Dramatica Class 3

The following class was hosted on the internet by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.

  • Recap: A New Theory of Story 

  • The Dramatica Structure: Dramatica explores both the Structure AND Dynamics of dramatics. In this class, the structural side is mapped out. 

  • The Four Throughlines: Objective, Subjective, Main, and Obstacle, “I”, “You”, “We”, and “They” perspectives. 

  • Body Heat Throughlines. 

  • Archetypal characters. How many are there? What are they? WHY are they? How do they relate to complex characters?


Dramatica : Well, let me just do a brief recap, then get into the new material. First of all….Dramatica is two things: a new theory of story, and the software that bears its name. This class focuses on the theory, but I’ll be happy to answer questions about the software at any time. There is a central concept to Dramatica, that every COMPLETE story is an analogy to a single human mind dealing with an inequity.

Dramatica : Hiya, RDC!

RDCvr : Hey.

Dramatica : This has come about because in order to make a complete argument, or a complete exploration of an issue, an author must address all other ways of looking at the issue other than the one they are touting, and this leads to documenting all meaningful ways of looking at the problem in the story itself.

It becomes a defacto “map” of the mind’s problem solving processes. There are two ways to look at this “Story Mind”. From the outside, and from the inside. When we look from the outside, it is like the view of a general on a hill watching a battle. This is called the “Objective” view in Dramatica. But when we look through the eyes of a soldier in the trenches, that is the Subjective view, where we look FROM the Story Mind, as if it were our own, through the eyes and heart of the Main Character.

Dramatica sees, character, plot, and theme, as the thoughts of this Story Mind as it tries to work out its problems. Dramatic tension is built out of the “parallax” between how those problems look subjectively compared to objectively. That is where dramatic meaning is generated.

Dramatica : (hiya, Dan!)

Dan Steele : Hi.

Dramatica : To create meaning, Dramatica asks authors to make choices about how they want things to look, from the Objective and Subjective views. Then, the Story Engine in the software, keeps limiting remaining choices to those that are compatible with what has already been chosen. This happens until there are no more options left, because everything has been locked in, to one unique storyform. Now, this could become really formula, accept that there is no fixed pathway through the questions, no steps one has to take. You can start anywhere and skip around, because the model of story is holistic, more like a cross between a Rubik’s cube of story, and a periodic table of story elements.

There are 12 Essential Questions that get to the heart of the matter most quickly, so although you don’t need to answer these at all, if you’d rather not, they will form up a storyform and choose your dramatics, faster than any other path. Four questions are about character, four about plot, four about theme, and Genre is the relationship between character, plot, and theme. We covered the four character questions already in an earlier class.

RDCvr: Question?

Dramatica: Yes, RDC?

RDCvr: When you answers the twelve questions do they lead to the quads?

Dramatica: Four of the questions ask you to choose items from the quads. They are the thematic questions.

RDCvr: What about the characters and elements?

Dramatica : Is everyone familiar with the “quads”?

Phyll10837 : No, I’m not.

Dan Steele : No.

Pete P 432 : No.

Dramatica : RDC, Objective characters are created from the elements at the bottom of the Objective Story Domain, which is represented by one fourth of the Story Mind.

William S1 : Aren’t the quads like sets of opposing characteristics, elements?

Dramatica : Let’s talk about quads for a moment. Imagine a square, divided into four parts. (Hello Jenny!)

JennyCrusi : Hi, sorry I’m late.

Dramatica : No prob, Jenny!

William S1 : You lose a letter grade!

Pete P 432 : Hi Jenny!

Dramatica : So, we have effectively, four little squares that make up one big square. Now, take the following items: Put “Universe” in the upper left square of the quad. Actually go ahead and draw this, if you don’t have the software and it will help you visualize. Now, put “Mind” directly opposite “Universe”, diagonally, in the lower right hand corner. Put “Physics” in the upper right hand corner. And put “Psychology” in the lower left, across from physics. Everybody have that in front of them?

Dan Steele : My mind is in the lower right corner and my keyboard is in front of me, yes, okay.

Dramatica : Notice that the top two items are both external.

William S1 : Absolutely…

Dramatica : And the bottom two items are internal. So, one of the relationships we see in the quad, is that horizontal pairs have a relationship. Horizontal pairs are called “companion” pairs in Dramatica quads, because they are most compatible. Now, notice that Universe means a situation, or fixed state of things. Physics means “an activity”. Mind is a fixed state of mind (prejudice, fixation) and Psychology is a manner of thinking or manipulation.

Universe and Mind are both “states” which means they are unchanging. Physics and Psychology are both processes, which means they are always changing. So we have a new relationship in the quad, a diagonal pair of states, and a diagonal pair of processes. Diagonal pairs in Dramatica are called Dynamic Pairs. Because they are most opposed. Now this quad I have given you, is at the top of the Dramatica structure. But keep in mind that structure is only HALF of Dramatica. The other half is the dynamics, represented by the questions we have been talking about, like, does your Main Character change or remain steadfast? Is your story drawn to a conclusion by a timelock or an optionlock? and so on.

