The following class was hosted on the internet by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.
- Story Engine Choices: Dramatica can predict without being predictable.
- Dramatica Update
- Can you have 2 main characters?
- Objective vs. Subjective views.
- Main, Obstacle, Protagonist & Antagonist differences.
- “The Fugitive”
- Narrators & Players
Dramatica: Evening, Star!
StarFish76: Hello? Anybody here?
Dramatica: How are you this fine Friday?
StarFish76: Oh, just fine, & you?
Dramatica: Doin’ well. Any questions on the Dramatica theory or software?
StarFish76: Are you running the show?
Dramatica: Let’s just say I moderate with a heavy hand…
StarFish76: I didn’t really have a specific agenda, just came to hang, listen, learn.
Dramatica: Our attendance usually runs between 4 and 10, drifting in at various times, with various questions. Have you read the logs or earlier sessions we posted here on AOL?
StarFish76: I use Dramatica all the time. For me it’s just a slow process of coming to an understanding as I use it more and more.
Dramatica: Hiya Skier!
Grn Skier: Evenin’.
Grn Skier: Topic?
Dramatica: Good, Star, then you have something of a grounding in the concepts
and what it’s all about.
StarFish76: Oh yeah…
Dramatica: I usually take a question and then run with it until it or I or
both are quite dead. Skier, you have any questions this week?
Grn Skier: Looking at my notes. Had a busy week with no time to intellectual pleasures.
Dramatica: Oh, BTW, if you are in the L.A. area, don’t forget to visit Screenplay Systems and Dramatica at the Showbiz Expo convention a week from Saturday
on June 10, 11, and 12. We will have our new Writer’s Dream Kit available there for the first time, which include a 60 minute audio tape on Character and another on Plot, as well as the 90 minute Theory Basics audio tape, Plus a one year subscription to our journal, 30 storyforms on disk that can be read in text format, even if you don’t have the Dramatica software and a few other things.
StarFish76: BTW, D, loved your treatise on X-files in the last issue of “Storyforming”.
Dramatica: Ah, yes. The XX and XY Files…I am a big fan of the show (just bought X Files #1 comic book) and I was running around in circles, trying to figure out what it was about the show that made it seem so “odd”. Clearly, something was going on, and Dramatica is pretty good at finding that kind of thing, but it wasn’t in plot, or theme, or genre, like expected, but rather in the mental sex of the two main characters.
StarFish76: Today, I had an interesting thing happen I was developing my
first storyform for a script I was analyzing and when I changed failure to success, it didn’t change the form.
Dramatica: Star, here’s an interesting point about those story engine settings like “success” and “failure”. Because the Dramatica model is dynamic, rather than structural, earlier choices affect relationships to come…As a result, under some conditions, success or failure will be determined by the software based on your earlier choices but in other situations your previous choices still allow for both.
Sometimes, because of the balance in the storyform you have created, even in a finished storyform, success or failure could BOTH work in that given story and is just a matter of the author’s preference, as that choice will not affect any other dramatic relationships. (Hi Sue!)
StarFish76: Are you saying that’s a good thing or bad?
Grn Skier: Star, I keep one file with just the basics filled in. I’ll build
and form to see where it goes. Then go back to the original, i.e. 12 Question, file to make changes.
Dramatica: It is neither good nor bad…the point is, that if Dramatica was structural then every single dramatic appreciation would always be hardwired into certain others, but because it is dynamic which appreciations are connected to which is dependent upon many choices, so in your storyform you created a scenario in which either success or failure could work without affecting the other dramatics. That does not mean it won’t have an impact, but in your story, the only impact is whether or not the audience sees the story as a success or failure, none of the other thematics or character relationships would be changed by that. In other storyforms you may find that success or failure is ABSOLUTELY required to support your thematics and characters. That’s why its hard to predict Dramatica, but why Dramatica can predict stories without being predictable.
SueClark1: Is that your prediction?
Dramatica: Sue, feel free to jump in anytime with a question or comment. Predictably.
SueClark1: I did.
StarFish76: Cool, Thanks.
Dramatica: But I should predicate it on something, I suppose….Do you all know about the Dramatica World Wide Web pages?
SueClark1: I think I’ve heard of them, but haven’t been there yet.
StarFish76: I’m not on the web.. yet.
Dramatica: For the record… http://www.well.com/user/dramatic/ NOTE: no “a”, just dramatic.
Grn Skier: I’ve found that once you go too far into storyforming, t’aint easy
to go back.
StarFish76: Who would want to?
Dramatica: That’s more true in the Dramatica Query System than in the Story Engine.
Grn Skier: That’s why I keep a shell version w/ most important questions answered. for each story concept I’m looking at.
Dramatica: The Query system deals with one question at a time…It’s not linear, because you can jump from any question to any other in any order.
StarFish76: You can always clear your story engine and lock some of the items
then make a new save as..
Dramatica: But, with one at a time, you would have to retreat the way you charged in. But in the Story Engine, you have access to many questions at once and therefore can lock any you want and then open up the others as far as they can go without violating what you’ve locked.
Grn Skier: I’m still waiting for that update.
