pairs seemed unbalanced – again, based on intuition that story structure ought to be symmetrical.  I mean it just made sense, didn’t it?  We didn’t know, but it sure seemed that way so far, so we proceeded under that assumption, and having one pair counter-balance another pair played right into that.

We also found that some items that seemed like they were higher level concepts that were kind of like an umbrella word that described the family of two counter-balanced pairs.  In other words, our simple groups of four were now  beginning to be seen as the children of a parent post-it term.  Conversely, the parent terms might be seen as being made up of the two pairs within it – or even perhaps made up of the four items contained in the two pairs.

And then we found that two parents made a higher level  pair, and two pairs of parents were topped by an even higher level parent and so on.  Now, some of this was from observed data, some was from extending the patterns we found.  But all along, we were developing a sense of some underlying relationship that existed just beneath the surface of the patterns – we couldn’t see it, but we could feel it.

In his book about how they discovered DNA, James Watson (of Crick and Watson) describes how they had a feeling based on all the data that DNA might be some sort of helix, but had no proof and also no idea what kind of helix.  So, they ordered some molecular models, basically industrial tinker toys, and started assembling them into all manner of helices – singles, doubles, left and right handed, and also how many molecular bonds in each twist – stuff like that.

Eventually, they knocked off all the candidates but one because all the others failed to explain all of what little known hard data they had.  And that was the famous double-helix.  They were so sure they’d found it, just on the basis of its elegance and simplicity (and the lack of alternatives) that they announced their findings and, fortunately for their careers, they were soon proven right.

But we didn’t know that yet – hadn’t read the book.  We were just looking for patterns in the data we gathered from real stories, as seen through the notion of the psychology of the main character.

At some point, and I really can’t provide more information on that because we were constantly striking off in all kinds of directions simultaneously, but at some point, we realized the obvious: stories on not built from characters alone.  Duh.

As I recall, we already had some items on post-it notes we’d gathered that seemed more descriptive of plot than of characters or, perhaps, of the material world than of the mental world.

Taking a clue from the hierarchy we were building and expanding for the main character psychology,  we took those more external post-it items and started building a companion hierarchy of them.

At first, we worked the external hierarchy’s parents and children independently of the psychology.  An then, much to our surprise, we started to see that some items in one hierarchy had a  comparative item in the other.  For example, Memory in the psychology set had a counterpart in Past in the external set AND in the same relative position in external as Memory was in internal.

Now that pretty much knocked us on the floor.  It was looking as if each set was the same as the other, just with a different perspective – one looking out and the other looking in.  How?  Why?

Perhaps, we speculated, the relationships in each hierarchy represent what we see when we look at anything – all the available perspectives we have available to us.  When we look at the external world, we see things colored that way, and when we look inside ourselves, we see the very same things colored another.

But, we didn’t spend too much time getting all philosophic about it – not yet, anyway.  We were out to crack the code of story structure and make a name for ourselves – fame and fortune!

Now working with these evolving hierarchies on the wall was getting a bit cumbersome.  Everything was spreading laterally across the room.  So, Chris being (among his many talents) a graphics guy, started modeling our concepts and understandings in a more accessible form.

At first he tried putting each into a 3 D pyramid with Mind at the top of one and Universe at the apex of the other.  We discovered each was a four-sided pyramid because there were always for items in a set of two pairs.  And then their parents made two pairs that also made four items and so on.  Not making it up, just following the patterns inherent in the semantics of the words on the post-ii notes, originally discovered in stories.

And then we had the pair of Memory and Conscious in Mind and the equivalents of Past and Present in Universe.  After some work, we added Subconscious to Mind and Future to Universe.  But how could those be equivalent?  Well, perhaps, it is in the Subconscious from whence come our desires, which might be based on looking at what we want in the future?

Well, that turned out to be just wrong – at least as stated – but we had no time for that.  We were trying to finish the two hierarchies and discover a way to efficiently present them – not to try and  understand any of it yet, unless we couldn’t help it.

So, in time we got two pyramids visualized on paper, but they had a lot of problems, just like Crick’s and Watson’s tinker toy models.  For one thing, it was beginning to look like the bottom level of each hierarchy was using the same words as in the other hierarchy and in the exact same places, which was just weird: How could the external world and the internal world meet at the exact same things?

To help answer that, we attempted to put the two four-sided pyramids together, base to base.  But if things are in the same position at the bottom of each, they can’t possibly meet item to item, because you’ve flipped them over so they are at opposite sides.


So, we tried putting them point to point, but that provided no practical use at all.  Finally we just settled on two pyramids, side by side, where the bottom level was exactly the same in each.  Didn’t like it, couldn’t do anything about it, and at least it was easy to see equivalencies from one to the other.

Now how did we get from two classes to four?  Well as I said earlier, it’s hard to establish a clear linearity of evolution here since we were working on a myriads of things all at once, which muddies the water.  But basically, it is as follows:

Within each hierarchy, we had arranged each set of two pairs in what we came to call a “quad.”  This was designed as a visualization by Chris so that the most specific or tangible pair was put on a diagonal from the upper left, and the more ethereal of process-oriented was put on a diagonal from the upper right.  By doing this consistently, the natures of each pair and their relationship from pyramid to pyramid was easily seen.

And somewhere along the line, we realized everything in each pyramid was made of quads of four, but the top level only had two items – one pair – Universe and Mind.  If story structure was indeed symmetrical, there ought to be four.  So what would be the other two?  Well, by looking at the relationships of the pairs in the  hierarchies at all levels, we were able to determine that the pair of Universe and Mind needed a complimentary pair of Physics and Psychology.

As it turned out, we hadn’t been building a model of psychology but of mind – the tangible pieces of our inner world like Conscious, Memory, and Subconscious.  But the processes of the mind, the way it rolled, that would be in a hierarchy of Psychology.  And Universe had a process equivalent of Physics.

So, we realized what we were building were four perspectives on the reality that was the same thing at the bottom of each point of view.  We called them Classes to give a sciency ring to them.

And Chris, Graphic Man Extraordinaire, converted the pyramids to towers and eventually bound them into the 3D projection we all know and love and the flat table of story elements that holds our hearts to this day.

Again, a lot of things were going on at once, but I think this paints a good picture of where we were coming from and a glimpse at the order in which things happened.

