Category Archives: Dramatica Theory

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 Storymind.com, the Creative Writing Tips web site.

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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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.

GRANT

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

HAMMOND

Each compound is completely encircled with electric fences.

GRANT

How many fences?

HAMMOND

Just one, but it is 10,000 volts.

GRANT

That’s not enough….

HAMMOND

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

GRANT

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.

MALCOLM

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’s In Your Story’s Mind?

As with people, your story’s mind has different aspects. These are represented in your Genre, Theme, Plot, and Characters. Genre is the overall personality of the Story Mind. Theme represents its troubled value standards. Plot describes the methods the Story Mind uses as it tries to work out its problems. Characters are the conflicting drives of the Story Mind.

Genre

To an audience, every story has a distinct personality, as if it were a person rather than a work of fiction. When we first encounter a person or a story, we tend to classify it in broad categories. For stories, we call the category into which we place its overall personality its Genre.

These categories reflect whatever attributes strike us as the most notable. With people this might be their profession, interests, attitudes, style, or manner of expression, for example. With stories this might be their setting, subject matter, point of view, atmosphere, or storytelling.

We might initially classify someone as a star-crossed lover, a cowboy, or a practical joker who likes to scare people. Similarly, we might categorize a story as a Romance, a Western, or a Horror story.

As with the people we meet, some stories are memorable and others we forget as soon as they are gone. Some are the life of the party, but get stale rather quickly. Some initially strike us as dull, but become familiar to the point we look forward to seeing them again. This is all due to what someone has to say and how they go about saying it.

The more time we spend with specific stories or people the less we see them as generalized types and the more we see the traits that define them as individuals. So, although we might initially label a story as a particular Genre, we ultimately come to find that every story has its own unique personality that sets it apart from all others in that Genre, in at least a few notable respects.

Theme

Everyone has value standards, and the Story Mind has them as well. Some people are pig-headed and see issues as cut and dried. Others are wishy-washy and flip-flop on the issues. The most sophisticated people and stories see the pros and cons of both sides of a moral argument and present their conclusions in shades of gray, rather than in simple black & white. All these outlooks can be reflected in the Story Mind.

No matter what approach or which specific value is explored, the key structural point about value standards is that they are all comprised of two parts: the issues and one’s attitude toward them. It is not enough to only have a subject (abortion, gay rights, or greed) for that says nothing about whether they are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Similarly, attitudes (I hate, I believe in, or I don’t approve of) are meaningless until they are applied to something.

An attitude is essentially a point of view. The issue is the object under observation. When an author determines what he wants to look at it and from where he wants it to be seen, he creates perspective. It is this perspective that comprises a large part of the story’s message.

Still, simply stating one’s attitudes toward the issues does little to convince someone else to see things the same way. Unless the author’s message is preaching to the audience’s choir, he’s going to need to convince them to share his attitude. To do this, he will need to make a thematic argument over the course of the story which will slowly dislodge the audience from their previously held beliefs and reposition them so that they adopt the author’s beliefs by the time the story is over.

Plot

Novice authors often assume the order in which events transpire in a story is the order in which they are revealed to the audience, but these are not necessarily the same. Through exposition, an author unfolds the story, dropping bits and pieces that the audience rearranges until the true meaning of the story becomes clear. This technique involves the audience as an active participant in the story rather than simply being a passive observer. It also reflects the way people go about solving their own problems.

When people try to work out ways of dealing with their problems they tend to identify and organize the pieces before they assemble them into a plan of action. So, they often jump around the timeline, filling in the different steps in their plan out of sequence as they gather additional information and draw new conclusions.

In the Story Mind, both of these attributes are represented as well. We refer to the internal logic of the story – the order in which the events in the problem solving approach actually occurred – as the Plot. The order in which the Story Mind deals with the events as it develops its problem solving plan is called Storyweaving.

If an author blends these two aspects together, it is very easy miss holes in the internal logic because they are glossed over by smooth exposition. By separating them, an author gains complete control of the progression of the story as well as the audience’s progressive experience

Characters

If Characters represent the conflicting drives in our own minds yet they each have a personal point of view, where is out sense of self represented in the Story Mind? After all, every real person has a unique point of view that defines his or her own self-awareness.

In fact, there is one special character in a story that represents the Story Mind’s identity. This character, the Main Character, functions as the audience position in the story. He, she or it is the eye of the story – the story’s ego.

In an earlier tip I described how we might look at characters by their dramatic function, as seen from the perspective of a General on a hill. But what if we zoomed down and stood in the shoes of just one of those characters, we would have a much more personal view of the story from the inside looking out.

