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 : Hello, Stephen!
StephenHR : Hi. Electronic flat tire.
Dramatica : Well, that’s okay. We don’t have a very full house tonight anyway! It’s truly amazing, since our “live” classes are sold out well in advance! Any questions on the software or the theory?
Dramatica : Well, the same elements appear in each of those sets of sixteen. The thing that changes is the arrangement. That is determined by which class your objective story is in. Since the objective story Domain is where the Objective characters are created, they will conform in their relationships to the kind of dynamics that are at work in that class, which is indicated by the different arrangements of the elements. Is that what you were getting at? Other questions?
StephenHR : Yes, but I can’t quite see how one arrangement would be “Motivation?”
Dramatica : Ah, I see what you are asking..Why would those certain words be motivations as opposed to methodologies, for example, right?
StephenHR : Yes!
Dramatica : Well, in this version of the Dramatica software, that is hardwired in to the perspective that biases itself toward our Western culture. That makes it right about 90% of the time in practice. However, in theory, that is only one match up. Other dynamics control which set of 16 elements will be seen as which of the four dimensions of character. That is going to depend on the kind of position you want to put your audience in. It changes the way they will look at the elements. A choice of that nature, is really operative at the Genre level, as it effects the bias of the Story Mind as a whole.
StephenHR : OK, that’s good. I suspected some bias and this is fine.
Dramatica : Yes, if you look beneath the surface of the software, you’ll find it has a CONSISTENT bias EVERYWHERE, which is as close as you can get to having no bias in a holistic system.
StephenHR : Yes.
Dramatica : That’s rather perceptive of you, by the way. No one else ever noticed that one before!
StephenHR : I am concerned that in answering some query questions I seem to be finding examples of several characters “learning” and I think I am in danger of repeating some of the appreciations/elements. Is this common?
Dramatica : How so? Do you mean the “Type” with the name of “learning” or the process of growth in a character? Let’s see. Oh, never mind, I think I see what you are getting at…Are you saying that as your characters grow over the course of your story, you find that you want to assign them elements that already belong to other characters?
StephenHR : I haven’t assigned the elements yet (this time) but I say Storytelling in the OS I have several characters Learning and this seems too…too…obvious somehow.
Dramatica : Well, using Dramatica’s structural terms, the only occurrence of “learning” is as a Type. Now, a Type is something that describes an aspect of the plot. In fact, in the objective story, each Type will represent the kind of activities or areas of concern that are explored in one act.
If you have a report that places your characters all in the process of learning, this just describes the overall nature of the kinds of activities they are doing in the act that, objectively, needs to explore “learning”. Keep in mind, you might have sub-stories, with sub-plots in which Objective characters are the Main Character in their own mini-story. Under those conditions, although each character will be involved in the “learning” as far as their Objective role, they may also have other interests of their own that to them, are much more important and of a larger scope.
How you balance that is up to the way you TELL your story, But the dramatic consistency of your story depends upon the characters fulfilling their objective role, even if it is underplayed. Also keep in mind that each element each character has will respond differently than any other in the same situations. So, if everyone is involved in learning, there will be a lot of different “takes” on it, with some pursuing learning, others avoiding it, etc.I hope that addresses the issue, but if I missed the mark, let me know.
Dramatica : That’s a very insightful question as well! Here’s the scoop. From an author’s perspective, you have all these characters with all these characteristics, and they are sitting in the “bullpen”. You call them onto the playing field when you need their particular “talent”. The only problem with this, is that sometimes, characters that really NEED to be in the game to win, are not played because an author felt he didn’t need them.
In fact, to make a “complete” story argument, every one of those sixty four characteristics MUST be played against the other three in its “quad”. However, hardly any stories are written that do that. So, why do they feel okay anyway? Because most stories focus or concentrate on only one of the four dimensions of character: Motivation, Methodologies, Means of Evaluation, and Purposes. One of these will rise to the top. An author can ask themselves, “Do I want to do a story in which the problem is created because of what drives someone, or is their heart in the right place, but they are going about it all wrong.
That is what picks the set of sixteen elements that are “crucial” to the argument of the story. In a way, its kind of like limiting the scope of the story’s argument. As long as the audience is made aware of that limit, they won’t hold you to using absolutely every element. But you really better use all sixteen in the crucial set, because if you limit your scope below that, the argument becomes so simplistic at a character level, that the characters no loner seem like real people, and, in a reception sense, the audience will not be able to relate to the characters.
This kind of limit to only one dimension is often used in “action” or plot-oriented stories, that wish to use their screen time or number of pages available to explore the events that are happening, and only pay lip service to the characters, just enough to let the audience identify with them.
StephenHR : Each Player would also have Characters within that rise to the top, others “under.”
