Dramatica Theory Book: Chapter 33

Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story

By Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley

Chapter 33

Storytelling, Storyweaving
& Structure


Part of the purpose of Storyweaving is to communicate the underlying dramatic structure or message of a story. The other part is to make that process of communication as interesting and/or effective as possible. In addition, the manner in which the structure is expressed can have a great impact on how the audience receives the message which extends far beyond simply understanding the message.

Our first job then is the somewhat mundane task of describing how a structure can been communicated through exposition. Once we have laid this foundation, we can cut ourselves free to consider the enjoyable aspects of using weaving techniques to build suspense, create comedy, shock an audience, and generally have a good time putting the frosting on the cake.

Space and Time Together Again

By now, you should be familiar with the concept that part of a story’s structure is made up of Static Appreciations and part consists of Progressive Appreciations. It is here in Storyweaving that we must find a way to blend the two together so all aspects of our story can unfold in concert.

In the Plot section of Storyencoding, we learned how the four structural and three dynamic acts of each throughline could be seen as four signposts that defined three journeys. Although there are many ways we might weave all of this into a story, there is one very straightforward method that is useful to illustrate the basic concepts.

First of all, think of each signpost and each journey not as an act, but as a Storyweaving scene. From this perspective, we can see that there will be twenty-eight scenes in our story (four signposts and three journeys in each of four throughlines). If we were to write the Type of each signpost on a card and then write the Types that describe the beginning and ending of each journey on a card, we would end up with twenty-eight cards, each of which would represent a Storyweaving scene. (It would be a good idea to put all the signposts and journeys from each throughline on a different color card so we could easily tell them apart.)

Now, we have in front of us twenty-eight scenes. Each one has a job to do, from a structural point of view. Each one must express to an audience the appreciation it represents. This is the process of encoding the signposts and journeys as we did in the Plot section of Storyencoding. We might write that encoding right on each card so that we can tell at a glance what is going to be happening in that scene.

It is at this point we can begin to Storyweave. What we want to determine is the order in which those twenty-eight scenes will be played out for our audience. A good rule of thumb for a straightforward story is that the scenes in each throughline ought to be kept in order. So, Signpost 1 will be followed by Journey 1 which is in turn followed by Signpost 2 and Journey 2, etc.

Now we run into a bit of a sticky wicket: because all four throughlines are actually happening simultaneously from a structural point of view, we would have to have all four Signposts 1 from all four throughlines occur at the same time! Of course, this might be difficult unless we were making a movie and used a four-way split screen. Still, some of our most sophisticated authors find ways use a single event to represent more than one dramatic point at a time. This technique requires experience and inspiration.

A much more practical approach for those using Dramatica for the first time is to put one of the Signposts 1 first, then another, a third, and finally the last. Which of the four Signposts 1 goes first is completely up to our personal tastes, no limitations whatsoever. Although this is not as complex as describing all four throughlines at once, it is a much easier pattern to weave and has the added advantage of providing better clarity of communication to our audience.

Next, we will want to Storyweave all four Journeys 1. We might decide to move through them in the same order as the Signposts or to choose a completely different sequence. Again, that has no structural impact at all, and is wholly up to our creative whims.

Just because we have absolute freedom, however, does not mean our decision will have no effect on our audience. In fact, the order in which each scene crops up determines which information is a first impression and which is a modifier. It is a fact of human psychology that first impressions usually carry more weight than anything that follows. It takes a lot of undoing to change that initial impact. This is why it is usually better to introduce the Main Character’s Signpost 1 before the Obstacle Character Signpost 1. Otherwise, the audience will latch onto the Obstacle Character and won’t switch allegiance until much farther into the story. Clearly, if our weaving has brought the audience to think the Obstacle Character is the Main Character, we have failed to convey the real structure and meaning of our story. So, just because we have freedom here doesn’t mean we won’t be held accountable.

Using the technique described above, we could order all of the Signposts and Journeys for all four throughlines until we have established a Storyweaving sequence for all twenty-eight scenes.

Before we move on to the next step of this introduction to building Storyweaving scenes, we can loosen up our constraints even a bit further. We don’t have to present all four Signposts and then all four Journeys. Together, each Signpost and Journey pair moves a throughline from where it starts right up to the edge of the next act break. Each pair feels to an audience as if they belong in the first act for that throughline. Therefore, as long as the Signposts precede their corresponding Journeys, the order of exposition can stick with one throughline for both Signpost and Journey or jump from a Signpost to another throughline before returning to the corresponding Journey.

