The following class was hosted on the internet by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.
- Genre & Storyforming
- Genre Grid/Chart: Comedy, Information, Drama, & Entertainment
- World Wide Web – Dramatica’s Home Page
Dramatica : Evening, Mick!
Mickhadick : Hey Mel
Dramatica : Feeling creative tonight?
Mickhadick : No, I just talk to you.
Dramatica : That’s creative!
Mickhadick : Tell me about the genre approach to storyforming. I have D-lite, and assume it’s available in Pro. Just give me a taste. I’ve seen it in the advertising, but no explanation at all.
Dramatica : Okay… it’s a BIG subject…
Mickhadick : Give me a quick and dirty example, if you will By the way, do have some of this text canned, and just cut and paste?
Dramatica : (No canned text, it’s all “live”). Okay, does your story take place as a situation being explored or an activity going on.
Mickhadick : Situation.
Dramatica : Making the choice that your story’s problems stem from a situation, rather than an activity gone bad, or someone’s bad attitude, or even the way someone goes about solving problems, has already had an impact on your story at the genre level. Genre is a “resolution” of story, it is the largest resolution, that has its impact in how the audience will define the overall “feel” of the story. In a sense, it is the story’s personality. But it is made up of several things.
Mickhadick : And Genre impacts the throughlines?
Dramatica : Partially, but that is only at the storyforming stage. There are three other stages.
Dramatica : Hiya, Ben!
Wolfman188 : Hi.
Mickhadick : First name basis?
Dramatica : A completed story will have four stages of communication from the author to audience. Storyforming, which describes the original idea or feeling, story Encoding, which describes the images and scenarios and symbols used to convey that original idea. Story Weaving, which is the manner in which the author lets the cat out of the bag.
Story Weaving is the part of the creation process usually thought of as the actual “writing”. This is where you determine how to go about exposition, do you tell the audience everything at once, dole it out slowly, or fool them into buying into things that are not what they seem. Then there is the fourth stage of communication, Story Reception, which describes what the audience is bringing to the story in terms of foreknowledge, expectations, givens, and preconceptions.
Dramatica : Hi Delta!
Wolfman188 : Any chance you’ll record the “weekend” lectures and offer audio tapes? I can’t attend.
Dramatica : Ben, yes, we are intending to record the sessions on both audio and video.
Dramatica : Now all four stages of communication show up in the finished work, so when you go to the video store to rent a movie, you’ll see genres that reflect all four stages. Westerns are genre by setting, Buddy pictures are genre by character relationship Horror stories are genre by reception. This is fine for getting the overall feel you want to view… But it is not very good to write from. The reason is, that a particular feel can be created MANY different ways.
So although genre tells you what you want to end up with, it says nothing about how to get there. Fortunately, Dramatica theory is able to separate the four stages and give some guidelines for constructing the different overall feels.
Mickhadick : ?
Dramatica : Yes, Mick?
Mickhadick : So Genre doesn’t impact the 12 essential questions.
Dramatica : If anything, it’s the other way around…
Mickhadick : Okay.
Dramatica : The 12 essential questions shape the storyform, which will effect genre at that stage of communication. Now, there is a nifty tie-in between the sterile storyform, and the ultimate reception and you can create a chart from this that will not only make it much easier to choose your domains for your objective story and Main Character, but will also help you predict the effect you will have on your audience.
First, grab a paper to make a grid on. (upon which to make a grid) proper grammar, doncha know! Now, the grid will be a 4 by 4 grid, creating 16 squares.
Wolfman188 : I ought to be angry with you! I’m rewriting my 94’s novel & D makes it’s a lot more work!!!
Mickhadick : You talk like a surfer girl.
Dramatica : Never been surfing, but have been tanning…
Mickhadick : Great, she’s wrinkled!
Dramatica : Not hardly… You can see for yourself by checking out my WWW home page. http://www.well.com/user/melanie/
Mickhadick : Seriously?
Dramatica : Sure! I even have an audio hello. AND information about Mental Relativity, the psychology behind Dramatica, AND a link to Dramatica’s home page, AND original poems, stories, etc.: Now, ‘nuf ’bout me… Back to work!
Mickhadick : 16 squares…
Dramatica : Yep.
Dramatica : Along the left hand side, from top to bottom, label… Information, Drama, Comedy, Entertainment. Along the top from left to right label… Universe, Physics, Mind, Psychology. This grid forms an intersection between the sterile or “raw” storyform and the experiences the audience will have from your story. Let’s start with comedy which is easy to get a grip on. Each square on the grid will describe a different “genre”, Dramatica style. Starting at the intersection of Universe and Comedy. Universe means, “a situation” so, you can write in that square Situation Comedy, Physics is an activity so, you get a Physical Comedy (such as slapstick). Next, you have comedy of the mind which is a “fixed attitude”
Wolfman188 : Just went to the web and asked for hhtp://www.well.com/user/melanie = not recoverable.
Dramatica : Hmmm…. must be a problem on the web, it was fine this morning… try putting an extra / after melanie…
Wolfman188 : I’m doing some beta testing for AOL — might be my “fancy” software, too.
Dramatica : Comedies of fixed attitudes, ok. are usually called “Comedies of Manners”. So, on the chart, we can see the four principal kinds of comedies we are familiar with, by adding Psychology, which is “a manner of thinking” and creates a “Comedy of Errors”. Now, the same thing can be done for drama…
Mickhadick : This all fits in almost too nicely….
Dramatica : Universe = and Exploration Drama… Which is when a serious situation exists and is expored. Drama and Physics = Action Drama. Drama/Mind = Bias Drama, such as a story about prejudice, fixations, or pre-conceptions.
Wolfman188 : Same Web message with note that the area is “under construction” & “try later”.