StarFish76: Ditto about the update…
Dramatica: The updates are available as of June 15. You can pick up at the office for free, or we will mail for $9.95 shipping and handling.
Grn Skier: Didn’t mean to imply anything – My Checks already in the mail. I talked via E-Mail to your folks about the update and the new theory manual.
Dramatica: The update requires that you be a registered user, so if you’ve sent in your registration they will be sent out starting June 15, in the order the registrations were received. Skier, the theory book is sold separately. I believe you’ve sent E-mail about that to SSI?
SueClark1: I’ve got a question — I’m just starting and will surely benefit from reading the manual, but…with two main characters, is only one chosen as the protagonist?
StarFish76: TWO Main Characters!??
SueClark1: Well, I suppose one’s more main than the other, but the focus is on two characters, and one’s not …an antagonist.
Dramatica: Go for it, Star…
StarFish76: There should only be 1 POV through whose eyes we see the story,
SueClark1: That’s basically how I’ve been working it, but what, in Dramatica terms, do I consider the second…character?
StarFish76: Perhaps obstacle, I’d have to know the story
Grn Skier: Hey we need a little objective/subjective story here – MC vs OC and all that.
Dramatica: Sue, are you familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird?
SueClark1: (my rookieness is showing.) No.
StarFish76: No problem, we’re all BITW (babes in the woods).
Grn Skier: Sue this part was the greatest revelation to me – worth the price of the program just to hear this.
SueClark1: I’ve ordered the audio tapes along w/my upgrade, seeking aural
Dramatica: Rats. Well, here’s another way to go…First of all, there are two kinds of characters, Objective and Subjective. Imagine there is a huge battle. The audience might watch the battle from the position of a general on a hill in which they see the foot soldier, the horse soldier, the cook, the guy hiding in the bushes…In other words, the general would identify all the players on the field, by their functions, not by their names or personalities. That is how we see Objective Characters in a story. It is where we see a Protagonist and Antagonist or where we see more complex characters that are still defined by their functions in the plot.
A Protagonist is an archetypal character who is the prime mover of the Objective Story. In a sense, they are the one leading the charge. The Antagonist is the chief enemy of the Protagonist. The one who wants to stop the Antagonist. But the audience also gets a second view of the battle, not just the dispassionate view from the outside looking in at the logistics, but also through the eyes of one of the soldiers on the field. That soldier is the Main Character. Through this character, the audience experiences what it is like to actually be IN the battle. Suddenly, they feel the danger, the pain, the sorrow, the joy and triumph.
StarFish76: D, Can’t the protagonist BE the antagonist in some cases?
Dramatica: Well, since a Protagonist is for something, and an Antagonist is
against it, how would such a thing be seen from the outside looking in? The character would stand still like a push-me/pull-you, or a North going Zax and a South going Zax. When seen from the outside such a character could not move in the story.
StarFish76: If the Antagonist moves the story ahead, in a Be-er MC
Dramatica: Well, you’re getting ahead of the game here a bit…
StarFish76: how so?
Dramatica: First of all, the Main Character might be the guy hiding in the bushes, rather than the guy leading the charge, or, they might be the Antagonist, rather than the Protagonist. Main Character is defined by point of view, whereas the Objective characters including Protagonist and Antagonist are defined by their dramatic functions. This is why in many stories the audience empathizes with someone basically on the sidelines not just the guy in the limelight. The concept of a hero REQUIRES that the Protagonist be the Main Character and although that is perfectly fine, it can be very limiting.
Look at Witness. Have you seen Witness?
Dramatica: Okay, who’s the Protagonist?
Dramatica: Right. John Book, the Harrison Ford character. Now, who’s the Main Character?
StarFish76: I thought Book was.
SueClark1: Kelly McGillis.
Dramatica: Right, the Rachel character.
SueClark1: So we’re seeing the story from her POV?
Dramatica: It is she who has control of the Subjective Story. Sure, we start with her at her husband’s funeral. The subjective story is set right up with her being approached by potential husband number two and she wants to high tail it out of there to see the world of the English in the hopes that it holds something better. In the end, it is she who must decide to leave or to stay. For Book, it was never really an issue. But he clearly is the Protagonist.
SueClark1: makes sense. This helps, too, getting me started.
Dramatica: Now, who’s the Antagonist?
Dramatica: No, he’s just an instrument for the antagonist.
SueClark1: the boss?
Dramatica: It is Book’s boss. He is the one behind it all, and the one trying to stop Book from bringing the witness to testify.
Grn Skier: Is Glover the ‘contagonist’, or is that too much for one
Dramatica: (a bit deep for this point, Skier)
Dramatica: Now, back to our example of story as a battle for a moment. In this battle, the audience is perched on the shoulder of the Main Character. The Main Character is advancing through the battle. There are dramatic explosions going off all around them. Suddenly, through the smoke, a shadowy figure appears, blocking the Main Character’s path. It is too murky on the field to see what kind of uniform they are wearing. Is it an enemy trying to steer them into an ambush, or a friend trying to keep them from running into a mine field? The Main Character yells, “get out of my way!” This Obstacle Character yells, “change course, get off this path!” What is the Main Character to do? That is their leap of faith. In a story, the Main Character will have an Obstacle Character who builds for them an alternative world view, an alternative paradigm saying, ‘don’t go about things like you are, but this other way instead.”
