The Dramatica Dictionary
Ability • Most terms in Dramatica are used to mean only one thing. Thought, Knowledge, Ability, and Desire, however, have two uses each, serving both as Variations and Elements. This is a result of their role as central considerations in both Theme and Character
[Variation] • dyn.pr. Desire<–>Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • Ability describes the actual capacity to accomplish something. However, even the greatest Ability may need experience to become practical. Also, Ability may be hindered by limitations placed on a character and/or limitations imposed by the character upon himself. • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency
[Element] • dyn.pr. Desire<–>Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • An aspect of the Ability element is an innate capacity to do or to be. This means that some Abilities pertain to what what can affect physically and also what one can rearrange mentally. The positive side of Ability is that things can be done or experienced that would otherwise be impossible. The negative side is that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done. And, just because one can be a certain way does not mean it is beneficial to self or others. In other words, sometimes Ability is more a curse than a blessing because it can lead to the exercise of capacities that may be negative • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency
Acceptance • [Element] • dyn.pr. Non-acceptance<–>Acceptance • a decision to allow, tolerate, or adapt; a decision not to oppose • Acceptance is simply allowing something without opposition. Of course, this can eliminate many potential conflicts by refusing to stand against inequity. On the other hand, that might build an internal inequity if one cannot truly adapt and merely tolerates. In addition, if the source of the inequity keeps churning out trouble Acceptance will allow that negative process to continue unencumbered • syn. acquiescence, tolerance, allowance for, consent, submission
Accurate • [Element] • dyn.pr. Non-accurate<–>Accurate • being within tolerances • Not all concepts work everywhere or all the time. When an understanding has limitations, it can still provide a useful way of looking at the specific issues. The more accurate an understanding, the more one can apply it with certainty. When the Accurate element comes into play it will lead to accepting rough approximations that are “within tolerance” or “good enough” for the purpose at hand. The advantage is that little energy is wasted on “the law of diminishing returns.” The disadvantage is that appraising things as Accurate can lead to gross generalizations in which important or dangerous considerations slip though the cracks. • syn. within tolerance, sufficient, adequate, acceptable, passable
Act • [Structural Term] • The largest sequential increments by which the progress of a story is measured • an Act is a noticeable shift or division in the dramatic flow of a story which is created by the convergence of dynamics pertaining to Character, Theme, and Plot. These dynamics are represented in Dramatica by a sequential progression through different categories of subject matter called Types. Each of the four throughlines has four different Types of subject matter. For example, one throughline’s Types might be Learning, Understanding, Doing, and Obtaining. If we look at each Type as a signpost along a road, then Learning would describe where that throughline’s story began and Obtaining where it ended. Between the four signposts are three journeys. In our example, a journey from Learning to Understanding, Understanding to Doing, and Doing to Obtaining. In a story, an author usually designs the structure by setting up the signposts. An audience experiences the story by taking the journey. So, in a sense, and author works with a four act (four signpost) structure, and an audience perceives a three act (three journey) structure. Since both co-exist, the meaning of the term “Act” changes depending upon how one is coming to a story.
Action • [Plot Dynamic] • in terms of the objective plot, actions force decisions • All stories have both Action and Decision, however one will take precedence over the other. Traditionally, one might define an Action story as having more Action or more intense Action than a Decision story. This view is overly influenced by how the story is told rather than what it represents. Dramatica takes a different view of Action and Decision. Either Actions force the need for Decisions or Decisions force the need for Actions in order to advance the plot. Over the course of the story as a whole, if Actions precipitate the progression of the plot, it is an Action story. The question to ask in regard to any particular story is which comes first to move the story along?–not which is there more of, for even if Action kicks things off, a small Action may be followed by great quantities of deliberation. In such a story, although Action is the Driver, one would hardly call it an Action story in the traditional sense. Action stories will begin with an Action, be marked at the beginning and end of every Act by an Action, and will end with a climactic Action. In an Action story, the story will eventually slow and dwindle until another Action occurred.
Actual Dilemma • [Overview Appreciation] • The Main Character’s decision to change results in success • In an Actual Dilemma story, the Main Character can must adopt a new path in order for the Goal to succeed. If he stays on course, the Goal is doomed to failure. Of course, the Main Character cannot see the future and therefore can never be sure if he should change or not. That is why Main Characters must often make a “leap of faith” at the moment of climax and decide to Change or Remain Steadfast. Other times, the Main Character is slowly drawn towards his Resolve of Changing or Remaining Steadfast, however it is still must be made clear which way he’s gone by the end of the story. In stories where the Main Character Changes and succeeds as a result, the Dilemma was Actual, rather than merely Apparent.
