Category Archives: Author & Audience

Do You Want To Change Your Audience?

Do you want your story to bring your audience to a point of change or to reinforce its current view? Oddly enough, choosing a steadfast Main Character may bring an audience to change and choosing a change character may influence the audience to remain steadfast. Why? It depends upon whether or not your audience shares the Main Character’s point of view to begin with.

Suppose your audience and your Main Character do NOT agree in attitudes about the central issue of the story. Even so, the audience will still identify with the Main Character because he represents the audience’s position in the story. So, if the Main Character grows in resolve to remain steadfast and succeeds, then the message to your audience is, “Change and adopt the Main Character’s view if you wish to succeed in similar situations.”

Clearly, since either change or steadfast can lead to either success or failure in a story, when you factor in where the audience stands a great number of different kinds of audience impact can be created by your choice.

In answering this question, therefore, consider not only what you want your Main Character to do as an individual, but also how that influences your story’s message and where your audience stands in regard to that issue to begin with.

Excerpted from our Dramatica software

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Message and Context

The message of a story comes from context. It is context that eventually convinces Scrooge that his way of looking at the world is incorrect. Yet, before he was shown the bigger picture, his personal experience presented quite a different picture.

The Influence Character in a story (the ghosts, in the case of A Christmas Carol) presents that alternative context, shifting their argument, act by act, as the Main Character tries to maintain his conclusions by side-stepping.

Eventually, the Influence Character will chase the Main Character’s reasoning around the block until there is nowhere left to side-step and he or she must face that bigger picture.

At that point – the point of climax in the personal journey of growth for the Main Character – he or she will either accept or reject this new context (either change or remain steadfast in their views) in a leap of faith, and the ramifications of that choice will determine if the story ends in success or failure.

To help with creating these context and developing the progressive conflict between the Influence Character and the Main Character, we developed Dramatica: the world’s only writing software with a patented interactive Story Engine that cross-references your answers to questions about your story to create a template for perfect story structure.

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Melanie Anne Phillips

The Story Mind (Part 3) – A Story Is An Argument

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

So a tale is a simple linear path that the author promotes as being either a good or bad one to take, depending on the outcome. There’s a certain amount of power in that. It wouldn’t take our early storyteller long to realize that he didn’t have to limit himself to relating events that actually happened. Rather, he might carry things a step farther and create a fictional tale to illustrate the benefits or dangers of following a particular course.

That is the concept behind Fairy Tales and Cautionary Tales – to encourage certain behaviors and inhibit other behaviors based on the author’s belief as to the most efficacious courses of action in life.

But what kind of power could you get as an author if you were able to not merely say, “This conclusion is true for this particular case,” but rather “This conclusion is true for all such similar cases”?

In other words, if you begin “here,” then no matter what path you might take from that given starting point, it wouldn’t be as good (or as bad) as the one I’m promoting. Now, rather than saying that the approach you have described is simply good or bad in and of itself, you are suggesting that of all the approaches that might have been taken, yours is the best (or worst) way to go.

Now that has a lot more power to it because you are telling everyone, “If you find yourself in this situation, exclude any other paths; take only this one,” or, “If you find yourself in this situation, no matter what you do, don’t do this!”

That kind of statement has a lot more power to manipulate an audience. But, because you’ve only shown the one path (even though you are saying it is better than any others) you are making a blanket statement.

An audience simply won’t sit still for a blanket statement. They’ll cry, “Foul!” They will at least question you. So, if our caveman sitting around the fire say, “Hey, this is the best of all possible paths,” the audience is going to say , “What about this other case? What if we tried this, this or this?”

If the author was able to successfully argue his case he would compare all the solutions the audience might suggest to the one he is touting and conclusively show that the promoted path is clearly the best (or worst). Or, a solution might be suggested that proves better than the author’s, in which case his blanket statement loses all credibility.

In a nutshell, for every rebuttal the audience voices, the author can attempt to counter the rebuttal until he has proven his case. Now, he wont’ have to argue every conceivable alternative solution – just the ones the audience brings up. And if he is successful, he’ll eventually exhaust their suggestions or simply tire them out to the point they are willing to accept his conclusions.