But which character should be our Main Character? Most often authors select the Protagonist to represent the audience position in the story. This creates the stereotypical Hero who both drives the plot forward and also provides the personal view of the audience. There is nothing wrong with this arrangement but it limits the audience to always experiencing what the quarterback feels, never the linemen or the water boy.

In real life we are more often one of the supporting characters in an endeavor than we are the leader of the effort. If you have always made your Protagonist the Main Character, you have been limiting your possibilities.

Melanie Anne Phillips

The Story Mind concept is at the heart of our
Dramatica Story Structuring Software

Why a “Story Mind?”

The Story Mind concept is a way of visualizing story structure that sees every story as having a mind of its own and the characters within it as facets of that overall mind.  So, one character represents the Intellect of the Story Mind and another functions as its Skepticism, for example.

Of course, this is just at a structural level – the mechanics of the story.  Naturally, characters also have to be real people in their own right so the readers or audience can identify with them.

But, structurally, the archetypes we see in stories are very like the basic mental attributes we all possess, made tangible as avatars of the Story Mind’s thought processes.

Well, that’s a pretty radical concept.  So before asking any writer to invest his or her time in a concept as different as the Story Mind, it is only fair to provide an explanation of why such a thing should exist. To do this, let us look briefly into the nature of communication between an author and an audience and see if there is supporting evidence to suggest that character archetypes are facets of a greater Story Mind.

When an author tells a tale, he simply describes a series of events that both makes sense and feels right. As long as there are no breaks in the logic and no mis-steps in the emotional progression, the structure of the tale is sound.

Now, from a structural standpoint, it really doesn’t matter what the tale is about, who the characters are, or how it turns out. The tale is just a truthful or fictional journey that starts in one situation, travels a straight or twisting path, and ends in another situation.

The meaning of a tale amounts to a statement that if you start from “here,” and take “this” path, you’ll end up “here.” The message of a tale is that a particular path is a good or bad one, depending on whether the ending point is better or worse than the point of departure.

This structure is easily seen in the vast majority of familiar fairy “tales.” Tales have been used since the first storytellers practiced their craft. In fact, many of the best selling novels and most popular motion pictures of our own time are simple tales, expertly told.

In a structural sense, tales have power in that they can encourage or discourage audience members from taking particular actions in real life. The drawback of a tale is that it speaks only in regard to that specific path.

But in fact, there are many paths that might be taken from a given point of departure. Suppose an author wants to address those as well, to cover all the alternatives. What if the author wants to say that rather than being just a good or bad path, a particular course of action the best or worst path of all that might have been taken?

Now the author is no longer making a simple statement, but a “blanket” statement. Such a blanket statement provides no “proof” that the path in question is the best or worst, it simply says so. Of course, an audience is not likely to be moved to accept such a bold claim, regardless of how well the tale is told.

In the early days of storytelling, an author related the tale to his audience in person. Should he aspire to wield more power over his audience and elevate his tale to become a blanket statement, the audience would no doubt cry, “Foul!” and demand that he prove it. Someone in the audience might bring up an alternative path that hadn’t been included in the tale.

The author might then counter that rebuttal to his blanket statement by describing how the path proposed by the audience was either not as good or better (depending on his desired message) than the path he did include.

One by one, he could disperse any challenges to his tale until he either exhausted the opposition or was overcome by an alternative he couldn’t dismiss.

But as soon as stories began to be recorded in media such as song ballads, epic poems, novels, stage plays, screenplays, teleplays, and so on, the author was no longer present to defend his blanket statements.

As a result, some authors opted to stick with simple tales of good and bad, but others pushed the blanket statement tale forward until the art form evolved into the “story.”

A story is a much more sophisticated form of communication than a tale, and is in fact a revolutionary leap forward in the ability of an author to make a point. Simply put, when creating a story, and author starts with a tale of good or bad, expands it to a blanket statement of best or worst, and then includes all the reasonable alternatives to the path he is promoting to preclude any counters to his message. In other words, while a tale is a statement, a story becomes an argument.

Now this puts a huge burden of proof on an author. Not only does he have to make his own point, but he has to prove (within reason) that all opposing points are less valid. Of course, this requires than an author anticipate any objections an audience might raise to his blanket statement. To do this, he must look at the situation described in his story and examine it from every angle anyone might happen to take in regard to that issue.

By incorporating all reasonable (and valid emotional) points of view regarding the story’s message in the structure of the story itself, the author has not only defended his argument, but has also included all the points of view the human mind would normally take in examining that central issue. In effect, the structure of the story now represents the whole range of considerations a person would make if fully exploring that issue.

