Dramatica: Out of Balance

Here’s a note from a Dramatica user and my reply.

(Careful, highly technical discussion follows that bears little connection to stories or writing)

Dramatica user:

Just as an experiement, I cleared the storyform, and opened the plot progression screen. I was struggling with whether my MC’s Signpost 1 was The Present or Contemplation — although I was sure that his Signpost 4 was either The Past or Memories.

When I gave him The Present as Signpost 1, and then The Past as Signpost 4, it reduced the number of possible storyforms to 288.

However, when I assigned Contemplation to his Signpost 1, and Memories to Signpost 4, ZING! Dramatica filled in all the other signposts for all throughlines, and the number of possible storyforms was only 32!

I went back to Signpost 1 being The Present, to see if I could get the same thing to happen with any of the other possible options for Signpost 4, but to no avail.

So, what is unique about the Contemplation and Memories combination? I’m truly interested in knowing what is going on in Dramatica’s feverish mind! šŸ™‚

My reply:

Sorry to say, I can’t answer that one off the top of my head. Not to be impertinent, but that’s why we built the Story Engine. What I’m saying is that the complexities of the engine as to “why” any given combination might come up is a lot like looking at a pattern on a Rubik’s Cube and trying to answer how it got to that state.

Here’s a conceptual clue, though. Not everything in the Story Engine is symmetrical. You’d think it would be, at first blush, but it isn’t (and in a moment I’ll explain why). It is because of the asymmetry that you can think of it as an unbalance tire. Depending on your speed, instead of turning in a consistent manner the tire will develop a wobble under certain conditions – like an off-balanced washing machine in the spin cycle. What you are seeing with the different degrees of constraint is the product of such an intentional, designed-in unbalance.

Now, why would we do that? Or more to the point, why would Dramatica do that? Well, this comes down to the fact that the current implementation of Dramatica is a “K-based” system. As you are likely aware, Dramatica’s model is partially built from permutations of a KTAD quad – Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire. So, each should be treated equally to accurately represent all four “bases” in a story’s DNA.

But, in a four-demensional universe, you can’t monitor a four-dimensional constantly re-balancing model because you have to hold at least one of those items in check in order to use it as the yard-stick against which the movements of the other three are measured. It is kind of like trying to plot the up and down movements of the four corners of a sheet of plywood balancing on rock at the center. All four corners will move up and down so that the plywood maintains its integrity as a flat plane. From the outside, that’s easy to see. But we can’t step outside our own minds, which is what Dramatica is really a model of.

So, we are always in the position of actually standing on the plywood and moving up and down with it. From that point of view, the movement of each corner relative to the ground is no longer a simple predictive wave, but becomes a complex “unbalanced” series of up and down movements and no longer seems even from corner to corner because the corner you are standing on has been removed from the equation.

Therefore, in order to actually see the model work in four dimensions, we have to pick a corner upon which to stand. In the software model, that corner is K (Knowledge) since our Western logic-based mentalities are all geared to the definitive. When you choose to “bias” the model toward K, you can then use the engine to predict, because the bias is consistent from side to side and top to bottom. But, that bias has to show up some-place. And now we return to our unbalanced tire analogy. Most everything in a biased system will appear no different in operation than any other part. But, like the tire, under certain conditions of speed and road, you can see the wobble.

This wobble occurs because the human mind tries to keep things apparently flat and level, regardless of the bias. In a quad, we like to see it as flat. But, in fact, the temporal journey around the quad is a progression, and every time we move (even mentally) from one quadrant to the next, we also get a vertical rise. This is because it is not really a quad, but more like a “Slinky” kids toy (that spiral of coiled wire that walks down stairs). From the end, it looks like a circle. From the side (when stretched out) it looks like a sine wave. But it is really a helix, when seen from a 3/4 angle. So too, the quad form is like looking at the Slinky of our minds from the end, compressing time out of the picture as we seek (in a K-based system) to flatten it out so we can parse and define each piece.

But that vertical rise is still in there. (That’s why the Dramatica table has four levels and is not just a flat chart.) But since we mentally treat each item in the quad as being on the same plane as the next, we get an easier understanding of it, but by the time we get to the fourth item, we’ve been sweeping that vertical rise under the carpet until it has risen up so much that we can’t ignore it any more. So, we do a course-correction and throw all that extra vertical stuff into the fourth and final item in the quad. That, by the way, is why many quads seem to have three items that are quite similar and one that seems kind of “out of left field” – like “Past” Present” “Future” and “Progress” – Progress doesn’t quite fit because it is picking up all that vertical material in one quadrant. (Imagine now, how long it took to create the Dramatica chart so that this “fourth item difference” was consistent in every quad, thereby creating a consistent bias across the whole breadth and depth of the model! – In fact, it took two years for that alone.)

Now, since we elected to employ a K-based system in order to conform as well as possible to our logic-based culture, the farther away you get from K, the more the wobble shows up. But, because we hide it for the first three items, it tends to be invisible (thereby giving similar story points similar effects on the model) until we get to that last quadrant where the inconsistency appears (just appears, not really) to run amok. In a K-based system of logic, the farthest thing away (and home to the greatest wobble) is the Desire Quadrant. And, Desire is the center of female mental sex (now called “holistic” problem solving in the current version of the Dramatica software).

As you are no doubt familiar, “Problem Solving Technique” (previously called “mental sex”) describes the overall operating system of the mind in two flavors – space-based and time-based. A space-based mind is most compatible with Knowledge-based logic. In fact, a K-based model is totally biased to make the most “intuitive sense” to a spatial mind. As such, most of the wobble (though not all) goes into the Dynamics, rather than the structure. So, very often, such a wobble will occur because of a choice made in the dynamic questions, but the reverberations of that wobble will show up structurally, just like a jet flying by might rattle your windows.

One of the most powerful wobbles, then, is created in the Mental Sex (Problem Solving Technique) area. Now, I can’t say that’s where your story’s wobble is coming from, but I can say that it is likely due to some element of your dynamics that tends more toward a temporal view of story than a spatial view.

Here’s a final clue for you – (speaking generally in a bell-curve sort of way) – many men see women as being 180 degrees apart in how they think. Many women see men as being only 90 degrees apart, thereby expecting men to easily get in touch with and express their feelings. But in fact, men and women are 270 degrees apart, meaning that while women have it right (90 degrees of difference) men also have it right because to get there you have to go the other way ’round the quad making the direction to connect 180 degrees of difference.)

So, as you can see, this kind of “apples and oranges” differences in thinking spreads out all over the model. And when the two mental operating systems come into conflict in a K-based model, the wobble develops and manifests itself as a different impact for what seems ought to be the same.

Sorry I couldn’t just give you a quick answer, but the question you asked is one of the most complex.

Hope it at least clarifies the issue.