The following class was hosted on the internet by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.
Dramatica: Evening, Skier!
Grn Skier: Howdy, Sorry I missed last week – visiting family.
Dramatica: No prob. Got some questions for tonight?
Grn Skier: What topics were discussed?
Dramatica: You know, I can’t for the life of me remember. I go through this
material so many times…Guess we’ll both just have to check the log!
Grn Skier: Yea, I’d guessed you have to. I envy and admire your success to
date, but I’m sure it gets old.
Dramatica: It’s always nice to see somebody discover some of the new concepts,
but it’s like always playing your greatest hits on tour. There’s a lot more excitement when you get to do the new material.
Grn Skier: I’m afraid being on travel kept me from coming up with new
Dramatica: How about old questions?
Grn Skier: I probably won’t challenge you tonight. Here’s one related to Theory in general. What do you consider biggest breakthrough in D Theory?
Dramatica: In reference to story only or beyond that? Have you had a chance to check out the Dramatica Home Page?
Grn Skier: No, haven’t had a chance. Oh how was the trade show and will the upgrades be shipped soon??
Dramatica: As for the trade show, attendance was light, but we did smokin’
business!!! LOT’s of interest and lot’s of copies sold, based on our demos.
Updates have already started shipping yesterday.
Grn Skier: Great, glad to hear. But don’t make to many people good writers. I’m still a wannabe, and don’t need the competition – when I get to a publisher
Dramatica: Keep in mind, those are updates, not upGRADES. They fix known bugs, add a couple of features, and deal with some cosmetic issues. There are a few new reports, etc. The first major upGRADE will be in six months to a year, when we add a whole collection of new tools to assist in the actual writing process, rather than only story development. It’s going to be a humdinger of an upgrade, based on what we have planned!
Grn Skier: But the upgrade is D Pro? As stated in the form I sent in? Update, sorry.
Dramatica: Right, for anyone who purchased Dramatica before Pro came out and
sent in their registration card, they get a free update to Pro, if you pick it up, or free with a 9.95 shipping/handling charge if we mail it.
Grn Skier: I sent in the 9.95 weeks ago. I have yet to order updated theory
manual – 1st thing next week
Dramatica: I’m not sure, but I believe the Theory Book has been lowered in
price from 29.95 to 19.95 as of June 15th. Volume sales lead to lower prices.
Grn Skier: Great – I’ll save a few bucks for when the UPGRADE comes out
Grn Skier: I’m looking forward to that. I’ve learned I need help with Character Descriptions like Lagos Egris, If your familiar with his book.
Dramatica: We do a whole class on Egri describing why it is a very limiting system. What is said is valid, but it is too nebulous and doesn’t go far enough. So, it’s great for looking at a work and giving it a one sentence description, but not too good as a construction tool.
Grn Skier: In what way is he too nebulous Okay. I was thinking of his extensive Character Profile list. I agree on rest from my reading of his book
Dramatica: Any time you deal with a list, you are treating things as independent elements or concepts. Only if the items in the list are arranged in a more three-dimensional matrix can you see the interconnections, interrelationships and impact they have upon each other.
Grn Skier: Interconnections between characters? Or within a character?
Dramatica: Sure, not only between characters, but also within.
Grn Skier: Deep! I’m also studying Character types – Psych Profiles. I see the basis for IDing motivations.
Dramatica: Are you familiar with our concept of Objective and Subjective
characters? And also the difference between true archetypes and stereotypes?
Grn Skier: Yeap – That more than any other part of D is what convinces me
you’re on to somethin..It was a major revelation.
Dramatica: It’s always a hit at our demos of the software as well. The relationships between characters can be seen so graphically, that one can predict how they will react to one another simply by noting their relative position in the matrix.
Grn Skier: I’ve got a good 20 How-To books and none could explain why I cared
about one guy more than another
Dramatica: Yes, splitting the main character off as a separate concept from protagonist opens all the doors to the works we see but can’t explain by the
overly simplistic idea that every story needs a “hero”.
Grn Skier: The matrix part is still a little foggy – but words won’t help as much as time spent with D on stories. You examples are usually movies – My guess is that is because they usually have 1 Obj & 1 Subj Story, Where Novels often have multiple
Dramatica: We just released our new Writer’s Dream Kit at the show last weekend. It has the updated theory book, the 90 minute Dramatica Theory Basics audio cassette, AND a 60 minute cassette on Character, and a 60 minute cassette on Plot.
Grn Skier: Price?
Dramatica: On sale at $99.95, but now that the show it over, it retails at $149.95. It also contains a subscription to our journal, and 30 storyform analyses, of many stories OTHER than movies, like Sula, A Doll’s House, Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, and a number of others.
