The following class was hosted on the internet by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.
- Novels & Substories
- 4 Throughlines & Grand Argument Stories
- Theme and Plot
- Dramatica’s “Reception Theory”
- How The Software Works
Dramatica : Okay, up and running! So, any questions on the theory or software?
Jsheckley : Was there a class last Friday? No log posted.
Dramatica : Last Friday I was feeling under the weather, took a nap and missed the class!
Dramatica : There were a couple of people here though, I’ve heard. Apparently, they did fine without me!
Jsheckley : |_ () |_. I have plenty of questions.
Dramatica : Okay, let’s get to those questions.
Jsheckley : Okay I’ll try to remember them all.
Dramatica : One will do, to start.
Dramatica : Just fine. How’s that for an answer? Actually, Dramatica is a theory of story, not just a theory of screenplay. So, it works equally well for novels, short stories, four panel cartoons, song ballads, plays, teleplays, and screenplays. (To name but a few). Would you like some specifics of how to use it for novels?
Jsheckley : Yeah, Yeah, I read that. BUT you discuss 3 acts, four acts, for TV, screen … what about novels?
Dramatica : What about novels is a big question! Do you mean what about 3 and four acts as they pertain to novels?
Jsheckley : Yes.
Dramatica : Okay, let’s lay a little ground work for some concepts that will illustrate how that works. First of all, let’s define the word, “novel”. A novel is not the same thing as a story. A novel is what Dramatica refers to as a “work”. A work may contain just one story, or several stories, or only a part of a story, and still be moving and intelligent and complete. Dramatica is more concerned with a story, than with a work.
Jsheckley : I have read logs I could find so far except for the “part of” one, I agree.
Dramatica : Okay, for part of, how about a novel that is just a series of thematic episodes like “Steps”, by the fellow that wrote “Being There”? Some of those little episodes have no plot, some have no growth, and altogether do not make up a single story. Yet the book is absolutely amazing!
Jsheckley : Jerry Kosinski– an episodic novel; a complete story of a life. Oh, steps.
Dramatica : Well, that book was not about a single life, but about many different unconnected episodes in many lives, and yet they had a collective effect on the reader, just like nuts in a brownie. So, sometimes you might just want to explore theme, or characters without plot, and that can make a fine experiential novel.
Jsheckley : Well, that’s experimental literature. I doubt Dramatica would be useful in such a creation, nor need it because that’s only a “novel” in the sense of “new form of it”.
Dramatica : Right! So, Dramatica focuses on the concept of a complete story. Then, if you want to work with part of a story, you’ll find those parts in the whole, If you want to work with multiple stories, you will want to use Dramatica separately on each one, because how they all work together is too infinite to calculate.
One Daisy : Good evening.
Dramatica : Hi Daisy, et al!
Jsheckley : It wont link subplots.. hmm. That’s why some of us need help outlining.
Dramatica : The theory handles subplots just fine. The software is in its first version, and has lots more to come.
Jsheckley : You want my other 2 easier questions?
Dramatica : Well, we haven’t finished this question yet! I’m just laying the groundwork, remember?
Jsheckley : Oh, good thank you.
Dramatica : As for subplots, that is too simplistic a term.
Jsheckley : Yes.
Dramatica : They are really subSTORIES. They may have only plots, but if they have subcharacters, subthemes, and subgenres as well, then they are full substories. Again, you need not develop them completely, but if you choose to, they will need all four of those aspects.
Jsheckley : Well if they converge with main story it can b dealt with as one?
Dramatica : The difference between a multi-story work, like Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Subplots (substories) is whether or not the dramatics in one affect the dramatics in the other.
One Daisy : Doesn’t make for a better story if you do develop them?
Dramatica : Actually, Daisy, sometimes you can overly distract your audience by leading them into a substory that is overly developed. Substories should be used to examine aspects or branches of the main story, that you, as author, are most interested in.
Jsheckley : Yes, but she’s right if its really minor you must consider cutting it.
Dramatica : J, if two stories converge so that they ultimately affect one another, one is a substory to the other, even if they have been given equal attention, In effect, each is the others’ sub story.
Jsheckley : OK.
Dramatica : DorLa, there are four major throughlines in the Dramatica concept of story, and they need to be there for even just a single story. Each complete story will have its own set of four throughlines. Now, this kind of story we are talking about, (having laid some groundwork on novels vs. stories) is a special kind: a “complete” story that has Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre, explored completely through all four throughlines.
Jsheckley : Which kind? Sub-stories?
Dramatica : No, the single story…
Jsheckley : Oh.
Dramatica : In Dramatica we call this complete story that has all the essential parts and no unnecessary ones, the Grand Argument Story. Why an Argument?
Dramatica : Because Dramatica sees every Grand Argument Story as an analogy to a single human mind dealing with a particular inequity.
Jsheckley : Because a weltunschauung is an argument, a worldview.