But the moment you record a story as a song ballad, a stage play, or a motion picture (for example), then the original author is no longer there to counter any rebuttals the audience might have to his blanket statement.

So if someone in the audience thinks of a potential way to resolve the problem and you haven’t addressed it in your blanket statement, they will feel there is a hole in your argument and that you haven’t made your case.

Therefore, in a recorded art form, you need to include all the other reasonable approaches that might be tried in order to “sell” your approach as the best or the worst. You need to show how each alternative is not as good (or as bad) as the one you are promoting thereby proving that your blanket statement is correct.

In order to do this, you must anticipate all the other ways the audience might consider solving the problem in question. In effect, you have include all the ways anyone might think of solving that problem. Essentially, you have to include all the ways any human mind might go about solving that problem. In so doing, you create a model of the mind’s problem-solving process: the Story Mind.

Now, no caveman ever sat down by a fire and said to himself, “I’m going to create an analogy to the mind’s problem-solving processes.” Yet in the process of successfully telling a story in a recorded art form (thereby showing that a particular solution is better than all other potential ones) the structure of the story becomes a model of psychology as an accidental byproduct.

Once this is understood, you can psychoanalyze your story. And you find that everything that is in the human mind is represented in some tangible form in a story’s structure.

That’s what Dramatica is all about. Once we had that Rosetta Stone, we set ourselves to documenting the psychology of story structure. We developed a model of this structure and described it in our book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story.   While that book is detailed and complete, it is also written like a scientific paper.  For decades folks have been clamoring for less daunting guide to the theory – something that covers all the key points but in a more conversational tone.  Hence, this book.  Better late than never, eh?

Also from Melanie Anne Phillips…

Introduction to Communication

The process of communication requires at least two parties: the originator and the recipient. In addition, for communication to take place, the originator must be aware of the information or feelings he wishes to transmit, and the recipient must be able to determine that meaning.

Similarly, storytelling requires an author and an audience. And, to tell a story, one must have a story to tell. Only when an author is aware of the message he wishes to impart can he determine how to couch that message so it will be accurately received.

It should be noted that an audience is more than a passive participant in the storytelling process. When we write the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” we have communicated a message, albeit a nebulous one.

In addition to the words, another force is at work creating meaning in the reader’s mind. The readers themselves may have conjured up memories of the fragrance of fresh rain on dry straw, the trembling fear of blinding explosions of lightning, or a feeling of contentment that recalls a soft fur rug in front of a raging fire. But all we wrote was, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

We mentioned nothing in that phrase of straw or lightning or fireside memories. In fact, once the mood is set, the less said, the more the audience can imagine. Did the audience imagine what we, the authors, had in mind? Not likely. Did we communicate? Some. We communicated the idea of a dark and stormy night. The audience, however, did a lot of creating on its own.

While some authors write specifically to communicate to an audience, many others write because they wish to follow their personal Muses. Sometimes writing is a catharsis, or an exploration of self. Sometimes authoring is a sharing of experiences, fragmented images, or just of a point of view. Sometimes authoring is marking a path for an audience to follow, or perhaps just presenting emotional resources the audience can construct into its own vision.

Interactive communications question the validity of a linear story itself, and justifiably so. There are many ways to communicate, and each has just as much value as the next depending upon how one wishes to affect one’s audience.

It has been argued that perhaps the symbols we use are what create concepts, and therefore no common understanding between cultures, races, or times is possible.

On the contrary, there are common concepts: morality, for example. Morality, a common concept? Yes. While not everyone shares the same definition of morality, every culture and individual understands some concept that means “morality” to them.

In other words, the concept of “morality” may have many different meanings — depending on culture or experience — but they all qualify as different meanings of “morality.”

Thus there can be universally shared essential concepts even though they drift apart through various interpretations. It is through this framework of essential concepts that communication is possible.

To communicate a concept, an author must symbolize it, either in words, actions, juxtapositions, interactions — in some form or another. As soon as the concept is symbolized, however, it becomes culturally specific and therefore inaccessible to much of the rest of the world.

Even within a specific culture, the different experiences of each member of an audience will lead to a slightly different interpretation of the complex patterns represented by intricate symbols.