Hopefully, this will help you adopt the same intuitive mind set to guide your logic in continuing to refine and expand the theory.

Comment from Irvaxis, a patron:

Since this post talks about the Table of Elements’ origins, there are some theoretical questions i’ve recently been debating with a friend of mine in regards to its construction. Therefore, here is my question: · In the Table of Elements, at rest, unjustified, does every quad there respect the traditional K A D T arrangement for every term/mental process placed in there, or rather, the K A D T arrangement follows a different logic for each quad, and in such case, which one? This is the closest thing i found to explain it, and it quickly became confusing beyond my comprehension. I was unable to map this onto the entire table: Thanks in advance like always.

My response:

Hi, Irvaxis. Though I will be doing a “Reasoning” post specifically about the Table of Elements and several about the quad, let me answer your question with a few brief things to consider, and later I’ll hold forth more expansively.

First, the link you included explains part of the issue in the section entitled the non-linear form. It describes (in text and in the included graphic) how the KTAD equation iterates. Let me here address the salient points, not in a “reasoning behind” approach but, for efficiency and clarity, in a “this is what it is” approach.

First, the entire model is a K based system which means that of all the ways you could look at narrative structure, Dramatica was all built from point of view of definitive elements arranged in rigid relationships.

The “why” of this will be covered later, and there are many other ways to build a structure and an engine than this one that addresses the same thing, just as DNA can been seen as a double-heilx or under X-Ray will appear as a crystal. The Table of Story Element is the crystalline version of Dramatica.

Next – the quad is not a thing, it is a visual representation of a logic equation – even an equation of relativity. The primary equation is K/T = AD, which is from a K-base perspective. But the equation itself is designed to describe the relationships among four processes, each represented by one of the four letters, which are the four “bases” of the DNA of narrative.

When the equation iterates is is not just working like traditional iterative equations where the result is then plugged back into the variables of the equation to create expanding fractals. Rather, the quad represents an iteration in which the result of the equation changes the operations in the structure – essentially, changing the position of the variables in the equation but not the nature of the items nor the nature of the equation’s operations, just where specific variables reside in the operation.

Side note: this describes how the mind goes over the same ground again and again, but in different orders through the variables to understand the role of time (sequence) in affecting the results. i.e. : a slap followed by a scream has a different meaning than a scream followed by a slap.

From the top of the Tower of Dramatica, the K perspective (Spatial perspective) is maintained all the way down to the elements, and so, from that perspective, K is always in the upper left and KTAD maintain their relative positions.

But, laterally within the model, the horizontal levels represent the temporal aspect of the iteration, and so, as in the line you included, each quad iterates until it completes creating set of four states of the equation (or if you prefer four iterated equations of KTAD) .

But once that happens at the Type level, to create 16 types (four quads of four), then the temporal process iterates the entire set of 16 types through the same pattern as in the link to create a “chess set” of 64 variations. And so, the tower view has iterated not only horizontally but vertically as well.

As an aside, this is why we say Dramatica is a quad helix, because it is really two helices, each identical to DNA, but wrapped around each other in a super double helix, which reflects in the dynamics as the two different justifications. But finally, we reach the bottom where it all falls apart. There, Quads are broken apart into their original binary pairs and then recombined into new quads in a final iterative operation that takes into account how all four classes are ultimately looking at the same things, but by the time you get into the greatest depth of detail or granularity, the physics of it breaks down.

And at that place at which all four classes come together with the same items but in arrangements that bread the bonds of the physics of it in each of the other three classes, respectively, you are on the edge of atomic dissolution where it interfaces with the quantum realm, and that is the final step before you leave the K based system and move on to the next master perspective.

And when you have iterated through all four master perspectives down to the bottom, collectively, you have arrived at the point where you are no longer looking at structure and the relationships among items, but at dynamics and the influences that alter them – the mythical dynamic model. That is where I am working currently.


Let’s see if i got this right so far: · There are at least two perspectives we can hold in the static table of elements (with no component of time/sequence): A vertical one (i assume, top down), and a horizontal one (or also named lateral, which would be within the same floor of the towers). · The vertical view keeps the classic KADT arrangement as the equations themselves are represented with the same bias. · The lateral view of a floor is iterating through the equation positions. I assume this refers to each floor independently. The top floor is the base equation, the next floor is 4 iterations, the next floor is 16 iterations and the last floor is 64 iterations, that iterate according to the rules in that article of yours that i still can’t wrap my head around at this time. · The mix/combination of these two factors decides what the mental process in that place is. Or: · The top down view is the towers/Table of Elements. This is the “spatial” component. This also determines KADT arrangement in this perspective. · The lateral view is the result of justification / is basically for the “time” component. This also determines KADT arrangement in this other perspective. · The Dynamics from the algorithms would operate upon this temporal/lateral side in matching accordance to what’s what on the top down/spatial side. Would it be one of these two? Or something else entirely? Still, i might need a bit of a walkthrough to get how these equations iterate, especially as we go down to the element level, unless that’s planned for a dedicated post. Still, thanks in advance like always.

My response:

Interestingly, all of what you said above “or” is correct and some of what you said below “or” but not all.

For the first point below “or” – Yes, the top down view is the spatial perspective of the mind, which manifests itself in a repetitive KTAD pattern from top to bottom with no iteration.

For the second point – No, the lateral view is not the result of justification. Justification has not happened yet in the model. It is the temporal view of KTAD, unjustified, and from that perspective, the KTAD pattern flows through the iterations, seen as static shifts of meaning in the semantic model.

It can help to think of it this way conceptually – In our minds we have a time sense and a space sense. They do not and cannot see eye to eye. It is like trying to put a plastic ruler down on a pencil that has been laid on a table. If you press one side of the ruler to the table, the other side will move up from the table, like a seesaw. If you press the other side down, the first side will move up. There is not way to make it match on with both sides being down at the same time (though they can both be half-way up.

Down on both sides is a solved problem. Up in any balance between the sides is an inequity in the mind. The mind is driven by inequity and will never be balanced. Self awareness is the interference pattern between space and time. It does not exist within the brain but in the differential between our space sense and our time sense. It is that interference pattern that you see between the top down view, which makes total sense spatially, and the horizontal view, which makes total sense temporally.

But when you put them both in the same space/time construct (the tower) they are incompatible and in place contradictory. And yet they both exist in the same space/time.

