Dramatica Theory Book: Chapter 13

Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story

By Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley

Chapter 13

Domain Descriptions

Matching Points Of View To The Chart

To reiterate: Theme is perspective. Perspective is created by the relationship between two things: what is being looked at and where it is being seen from. In stories, what is being looked at is the nature of the problem and its ramifications.

To define the story’s problem we start with its Class, then find out what Type of problem it is within that Class. Next we see what Variation of that Type the problem is and then finally work down to the Elemental nature of the problem, which is reflected in Character.

Now we need to see what each of those aspects of the problem looks like from each of the four points of view an audience will expect in a complete story. Let’s begin with the Class level.

Objective Story Domain

All four of the Classes of problem (Universe – a situation, Mind – a fixed attitude, Physics – an activity, and Psychology – a manner of thinking) will show up in a complete story. As it turns out, one will represent the way the Objective Story view sees the problem, one the Main Character’s view of it, one the Obstacle Character’s view, and the remaining Class will tell us how the problem looks from the Subjective Story view.

The first key, then, to creating thematic perspectives in a story is to assign each of the four throughlines to the four Classes in the structure. Once this is accomplished, the most broad stroke foundations of the author’s biases on the story’s issues have been laid.

As an example, objectively, the problem in a particular story might seem to be a situation. This means that the Objective Story point of view and the Universe Class would be matched or linked in such a story. When we assign a point of view to a Class, we say that Class is the point of view’s Domain. In other words, all that we see in our hypothetical story from the Objective Story view can be found in the Universe Class, so the Universe Class is the Objective Story Domain.

Assigning a point of view to a Class creates the perspective, and therefore changes the way dramatic items in that Class appear.For example, if Universe is the Objective Story Domain, the story at large would be about a situation that affects all the characters in the story to some degree. Such a story might be about people in a post-nuclear holocaust world, prisoners of war in a concentration camp, or two teenagers from rival gang families who have fallen in love. In each case, the external situation is the cause of the story’s problems, when we see them objectively. Also in each case, all of the characters in the story will be affected by the same situation, which is the definition of the problem when seen from the “they” point of view, like that of the general on the hill watching the battle. The audience will want to see what the problem looks like from this point of view to feel that the issues of the story have been fully explored.

In contrast, if the Main Character point of view were assigned to the Universe Class, the Universe Class would become the Main Character Domain. In a different hypothetical story with this arrangement, only the Main Character would be in the situation; the other characters would be involved in one of the remaining Classes. In such a story where Universe is the Main Character Domain, the situation might be that the Main Character is second in command on a battleship, has a physical deformity like The Elephant Man, or particular race or sex. In other words, the Main Character will be best described as a result of his personal situation, which will be some external condition that is causing difficulties only for that character. Quite a difference from an Objective Story situation that affects all the characters in a story (including the Main Character).

Before we move to the Type, Variation, and Element levels, let’s take a brief look at each of the sixteen Class/throughline combinations that might be created.

Universe as Objective Story Domain

When Universe is the Objective Story Domain the story’s troubles are best described as pertaining to a Situation. This will be an overview concept: all of the Objective Characters in the story will see the common source of their troubles as emanating from an external situation. Just because the situation is external and objective does not mean it must be without feeling, but simply that the situation is not personal to the audience.

Physics as Objective Story Domain

An Objective Story Domain of Physics means the story’s troubles are caused by an activity gone wrong. This might be an activity engaged in by people or existing in nature. Either way, the “perpetuation” of this activity is what generates all the difficulties faced by the Objective Characters. There is often the tendency to think of an activity in the large scale, making it macroscopic; larger than life. But dry rot works as well as a marauding horde in creating problems big enough to drive a story. The only constraint is that the activity must be an external one that is causing the difficulties.

