Dramatica Class 11

The following class was hosted on the internet by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.

Dramatica : Hiya, Vis!

Vis Comm : Hiya Folks!

Dramatica : Got any questions on the software or theory? Comments are good too.

Vis Comm : BTW, If it’s you…thanks for your help with accurate versus non-accurate explanations…:

Dramatica : Yep, that’s me all right. And you are more than welcome.

Vis Comm : Yup, I’m a regular Sherlock….grin.

Dramatica : A lot of authors expect to get to the perfect storyform for their concept right off the bat.

Vis Comm : I’m still just getting the definitions down. There’s a lotta them.

Dramatica : It’s important to keep in mind Dramatica isn’t making decisions for you, but guiding you to areas that are consistent with the choices you are making. If you have incompatible concepts as part of the idea you are working out, you won’t be able to get both of them to work in the same storyform.

Vis Comm : Well, being I’m a beginner, maybe just using the program and attending the courses are next…

Dramatica : That’s when you need to redefine your priorities, or perhaps create a sub-story for the other concepts.

Vis Comm : That’s right where I think I’m headed!

Dramatica : So, how do you like using the software so far, aside from the learning curve!

Vis Comm : It’s tremendous!! Really makes you think about your story. Obviously, not enough writers in Hollywood do that..

Dramatica : What did you NOT like most about it? After all, we need to know how to make it better!

Vis Comm : Hmmm… There are a lot of definitions one needs to know. But I’m not sure how one gets around that…

Dramatica : It’s a tough issue. As you increase accuracy, the definitions become more tedious. But if you make the definitions more common place and broadly drawn, then the accuracy drops and Dramatica won’t be as predictive.

Vis Comm : I agree with your concern. But you gotta be specific in the usage of the program. Broad strokes won’t do.

Dramatica : Have you visited our Dramatica BBS?

Vis Comm : Yes. I like that as well..

Vis Comm : I think that any stories analyzed on your BBS should be analyzed by SSI . I’d hate to download a “bad” example.

Dramatica : The folder with our storyforms has all been done and/or approved by our staff as being accurate to the concepts.

Vis Comm : Oh, that’s good. I wish my cat would stay off my keyboard!!

Dramatica : We are just uploading one on Casablanca, and Being There.

Vis Comm : Excellent movies.

Dramatica : But we also have a folder for User Storyforms, so anyone can upload one they have created for comment. I have three cats at home, which is why I do this class from the office! I should mention for benefit of the log, that the Dramatica BBS comes free with the software.

Vis Comm : LOL! Isn’t that dangerous given that the writers idea is not yet protected?

Dramatica : Well, mostly writers like to take a stab at analyzing classic stories using Dramatica. I don’t think it would be a good idea to upload an original storyform in public. Of course, a storyform is just the dramatic skeleton of a story, as with West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet, which both share essentially the same storyform, but are told completely differently.

Vis Comm : Agreed. But I gotta say that I would love the advice. Yes, but I believe the storyform asks for a brief synopsis…? Unless you can incorporate a password.

Dramatica : Actually, the storyform is built of “appreciations” which are story points that have dramatic meaning. And every storypoint can be illustrated.

Vis Comm : Hmmm….

Dramatica : If you start to illustrate, then you might be giving away some of your ideas. Evening, George!

GeorgeL676 : Good evening

Vis Comm : What if you did incorporate a password? That way I could call you and give you the code. If I gave you the code, you could access it.

Dramatica : A “locked” storyform might be a good idea, but then there would be no reason to upload it anyway. A more simple way is just to attach the storyform as a file to some E-mail.

Vis Comm : Good idea.

Dramatica : For the record, we don’t do analyses here at Screenplay Systems, and believe me there are a lot of requests! Hi, Makito!

Makito7 : hi.

Vis Comm : Oh, I know…just’ a thought. One could though open a business.

Dramatica : Anyone can jump in at any time with a question or comment,and please feel free to talk amongst yourselves. I’m just here to help with questions that might come up about the theory or software.

Vis Comm : Hey Makito…

Makito7 : Hello.

GeorgeL676 : Is there a demo disk for Dramatica that a person can purchase?

Dramatica : George, no demo disk yet, but we are looking into one for the near future.

