Category Archives: The Dynamic Model

Half-life of the Narrative Difference Engine

This morning/s thoughts on narrative:

1. In the real world, narratives exist in the caustic solution of society. They either continually replenish themselves or dissolve into a sea of memes.

2. Narrative structure operates as a difference engine, but one made of magnets rather than gears. As one turns, the other adjust due to polar attraction, maintaining narrative integrity. If, however, sufficient speed and/or force is applied to the turning of the magnets, they may slip past the poles of others without causing a correspond shift; this is the beginning of justification.

Narrative Dynamics (Part 4)

Excerpted from the book, Narrative Dynamics

The Dramatica Model

In this book, I’m documenting the development of a whole new side of the Dramatica theory – story dynamics.

Dramatica is a model of story structure, but unlike any previous model, the structure is flexible like a Rubik’s Cube crossed with a Periodic Table of Story Elements.  If you paste a story element name on each face of each little cube that makes up the Rubik’s Cube, you get an idea of how flexible the Dramatica model is.

That’s what sets Dramatica apart from other systems of story development and also what gives it form without formula.  Now, imagine that while the elements on each little cube already remain on that cube, they don’t have to stay on the same face.  In other words, though there will be an element on each face, which ones it is next to may change, in fact will change from story to story.

What makes the elements rearrange themselves within the structure?  Narrative Dynamics.  Think of each story point as a kind of topic that needs to be explored to fully understand the problem or issue at the heart of a story.  That’s how an author makes a complete story argument.  But, just as in real life, the order in which we explore issues is almost as important as the issues themselves.  At the very least, that sequence tells us a lot about the person doing the exploring.  In the case of story, this is most clearly seen in the Main Character.  So, the order of exploration of the issues by the Main Character illuminate what is driving him personally.

The Dramatica model already includes a number of dynamics that describe the forces at work in the heart and mind of the Main Character, as well as of the overall story, the character philosophically opposed to the Main Character and of the course of their relationship as well.  But, in a structural model – one in which the focus is on the topics and their sequence, there are a lot of dynamics that simply aren’t easily seen.

For example, you might know that in the second act, the Main Character is going to be dealing with issues pertaining to his memories.  But how intensely will he focus on that?  How long will he linger?  Will his interest wane, grow, or remain consistent over the course of his examination of these issues.  From a structural point of view, you just can’t tell.

And that is why after all these years I’m developing the dynamic model – to chart, predict and manipulate those “in-between” forces that drive the elements of structure, unseen.  Part of that effort is to chart the areas in which dynamics already exist in the current structural projection of the model.

Read Narrative Dynamics

Available in Paperback and on Kindle

Narrative Dynamics (Front Cover)

Narrative Dynamics (Part 3)

Excerpted from the book, Narrative Dynamics

Transmutation of Narrative Particles and Waves

In this second article in the Dynamic Model series, I’m going to explore really intriguing problem – how particles can be transmuted into waves and vice versa, in terms of narrative.

Why this important to writers and even more important to psychologists and social scientists may not be immediately apparent, so first I’ll outline its potential usefulness and also how it is essential to the expansion of the Dramatica theory into a whole new realm.

Stories might end in success or failure of the effort to achieve the goal.  But how big a success, or how great a failure.  Now you are talking a matter of degree.  What’s more, is it a permanent success/failure or a temporary one?  And if temporary, does it always remain at the same level or does it vary, getting bigger, smaller, or oscillating in a symmetrical cyclic or complex manner?

Now, apply this to a character’s motivation.  It may be motivated by one particular kind of thing, but is that motivation increasing or decreasing?  It is accelerating or decelerating?  Is it cyclic or complex, is it transmuting from one nature of motivation to another?  And for that matter, how does a character actually change from one nature to another in a leap of faith?  Up the magnification and ask, “can I see the exact moment a character’s mind changes from one way of looking at the world to another?”

When is that magic moment at which Scrooge changes?  How long does it last?  Can we find the spot at which he is one way now and another way a moment later?  Is the change a process or an immediate timeless shift from one state to another?  What exactly is the mechanism – not the mechanism that leads him to the point of change, but the exact time at which that change occurs?

When can we say that a light switch is off versus being on?  Is it how many electrons are crossing the gap, is it the position of the switch at a visual resolution?  Is it the light getting brighter?  How bright?  How fast?  How about a mercury light that fades on and off at 60 Hz?  When it is on the nadir of the down cycle is it off?  And therefore, does the exact moment of a character’s change depend upon momentum?  Inertia?  Zeno’s paradox?

