The following class was hosted by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.
- 24 Scenes; 4 Variations, 6 Sequences
- Dramatica Appreciations
- Main Character Unique Ability
- Main Character Critical Flaw
Dramatica: Hiya, Skier!
Grn Skier: Evening Melanie. I’m not going to have you to myself again, I hope.
Dramatica: Forgive me while I wolf down some roast beef between sentences.
Grn Skier: Better than your pizza last week, sounds like. I’m at my usual – laundry.
Dramatica: I usually do the class from work, but decided comfort of my living
room the last weeks.
Grn Skier: Have to put some in dryer – be right back.
Dramatica: Okay, see ya in a bit.
Dramatica: This is the second to last Dramatica class on AOL, by the way. Just as there are 24 scenes as the minimum in a fully developed story, next week will be our 24th class, and we will have fully covered the Dramatica basics.
Grn Skier: Oh? Getting tired? Making too much money? Just kidding – I’ll miss the discussions. Sorry I joined so late.
Dramatica: I’ll miss them too, but since we covered all the chief topics, it’s time to put the resources elsewhere.
Grn Skier: Understand – I’m still digesting many of the transcripts I’ve downloaded.
Dramatica: All of the classes are available on America On-line in the Writers Club area. File libraries, non-fiction, and on our web pages at http://www.well.com/user/dramatic/ The web has the first few and we are converting and uploading more weekly. Well, any questions tonight on theory or software?
Grn Skier: I haven’t checked WEB site yet, waiting for AOL to get their act
together on Internet access.
Dramatica: AOL has browsers ya know, for both Mac and Windows.
Grn Skier: Do I enter above address or look for Dramatic?
Dramatica: Just enter the above address and you’ll go right to the main
directory. We’ve been getting hundreds of visits a week, in the first month of our web presence.
Grn Skier: Can I follow up on last weeks discussion of Thematic range/variations, etc.
Dramatica: Sure, dive in! Specific questions or topics?
Grn Skier: As I understand it the 6 comparisons from the 4 variations become
the basis for 6 sequences in story? The 24 scenes then are based on 4 POVs (I, you, we, they)?
Dramatica: Yes, each of the four throughlines will have its own six-sequence thematic progression or “argument”. This creates 24 thematic “scenes”. They are not the same as plot scenes which are ruled by events, but deal with the emotional growth of the characters.
Grn Skier: So each scene will cover one sequence from each of four domains?
Dramatica: Yes, each thematic scene is one thematic exploration in the overall thematic statement. I like to assign each throughline a color like red or blue and then create six 3×5 cards for each color. I list each of the thematic exploration “scenes” on one card so that the six cards of one color define the thematic argument in that throughline. Then, I determine the order in which I want to explore those thematic considerations. I arrange the cards accordingly. What goes into that decision is the “feel” of the progression… where do I want to focus the audience’s emotion attention at the beginning and then, at the end where do I want them looking?
Finally, to create the emotional flow that feels right for my story while still making sure I don’t miss any points of view the audience will expect me to take on the issue, I select the order of the intermediate cards between the beginning and the end. Once I’ve done that, I have one throughline’s thematic progression all laid out. Next step, is to do that for the other three throughlines. When I am finished, I have 24 cards, six of each color, with each color arranged in order. But often, as an author, I don’t want to just play six scenes with my Main Character followed by six with the objective story, for example. I’d rather intercut between all four so that the story is much less predictable
and so the growth in each throughline roughly keeps pace with all the others.
So, I take the cards and select an order for all 24. As long as the order of each color stays in the proper sequence, I could go with two scenes with my Main Character, then jump to one in the objective story, back to the Main Character, then two scenes with the Subjective story, etc. In the end, the audience will see the full thematic argument, six explorations from four different points of view and they will be able to see the thematic point I’m getting at. Each of the cards becomes a place for me to list the different dramatic appreciations that I want to discuss in my story. “Appreciations” is the term Dramatica theory uses for story points. So, you have goals, and requirements and Main Character Unique Abilities and such, and you want to “assign” them to the scenes in which you will expose that information to your audience.
Story points are items of information that the audience must know in order to see the structure of the logistics of your story. The thematic scenes are explorations the audience must take in order to experience the emotions that will provide a context from which to evaluate the meaning of the structure. So, you may decide to have the goal spelled out in scene one by the Main Character or you may hold off until the last scene so that the audience is always wondering what the goal is until you finally tell them. Or, you might decide to let the cat out of the bag a bit at a time so that the Main Character might hint at the goal in the first scene then several scenes later, in the Objective story theme some objective event occurs that provides a little more information about the nature of the goal. By the time you reach the final instance of information about the goal the audience is able to put it all together and figure it out.