The structural half of Dramatica, starts with these four items, and says, that any problem you might want to classify has got to be found in some combination of these four things: an internal or external state or process. There is just no other place a problem could reside.

William S1 : Does the “pairs” relationship hold as the quads are broken farther and farther down into other quads?

Dramatica : Yes, William, but not with the same meanings as internal, external, etc. In fact, that is what is really changing as we look deeper and deeper into one of the four “Classes” of problems. Each “Class” is like a filter on the problem. We look through it and try to make out what is going wrong at the bottom. So, if you see a diagram of the Dramatica structure, you’ll see that each of these four breaks down into four sub-classes called Types, and each Type breaks into four Variations and each Variation breaks down into four Elements. This creates four “levels” of the story mind.

RDCvr : Could you give a concrete example of how this works?

Dramatica : Sure, RDC…The top level, the Class level, is most like Genre, the Types most like Plot, The Variations feel most like Theme and the Elements are where characters are created. This just says what their “topic” is, but the dynamic questions determine how that topic grows and evolves over the course of the story. RDC, I’ll break down the structure further on, but for now, I want to describe something else about the four classes we’ve identified.

RDCvr : Okay.

Dramatica : Remember I talked about the Objective and Subjective views of story? Well, another way to look at that is the Objective view is what you are looking at, and the subjective view is where you are looking from. So, the structure represents, the four items or topics we might look at in a story to see the problem at the most broad stroke, unrefined level. But where are we looking from? The question really is: how do you want to position your audience in relationship to each of these potential places the problem might be?

Well, there is a DYNAMIC quad of four points of view. Step out of the role of author for a moment, and pretend you are the audience. You are looking at the story. When you look through the eyes of the “Main” Character, the audience feels as if the story is happening to them, so they are looking from the first person singular point of view, which is “I”. They feel as if, “this is happening to ME”. Which is why people drive their cars funny after an action movie! But if you are the soldier in the trenches, there is the other soldier coming at you through the smoke. You can’t see to tell if they are friend or foe, but they ARE coming at you! This is the character Dramatica calls the “Obstacle” character, because they stand in the path the Main Character would like to take. They might be an enemy, but they might also be someone who cares for you and wants to steer you away from something dangerous or bad.

When the audience sees through the Main Character’s eyes, and sees the “I” point of view, the Obstacle character looks like “you”. And that is the relationship the audience has to them. Second person singular. Some famous Obstacle Characters are Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, or Girrard in The Fugitive, for example. They don’t HAVE to be the antagonist, or the enemy, these are SUBJECTIVE characters, because they are defined by their point of view.

Now the Main and Obstacle are a dynamic pair, not of items or topics but of points of view. To fill out this POV quad, we still have two more points of view that show up in all complete stories. What about the relationship BETWEEN the Main and Obstacle characters? This is called “we” and is the realm of the Subjective Story throughline. You can hear Main and Obstacle all the time saying, “We don’t agree on this”. or, “This is the center of our problems”. The “We” or subjective story POV, is where the “passionate” argument of a story is made.

Eventually, one of the two parties to that argument will be won over, one will change, the other will remain steadfast. That is how the argument ends. But there is one final point of view. “They”! This is the objective view of the general on the hill. It is where the audience observes characters as if they were not actually in the story, but watching a play on a stage. We might care about the outcome, but we are not actually involved directly. You can feel these four points of view in EVERY complete story.

Now….Objective and Subjective are another diagonal, dynamic pair: The subjective story is the passionate argument, the objective story is the dispassionate or “analytical” argument of the story. Reason and Emotion. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they come to different conclusions, and that is where dramatic tension is created. But wait, there’s more! Now how much would you pay! (Just kidding, couldn’t resist!)

What you need to do, is determine which POV gets attached to which topic. In other words, MC, OC, OS, SS, the four points of view, each will be attached to one of the four classes. This positions the audience in relationship to the story’s problem. Questions on this part before I talk about the actual attaching of the POV’s?

William S1 : How about applying all this to a film… say Gump or The Client or The Piano?

Dramatica : Well, let’s apply it to oh, say, Body Heat for example…

Dramatica : Are you all familiar with that film?

RDCvr : Yes.

Dan Steele : Okay.

Phyll10837 : Yes.

JennyCrusi : Yes. And this is terrific by the way.

Dramatica : All right…Now the Main character is going to be one of the four classes, and each of the other points of view will be attached to the rest. First of all, if you had the Dramatica structure chart, you would see that under the Physics class, one of the types is “obtaining”. And sometimes looking at the types help choose the class, by getting into a bit more detail. The Objective story in Body Heat is what? Anyone want to paraphrase?

William S1 : Murder and sweaty lust.

Dramatica : That’s more thematic, WIlliam, but Objectively, the story is about Ned and Mattie trying to get her husband’s money. That’s one fourth of the story. The objective part. The analytical part. The efforts and activities they go through (the bomb, the break in, etc.) are all pretty much “physics” in nature, and the TYPE of physics is geared toward “obtaining”.

