The following class was hosted on the internet by Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator (along with Chris Huntley) of the Dramatica Theory of story.
- Grand Argument Stories, what Dramatica sees as a “complete” story.
- Story Outcome: Success or Failure? Story Judgment: Good or Bad ?
- Main Character Resolve: Change or Steadfast.
- The 4 Stages of Communication.
StephenHR : Howdy. How about an example of a grand argument story: Good and or bad?
Dramatica : Wow! Just out of thin air?
StephenHR : Well?
Dramatica : Okay, Okay. You want one from me, or are you selling one?
StephenHR : From you.
Dramatica : Okay. The Fugitive is a Grand Argument story, as an example. The biggest clue to a G.A.S. is that you can find all four throughlines in it, and they all seem fully developed.
In The Fugitive, you can find Dr. Richard Kimble’s throughline, which is the Main Character throughline, which has to do with his remaining steadfast in the attempt to track down the killer of his wife. You can see the Objective Story throughline, which is about whether or not, the fugitive will be re-captured, or if his name will be cleared. Then, there is the Obstacle Character throughline, about how Girrard grows to believe that Dr. Kimble may be innocent.
Dramatica : (Hi Wolfman!)
Wolfman188 : Hi, Folks call me Ben.
Dramatica : Girrard says, “I don’t care” when told by Kimble that he is not guilty. Later, in the scene in the police car with Kimble, he admits to caring and says, “Don’t tell anybody”. He has changed while Kimble remained steadfast.
And finally, there is the Subjective Story throughline, which is the relationship between the Main and Obstacle characters, and clearly the impact of Girrard and Kimble on one another is fully developed. So, that is a good indication that The Fugitive is indeed a Grand Argument Story.
Dramatica : So, Hi, Ben! Now, Stephen, you also wanted to know about Good and Bad. Do you want the theory or some examples?
StephenHR : Examples. Hello Ben.
StephenHR : no
Dramatica : Why not? How about some reasons, and who IS the Main Character.
StephenHR : I was thinking that Luke is the MC.
Dramatica : That is correct, it is through Luke that the audience experiences what it is like to be in the story We see it through his eyes, primarily from his point of view. Now, why do you say he does not resolve his angst? Perhaps another couple of examples, will help clarify the issue…. In fact, we see Luke as resolving his inner conflict, which has to do with him having confidence in himself even when others say to do something else. He must trust the force, in effect, trust himself. All along he listens to his uncle, “That’s your uncle talking…” and then he listens to Obi Wan who tells him to take Obi to the space port.
Sure, he goes out and does heroic deeds, but he still does not believe in himself enough to put it all on the line, not trusting the computer or the mission control guys for the rebels. It is because he shuts off the computer and trusts the force that we can see he has changed. And after that change, not only does he find success, but the constant wondering of his “wanna be” nature is resolved. This is in contrast, to say, Silence of the Lambs.
In Silence of the Lambs, the objective goal is to stop Buffalo Bill. They must rescue the Senator’s daughter and catch BB. In fact, they do, so it is a success. But for Clarise Starling, her personal outcome is bad, because she has not resolved her angst or inner pain. If you look at the last scene before the titles roll, they are at the graduation party, something that should be a big joyous celebration. But the music is VERY somber… and instead of the fancy camera work we might expect, there are these long dolly shots that lower the mood s well. The phone rings, it is Hannibal Lecter. The first thing he asks is: “Clarise, are the lambs still crying?” She doesn’t reply. She can’t because the lambs ARE still crying. She is still carrying around the pain of that one lost lamb she couldn’t save. Her whole career is based on trying to save other “lambs” so maybe the pain will go away. Lecter even says he won’t go after her. He says “The world is a better place with you in it”. He changes, but she can’t.
Dramatica : (Hi Rene)
StephenHR : So Luke resolves the OS and the SS in the one action as the MC. Clarise resolves OS not the SS.
Rene Simon : Hello everyone. Sorry I’m late, my dog ate my….
Dramatica : LOL, Rene!
Rene Simon : Could someone briefly recap for me?!
Dramatica : Doing that now, Rene. 🙂 Yes, Stephen. There are four combinations that are possible.
StephenHR : Who changes? Hannibal?
Dramatica : Yes, Stephen, Hannibal ALWAYS eats EVERYONE he gets to, but Clarise is the first he has let live.
StephenHR : Ah hah.