Dramatica : Right, J!
Dramatica : Dramatica assumes an author wishes to communicate something. Something specific. Maybe its a feeling they have had, maybe its a point of view. Maybe its a message or just a series of experiences that leaves the reader feeling a particular way.
The point is, that the author has an idea of what they are trying to get across, before they let go of the story to the reader. Now, every substory would have its own “message” or point or feeling, and each would require the author to know what they wanted to say, before they make the story public to say it. Of course, a lot of good writing is stream of consciousness, personal explorations, etc. Dramatica can’t help there. Dramatica helps in communicating a concept. And to do that as an author, you need to surround the concept, be it a logical message or a feeling, with words, sentences, paragraphs, or in the case of screenplays, with images, sounds, and action. The reason being, that each of us has the capacity to feel the same feelings, and arrive at the same conclusions, but may never have done that due to our own personal experiences.
Delta Wire : Would this be the manifestation of theme??
Dramatica : Theme is part of it, Delta, that is the most emotional part of the argument, just as plot is the most logistic. However, once you try to outline your concept, you quickly realize that the most true feelings, and most clear conclusions cannot be expressed in a single word, sentence or paragraph.
Dramatica : Delta, example of how theme is most emotional and Plot is most logistic? Is that the question?
Delta Wire : Yes.
Dramatica : Okay, we’ll diverge for a moment, but then I want to get back to wrapping words around an idea…. Theme is a balance scale that weighs two ways of feeling about an issue.
Delta Wire : OK.
Dramatica : Each of these ways, say “morality vs. self-interest”, is shown in all appropriate contexts to the message of the story. Context by context, we don’t just see which is good and which is bad, but rather which is better and which is worse, this is what keeps theme from being heavy handed and binary. By the end of the story, the audience has experienced many different contexts in which to evaluate whether morality or self-interest is better over all. Because there is seldom a clear winner, except in very simplistic stories, the outcome of the thematic argument, is more a “mean average” of which one came out working the best, overall, in the most situations, factoring in just HOW good it was compared to the other in each situation.
That has so many ramifications, it cannot be considered logically, and is determined by how the audiences or readers’ feelings have become wrapped up in the two points of view, in all those contexts. For plot, however, the concern is much more causal, as the audience “learns” the author’s message that certain forces lead to certain chains of events, The plot must make logistic sense, for if the chain of logic is broken, the whole “argument” of that part of the story will be invalidated by the audience because of the plot hole.
Anything that follows a plot hole is considered unreliable by the audience’s reason. Now, getting back to wrapping up ideas, in a string of words… Although each of us CAN feel the same things, that is to say, we have the potential to, we won’t feel them spontaneously like the author does, because we haven’t had the same life experiences. To make the audience feel the exact same thing, requires that the author create an environment in which the audience WILL experience what is needed to generate that feeling. For simple ideas, of low resolution, that CAN be done in a word.
For example, “Love”. We all know what that means, and it creates a degree of feeling, but it is not sufficient if we want to talk about specifically, brotherly love, or parental love, or lustful love, or romantic love. Suddenly, we need two words. And the process goes on until we have wrapped enough words around our idea, that our audience suddenly sees what we’re getting at…The shape of our idea emerges, the experiences build around them, and then the magic happens, when an artificially created environment, makes our audience feel exactly what we were trying to communicate to them.
That’s how Dramatica works, by describing what a complete wrap around of an idea looks like, kind of like putting one of Bucky Fuller’s geodesic domes around a story. Dramatica is not the nth degree of sophistication, but it is the first theory/software, that can create a consistent framework around a single story, to make sure that all the major points of view that an audience will take, and all the major value standards they will use, are accounted for and relate to each other in a consistent manner. Half of that is the structural side of Dramatica, the other half if the dynamics.
Jsheckley : It tells you how people might react?
Dramatica : J, that’s a good question..
Jsheckley : Sure, I was just trying to understand what you were implying a minute ago.
Dramatica : Actually, how people react, is half story, and half reception. There is a whole area of story theory called “reception theory” which basically studies what an audience brings to the reading or viewing experience. In Dramatica, we see four distinct stages of communication. First is knowing your idea, that’s Story FORMING Next is coming up with the words, images or symbols you want to use to create your environment, that’s story ENCODING. Third is the process of arranging all these images and words into the linear flow that does the job, which is called Story WEAVING and finally, is Reception, in which the audience views the flowing images and tries to understand what the original idea or storyform was.
Jsheckley : The writing itself is weaving.
Dramatica : J, that is basically true. You’ll note, that for most authors, they do all four stages in the writing process all at once! The author will be figuring out what words next, while creating the idea, receiving their own work, etc.
