Category Archives: Q & A

Using Dramatica for a How-To Book

A Dramatica user recently asked:

I bought your Dramatica Pro software a couple of weeks ago and am finding it difficult to figure out how to use it for writing a how-to type of book. I’ve developed a few imaginary characters just so that I could work through your software and learn how it works, but now I’d like to drop these imaginary characters so I can better focus on all the topics I’d like to cover in my book and the sequence they need to have so that the audience can understand what I want to show them. Essentially I’m writing about the mind and behavior and happiness and destiny which is all very abstract, so I’m trying to make it concrete and understandable by linking cause and effect.

Any suggestions of how I can use your software to help me write this type of book?


My reply:

Hi, Sharon

One of the best places to explore those kinds of topics are in the Theme Browser, which shows you sort of a Period Table of Thematic Topics. In the Theme Browser, you can zoom in from a generalized topic to progressively detailed topics. You can also see how the concepts relate by their position in the grid, relative to one another.

Then, in the Dramatica Dictionary, you can find extended definitions and descriptions of each of these thematic items including synonyms and antonyms.

Another place to look is in the StoryGuide question paths. There, along the middle of the window from left to right is a “HelpView” bar with several buttons on it. These allow you to see all the thematic terms used in context as well as real-world examples of how they might come into play in life (or in stories).

Essentially, I would skip working with characters at the beginning and focus on building theme first. Then go to plot. then genre, then theme.

Now if you click on the Start Here tile on the main Dramatica desktop when you open the program, select the longer of the paths. Then, follow the instructions and make heavy use of the HelpView buttons which provide so much context and exploration of how these topics work with the mind and with inter-socialization. Skip anything that has to do with Characters the first time through. Then, after completing the path go to the Reports area and read some of the thematic reports to get a feel for the topics you’ve selected.

Finally, go back to the StoryGuide and create a Main Character to represent your own views of the information you’ve selected. Your Impact Character will be your audience that you hope to convince of your views. Answer the questions for the Main Character describing how you feel about the material, and for the Impact Character about how you want to focus them. Then check the reports for both characters and for the plot lines that have been laid out. These plot lines will provide a sequential guide that describes the progression of topics and sub-topics you will want to use to explore your subjects.

It is often handy to then reverse the process and adopt the role of the Obstacle Character and answering how you want to impact your reader who is now cast as the Main Character. In this way, you can see what things look at from your readers’ point of view and how you are coming across to them, topic-wise.

In the end, though the reports and structures are tremendous guides, the greatest value of this approach is that you have come to know your material in great detail, including contextual information about the perspectives of each topic you wish to explore and the order you’d like to approach it, as well as the impact you’d like to have.

That’s probably enough to get you started. Let me know if you have any further questions along the way.


Enough Theory! How Does Dramatica Work on Real Stories?

From a Dramaticapedia reader:

Your blogs seem to be always in the abstract. Let’s see something about a successful story in the real world.    I would love to see a Dramatica setup for real stories that have been successful.

My reply:

Here’s a link to more than 70 complete analyses of novels, movies, stage plays, and television programs:

Now here’s a link to almost 200 additional “raw” storyforms (just the 80+ Story Engine settings) for a number of popular stories in various media:

Here’s another link to an ongoing series of podcasts, each analyzing a different story in various media:

And finally, here’s a link to some analysis videos as well:

As for my posts being abstract, yep, you’re right – I’m the abstract one. Chris, the other co-creator of Dramatica is the more practical-minded of the two of us. (All the above links come from his company’s web site, which is far more focused on application.)

The way we work is, I advance the edges of the theory and he figures out how to put it to work. When he turns one of my concepts into something tangible, I used that as a platform to reach for the next concept. That is why we have worked so well together for over 20 years, and why Dramatica has become both so extensive in theory and useful as well.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Does Dramatica Edit Your Story?

A writer asks:

Does Dramatica software edit and give better solutions for certain parts of a story as a editor may do?

My reply:

Dramatica doesn’t read or process what you write in it. Rather, it asks a series of multiple-choice questions about your dramatic intent. As you answer them, Dramatica’s interactive Story Engine cross-references the dramatic impact of your answers to start building the underlying logistic structure of your story. The more choices you make, the more options are ruled out because of the combined influence of what you’ve already chosen. Eventually, you answer enough questions for Dramatica to go ahead and finish the rest of the structure for you.

This structure is called a Storyform, and it is essentially a map of all your story points and how they relate together in your story. But, this is just the basic bare-bones structural points – it doesn’t include your subject matter or any of your storytelling style. For example, every story has a goal. As a result of your answers, Dramatica may determine that the goal in your story is about Obtaining something. For another story you might develop, the goal might turn out to be Becoming a different kind of person. Clearly those are two different kinds of goals, and each one would be the dramatically sound goal for each particular story.

But, if your goal were Obtaining, Dramatica won’t tell you what is to be obtained. Or, if you have a goal of Becoming, it won’t tell you what kind of person the character is trying to become. That part is up to you. But if you know your goal is Obtaining and NOT becoming, then you understand that underlying structural story point and then need to fill it in with your own subject matter.

You can answer the questions about something you’ve already written, or something you are going to write. Either way, Dramatica will provide that kind of help for over eighty different story points from the Main Character’s personal problem to the overall concern that everyone is worried about in the story at large. Armed with this information, you have a sound dramatic framework from which to write.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Learn more about Dramatica

Questions about Dramatica Pro

A writer recently emailed:

I have many questions.

Does Dramatica Pro have built in tutorials to bring someone up on the language and terminology?

Do you offer a package with movie magic?

Are any mainstream screenwriters using this? The only place I hear about it is the Write Bros. website and reviews on Amazon.

Does anyone offer a class on the software? The closest thing I can compare it to is 2nd year grad-level Greek. (In a good way!)

I found the companion book on iTunes and am picking through these videos. So happy to have found something that could help with my stories. It looks like an amazing amount of work on your part.


My reply:

Hi, Steve.

Here are answers to your questions:

Yes, Dramatica has built-in tutorials including the entire theory book included in the software.  There’s also a built-in searchable dictionary of terms, and extensive support information in many categories on every question page.

We do offer Dramatica in a package with Movie Magic.  Just visit our web site at, click on the link at the top to our store and then click on Package Deals to see the latest prices.

Lots of mainstream writers use Dramatica (we’ve sold well over 50,00 copies) but most writers don’t advertise they use it for fear the industry will think they “need” software to write their stories.  But, if you visit you can see a number of endorsements by well-known novelists, screenwriters, producers and directors.  Just as a sample, it was used by the emmy-winning head writer of Band of Brothers on that production, it was used extensively in the inventive television series, Dead Like Me, and is a big favorite of the fellow who wrote The China Syndrome.  (We really wish other writers would have the courage to step up to the plate and publicly admit they use it!)

As for classes, you can find the Dramatica Software Companion program on our web site at, which fully describes all the features of the software and how to use them, and you will also find Dramatica Unplugged – a program consisting of 12 hours of video describing the Dramatica theory of story (based on my seminars and on the 12 week course I taught for a few years through UCLA).

I hope this gives you some direction, and please feel free to contact me with any other questions you may have.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica