Dramatica Class 13

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 : There we go, log started! Got questions this week, Ben?

Wolfman188 : Just got back.

Dramatica : I just signed on, no prob.

Wolfman188 : I had time to enter a Main Character. Worked fine. Couldn’t print it out, though.

Dramatica : No print out at all?

Wolfman188 : No — no print out at all. However the only data entered is for the MC. I’m doing a final revision of the novel ahead of it. That will be done next week. then more time to input the Dramatica first use for a rewrite of another novel.

Dramatica : You are moving along pretty fast there! Well, you should still be able to print from reports.

Wolfman188 : No. Can’t print it.

Dramatica : Do you have a storyform yet, and are doing storytelling or no?

Wolfman188 : It saved, however. Just can’t get through the Reports.

Wolfman188 : All I have done is storyform. Haven’t done any storytelling. And only storyform for the mc. Anyway, so far so good. I liked the way it interfaced with me.

Dramatica : Have you tried printing one of the example files shipped with the software?

Wolfman188 : (No, haven’t tried to print anything.) Except the mc. Give me an example of something I might print from the example files.

Dramatica : Glad you like working with it. As for printing, the only thing you can print are the reports. To do that, you have to click on the Reports tile from the desktop. Then, you select a report. It will come up on your screen. Next, you click on the Print tile to the left of the report and the report you have called up should print. You can also export the text of the report to an ASCII file for use in a word processor. To call up a story example file, just go to desktop and click on Open Story.

Wolfman188 : I think I did that for my mc character. I’ll try it again. But all I get when I click on the print tile is questions about margins.

Dramatica : The Print tile that asks you about margins is the Print Preview button. There is another button that just says Print. That one should bring up your print dialog window. Any theory or other software questions?

Wolfman188 : OK — it’s something that I’ll spend a little time on and, if I can’t get it right, I’ll use your BBS.

Dramatica : By the way, if you still can’t print, just call Screenplay Systems’ technical support. It’s free to every registered user. Yes, you can contact tech support through our BBS as well.

Wolfman188 : Theory, no. I probably will have questions as I get further into it.

Dramatica : Okay, I’ve covered the major areas of theory in earlier chats. We can talk about the software a bit if you like, or about features you’d like to see or have trouble with, etc. By the way, Dramatica “Pro” and Dramatica “Lite” are both shipping now, for both Windows and Mac.

Wolfman188 : Although I’ve had the software for a month or so, I haven’t until now had a chance to use it. As far as I’ve gone, everything seems to work well.

Dramatica : What are your first reactions? Have you explored much?

Wolfman188 : I have printed out all of these sessions and read them — and listened to your tape several times.

Dramatica : Uh-oh! Dramatica burn out!!!

Wolfman188 : My first reaction is that it is complex. But it is NOT confusing.

Dramatica : Aye, matey, complex it be, but tastes great! Har…

Wolfman188 : I don’t know what is in “lite” but it may be a great way to make a 2-step mastery easier than getting it all at once.

Dramatica : That is the idea behind Lite.

Wolfman188 : Likewise, being at a physical class would be helpful. Still, in my case, I wouldn’t have the time to go to the class even if I was in LA.

Dramatica : We are only continuing the free classes Tuesday nights through May 2nd. Then we are taking a break, and will be offering a two-day seminar over the weekend of July 8 and 9, but that is a paid affair.

Wolfman188 : What does Lite cost?

Dramatica : Lite is on sale until the end of April 1995 for and introductory price of $99 Pro is on sale for the same time at $249.95.

Wolfman188 : I bought a voice activated remote for my aunt’s TV. It was complex to program. You’ll be interested to learn that a video tape lasting about ten minutes came with the remote. I had no problem learning to do it right the first time. That might be a worthwhile option for you. This is a logical, easy to follow program but it IS complex.

Dramatica : Sounds useful! We hope to have a video or perhaps a CD ROM sometime soon. In the meantime, we are creating new audio tapes based on our other classes.