SueClark1: Can the obstacle character be the protagonist?
Dramatica: Yes, Sue, they can!
Dramatica: And in fact, that is what happens in Witness! John Book is Rachel’s Obstacle. It is he who forces her to address the essential nature of her drives. So, he is both Protagonist and Obstacle. With a separate Antagonist and a separate Main Which is why he seems so important, even though it is really not his story.
SueClark1: That fits perfectly into what I’m working on.
Grn Skier: Can it be a literal obstacle – like the meteor movies – and earth must avoid collision?
Dramatica: Skier, the function of an Obstacle character is to present an argument built on logic and feeling to, counter the belief system of the Main Character. Now, if you could find a way for a meteor to do that, that’s fine. But in most cases its is easier to have the meteor be the antagonist in an objective story. But, you will find a natural Obstacle character in The Old Man and the Sea.
Grn Skier: Okay – just checking the limits of my own logic.
Dramatica: Now Witness is a bit unusual insofar as that the most common arrangement is to make the Protagonist the main character, and the antagonist also the obstacle. But whenever this happens, it is easy to forget to develop both sides –the Objective function line and the Subjective growth line. In love triangles, it is usually the Protagonist who is Main Character, with a separate Antagonist attacking their logistics and an Obstacle character attacking their heart.
But keep in mind that just because a character is obstacle does not mean they are an enemy. They might be a friend telling a misguided Main Character the real truth of what must be done to avoid ruin. Main Characters can also be Change or Steadfast. Change characters are like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.
Steadfast characters are like Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. Who is Kimble’s Obstacle? Who changes?
StarFish76: Tommy lee Jones.
Dramatica: Girrard. Right. He says at first when told by Kimble that he is innocent,
“I don’t care.” Then later at the end in the police car Kimble says, “I thought you didn’t care?” and Girrard says, “Don’t tell anyone.” But in truth, he really DIDN’T care before but through the steadfastness of Kimble, he is changed. Personally, I like stories that place the Main character anywhere BUT in the Protagonist.
Grn Skier: I loved the way that ‘change’ occurred in that movie; it was a good lesson
Dramatica: Evening, Daisy!
One Daisy: Good Evening
Dramatica: Even with very steadfast characters like James Bond, someone has to change to break the log jam. Clearly Bond is the protagonist in Goldfinger and Goldfinger is the Antagonist. But who is the Obstacle character who changes? Any guesses?
SueClark1: haven’t’ seen it.
Grn Skier: Da Bimbo – I’ve got your tape.
Dramatica: Who changes mind in such a way that Bond is then able to succeed? Pussy Galore.
StarFish76: I haven’t seen it either, The Women Who are after him?
One Daisy: It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it.
Dramatica: She switches the gas to a non-lethal variety and alerts the authorities.
Okay, any more on Main, Obstacle, Protagonist or Antagonist? How about some more questions or comments on theory or software?
SueClark1: That’ll do me for a while.
Grn Skier: I’ve got one on vupoint characters.
Dramatica: Okay, Skier…
Grn Skier: Novels and movies use vupoint differently. In a novel, anyone could be the vp – correct?
Dramatica: Actually, the use it the same, but employ it differently. That’s not trite, it is important.
Grn Skier: Fill us in.
Dramatica: Novels very often accentuate sub-stories much more than motion pictures which are too constrained by time limitations to go all that deeply into them. Whenever you jump from one person’s head to another in a novel, you are actually jumping from one story to another, and landing in the head of the new main character. Such as in The Joy Luck Club
Grn Skier: I was thinking of Dr. Watson for example – clearly an archetypal sidekick.
Dramatica: Watson is a different dramatic technique. Watson functions as a narrator and also a character in the story, much like the situation you find in Glass Menagerie As narrator, Watson is outside of the story in the realm of author and audience watching what is going on from the hill looking in. But he is telling us a story about Dr Watson the character in the story and in that role, he has a dramatic function like any other character, usually as the sidekick, as you said.
Grn Skier: Ah so, me thinks a light came on
Dramatica: Clearly a single body can play multiple roles like narrators that also appear in the story they are telling or Dr. Jeckyl and mister Hyde, Or Sybil.
SueClark1: I’ve got to run…thanks for the help, all.
Dramatica: Niters, Sue!
Dramatica: The key is, they cannot play more than one role at a time, and when they switch roles they effectively become another character for the duration until the switch again. That is how a “one-person show” usually works.
Dramatica: Well, ’tis 7:00, time for me to turn back into a pumpkin…
StarFish76: Thanks D, it’s been real…
Grn Skier: As a narrator they serve as the general on the hill?
Dramatica: As narrator, they tell us what the general is seeing. They are a video tap into the camera photographing the story from the hill.
Grn Skier: Thanks again. Hope to listen in next week (I’ll be TDY but have a
Dramatica: See ya next week!
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.