If writers could follow the rise and fall, the ebb and flow of dramatic potentials, resistances, currents, and powers discreetly for every element, every particle in a story’s structure, one could predict the cognitive and affective impact on the readers or audience as a constantly changing bundle of waveforms, each one thread or throughline in the undulating unbroken progression of experience.

Now project this into psychology, societal concerns, stock market analysis, weather prediction – such a dynamic model would enable incredibly accurate projections as well as far more detailed and complete snap analyses.


In order for these applications to be realized, we need not only a dynamic model, but also the means of connecting it to the structural model.  In other words, we need to develop a particle/wave continuum in which particles can become waves can become particles in an endless flow of cascading shifts and transmutations.

So how does this interface work?  What stands between particle and wave that alters one to another?

In the next installment of the Dynamic Model series, I’ll offer some conjectures.

Read Narrative Dynamics

Available in Paperback and on Kindle

Narrative Dynamics (Front Cover)

Narrative Dynamics (Part 1)

Excerpted from the book, Narrative Dynamics

by Melanie Anne Phillips


When Chris Huntley and I originally developed the Dramatica Theory of Story back in the early 1990s, we opted to implement our model of narrative as a structure, driven by dynamics.

In such a manifestation, the structure takes center stage, and its components are rearranged according to dynamic rules that reflect the unique potentials of any given narrative.

In this book I present a series of articles I’ve developed about a whole different way of looking at the Dramatica theory – in terms of dynamics, rather than structure.  In fact, the dynamic model is a counterpart, not an alternative, to the existing structural model with which you may be familiar.

As an illustration of the difference between the two, if you think of the structural model as being made of particles, the dynamic model is made of waves.  If the structural model is seen as digital, the dynamic model is analog.  If the structural model describes a neural network, the dynamic model describes the biochemistry, If the structural defines the elements of a story (or psychology) and how they relate, the dynamic model defines how the elements transmute or decay into other elements and how relationships among elements are changing.

In usage, the structural model can tell you, for example, that a main character is driven by logic; the dynamic model can tell you how strongly they are driven and how the intensity of that drive changes over time.  The structural model can predict if a story will end in success or failure; the dynamic model can tell you the degree of success or failure.

In a nutshell, the structural model documents the fixed logic of a story’s structure, the dynamic model charts the ebb and flow of its passions.  Cognitive and Affective, Yin and Yang, Space and Time.  Head and heart.

Read Narrative Dynamics in Paperback or Kindle

Narrative Dynamics 7 – Dynamics Quads

The last couple of days I’ve been thinking about what elements would be in quads of dynamics.  In the current Dramatica structural model, dynamics are only in pairs, such as Timelock and Optionlock.  So, if these two items were in a quad of dynamics, what would the other two items be?

Today, I have my answer, and its ramifications and implications range much farther than I thought – all the way into new perspectives from which to appreciate the existing Dramatica structural model.  In fact, it turns out that every structural quad already contains shadows and influences of dynamic quads inherent within and integral to their functioning.  In other words, the structural model would not operate at all, if it did not already include reflections and harmonics of the dynamic model which had not yet been developed.

Think of a hologram as opposed to a photograph.  if you cut a photo in two, each has only half the object.  But if you cut a hologram in two, each half sees the whole picture but only from half the points of view.   In the current model of Dramatica we only have the half of the hologram, yet it sees the entire nature of narrative, just from a portion of the available perspectives.

In fact, just as in the Dramatica model itself, there are four points of view from which to explore narrative – a Structural view of Structure, a Structural view of Dynamics, a Dynamic view of Structure, and a Dynamic view of Dynamics.

The current model provides only the first of these – the Structural view of Structure.  But wait a minute….  How then is it possible that it contains dynamics at all?  Because the nature of a quad of anything is that three of the four items will appear to be of the same family while the fourth item will seem a bit out of place – out of left field – as it sort of belongs halfway but has a foot in another camp.

In fact, this is true.  Quads are not truly all part of the same plane, but a squashed helix.  They are a flat projection onto a two dimensional plan of a 3D phenomenon – like looking at a Slinky toy end-on so that it appears to be a circle.

From this perspective, we perceive one circuit around the helix as a family passing through four quadrants – like going through 90, 180, 270 and 360 degrees in a cartesian plane in trigonometry.

But that vertical rise that is flattened out doesn’t disappear, it is just swept under the carpet as we mentally try to make the first three items in a quad appear as much as possible as part of the same family so we can get a mental grip on them – ascribe a common umbrella understanding to the group.