Grn Skier: I was going to say it sounded steep, but the journal, etc. sounds
great. It’ll be my Father’s day gift to myself
Dramatica: LOL! It’s a quarterly journal, and we have a sample of some of the articles it contains up on our Web pages. Right now, we’re getting ready for our two-day weekend seminar on July 8 and 9. It’s billed as a “Theory-Intensive Workshop”, and that it will be! We have people coming from Australia and Belgium, and all over the country.
Grn Skier: Can you hold those in Alabama? You California types get all the good stuff.
Dramatica: We are thinking of taking it on the road later in the year or early next year.
Dramatica: Probably New York would be the first stop, but we haven’t really
determined if and when yet.
Grn Skier: I’ll keep an eye out – possible Nashville, Atlanta, Memphis – all in driving range.
Dramatica: Atlanta might be a really good choice in the future.
Grn Skier: You’d love the south – just don’t come between mid July and Sept 1- TOOOOO HOTTT
Dramatica: I spent ten days in the South once as director of a centennial film for a religious organization. Beautiful country!
Grn Skier: What part?
Dramatica: I was down in Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and just into Georgia.
Grn Skier: I was almost accidentally in Grass Harp (Mathau, Sissy Spacek) -Filmed near Montgomery AL. We wandered into a field where they were shooting – no signs.
Dramatica: And no force fields either! Not like filming in L.A.
Grn Skier: Currently filming Tom Sawyer 10 miles away. Lots of locals got bit parts.
Dramatica: I love that book. Never been too happy with any of the filmic versions though.
Grn Skier: Hollywood Alabama – real name is only 25 miles away
Dramatica: Now that I did not know. I was very close to Dollywood, but didn’t have time to stop by.
Grn Skier: CA sued to force name change, but local town is MUCH older
Dramatica: No kidding! And the Lone Ranger couldn’t wear his mask, either….What an industry.
Grn Skier: Could you address dif in Classical THEME and D’s use of the term?
Dramatica: Since you mentioned Egri, let’s look at his concept of premise, and then see where Dramatica expands it. (In between slices of pizza, of course…) First of all,The Egrian premise consists of three parts…The topic, the journey, and the conclusion.
Grn Skier: I’m doing laundry – My shore in exchange for getting to listen in…While my wife watches our kid.
Dramatica: A typical Egrian premise might read as follows…”Greed leads to self-destruction”. “Greed” is the topic, “leads to” is the journey, and “self-destruction” is the conclusion. Let’s take each part separately, and see how Dramatica theory deals with similar concepts in more depth. First of all, the topic…Dramatica does not see the thematic topic as a single item like greed, but as a conflict, such as self-interest vs. morality. A lot of authors when asked about their theme say things like “My story is about Death”. or about “Greed”. But what about it? What is the alternative? What is it to be compared to so that we, the audience, come away from the story knowing that greed is good or greed is bad, or greed is not all good or bad, but is better or worse than some other issue. So, in Dramatica, we ask you to pick the thematic conflict. And THEN, once you know, for example, that you are dealing with self-interest vs. morality, which one comes first? The one that comes first in that group of two will be the one that is used as the baseline by the audience. In other words, The subject is “self-interest”.
NOW we’re going to see how self-interest holds up as an approach against “morality”. So, “self-interest” becomes the thematic topic or thematic focus, or what we call in Dramatica, the thematic “range”. We call it a range because it describes the scope over which the thematic argument will “range” in the story. Now, Egri gives us a topic and a conclusion, self-destruction. But the “leads to” part is so undetailed, that there is no way to use it to figure out what steps must occur in order for greed to lead to that conclusion. It’s the same problem you encounter in plot, where it is difficult though Aristotle’s view to figure out what ought to happen in act 2 (the middle).
Dramatica says its not just a journey (leads to) but an argument. A THEMATIC argument. Because the point is not that one thing is causally related to
another, (that is much more like plot) but the purpose of theme is to show that one thing fares better than the other, when it is used as a technique to try and solve the story’s problem. What makes up this argument? Well, if you look at a Dramatica chart of thematic elements, you’ll find they come in families of four. For example, Morality, self-interest, attitude, and approach. The way they are arranged in a grid of four is important. Because position determines relationships, as we mentioned earlier regarding characters. Suppose you take a square and divide it into four little squares.
Morality might go in the upper left square, and self-interest would be in the lower right, so that they are diagonal, one to another. In the upper right you might find approach, and in the lower left, would be attitude. Now, in this “quad” of four items each one needs to be compared to the other three in the same family in order to ultimately determine which of the four is best over-all, and/or which is worse. So, there are six kinds of comparisons that will be made.
Grn Skier: Can you define Attitude and Approach in this context?