In essence, the structure of the story as a whole now represents a map of the mind’s problem solving processes, and (without any intent on the part of the author) has become a Story Mind.

And so, the Story Mind concept is not really all that radical. It is simply a short hand way of describing that all sides of a story must be explored to satisfy an audience. And, and if this is done, the structure of the story takes on the nature of a single character.

The Story Mind concept is drawn from the Dramatica Theory of Story Structure.  Learn more about Dramatica at Storymind.com

Learn more about the Story Mind

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-Creator, Dramatica

The Story Mind (Part 6) – Audience Reach

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

Who is your audience? And for that matter, does a single story structure affect all audience members equally? Let’s find out….

In Dramatica, there are some story points that deal directly with the structure and others that pertain to the collective impact of a number of story points. Audience Reach is one of these combined dramatics. It is also called an Audience Story

Point because it is concerned with the kind of reach the story has into the audience.

Specifically, it describes whether your readers/audience will empathize or sympathize with your Main Character. Empathy is when your readers/audience identify with your Main Character. Sympathy is when they care about your main character but feel more as if they are standing right behind the character, rather than in its shoes.

When audience members empathize, they suspend their disbelief and emotionally occupy the Main Character’s position in the story. When audience members sympathize, it seems to them as if the emotional maelstrom of the story revolves around the Main Character, making him or her the Central character of the story.

Audience Reach is determined by the effects of two story points: Story Limit and Main Character Mental Sex. Limit describes the story dynamics that force the story to a conclusion. Mental Sex describes whether your Main Character thinks like a man or a woman.

Story Limit has two variations – Time Lock and Option Lock. Time Lock stories are like the motion picture “48 Hours” in which a police detective has exactly two days before he has to return to jail a convict who is the key to solving another crime. When the time is up, the story reaches its conclusion.

Option Lock stories are similar to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in which a transformed prince must make someone love him before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose or he will remain a beast forever. When the last petal falls, the conclusion is reached.

Main Character Mental Sex also has two variations – Male and Female. Mental Sex does not refer to the physical gender of the Main Character but only to its mental gender. (Because none of us truly know how the opposite sex thinks, authors often can’t help but write all of their characters as thinking in their own sex, regardless of the character’s physical gender.)

Examples can be seen in the motion picture “Aliens” in which the Main Character (Ripley) was actually written for a man and changed only the character’s dialog when the role was cast with Sigourney Weaver. Alternatively, in the movie “The Hunt for Red October”, Jack Ryan is a female mental sex Main Character as he solves problems intuitively and emotionally, rather than by observation and logic. As one might expect, male and female readers/audience members empathize or sympathize with a Main Character for different reasons.

For men, they will empathize with Male Mental Sex Main Characters and sympathize with Female Mental Sex Main Characters, regardless of which limit is

invoked – time lock or option lock. Conversely, women will empathize in an option lock but only sympathize in a time lock, regardless of what mental sex the Main Character possesses.

Why the difference? Well, the reasons are in the physiology of the brain, and too deep to go into here. If you are really interested, you’ll find a complete description of what causes the mental differences between mean and women later in this program in a lesson devoted specifically to mental sex.

Still, for a quick visual, imagine a plain old clock face. Imagine that men’s minds sit at noon, and women at 9 o’clock. Thinking clockwise, men see women as being three quarters of an hour away. Women see men as only being one quarter of an hour away. This serves to illustrate that the sexes really aren’t opposite, but are more accurately sideways to each other.

When men and women converse, they are often speaking apples and oranges and are not really in conflict or disagreement. They simply don’t have a means of seeing things the way the other sex does. So, it is not surprising that men’s empathies might be drawn to those who think like them (also at noon on the clock) while women (seeing men as just one quarter hour away) would be more affected by the situation in which the main character finds itself. For women, and option lock is more like the way they think – trying to balance all the elements at once, just as in their own lives. But time locks (to women) are just deadlines and seem imposed from the outside rather than open to some degree of control.

Okay, let’s put that behind and see what we can do with this information.

If you want to create a story in which both men and women empathize with the Main Character, then you will want to limit your story with an option lock but employ a Male Mental Sex Main Character. On the other hand, if you want to explore a despicable Main Character, you may not want to disturb your readers/audience by making them empathize with such a cad. In such a case, you can ensure your readers/audience will only sympathize by writing a Female Mental Sex Main Character in a time lock story. The danger is that since nobody empathizes, nobody really gets into the story and it doesn’t sell very well.

Naturally, the other two combinations can also exist – Men Empathize (Male Mental Sex) and women Sympathize (Time Lock) or Women Empathize (Option Lock) and men only sympathize (Female Mental Sex).