Taking this more liberal approach, we might begin with Main Character Signpost 1 and Journey 1 (as illustrated below), then show Objective Story Signpost 1, then Obstacle Character Signpost 1, Objective Story Journey 1, Subjective Story Signpost 1 and Journey 1, and end with Obstacle Character Journey 1. In this manner, the Signposts and Journeys in each throughline stay in order, but we have much more latitude in blending the four throughlines together.

Storyweaving Static Appreciations

By now, we have let our feelings be our guide in establishing a sequence for the twenty-eight Storyweaving scenes. Our next task is to figure out how to illustrate all of our remaining appreciations within those scenes.

One of the first things we might notice is that the Domain of each throughline is probably already expressed in the kinds of material we encoded for each Signpost and Journey. That is because the Types are simply a more detailed breakdown within each Domain. All the remaining appreciations, however, will probably have to be addressed directly.

Since we have already woven all the crucial Progressive Appreciations into our scenes, the rest are Static Appreciations, and they all share one common quality: they must show up at least once, but can show up as many more times as you like. Again, we have a lot of freedom here. As long as we illustrate each appreciation somewhere, we have fulfilled our obligation to our structure. Anything beyond that is just technique that may make the story experience for our audience a more involving one.

So, let’s take Goal. We might spell out the Goal in the very first Storyweaving scene and never mention it again. Hitchcock often did this with his famous “MacGuffin”, which was simply seen as an excuse to get the chase started. Or, we might bring up the Goal once per act to make sure our audience doesn’t lose sight of what the story is all about. In fact, that is another good rule of thumb: even though once will do it, it is often best to remind the audience of each Static Appreciation once per act. As we shall later see, this concept forms the basis of The Rule of Threes, which is a very handy writer’s technique.

Another thing we might do with a Static Appreciation is hint at it, provide pieces of information about it, but never actually come out and say it. In this manner, the audience enjoys the process of figuring things out for itself. Since we are obligated to illustrate our structure, however, we better make sure that by the end of the story, the audience has enough pieces to get the point.

For each kind of Static Appreciation author’s have created many original way in which they might be woven into a scene through action, dialogue, visuals, even changing the color of type in a book. We suggest making a list of all your appreciations and then peppering them into your scenes in the most interesting and non-cliché manner you can. Even if you aren’t overly clever about some of them, at least the structure has been served.

Storyweaving Characters

Lastly, a word about weaving characters into your story. In this regard, there is a huge difference between weaving a Subjective Character and an Objective Character. In fact, at this juncture the weaving of Subjective Characters is much easier. Just through creating scenes based on the Signposts and Journeys in the Main and Obstacle Character Throughlines, much of their character has been woven into the story. Then, by illustrating these character’s Static Appreciations the job pretty much finishes itself.

Objective Characters, however, are another matter altogether. Objective Characters have functions, and therefore to be woven into a story they must exercise those functions. With archetypes it is a relatively easy affair. There are eight archetypes. Each must be introduced so the audience knows what function they represent. Each must be dismissed so the audience knows how they ended up. And, each must interact to show the audience which problem solving techniques work better than others. Introductions, Interactions, and Dismissals: another Rule of Threes again.

The most obvious and important interactions between archetypal characters occur between dynamic pairs, such as the Protagonist and Antagonist or Reason and Emotion. The two sides of each argument between functions must be played against each other to show which archetype fares better.

In addition, each interaction must go through the three steps of development: set-up, conflict, and resolution. This means that the argument over function between each dynamic pair of archetypes must first be established. Then, the approaches must actually come into conflict. Finally, one of the two opponents must be shown to better the other.

Putting all this together, we have eight introductions, eight dismissals, and four interactions with three steps in each. This amounts to twenty-eight character events that must occur in a story using archetypes. As one might suspect, with twenty-eight character events and twenty-eight Storyweaving scenes, it dovetails nicely to put one character event in each Storyweaving scene.

Now, you don’t have to do this. It’s just one simple way of getting the whole job done. In keeping with this kind of approach, you might choose to touch on theme in each of the scenes, and explore at least one aspect of a Static Appreciation in every scene as well. This would certainly make sure the entire structure was related. But it also runs the risk of creating a monotone feel to your story.

Loading up one scene with many appreciations, then clearing the boards to concentrate on only one, can liven up the party. In addition, all of this has been based on an assumption of one Signpost or Journey per Storyweaving scene. Although that is the simple way to Storyweave, there are many more ways to convey the structure of a story. Let’s take a look at some of them.

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