Dramatica: Sure….Attitude is having your heart in the right (or wrong) place, Approach is using an appropriate or inappropriate method in order to serve either morality or self-interest. Together, they make up a family of thematic concerns.
Grn Skier: Attitude as in I hate doing this, But I have to look out for myself? Or Greed Is Good?
Dramatica: Attitude such as…Sure, he gets the job done (approach) but he’s a bastard to work with (attitude). But is he doing it for his own benefit (self-interest) or for the good of others in spite of themselves (morality)? Now, in this quad, there will be two diagonals, two horizontal pairs, and two vertical pairs, and if we take each pair as a thematic conflict, by the time we go through all six thematic conflicts, we have seen how each item fared in all “appropriate” or “significant” contexts, within the family. It is at the end of such an exploration that the audience can take the “mean average” of each of the six independent thematic “arguments” and determine which (if any) comes out better (even if only slightly) than the other three. All this is a LOT more definitive than “leads to”.
Grn Skier: Can I list sample arguments to help clarify to myself?
Grn Skier: Get Job done – But Bastard. Job Done but only to Get Promotion.
Dramatica: Right, approach vs. attitude, followed by approach vs. self-interest.
Grn Skier: Job Done to help Company/Team.
Dramatica: approach vs. morality.
Grn Skier: Get Promotion – what a bastard
Dramatica: self-interest vs. attitude.
Grn Skier: Helped Company – but still a bastard?
Dramatica: morality vs. attitude. That’s five, what’s left…the principle argument of
self-interest vs. morality
Grn Skier: Get Promotion but helps company
Dramatica: Gets promotion OR helps company…The nature of the conflict, is to determine just how far apart the two really are. If you have a benevolent dictator, the two are nearly one and the same, but if you have a despot, the two are very far apart.
Grn Skier: AH – one or the other. I thought my logic flawed
Dramatica: By comparing both Morality and Self-interest to three other items the audience can judge not only which is better when compared to its dynamic opposite but also how far apart they are. And that is the essence of the thematic argument that is described by Egri as “leads to”. So, it DOES lead somewhere, but as I mentioned earlier, that is too simple and not enough. But wait! We still have the conclusion to deal with. Egrian conclusions are like “self-destruction”. Simply the inexorable end-product of starting with the topic as a quality one contains.
In Dramatica, conclusions are not that simple. We ask two questions about endings in Dramatica…First, do the efforts of the characters end in success or failure in relationship to the goal they have been trying to achieve, and second, irregardless of success or failure, does the main character resolve their personal angst or not (good or bad?)
Grn Skier: I’m back on safe ground now.
Dramatica: For example, in Remains of the Day it is clearly success (they maintain the household through change in politics, new owners, many years of history) but it is BAD for our main character because he does not change and open himself to love.
Grn Skier: I wanted to slap those two. They couldn’t just say I like you, let alone love!
Dramatica: He is a steadfast character. It was also an option lock, because it didn’t matter how long it took…there was no ticking clock, it was more an issue of trying all the ways they could to make the relationship work and once those were exhausted, it would or it wouldn’t.
Grn Skier: But they didn’t exercise the most important option – just say Love
Dramatica: Well, that was not an option, that was the personal goal, Not the goal of the Objective story, but the goal of the Subjective story. That is why the judgment is bad, although outcome is success.
Grn Skier: That’s why I wanted to slap ’em
Dramatica: Unlike Rainman, in which he fails to get the inheritance, but the ending is also good since he loses his hate for his father, and learns to love the brother he didn’t know he had. In Dramatica, we call Success/Good stories triumphs. Failure/Bad stories Tragedies. Success/Bad stories Personal Tragedies and Failure/Good stories Personal Triumphs.
Grn Skier: Like those names.
Dramatica: This is MUCH more finessed than a static concept such as “self-destruction”. Because once you have determined in Dramatica the nature of the Main Character’s central issue (problem) each of the sixty four problem elements might be any of the four outcomes. Creating all the sophistication of the emotional assessment we walk away with from every well argued thematic story. So, putting it all together, A thematic conflict (self-interest vs. morality) argued through six thematic sequences (the six pairs in the quad) leading to a conclusion with four different emotional impacts, creates a much more constructive outline for determining what the course of a story’s passionate argument will be, than X leads to Y, as in Egri. And guess what? It’s seven o’clock, PST and time for me to close up shop!
Grn Skier: A most satisfying evening. showed write a book – Egri explained.
Dramatica: I’ll be back next week. Think up some good questions and I’ll see you then!
Grn Skier: Thanks and have a great evening – must get back to the laundry.
Dramatica: (and good luck with the laundry)
Grn Skier: Night.
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.