Dramatica : Okay, how the software works… Dramatica is not a fill in the blank system. The theory of how character, plot, theme, and genre relate, has been used to create a “story engine” that is not unlike a cross between a Rubik’s cube of story, and a periodic table of story elements. That’s what’s at the heart of the software. The user doesn’t have to deal with all that complexity, rather, you are presented with multiple choice questions about the underlying dramatics of your story. You answer based on the impact you want to have on your audience in your argument. As you make choices, the influence of those choices, moves around that story engine Rubik’s cube, and keeps plot consistent with theme, with character, by “graying out” choices on questions you haven’t answered yet. When you get to those questions, you may find an open filed of choices, or you may find a limited set.
Jsheckley : Hypertext? it wont permit what it views as mistakes?
Dramatica : J, not in creating the “storyform”, of course, once you have created a story form that IS consistent, you can change anything you want, for after all, you are the author and have the last word. Dramatica will just make sure that you are not undermining your own message.
Jsheckley : It won’t permit you to shoot someone with a knife?
Dramatica : LOL! Well, let me give you a couple of examples… First of all, some of the questions have up to 64 different choices. And you can even choose several that seem sort of like what you had in mind, and let Dramatica narrow the field later, as you make other choices elsewhere. Some questions have only two choices like… When the story is over, is your main character changed in their nature or do they have the same worldview they started out with.
Jsheckley : Changed or unchanged?
Dramatica : We call that Change or Steadfast. Other questions ask if your story is brought to a conclusion by a timelock or an option lock. Remains of the Day is an Option lock. 48 hours is a time lock.
Jsheckley : Can we skip the male/female mind thing?
Dramatica : Yes, let’s be neuter.
Jsheckley : No. I mean when using Dramatica for characters.
Dramatica : Actually, if you do not choose the male/female mental sex question, Dramatica will ultimately choose it for you,
Jsheckley : Ack!
Dramatica : or tell you that for this particular kind of character growth, in this particular plot, it could be either.
Jsheckley : OK.
Dramatica : Also, there is no fixed order to how you approach the questions. You can jump around in any order, because you are building a framework around your story, not creating a linear series of events.
Jsheckley : Good, cuz that’d be an option lock.
Dramatica : Very sly, J! More questions?
Jsheckley : Yes.
Dramatica : Good.
Jsheckley : May I be frank?
Dramatica : I thought you were J? Sure, shoot.
Jsheckley : (Actually my name IS Jay.) Dramatica includes many brilliant ideas I’ve seen nowhere in my research, isn’t mechanically tied to the idea of the hero/protagonist (and includes a couple of ideas that seem to me plain gooney). Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be simplest to just try the damn software, but then I think Dramatica software might be impossible to use and worse, perhaps has already driven you insane, and I would be the next victim! is there any type of guarantee? And do you do wholesale (bookstore) orders? ==whew==
Dramatica : LOL!!!
DorLa : I use it and it hasn’t driven me insane.
Dramatica : Just think of it as a mental virus, like “Outbreak for the mind.” Actually, there is a 30 day money back guarantee for starters…
Jsheckley : Guarantee seems fair.
Delta Wire : Once you’ve answered the questions and created the framework, how do you write the story?
Dramatica : Delta, right now in this version of the software, the focus is on creating the storyform, and coming up with the images to symbolize it for the audience.
Jsheckley : Ah, and the price pretty please for Macs?
Dramatica : Dramatica Pro is $249.95 through the end of the month on sale, and is also available through Mac Mall and Mac Zone. I see that Delta has dropped off, but I want to answer that question… After you story form and story encode, that is where the software leaves off at the moment. At that point, you actually sit down with all the reports, (there are over 30!) that are generated in the software, get to know your story, and then put them aside and write! The purpose is not to toe the line, but to look into the dark corners of your concept, and make sure there is something there, because the audience will look places you might overlook.
Jsheckley : Won’t it be available at Dark Carnival bookstore?
Dramatica : In future versions, we will be developing some on-line writing tools to help authors do the actually writing within the program, but in this version, by the time you finish with what it does, you’ll know your story better than you’ve ever known a story. Writing then becomes the fun part again!
One Daisy : Would that include something similar to Scriptor?
Dramatica : Actually, that’s under consideration… We want, ultimately, to allow writers in any medium to have tools available to do the actual writing in Dramatica, but for now, we’ll just have to settle for it doing things nothing has ever done before.
Jsheckley : Can you print a sequence of events w/Dramatica?
Dramatica : J, yes you can, to a limited degree… In this version, Dramatica will “predict” the conceptual order of acts, for each of your throughlines, allow you to illustrate those concepts, and then print all that material out in reports. It does not take you down to “scene resolution” yet, as that borders on the actual writing process.
Dramatica : Well, that’s about time for the end of this session… Any last ?
Jsheckley : You answered ALL of my tortured & difficult questions and I thank you all for letting me learn.
Dramatica : Its a pleasure to share. Well then, I’ll be signing off…
Makito7 : Thanks.
One Daisy : Thank you.
Dramatica : See you next week, same Dramatica time, Same Dramatica channel!
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.