The following class was hosted by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.
- Dramatica on World Wide Web
- Overview of Dramatica Theory
- Different Views of Story — 4 Throughlines
- Plot, Signposts, Storypoints
- Story Engine – How the Software Works
- Differences Between Lite and Pro.
Dramatica : Evening, SPS!
SPSman : Howdy
Dramatica : Got some questions about the theory or software?
SPSman : Yes, everything
Dramatica : Then the answer is “42”.
SPSman : But what’s the question?
Dramatica : Okay, shoot. What’s first on the list?
SPSman : Can you give me an overview of the theory?
Dramatica : Sure. First, how much do you know about Dramatica to start with?
SPSman : Sounds good!
Dramatica : http://www.well.com/user/dramatic. At that address we have listed information about both the theory and software. It’s already pretty extensive, including an overview of the theory, and we will be adding to that regularly as well. Now, for an overview.
SPSman : I won’t have Web access until AOL gets its one on-line, but that should be soon.
Dramatica : AOL has a WEB browser for Windows right now! Are you Mac or Windows?
SPSman : I got a Mac.
Dramatica : Then, alas, they have left you out in the cold for now…
SPSman : LOL
Dramatica : Okay, overview of the theory… Dramatica Theory sees every complete story as an analogy of the mind’s problem solving process. Characters, Plot, Theme, and Genre are seen as the thoughts and considerations of this mind as it tries to find a solution. These thoughts are made tangible, so that the audience can look into its own problem solving techniques in story-specific contexts and perhaps gain the value of experiences they haven’t had to earn the hard way for themselves. Hello, Mick!
Mickhadick : Hello all.
Dramatica : Just giving an overview of the theory for SPS. Characters are seen as the Motivations of the Story Mind, Plot, the Methodologies, Theme, the value standards of the Story Mind, and Genre, the nature of the Story Mind’s purpose. It turns out, that this model of the mind that is found underneath all complete stories has all the same pieces in every story just arranged differently. But the ways in which they can be arranged do have rules. Overall, it is sort of like a Rubik’s Cube, with a limited number of pieces, yet the cube creates 40 trillion, trillion combinations. Still, on a Rubik’s cube corner pieces are always corners, edge pieces always on the edge, etc. The model of Dramatica at the heart of the software, is a cross between a Rubik’s cube of story and a Periodic Table of Story Elements. And just like the cube, it can create many different stories, out of a limited number of pieces and also makes sure the “rules” aren’t violated.
SPSman : Interesting. But they can be different colors.
Mickhadick : ?
Dramatica : Yes, Mick?
Mickhadick : Do you think this story theory is at a steady state? And will it evolve, as story telling has evolved over the centuries?
Dramatica : Let me put it this way… Suppose you take any concept and outline it with just four points that are the major touch points around it. If you only had four points you wouldn’t see the shape of what you were surrounding very clearly even though those four points were exactly where they should be… Now, if you add more points to create a tighter framework around the concept (or object) you get a more accurate idea of the shape of the thing. Dramatica is a model of psychology that has established a number of points around the way the mind solves problems or creates justifications. We believe we have outlined those processes all the way around for the first time.
But even so, the framework is still a lattice work and as time progresses, more points will be added in between these initial anchor points, yet these anchor points will never have to be shifted, for they are drawn in just the right places. So, yes there is more to learn, but it will be additions, not changes that we expect.
Mickhadick : Do you have an idea of how long this psychology has been the way things are?
Dramatica : Well, Dramatica theory sees any mind that can differentiate between space and time as following the same model, just to differing degrees of resolution.
SPSman : ?
Dramatica : Yes, SPS?
SPSman : Does this theory have correlatives in the field of literary theory?
Dramatica : Dramatica is a theory of story, not a theory of screenplay, as such, it is equally applicable to novels, short stories, plays, teleplays, song ballads, four panel cartoons, etc. Just as a mind cannot jump from one feeling to another, or from one conclusion to another, without intermediate steps, Stories will not work that skip the in-betweens. That appears as plot holes or inconsistent characters. It is that concept that the model uses to make sure all the right pieces go in the right places.
But because it is non-linear you can start any place you wish, there is no set path of questions but you may begin anywhere in character, plot, theme or genre, and jump around as much as you like, while you fashion your “storyform”.
Mickhadick : So when a Greek drama drops a god on the stage with a crane, they’re covering a plot hole?
SPSman : I love the non-linear approach!
HConnor : Have a question..
Dramatica : Hi HConnor!
HConnor : Hello out there in Dramaticaland.
Dramatica : Only if the god is a square peg.
SPSman : LOL, Mick.
Mickhadick : HConnor has a ?
SPSman : ?
Dramatica : Yes, HConnor, if you have a ? Or, SPS, if not.
HConnor : Question: in the plot reference printout I’d like someone to explain difference between an analytic vs. a passionate evaluation of a question. Is that clear enough?