Situation vs. ActivitiesIt is easy to think of kinds of activities that border on being situations. For example, we might want to tell a story about a disease. If the story’s problem stems from having the disease, it is a situation. If the story’s problem is actually caused by fighting the disease, it is an activity. Because all four Classes will show up in a complete story, it is likely that both having and fighting the disease will show up as things unfold. The thematic question here is: which one is seen objectively, or phrased another way, which one is best seen as the cause of the problems for all the characters throughout the entire story – having it or fighting it?

Mind as Objective Story Domain

Mind is an internal state, describing problems which come from fixed attitudes. When Mind is chosen as the Objective Story Domain, the problems that affect all the characters will stem from internal attitudes and fixations. For example, an Objective Story Domain of Mind might be about how prejudice affects a town or how a humiliating memory affects a kingdom. In contrast, Universe and Physics Objective Stories deal with external states and processes. A selection of Mind as the Objective Story Domain specifically means that the source of the difficulties between all the Objective Characters is best seen as a problematic state of mind.

Psychology as Objective Story Domain

Psychology is an internal process, describing problems which come from the ways in which people think. When Psychology is chosen as the Objective Story Domain, the problems that affect all the characters will stem from manipulations and conflicting processes of thought. As opposed to the fixed attitudes described in the Mind Class, Psychology is about problems which arise from manners of thinking. For example, an Objective Story Domain of Psychology might be about the problems caused in a regiment that has been overly trained to follow orders or in a dysfunctional family which is trying to manipulate each other into a nervous breakdown.

Main Character Domain

Because an audience identifies most strongly with the Main Character, choosing a Main Character Domain is like asking your potential audience, “Where’s your mind at?” This Domain describes the realm in which the Main Characters operates. Each Class, therefore, provides a completely different mind set for the Main Character.

Universe as Main Character Domain

Universe is a Class of situations. A Universe Main Character finds himself in a situation. The situation in question can be a social status issue, such as being a certain race or gender or being queen or king. It could be a predicament such as being a rock star, or it could be a physical condition such as having an extremely large nose or exceptional beauty. Each of these illustrations shows a Main Character as being defined by the situation in which he is found.

Mind as Main Character Domain

A Mind Main Character will be defined as holding onto a fixed attitude. Such a character might be suffering from a prejudice, haunted by a suppressed memory, or unable to shake a crush on the kid down the street. In each case, it is a fixed state of mind that causes the Main Character’s difficulties.

Physics as Main Character Domain

A Physics Main Character is a person of action. For example, he might be doing something just to do it, or he might be trying to obtain or achieve something. Other activities of a Physics Main Character might be learning or seeking to understand something. At first learning and understanding might seem too internal to be Physics, but consider that these activities are applied externally. Learning is gathering information about something and understanding is seeking the meaning of something. This is quite different than coming up with original thought which would be internal.

Psychology as Main Character Domain

A Main Character Domain of Psychology indicates an individual who is best described by how he thinks. This could be a flighty person, someone who jumps to conclusions, or even a calculating, manipulative person. In each of these scenarios, the opinions the Main Character holds are not what sets him apart, but rather the kinds of mental processes he goes through. Though there may be many Objective Characters who represent manners of thinking, only the Main Character will provide the audience with the experience of thinking that way.

The Main Character has ClassClearly, the nature and concerns of a Main Character change radically from Class to Class. If you are most interested in exploring your Main Character in a story, then choosing the Main Character Class before any others is the way to approach developing a story. Keep in mind, though, that once a Class has been assigned to one of the four Domains in a story, it cannot be assigned to any of the others. So whatever you might pick for your Main Character’s Class will not be available for the Objective Story, Subjective Story or Obstacle Character.

Obstacle Character Domain

It is important to be clear about the difference between the Main Character and the Obstacle Character. The audience looks through the Main Character’s eyes, and through them looks at the Obstacle Character. Through the Main Character, we feel what it is like to be in a particular predicament. With the Obstacle Character we see an external view of what someone else looks like in the same predicament. Since we cannot really climb into and become this character, we can only judge him by how he affects the characters and events around him.