It helps sometimes to think of the model without any words in it and without KTAD labels stuck on it. For this perspective the framework of the model appears to make total sense from the top down and total sense from the side across. That is the view from inside out minds because our self awareness cannot view things both spatially and temporally at the same time.

And so, we cannot see the paradox within – it looks good from space, then again looks good from time, then back to space and back to time and everything appears compatible, from the inside. But, from the outside, there is that discrepancy you are beginning to visualize.

Simultaneously, the model is consistent from the top and iterating from the side, which cannot be, yet is. This is expressed in the semantics. Each word in the model was chosen to represent simultaneously the best seesaw compromise between the consistent space down view and the progressive sideways across view. That is built into the matrix of the model itself BEFORE justification.

That is the view from outside the mind, as when we are looking at others, leading to why we say, “If I were you, this is what I’d do,” because from the outside their decisions make no sense. But from inside their minds, your advice makes no sense. As my mom put it to me as a teaching moment when I was young, “People say to me, ‘If I were you, I’d do this…” and I tell them, ‘No, if you were me, you’d do exactly what I’m doing, but if you were in you but in my shoes, you’d do the way you suggested.” Smart woman, my mom.

So, as I say, that paradox is built into the model at rest, BEFORE justification. Now, imagine we can only think at all because of that paradox, and it is the best we can get living inside our minds by virtue of how they are constructed, how they MUST be constructed.

And now in that mind at rest, filled with nothing but ready to operate, life experience enters the picture. In a practical world, we see things happen a certain way long enough and we assume givens – if this, then this, and when this, also this. Then the situation changes, but we are stuck with the givens. (We must adopt givens or we would have to refigure everything we know every time we considered anything at all – bad survival trait for the species. So, we establish givens which become the framework of how we see the world.

And then something changes and those givens don’t work any longer. For example, you understand when to use logic and when to use feelings to solve a problem, but now logic isn’t working any longer because of a different environment. So, you eventually give up on it and go with somebody’s advice to stop over thinking it and just go with your feelings and you do.

That’s the moment logic moves to the back burner for this kind of problem and feeling moves to the front. And now you’ve moved a mental process from its original position in the model matrix to another position in a flip. That is the beginning of the justification process, when something is either flipped spatially, or rotated temporally to adjust to experience altering either its position in the model or its sequence.

But, since time and space are interconnected in the model, when you flip or rotate one thing, the other goes with it and is also altered – space alters time and time space simultaneously. And this is how and when the justification process is applied to the model. It is not contained in the model – that is only the paradox of the interference pattern of space and time that creates self awareness in a mind (or model) at rest, carried to the the nth degree as far into the details as we can see within ourselves before we reach the point where if we look deeper, we lose a level of the upper view – the size of mind constant – so that the model is always the same size, no matter what kind of human issue we are looking at.

And it is upon that model of constant size and built-in paradox at rest that first one justification wind up is applied and then the other, in response to the eight dynamic questions. The final four questions of the total of twelve serve to position that effect upon the model in a particular place, but more on that later.

So, that’s why the model is as it is and where and when justification is applied and does not inherently reside within the model at rest and is not involved in the paradox in the vertical and horizontal levels. Good stopping point for now. 🙂


Alright, that is super-clarifying, thanks a lot! I feel like i have the gist of why the algorithm found coded in the patent and the apparent simplicity of “there are only 8 algorithms” seemed to mismatch. I have to ask one more thing, although this may need its own topic sometime: Is there a known representation of the temporal/lateral, unjustified perspective, with the corresponding KADT attachments/iterations? Because if there is, or if it can be created, this might heavily accelerate the process of recovering the algorithms and most especially the theory behind them, i conjecture. Because if these two are implemented as a single piece of code as i suspect, de-coupling them may prove to be crucial to get back the correct understanding of it.

My response:

In fact, I do not know. I was always on the theory side, not on the implementation side, so I’d come up with the concepts and the next thing I know they’d show up working in software. I see what you are saying – that if we could take the iteration “code” out of the software the justification code would remain, sort of. But, as far as I know, the iteration code isn’t in the software at all.

Rather, that’s just the concept that explains why you run into the semantic terms seeming like they don’t follow a strict KTAD pattern in the Table. But there was no need to code that part. All that was needed was the semantic terms that were used and their position in the model at rest, and then to run the two justifications on it.

So, essentially, that whole vertical/horizontal iteration “slip” it encoded in the semantics so that the semantic relationship among the four items in a quad gradually shifts as one moves through the at rest model, indicating the changing nature of KTAD through a gradual change in semantic meaning an the relationships among those altered meanings and relationship due to iterations.

Essentially, I imagine there is a semantic change in nature of the specific words from top to bottom and a change in the semantic distance between the words within quads from side to side across the model. This way, both the alteration in meaning of moving from top to bottom spatially through the four levels KTA and D and the alteration in the nature in the change of the relationships among KTAD within the evolving equations are combined in a single semantic shift, literally word by word. Therefore, both spatial and temporal shifts are unseen in terms of the toward and only contained in the semantic values. As a result, in the program it was not necessary to code either the spatial nor temporal shifts. All that was needed was:

1. Construct the matrix of the table.

2. Assign the semantic terms to their at rest position in the matrix.

3. Twist and turn the model with the two justifications based on the algorithms, including overlaying the PRCO and 1234 with the first and second justifications, which goes first depends on the algorithms.

That’s all that really happens with the model. Then the story point relationship table is overlaid so the engine can narrow the number of storyforms remaining by making choices, thereby providing more information about the structure than the author entered. And then you derive the PRCO and 1234 information and provide that to the author as well.

You know, when I stop to think about it, perhaps my greatest frustration is that to most folks, the elegance of the model is invisible. Of course, for writers, why would they want to bother with that anyway, as long as it works.

But there’s such a hidden beauty there, yet with many people, they perceive the Dramatica quad structure of the tower view as just a bunch of nested cubby holes that are just handy for holding dramatic topics that might show up in stories and have been grouped in quads of similar words.

Of course, as described above, the quads in the tower represent nested iterative equations at four different fractal levels as their variable are altered. And the iteration of the actual operations within each equation, not the variable values but the operations of the equation itself across the horizontal axis of the model CANNOT be included in the tower itself because they cannot co-exist with the top-down fractal approach – those two view are incompatible in the same space-time, must like real and imaginary numbers.