On the other hand, it is the acceptance of common symbols of communication that defines a culture. For example, when we see a child fall and cry, we do not need to know what language he speaks or what culture he comes from in order to understand logistically what has happened.

If we observe the same event in a narrative, however, it may be that in the author’s culture a child who succumbs to tears is held in low esteem. In that case, then the emotions of sadness we may feel in our culture are not at all those intended by the author.

The accuracy with which an author is able to successfully convey both concept and context defines the success of any communication. And so, communication requires both a sound narrative and an effective translation of that narrative into symbolic language.

These requirements create an immensely rich and complex form which (though often practiced intuitively) can be deconstructed, understood, and manipulated with purpose and skill.

To begin such a deconstruction, let us next examine the origins of communication and the narrative form.

This article was excerpted from:

The Four Throughlines in To Kill A Mockingbird

By Melanie Anne Phillips

There are four throughlines that must be explored in every story for it to feel to readers or audience that the underlying issues have been fully explored and the message fully supported.

Objective Story Throughline: The Objective Story is the big picture – the situations and activities in which all the characters are involved.  In To Kill A Mockingbird the Objective Story Throughline explores opinions in a small 1930s southern town where Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white girl . Though he is being brought to trial, many of the town folk think this case should never see trial and the defendant should just be lynched. Defending Tom Robinson is Atticus Finch, a well-respected lawyer (played by Gregory Peck in the movie version).  The father of the ostensibly-raped girl, Bob Ewell, leads a mob to murder Tom Robinson, but Atticus stands firm against them.  Enraged, Ewell seeks to hurt Atticus children in revenge.  This makes Atticus the protagonist of the story and Bob Ewell the Antagonist.

Main Character Throughline: The Main Character is the one we identify with, the one whom the story seems to be about at a personal level.  In To Kill A Mockingbird Atticus’ young daughter, Scout in the Main Character, and her throughline describes her personal experiences in this story.  We see this story of prejudice through her eyes, a child’s eyes, as she watches her father stand up against the town and Bob Ewell.  It is because we stand in her shoes, that makes her the Main Character.  Though the story is about the trial and about prejudice, it feels like it revolves around her impressions of it.  But Scout has many issues of her own as well, not the least of which is Boo Radley, the monstrous child-killing boogey man who is locked in the basement of his family’s home on Scout’s street.

Influence Character Throughline: The Influence Character is not the antagonist but the character who most influences the Main Characters outlook and feelings.  In To Kill A Mockingbird Boo Radley is the Influence Character, the reclusive and much talked about and dangerous crazy man living down the street from Scout. The rumors surrounding this man, fueled by the town’s ignorance and fear, makes scout concerned for her safety and along with anyone else, tends to hold him in derision.

Subjective Story Throughline: The Subjective Story is the tale of how the Influence Character and Main Character change each other over the course of the story.  One will be forced by their interactions to grow in their steadfast outlook.  The other will be affected by that steadfastness to ultimately change to adopt the outlook of the other.  This is the heart of a story’s message.  In To Kill A Mockingbird the Subjective Story centers on the relationship between Scout and Boo Radley. This throughline explores Scout’s prejudice against Boo’s solely by virtue of heresay. Boo has been constantly active in Scout’s life, protecting her from the background, ultimately saving her and her brother from Bob Ewell. When Scout finally realizes this she changes in her feelings toward him, thereby strongly supporting the story’s message that it is very easy to fall into prejudice for anyone, if we judge people by what we hear, rather than what we have determined from our own first-hand experience.

To further illustrate how these four throughlines work together to create and support a story’s message, watch the following video clip recorded at one of my seminars on story structure:

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A Story is an Argument

By Melanie Anne Phillips

There are two principal forms of story structure: the tale and the story.

A tale is a statement – a statement that ‘this lead to this lead to that’ and ‘here’s how it ended up’.

Using this technique, a storyteller can say “Ok, I’m going to tell you about this situation, in which if you start here and you take this series of steps you end up there and it’s a good thing or its a bad thing to be there”.