You can predict whether a book or movie will attract more men or women, just by seeing who empathizes. Hollywood tends to favor Male Mental Sex / Option Lock stories most often. This has the entire audience empathizing, and therefore (since far more mixed mental sex couples go to movies that single individuals or same mental sex couples) it ensures the largest percentage of the audience is personally involved in the movie, thereby increasing its box office (all artistic merit aside).

Also from Melanie Anne Phillips…

The Story Mind (Part 5) – The Grand Argument Story

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

Over the years a number of my students have asked how the Dramatica chart can possibly describe the fullness of the human experience, especially since we, as a species, seem to have an unlimited supply of issues?

The quick answer is that even in chemistry there are a limited number of elements yet they combine to create the vast variety of materials in our world. Similarly, we only have a limited number of kinds of issues; they just manifest themselves in different combinations.

But there’s an even better (or at least a more technical) explanation how the vast panorama of our hearts and minds can be captured in a chart of finite size. Bear with me on this, and fasten your mental seat belts….

It is a well-known psychological fact that short-term memory can hold seven items (+ or – 2). We have seven days in a week, seven is considered a magic or lucky number, phone numbers are seven digits (minus the area code).

Why is seven so important? And more important still, what does this have to do with story and the size of the Dramatica Chart? As described above, the Dramatica Chart is built from eight items – the four external dimensions and the four internal ones. And that’s about as big a thought as the mind can hold at one time.

As an illustration, try this thought experiment. Picture a piece of twine. Easy to do. Now, picture that twine twisted along its length like a candy-cane. Again, pretty easy. Next, imagine that twisted twine again twisted into a spiral shape like a slinky. In your mind’s eye, you can probably still see the twists on the twine itself, even while you are also seeing the length of twine wrapped into that spiral shape.

Now, take that slinky-line twine, and spiral the spiral. You know, like you used to do as a kid. You take a slinky, stretch it out, then wrap it around your leg in a spiral. At this point, though it take a bit of work, you can probably still see the candy-cane twists along the body of the twine, even while simultaneously observing the slinky shape of the overall length of the twine and the bigger spiral as it wraps around your leg.

Finally, remove your leg from the center of the largest spirals and assume the twine holds its shape. Try to go one more level and twist the spiraled spiral into a larger spiral, even while maintaining the candy cane twists on the twine itself.

If you are like most people, you’ve reached your limit. You can focus on any part of this construct and see it clearly, as well as the twists one level larger and one level smaller. But to try and picture a three dimensional object that is twisting at four different levels – well that’s seven things to consider and is the limit of short- term memory.

Go any larger and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who could see the smallest twist all the way to the largest at the same time. Theoretically, it is not possible for a mind that exists in a three dimensional brain to go that far.

Why? Well, we have four dimensions in the external world and four dimensions in the inner world. (They really all exist in our minds, but we have four kinds of external measurements we can take to see how things are – Mass, Energy, Space, and Time – and four internal measurements available – Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire.

This gives us eight places to look. But, at any given moment, our mind – the seat of our consciousness – has to be somewhere. So, our “self” sits on one of these areas to look at the other seven. That gives us one place to be and seven slots we can fill with information. And that is why our short-term memory is just seven items.

Getting back to the Dramatica Chart, because it provides all eight dimensions, it can produce with it as much detail as we can hold in our minds at one time without losing track of the big picture.

Recall our discussion of how a story structure needed to include all the ways the audience might consider to solve the story’s problem in order to prove to their satisfaction that the author’s purported solution is the best of the worst. What is to keep the audience from coming up with an infinite number of alternatives? Simply, for any given problem, the capacity of the audience mind is limited by the same seven dimensions (plus one to stand on) factor. If you satisfy all the potential solutions within those eight dimensions, you satisfy the audience because anything larger or small that goes beyond that scope would seem unreasonable or not pertinent.

In Dramatica Theory we call this limit, the Size of Mind Constant. And, we call any story that covers all the reasonable ways in which a given problem might be solved a Grand Argument Story.

Author’s arguments may be insufficient or may be overstated, but a Grand Argument story is one in which the argument is just big enough and no bigger than necessary to cover all reasonable alternatives as defined by the size of mind constant.

And that limit? Well, that’s what determines that the Dramatica Chart is four towers, each with four levels.

So leaving theory behind (for quite a while we hope) all you need to do as an author is explore your story’s problem to full extent of the Dramatica Chart and your argument will be exactly the right size to convince any audience.

Also from Melanie Anne Phillips…