The following class was hosted on the internet by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.
- 3 Act Versus 4 Act Structure
- The Story Mind: Objective and Subjective
- Main Character Review: Change/Steadfast and Start/Stop
- Main Character: Do-er or Be-er?
- Mental Sex: Male or Female?
- Using Dramatica
Dramatica : This class focuses on the theory, although I will be happy to answer any software questions that you may have. We began last week with the concept of the “Story Mind”. That is the central concept of Dramatica.
Dramatica : Okay, let’s address that question… Dramatica sees both a structural and a dynamic view of “acts”… In the dynamic view, we “feel” the progression of a story as falling into three distinct phases. These are the same “movements” that Aristotle saw when he talked about a beginning, a middle, and an end.
An alternative is a structural view. Imagine for a moment, four signposts, along a path. One marks where you start, two in the middle, and one at the end. If you start at the first one, there are three journeys to make.
William S1 : Is act I (set up), act II (confrontation/obstacles) and act III (resolution) applicable?
Dramatica : William, yes, in the traditional understanding of story. There’s a bit more to it in Dramatica. When you move between the four signposts you take three journeys.
William S1 : Why make storytelling more complicated than it is?
Dramatica : Why make it less complicated than it is? When you look at a story as a “done deal”, when you see all the dramatic potentials, rather than concentrating on the events. That is where you see the meaning. Its kind of like scanning out lines on a TV picture. Scene by scene, act by act, you create drama that flows from one point to another. But in the end, you want to be able to connect all the points, and see what kind of picture you have created. By using both a 3 and four act structure and dynamics, Dramatica allows an author to approach a story either through the progression of events or the meaning they want to end up with.
The software has an “engine” that keeps the two compatible, so when you make decisions or changes in one, the effects on the other are shown.
William S1 : What is the 4th act?
Dramatica : The fourth act is the ending, which is the same as the denoument or author’s proof. Any other questions before we continue?
DC Finley : So, the traditional second act is now the second and third acts, right?
Dan Steele : So the event sequence is managed separately from the psychological chain of motivations?
William S1 : Then what is the dramatic purpose of the traditional third act?
Dramatica : Dan, they are managed separately, but intimately tied together. They affect one another.
Dan Steele : Yes.
Dramatica : DC, and William, here’s an answer to you both…If we look at a story as having a beginning, middle and end, then the beginning is static.. it is really the sign post where everything begins. The end is also static, the destination. But the “middle” is seen as the whole development of the story from that starting point to ending point. Now, that is really “blending” half dynamics and half structure. Two points and a string between them.
William S1 : But the beginning is NOT static.. the story usually enters in the middle of a life, event or sequence of events.
Dramatica : Yes, it enters in the middle of a life, but is thought of as the set of potentials that are already wound up that will evolve into the story line.
William S1 : Okay.
Dramatica : Dramatica sees the first act as MUCH more dynamic than that! In fact, we have 7 things to think about!
William S1 : Bring it on.
Dramatica : Let’s label the four structural acts as A,B,C,D. The familiar dynamic acts are 1,2,3. The beginning point is A then we move through 1 to get to B then we move through 2 to get to C. Then we move through 3 to get to D. Now, A,B,C,D and 1,2,3 all have to be there, in order to tell the whole tale.
DC Finley : Je comprende.
Dramatica : Any other questions about this.. oh, just a point. TV often looks at a five act structure. What they are really seeing, is point A followed by 1,2,3 and ending with D. It is not that B, and C are not there, but the commercial breaks emphasize those five and downplay the others. That’s why writing for TV is significantly different than writing for film. And BOTH are a lot different than writing prose. Okay, shall we move on?
DC Finley : Yes.
Dramatica : Okay, the central concept of the Story Mind. Dramatica sees every complete story as being an analogy to a single mind, dealing with a problem, or exploring a particular topic. This is because in order to fully look at an issue and not leave any holes, an author has to include in the work all the alternatives to his message that the audience might think of. And once they are included, they represent all appropriate ways to look at that particular issue, or if some are missing, the audience won’t buy it logically or emotionally.