Large good, small good – little bad, big bad – that’s up to the author, depending on the message he or she wants to put forth.  But in a tale, the statement made is simply this: follow this series of steps from this starting point and you will end up with this thing that is good or bad.

That’s the whole basis for fairy tales and cautionary tales, and there’s certain amount of power in that. But what kind of power could you get as an author if you were able to expand that and say ‘this is not just true for this particular case I’m telling you about, but it is also true for all such similar cases?’

In other words, if you start from here, no matter what path you try to take based on this particular problem you started with, this is the best (or worst) path to take of all that might be taken.  Then the message of your tale becomes ‘this particular path is the best or the worst.’ It’s no longer just good or bad, it’s the best path or the worst path to take.  Now you are aren’t just making a statement about a particular case; you are making a blanket statement covering all similar cases.

Now that has a lot more power to it because now you are telling everyone to exclude any other paths – ‘take only this one if you find yourself in this situation’ or,  ‘if you find yourself in this situation no matter what you do, don’t do that’.

While a simple tale with a simple statement is designed to influence audience behavior in a specific case, a more complex tale with a blanket statement is designed to influence general behavior by an audience.

But when you make a blanket statement have you really convinced your audience to alter its behavior?  In practice, an audience won’t sit still for a blanket statement without at least some supporting evidence. They will cry foul. They will at least question you.

So, for example, if an early storyteller is sitting around the campfire and says, ‘this is the best of all possible paths that I have shown you.’, his audience is going to say, ‘hey wait a minute, what about this other case, what if we try this, this and this?’

If the storyteller is to satisfy his audience and actually ‘prove’ his case to its satisfaction, he will need to be able to argue his point, saying, ‘in that case such and such, and therefore you can see why it would end up being not as good or better than this path that I’m touting.’

Another person brings up another scenario such as ‘what about going down this way and trying that.’ Then, if the point can be well made, the storyteller is again able to defend his assertion and say, ‘well that case, such and such, so you can see the point that the blanket statement I made is still true’.

Eventually either something will be found that is better than what the author was proposing and the blanket statement is rejected or the author will be able to stick it out and counter all those rebuttals and convince the audience that yes, the message of this tale is true in all such similar cases.

In a practical sense, you (the storyteller) won’t have to counter every potential different path when you are telling the story live because your audience will only come up with a certain number of them before they are satisfied that the alternatives they think are most important to look into have been adequately addressed.

But the moment that you record the story, the moment you put it into a song, stage play, a motion picture or a book, as soon as that happens, you’re no longer there to counter the rebuttals. You also don’t know exactly which potential rebuttals might come up. So if somebody looks at your story in the form of a movie in the theater and they see some pathway they think ought to be taken wasn’t even suggested, then they are going to feel that you haven’t made your case because maybe that would have been a better path than yours.

So what do you do? Well, in a recorded art form you have to anticipate all the different rebuttals that might come up about other potential solutions and preempt them by showing in your message why all these other potential reasonable solutions would not be as good or as bad as the one that you are proposing.

If you can cover them all, then you will have proven that your purported solution is in fact the best or the worst, and your audience will accept your message.

Just as simply saying something is true is the essence of a tale, proving it is true by making an argument is the essence of story.  And that is why a tale is a statement and a story is an argument.

But how do you make such an argument?

Here’s a short video from my “classic” 12-hour program on story structure I recorded way back in 1999:

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Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 9 “Author’s Intent”

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story

Simply having a feeling or a point of view does not an author make. One becomes an author the moment one establishes an intent to communicate. Usually some intrigu- ing setting, dialog, or bit of action will spring to mind and along with it the desire to share it. Almost immediately, most authors leap ahead in their thinking to consider how the concept might best be presented to the audience. In other words, even before a com- plete story has come to mind most authors are already trying to figure out how to tell the parts they already have.

As a result, many authors come to the writing process carrying a lot of baggage: favorite scenes, characters, or action, but no real idea how they are all going to fit to- gether. A common problem is that all of these wonderful inspirations often don’t belong in the same story. Each may be a complete idea unto itself, but there is no greater meaning to the sum of the parts. To be a story, each and every part must also function as an aspect of the whole.