Actual Work • [Overview Appreciation] • The Main Character’s decision to remain steadfast results in success • In an Actual Work story, the Main Character must stay on course in order for the Goal to succeed. If he adopts a new path, the Goal is doomed to failure. Of course, the Main Character cannot see the future and therefore can never be sure if he should change or not. That is why Main Characters must often make a “leap of faith” at the moment of climax and decide to Change or Remain Steadfast. Other times, the Main Character is slowly drawn towards his Resolve of Changing or Remaining Steadfast, however it is still must be made clear which way he’s gone by the end of the story. In stories where the Main Character Remains Steadfast and succeeds as a result, the need for Work, was Actual, rather than merely Apparent.
Actuality • [Element] • dyn.pr. Perception<–>Actuality • objective reality; the way things are • Actuality refers to the true state of things. A character who represents Actuality sees right through image and pretense, preferring to get to the heart of the matter. It also will not accept foregone conclusions until they have materialized. It feels that without substance there is no meaning. The problem is that anything that does not meet its strict definitions is ignored as irrelevant. It is often surprised when the undefined or unformed turns out to be very real • syn. the true state of things, objective reality, factuality, demonstrable existence, demonstrable reality
Analysis • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Strategy<–>Analysis • evaluation of the situation and/or circumstances • Analysis sits on one side of planning and strategy sits on the other. Analysis is the interpretation of available data in order to establish the approach most likely succeed. If the Analysis is faulty, it limits the potential of a Strategy. If a Strategy is faulty, it limits the effectiveness of Analysis • syn. evaluation, examination, breakdown of situation, close investigation, scrutinization
Antagonist • [Archetype] • An archetypal character who is in every way opposed to the Protagonist • Antagonist and Protagonist are diametrically opposed. What the Protagonist pursues, the Antagonist seeks to avoid or prevent. Together, Antagonist and Protagonist form a Dynamic Pair centered around the story’s Goal. In order for one to succeed the other MUST fail.
Apparent Dilemma • [Overview Appreciation] • The Main Character’s decision to change results in failure • In an Apparent Dilemma story, the Goal will fail if the Main Character adopts a new path. For the Goal to succeed he must stay on course. Of course, the Main Character cannot see the future and therefore can never be sure if he should change or not. That is why Main Characters must often make a “leap of faith” at the moment of climax and decide to Change or Remain Steadfast. Other times, the Main Character is slowly drawn towards his Resolve of Changing or Remaining Steadfast, however it is still must be made clear which way he’s gone by the end of the story. In stories where the Main Character Changes and fails as a result, the Dilemma was merely Apparent, not Actual.
Apparent Work • [Overview Appreciation] • In an Apparent Work story, the Goal will fail if the Main Character stays on course. For the Goal to succeed he must adopt a new path. Of course, the Main Character cannot see the future and therefore can never be absolutely sure if he should change or not. That is why Main Characters must often make a “leap of faith” at the moment of climax and decide to Change or Remain Steadfast. Other times, the Main Character is slowly drawn towards his Resolve of Changing or Remaining Steadfast, however it is still must be made clear which way he’s gone by the end of the story. In stories where the Main Character Remains Steadfast and fails as a result, the assessment that only Work was needed was merely Apparent, not Actual
Appraisal • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Reappraisal<–>Appraisal • a limited initial assessment • Not everything requires a complete evaluation. In fact, we are assualted by many new observations that we cannot possibly evaluate each fully. Instead, we make an Appraisal of what we encounter and use that limited assessment to determine our response, if any. This approach as the advantage of allowing us to deal more or less effeciently with an onslot of iimpressions and experiences. Of course, since this Appraisal is based on limited evidence, the real picture may be quite different than the thumbnail sketch. Yet, people are strongly influenced by first impressions and can become attached to an Appraisal without ever reconsidering it to see if it was incomplete or if things have changed. • syn. first impression, preliminary understanding, initial approach, initial assimilation.
Appreciations • story points; dramatic concepts • Appreciations are items of dramatic meaning that are common to all stories. Meaning is created when an identifiable topic is seen from a particular point of view. This creates perspective which takes into account both the observation and the observer. In complete stories, there are four principal viewpoints at work: Objective Story, Main Character, Obstacle Character, Subjective Story. Each viewpoint has its own unique Appreciations, though they parallel and match item for item the Appreciations from another viewpoint. In addition, some Appreciations are from a wider view, describing the relationship among the viewpoints and the dramatic results of their combined perspectives. In this manner, a story structure built from these Appreciations will cover all the topics and viewpoints necessary to fully explore an issue central to them all. Common Appreciations include such dramatic items as Goal, Requirements, Problem, Concern, and Outcome.Approach • [Character Dynamic] • The Main Character’s preferred method of general problem solving as a “Do-er” or “Be-er” • By temperament, Main Characters (like each of us) have a preferential method of approaching problems. Some would rather work things out externally, others would rather work things out internally. There is nothing intrinsically right or wrong with either approach, yet it does affect how one will respond to problems. Choosing “Do-er” or “Be-er” does not prevent a Main Character from using either approach, but merely defines the way he is likely to first approach a problem, using the other method only if the first one fails.