Still, by the time you get to that last item in the quad family, you have all this left-over vertical rise in your pocket and you have to shove it into the quad before you move on to the next.  And so, the last item in the quad picks up all the slack which moves it halfway between belonging in one family and half way into belonging to the next by nature, by meaning.

This is the structural view of a quad.  A more accurate view would see each element as moving 1/4 of the way toward the next family, but then the whole quad could no longer be treated as a single family unit.  So what’s wrong with that?  Only by grouping four perspectives (the Mass, Energy, Space and Time of a thing) into a single family, are we able to understand the structural nature of the thing as it exists.

This is why the circle seems closed, why it becomes a closed system as a quad, why it appears to create a family, why it seems structure, why it seems as if each family is a closed unit within that circle that make it a structural element in an even larger quad.

What we lose, however is the vertical aspect – the vertical quad as the helix continues upward through the Z axis through four iterations – for levels – a quad of dynamics which represent that we cannot see any thing from all four perspectives at once.  We can only take one point of view at a time.  To see all four, we must shift from one to another, and that takes time, as represented in the vertical axis.

Essentially, this accounts for the fact that by the time we have seen all four perspectives, what we are observing may have changed, or we may have changed in the process.  Again, this creates a new quad – the the Object is the same and We are the same, the Object is the same and We are changed, the Object has changed and We are the same, the Object has changed and We have changed.

That was the structural view of those four relationships.  The dynamic view would be:  The Object and Observer do not change each other, the Object changes the Observer, the Object is changed by the Observer, the Object and the Observer change each other.

If the Dramatica chart were only seen in the flat projection, the whole vertical progression – the structural view and therefore also first step toward  a dynamic view of narrative – would be all we had.  But, since the Dramatica model can also be seen in  a three-dimensional chart (the familiar four towers) – the nature of the helices can be seen in the progression around the quads, families of quads and so on, from the bottom of the model to the top, or from the top down.

With this in mind, we can see that the flat projection, the 3D projection, and the sequence of progression through the elements along the helices are three parts of another quad family in the current model.  What is the fourth part?  The eight dynamic questions themselves.

These questions are the part of the model that is most out of left field, most different from the other three, and the one that picks up all the slack of the journey toward a purely dynamic model.

The eight dynamic questions function to twist and turn the model, whereas the other three aspects are passive, structural, positioned by their “natures” as opposed to their functions.

Keep in mind, now, that every element of the Dramatica model actually represents a process of the mind.  These are not elements so much as named processed.  For example, in truth we don’t have faith, rather we are engaged in the process of being faithful.  The mind is a machine made of time; every gear and pulley is a process, not an object.  These functions must be continuously  in process or they cease to exist.  If the mind stops, it dies.  But, from a structural view, if we see a process perpetually ongoing within the span of our observation, such as the Red Spot on Jupiter, we treat the process as an object and call it a storm or even a feature.  So, from this perspective, the dynamic questions differ from the rest of the structural model by describing the processes the twist and turn the model into different arrangements.  In other words, dynamics in the current model are the processes that arrange the other processes.

Simply put, if the structural model can be seen as fractals of families within families – quads within quads – then each element or item in the model can be seen as a variable in which the value is the intensity or power of each process.  Change the power and you fill a different number in the variable and get a different kind of iteration from one fractal level to the next.

The dynamic questions then, are not changing the value of the variables, but the value of the operations in the equations.  In other words, dynamics are changing the value of the functions in the equations – which operations will be employed in which order, which changes not the nature of the iterations, but the nature of the iterator.

Now this is pretty much what we already knew.  But I was always plagued by wondering why the dynamics were in eight pairs rather that eight quads.  I had tried to combine these sixteen values into four quads of four, but they never fit.  It was like each pair was half a quad.  But why would that be?

My best guess was that, like the four item in any quad, you can only see one foot, while the other is in a different family.  So, from a structural view of structure, you can only see half of each of the dynamic quads.

Now that just motivated me.  While I realized that for the structural view of structure, the Dramatica model was complete and, therefore, both accurately analytic and predictive, but it was only one fourth of the capital “T” truth.  I wanted to know what was in the other three fourths – especially that final fourth – that last of four complete models that is the dynamic view of dynamics – the one that will contain four aspects of its own and the very last one will half one foot in the next family – the family beyond mind, beyond universe, a hint of something outside our own existence, just as the dynamic questions are a hint of what lies beyond structure.

I’ll probably never see it through that far in my lifetime, but that tantalizing possibility keeps me working, every day, on trying to get there, to catch a glimpse of that Great Unknown before I shuffle off this mortal helix.

