Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story
The Art of Storytelling
About the Audience
What do you have in mind?
Few authors write stories without at least considering what it will be like to read the story or see it on stage or screen. As soon as this becomes a concern, we have crossed the line into Reception theory. Suddenly, we have more to consider than what our story’s message is; we now must try to anticipate how that message will be received.
One of the first questions then becomes, how do we want it to be received. And from this, we ask, what am I hoping to achieve with my audience. We may wish to educate our audience, or we may simply want to bias them. Perhaps we are out to persuade our audience to adopt a point of view, or simply to pander to an existing point of view. We might provoke our audience, forcing them to consider some topic or incite them to take action in regard to a topic. We could openly manipulate them with their informed consent, or surreptitiously propagandize them, changing their outlook without their knowledge.
No matter what our author’s intent, it is shaped not only by who we are, but also by who the audience is that we are trying to reach.
Who are you talking to?
You are reading this book because you want to use the Dramatica theory and/or software to help you record something you are thinking about or feeling. For whatever reasons, you have decided you want to record something of yourself in a communicable form.
A primary question then becomes: to whom do you intend to communicate? You might simply wish to communicate to yourself. You may be documenting transient feelings that you wish to recall vividly in the future. Or you may want to capture the temporal ramblings of your chain of thought and then stand back to see what pattern it makes. Self-searching is often a primary objective of an author’s endeavor.
Writing for Someone Else
What if you are writing not for yourself but to reach someone else? It might be that you hope to reach a single individual which can be done in a letter to a friend, parent, or child. You might be composing an anecdote or speech for a small or large group, or you could be creating an industrial film, designing a text book, or fashioning a timeless work for all humanity.
In each case, the scope of your audience becomes more varied as its size increases. The opportunity to tailor your efforts to target your audience becomes less practical, and the symbols used to communicate your thoughts and feelings become more universal and simultaneously less specific.
The audience can thus range from writing for yourself to writing for the world. In addition, an author’s labors are often geared toward a multiplicity of audiences, including both himself and others as well. Knowing one’s intended audience is essential to determining form and format. It allows one to select a medium and embrace the kind of communication that is most appropriate — perhaps even a story.
Dramatica and Communication Theory
Exploring all avenues of communication is far beyond the scope of this initial implementation of the Dramatica Theory. To be sure, Dramatica (as a model of the mind) has much to offer in many diverse areas. However, for the practical purposes of this software product, we cannot cover that much ground. Rather, we will briefly touch on major perspectives in the author/audience relationship that can also serve as templates for translation of the Grand Argument Story perspective into valuable tools for other forms of communication. In this manner, the usefulness of this specific software implementation can extend beyond its immediate purpose. (What does this say about OUR intended audience?)
Writing for Oneself
In the Great Practical World of the Almighty Dollar Sign, it might seem trite or tangential to discuss writing for oneself (unless one expects to pay oneself handsomely for the effort). In truth, the rewards of writing for oneself DO pay handsomely, and not just in personal satisfaction. By getting in touch with one’s own feelings, by discovering and mapping out one’s biases, an author can grow to appreciate his own impact on the work as being in addition to the structure of the work itself. An author can also become more objective about ways to approach his audience. (And yes, one can gain a lot of personal insight and satisfaction as well.)
The Author as Main Character
As an experiment, cast yourself in a story as the Main Character. Cast someone with whom you have a conflict as the Obstacle Character. Next, answer all the Dramatica questions and then go to the Story Points window. Fill in as many of the story points as seem appropriate to you. Print out the results and put them aside.
Now, go back and create the same story again — this time with your “opponent” as the Main Character and YOU as the Obstacle Character. Once again, fill in the story points and print them out. Compare them to the first results. You will likely find areas in which the story points are the same and other areas in which they are different.
These points of similarity and divergence will give you a whole new perspective on the conflicts between you and your adversary. Often, this is the purpose of an author when writing for himself. Thoughts and feelings can be looked at more objectively on paper than hidden inside your head. Just seeing them all jumbled up together rather than as a sequence goes a long way to uncovering meaning that was invisible by just trotting down the path. After all, how can we ever hope to understand the other person’s point of view while trying to see it from our perspective?
A wise woman once said, “Don’t tell me what you’d do if you were me. If you were me, you’d do the same thing because I AM ME and that’s what I’m doing! Tell me what you’d do if you were in my situation.”
Another purpose in writing for oneself is simply to document what it was like to be in a particular state of mind. In a sense, we jot down the settings of our minds so that we can tune ourselves back into that state as needed at a later date. The images we use may have meaning for no one but ourselves, and therefore speak to us uniquely of all people. The ability to capture a mood is extremely useful when later trying to communicate that mood to others. To bring emotional realism to another requires being in the mood oneself. What better intuitive tool than emotional snapshots one can count on to regenerate just the feelings one wants to convey. To make an argument, accept the argument. To create a feeling, experience the feeling.
Who is “Me”?
A simple note is stuck to the refrigerator door: “Call me when you get home.” Who is “me?” It depends on who you are asking. Ask the author of the note and he would say it was “myself.” Ask the recipient of the note and they would say, “It’s him.” So the word “me” has different meanings depending upon who is looking at it. To the author, it means the same when they wrote it as when they read it as an audience. To the intended audience, however, it means something quite different.
In life, we assume one point of view at a time. In stories, however, we can juxtapose two points of view, much as we blend the images from two eyes. We can thus look AT a Main Character’s actions and responses even as we look through his eyes. This creates an interference pattern that provides much more depth and meaning than either view has separately.
My “Me” is Not Your “Me”
When writing for others, if we assume they share our point of view, it is likely that we will miss making half of our own point. Far better are our chances of successful communication if we not only see things from our side but theirs as well. Overlaying the two views can define areas of potential misunderstanding before damage is done. Still, “Call me when you get home” is usually a relatively low-risk communication and we suggest you just write the note without too much soul-searching.
Writing for Groups
What Binds a Group?
Groups are not clumps. They are conglomerations of individuals, bound together (to various degrees) by an aspect of shared interests or traits. Sometimes the common theme can be an ideology, occupation, physical condition, or situation. Sometimes the only thread of similarity is that they all gathered together to be an audience.
Do readers of novels “group” as an audience? Certainly not in the physical sense, yet fans of a particular writer or genre or subject matter are bound by their common interest. Regular viewers of a television series start out as individuals and become a group through bonding of experience. They know the classic “bits” and the characters’ idiosyncrasies. In fact, the series’ audience becomes a group representing a fictional culture that ultimately becomes one more sub-cultural template in actual society. Works can indeed create groups as well as attract them.
What Binds Us All Together
What of the “captive” audience that has no sense of what they are about to experience, yet are gathered in a classroom or reception room or boardroom or theater? What of the audience attending the first telecast of a new series, knowing little of what to expect?
Underneath all the common threads binding an audience together is a group of individuals. Each one is responsive to the same essential mental processes as the next. It is this intrinsic sameness — not of ideas but of the way in which ideas are formed — that makes us all part of the group we call humans. At this most basic level, we are all part of the same group.
Throughout this book we have stressed the difference between storyforming and storytelling. A clear communication requires succinct storyforming. Communicating clearly requires appropriate storytelling.
What makes storytelling appropriate? The fact that the symbols used to encode the storyform are both understood in denotation and connotation by the intended audience. If the audience misreads the symbols, the message will be weakened, lost, or polluted.
Identifying with one’s audience is not enough: one must also identify one’s audience. It is all well and good to feel part of the group. But it can be a real danger to assume that identification with a group leads to clear communication in appropriate symbols or clear reception by all audience members.