How Can You Teach Writing When You Speak In Jargon?

I recently received the following note as a response to the writing tips newsletter I publish:

How do you think you going to learn how to be a teacher when you talk in jargon?

What is structure?
What is a protagonist?
What is Narrative?
What is a Log line?
What is truth when none exist?

We live in a world where truth is what every Malcolm Turnbulll says it is.

Regards, Len

My response:

Well, I’ll tell you, Len. Here’s how I have managed to teach for the last 25 years. First, I don’t try to put everything I know into one single article. In fact, I have an article called “What is Narrative” and one called “What is structure” and one called “What is a protagonist” and a whole series of articles on truth (both capital “T” and small “t,” ranging from David Hume’s definition through the Tao.

And also, one cannot always write for beginners and define everything nor can one always write for advanced students and define nothing. Since both levels of experience are present in the 16,000 folks who follow my newsletter, I try to include articles over the whole range of levels, if not in every newsletter, at least over the span of a few issues.

But since you asked, here are some answers to your specific questions, just for you:

What is narrative?

Narrative is our attempt to see our problems from all useful angles so that we might better understand how a specific situation operates and how best to maximize it to what we’d like it to become. When we documented that approach that we all use intuitively into the conventions of storytelling, we called it narrative. And nowadays, we turn our understanding of how we explore a situation to find the greatest meaning (narrative) back to the the real world so that we might understand our selves, our roles in society, and how others interact, and how they might behave in the future. Of course, that’s just an opening paragraph for a full exploration of the topic.

What is a protagonist?

A protagonist is an archetypal character, which means that it is a character who represents a fundamental human quality, in this case, our initiative – our motivation to move forward and affect change in our lives. In a story, the protagonist is the primer mover of the effort to achieve the story’s goal. The protagonist is often mistaken as being the main character, but the main character in a story is the one who grapples with the personal issue at the heart of the story’s message – like Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” The reader or audience tends to stand in the shoes of the main character, or at least to look over their shoulder, and the passionate side of the story seems to revolve around them. When you give the job of protagonist AND main character to the same person in your story, you end up with the typical “hero” who fulfills both roles. But, those two aspects of structure don’t have to always go together. For example, in the book (and movie version) of To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch (the Gregory Peck part in the movie) is the protagonist, trying to get a fair trial for the black man accused of raping a white girl in the 1930s South. But the main character is Finch’s young daughter Scout, as we see this story of prejudice through her eyes, and she must grapple with her own prejudice against the local Boogey Man, “Boo” Radley, who she has judged without having any direct interaction with him, in parallel to the prejudice of the towns people against the man on trial.

What is structure?

Structure (narrative structure specifically) is built from a number of story points that appear in every complete story, such as a Goal or a moment at which the main character will either change their long-held view of how to solve their problems to adopt a different approach or will hold onto their resolve and remain steadfast in their outlook. Consider a Rubik’s cube in which there are only 27 pieces yet by moving them around, it creates more than forty trillion trillion combinations. Still, this is not without form. In a Rubik’s cube, corner pieces always remain corner pieces, no matter how you twist it. So, it always remains a cube. This creates form without formula, and that is what narrative structure does as well.

What is a Log Line?

I believe I actually defined this one right in the newsletter… A log line is a one-sentence description of what your story is about. It defines the core of your story and is useful in keeping your story focused on its essence as you write.

What is truth?

You ask what is truth when none exist? Well, if you had read my article on truth, you would know that your question is actually what the article is about. It describes the relationship of subjectivism to objectivism, and how each can only see a part of the complete picture. It wades in to deeper water with a philosophical discussion, but then turns practical with an exploration of how the search for truth (asking the question, what is truth?) is the essence of a character’s dilemma in not know for sure the best way to respond in a given situation.