So the words in the model do the job of illustrating the gradual shift of temporal iterations (frictals) in the lateral plane, and in that way they transcend the limitations of the three dimensional representation of space-time in the model to separate out the fourth dimension of time into the semantics. And so, the model is space from the top down, but time in the iterations of semantic meanings laterally.

Now that’s pretty freaking elegant. But the real clincher is that the whole model with the space of the quads and the time of the semantics, both locked together is that they are twisted and turned through the process of justification to represent not the at-rest state of the mind, but the the potential of the mind’s experience-derived inequities, which are manifest in the potentials created through justification.

And then, of course, there is a second justification. One of the justifications occurs in the overall story mind. The other in the mind of the main character.

The main character is our self-awareness that exists without our mind. But our mind is so much more. Self-awareness is our Conscious mind, but there is also our Memory, our Subconscious, and our Pre-conscious.

And so, there is a fractal relationship between the main character and the overall mind, for the main character resides within it, but as an exact structural fractal – one tower of the complete four, a fractal of the totality.

But what’s more is that one justification is a frictal of the other – temporal fractals of one another that operate identically but one before the other. And so they are temporal fractals (frictals).

Finally, have you as of yet seen the quad that is made up of the two fractal structures (main character and overarching mind) and the two frictal dynamics (the first wind up and the second wind up)?

The structural fractals fall into the K and T positions within this master quad and the dynamic ones exist in the A and D positions. Armed with the understandings denoted above, anything within or without ourselves can be described and understood in the most accurate perspective available to us in our existence as the interference pattern between the mental world and the material world.

Perhaps “elegance” is too tame a word for this?

The Reasoning Behind Dramatica 1

I’m starting this new series of posts to provide a glimpse into our thought processes as we developed the Dramatica theory and the software implementation of the story engine.  It is my hope that sharing the reasoning behind key theory concepts will help provide perspectives others can employ to refine and expand the theory further.

Keep in mind the posts in this series are not intended to explain the concepts but to describe how we came to them.

The Story Mind

How and why did we come to the belief that the underlying structure of every story is the psychology of a single mind, that of the story itself, as if every story is something of a super character of which all the other characters are facets?

Here’s the quick version of how our thinking evolved, and below that a more detailed description of the pathway that got us there.


Chris and I had been discussing story structure every morning over coffee for months before we each went off to our respective jobs. One day, Chris asked a question that would directly lead, years later, to the discovery of the story mind.  He asked, “If a characters, such as Scrooge, are the cause of a story’s problems, how come they can’t see it?”

We pondered that a bit and concluded that characters like Scrooge must have some sort of blind spot – a psychological filter that actually prevents them from seeing the real problem and in fact, causes him to believe the problem comes from somewhere else.  If that was true, how would something like that come to be, and more, how is that remedied by the end of a story?

At this point in our discussions we shifted gears from looking for structural patterns in stories to trying to understand the psychology of the main character, and when I eventually joined Chris at his company to work on the problem, that is where we focused.

So, we started looking at all manner of movies, books, plays, etc. to find anything in those stories that pertained to the main character’s psychology.  As we found them, we put each on on a post-it note and stuck it to the wall in the conference room.

Eventually that wall was plastered with these individual points.  But, as we mulled them over, we began to realize that some of them seemed like they belonged together, as if they belonged to the same family.  And so we grouped them as best we could, chipping away at all the remaining post-it notes that hadn’t been yet assigned to a group of similar items.

In time, it became clear that some of these psychological attributes of the main character were more like an umbrella under which a family of similar items resided.  We thought of them as parents and children.

We arranged and rearranged the notes, groupings, parents, and children, until we’d used up most of original notes on the wall.  But there was this one collection of all the remaining psychological aspects that just didn’t seem to be part of the psychology of the main character, though they were certainly psychological attributes within the story.

Our next thought was that perhaps these other points were part of one of the other kinds of characters than the main character – but which one, and how were they related.  I spent days staring at the notes on the wall, looking for a pattern that might explain what these orphan notes were and how they fit into stories.

And then, one day (and I actually recall this moment so very clearly) I was looking at all those loose notes and reading them over when I thought, no, those aren’t part of the main character’s psychology, and they really don’t fit with any of the other characters either.  So what are they?

And as I examined them more closely, reading the names of each attribute, I suddenly realized that what tied them all together as a group were that they were “higher-level” concepts than the ones in the main character group.  They were more broad stroke, more expansive.

And at that moment I said to myself, I wonder if these aren’t about the characters at all, but about the psychology going on in the story itself.  And then the next thought was the Eureka moment, it popped into may head that, “maybe the story has a psychology of its own.”

I snapped out of my thought as if out of a trance and ran down the hall to Chris’ office blurting out, “Maybe those extra post-its aren’t about the characters, maybe they are about the psychology of the story itself!”

As he often did when confronted with a wholly new concept, Chris said “Wait a minute…” got up from his desk, lay down on his back on the carpet, folded his hands on his chest and closed his eyes to let his subconscious wander around the new idea and take stock.

After what seemed five minutes (though was probably shorter) he opened his eyes saying simply, “I think you’re right.”  And from that moment forward we re-approached all the work we had previously done, dividing it into the psychology of the main character and the psychology of the story at large, which we came to refer to as the story mind.

Hopefully, that short (ish) description of how the story mind concept first emerged can help any of you who want to grok the wholeness of the theory.  It’s not so much about what’s i the theory but about how to have to see things to perceive the theory – the truth of it – to know when something is accurate to it and working as it should.  For in the end, the ability to almost intuit the structure and dynamics is what drives new concepts, rather than building them from extensions to a chain of logic alone.


Now, here’s how the evolution in our thinking that led to the story mind happened, step by step:

1.  In the early 1980s Chris and I had just finished producing a feature length horror movie and we about to start another script.  We recognized problems in our last story and decided to investigate if there were any truisms we might employ to solve those problems and prevent others.  So basically, we had no idea why problems in stories happened or how we might avoid them – no understanding of story at all – that’s where we were coming from.

2.  Our instructors at the USC Cinema Department didn’t seem to have a clue either.  Oh, they had some tips, but no system, no overview that hung together.  So, we weren’t sure if anybody anywhere really understood how stories work or even, for that matter, if there was any rhyme or reason to it.  We speculated that either no one had found the answer yet or maybe there was no answer and stories were just result of unfathomable intuition.