So, there are over sixty dramatic appreciations “story points” that are dealt with in Dramatica, and each one must show up in at least one scene but may show up partially in many. By the time you place these appreciations or partial appreciations in the various thematic scenes by writing them on the colored 3×5 cards you have created a very extensive map of both the meaning and progression of your story. Any other ? on this or another topic?
Grn Skier: On Dramatic Appreciations? My Theory manual has Objective story apprciations About 18 listed and discussed.
Dramatica: Do you have Dramatica Lite or Pro?
Grn Skier: are the same categories applied to Subj story? Pre-Pro version, waiting for Update to arrive!
Dramatica: I believe all the updates were mailed as of today.
Dramatica: You’ll note that there are Objective Story Appreciations and then ADDITIONAL Story Appreciations.
Grn Skier: GREAT.
Dramatica: The Objective ones are duplicated in all four throughlines, but due to the difference of point of view in each throughline some of them take on slightly different meanings. For example, in the Objective and Subjective story throughlines there are two appreciations called “catalyst” and “inhibitor”. These act as the “gas pedal” and “brake pedal” for the speed of the progression of the story toward its conclusion in the objective story.
Grn Skier: Can I postulate example?
Dramatica: and to the moment of truth in the subjective story. Sure.
Grn Skier: I was thinking as a story point, showing guy with poor mechanical ability – an inhibitor. Later he needs to fix car for get away – This sort of thing.
Dramatica: That’s not far off the mark, but needs a little tweaking….
Grn Skier: Please!
Dramatica: If ABILITY was the inhibitor in the Objective Story, for example, it would mean that every time you wanted to slow down the headlong rush of the story you could bring in an issue of ability. It doesn’t have to be not enough ability it could also be too much ability and it doesn’t have to pertain to only one character as this is the inhibitor of the Objective story in our example. So, you would have a situation, perhaps, where it always turned out that mechanical ability was needed, and nobody had it, or the converse, that the characters are about to make their final assault on the goal, but because of the skills that they possess (perhaps as martial artists) they are called away to help others in a way no one else can, or, because their ability at mechanics is so great they fix the derelict vehicle so well, that when they leave it behind the bad guys are able to use it also. That would definitely be an inhibitor or too much ability.
Getting back to the relationship of the appreciations from one throughline to another. These same appreciations of catalyst and inhibitor are called “unique ability” and “critical flaw” for the Main and Obstacle character throughlines. For the Main Character, unique ability is the quality that makes them uniquely able to clear the way toward achievement of the goal. This means they may not be the one who can accomplish the goal (remember, Main Character does NOT have to be the protagonist) BUT they ARE the one who possesses the quality that can clear the way to the goal, IF they use it.
Grn Skier: ?
Dramatica: Unique ability is the same to MC throughline as catalyst is to Objective story, but there is another kind of relationship as well.
Grn Skier: i.e. does it solve Sub, but cause probs for Obj?
Dramatica: At the heart of the story is the “crucial element”
Grn Skier: Referring to specific – such as mechanical ability or lack thereof?
Dramatica: The single item that is truly the cause of ALL the story’s problems in ALL the throughlines. And it is in regard to this crucial element that each of these appreciations has its impact. So, when something happens in one throughline in regard to that central issue its reprecussions will be felt in the other three as well. That is why the story seems like a single endeavor, even though it is being approached from four different directions. The thing that keeps this from becoming formula in a story is that the exact way in which one appreciation will affect another changes depending on the impact you are trying to create on your audience.
So, there is no FIXED relationship, but if one relationship is one way, it has an influence on what other relationships will be. The more relationships between appreciations that are determined the more “firm” the story structure becomes until you finally make enough determinations about how things are going to relate that the structure solidifies into a fixed state. That is what happens as you start to work on a story. You determine what elements you are dealing with, then figure out how they are going to work together, and bit by bit, something that had infinite possibilities, ultimately becomes just one story. That is also the way the Dramatica Story Engine works to create the storyform for your story.