Approach • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Attitude<–>Approach • technique or methodology • Approach is the manner in which a character seeks the solution to a problem. It might be though of as his style or modus operendi. It might be a specific method or just a general set of tools or guidelines that is consistently used. These tools can be physical or mental ones, depending upon the nature of the task and the intended outcome (if any) • syn. method, procedure, style, manner, manner of doing, one’s own way.
Archetypal Characters • Of all the ways the 64 elements of Character elements might be grouped, there is one arrangement that is akin to an alignment of the planets. When all elements from each “family” of like elements are placed in individual characters, eight Archetypal Characters are created. They are Archetypal because their homogeneous nature accommodates all levels a character must have to be fully dimensional, yet line up by content so well there is little internal dissonance. Archetypal Characters are useful in stories that seek to concentrate on plot, action, or external themes. This is because they do not “get in the way” or clutter the Author’s purpose. Because they are so predictable, however, Archetypal Characters are not easily used to explore the human psyche and are most readily employed in stories designed more for entertainment than message.
Argument • [Dramatica Term] • the progression of logistic and emotional meanings that combine to prove a story’s message • A story’s message is proven by a progression of logistic (dispassionate) and emotional (passionate) meanings which are created by the interactions of Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre. The dispassionate argument is the story’s contention that a particular approach is the most appropriate one to solve a particular problem or achieve a goal in a given context. The passionate argument is the story’s contention that one world view is better than another in terms of leading to personal fulfillment. An author can use his story’s argument to convey his message directly, indirectly by inference, or by making an exaggerated argument supporting what he is against. (Also see Grand Argument Story.)
Attempt • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Work<–>Attempt • applying oneself to something not known to be within one’s ability • When there is a question as to the match-up of one’s abilities to the demands of a task, one may still elect to attempt to complete the task. However, sometimes a character will lose sight of the purpose of the task or underestimated his progress and actually complete the work while continuing to try beyond the point originally aimed at. Why does one beat a dead horse? Why does a billionaire struggle to earn one more million? • syn. try, uncertain undertaking, speculative endeavor, dubious effort, endeavor, unlikely venture
Attitude • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Approach<–>Attitude • demeanor or outlook • Attitude describes the manner in which a character proceeds with an approach. One character might be hard-driven, another laid back. One may be willing to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of a pleasant approach. Another might sacrifice pleasure in order to make the approach most efficient. Sometimes an approach can be pushed too hard or not hard enough. It requires not only the proper approach but the appropriate attitude to arrive at the solution to a problem. • syn. demeanor, manner of approach, countenance, behavioral outlook, perspective on doing
Attraction • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Repulsion<–>Attraction • drawing or being drawn to something • How hard should one try? How much work should one do? This is modulated by the Attraction of what one is trying to achieve. Attraction is a directional factor that indicates what lies ahead is a positive reward. When a character strives toward a goal, he passes many veils along the way. Each one is a curtain to the future that must be ripped away to see what lies beyond. Attraction describes the nature of the curtain itself. Can you judge the pleasure of a book by the art on its cover? In the parable of the carrot and the stick, Attraction is the carrot. • syn. allure, enticement, charm, captivate, appeal, draw, lure
Author’s Proof • [Storytelling] • the epilogue or follow-up to a story that proves the “outcome” of the story is real or imagined, good or bad • Technically speaking, the moment of climax in a story is the intersecting point where the nature of the Main Character crosses paths with the nature of the objective story. It is here that the course of one, both or neither of them may be altered by the interaction. The only way an audience can be sure what, if anything, has changed course is to plot one more dramatic point past the climax, as part of Act 4 to illustrate the new direction of the objective story and Main Character. This might be the “?” after the words “The End” in a monster story or a formerly mean man sharing his sandwich with a stray dog on the way home. The purpose is simply to illustrate that the suspected effect of the climax has or has not truly resulted in a change in course. As such, it functions as the Author’s Proof and is a key component of the denouement.
Avoid• [Element] • dyn.pr. Pursuit<–>Avoid • stepping around, preventing or escaping from a problem • Like its counterpart Pursue, the Avoid characteristic causes a character to be a real self-starter. The difference is that just as strongly as Pursuit tries to close in on the something, Avoid tries to escape it. Avoid can take the forms “escape” or “prevent” depending upon whether the focus of the effort is an object or a process. Avoid might be seen as running away, but that has its place. And certainly, when seen as “prevent” it might be applied to stopping something very negative from happening. Of course, it could also prevent something positive or really just be running away from something that should be faced. Pursue and Avoid are not value judgments but directions. • syn. evade, dodge, elude, escape, steer clear of, prevent
Aware • [Element] • dyn.pr. Aware<–>Self-Aware • being conscious of things outside oneself • A character that represents Awareness misses nothing that happens around him. A drawback is he may forget to figure himself into the equation. • syn. outward perceptiveness, external sensitivity, consciousness of the external, responsive