Introduction to Storyforming


When an author begins work on a story, he seldom has the whole thing figured out in advance. In fact, he might start with nothing more than a bit of action, a scrap of dialogue, or perhaps only a title. The urge to write springs from some personal interest one wants to share. It could be an emotion, an experience, or a point of view on a particular subject matter. Once inspiration strikes, however, there is the compelling desire to find a way to communicate what one has in mind.

Another thing usually happens along the way. One creative thought leads to another, and the scope of what one wishes to communicate grows from a single item into a collection of items. Action suggests dialogue which defines a character who goes into action, and on and on. Ultimately, an author finds himself with a bag of interesting dramatic elements, each of which is intriguing, but not all of which are connected. It is at this point an author’s mind shifts gears and looks at the emerging work as an analyst rather than as a creator.


The author as analyst examines what he has so far. Intuitively he can sense that some sort of structure is developing. The trick now is to get a grip on the “big picture.” Four aspects of this emerging story become immediately apparent: Character, Theme, Plot, and Genre. An author may find that the points of view expressed by certain characters are unopposed in the story, making the author’s point of view seem heavy-handed and biased. In other places, logic fails, and the current explanation of how point A got to point C is incomplete. She may also notice that some kind of overall theme is partially developed, and that the entire work could be improved by shading more dramatic elements with the same issues.

So far, our intrepid author has still not created a story. Oh, there’s one in there somewhere, but much needs to be done to bring it out. For one thing, certain items that have been developed may begin to seem out of place. They don’t fit in with the feel of the work as a whole. Also, certain gaps have become apparent which beg to be filled. In addition, parts of a single dramatic item may work and other parts may not. For example, a character may ring true at one moment, but turn into a klunker the next.

Having analyzed, then, the author sets about remedying the ailments of his work in the attempt to fashion it into a complete and unified story. Intuitively, an author will examine all the logical and emotional aspects of his story, weed out irregularities and fill in cracks until nothing seems out of place in his considerations. Just as one might start with any piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and in the end a larger picture emerges, so the story eventually fills the author’s heart and mind as a single, seamless, and balanced item, greater than the sum of its parts. The story has taken on an identity all its own.


Looking at the finished story, we can tell two things right off the bat. First, there is a certain logistic dramatic structure to the work. Second, that structure is expressed in a particular way. In Dramatica, we call that underlying deep dramatic structure a Storyform. The manner in which it is communicated is the Storytelling.

As an example of how the Storyform differs from the Storytelling, consider Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. It is easily seen that dramatics of both stories are essentially the same. Yet the expression of those dramatics is completely different. Storytelling dresses the dramatics in different clothes, couches the message in specific contexts, and brings additional non-structure material to the work.

The structure of a story is like a vacant apartment. Everything is functional, but it doesn’t have a personality until someone moves in. Over the years, any number of people might occupy the same rooms, working within the same functionality but making the environment uniquely their own. Similarly, the same dramatic structures have been around for a long time. Yet, every time we dress them up in a way we haven’t seen before, they become new again. So, part of what we find in a finished work is the actual Grand Argument Story and part is the Storytelling.

The problems most writers face arise from the fact that the creative process works on both storyform and storytelling at the same time. The two become inseparably blended, so trying to figure out what really needs to be fixed is like trying to determine the recipe for quiche from the finished pie. It can be done, but it is tough work. What is worse, an author’s personal tastes and assumptions often blind him to some of the obvious flaws in the work, while over-emphasizing others. This can leave an author running around in circles, getting nowhere.

Fortunately, another pathway exists. Because the eventual storyform outlines all of the essential feelings and logic that will be generated by a story, an author can begin by creating a storyform first. Then, all that follows will work together for it is built on a consistent and solid foundation.

To create a storyform, an author will need to make decisions about the kinds of topics he wishes to explore and the kinds of impact he wishes to have on his audience. This can sometimes be a daunting task. Most authors prefer to stumble into the answers to these questions during the writing process, rather than deliberate over them in advance. Still, with a little consideration up front, much grief can be prevented later on as the story develops.

From the Dramatica Theory Book