Vis Comm : George, trust me…just buy it.

Vis Comm : Makito, do you own the program?

Makito7 : Yes.

Vis Comm : Have you endured the learning curve?

Makito7 : I’m just learning it.

Vis Comm : Me too…keep a dictionary close by.

GeorgeL676 : Compared to other story development software how is Dramatica doing?

Dramatica : George, I don’t know the other program’s sales figures, but we are skyrocketing!!!

Vis Comm : I bet.

GeorgeL676 : Congratulations!!!

Dramatica : We’re a fairly good sized company (about 30 employees and a two floor office. But Dramatica may double our size in the next year or two! We’ve sold copies all over the world, thousands of them already, and we’ve only been on the market since June. So, after four years of R & D and mega bucks of capital investment, we’re really pleased.

Vis Comm : Cheer! Perhaps, the character reports can be more graphics based when showing relationships.

Dramatica : Vis, that’s a good idea we have been looking into. Currently, the reports area does not allow for graphics, but text only.

Vis Comm : Maybe Hollywood can churn out better films.

Dramatica : In the future, we’d like to show those graphical character relationships right in the reports.

Vis Comm : Maybe in another upgrade…?

Dramatica : Of course, you can see them in Build Characters, but there is currently no way to print that. I like that feature myself, since Dramatica can predict character relationships based on the characteristics you assign them. That’s always a show stopper!

Vis Comm : I just take a snapshot of that screen for now. LOL!

GeorgeL676 : What would you say is an average learning curve for using Dramatica?

Dramatica : George, that depends on how much depth a writer wants to go into. If someone just wants to answer the 12 Essential Questions that every writer should know about their story, that only takes an hour or so to get the most out of it. But there is so much to Dramatica that it could take someone 20 years to exhaust all the nooks and crannies of information about a single story. That’s because it’s a new theory of story as well as a story engine. So, the more you explore, the more meaning you can read from the output. That’s one reason we created Dramatica Lite – to cut down on all that information so that one could get right into the basics without distraction.

Vis Comm : Oooff!!

Vis Comm : Well, Company has arrived…I have to go. Thank you Dramatica for your help. See ya next week.

Dramatica : Niters, Vis! Thanks for dropping by!

GeorgeL676 : Thank you Dramatica. I will order that brochure Monday morning. Have a wonderful evening.

Dramatica : Niters, George!

Dramatica : So how are you doing with Dramatica so far, Makito?

Makito7 : I’ve worked through one story.

Dramatica : Did it help? Any favorite areas or problem areas?

Makito7 : I’m not really comfortable with the terms.

Dramatica : That is a common problem.

Makito7 : I’m working on the manual.

Dramatica : I was explaining earlier how as we made the Story Engine more and more accurate, it called for more and more precise definitions. But the more precise the definitions became, the longer the learning curve. We are busy trying to find more conversational ways to describe the terms, but it’s a really tough job without losing accuracy.

Makito7 : I do think the process is a help to creativity.

Dramatica : Do you have any particular questions and I help you with? Some definition, or concept or whatever?

Makito7 : The learning curve– what is the best line of attack?

Dramatica : To start with, I would suggest going right to the software, and beginning with Quick Story. That will present you with 12 questions that are at the heart of the theory. If you learn about those while answering them, you’ll have a really good idea of what Dramatica is all about. In a nutshell, Dramatica sees every complete story as having four separate “throughlines” or storylines. Each one represents a different point of view the audience sees in the story. These four points of view are “me”, “you”, “we”, and “they”.

The “me” view is the view through the eyes of the Main Character. Because it is a point of view, it doesn’t have to be attached to the protagonist. Just as in a battle, the audience might not be looking through the eyes of the soldier leading the charge, but might be seeing things through the eyes of the cook or the bugler. So that most personal view, “me” for the audience, is the Main Character. That view must be explored completely.

Every step in the MC’s growth must be documented, to show how they changed or why they didn’t. But that view alone is not enough. There’s also the “Big Picture” view of the “real” world (according to the author). That’s the Objective storyline, or the “They” perspective. This throughline is often thought of as the plot. It is here that the audience can see how the Main Character fits into the big picture of the story as a whole.