Which brings me (at last) to the subject of this article: my new discovery that finally allows me to bridge the gap from the dynamic questions (the fourth aspect of the current structural model, the current super class, to the next super class: the structural view of dynamics.

It began, as stated, with my recent ponderings as to what dynamic quads would contain.  Specifically (as my mental example for a thought exercise) if the current pair of dynamics of Timelock and Optionlock were in a quad, what would the other to items be?

I tried a number of different candidates, but all of them were insufficient to the task; they did not meet all the requirements of a truly balanced quad.  But of late, there was one pair that seemed, at least initially, to satisfy all the test I know for determining if a potential quad is fully functional.

This part isn’t much of a revelation – just the first step to some really astounding discoveries, but it is an essential step….   So, here’s were the best candidates I had: the promising pair of dynamics was Constricting and Loosening.

Simply put, while the current pair of Timelock and Optionlock describe narratives that are brought to a conclusion by running out of time or running out of options, the new pair   describes narratives that, at the conclusion, finds time or option (space) constrictions to be becoming tighter or looser.  In essence, are time or space opening up into more possibilities or are they closing down into fewer?

Now at first, this didn’t ring quite true.  There was something about it that bothered me….  From a purely structural view of structure, this new pair should be simply Tighter or Looser at the end, not becoming Tighter or Looser.

But then I realized that I had it right the first time.  This is no longer the structural view of structure super class.  We are now in the structural view of dynamics super class.  And so, just as a piece of the hologram has the whole picture but only part of the perspectives, for the first time in my quarter of a century of Dramatica theory development, I had to engage in the one cardinal sin of narrative model construction – “never shift perspective.”

Chris and I drilled that mantra into ourselves all of these years so that the current super class is all K-based (Knowledge based) while the other three super classes would be T, A, and D based (Thought, Ability and Desire).  KTAD are the mental equivalents of MEST (Mass, Energy, Space and Time).  They are the mental harmonic of the physical world, for any dynamic system that is generated from a structure will reflect the same patterns as the structure from which it is born.  In other words, form and function follow each other, just as our mental dynamics lead us to reorganize the universe in our image, structurally.

But in this case, we have actually moved for the first time into a new super class – the T (Thought) super class.  And therefore, while the development of this new model would also require a consistent perspective, it would, naturally, be a different perspective.

So, recognizing that the structural view of structure could only see half of the quads of dynamics in the pairs of dynamics, then the other pair of dynamics in these quads would need to be seen from the T super class perspective.  And, from that point of view, processes cannot be seen as states (as having tightened or loosened by the end) but as processes (tightening or loosening by the end).  Subtle but essential, for wherever one might begin to pull a loose thread to unravel the new dynamic model, all that follows will grow from these first seeds.

(As a side note, I expect that in the final super class (the dynamic view of dynamics), it will require a continuously shifting perspective within the model itself, rather than a consistent one, as it must represent, ultimately, the rate at which the nature of change is changes as one process iterates into another.)

Back to the subject at hand, there is a second thought exercise I had been cogitating upon yesterday while making the 90 minute drive back to my home in the mountains from a meeting at Write Brothers (the company Chris – co-creator of Dramatica – co-owns with Steve – programmer of the Dramatica engine).

This thought exercise was: If we think about something round and round in circles, such as worrying about the potential outcome of something, our anxiety grows and grows.  Why does this happen, and how is it reflected in the dynamic model I’m building?

This thought came about because we had to re-register our car in California when we moved back here from Oregon for the project I’m doing with Write Brothers Incorporated (WBI).  I had been putting the smog check off right to the last possible minute before the deadline because the more I thought about the ramification of it possibly failing the text (money, inconvenience, perhaps the need to buy a whole new car), the more anxious I became.

And yet, there was no new information – just running around the same mental circle over and over.  Still, with every circuit my anxiety grew.  How is that reflected in the current model?  It isn’t.  Clearly it is a dynamic, so how would it be reflected in the dynamic model?  Didn’t have a clue.

Then, this morning, I put two and two together and combined my thoughts about Tightening and Loosening with the problem of increasing anxiety from an unchanging mental process endlessly repeated.  And it hit me.  Mental processes don’t operate in a vacuum as it would appear in the structural model.  Rather, they generate results.  They create product, they manufacture yield.

Every process manufactures something.  In the case of my smog check, the yield was increasing amounts of anxiety.  The more I thought about it, the more anxious I became.  In the dynamic half of the Timelock/Optionlock quad then, it wouldn’t be about process but about yield.  Essentially, are the result of the narrative such that the constriction of time or options is becoming tighter or looser?