Summing up, whether it is Malcolm Turnbull or Donald Trump, we all have our self-purported truth-sayers. But simply labelling something as the truth does not make it so, no matter how much a person wants it to be or believes it to be. In fact, as they say in the East, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao,” which means (for our purposes), that you can’t step into the same river once. Or, less cryptically, there is no truth that can be fully defined.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Story Analysis and Story Creation in Dramatica Software (video)

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Know Your Story Points – Main Character “Approach”

Some of the characters you create as an author will be Do-ers who try to accomplish their purposes through activities (by doing things). Other characters are Be-ers who try to accomplish their purposes by working it out internally (by being a certain way).

When it comes to the Main Character, this choice of Do-er or Be-er will have a large impact on how he approaches the Story’s problem. If you want your Main Character to prefer to solve problems externally, choose Do-er. If you want your Main Character to prefer to solve problems through internal work, choose Be-er.

THEORY: By temperament, Main Characters (like each of us) have a preferential method of approaching Problems. Some would rather adapt their environment to themselves through action, others would rather adapt their environment to themselves through strength of character, charisma, and influence.

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.

USAGE: Do-er and Be-er should not be confused with active and passive. If a Do-er is seen as active physically, a Be-er should be seen as active mentally. While the Do-er jumps in and tackles the problem by physical maneuverings, the Be-er jumps in and tackles the problem with mental deliberations.

The point is not which one is more motivated to hold his ground but how he tries to hold it:

A Do-er would build a business by the sweat of his brow.

A Be-er would build a business by attention to the needs of his clients.

Obviously both Approaches are important, but Main Characters, just like the real people they represent, will have a preference. Having a preference does not mean being less able in the other area.

A martial artist might choose to avoid conflict first as a Be-er character, yet be quite capable of beating the tar out of an opponent if avoiding conflict proved impossible.

Similarly, a school teacher might stress exercises and homework as a Do-er character, yet open his heart to a student who needs moral support.

When creating your Main Character, you may want someone who acts first and asks questions later, or you may prefer someone who avoids conflict if possible, then lays waste the opponent if they won’t compromise.

A Do-er deals in competition, a Be-er in collaboration.

The Main Character’s affect on the story is both one of rearranging the dramatic potentials of the story, and also one of reordering the sequence of dramatic events.

By choosing Do-er or Be-er you instruct Dramatica to establish one method as the Main Character’s approach and the other as the result of his efforts.

This tip was excerpted from

Dramatica Story Structuring Software

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Origins of the Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Many people have asked how we came up with the Dramatica Theory. Well, it didn’t happen all at once.   In fact, it was a three year full-time effort, 8 hours a day.  In going through my archives, I just discovered four hours of recordings we made in 1991 to document our very first attempt at a “complete” theory – kind of a unified field theory of story.

Of course, the theory continued to evolve for another three years until we finally published our findings.  So, the Dramatica you know today, is quite different in many ways than what you will hear on this recordings.  Still, they provide a checkpoint right in the middle of development – the equivalent of a “paper trail” that documents how we got from our original view of story to the model of narrative structure we ultimately created.

So, here for the curious and/or for posterity are all four hours of audio, unedited, in mp3 format, divided into 8 parts. Enjoy!

Origins of the Dramatica Theory – Part 1 of 8

Origins of the Dramatica Theory – Part 2 of 8

Origins of the Dramatica Theory – Part 3 of 8

Origins of the Dramatica Theory – Part 4 of 8

Origins of the Dramatica Theory – Part 5 of 8

Origins of the Dramatica Theory – Part 6 of 8

Origins of the Dramatica Theory – Part 7 of 8

Origins of the Dramatica Theory – Part 8 of 8

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Dramatica Theory Overview (video)

This is a video clip from the “classic” 1999 12 hour video program on narrative structure entitled, Dramatica Unplugged.

In this segment, the key concepts and breadth and depth of the Dramatica Theory of Story are presented in concise form.

See all 112 story structure videos for free…

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Know Your Story Points – Main Character “Growth”

Over the course of your story, the Main Character will either grow out of something or grow into something. Authors show their audiences how to view this development of a Main Character by indicating the direction of Growth by the Main Character.