And there are two views of this story mind that the author affords the audience. One is the Objective view as we look AT the story mind. The other is the Subjective view as we look FROM the Story Mind, through the eyes of a Main Character. The Objective view is like that of a general on a hill watching a battle, the Subjective view is like that of the soldier in the trenches. By the way, the log of the last class is in the Library folder in the writer’s club area in Non-fiction, if you want more detail on these subjects from last week.
Talking about the Main character, last week we asked two important questions… Does the Main Character change or remain steadfast, by the end of the story. In a “leap of faith” story, the Main Character will have to make a conscious choice to change, like Scrooge does, or to remain steadfast like Dr. Richard Kimble or Job, in the Bible. In a non-leap of faith story, the character will find themselves at the end of the story, in a situation similar to one at the beginning, and the audience will be able to see by their response, if they have been changed by their experiences or not.
There is no big choice by the Main Character in this kind of story, but the audience still gets to see the results of the drama on the character. The second question we asked was…Does the Main Character have to grow by starting something or stopping something. We have all seen stories in which the Main Character is the cause of the problem, and if they would just stop, things would be okay.
We have also seen stories in which the Main Character holds the solution, and if they would just start using it, everything would be okay. This is for a character that changes. For a steadfast character, its a bit different. Since the audience is not focusing on the character to change, they look at the plot situation instead. For the steadfast character, they must grow in their resolve to hold out or work for something to start or something to stop. Either way, change or steadfast, the character must grow.
So the notion that a character must change to grow is not accurate, as some characters must grow in their resolve. Finally, last week, we talked about the limit that draws a story to a close. Why does it end? Because the characters either run out of time, or run out of options. 48 hours is obviously a time lock. Remains of the Day is an option lock. Any questions on this before we jump into some new material? No?
Okay…Let’s put these questions into perspective…Dramatica theory has MANY questions from which to approach a story. But out of all of them, there are 12 that get right to the heart of a drama (or comedy). We call them (rather pretentiously) the 12 Essential Questions! You have just heard 3 of them. In fact, they break into three groups of four questions. The first group pertains to the Main Character. The second group to the plot. And the third group to the theme. Genre is the relationship created between character, plot and theme.
The four Main character questions are: Resolve: change or steadfast? Direction of growth: start or stop. Approach: Do-er or Be-er? Mental Sex: Male or Female (more on this later!) The four plot questions are: Work: action or decision? Limit: timelock or optionlock? Outcome: Success or Failure? Judgment: Good or Bad? The four Theme Questions are more structurally based, and we’ll deal with them when we get therein a later class… Any questions before we finish up the remaining two character questions we need to discuss? Well, either you’re all logging and in the other room, or I’m doing a heck of a job explaining it!
Dan Steele : I’m here.
Dramatica : Ah, that’s sweet!
Pdmedia : Me, too
DC Finley : Woof.
RDCvr : Me, too.
Dramatica : By the way, I’m Melanie Anne Phillips, the gal from the theory book!
William S1 : Nice to meet you. It just seems most of this is in the manual.
Dramatica : Yes, most of this is in the book, just explained more conversationally. That’s why I’m MORE than happy to answer questions!
Dan Steele : What theory book, by the way? The manual for Dramatica? Or do you explain the theory in a separate book?
Dramatica : Dan, there is a theory book that comes along with the software, and we will also be marketing it by itself soon.
Dan Steele : Okay.
Dramatica : Okay, time for us to move on to Do-er or Be-er…Dan, you won’t need Dramatica to answer any of these questions, though the software does employ them to “calculate” dramatics. Is your Main Character a Do-er or Be-er? This doesn’t mean active and passive. It doesn’t mean male or femaleIt means, does the Main Character PREFER to work things out through actions or through mental or emotional work?
Be-ers have a bad name in our society. They appear often as victims. But, for example, a mother who must hold on to an appearance for the sake or her children, is doing as much work internally, as someone climbing a mountain. Look at the Dad in the original “Bethoven”, He had this dog tearing apart his house, but he tried to hold it all inside until the problem went away. That’s why it is so powerful when he hits the evil vet! It’s completely unlike him.