Wolfman188 : Guys like me don’t have CD ROM.

Dramatica : The next tape to be available will be Character. That should be out in a couple of months. By the way, if you or anyone else wants to attend our two day seminar, it’s going to be packed with fourteen hours of new insight into story.

Wolfman188 : I can see that you are aware that you have an educating threshold to overcome — and real users who publish or product in the field — before you’ll get the wide spread acceptance and recognition that you DESERVE.

Dramatica : We’re going to take all the material we’ve developed in our 24 hours of class material, and put it all into one “Brain Melt” weekend!

Dramatica : Actually, there is already great interest at three of the major studios, and several MAJOR television shows are using it right now, including two top-rated, critically acclaimed dramatic series.

Wolfman188 : Something this good always earns recognition in time. Frustrating at first, though isn’t it.,

Dramatica : A funny thing happened in that regard recently…I got some E-mail from a user who said that one of those shows was their favorite, and they saw the same kind of structural integrity that they found in Dramatica. They wondered if the creators of that show intuitively knew what Dramatica was offering. At the time, I hadn’t heard where our product was being used, and in the next week, that show turned out to be a user since the program came out.

Wolfman188 : Can you name the show(s)?

Dramatica : I would name the show, but we are concerned here at SSI that some successful writers, might not want to “fess up” to using a software product to assist them, so we won’t bandy about the names, but in actual fact, most writers seem tickled pink to claim that they are creating with Dramatica. In fact, it surprised us that virtually ALL the writers we’ve talked to can’t WAIT to tell everyone they have Dramatica. It’s like some sort of status symbol!

Wolfman188 : That makes sense. I started using pseudonyms exclusively about fifteen years ago. By the way, I don’t find serious conflicts with Collaborator and StorylinePro.

Dramatica : I’m glad you brought up Collaborator and StorylinePro…

WMcR : I’m sorry to appear to be eavesdropping – I am considering purchasing Dramatica (‘tho hard to find in NYC Stores)

Wolfman188 : Buy it. I did. It’s great!

Dramatica : Hi WM! I didn’t notice you drop in! Just jump in anytime with a question or comment about the theory or software.

WMcR : Hi! I’d love to listen some more before I ask my q.

Wolfman188 : Collaborator deals with a different task in the writing process — and compliments Dramatica.

Dramatica : As for Collaborator and Storyline, they deal with story from a storytelling perspective. They treat story as a complete work, they ask the author truly important questions that every writer should know about their story. Then, they organize your responses in an efficient manner. Dramatica, in contrast, deals with the deep structure beneath the story. And it contains a “Story Engine”. Using the story engine, Dramatica asks multiple choice questions of the author, not fill-in-the-blanks. With each answer, the story engine gets more information about the “shape” of the dramatics the author is trying to create.

After enough questions have been answered, the story engine can “predict” other dramatic story points that must be in that story in order to be consistent and complete in relationship to what the author has already determined. Once you have your “storyform”, which is the single, unique blueprint for your story’s underlying dramatics, then you illustrate how each of those story points is going to actually show up in your story. That is when Collaborator and/or Storyline come in. Each of those is great for storyTELLING, which is the manner and style in which you communicate your story to keep your audience entertained and connected. But by separating the storyFORMING from the storytelling, Dramatica can make sure that the story you tell is complete and consistent.

Most authors think of writing as the process of putting the words down. That is where Collaborator and Storyline excel. But knowing WHAT to talk about and WHEN to talk about it is what Dramatica offers by using its story engine. In overview, there are four stages of communication…One, in which you work out your overall idea or message. That is called Storyforming.

Dramatica : (Hi Makito)

Makito7 : hi

Dramatica : Stage two is Story Encoding, in which you figure out how to illustrate a storypoint in YOUR story. For example, the storyform in Romeo and Juliet, is almost the same as that of West Side Story, but the ENCODING is completely different. A storyform may tell you that your goal is Obtaining, but Obtaining WHAT? In one story you might encode Obtaining as the hunt for stolen diamonds, in another, the attempt to earn a diploma, in yet another, the effort to win someone’s love. But Obtaining SOMETHING is the storyform, just encoded differently.