Some writers run into problems by trying to work out the entire dramatic structure of a story in advance only to find they end up with a formulaic and uninspired work. Con- versely, other writers seek to rely on their muse and work their way through the process of expressing their ideas only to find they have created nothing more than a mess. If a way could be found to bring life to tired structures and also to knit individual ideas into a larger pattern, both kinds of authors might benefit. It is for this purpose that Dramatica was developed.


Finally, here at part 9, do we come to a section of the book that I think says exactly what it intended to say.  And, in fact, that is what the section is all about – saying what you intend to say.

Having an experience or an insight doesn’t make one an author.  SHARING an experience or an insight does – or at least attempting to share.  How successful you are at communicating the logic and passion of your intent determines how skillful an author you are.  How interestingly you convey that information determines how compelling an author you are.  Together, they determine how good an author you are.

If I were to add anything to this section at all, it would be something the Dramatica book intentionally avoided: giving advice on how to write.  We wanted to focus on explaining our model of story structure (our intent) and that is what we did (success).  But, we had no interest in making it interesting.  Which, by my definition above, means that we weren’t very compelling authors and, overall, were not very good authors.

And so, let me simply suggest that it pays to not only know what you want to share with your audience, but to determine what impact you’d like to have on them, i.e. to scare them, motivate them, inform them, illuminate them or any combination of multiple intents.  In that way, even without a structural road map, you always have a beacon, a lighthouse to guide your communications and the manner in which you present your information.

~~Melanie Anne Phillips

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Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 8 “Communicating Through Symbols”

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story

How can essential concepts be communicated? Certainly not in their pure, intuitive form directly from mind to mind. (Not yet, anyway!) To communicate a concept, an author must symbolize it, either in words, actions, juxtapositions, interactions — in some form or another. As soon as the concept is symbolized, however, it becomes culturally specific and therefore inaccessible to much of the rest of the world.

Even within a specific culture, the different experiences of each member of an audi- ence will lead to a slightly different interpretation of the complex patterns represented by intricate symbols. On the other hand, it is the acceptance of common symbols of com- munication that defines a culture. For example, when we see a child fall and cry, we do not need to know what language he speaks or what culture he comes from in order to understand what has happened. If we observe the same event in a story, however, it may be that in the author’s culture a child who succumbs to tears is held in low esteem. In that case, then the emotions of sadness we may feel in our culture are not at all what was intended by the author.


As I read this over, I think our intent was good, but we were a little off the mark.  Here we state in the opening paragraph that to communicate a thought, concept, feeling or experience you need to symbolize it first.  That’s not technically true.  For example, suppose you want your friend to feel terror.  Well, you could just throw him out of an airplane and I’ll bet he’d pretty much experience just what you had in mind.  Nothing symbolic about that!

More accurately, we can communicate by creating an environment that causes our reader or audience to arrive just where we want them.  In other words, we set up an experience that, by the end of the book or movie, positions our reader or audience into just the mindset we want them to have.

More sophisticated, or perhaps less end-product-oriented narratives are designed to position the reader or audience all along the way as well, so that the entire journey is an experience right along the logical and emotional path of discovery the author intended for his followers.

None of this requires symbols, however.  It can all be done simply by creating a series of artificial environments presented in a given sequence.  But, symbols can streamline the process.  If you don’t have to build the environment for the reader or audience but merely allude to it, then you can get your point and passion across simply by invoking an element of common understanding.  A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but a symbol is worth 1,000 experiences.

So, what we wrote above is not wrong per se, but rather is short speak that (though it communicates) is open to criticism because is skips over a number of steps to streamline communication.  And that, is exactly what symbols do – they get the content to the recipient in the quickest fashion possible yet open the message – the story argument – to rebuttal because wholesale parts of the communication are truncated, leaving gaps in the actual flow, though if the author is in tune with the audience’s symbolic vocabulary, the complete extent of the original concept may, in fact, be fully appreciated.

