Category Archives: The Story Argument

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…

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:

Make Your Story Argument with Dramatica:

Dramatica software is based on our theories about the story argument.
It is the only writing software in the world with a patented interactive
Story Engine that can  help you give your story perfect structure.

Demo Dramatica for free!

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

Give your story perfect structure with Dramatica Software

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…

Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 3 “Grand Argument Stories”

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

The question arises: Is telling a story better than telling a non-story? No. Stories are not “better” than any other form of communication — just different. To see this difference we need to define “story” so we can tell what a story is and what it is not. Herein lies a political problem. No matter how one defines “story,” there will be an author someplace who finds his favorite work has been defined out, and feels it is somehow diminished by not being classified as a story. Rather than risk the ire of countless creative authors, we have limited our definition to a very special kind of story: the Grand Argument Story.

As its name indicates, a Grand Argument Story presents an argument. To be Grand, the argument must be a complete one, covering all the ways the human mind might consider a problem and showing that only one approach is appropriate to solving it. Obviously, this limits out a lot of creative, artistic, important works — but not out of being stories, just out of being Grand Argument Stories. So, is a Grand Argument Story better than any other kind? No. It is just a specific kind.


Ever since we wrote this section, It’s bugged the hell out of me.  Here’s why we wrote it, and then why it bothers me:

Dramatica is the first comprehensive model of the underlying components of story structure and how they hang together.  Those components are WAY below the level of what most people think story is.  We’re talking about the pre-conscious level of story – the  deep-dive framework that resonates with the minds of the readers or audience right in the operating system.

So forget about writing about topics or people or events – structure, really DEEP structure bears no resemblance to anything anybody thinks about, any more than we consciously query out neurons when we are trying to decide between chocolate and vanilla.

Now to fully describe how a decision is made, you’d have to have a map of each neuron and the state it is in.  But how far away from story is that?  Still, that’s structure – a description of the nuts and bolts and pulleys and gears of the mind – a mechanical take on the organic flow of our thoughts and feelings, explored and made manifest in a tidy package called a story.

When you just blurt out a thought, is that a story?  Not hardly; it’s just a notion.  And when you follow a stream of consciousness from one notion to another, is that a story?  Again, no.  It is just a train of thought.  A story is a complete examination of a problem, inequity or issues from every conceivable side and to as much depth as you can keep in your head at one time.  THAT’s a story.  And the list of all the angles and all the components from the largest concept to the smallest illumination – that’s story structure, and we call it a Grand Argument Story because it makes  not just an argument, but the biggest most complete argument about the best (or worst) way of looking at or responding to the core consideration we’re trying to get a grip on.

That means that any work of clever word play or one that simply meanders through the subject matter, picking little thought daisies and turning over experiential stones may be the most magnificent read every created.  But it isn’t a story.

And this is why we wrote the section of the original theory book quoted above – we knew if we precisely defined story (which you kinda hafta do if you are outlining a theory of story) writers in all genres and media would rise up in arms to drive us from the village because we defined their favorite works as non-stories.

Heck, we were just scared of the blow-back which, in fact, did not happen.  And so all that “Oh, please don’t hurt us – we aren’t saying anything bad about your darlings – we’re just redefining what the whole world thinks story is, so its okay if your candidate didn’t make the cut,” all that self-protective crap – well, it’s so whiny and pandering.  Makes me feel all smarmy that we put this section in there, which is why I hate it.

So here’s the god awful truth in straight talk, all these years later:  Call it story or call it a dog with a fluffy tail – fact is, the most complex form of structure is when an issues is explored all the way from the biggest perspective on it to the smallest; when every yardstick in a human being’s mental arsenal is brought to bear in course of that exploration, and when the way all that stuff is arranged matches the way we put it together in our own heads, as thinking, feeling creatures, regardless of culture, race religion, age, gender or smarts.  A complete Lego-set of all of our mental marbles, excluding any subject matter, just the building blocks of pondering that is so foundational, so elemental and so invisible to the naked mind that you can’t see it unless someone holds a microscope to it (like this book) and makes you stare at it: that’s story and, specifically, that’s a Grand Argument Story.  Take it or leave it.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

Structure your story with Dramatica Software…

The Four Story Domains

The subject matter of any story that describes the nature of the central problem falls into one of four domains – Universe (a fixed state), Mind (a mind set or attitude), Physics (an activity), or Psychology (a problematic chain of thought).