Dramatica : She remains steadfast in trying to save the lambs, but he changes. You’ll find that when you have a Main and Obstacle character, One will change and the other will remain steadfast. Clarise is Main, Hannibal is her Obstacle. The subjective story is the growth in their relationship as Hanibal (as Obstacle) forces Clarise to address the very issues that drive her.
Dramatica : No, Rene, Main can change or remain steadfast, but whatever they do, the Obstacle will do the reverse. Just like with Luke and Obi Wan, Obi Wan remains steadfast in saying “trust the force”, and Luke finally buys into to it, just in time to save the day.
Rene Simon : I see.
Dramatica : Now I mentioned four combinations that are possible between success/failure and good/bad. Success/good is a “Triumph” Failure/bad is a “Tragedy” Success/Bad is a “Personal Tragedy” Failure/Good is a “Personal Triumph”.
Rene Simon : Please forgive my seeming stupid questions, I’ve only recently purchased Dramatica
Dramatica : No problem, Rene, this is new to most everyone! Success/Good is like Star Wars Success/Bad like Silence of the Lambs. Success/Bad is also Remains of the Day
StephenHR : Why does Hannibal change? Do we know? Is it love? I am humbled often, believe me.
Dramatica : Stephen, we don’t see WHY Hannibal changes, which is often true of the Obstacle Character. From an audience perspective, the Main Character is “I” or “Me” Whereas the Obstacle Character is “You”. Audiences get their greatest benefit from learning when (in the author’s opinion) it is better to remain steadfast, and when it is better to change. But the pathway by which we can hold on to our resolve or arrive at change is important. In contrast, the only thing we need to know about the Obstacle character is if they will ultimately give in to us or not. Why and how CAN be shown, but doesn’t have to be. It’s not THEIR head we are occupying as an audience.
Rene Simon : After writing from a purely intuitive sense of story and structure, Dramatica is a very different method of construction. Is that in the audience subjective POV?
Dramatica : Tell you what, let me finish out the list of four combinations and then I’ll deal with the four perspectives an audience is provided in a story. We did success/good and success/bad.
StephenHR : Good.
Rene Simon : As in too many people in here….can’t think… goooo away!!!!! And all wannabe writers, what a collection!
Dramatica : Ha! When we do our classes in Burbank, we get 30 at a time! Quite an interesting affair, always.. Now, Failure/Bad. Hamlet, for example. Whereas, a failure/good story is Rainman, in which he fails to get part of the inheritance, but comes to terms with the hatred of his father. A personal Triumph. Remember, Good and Bad is not passing judgment on whether the success or failure is good or bad, it is only telling us if the Main Character is at peace or not by the end of the story.
As an example, there are two stories running side by side in Crimes and Misdemeanors, by Woody Allen. The Crime story is about a respected doctor who has his mistress killed in order to protect his reputation. Afterward, he goes through all kinds of angst dealing with the moral issues driven by his upbringing The misdemeanor story is a poor soul who wants to get the girl and keeps his morality no matter what it costs him. In the end, the two Main Characters come together for the only time, sitting side by side on a piano bench. The Crime MC tells his story in brief to the other. He says there was a guy who… and then tells the story.
He concludes by saying, you know, the police never caught him, and you know what? He woke up one morning, and was okay with it. It just didn’t bother him anymore. So his outcome was success/GOOD because he resolved his angst. While in the other story, the poor MC loses the girl, failure, and feels awful! (Bad)
Rene Simon : I’m sorry to keep interrupting, but is this class only 1 hour long?
Dramatica : Yes, just one short hour! So, old Woody Allen, has created a juxtaposition for the audience of two stories that go against cultural mores and conventions to say that sometimes the bad guys win and feel great, and the good guys lose and feel awful.
Rene Simon : Can you talk a bit about The Verdict? as pertains to these aspects of structure? Good point of view for Woody BTW given his choice in girls, huh?
Dramatica : Rene, Woody always puts himself up on screen. No shame there!
Rene Simon : You’re right, just kiddin’.
Dramatica : In The Verdict, the goal is to get proper compensation for the relatives of the vegetable and also to bring the culprits to justice. They achieve that. In fact, at the end of the trial, the jury asks if they can award MORE than was asked for! Now, Frank Galvin, the Main Character, starts out as a loser, and why? Because he no longer believes in the legal system. He USED to believe, but when he tried to believe, he was set up to take the fall for his superiors, he was almost disbarred, and after a short jail term, fell into drink and ambulance chasing. He is a man absolutely lacking faith in the system. When it comes down to it at the end, he must change. And he does.