3.  We decided to cast a wider net and see what had been written about story structure throughout history.  We encountered Aristotle, of course, and his seminal work, Poetics, and we also ran into Jung and Joseph Campbell.  But we never went too deep before we became dissatisfied with inconsistencies, incomplete reasoning, and contradictions.  So, we figured we should either drop the who thing or strike out on our own to understand what was going on in stories a little better.  We were in our twenties, so of course we were filled with hubris and arrogance and decided to chase after the prize on our own.

4.  We were so full of ourselves that we decided not to read anything about story structure by anybody else, except for the little bit of skimming we’d done.  We reasoned that maybe we’d end up reinventing the wheel, but we might just go off in a direction everyone else knew would not be productive and actually find answers they never had because they had blinders on.  Yes, we actually had that conversation and then put our own blinders on to not look elsewhere while we worked on our own quest for understanding.

5.  We actually came up with a few good ideas (such as “the rule of threes” that you’ll hear about in a later post) by looking at stories that we knew worked (you could feel which stories worked or didn’t work without an inkling why).  We got lots of little original bit and pieces, but in the end, we stalled out and without any kind of an overview about structure.  We spent a few weeks stalled and then Chris wisely said we probably hadn’t had enough life experience, and perhaps we should put it all on hold until we later.  That made sense, so that is what we did, agreeing we wouldn’t pollute our virgin thinking in the meantime with other people’s ideas about story structure until we reconvened some time in the future.

6. About ten years later, Chris called me up and said, You know that old story structure project we were working on?  I think we’re ready.”  And so we met for breakfast at a booth near the door in the Coral Cafe near my home, and from that point we were off to the races and never looked back.

7. Our first order of business was to decide to meet over coffee at my home for about an hour every day before we went to our respective jobs.  Then, we went over all our old material from ten years ago, reorganizing it to suit our more experienced point of view, and beginning to ask new questions.

And that is where this long version of the story connects to the short version at the top.

Next time, we can dispense with a lot of this background material as we look into the thought processes behind the next Dramatica concept.

The Dramatica Book | Preface

What follows is from an early unpublished draft of the book that ultimately became, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story. This excerpt is a note from me to Chris explaining the layout of the material in the draft to be considered for inclusion in the final relase version.

CHRIS:  This material is divided into seven sections.  Each is described briefly below:

Section One:      The existing book

This is the most complete and updated version I wrote.  I have edited in additional essays to fill holes, and changed and updated terms.  Aside from the Exploratorial, this approx 200K document contains all our best shots at explaining the whole damn thing.

Section Two:      The Storyforming Exploratorial

Much of this material is culled from the book in section one.  Still, there are important updates and changes in perspective and terms in this version.  In fact, if you choose to use the book material, look to this part of the tutorial for slightly different and sometimes better versions of the same material.  There is also much new material here.  This section was designed to describe what Dramatica is.

Section Three:    The Storytelling Exploratorial

You’ve already read through this one and shared your comments.  I have not yet incorporated any changes, pending what your decisions are about what ought to be used of all this material in the book.  This section was designed to tell an author how Dramatica will affect their audience.

Section Four:      The Dramatica and the Creative Writer Exploratorial

This section describes the relationship between Dramatica and the author in a conceptual, philosphic sense.

Section Five:       The Putting it in Motion Exploratorial

This section describes what it feels like when writing from the appreciations, so that an author can tap into their emotional experience of creating.

Section Six:         The Scientific American Article

‘Nuf said on this one!  I do feel this should be in the book in the back somewhere to give the tenacious reader something to dig into and to document the extent of our work.

Section Seven:         Various appendices

I’m sure you have updated versions of these, but I just threw in the Help, DQS and Definition stuff to have my most recent versions all in one place, since these need to be at the back of the book anyway.

Read the free online edition of Dramatica – A New Theory of Story in its final form.

Have Your Characters Write Their Own Autobiographies

When fleshing out your characters, have each one write a short autobiography in their own voice about their lives prior to the beginning of the story, touching on key turning points, memories of special events – both cheerful and tragic, and of the people who meant/mean the most to them.

What are their biggest disappointments, narrowest escapes, greatest triumphs, deepest regrets?

Have them tell you, the author, about their hobbies, religious and political views, hopes, and dreams.

And finally, have your character each write about how the people and events in your story appear to and affect them, from their unique point of view and position in your story.

In this way, your character development will become more organic and more informed.

Keep in mind, however, that our sense of our own selves is usually quite different from how others see us. So, it is a good idea to make sure each character writes about the others in terms of whether they trust them, what they think is their greatest strength, most detrimental weakness, and must fun/frustrating trait. This will not only illuminate how each character sees the others, but how the others see them.

And finally, when you actually sit down to write your characters, don’t just approach them from your author’s view as to what you need/want them to do in the plot, but stand in their shoes and try to understand why they do these things. Is it easy or hard for them to do what they do, compatible or contrary to their nature, and what personal costs or benefits will their actions bring them?

In the end, never forget that we are each the main character or our own personal story, even when we are playing a subordinate role in a larger story involving many others.

Read more writing tips at, the Creative Writing Tips web site.

Story Structure is Based on Fours, Not Twos

Story structure is built on fours, not on twos.  Though it may seem like conflict is created between two opposing forces, there are two other forces at play as well.

Consider a dramatic circuit consisting of four elements: Potential, Resistance, Current, and Power – just like an electrical circuit.

Every scene has all four elements and if one is missing, the circuit is incomplete and the story won’t flow.

But there’s more to it than that.  These four elements have a relationship that we see in many areas of life.

Here are some other sets of four that create the same kind of internal mechanism:

  • Earth, Water, Wind, Fire
  • Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb
  • Red, Blue, Green, Brightness
  • Universe, Physics, Mind, Psychology
  • Mass, Energy, Space, Time
  • Characters, Plot, Theme, Genre
  • Motivation, Method, Evaluation, Purpose

As you can see, each group of four has a very similar feel.  And the last item in each set seems a little out of place compared to the other three.

There’s an important psychological reason for that, but it would require going way too deep for this post.  For now, just know that stories reflect how we think, and we think in four dimensions because we perceive four dimensions.  So, it is no surprise that story structure is also based on fours, because that is the way we fully explore a topic in fiction or in life.