All four domains must be explored in every fully developed story, but only one will be see as the source of the story’s problem and the other three will exhibit the ramifications of that problem as it ripples out to affect all of the characters.

The reason for this is easy to see if we consider a problem in real life.  We might first ask ourselves, “Is the problem caused by something external (like the creature in the original Alien movie) or by something internal (like Scrooge’s outlook and attitude in A Christmas Carol).

An earthquake, an asteroid, and a shark are all external problems, but with one caveat – any of these might be seen as characters if they are imbued with human traits as opposed to being viewed as forces of nature.

So, if you actually try to get into the head of the shark in your storytelling or if you portray the asteroid as having a mind of its own – literally – then it becomes a character and as such whatever is driving it is an internal issue.  But, under most circumstances these things would be seen as just that – things – and therefore would be appreciated by both author and audience as external problems.

Naturally, then, any story in which the central problem is caused by a character – by any entity that is host to human traits and considerations – then it is an internal problem.  Essentially, the concept is, is it mind or matter.  Or, as has been said, “What’s mind?  No matter.  What’s matter?  Never mind.”

Once you have determined if your story’s problem (or any problem you encounter in real life) is caused by something external or internal you have a much better grasp of the nature of the beast, and therefore of which tools you’ll need to bring to bear in the attempt to find a solution and implement it.

That, in fact, is the real underlying message of a story – for this particular kind of problem, here’s the best tool set (means or methodology) for solving it.  So, stories are about first identifying and then determining the best way to solve a problem.

Still, while we can learn much about a problem just by ruling out external or internal so we have a better focus on where the real issue resides, we can learn much more, even at this most broad stroke initial level of parsing the problem in our dramatics.

To do this, we can sub-divide both external and internal into two other categories: State or Process.  An external state is a situation; an external process is an activity.  The difference between the two is that a situational problem is unchanging, like being stuck in an overturned boat under the water, whereas an activity problem is like a bridge that is crumbling while you try to get your troops across it to safety.  Both are external, and yet they are different “flavors” of external, and therefore will require different approaches and skill sets to solve.

Similarly, an internal problem can be a fixed state such as an attitude, outlook, fixation or prejudice that essentially never changes (at least until possibly at the climax of the story).  While, on the other hand, an internal problem might be an activity – a manner of thinking or a process or chain of thought – that causes problems.

Hamlet, for example, is defined by the trait that he overthinks the plumbing.  For example, he finds the kind kneeling alone in prayer and could easily kill him at that moment.  But, he begins to reason, point by point, that he cannot act then because the king, being in prayer, would go to heaven and that is not sufficient for his revenge.

In another example, imagine a fellow about to interview for a job for which he  is perfectly qualified and completely confident.  But, he begins to think that maybe he is too perfectly qualified and therefore will be seen as not having growth potential and….  if he isn’t seen favorably, it will make him nervous and… if he gets nervous, he’ll become tongue-tied and…   if the becomes tongue tied they won’t think he can communicate very well and…  so on.  Clearly, he didn’t have the wrong attitude, but the problem is because of the path his thoughts take – the process or activity of thinking itself: an internal activity.

To be clear, all four of these domains will be explored as the story unfolds, as we usually first become aware of the true nature of a problem by examining its symptoms.  And only when we have used those symptoms to triangulate on and diagnose the problem are we certain of which of the four is the actual source.  Only then can we bring to bear the proper tools to solve it, and, again, the story’s message, ultimately, is an argument as to which is the best set of tools for the job.

The Four Story Throughlines

A story “throughline” is a bit different than a story “point of view.”  A point of view is an angle from which you wish your readers or audience to see the topics of your story.  But a throughline is the entire unfolding of the story as seen from that point of view.  Sometimes, this is calleed a “thread.”

In Dramatica theory we say “you spin a tale but you weave a story.”  This is because tales are linear progressions, like threads, that carry you from a particular logistic and emotional situation  along a journey stap by step to a different logistic and emotional situation.  In other words, it is the unbroken chain of reason and emotion that holds the meaning, and it is the relative value of the destination to the point of departure that holds the message.