Bottom line – know your audience and you will be able to put far more logical and passionate density into the pipeline than if you had to spell everything out.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

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Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 6 “The Scope of Dramatica”

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story

With all these forms of communication, isn’t Dramatica severely limited in addressing only the Grand Argument Story? No. The Grand Argument model described by Dra- matica functions to present all the ways a mind can look at an issue. As a result, all other forms of communication will be using the same pieces, just in different combina- tions, sequences, or portions. In our example, we indicated that the less we said, the more the audience could use its imagination. A Grand Argument Story says it all. Every point is made, even if hidden obscurely in the heart of an entertainment. Other forms of communication use “slices” of the model, chunks, or levels. Even if an author is un- aware of this, the fact that human minds share common essential concepts means that the author will be using concepts and patterns found in the Dramatica model.


This section is pretty straight-forward.  All it says is that the Dramatica model of structure describes the full size a structure can be.  Therefore, all other structural models are not in conflict with it, but contained within it.

Well, now, isn’t that arrogant?  Arrogant, yes, but also true.  You see, in the process of discovering Dramatica’s structural model, we came to realize that there is a maximum amount of information the human mind can hold and consider at one time without relegating some of it to memory to call up as needed.  We coined the phrase, “Size of Mind Constant” to describe this phenomenon.

Dramatica describes the totality of this “biggest thought” that anyone can have so, therefore (if you buy into that) all other structural models must, by definition, fall into it.  Implied: if they don’t, they’re wrong.  And we, as usual, are being arrogant again.  But also right.

Here’s why there’s a Size of Mind Constant.  There are four external dimensions: Mass, Energy, Space and Time.  Einstein messed around with those in his famous E=MC2.  What we discovered in story structure is that those four dimensions are reflected in the mind as Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire.  And we came up with our own logic equation to describe the relativistic relationship among them: T/K=AD.

Conversationally, Knowledge is the Mass of the Mind – it describes the discrete particles of what you know.  Thought is like Energy, it moves those pieces of Knowledge around to build things (like complex understandings).  Ability is like Space because it describes all the unknown in which your particle of Knowledge reside.  In other words, Ability is the comparison of how much you know in a given area to how much you don’t know.  And Desire is like Time because it is a comparison of how things are compared to how they were and how they might be.

Okay, enough with the science – for now…

So in non-math speak, you’ve got four external dimensions and four internal dimensions to work with.  Each is a different kind of evaluation of your world and yourself.  But, your mind has to go someplace, so you need to “stand” on one of the eight and use it as your baseline from which to measure the other seven.  Then, you jump from the one you are on and measure the new set of seven (this time including the one you were on originally) and see what that looks like.  When you have finally “stood” on all eight and seen all you can see, all of those perspectives are what make up the Dramatica model.

Recall, now, that we didn’t invent this model (way too complex for us! See, being non-arrogant here…).  Rather, we simply discovered the kind of out-of-focus existence of it in the conventions of narrative structure and simply sharpened the image.

Now, we stand on one at a time and look at seven.  If we want to move beyond that, we are beyond the capacity of our minds to see that much without treading over the same ground.  So, shift to look at new stuff, and when we do, it appears to be another topic or another category or another kind of thing.  Everything in our perception is really interconnected, but when we examine all we can from one perspective (jumping through all eight points to look at it) we see anything outside that as a separate topic.

So, here we come to the size of mind constant.  We are all quite capable, regardless of mental prowess, to jump around all eight of those dimensions and all of those resulting perspectives on a topic make up a Grand Argument Story – a complete description of all the different ways we might look at an issue.  That’s the Size of Mind Constant.

Now here are some fun reflections of that.  Average “short-term” memory is 7 items, which is why phone number ended up seven numbers long and perhaps why we divide things into seven day weeks.  Who knows?

Also, Size of Mind Constant is like thinking of your ability to hold a big thought as being the capacity of a box-car on a railroad track.  The ties on the track show the subject matter you are covering.  You stand in the box car and cover one tie.  The rest of the box car covers seven more ties.  You can move the car up and down the track to cover more subject matter, but you can never cover more than eight ties at the same time (including yourself).

Another way of looking at it is that the Dramatica model describes the biggest notions you can have (the “classes” in the model) while still being able to see the smallest details (the “elements”).  If you look at something bigger (like rising up over a landscape in a balloon) you start to loose the ability to see the details.  If you drop down to see the details, you loose sight of the Big Picture.