Now Stage THREE is Story Weaving. That is when you know that your goal is obtaining (storyform) and that you have encoded it as recovering the stolen diamonds and have to determine how to convey that information to the audience. Stage three is exposition. Do you tell them right up front, or do you make them wonder what the goal is for a while, only understanding the scope of the goal toward the end. You might intentionally mislead your audience, dole out the information, or just come out and say it. That is the part of the process that Collaborator and Storyline do very well.

The fourth stage is Reception. You not only have to identify with your audience, you also have to identify your audience. You need to know who you are writing for, because they will have their own buzz words, preconceptions, biases, givens, etc. Unless you take this into account, many of the symbols you select in encoding, and the effects you go for in weaving, may not play at all like you had intended. Still, at the end of experiencing a story, you want your audience to have Received the Weaving so that they ultimately understood the encoding, and experienced the FORM of your message or purpose.

Dramatica is the only software tool available, that will give interactive feedback about a story’s deep structure dramatics. BEFORE you write a word. AND is non-linear so you can start anywhere, from Character, Plot, Theme or Genre, AND go through its questions in any order and ever skip all you like, even skip from one area to another. But when you’ve answered enough questions, Dramatica will tell you more than you told it… MUCH more! THEN, if you need to hone your storyTELLING skills, use Collaborator or Storyline, etc. More questions?

Wolfman188 : My input of the MC in the novel I’m rewriting clearly shows WHY it needs some revision.

Dramatica : Ah, explain…

Wolfman188 : I wish I’d had Dramatica before I drafted that novel.

Dramatica : Well, you’ve got it now!

Wolfman188 : It’s too early to see the total relationships amongst the players — but some changes need to be made. And not difficult ones — because I can see them clearly.

Dramatica : Dramatica works well for rewrites, but unfortunately, it will point out what needs to be changed, and alas, that often requires a lot of rewriting. But, better to “Dramaticize” before publication than finding those problems from your audience reaction to the story.

WMcR : May I ask a “test-drive” kind of question? About whether Dramatica can help in a “must there be a human obstacle to the main character?” As opposed to a force within the main character?

Dramatica : Sure! Here’s some information on that…Dramatica doesn’t see problems as truly being IN people or IN their obstacles, but BETWEEN them. For example, if you want a car and can’t afford a car, is the problem in your desire or your lack of money? The truth is, the INEQUITY is between the two. But to solve the problem, a person will pick one to try and change and leave the other alone. One might choose to get a job to get the car, and thereby change the state of things, or one might decide to enjoy a motorcycle instead, thereby changing one’s outlook to adapt to the situation. Neither response is intrinsically right or wrong, they are both just different. Now, when we learn that a particular kind of response always works for us, in the context of our experience, in our lives, after a while, we learn that response as a standard approach. that we no longer look for alternative approaches, because this one always works.

WMcR : That was VERY helpful and takes it out of the “bad person opposed purchase of car” cliché.

Dramatica : Now, if the situation should change so it no longer works, The question is, should we stick with our guns and wait it out, treating the new situation as an exception to the rule, or should we abandon our tried and true approach to build another? That is what the very first question in Dramatica is all about: Does the Main Character CHANGE or REMAIN STEADFAST. Job, and Dr. Richard Kimble were Steadfast. So was Clarise Starling (though she should have changed!) Luke Skywalker is a change character. So is Scrooge.

WMcR : My main character, a scientist, changes and accepts metaphysical factors in his success….

Dramatica : Changing or remaining steadfast, neither one is right or wrong, or will necessarily lead to success or failure. So, WM, you would answer that first question as CHANGE.

WMcR : Yes.