Clint Eastwood likes to play both kinds of characters. Dirty Harry is clearly a do-er…act first, think later. But William Muney (in Unforgiven) is a be-er He only kills the young boy to put him out of his misery. When beaten up, he doesn’t respond. (A victim again!) Caine in the original Kung-fu was a be-er. But in our western cultures ideals, he usually just holds out until there is no other way, then beats the tar out of the bad guy. But be-ers can be just as strong. And not resort to the physical. Any more on that question or move on? Move on, I guess!
William S1 : Musn’t one be before one can do? Then one is be-ing and do-ing.
DKahane : Any examples of strong Be-ers?
Dramatica : William, how about when one acts from instinct? Also, when one acts from conditioning. The conditioning is just the network of responses, but does not require conscious consideration. The be-er character must make a conscious effort to resolve the problem by copping an attitude, or by pretending to feel a certain way.
William S1 : Okay.
This question is not about the gender of the main Character. And, it is not about their sexual preferences, AND, it is not about masculine or feminine. It is about problem solving techniques,linear, or holistic. More often than not, if you have a male gender, they are male mental sex, and female gender is female mental sex. Sometimes this is not true. Ripley, in the original Alien, was male mental sex. In fact, the part was written for a man,they just changed the names and gender references, but kept the problem solving techniques intact.
That’s why it is so odd when she goes back for the cat! Not that a man wouldn’t go back, but just that they had not given male reasons to, they just assumed she was a woman, so she would go back,but they had created her as male mental sex.
Now, men or women can easily learn to respond in the opposite sex techniques, but underneath it all is a tendency or bias to adopt either spatial or temporal problem solving techniques.
Clarisse Starling in Silence of the Lambs is another male mental sex character, whereas, Tom Wingo, the Nick Nolte character in Prince of Tides, is Female mental sex. Again, most often, go with what you expect.
PGThomas : Wasn’t Ripey saving the cat meant to build horror suspense, regardless of “mental sex”?
Dramatica : But be aware that it will have an influence on the way your main character goes about solving the problem, not the conclusions they come to.
PGThomas : How could they have established that action for Ripley?
Dramatica : Yes, PG, that is the author’s intent, but if the action is out of place to the established character, even though it may build tension, it rings untrue.
Dan Steele : how do linear/holistic relate to spatial/temporal? not clear.
Dramatica : Well, Dan, female mental sex tries to hold it all together, male tries to pull it all together, female tries to “tune-up” the situation with leverage,male determines steps that lead to the desired outcome. And so on, women look at things holistically, because they think with the time side, men look at things in sequence, because they are using the space side to think with.
PG, all they would have needed to do, is to have Ripley have said to Jonesy, the cat, at some earlier time, that no matter what, she would never leave him.
PGThomas : Gotcha
Dramatica : Then, she would have made a commitment, and that is a male contract.
PGThomas : “Commitment” a male contract? Don’t tell my girlfriend that!
Dan Steele : But there are time sequences ie., do a then b then c; and men do that.
Dramatica : Yes, men stand on space to see time, women stand on time to see space.
William S1 : What?
Dramatica : It all goes back to inside the womb in the 12th to14th week of pregnancy…There is a flush of testosterone or estrogen over the brain of the developing fetus. Testosterone boosts serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is an exciter. Estrogen boosts dopamine, the neurotransmitter that inhibits. This does not affect the body, which is controlled by XX and XY chromosomes, but just the foundation upon which the mind is built.
Dan Steele : hmm, going to run into my resistance on these views of male/female intelligences, but not going to make issue.
PGThomas : Does this flush determine the sex of the baby, or vice versa?
Dan Steele : The stand on space to see time thing versus time to see space is too vague for me without clarification, can’t buy it
Dramatica : One sees easily the arrangement of things, and works to figure out how things are going (paths). That’s seeing logic and figuring the emotions. The other sees emotions clearly, which give meaning, but need to work to see what the mechanism is. Again, its only an influence, and training can counteract it, though not eliminate it.
PGThomas : So a male baby could conceivably get an estrogen flush? And vice versa?
Dramatica : Yes, PG, that is true.
Dan Steele : are you saying that basic difference this theory builds on is that men see objects, logic, order, and women see emotion, reasons?