Dramatica : Sorry, Ben, try again later, I’ve reached it from AOL, Prodigy, and Netcruiser.
Wolfman188 : Gotta go. Don’t mean to interrupt. Thanks, Ben.
Dramatica : Niters Ben!
Dramatica : Finally, Drama Psychology creates “Growth Dramas”. Growth Dramas are where characters come to terms with serious problems. Now, Information…. This does not just mean documentaries, but any story in which the audience becomes educated, such as Andromeda Strain… Info/Universe = What something is… That is what is conveyed, a description of something. Info/Physics is “How it Works. Info/Mind = What it Means (to the audience), Info/Psychology is Why it’s Important (to the audience personally).
You can see a lot of propaganda works in this area. Finally, we have the entertainment line… Ent/Universe = Entertainment through atomosphere.(Hi Rosharn!) Entertainment/Physics = Entertainment through thrills. Ent/Mind = An Entertaining concept (or “high” concept). Ent/Psychology = Entertianment through twists. Rosh, we have just created a genre chart Dramatica style, and are just about to describe how to use it.
Rosharn1 : Hi, M’lady. This is your heretical student Jack. Thought I’d drop in — quiet here tonight.
Dramatica : Hiya, Jack! Nice to see you here.. Okay, now to use this chart… All it tells us so far, are what the categories are that we have to work with. AND these are only the basic categories. Now, remember that in Dramatica theory there are four throughlines, Main Character (“I”),Obstacle Character (“you”), Subjective Story (“we”)
Dramatica : and Objective Story (“they”).
Mickhadick : Another 3D chart?
Dramatica : (no, not 3-D, so it will be easy to draw…)
Dramatica : Each of these throughlines is a different perspective or “take” on every story that an audience will want in order to examine the story’s message from all angles. Now, using the chart you have created look at the comedy line… When you are storyforming, you will assign each of the four throughlines to one of the different classes along the top. For example, Universe might be the Objective story, meaning that the aspect of the problem that affects everyone has to do with a situation.
The Main Character might be Physics, meaning they are a person of action, and so on. If you were to place all four throughlines in the comedy line each perspective would be placed in one of the columns. And what you would have would be a movie that was all laughs without any serious moments, no information to speak of, and nothing entertaining other than the laughs.
Mickhadick : Marx brothers.
Dramatica : Such stories quickly become one-liners Just as would a Drama that was all seriousness. If we assigned our four throughlines all to Drama we would cover the whole spectrum of drama, but leave no room for comic relief. Now, that gives us “breadth” to our story (from left to right) but does not give us “depth” (which would read from top to bottom). So, to create more depth, we make one or more of the four throughlines not in the same row. Depending upon which “class” (universe, mind, etc) we have chosen for a throughline. that will determine the kinds of comedy, drama, etc. open to that throughline.
So, if the situation was serious objectively. That would be Objective story in the Universe/Drama square. Then, the Main Character could be Physics, for example, but they are very funny, and fall into comedy in Physical Comedy. The Subjective story (relationships) might be Mind and be a “high” concept in Entertainment. and finally, the Obstacle character would be Phsychology in this example, and to fashion the most “depth” to our story we would put them in information which would make them the explainer of the story. Now, if story’s were static, we could just plug our choices into the grid, and that would be that… But stories EVOLVES and UNFOLD and as a result, they are in a constant state of flux. The part that won’t change is what class the throughline is in. That remains the same from the beginning to the end, so a Physics Main Character will remain a Physics Main Character throughout the story.
BUT they may be entertaining at one moment, and drift into drama at another. In fact, if you looked at each class as a “needle” on a seismograph, and you pulled the story’s timeline through the grid from left to right, you would see the “position” of the Main Character would rise and fall up and down in their column but always staying in their class. As long as the character moves from one area to the next, their “growth” will not miss any steps but if they jump too far up or down they will miss steps, and not react like humans do, when they change emotions an outlook. That is the problem with “Hudson Hawke” The character jumps too far too fast. Okay, questions on that?
Mickhadick : So going from square to adjacent square is important? Is that what you mean by jumping?
Dramatica : Up and down on the chart, for example, if you took away the lines between comedy and drama erased them off the chart you would see that comedy is not a single defined item but a place on the spectrum and it moves smoothly from comedy to drama.
Rosharn1 : Have you figured out any sequences of human emotion, such as Janos Egri’s progressions?
Dramatica : A character and an objective story will do the same. Dramatica doesn’t see any sequence as any more real than the next, as long as it doesn’t “leap” to conclusions. When we change, we can only change so far at one time. It takes people a while to move from one emotion to the next, one outlook to the next.
Rosharn1 : And a unit of change might be ???
Dramatica : The smallest unit of change we can make, is to move from one perspective to the next (I to You to We to They, back to I). The maximum we can make at one time is to jump to a whole new set of I, You, We, and They, so that none of them are taken in the same context or are applied to the same thing. If we try to jump from I to You and also jump from one consideration to a completely different one we become disoriented and so does our audience.
So, if you made a cylindar out of your chart. from top to bottom so that Information connected with Entertainment you would have the full spectrum, and every jump a character or story makes must be “plottable” as an unbroken line moving around the cylindar in its consistent class.
Mickhadick : So you can jump from info to entertainment (wrapping around)?
Dramatica : Yes. Those two are “akin”. You’ll find, though, that when it comes to the Main Character, the chart will be differently arrange for men and women in the audience. Male and Female Main Characters would see the chart differently, and therefore would take different paths to be consistent. But THAT is WAY too much for tonight, and we are also out of time!
Dramatica : Don’t forget to vist our Dramatica Home Page on the web at http://www.well.com/dramatic/
Mickhadick : I thank you. This was very helpful!
Dramatica : Okay, I’ll see ya next week! Same Dramatica time. Same Dramatica station.
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.