So Dramatica sees the Objective throughline (they) as being attached to the Physics class. Now, since Objective and subjective are dynamic pairs, we would expect to find the subjective story in the square diagonal to physics. And that would be Psychology. The subjective story is about the relationship between the main and obstacle characters. And I would say that Psychology pretty well describes the relationship between Ned and Mattie. As you’ll recall, one of the definitions of Psychology is “manipulations”.

Now, we have Mind and Universe left over, and one is going to be Main Character and the other Obstacle. Any guesses on who’s which? Look at the yearbook from Mattie’s high school, that we see at the end, it gives us a big clue. She is quoted as saying, “I want to be rich and live in an exotic place.” Now, she has kept that dream all these years, everything she has done has been driven by that fixed mind set. She is a mind character to the hilt. Whereas, Ned Racine, is in this because of his “situation” (the definition of Universe). He bungled a will in the past, as a result, he is the only one who can help Mattie accomplish her plan, which requires a bungled will.

As further “proof”, Under the Universe class, are the four Types: Past, Present, Future, and Progress. Even in the opening scene, Ned voice overs…”That’s my history burning up out there”. Which is Kasdan’s way of illustrating both past and progress in one symbol. Its quite a succinct story!

Keep in mind, that there are three levels below the class level, so each of the throughlines gets more and more detailed, as Dramatica asks you to make more refined choices about the nature of your story’s problem. Ultimately arriving at the character level(elements) where the source of the Dramatica potential truly resides. Questions on any of this?

William S1 : Could you touch on Contagonist?…

Dramatica : Sure, William! First of all, Dramatica sees 8 archetypal characters. But, Dramatica also sees Millions of non-archetypal characters. It all depends upon how the character elements are combined. The elements fall into “families”, by their natures. Some are Motivations, Some are Methodologies, Some are the character’s Purposes. Others are their Means of Evaluation. There is an internal and external trait, in each of these four categories, and there are sixty four elements all together (by the time we divide Universe, etc., down four levels.

That means that there is one special arrangement in which, eight character each get eight traits, internal and external from each category. And when all eight traits are from the same “family” it forms an archetypal character. These archetypes even form quads! Two quads of four! But they are easiest to see by their dynamic pairs. Protagonist / Antagonist, Reason / Emotion, Sidekick / Skeptic And Guardian / Contagonist. Darth Vader is a Contagonist.

These characters are defined by the elements they contain. Guardian has Conscience, and Help. Contagonist has the dynamically opposed elements of Temptation, and Hinder. Reason has Control, and Logic. Emotion has Uncontrolled and feeling. As you can see, each of these archetypes, has the same elements as more complex characters, just in a consistent or more simplified arrangement.

William S1 : What is the difference between the dramatic purpose of Antagonist and Contagonist?

Dramatica : Now, the contagonist is not the antagonist. The Antagonist is made up of Avoid (or prevent) and Re-consider. This is dynamic to the Protagonist who is Pursue, and Consider. In other words, the antagonist is out there to stop the Protagonist, the contagonist is just trying to push them off the path, Look at conscience and temptation fighting it out. That is the job of Obi Wan and Darth.

William S1 : Can the Contagonist be thought of as the Antagonist’s ally?

Dramatica : Actually, William, it is only a story telling convention, that often the Contagonist is the Antagonist’s ally. But they might also be attached to the Protagonist as well. You see, when we are looking at objective characters, we are not seeing them by their relationship to the Protagonist, but by their function. The contagonist Tempts and Hinders. They will do it to everyone everywhere, not just to the Protagonist. This is often confusing, because most people think the Protagonist has to be the Main Character.

Dan Steele : if viewed from goal standpoint – is antags goal to stop protag, while contag’s goal is to achieve his own objective?

Dramatica : Yes, Dan, in reference to the goal, Protagonist functions as Pursue, and the antagonist functions as Avoid. So, you can see that when we have a Main Character, who is also performing the function of preventing the giant corporation from building a shopping mall in the ecological park, they are a Main Character and an Antagonist! They are trying to stop someone’s goal. The effort to pursue is there first, THEN this character responds. Well, looks like time to stop lecturing…. Any questions?

Dan Steele : yes – on getting the log of chat – where is it posted?

Dramatica : If you want to receive a copy of the Dramatica structure, nicely printed, E-mail Dramatica@screenplay.com, and I’ll see that you get one in the mail, BUT this only goes for those who attended this class!

Dan Steele : I’ve been bumped each Friday in mid-session and need to look at what I missed.

Dramatica : Dan, the logs are in the Non-fiction Library section, of the Writers area. Both of the previous logs are up there right now.

Dan Steele : Thanks.

William S1 : To whose attention at Dramatica?

Dramatica : Attention it to Melanie Anne Phillips (me).

William S1 : Thanks.

Dramatica : Okay, any last questions?

Dan Steele : When you say mail – you mean physical mail?

Dramatica : I’ll send you snail mail with a printed copy of the structure enclosed. And other lit about Dramatica if you like.

Dan Steele : Oh.

William S1 : See ya!

Dramatica : Its too detailed to read as a GIF.

RDCvr : Really good tonight, thanks Melanie.

Dramatica : Niters William!

Dan Steele : Thank you then and goodnight!

Dramatica : You’re welcome, RDC!

Dramatica : Nite, Dan!

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.

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