Your Story As A Person

All too often, authors get mired in the details of a story, trying to cram everything in and make all the pieces fit.  Characters are then seen only as individuals, so they often unintentionally overlap each other’s dramatic functions. The genre is depersonalized so that the author trying to write within a genre ends up fashioning a formula story and breaking no new ground. The plot becomes an exercise in logistics, and the theme emerges as a black and white pontification that hits the audience like a brick.

You have days, months, perhaps even years to prepare your story to exude enough charisma to sustain just one 2 or 3 hour conversation with your readers or audience.  They expect all that effort to result in a tightly packed story that holds their interest, transports them to a world of imagination, and also makes sense along the way.

Problem is, if you keep your nose buried too far into the details, you might be undercutting the overall impact if you lose sight of how all the pieces work together.  We all get drawn deeper and deeper into our stories as we massage every little aspect individually.  That’s why it is a good idea to come up for air once in a while, step back, and see how your story plays as a whole.

One of the best ways to do this is to think of your story as a person you’ve invited to dinner, and to let you story tell you all about itself over the meal.

Here’s how it might go.  Let’s call your story “Joe.” You know that Joe is something of an authority on a subject in which your are interested. You offer him an appetizer, and between bites of pate, he tells you of his adventures and experiences, opinions and perspectives.

Over soup, he describes all the different drives and motivations that were pulling him forward or holding him back. These drives are your characters, and they are the aspects of Joe’s personality.

While munching on a spinach salad, Joe describes his efforts to resolve the problems that grew out of his journey. This is your plot, and all reasonable efforts need to be covered. You note what he is saying, just an an audience will, to be sure there are no flaws in his logic. There can also be no missing approaches that obviously should have been tried, or Joe will sound like an idiot.

Over the main course of poached quail eggs and Coho salmon (on a bed of grilled seasonal greens), Joe elucidates the moral dilemmas he faced, how he considered what was good and bad, better or worse. This is your theme, and all sides of the issues must be explored. If Joe is one-sided in this regard, he will come off as bigoted or closed-minded. Rather than being swayed by his conclusions, you (and an audience) will find him boorish and will disregard his passionate prognostications.

Dessert is served and you make time, between spoonfuls of chocolate soufflé (put in the oven before the first course to ready by the end of dinner) to consider your dinner guest. Was he entertaining? Did he make sense? Did he touch on topical issues with light-handed thoughtfulness? Did he seem centered, together, and focused? And most important, would you invite him to dinner again? If you can’t answer yes to each of these questions, you need to send your story back to finishing school (a re-write), for he is not ready to entertain an audience.

Your story is a person.  It is your child. You gave birth to it, you nurtured it, you have hopes for it. You try to instill your values, to give it the tools it needs to succeed and to point it in the right direction. But, like all children, there comes a time where you have to let go of who you wanted it to be and to love and accept who it has become.

When your story entertains an audience, you will not be there to explain its faults or compensate for its shortcomings. You must be sure your child is prepared to stand alone, to do well for itself.  If you are not sure, you must send it back to school.

Personifying a story allows an author to step back from the role of creator and to experience the story as an audience will. This is not to say that each and every detail in not important, but rather that the details are no more or less important than the overall impact of the story as a whole.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

This article is drawn from my
StoryWeaver Story Development Software

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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.”

Symbolizing Concepts

It has been argued that perhaps the symbols we use are what create concepts, and therefore no common understanding between cultures, races, or times is possible. Dramatica works because indeed there ARE common concepts: morality, for example. Morality, a common concept? Yes. Not everyone shares the same definition of morality, but every culture and individual understands some concept that means “morality” to them. In other words, the concept of “morality” may have many different meanings — depending on culture or experience — but they all qualify as different meanings of “morality.” Thus there can be universally shared essential concepts even though they drift apart through various interpretations. It is through this framework of essential concepts that communication is possible.

Excerpted from the Dramatica Theory Book
which you can read free on our web site

Jurassic Park – Building A Better Dinosaur

One way to improve your writing is to look at a good story and learn from it.  Another way it to see what’s wrong with a bad story and think about how to fix it.  But you seldom see writers looking at good stories to see how they might be improved.  Yet, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here.

I wrote the following article back when the original Jurassic Park movie first came out, just as we were finishing up work on our theory of narrative structure.  We figured that anyone can point out the flaws in a bad story and see the shining gems in a good one.  But if we we could show how to improve good stories, then writers might pay attention to our ideas about dramatics.  And so, I penned a whole series of Creative Criticisms where I used our narrative concepts to do just that.

Here’s the first article in that series:

Building a Better Dinosaur

Jurassic Park is wonderfully entertaining. The concepts are intriguing, the visuals stunning. Everything it does, it does well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do enough. There are parts missing, little bits of story DNA that are needed to complete the chain, and these problems go right back to the book the movie is based on.

The structure of a story, is not medium dependent. What works in one medium will work in all others. Storytelling, however, must vary significantly to take advantage of the strengths and avoid the weaknesses inherent in any format. Jurassic Park makes this storytelling translation very well, but the flawed dramatics were lifted intact, shackling the movie, just like the book, with a Pterodactyl hanging `round its neck.

So how can we avoid being blinded by great storytelling to see beyond it into the underlying dramatics that are working against an every more powerful story?  To find out, let’s lay a little groundwork about how the structure of stories works.  I’ll keep it to a minimum because, after all, writers aren’t narrative theorists and most don’t want to be.

First up, to the audience the message of the story is about an ethical or philosophic conflict such as greed vs. generosity that is at the heart of A Christmas Carol by Dickens.  It is this message conflict the gives the story meaning beyond action, pathos, and good storytelling.  To paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi, it is the force that gives binds the story together.

For that message to work, this conflict shows up both in the overall story in which everyone is involved and in the personal story the Main Character.  So, in A Christmas Carol, the overall story is about Bob Cratchet’s family, and whether or not Tiny Tim will live.  In the personal story, it is about Scrooge’s belief it is every man for himself, and that no one is obligated to help others – in fact, it is a bad idea.

Because the message conflict is reflected both in the big picture and in the small picture, success or failure in a the attempt to achieve the goal is dependent on whether or not the Main Character is able to overcome his or her personal demons, often through a leap of faith just before the climax.  So, to be dramatically strong a story must explore an the problem both objectively and subjectively, weigh one side of the conflict against the other, and then show the final result of choosing one side over the other.