As an example, if a Main Character were handicapped, during the duration of the story the audience members would also feel handicapped, suffering the problems this creates as if it were a problem in their own lives. If the Obstacle Character were handicapped, the audience would examine the problem from the outside, learning more about the difficulties logistically, not experientially. The focus would be on how this handicap impacts others. “Impact” is the key word to keep in mind when examining the story’s problem in the Obstacle Character Domain.

Universe as Obstacle Character Domain

An Obstacle Character with a Domain of Universe will impact others because of his social status, race, gender, physical attributes, position or station. Whatever the situation might be, it provides the alternative paradigm to the Main Character’s view of things.

Physics as Obstacle Character Domain

A Physics Domain Obstacle Character will be a person whose actions in the areas of Learning, Understanding, Doing, or Obtaining (the four Physics Types) make a case against the Main Character’s point of view. At the end of such a story, the audience will not have experienced what it feels like to engage in these activities, but will know a lot about what impact these activities have.

Mind as Obstacle Character Domain

The Mind Obstacle Character exhibits a fixation or attitude dealing primarily with memories, desires, immediate responses or considerations. It is this attitude that causes the Main Character to reconsider and/or justify his position.

Psychology as Obstacle Character Domain

A Psychology Obstacle Character influences others through direct manipulation or may just have an impact because of the way in which he thinks. In either case, the focus of this Domain is an external view of how thought process affect those whom come in contact with them.

Subjective Story Domain

The Subjective Story Domain is the realm of the story’s Passionate Argument. This is where the author creates meaning for the audience’s emotional appraisal of a story’s message. The primary focus is on the relationship between the Main and Obstacle Characters. Since the Main and Obstacle Characters are, by definition, at odds with one another, the Subjective Story Domain forms the background against which the battle between them is fought. As a result, choosing a Class as the Subjective Story Domain affects how a story feels to an audience.

Universe as Subjective Story Domain

A Subjective Story Domain of Universe has the Main and Obstacle Characters at odds over a situation that exists between them. This could be a marriage contract, business partnership, a chain of military command, being caretaker for an invalid, any kind of employment situation, etc. To properly illustrate a Subjective Story Domain of Universe, you will need to create a situation that is principally limited to some sort of relationship between the Main and Obstacle Characters that involves the past, present, progress, or future.

Physics as Subjective Story Domain

If Physics is the Subjective Story Domain, the Main and Obstacle Characters will be grappling over an activity. This could be an activity that is leading toward a purpose or just something engaged in for its own rewards. It might even be a detrimental activity engaged in as a means of punishing oneself to relieve guilt. Both Main and Obstacle may be striving to out-do each other at this activity, or one may be for the activity and the other against it. In any case, the activity lies at the heart of the difficulties between them and forms the subject of the story’s passionate argument if Physics is the Subjective Story Domain.

Mind as Subjective Story Domain

When Mind is selected as the Subjective Story Domain, fixed attitudes or mind-sets form the battleground of the Main and Obstacle Characters. How many fixed attitudes can we see as a personal point of contention between two people? A prejudice, political view, religion, an attitude toward a child or parent, or a feeling of worthlessness would do the trick. A scenario that portrays the troubles between the Main and Obstacle Characters as revolving around a fixed state of mind, will successfully represent Mind as the Subjective Story Domain.

Psychology as Subjective Story Domain

Psychology as the Subjective Story Domain has the Main and Obstacle Characters diverging over a manner of thinking. Phrases like, “You always get this way when we argue,” and “No, I don’t – it’s you that keeps changing subjects,” are referring not to a particular attitude, but a manner of thinking that is not appreciated between the Main and Obstacle Characters. When the way one goes about working something out becomes the issue between the Main and Obstacle Characters, the Subjective Story Throughline Domain will be Psychology.

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