And so, the Size of Mind Constant describes the bandwidth you can perceive at the same time from the biggest broad strokes to the tiniest concepts.

And THAT is why all other structural models are not in conflict with Dramatica (unless they are flat-out wrong) but rather, fall within that scope because, quite simply, there’s nowhere else to go.

– Melanie Anne Phillips

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Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 4 “What is a Grand Argument Story?”

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story

A Grand Argument Story is a conceptually complete story with both an emotional and logical comprehensiveness. There are a number of qualities which determine whether a story is a Grand Argument or not. These are seen in the story’s Structure, Dynamics, Character, Theme, Plot, and Genre.


The above is a pretty confusing paragraph, even though its accurate.  More precisely, it is confusing BECAUSE it is accurate, which is true of a lot of the concepts in Dramatica.  Dramatica is a whole new way of looking at what stories are and how they work.  As such, many ideas are completely foreign to familiar narrative thinking, while other notions had to be redefined from the common understanding.

In this first paragraph, what it is really saying is simply that a Grand Argument Story (one of the concepts we created) fully supports its message or moral in every logical or emotional way any reader or audience member might need to buy into it.

What sets this apart from other kinds of stories?  Conversationally, to be a story, a written work needs be no more than a description of a series of events.  But a Grand Argument Story needs to, literally, make an argument that a particular way of responding to those events is the best of all possible alternatives.  And for this argument to be successful, it has to make complete sense and feel right as well.

Simple, really, but again, we wanted accuracy in our description of the Dramatica Theory so it would be treated with some academic validity.  And so, we wrote it like a text book, rather than an armchair book.  As a result, the text often reads like that first paragraph – so precise it’s hard to make sense of!

Now the last part of that first paragraph states that the (so far) unspecified qualities that define a Grand Argument Story can be found in structure, dynamics, characters, theme, plot and genre.  What the heck does THAT mean?

Again, that statement is true, buy really obtuse.  All it means is that the things we call characters, theme, plot and genre are collections of dramatic elements which make up that argument about the story’s message.  But, it also bandies about the terms Structure and Dynamics as if they are the most familiar ways of talking about stories and as if you (our reader) is expected to already know exactly what we mean by them.

Fact is, when Dramatica Theory speaks of Story Structure, it doesn’t at all mean what most everyone else means by that term.  It is more like speaking of physics than of story.  Simply put, Dramatica sees stories as being made up of two different kinds of narrative components: structure and dynamics.

Structure covers all the story points like Goal, Consequences, Thematic Topic, and Main Character Drive, for example.  Dynamics, on the other hand, covers all the dramatic forces that move those story points around such as Main Character Approach as a Do-er or a Be-er.

What does THAT mean?  It means that some folks like to solve problems by taking action and other like to solve them by taking a position.  Do-ers might be like a guy who gets mad and goes out jogging to work it out of his system.  Be-ers might be like a parent who sees their child climbing a dangerous fence who stifles the desire to run out and pull him to safety because that parent knows the child needs not to be overprotected to grow up well.

So you see, there are elements of structure and forces of dynamics that, in combination, make up the argument of a Grand Argument Story.  Back to the original text:

Structure: the underlying relationship between the parts of a story describe its structure. A Grand Argument Story has a very specific structure which will be explored thoroughly in the first half of this book entitled The Elements of Structure.

Dynamics: the moving, growing, or changing parts of a story describe its dynamics. A Grand Argument Story has eight essential dynamics which are explored in the second half of this book entitled The Art of Storytelling.

Again, this is pretty obscure.  My advice: just ignore it for now.  The real purpose of our putting this in here was to try and explain why the book is divided into two parts – The Elements of Structure and the Art of Storytelling.  Problem is, Dynamics really don’t have anything to do with storytelling.  They are about the forces inside the narrative that drive it.  Storytelling is all about expression and style.  The second half of the book give a minimal nod to expression and style, but from a really analytic standpoint.  For me, looking back, it would have been better to divide the book into The Elements of Structure and The Forces of Dynamics.  Oh, well…

Character: Grand Argument Stories deal with two types of Characters: Overall Story Characters and Subjective Characters. These Characters provide the audience with the experience of moving through the story in both a passionate and an intellectual sense.