Dramatica : More precisely, Dan, that is just an aspect of the theory, only one of perhaps 80 questions, and it is not exclusive, it says men see linear logic more clearly, and women see holistic logic more clearly, and they lead to different approaches to problem solving. This is always the controversial question, but we found it in our model and can’t deny it.
Dan Steele : Am still bothered by definition of “holistic logic” and the contrast. Is stereotyping people too much I think. But dropping issue now so we can move along.
William S1 : Relax… for the most part males think in male patterns, and females think in female.
Dramatica : Tell ya what Dan, I’ll email you a whole article I wrote on the subject for our newsletter, that can go into more detail than I can here.
Dan Steele : Sure, helpful.
Dramatica : How about an easy question?
PGThomas : Is it possible to have a character equally male AND female mental sex?
Dramatica : PG, when a character switches between the two, they move from problem solving to justification, And that is, in fact what hides problems from the main character, creates a blind spot, and winds up the engine of potential. Its not a sex issue at that point, just like saying things are rotten now, but the reward is worth it, or I don’t care if this leads anywhere, I’m having fun.
William S1 : Don’t we all think in some parts male and female?
Dan Steele : Ah – men tackle problems head-on, women work around them. Confrontational versus nurturing.
Dramatica : There are four levels of the mind, and this only affects one of them. The other three questions about the Main Character, create dynamics for the other three levels. What’s nice is, once you answer enough questions to determine the shape of the message your working toward, Dramatica, the software, starts to see that pattern, and limit out choices that would no longer be consistent with the direction you have chosen. Eventually, it fills in the rest of the blanks, and tells you things about your story you didn’t tell it, and the things “feel” right! This could be formula,but you can start with any question and take any path through them, so there is no bias built into the software at all.
Dramatica : That depends on the particular author, Willam, first of all, some writers like to use it right off the bat, to figure out their dramatics so they know where they are going. But others like to write a draft first, then go to Dramatica to look for leaks and inconsistencies. And for the “chain of consciousness” writer, since they are not consciously trying to convey any overall meaning,but are just exploring a path and leaving a trail, then Dramatica has no value to them at all.
Pdmedia : Can Existing scripts be imported into Dramatica ?
Dramatica : PD, you can not import a whole script, as Dramatica is not a tool for the actual writing.
DKahane : Gotta go. When will tonite be on your BBS?
Dramatica : Bye DKahane!
PGThomas : Pd – I’m teaching myself Dramatica by inputting the details of a script I already wrote That way, I’m already familiar with the story and am happy with, just curious to see what Dramatica has to say about it.
Dramatica : But you can import text as you illustrate the dramatic points that Dramatica has shown based on your choices. That’s a good way to go, PD. Just go into storytelling BEFORE you even create a storyform, put in what those dramatica points are in your story, then use that information to make dramatic choices to double check!
Pdmedia : Thanks for the ideas.
Dramatica : Well, its about time to quit for tonight! I’ll be here again next week at the same time. And you can reach me at work at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PGThomas : When will the BBS have this session posted?
Pdmedia : When will you be on next ?
Dramatica : Probably this session will be up on the boards next Friday. Last week just came up early today.
PGThomas : Thanks. Bye!
William S1 : See ya next time.
Dramatica : Thanks for attending, and tell your friends, if you think they’d like this.
Dan Steele :Thanks; am waiting for Dramatica 8.0, the one that talks and types for you…
Dramatica : Never happen Dan! Don’t even SAY such a thing!!!
Dan Steele : LOL
Dramatica : I’m a writer too, ya know! Niters all!
Dan Steele : But 8.0 would be tailor-made for producers.
Dramatica : Arizona! Ya just missed us! We’re just closing down for the night.
ArizonaRay : I know….disappointed….tried my best…..next week?
Dan Steele : Nite.
RDCvr : Goodnight.
Pdmedia : Stay dry
Dramatica : The log of last week’s class is in the writer’s club library, non-fiction library. We’ll be here next week, same time, and this log will be uploaded by next Friday too (I hope!)
ArizonaRay : Great!
Dramatica : See ya now!
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.