There is another special character besides the Main. They are called the Obstacle Character. They are the one telling the Main to change course. The throughline that describes their efforts to change the Main Character must also be fully described in the story, or the forces that act on the Main Character to change or stick by their resolve are not described. This is the “you” perspective, since the audience looks AT the Obstacle character through the eyes of the Main.

And finally, there is the “we” perspective. This is where the Main and Obstacle “have it out”. It is their personal “battle” or argument that takes place in the midst of the Objective story. Because it only involves the Main and Obstacle, it is called the Subjective storyline. So, we have four throughlines, Main, Obstacle, Subjective, and Objective. Together, they provide all the different points of view through which an audience examines the issues of the story. How each of these throughlines comes out determines the meaning of the story, as written into the message by the author.

So when you are creating a storyform no matter where you work in Dramatica, always keep in mind those four crucial points of view, and make sure each of them has all the necessary steps to develop and conclude. All of the other story points in a storyform are just different aspects of each of these throughlines. In other words, the other appreciations describe the dramatic potentials and key steps in those four throughlines. If you have built all four completely, you have built a functional skeleton for your story.

A question for you…Do you prefer to work out the structure first, or to work by feel and then try and make things work together?

Makito7 : In the past an outline has been primary. Then feel.

Dramatica : Both kinds of writers can work with Dramatica, but each will approach it differently. For those who are structuralists, it is best to create the storyform first, and then use it as something of a “dramatic spreadsheet”, as one user put it to me recently. The time line runs along one axis, and the storypoint run along the other. In this way, one story point might show up at several points in the time line. This allows an author to make sure that every story point shows up, none is forgotten, and also allows for multiple uses of that story point, if it needs to show up in several scenes.

Once you have determined when everything is going to happen, THEN you start illustrating those concepts as they will appear in your story. That’s when you go to the storytelling part of Dramatica. For every story point, there is a place to show how it will show up in your story. For example, the goal might turn out to be “obtaining” or “becoming” or a number of other categories of goal. If it were “obtaining” that would be part of the storyform. You would determine when in your story the goal of “obtaining” is going to be focused on and then you would go to storytelling and illustrate this goal of obtaining.

Is it obtaining stolen diamonds, or a diploma, or someone’s love? That is up to your creativity as an author, but you know what the category of goal is and where you are going to invoke it from the storyform “grid” that you create. Now that grid is not in the software but all the information you need to create it is in there. When you get to your storyform, all the story points or “appreciations” are the data that would go into that “spreadsheet”. In the future, we hope to build such a function right into the software, but for now, it was the creation of Dramatica’s unique Story Engine that was our first order of business.

For the “organic” writer, they wouldn’t want to use a grid anyway. They would want to do the storytelling first, which you can also do in Dramatica. Then, after you have written down your scenes and images, for each of the story points, you will have outlined what you know already about your story. For example, you might illustrate your goal as, a group of girls wants to make sure they each get a date for the prom. After putting in your story’s concepts in storytelling, THEN you create a storyform. You go to the storyforming questions, and push a button that says “storytelling”. When you do, for each appreciation, the words you’ve written show up to help you pick the category of story point you are actually talking about.

So, in our example, this group of girls who want dates for the prom, as their goal, might cause you to pick “obtaining” as the goal, since they are more interested in getting a date, than having a relationship. It’s simply a matter of which side of the creative process you like to begin with, but in the end, both sides will need to be done to create a story that is both entertaining and makes sense. Does that help a bit? (Or did I just waste a bunch of your on-line time?

Makito7 : That helps. I feel I’m gradually soaking it up.

Dramatica : It does take a while. It’s really a completely different way of looking at stories than we are used to. But once you “click” with it, so many things that used to be confusing or nebulous clear up and make sense. And even better,

Makito7 : I’m hooked on working with this.

Dramatica : once they make sense, you can use that view to make your story sit up and do tricks, where before it would just bark at you.

Dramatica : Well, ’tis about time to draw the curtains…I’ll be back here again next week, Same Dramatica time Same Dramatica Channel! Any parting questions?

Makito7 : Hope I can be back next week. Thanks.

Dramatica : (Like on game shows – a nice parting gift!) Okay, see ya then! Niters!

The Dramatica Theory of story was developed by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley, and was implemented into software by Chief Software Architect, Stephen Greenfield.

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