Dramatica : Hello, WMPATE! Welcome to the Dramatica Chat!
WMPATE : Hello
Dramatica : We’re just asking and answering questions, so if you have one about the software or theory, just jump on in, and if you have any more, Stephen, I’d love to hear them!
StephenHR : Hi, WMPATE.
Dramatica : If you run out of questions, I can always lecture on a topic, if you like. Stephen, you mentioned earlier about characteristics within characters “rising to the top”…That is very true. In the course of a story, especially one which uses all four dimensions of character, different dimensions will come into play at different times, And because characters can have antagonistic relationships at one level, and in another “dimension” will see eye to eye, they might fight about WHY they should do something, because they are in conflict in their Motivations, yet agree completely about HOW to do it, because of their compatible relationship in Methodologies.
StephenHR : Can any element be expressed in the negative: “Lack of _____ ” ? How does this affect the expression of other elements within the quad?
Dramatica : Bring Purposes, and Means of Evaluation into it, and that makes for really complex relationships. That’s another good question! Where do you come up with these??? Okay, here’s what’s happening in that….
StephenHR : Keyboard time.
Dramatica : When you are talking about the problem and solution elements in the Main and Obstacle characters, those elements are special. They are treated DYNAMICALLY….which simply means, that a Main Character’s problem can be due to too much FAITH or not enough FAITH, for example. This is a decision made by choosing “Start” or “Stop” in the Dramatica Query System. There is a difference between having Disbelief, or not having enough Faith.
StephenHR : OK…
Dramatica : Its the same difference between an atheist and an agnostic. But those dynamic aspects of not enough or too much are only functional in the Main and Obstacle characters. That’s what makes them special. When you look at the elements in the Objective Characters, those represent functions the characters must play in the drama, much as you would look at a battle from a hilltop and see the soldiers by their function as an infantryman or a horse soldier. In order to fulfill that function, they must exhibit that characteristic, not its lack. Does that cover that one for you?
StephenHR : So Start and Stop “qualify” the appreciation?
Dramatica : They do for some appreciations, particularly, some of the appreciations relating to the Main and Obstacle characters, such as Unique Ability, Critical Flaw, Problem, Solution, Focus and Direction.
StephenHR : OK, good, I’ll have to let this sink in.
Dramatica : It gets “worse” than that though, since how MUCH too much or too little is NOT called for by the Story Engine, but is up to the kinds of symbols you use to illustrate the point, and how strongly you drive it home with the audience. That’s what we call “storyTELLING”. Whether it is too much or too little is part of the storyFORM.
Dramatica : Here’s a better way to look at it. If the Types that make up the Dramatica structure acts (four of them) are labeled A,B,C, and D, They are the signposts on a road from problem to solution. A is where you start, D is where you finish. Aristotle saw a beginning, middle and end. He saw A and D and called all the stuff in the middle. But there are really four signposts on this road. Yet, between them, they create three “journeys”. You start at A and move to B, that is the first journey or what is normally called Act 1. Then you go from B to C which is Act 2 and finally from C to D which is Act 3. So, when you experience a story as it unfolds, you tend to feel or look at it after it is over, you tend to see the four signposts.
StephenHR : Really, we’ve got four acts because the model is a quad?
Dramatica : Actually, the model is a quad because we’ve got four acts! I’m not being trite, its just that the quad pattern developed out of story.
StephenHR : Yes, I see that now.
Dramatica : We didn’t create a quad pattern and then try to impose it on story. We found that many authors have trouble trying to figure out what to do in Act 2…
StephenHR : I didn’t mean to imply that.
Dramatica : Oh, I know that, I just want to make the point for the log. But in Act 2, well that’s a real problem if you are using a beginning, middle and end, because all you see is where you start, using signpost A, then you see where you are going, signpost and EVERYTHING ELSE in your story is the middle, or Act 2!!! How can anyone write from that!! So, if you have a quad of four Types, each a signpost, then you can see Act one’s beginning and end (A to B) and so on.
Act two is clearly B to C, and for the first time, you know exactly where act two will start and stop, and the kind of transition it will represent. I’ve personally found this one of the most useful parts of the theory, because I’m personally good at communication, but rather lousy at knowing what to say next!
StephenHR : I can check that one off my list. I read and reread, but didn’t get it. I have not yet considered what those transitions might be like.
Dramatica : Well, its about closing time for tonight’s chat….Unless there are any pressing questions you can’t live without knowing the answer to…
StephenHR : Thanks again.
Dramatica : Yes, it takes some thought and simmering time!
Dramatica : Okay, well, I’ll be here next week, same Dramatica time, same Dramatica channel! Until then, happy writing!
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.