He tells the jury that all of his evidence has been disallowed, and that the court has been biased against him. But today, they, the jury ARE the system. And THEY can make the difference. In effect, he realizes the system is made up of people, and he has faith in those people. So, by regaining his faith, he is able to make a closing statement that does the trick, wins the money and resolves his lack of faith.
Rene Simon : I’m very interested in this because my main character has a very similar arc to Galvin’s. Loss of faith. Then redemption.
Dramatica : He comes away centered again. Which is why he doesn’t answer the phone at the end You can also tell it is Good because of a very interesting trick in the sound effects. All through the story, Frank’s drink has ice cubes that clank on the glass. In the last scene – no clanking.
StephenHR : To go back, can you give a brief synopsis of the Fugitive’s subjective story?
Rene Simon : When I did my story on Dramatica it came down to one storyform. How do you go about finding a list of films that use the same storyform, and which of the reports is best for illustrating that.
Dramatica : I’ll talk about each of those points, Stephen and Rene… First of all, Stephen, Since Kimble is a steadfast character his resolve grows over the course of the story as he must hold out against larger and larger obstacles. The subjective story is about how this resolve changes the nature of the relationship between him and Girrard. Notice the scene in which Kimble helps the boy with the chest injury in the hospital. That is one instance in which the relationship grows because Girrard is unable to make that action fit with the view that Kimble is a killer.
Now, a moment for Rene… If you go into the DQS (Dramatica Query System), you will find that there is a bar of buttons in the middle of the question windows.
Rene Simon : The examples yes.
Dramatica : If you click on the “stories” button, that will call up any stories in the Examples folder that have the same dramatic story point you chose for your story. Now, there is not yet a way to search through the entire list of example stories and see which one is most like your story, simply because the storyform has no emphasis that makes goal more or less important than Main Character problem, for example.
Dramatica : Well, in the reports section, you can print out a list of all the story points, by dramatic function both for your story and any example story. It is important to keep in mind, that there are four stages of communication in Dramatica theory and software. Storyforming, Story Encoding, Story Weaving, and Reception. It is the last three that determine emphasis. Storyforming only says what points are in a story.
Rene Simon : This seems somewhat cumbersome, as the definitions that come with the reports are too long and all of the reports total way over 30+ pages. I’d love to see a brief 3-4 pg. report that outlines, connects your story to like stories in the same form.
Dramatica : Rene, you can shut off the definition in the reports. There are three buttons at the top of the reports window that allow you to shut off tutorial and definitions, and even remove your storytelling if you like, leaving only the raw report.
Rene Simon : Oh? How? In preference?
Dramatica : Not in preferences, but in the Reports window itself. Up at the top of the screen are three buttons with blue lettering. They toggle, so you can click them on an off in any combination. This can shorten your reports significantly.
Wolfman188 : Perhaps we students should observe protocol: type “?” and wait to be recognized.
Rene Simon : Hey Wolfie! You do talk, I thought you were like Chewbacca! Nothing personal, Wolfie. But seize the day!
Dramatica : Okay, more questions? Bring ’em on!
StephenHR : What about the clanking? Chaos reigns.
Dramatica : Chaos WOULD reign if the clanking was in and out, but it is there in EVERY scene except the last one. All part of the effect, like the music in Silence of the lambs, without having to make a big point of it, they showed that Frank Galvin changed.
Rene Simon : That Pollack, he’s something else, eh!
Dramatica : You know, this is ALSO supposed to be one Dramatica user or interested writer talking to another. My fingers are getting stubby!
StephenHR : Where to begin?
Dramatica : Oh, anywhere…
Rene Simon : Can you tell me how to best use the program to define my conflicts and goals without becoming mechanistic. My main character that is!
Dramatica : Sure. Start by choosing your goals and conflicts. When you come to create a storyform, you can start with any story points are most important to you. And wherever you start, there will be no limitations whatsoever. So, to avoid feeling like your choices are causing the Story Engine to pen you into a box, Begin with your highest priorities, and then when the Story Engine starts to “predict” what else ought to be in your story, the issues won’t be as large.
Rene Simon : I’ve got about 60 pages of the script done, and the story is pretty well outlined, then what? Oh and I have one storyform already.
Dramatica : Okay, did you do the storyform before the 60 pages?
Rene Simon: No after about 50.