Extending this, might not the whole next super class – the structural view of dynamics – be looking as the results or yield of a narrative – the increasing or decreasing forces at play?  I think so.  I believe this perspective defines the nature of the new dynamic model – how building or diminishing forces influence one other in a series of ups and downs by every point measured until the end of the narrative is defined by reaching an equilibrium – not a fixed state as in the structural model in which all processes of change have ceased and all potential is gone – but in a stability of ongoing processes in which, collectively, all forces hold each other in check and no further increasing or decreasing of any of them will occur.

Well, then, what does this mean to the current model and how does it fit in with my other recently published speculations about the nature of narrative dynamics?  The first thing that came to mind was a recent article I’d written describing how new patterns can be formed in the mind and then locked in place impervious to any internal ability to change them, and how external forces can be applied to the mind to affect change from the outside.

The mind is a closed system, just as narratives are closed systems.  They deal only with the elements within the narrative, which is the scope of the story, and make the assumption that no other forces outside that scope have any impact on the narrative.

In real life (which narrative seek to document), our minds are constantly assaulted by forces outside our own internal cogitations.  How others respond to us or act for or against us and physical maladies that have nothing to do with the nature our mental processes yet greatly affect their operation are both examples of why our minds are not truly closed systems.

While the operating systems of our mind may be closed barring physical damage to the brain, just as the structural view of structure never changes in an unbroken narrative, forces outside the system will determine the patterns into which it falls, just as the dynamic model (the structural view of dynamics super class) works outside the current structural model to determine how the structural operating system of the narrative is twisted and turned.

The eight pairs of dynamics in the current model are not the outside forces of change themselves – just the tip of the iceberg – the interface between structure and dynamics as seen from the structural side, the other half of the interface being seen from the dynamic side in the additional eight pairs of dynamics, such as Tightening and Loosing, that will complete the quads of dynamics – complete the hologram.

In my previous speculative article, I compared mental “states” (or patterns of cognition and/or affection [emotion]) to standing waves – ongoing forces that have reached an equilibrium within the mind.  But why would such patterns maintain themselves (as commitments and responsibilities, as obligations and rationalization) in the face of external pressures that should alter them.  How do patterns of the mind end up fixed in place, like prejudice or fixation, like a black hole in space that exerts gravity but will not open up regardless of the outside environment?

In the article, I used a personal experience of an acquaintance to describe how we initially respond to our environment to achieve equilibrium with it.  But these are merely standing waves of processes, like the new dynamic model, that are easily undone when our environment changes.

But if the external forces that established these standing waves are suddenly removed (like moving out of a family due to an argument or like having a sudden relief of anxiety) it is like compressed gas in a can being suddenly released – it chills all that is around it and freezes things in place – in this case mental patterns.

If the release of pressure is gradual, there is no chill, no freeze, and the standing waves realign.  But if it is fast enough, the effect will range form a firming up into slush (increase in resistance to change) to a complete freeze (maximum resistance to change) and that pattern will remain until another outside force melts that which has been frozen.

To unfreeze new pressure must be brought to bear on the mind with sufficient speed to create heat – heat enough to melt the previously frozen patterns.  This compression can happen quickly for a flash-thaw (which is the equivalent of a leap of faith where a character changes its nature in an instant) to a slow thaw in which a character is gradually warmed into flexibility.

And, naturally, these processes can completely fix in place or remove patterns of mind, but may also only serve to make them slushy.

And so, we return to the new dynamic model (the second of the four super classes) in which Tightening or Loosening are the dynamic side of these interface quads.  While the current structural view of structure model describes how forces completely freeze or melt patterns of mind, the new structural view of dynamics model describes how patterns of mind are made more sluggish or more slushy.

If the current super class is focused on determining position, the new dynamic model will focus on velocity.  The third super class (dynamic view of structure)will center on changes in velocity and the final super class (dynamic view of dynamics) will explore changes in the rate of change of velocity.

So, it all ties in together – structure, dynamics, a fluid mind or one firming up through the four quads of justification (as seen in the current structural model as progressing from Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire to Can, Need, Want and Should, through Situation, Circumstances, Sense of Self and State of Being to Commitment, Responsibility, Rationalization and Obligation).

Next step – figure out the other halves of the other seven dynamic quads and then use that information to iterate into a complete dynamic model of identical size and resolution to the current structural projection.

Oh, and the car passed the smog check.