If the story concerns a Main Character who Changes, he will come to believe he is the cause of his own problems (that’s why he eventually changes). If he grows out of an old attitude or approach (e.g. loses the chip on his shoulder), then he is a Stop character. If he grows into a new way of being (e.g. fills a hole in his heart), then he is a Start character.

If the story concerns a Main Character who Remains Steadfast, something in the world around him will appear to be the cause of his troubles. If he tries to hold out long enough for something to stop bothering him, then he is a Stop character. If he tries to hold out long enough for something to begin, then he is a Start character.

If you want the emphasis in your story to be on the source of the troubles which has to stop, choose “Stop.” If you want to emphasize that the remedy to the problems has to begin, choose “Start.”


Whether a Main Character eventually changes his nature or remains steadfast, he will still grow over the course of the story. This growth has a direction. Either he will grow into something (Start) or grow out of something (Stop).

As an example we can look to Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Does Scrooge need to change because he is excessively miserly (Stop), or because he lacks generosity (Start)? In the Dickens’ story it is clear that Scrooge’s problems stem from his passive lack of compassion, not from his active greed. It is not that he is on the attack, but that he does not actively seek to help others. So, according to the way Charles Dickens told the story, Scrooge needs to Start being generous, rather than Stop being miserly.

A Change Main Character grows by adding a characteristic he lacks (Start) or by dropping a characteristic he already has (Stop). Either way, his make up is changed in nature.

A Steadfast Main Character’s make up, in contrast, does not change in nature. He grows in his resolve to remain unchanged. He can grow by holding out against something that is increasingly bad while waiting for it to Stop. He can also grow by holding out for something in his environment to Start. Either way, the change appears somewhere in his environment instead of in him.


A good way to get a feel for the Stop/Start dynamic in Change Main Characters is to picture the Stop character as having a chip on his shoulder and the Start character as having a hole in his heart.

If the actions or decisions taken by the character are what make the problem worse, then he needs to Stop.

If the problem worsens because the character fails to take certain obvious actions or decisions, then he needs to Start.

A way to get a feel for the Stop/Start dynamic in Steadfast Main Characters is to picture the Stop character as being pressured to give in, and the Start character as being pressured to give up.

If you want to tell a story about a Main Character concerned with ending something bad, choose Stop.

If you want to tell a story about a Main Character concerned with beginning something good, choose Start.

This article was excerpted from Dramatica Story Structure Software

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What Is Dramatica’s Quad?

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Here are some clues for all you Dramatica theory hounds…

Strong, Weak, Electromagnetic, Gravity

Solid, Liquid, Gas, Plasma

Mass, Energy, Space, Time

Universe, Physics, Mind, Psychology

Knowledge, Thought, Ability, Desire

Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb

The same relationships among them, repeated in different subject matter context.

Reflective not of the items but of the way the mind organizes the items.

Therefore reflective of the patterns not of the observed, but of the observer.

This group of interrelationships is the basis of the quad.

It is described by a series of equations.

One of the equations is the psychological equivalent of E=MC2

Each quad is a dramatic circuit in fiction or a psychological circuit in the real world

The items in a quad can be seen as Potential, Resistance, Current, and Power (dynamically).

The items in a quad can be seen as 1,2,3,4 (sequentially).

The items in a quad are not objects but processes.

The Dramatica chart is a periodic table of psychological processes, treated as objects, as in object-oriented programming.

Each quad has a pair that is seen as made  up of discrete items.

Each quad has a pair that is seen as two items blended into one.

There are three kinds of pair relationships in each quad – Dynamic (diagonal), Companion (horizontal), Dependent (Vertical).

The three kinds of pairs correlate to sine, cosine, tangent.

Each kind of pair has two examples – one positive, one negative

There is a fourth relationship in a quad – whether the items are seen as four individual items or as a single family of similar items, such as “This IS the United States” or “These ARE the United States”

This fourth relationship goes beyond the trigonometry functions with a fourth function that moves imaginary numbers into the real number plane since time is part of the equation.

The quad is the core and key to how the mind works and can be used to move beyond artificial intelligence to create artificial self-awareness.

There is much, much, more than this.

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