Yep.  Once again it makes perfect sense but couldn’t possibly have been written in a way to make it less understandable or useful.  In a nutshell, all it says is that Grand Argument Stories make a distinction between characters you don’t identify with that have a functional or logistic role in the story and the other kind of character through whose eyes you experience the story first hand, almost as if it were happening to you.  We cover that concept in much greater detail and depth later in the book, so for my money, this whole Grand Argument section probably should have been edited out.

Theme: Theme, in a Grand Argument Story, is tied to every structural and dynamic element. Theme provides the various biases and perspectives necessary to convey the story’s subject matter or meaning.

Here we go again.  Theme is such a commonly spoken of concept, yet try to find any agreement in what it really means.  Dramatica actually cracks that nut – Theme is all about the in-betweens: about how every dramatic element relates to every other.  It is about weighing one arrangement against another to make an argument about value standards – is this collection of traits better than that one in this particular situation?

You see, whether we are ordering cable TV, Chinese food, or deciding on a mate, we’re not going to get all we want and none of what we don’t want.  We have to decide on the best package of the most of what we want most with the least of what we want least.

That’s what theme is all about, Charlie Brown.  If value standards were single items compared to other single items it would be easy to choose the right thing to do.  But life isn’t that simple.  We are always faced with trade-offs, ramifications and compromises.  Choosing the best collection is what having a personal or moral code is all about.  And that’s why an author has to make a thematic argument to tout his or her favored collection of behaviors and responses against alternatives if the message is to have any impact.

And so, every dramatic element is connected to every other in the big Dim Sum of narrative.  THAT is what we were trying to say here in very accurate, concise and sterile language.

Plot: Plot in a Grand Argument Story is the sequence in which a story’s thematic structure is explored. Plot details the order in which dramatic elements must occur within that story.

This one’s pretty good, actually.  I might add that we were hinting that there’s a difference between the order in which events occur to the characters in the story and the order in which they are revealed to the reader or audience.  We call the internal timeline within the narrative “plot” and the way that order is shuffled up in, say, a mystery, “storyweaving.”  Much more on that later in the book.  In fact, there’s a whole major section on it.

Genre: Genre in a Grand Argument Story classifies the audience’s experience of a story in the broadest sense. Genre takes into account the elements of structure, dynamics, character, plot, and theme to define significant differences between various complete Grand Argument Stories.

True, so true…  yet apparently meaningless – bunch of high-falutin’ double-talk.  Actually, no.  Genre is a weird bird; it is the confluence of structure and storytelling.  Some genres, like Westerns, are all about setting, time period, and set pieces like barroom brawls, gunfights and horse chases.  Others, like Comedies are about the way they make the reader or audience respond.  And still others, like Buddy Stories, are all about relationships among characters.

What a confusing mess!  In fact, each genre is really a grab bag of structural and storytelling items, all jumbled up into a blender that “feels” a certain way to the reader or audience.  Fortunately, Dramatica has devised a way (actually Dramatica didn’t devise anything – technically, we did) to separate the structural aspects of any genre from its storytelling aspects in order to create unique genre “personalities” for each and every story.  Pretty cool, really, and you’ll learn all about it down the line.  But, the way it says it above – sheesh!

These parts of a Grand Argument Story combine in complex relationships to create its Storyform. A Storyform is like a blueprint which describes how these parts shall relate in a particular story , regardless of how they are symbolized for the audience. It is such a Storyform which allows such different stories as West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet, or Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne to share the same meaning while bearing little resemblance to each other. What these two pairs of stories share is virtually the same Storyform.

Well, we finally arrive at the summation.  In brief, this defines what you get when you create a Grand Argument Story that includes all of those parts and pieces we’ve just described: you get a Storyform.  Whazzat?  A Storyform is like a schematic of a narrative.  It shows every component, what it does, and describes how they all work together to create the flow that is its function: to convince readers or audience of the author’s point-of-view through a first-hand experiential journey through the material.

Structure your story with Dramatica software…