When you begin there are no limitations on your choices. But as you make choices, the impact begins to narrow the remaining available options. The storyform “firms up” more and more until you finally arrive at the single storyform that can support all of the choices you’ve made without contradiction. There is no structure to your story in Dramatica until you make it yourself. But once you have made enough choices that no other options remain that would not violate your previous choices. there are still a lot of appreciations that remain that have only one item left that is appropriate but you never picked it yourself. In fact, Dramatica can just read those out to you so that you will know the other ramifications of the choices you have made about your story’s dramatics so that you won’t just be looking at what you’ve thought about but also in all the other areas the audience is going to look for meaning. In the end, Dramatica tells YOU more about your story than you tell IT. Other ?
Grn Skier: Back on Crucial element . You weren’t referring to Appreciation I assume
Dramatica: Okay. The crucial element is going to be one of four appreciations it will either be the Problem, Solution, Focus or Direction. As it turns out, those same four items will reappear in each of the four throughlines, just in different contexts.
Grn Skier: But it seems that MC Critical Flaw is critical element.
Dramatica: No, Critical Flaw is just the counter-balance to the unique ability.
Grn Skier: OK.
Dramatica: You’ve seen those characters who do something positive, only to then do something destructive. Here’s a movie example…Sound of Music. The Captain and the family are hiding in the cemetery in the abbey. Rolf, the young boy who has joined the Nazis shows up and finds them. The Captain talks Rolf out of raising the alert and buys them enough time to get the family out of the locked gates, that is his unique ability at work. BUT then his critical flaw comes into play. He tells Rolf, Why don’t you come with us? You’ll NEVER be one of THEM! Immediately, Rolf blows the whistle (literally). The reason is that the Captain’s critical flaw of not being able to hold back his opinion has once again caused trouble. Now, that is not the problem of the whole story, it is just his critical flaw. If he had only said, Rolf, I appreciate the efforts you have made to do what is right, but we need you now very much, I know how much of a sacrifice it would be but could you please help guide us through the hills? Well, Rolf probably would have gone with them or at least not blown the whistle.
Also, keep in mind that the critical flaw does not HAVE to come AFTER the unique
ability. It can either scuttle the Ability, undoing the good, or it can be an obstacle that prevents the unique ability from being employed, like a guy who sneezes and splits the brain in two instead of doing delicate surgery he is capable of.
Grn Skier: The Critical Flaw cannot be violated during story? i.e. the butler in remains of day couldn’t express his feelings at all?
Dramatica: Well, that was his problem, not his critical flaw. That was the crucial element of the whole subjective story, not just an impediment. Remember Critical flaw is based on inhibitor, which is not the same thing as a road block; it is more like a detour.
Grn Skier: What then was his flaw? Perfectionism?
Dramatica: More than likely. To know precisely what it would be in Dramatica terms we’d have to look at the storyform.
Grn Skier: I’m beginning to see a light in the distance.
Dramatica: Now, let’s see if we can find his critical flaw, by trying to figure out what it is that either prevents or undermines his successful application of perfectionism. Perhaps his abrupt manner?
Grn Skier: His unexpressed feelings? perhaps. Hired his father,…
Dramatica: Perhaps his couching of every emotional issue as a logistic topic?
Grn Skier: That sounds more like him.
Dramatica: He fails in making everything come out perfectly with many people
because of that quality, which in turn has an influence on his inability to express his emotions.
Grn Skier: Couldn’t talk about so talked around emotions.
Dramatica: He did talk about his emotions, he spoke of them all the time, in logistic terms. So, his logistics were his critical flaw.
Grn Skier: That’s what I meant – ‘enjoy our chats’, etc.
Dramatica: Yes, that’s exactly how it showed up in the story. If he were to clear the way, to have a happy ending, his critical flaw would have to be overcome, thereby ALLOWING him to change, and shift the crucial element. All he would have had to do, is talk to her about ANYTHING in emotional terms and that would have cleared the way for him to express himself to her, about his feelings for her. If you plot out the math (and there is math in the story engine and theory) about the relationship between the critical flaw and the crucial element it turns out that the critical flaw is the cotangent and the unique ability is the tangent to the crucial element.
Grn Skier: I’d liked to see more on that, but it’s past your bedtime!
Dramatica: Yep, time to go, but here’s one final clue…based on the cotangent and tangent relationship you can see that the critical element is the angle theta, which says a lot about the relationship of appreciations to structural elements. And on that note…
Grn Skier: 90 deg phase relation. I’ve enjoyed the evening. You gave me
much to ponder.
Dramatica: I’ll close off the next to last class.
Grn Skier: Nite!
Dramatica: I’ll be back next week for the very last time!
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.