Dramatica : Now, the question becomes, Do they have to change by giving up their disbelief, or by embracing a faith in the metaphysical? This question is Start or Stop. and asks if the character grows into something or out of something. Another way of looking at it, is to ask, is the character in trouble because they LACK a trait or because they HAVE a trait? Do they have a chip on their shoulder or a hole in their heart? This is the DIRECTION of their growth.

WMcR : A wonderful, difficult question… I think LACK a trait here. A scientist who feels that logic should always rule…

Dramatica : Okay, if you choose LACK, that means they have to START something they currently are not doing. Now the question becomes, exactly what trait to they not have enough of. If they lack a trait and believe logic is the standard, then they would not be looking at the emotional side.

WMcR : Faith? He does not believe in answered prayers.

Dramatica : That means that they lack “feeling”, which is one of 64 potential traits you can choose.

Wolfman188 : Mel: Is your education as a shrink or as a lawyer? (I like the org. way your mind works!

Dramatica : Wolf (Ben) I’m just a poor country theorist.


Wolfman188 : Yeah…

Dramatica : Other choices are “acceptance”, faith, conscience, and a whole mess of others. But they aren’t random. In fact, each of the sixty four is related to all the others in very specific ways, so the “distance” from one meaning to the next is always consistent, kind of like a “spectrum” of meanings.

WMcR : Must there be a character who does NOT change…

Dramatica : WM there is always a character who remains steadfast… if your Main Character changes, their principal obstacle character will remain steadfast, and vice versa. The Obstacle Character, by the way, does not have to be a person. It could be a mob or a class or a mountain, anything that has an IMPACT on the Main Character to make them consider changing their world view.

WMcR : What a RELIEF! And support in creating such a story (w/o the obstacle as a person) is in Dramatica?

Dramatica : In a word, “yes”. Dramatica sees the obstacle by their dramatic impact, not by how you choose to embody that impact. Keep in mind, Dramatica is a NEW theory… As such, it will constantly be growing and expanding from this time forward. We feel that we have already outlined the EXTENT of the theory, and that is what enabled us to create the story engine, but there is much more detail that will be developed by us and others over the years, to fill in more and more shadings in the dramatic fabric.

Wolfman188 : Pay attention, folks. Mel & her partner will be taught in lit classes in a year or two! Ben said that.

Dramatica : As a matter of fact, Ben, we are in talks with both USC and UCLA right now. Dr. Marsha Kinder of USC, one of the country’s leading narrative theorists, not only enjoyed our work, but asked us to present it in a special four hour class to her post-graduate doctoral program in narrative theory. AND last summer we lectured at M.I.T. and also for the third year the at the UFVA The University Film and Video Association, which is the group of all Universities with media department.

Last time we gave them a full software demonstration in their computer lab up at the University of Montana where they had the last convention. It was a neat trip because Peter Fonda is a teacher there, and we attending a talk and screening he gave in honor of the anniversary of Easy Rider.

Wolfman188 : Well, you’ve earned it. And there’s lots more for you to do.

WMcR : Bring it to NYC!

Wolfman188 : Do keep up these weekly chats, please. I’ve got a hunch that the more I learn, the better my questions in the future.

Dramatica : Well, I’ll keep coming back as long as anyone wants to show up. We’ll be announcing these chats in our next Dramatica Newsletter, “Storyforming”. This next issue of Storyforming has an article on The Vampire Chronicles and The X Files.

Wolfman188 : If it’s just us, does that count as a date?

Dramatica : Only if you pick up the tab, Ben..

Wolfman188 : LOL

WMcR : Is Dramatica available in retail software stores?

Dramatica : WM, many writers stores carry it, and it is also available by catalog in Mac Mall, PC Zone and Mac Zone.

WMcR : Excellent!

Dramatica : Well, time lock! Time to go….I’ll be back next week, same Dramatica time same Dramatica channel.

WMcR : Thank you so much for your help! It was inspirational.

Makito7 : gn

Dramatica : My pleasure!

Wolfman188 : Thank you. As usual, it is a great session. See you next week. Ben.

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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