Category Archives: Reception

Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 2 “Communication”

Excerpted from Dramatica: A New Theory of Story

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, an- other 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 trem- bling 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. Did we tell a story? Definitely not!


One of the early questions we grappled with was the relationship between author and audience (or reader).  When you stop to think about it, not just superficially but deeply, the fact that we can communicate at all is something of a miracle.

Consider:  Two creatures, each with completely different life experiences can experience essentially the exact same understandings and passions as each other across a medium through abstract patterns of ink on a page or moving patterns of light, shadow and sound on a screen.

It was not long into our investigation of the nature of story structure that we realized the only way such communication could exist was if the underlying mechanisms of our minds were identical, as a species, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, culture or personal experience.

Story structure itself an artificial mind – a model, a replica of all the elements that make up this foundational mechanism we all share that form the framework upon which we hang specific information and particular emotions.

That framework is just a skeleton, however.  And though it can be created in any language and through any medium, it is the development of commonly understood symbols that allows for communication between author and audience.

Still, while each symbol has a denotative meaning, it will differ in connotation from other symbols that might have been used to convey the same information.  Further, each reader or audience member will expand upon each symbol and especially upon a continuing stream of symbols, seeking patterns not only in the order in which the symbols were received, but also in the potential manners in which they might be assembled into an overall understanding, much as one might follow the instructions on a kit step by step and end up with an assembled piece of furniture.

Pattern making is a survival trait.  It allows us to note, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” in a spatial sense (when this, also that) and also allows us to project, “one bad apple spoils the bunch” in a temporal sense (if this, then this).  As a result of pattern making, we are able to see dangers and opportunities that are co-existant with indicators in the here and now and also to anticipate the same in the future.

And so, when we write, “It was a dark and stormy might,” we not only convey the facts, but provide the seeds for our readers or audience members to create patterns that enrich the communication process, and immerse them into a world that is partially of their own creation.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

Structure your story with Dramatica software…

Dramatica Unplugged (Part 6) – Audience Reach

Men and Women generally respond to Main Characters differently. But, it is not a simple gender bias. Rather, all readers/audience members will sometimes empathize with the Main Character (stand in his or her shoes) and sometimes only sympathize with the Main Character (care about them but look over their shoulder rather than through their eyes). It is the factors that make each half of the audience empathize or sympathize that is the difference.

Story Structure – Part 6 (Video)

In this episode I explore the structural reasons why men and women respond differently to the same story. Pretty controversial stuff, until you hear the details! Hint – it all has to do with the reasons men and women will empathize or sympathize with the main character.

Here’s the link to the video:



Author & Audience

Few authors write stories without at least considering what it will be like to read the story or see it on stage or screen. As soon as this becomes a concern, we have crossed the line into Reception theory. Suddenly, we have more to consider than what our story’s message is; we now must try to anticipate how that message will be received.

One of the first questions then becomes, how do we want it to be received. And from this, we ask, what am I hoping to achieve with my audience. We may wish to educate our audience, or we may simply want to bias them. Perhaps we are out to persuade our audience to adopt a point of view, or simply to pander to an existing point of view. We might provoke our audience, forcing them to consider some topic or incite them to take action in regard to a topic. We could openly manipulate them with their informed consent, or surreptitiously propagandize them, changing their outlook without their knowledge.

No matter what our author’s intent, it is shaped not only by who we are, but also by who the audience is that we are trying to reach.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Audience and Main Character

Suppose your audience/reader 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 or she 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, “Adopt the Main Character’s view if you wish to succeed in similar situations.”  If the Main Character remains steadfast and fails, changes their view and succeeds, or changes and fails, completely different messages will be sent to your audience/reader.

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

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.

From the Dramatica Pro Software