Think of “fairy tales” – a form of story in which a judgment is passed on the value of a path taken by comparing the starting point to the ending point.  So, this is very like a “thread” and so we “spin” a tale.  In a sense then, every tale is a single throughline following the events that unfold from a single point of view.

But a story is much more complex with a more complex message as well.  In a story, many throughlines are woven together to form a fabric, like a tapestry, in which a bigger picture – a broader, more sophisticated message, can be seen.  This occurs because (while it is easy to relate a simple chain of events in a tale), the message of a tale is nothing more than that a particular path is a good one or a bad one by virtue of how it ultimately imiproved or degraded a situation.

A story steps beyond that simple statement to tell the readers/audience that the path presented in not just good or bad, but is the best or worst that might have been taken.  This is a much bolder statement.  In fact, it is a blanket statement.  As such, no readership/audience is going to accept it out of hand.  They are going to demand proof.  And so, they will want all other reasonable paths that might have been taken to be explored, or at least dealt with to show why the one path the author is promoting is indeed the best or worst.  To cover the issue from all angle, then, an author needs multiple throughlines woven together – we weave a story.

The four throughlines presented in this video grow from the four most all-encompassing points of view – the four fundamental points of view, if you will: I, You, We, and They – descriptive of the four ways in which we classify ourselves and our relationships with others.  Naturally, there are many other smaller, yet more detailed points of view within those, and that is why the Dramatica table of story elements was developed – to help map, define, and determine the relationships among them so an author would have a tool that would allow the creation of a complete and detailed story argument to support any level of underlying message.

Introduction to Theme

Theme is perhaps the most powerful yet least understood aspect of story structure.  Theme is an “emotional argument” that strives to lead the reader or audience to feel about a topic as the author would have them feel.

The reason structure of Theme appears so obscure is that it is actually two things, not one.  The first part of Theme is the Topic – the subject you are looking at (exploring).  The second part is Point of View.  When you adopt a point of view in regard to a topic, you create Perspective, and it is this perspective that holds the message or meaning of a story at the most passionate and most human level.  It is also where readers and/or audience members are most strongly moved, and where propaganda can be most effective without the knowledge of the recipient.

In this first episode of the 22 part class on Theme in the overall 113 part “Dramatica Unplugged” series, you’ll learn the basic foundations of theme and get a look forward to where our explorations will take us as the Theme class unfolds.

Subjective Characters and the Objective Story

One of the most common mistakes made by authors of every level of experience is to create a problem for their Main Character that has nothing to do with the story at large. The reasoning behind this is not to separate the two, but usually occurs because an author works out a story and then realizes that he has not made it personal enough. Because the whole work is already completed, it is nearly impossible to tie the Main Character’s personal problem into the larger story without a truly major rewrite. So, the next best thing is to improve the work by tacking on a personal issue for the Main Character in addition to the story’s problem.

Of course, this leads to a finished piece in which either the story’s issues or the Main Character’s issues could be removed and still leave a cogent tale behind. In other words, to an audience it feels like one of the issues is out of place and shouldn’t be in the work.

Now, if one of the two different problems were removed, it wouldn’t leave a complete story, yet the remaining part would still feel like a complete tale. Dramatica differentiates between a “tale” and a “story”. If a story is an argument, a tale is a statement. Whereas a story explores an issue from all sides to determine what is better or worse overall, a tale explores an issue down a single path and shows how it turns out. Most fairy tales are just that, tales.

There is nothing wrong with a tale. You can write a tale about a group of people facing a problem without having a Main Character. Or, you could write a personal tale about a Main Character without needing to explore a larger story. If you simply put an Objective Story-tale and a Main Character tale into the same work, one will often seem incidental to the real thrust of the work. But, if the Main Character tale and the Objective Story-tale both hinge on the same issue, then suddenly they are tied together intimately, and what happens in one influences what happens in the other.

This, by definition, forms a Grand Argument Story, and opens the door to all kinds of dramatic power and variety not present in a tale. For example, although the story at large may end in success, the Main Character might be left miserable. Conversely, even though the big picture ended in failure, the Main Character might find personal satisfaction and solace. We’ll discuss these options at great length in The Art Of Storytelling section. For now, let us use this as a foundation to examine the relationship between the Subjective Characters and the Objective Story.