Dramatica : Sure… here goes… When an audience views a story… there are four perspectives they will look to take. The first is an overview, kind of like the view of a general on a hill watching a battle., This is the Objective or analytic view of the story’s
progression and meaning, and from this view, the characters are seen from the outside looking in. It is the “They” perspective to the audience, and just as soldiers on a field might be seen by their function, the foot soldier, the grenadier, etc., dramatic characters from this view are seen by their dramatic functions, such as Protagonist and Antagonist.
But there is a second view, when the audience is afforded the opportunity to zoom down into the body of one of the characters one of the soldiers on the field and to look through their eyes and see the story’s “battle” from a personal perspective. This is the view through the eyes of the Main Character. It is the “I” perspective for the audience. But there are two views left! The Main Character moves through the battle, not as sure of the overview as the general, but more aware of the personal meaning and details of their particular area. And the Main Character comes across a soldier standing in their path. The MC can’t see whether this other soldier is a friend or foe because the smoke of all the dramatic explosions has fogged up the field; so, the Main Character shouts, “get out of my way!” and the other character yells back, “change course!” The MC is not sure if this “Obstacle Character” is a foe trying to lure them into ambush or a friend trying to keep them from running into a mine field.
Eventually, either the MC will change course, or the OC will get out of the way. The OC is the third perspective for the audience the “You” perspective and the personal skirmish between the MC and the OC is the Passionate argument, the Subjective storyline also the “We” perspective. When you hear in a story one character say to another, “we are both alike, you and I” or “We are just two sides of the same coin” You can be sure you are hearing a passionate argument between a Main and Obstacle character.
Mickhadick : Or watching a B-movie.
Dramatica : Another good clue! That thrashes that!
Mickhadick : ?
Dramatica : And thank heavens you did, my fingers are bloody stumps!
Mickhadick : Four story lines to be woven together.. and six …
Dramatica : Nope, not 24… I’ll explain if you like…
Mickhadick : Okay, go ahead please.
Dramatica : Well, first, have you seen the structural side of Dramatica — the structure map?
Mickhadick : Yes.
Dramatica : Okay, then you have seen how it is three dimensional and is made of a series of progressively more detailed “quads” of dramatic elements..
Mickhadick : Okay. With you. (I’m using D-lite, by the way).
HConnor : help!! Like an unexpected complication in a scene, I lost power on my computer just as you were finishing explanation of passionate argument … could you recap briefly?
Dramatica : Sorry, H, I am keeping a log, I’ll get it to you later, but have to go on now…
Mickhadick : Melanie doesn’t really exist, but is only a cyborg.
Dramatica : These quads all have, of course, four dramatic items in them. Each will represent a pathway of four “signposts” or dramatic “storypoints” that will be touched on over the course of the story. But because they are “nested” three dimensionally, there are wheels within wheels…Looking at plot as linear, is a mistake, and that’s why 24 plot points does not do the whole job… Plot is not separate from theme and character but they are nested within each other so as one wheel turns just like gears on a ten speed bike, its going to have a gear ratio effect on the other two elements of the drama… you can’t change plot without affecting both character and theme for example.
So, Any kind of progression, be it character growth, thematic argument, genre development or plot progression will be affected by and affect the others. Each progressive movement then, would be seen as a different “step” or plot point. They ALL have to be there to keep this model of the mind from “slipping gears” but some are such subtle movements that they are so detailed they get lost in the “noise” level of a story, and do not need to be fully developed, especially if a story has limited its scope or depth in one area, say theme, to allow more time to explore another, such as plot. Whew!
SPSman : ?
Dramatica : Yep?
Dramatica : Hi, Attract! Welcome!
Attract863 : Thank you…Melanie?
Dramatica : Very well, thank you.
SPSman : When I sit down at the keyboard and run the program what happens?
HConnor : I have a complaint about Dramatica…
Dramatica : Okay, SPS, Dramatica : here’s what happens… Then, complaint… In the software, is a model of this analogy of the mind built upon the relationships outlined by the Dramatica Theory. The model is called “The Story Engine”. The story engine needs input to know how all the gears will be arranged for the kind of story machine you are trying to “write”. Because a story IS a machine… it doesn’t just sit there, you prime it and then it runs until it builds something… it builds the ideas and feelings you wanted to communicate.
HConnor : I appreciate that Dramatica is very good at setting up plot, theme, genre, and characters I like the user interface I like the division between story forming and story telling … But I’ll be darned if I can get the thing to actually WRITE the whole story!
Dramatica : (HConnor, if we ever build one that DOES write for you, shoot us, then destroy it!)
Dramatica : So, Dramatica asks you via multiple choice questions.. “do you want this piece here or there in your story” and it asks you by knowing what affect your choice will have on the final impact on your audience. So it presents the impact to you and says “choose this impact or that impact” and when you choose, Dramatica does the mechanical work of putting the right pieces in the right places to do that.