Jurassic Park attempts to do this but does not quite succeed because its exploration of the personal side of the problem is lacking.  The issue at the heart of the story is order (control) vs. chaos.  Hammond believes you can build a system that is safe, Ian Malcolm (the chaos expert) responds that “life will find a way” – in other words, you can’t achieve complete control.  Things go wrong at Jurassic Park because unexpected interference with the system comes out of left field – chaos.  This is well represented in the overall plot.

At the other level, Dr. Grant is the Main Character of the story – the one who is supposed to grapple with the personal aspect of the message conflict, but though the groundwork is laid, it is not fully developed and never comes into play at the end as it should.

As the film opens, the entire first scene with Grant at the archaeological dig illustrates his displeasure with chaos. All the elements are there: a disruptive boy, a randomly sensitive computer, a helicopter that comes out of nowhere and ruins the dig. All of these things clearly show Grant’s frustration and displeasure with Chaos, but they don’t directly show the counterpoint: if you are against chaos, you like things orderly – you strive for order.

As a result, these events come off more as simple irritations that anyone might feel, rather than establishing Grant’s personal issue that he so prefers an orderly life that he seeks to prevent the forces of chaos from entering his realm.  Alas, without any direct allusion to Order being his primary concern, Dr. Grant comes off simply as finding disruptions inconvenient, faulty equipment annoying, and kids as both.

Yet just stating that Dr. Grant shares the message conflict with  the overall story is obviously not enough. The relationship between his view of the problem and the overall story view of the problem is what explores the concept, makes the argument, and allows the Main Character to grow. Ultimately, it is the differential between the two that brings a  Main Character to suspect the error of their ways and make a positive leap of faith and change. They see the problem outside themselves, then find it inside themselves.  They change the inside, and the outside follows suit.

What does this mean for Jurassic Park? In the movie as it is, Doctor Grant’s attitude toward John  Hammond’s ability to control the dinosaurs is one of skepticism, not because he promotes order but because he is wary of chaos. Grant simply agrees with Ian Malcolm, the mathematician. This makes the same point from two characters. But Grant’s function should not be to sound a warning about Chaos just as Malcolm does, but to promote even more control to ensure Order. Only this point of view would be consistent with his feelings toward the children, and why he doesn’t want any of his own.

The following scene rewrites the dialog of Grant, Hammond, and Malcolm to illustrate how the overall story conflict between Hammond and Malcolm regarding order and chaos could have easily been reflected at a personal left in Grant, who initially favors order above all things, but later (should have) come to embrace chaos and thereby changed.


How can you be sure your creations won’t escape?


Each compound is completely encircled with electric fences.


How many fences?


Just one, but it is 10,000 volts.


That’s not enough….


I assure you, even a T-Rex respects 10,000 volts!


No, I mean not enough fences. It’s been my experience that Dr. Malcom is right. You can’t count on things going the way you expect them. You need back-ups to your back-ups. Leave a soft spot and chaos will find it. Put three fences around each compound, each with a separate power source and then you can bring people in here.


That’s not the point at all! Chaos will happen no matter how many fences you build. In fact, the more you try to control a situation, the greater the potential that chaos will bring the whole thing down.

In the above scene, Grant stresses the need for even MORE control than Hammond used. This clearly establishes his aversion to giving in to chaos. But Ian illustrates the difference in their points of view by stating that the greater the control you exercise, the more you tighten the spring of chaos.

What would this mean for the middle of the story? Plenty. Once Grant and the children are lost in the open with the thunder lizards, he might learn gradually that one must allow chaos to reach an equilibrium with order. Several close encounters with the dinos might result in minor successes and failures determined by applying whether an orderly or chaotic approach is taken. This should have been Grant’s learning experience in order to reach a point of change at the climax.

As it stands, Dr. Grant simply learns to care about the children. But what has that really changed in him at the core? What did he learn? And how does that relate to the message conflict in the overall story?

Would it not have been more dramatically pleasing to have his experiences with the children teach him how chaos is not just a disruptive element, but sometimes an essential component of life? And would it not make sense for someone who has spent his whole life imagining the way dinosaurs lived to be surprised by the truth when he sees them in person?

What a wonderful opportunity this was to show how the orderly interactions he had imagined for his beloved beasts are anything but orderly in the real world. So many opportunities to teach him the value of chaos, yet all we get is “They DO travel in herds… I was right!” Well, that line is a nice place to start, especially if you spend the rest of the story showing how wrong he was about everything else. Truly a good place to start growing from.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the personal story line is the manner in which they all escape in the end. Grant and the kids are sealed in the control room, but the raptors are right outside. The girl struggles to get the computer up so they can get the door locked. This of course, merely delays the Raptors until the helpless humans can escape into another Raptor attack. Then out of nowhere, T-Rex conveniently barges in, kills the Raptors and allows the humans to escape? Why? Why then? Was T-Rex just waiting in the wings for his cue?

Let’s propose one possible ending that would have tied in chaos in the overall story with Dr. Grant’s personal issue of order in the Subjective story and set up the entire dramatic framework for his growth as a character in a leap of faith.

Imagine that earlier in the story, when the power went down at the beginning, it only affected some of the compounds, rather than all. So though dinos are roaming in all sections of the park, they can’t get from one section to another.

Near the end, Dr. Grant and the kids make it back to the control room, barely escaping the T-Rex who is trapped by one of the electrified section fences. In quick action, they climb over the fence on a tree knocked down by the Tyrannosaurus. The Raptors are at the door of the control room, the girl goes to the computer to lock the door. She locks it, then tells Grant she can bring up the rest of the fences.

As she works, Grant sees a painting on the wall that shows two dinosaurs fighting.  As he watches the girl work with the painting behind her and the raptors at the door, we realize he is thinking about how he and the kids were saved earlier because a dino attacked the one that was about to kill them.  Grant looks back and forth and then makes the connection. “No!” he yells.  “Take them down, take them all down!”  The girl is incredulous and refuses but he insists and she cut the power on all of the fences, expecting the worst.

Just as before, the Raptors break in, the humans escape onto the dino skeletons. NOW, when T-Rex comes in to save the day, it is solely because of Dr. Grant’s decision to cut the power to the fences allowing the T-Rex to get into this sector. Having learned his lesson about the benefits of chaos and the folly of order, he is a changed man. The author’s proof of this correct decision is their salvation courtesy of T-Rex.