Dramatica : Okay….Keep in mind that Dramatica is designed as a Story Development tool, not a place to write. that’s why it works with all formats, not just screenplays.
Rene Simon : But the story has remained pretty much the same.
Dramatica : When you come to Dramatica after already creating a draft or part of a draft, you should think about what you have already created, and then look at the list of Dramatica story points, and answer the questions in order of importance to you when considering your story. Then, you can create a storyform that will encompass all your most essential points.
Rene Simon : Yes, but a good writer is developing and refining with every draft. NO?
StephenHR : I have some experience here! After trying to rewrite with Dramatica for a month.
Rene Simon : AHA!!!
StephenHR : I was led to break a rule.
Dramatica : Please share! 🙂
Rene Simon : which was?
StephenHR : Do storytelling first and work backwards.
Rene Simon : hmmm the cart before the horse method? Did it work?
StephenHR : It helped me be objective about what I had written.
Dramatica : Actually, we suggest that as one alternative. Sometimes, just by typing in the storytelling to the questions first, you can better understand which dramatic choices to make in the storyforming. If you aren’t aware, there is a button in the storyforming questions called “storytelling”. If you answer the storytelling questions first, then when you go to the storyforming questions, by pressing that button, all that you wrote on that storypoint will show up in the window, and help you choose the item for your storyform for that question.
Rene Simon : I’ve read from Truby’s method, that it’s very useful to go back and forth from writing to musing, what do you think?
StephenHR : I use Truby and I do the musing first.
Rene Simon : How do you think the two systems compare?
StephenHR : Dramatica is a system and an elegant, possibly inspired theory…
Rene Simon : aha!! aha!! And truby?
StephenHR : Truby is another viewpoint on being a writer especially in, well, social responsibilities?
Rene Simon : Yes I like that aspect.
StephenHR : He was a philosopher, you know. Of sorts.
Dramatica : Truby has some really fine tips for storytelling. When it comes to genre, and social impact, he excels.
Rene Simon : The moral question that each protagonist faces.
Wolfman188 : Melanie, did you get as far tonight as you expected?
Dramatica : Actually, Ben, I don’t have an agenda, I just hang out and answer questions and gather comments.
Rene Simon : Dramatica is exciting and this conversation has inspired me to explore it more. My learning curve is pretty steep, so I’ll be loaded with questions next week. Stubby fingers.
Wolfman188 : I can see that Rene and Stephen know lots more about Dramatica than I do.
Dramatica : Yes, well, I’ve been working with the theory for 15 years, and there’s always more nuance to learn.
Rene Simon : Did you actually develop the theory on your own or based on what?
Dramatica : Actually, Rene, Chris Huntley and I came up with a single inspiration in college. We worked with it on and off over the years.
Rene Simon : Which was?
Dramatica : About five years ago, we started working on it full time. It took four years of that time to finish the theory.
Rene Simon : I’m always interested in what gets us going on lifetime quests!
Dramatica : The concept is that every complete story is a model of the psychology of a SINGLE MIND trying to solve a problem or resolve an inequity. So that STORY MIND is not the author or the characters or the audience, but a map for our own minds to acquire as a path toward solving a specific problem. Characters are the motivations of that mind, Plot, the methods it employs, Theme, its value standards, Genre, the nature of the mind as a whole, what kind of mind is it that is considering the problem.
Wolfman188 : The NF library is still missing Log #6. I can’t be here again until April. Keep good logs!
Rene Simon : Hey Wolfie, BOW WOW, keep plugging Dude!
Rene Simon : Nothing personal, Melanie, but intelligent women are very very sexy!
Dramatica : Love it! I wish there were more men around these parts who thought so!
StephenHR : I do.
Wolfman188 : Patience, Mel, It’s frightening to be awake among sleepwalkers until you learn to pretend!
Dramatica : Point well taken, Ben! And thank you too, Stephen!
Rene Simon : Sorry to disrupt your discourse with frivolous asides.
StephenHR : Yo, stay with me. I’m still in the woods.
Rene Simon : You must be in L.A.?
Dramatica : Yep, L.A.
Dramatica : Well, that seems a good place to end for the night!
Wolfman188 : Folks, thanks — I’ve got to pack for an early trip. Good to meet you. See ya live in April.
Dramatica : I’ll be here next week… Same Dramatica Time, Same Dramatica Channel!
Dramatica : Niters!
Rene Simon : Thanks!! 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.