HConnor : SPSMAN: from an uninterested third party, just buy it.
Dramatica : As you answer more questions eventually you may ask Dramatica to build something that requires parts already used elsewhere. and so the software “grays out” choices that are no longer available because they would violate your own mechanism. Everything is available for the first question and then, as you choose your priorities by moving through the questions in any order you like and make the dramatic choices you want Dramatica will narrow the remaining viable choices until you have nothing left to build with.
SPSman : Fascinating.
Dramatica : Then, you have constructed the engine of your story, which we call a storyform. But that’s not all! Once you’ve built the engine it has to run! So, Dramatica runs the engine for you and then plots out what kinds of things will be happening act by act as the steps or signposts along the journey from your set up to your intended impact at the end. That creates a road map at all those different levels of wheels within wheels but you still have to right the journey that takes you from one signpost to the next.
SPSman : Wow! Thanks, Melanie.
Mickhadick : ?
Dramatica : That’s all it does. Nothing much, really….
Dramatica : Yes, Mick? Evening, George, and welcome!
GeorgeL676 : Hello, Melanie.
Mickhadick : Are there any known rules of this psychology of the story mind relating to fitting subplots into the grand story for instance,
Dramatica : Yes, Mick, there are.
Mickhadick : Should obstacle characters become main, etc.
Dramatica : Sure… here’s a bit on that… Dramatica the software, is just the first implementation of an even larger theory… The software currently deals with one sole story at a time. However, “Works”, which are completed artistic endeavors told in words may contain subplots, or several stories that may or may not affect one another. Like “Crimes and Misdemeanors” for example. Now, the theory sees a subplot more as a sub story. Because it may have characters, plot, theme, and genre of its own. A substory intersects the main story and has an impact on it. A substory does this by being built around one of the Objective or functional characters of the Main story who is NOT the Main or Obstacle in the Main Story.
But this “objective character” becomes the Main Character of their own substory. So, what happens to them will affect how then function in the Main story and vice versa. But a parallel story has characters who do not play a functional role in the Main story. So, both stories go on without either requiring the other to bridge point A to point B. Sometimes you may want to develop only a sub theme, without characters or a sub genre, or a whole sub story.
Mickhadick : Two equal sets of main and obstacle?
Dramatica : Yes, Mick… one Main and Obstacle for the Main story and another Main and Obstacle for each sub story or parallel story. There is a complex form… in which the Main Character of one story is the Obstacle in another and vice versa, so each is the other’s obstacle and each, to the audience is the Main. They tried to do this with “He Said, She Said” for example, and toyed with it, but ended up obscuring things with Philadelphia. The trick is to make SURE the audience can keep track of who they are siding with at any given moment, because they need to keep the two stories separate or the wrong arguments will be seen having the wrong impact. Truly a daring technique to use that form. Well, we’ve got about five minutes left…
SPSman : ?
Dramatica : Any other questions? Oh, and don’t forget our new World Wide Web home page for Dramatica at http://www.well.com/user/dramatic You will find LOTS of useful information there. Last minute questions?
SPSman : Basic question. What’s the difference between Lite and Pro?
Dramatica : SPS, both use the same engine but D Lite does not “tap” it at as many dramatic points as Pro. Since we are using the engine to build a framework around the story concept Pro creates a more detailed outline but requires much more of a learning curve of these new concepts. Lite creates just as accurate a framework but with not as much detail and therefore less to learn up front.
SPSman : So as a beginner Lite would probably be better?
Dramatica : It would be my suggestion. Good places to order are in Mac Mall, Mac Zone and PC Zone. You’ll find the best deals there.
SPSman : Thanks.
Mickhadick : PC Zone dropped you, as of a week ago.
Dramatica : Not to my knowledge, Mick. We are in for the next several months (paid advertising!) I’ll check into that though…
Mickhadick : They wouldn’t sell it to me, so I called you direct.
Dramatica : Hmmm.. Okay, I’ll look into it, Mick.
Attract863 : He’s right, Dram…hadda call Writers Comp store in SM…
Dramatica : Thanks, Attract! I’ll see what’s going on!
GeorgeL676 : I enjoyed the initial audio tape that I received with Dramatica Pro. Any plans for a video tape of your classes for those who are not in LA and cannot attend?
Dramatica : Glad you liked the tape, George!
Dramatica : Before videos, George, we are preparing more tapes… a character tape and a plot tape will be out by June. I’ll have to ask the Marketing department about that. Well, time to roll up the theory… See you here next week. Same Dramatica time, same Dramatica station.
SPSman : Have a good week. Bye all.
Mickhadick : Bye all.
HConnor : First on-line conference … Thanks!
GeorgeL676 : Will I get a notice in the mail or do I have to call check on availability of the new tapes?
Dramatica : George, you’ll probably have to check.
GeorgeL676 : Thank you. Keep up the great work!!!
Dramatica : 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.