Grant and the kids make for the helicopter.  Now, when Grant suddenly gets cuddly with the kids, we understand his feeling about having children has changed because of his changed mind regarding keeping order and shutting out chaos.  As a result, this removes the obstacle that stood between Grant and his love interest and kept them from being together – the desire to have children.  Grant saves the kids, gets the girl, and equilibrium is restored on the island.

So, as you see, just a few small changes in a story, even a good one, can power boost its impact and make the whole thing resonate.  Now our narrative theory has even more suggestions for Building a Better Dinosaur, but, leapin’ lizards, don’t you think this is enough for one Constructive Criticism?

Now all the concepts in this article are drawn from our Dramatica Story Structure Software, based on our narrative theory.  You can try it risk free for 90 days and see if you can improve your novel or screenplay as well.  Just click here for details or to download the demo.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Here’s something else I made for writers…

What Is Dramatica?

What is Dramatica?

Dramatica is a theory of story that offers both writers and critics a clear view of what story structure is and how it works. Dramatica is also the inspiration behind the line of story development software products that bear its name.

The central concept of the Dramatica theory is a notion called the “Story Mind.” In a nutshell, this simply means that every story has a mind of its own – its own personality; its own psychology. A story’s personality is developed by an author’s style and subject matter; its psychology is determined by the underlying dramatic structure.

The Story Mind

The Story Mind is at the heart of Dramatica, and everything else about the theory grows out of that. If you don’t buy into it, at least a little, then you’re not going to find much use for the rest of this book. So let’s take look into the Story Mind right off the bat to see if it is worth your while to keep reading…

Simply put, the Story Mind means that we can think of a story as if it were a person. The storytelling style and the subject matter determine the story’s personality, and the underlying dramatic structure determines its psychology.

Now the personality of a story is a touchy-feely thing, while the psychology is a nuts-and-bolts mechanical thing. Let’s consider the personality part first, and then turn our attention to the psychology.

Like anyone you meet, a story has a personality. And what makes up a personality? Well, everything from the subject matter a person talks about to their attitude toward life. Similarly, a story might be about the Old West or Outer Space, and its attitude could be somber, sneaky, lively, hilarious, or any combination of other human qualities.

Is this a useful perspective? Can be. Many writers get so wrapped up in the details of a story that they lose track of the overview. For example, you might spend all kinds of time working out the specifics of each character’s personality yet have your story take a direction that is completely out of character for its personality. But if you step back every once and a while and think of the story as a single person, you can really get a sense of whether or not it is acting in character.

Imagine that you have invited your story to dinner. You have a pleasant conversation with it over the meal. Of course, it is more like a monologue because your story does all the talking – just as it will to your audience or reader.

Your story is a practical joker, or a civil war buff (genre), and it talks about what interests it. It tells you a story about a problem with some endeavor (plot) in which it was engaged. It discusses the moral issues (theme) involved and its point of view on them. It even divulges the conflicting drives (characters) that motivated it while it tried to resolve the difficulties.

You want to ask yourself if it’s story makes sense. If not, you need to work on the logic of your story. Does it feel right, as if the Story Mind is telling you everything, or does it seem like it is holding something back? If so, your story has holes that need filling. And does your story hold your interest for two hours or more while it delivers it’s monologue? If not, it’s going to bore it’s captive audience in the theater, or the reader of its report (your book), and you need to send it back to finishing school for another draft.

Again, authors get so wrapped up in the details that they lose the big picture. But by thinking of your story as a person, you can get a sense of the overall attraction, believability, and humanity of your story before you foist it off on an unsuspecting public.

There’s much more we’ll have to say about the personality of the Story Mind and how to leverage it to your advantage. But, our purpose right now is just to see if Dramatica might be of use to you. So, let’s examine the other side of the Story Mind concept – the story’s psychology as represented in its structure.

The Dramatica theory is primarily concerned with the structure of a story. Everything in that structure represents an aspect of the human mind, almost as if the processes of the mind had been made tangible and projected out externally for the audience to observe.

Do you remember the model kit of the “Visible Man?” It was a 12″ human figure made out of clear plastic so you could see the skeleton and all the organs on the inside. Well that is how the Story Mind works. it takes the processes of the human mind, and turns them into characters, plot, theme, and genre, so we can study them in detail. In this way, an author can provide understanding to an audience of the best way to deal with problems. And, of course, all of this is wrapped up and disguised in the particular subject matter, style, and techniques of the storyteller.

Now this makes it sound as if the real meat of a story, the real people, places, events, and topics, are just window dressing to distract the audience from the serious business of the structure. But that’s not what we’re saying here. In fact, structure and storytelling work side by side, hand in hand, to create an audience/reader experience that transcends the power of either by itself.

Therefore, structure and storytelling are neither completely dependent upon each other, nor are they wholly independent. One structure might be told in a myriad of ways, like West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. Similarly, any given group of characters dealing with a particular realm of subject matter might be wrapped around any number of different structures, like weekly television series.

But let’s get back to the nature of the structure itself and to the elements that make up the Story Mind. If characters, plot, theme, and genre represent aspects of the human mind made tangible, what are they?

Characters represent the conflicting drives of our own minds. For example, in our own minds, our reason and our emotions are often at war with one another. Sometimes what makes the most sense doesn’t feel right at all. And conversely, what feels so right might not make any sense at all. Then again, there are times when both agree and what makes the most sense also feels right on.

Reason and Emotion then, become two archetypal characters in the Story Mind that illustrate that inner conflict that rages within ourselves. And in the structure of stories, just as in our minds, sometimes these two basic attributes conflict, and other times they concur.

Theme, on the other hand, illustrates our troubled value standards. We are all plagued with uncertainties regarding the right attitude to take, the best qualities to emulate, and whether our principles should remain fixed and constant or should bend in context to particular circumstances.

Plot compares the relative value of the methods we might employ within our minds in our attempt to press on through these conflicting points of view on the way toward a mental consensus.

And genre explores the overall attitude of the Story Mind – the points of view we take as we watch the parade of our own thoughts unfold, and the psychological foundation upon which our personality is built.

Melanie Anne Phillips

This article is drawn from the author’s
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