Dramatica Theory Book: Chapter 7

Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story

By Melanie Anne Phillips  & Chris Huntley

Chapter 7

Grouping the 16 
Motivation Elements

A Better Way to Group Elements

A better way to organize these characteristics is to separate the Action Elements from the Decision Elements. Of course, since the Eight Archetypal Character Types describe a specific pairing of Action characteristic to Decision characteristic, when we separate the sets, we cannot keep the Archetypal Character names as their contents are split. Nevertheless, it is much more useful to arrange the Elements by their similar natures rather than by the simple arrangement contained in the Archetypal Characters.

With 16 characteristics, we can create four quads of four characteristics each. This grows from having a Driver Character Quad and a Passenger Character Quad, then splitting each in two (Action Quad and Decision Quad), giving us four Quads: the Action Driver Quad, the Decision Driver Quad, the Action Passenger Quad, and the Decision Passenger Quad.

Motivation Element Quads

Using the Quads to Gain Meaning

In Dramatica, a group of four Quads is called a Set. Note how the set above provides additional meaning. For example, when dealing with a problem of Action in terms of Drivers, one would have the choice to Pursue, Prevent, Help, or Hinder. When a Character represents the Drive to Pursue, it applies itself to achieving the goal. Although it may also want the goal to be achieved, a Help Character focuses its efforts on being useful to the Pursuit of the goal rather than instigating its own effort. This explains the functions of and relationship between the Protagonist’s Drive (Pursue) and the Guardian’s Drive (Help).

Similarly, when a Protagonist’s Drive is Pursue, an Antagonist’s Drive is Prevent. And, of course, the Contagonist Hinders the Protagonist’s Pursuit. In fact, when we consider all four Quads, we can obtain a very precise understanding of why the Eight Archetypal Characters are created as they are and exactly how they relate.

Complex Arrangements of Character Elements

So far we have only explored sixteen different character Elements. One way to create complex characters is by assigning these sixteen Elements to characters in non-archetypal patterns. However, as great as the number of potential characters that can be created is, this limited set of sixteen Elements is still not sufficient to describe all the rich complexities of the Objective Characters we see in sophisticated stories. This is because these sixteen Elements only represent character Motivations. In fact, we call them the Sixteen Motivation Elements.

Characters Do Not Live By Motivations Alone

Like real people, characters are driven by Motivations, but they also aspire to different Purposes, employ different Methodologies in the effort to achieve those purposes, and use different Means of Evaluation to determine the effectiveness of their efforts. The old adage that one should create three
dimensional characters falls short by one dimension. Fully realized characters are four dimensional possessing an Action and Decision Element in each dimension.

In the following sections we will explore two kinds of character complexity. First we will look at ways to rearrange the Motivation Elements, and second, we will outline how to bring the other three character dimensions into play.

Star Wars Characters
in Four Motivation Quads

Once again, to enhance our “feel” for these relationships, let’s add the names of the Characters in Star Wars to the Quads.

Star Wars

As before, the amazingly pure Archetypal Characters of Star Wars translate into a completely symmetrical pattern. Each Character has an Action Quad characteristic and a Decision Quad characteristic. Each pair of Characters is in direct opposition, both internally and externally. Further, Driver Archetypes are represented exclusively in the Driver Quads, and Passenger Archetypes are found entirely within the Passenger Quads.

“Oz” Characters
in Four Motivation Quads

The Wizard of Oz

In looking at these patterns, the Passenger Characters in The Wizard of Oz seem very much like the Passenger Characters in Star Wars, with that one notable exception of the “flipping” of Logic and Feeling in relation to Control and Uncontrolled. In other words, the two Characters simply traded places on one Dynamic Pair of Elements in a single Quad. It makes sense that a stereotypical Reason Character would be logical AND controlled, and a stereotypical Emotion Character would be feeling AND uncontrolled. But if you simply flip the Action Characteristics in relation to the Decision Characteristics, far more versatile Characters are created — characters whose approach is no longer in complement to their attitude, but in conflict with it. In a sense, these Characters are made more interesting by creating an inequity within them even as they continue to represent methods of problem solving within the Story Mind.

Looking at the Wizard and the Wicked Witch we see that the other kind of swapping of characteristics also creates much less stereotypical Characters. Rather than a tempter, the Wicked Witch becomes a completely action-oriented pest not only trying to prevent Dorothy from achieving her goal, but hindering her every step on the way as well. The Wizard becomes a purely decision-oriented tempter who represents taking the apparent easy way out while also (through his fearsome reputation, embodiment, and requests) urging Dorothy and her friends to reconsider their decisions. This lack of action characteristics may help explain why the Wizard is so obviously absent during most of the story, although his influence is felt throughout. Obviously, the nature of the combinations of characteristics has a great impact on which decisions and actions the audience will expect and accept from a Character.

Jaws Characters
in Four Motivation Quads


Clearly, the Driver Character characteristics in Jaws are as simple as those in Star Wars. In fact, they are identical in terms of which characteristics are combined into a single Character. However, when we look at the Passenger Character characteristics, we see a new phenomenon: some of those Elements are present in the Driver Characters, two of whom are doing multiple duty.

The Mayor represents Temptation and Hinder as a Driver Character but also represents the Passenger characteristics of Disbelief and Oppose. Hooper, a Driver in Conscience and Help, also represents Logic and Uncontrolled, putting him in conflict with Quint. It is clear that these “multi-characteristic” Characters are much more complex in their make-up and therefore in their interactions than Archetypes. For this reason we refer to them as Complex Characters.

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