Category Archives: Character Elements

Character Elements of the Objective Throughline

Elements are the most refined resolution of the problem in a story. Beneath each Variation are four Elements that make up the parts of that Variation and are also defined by its umbrella. One of the four elements under the Range is the Problem of the story in its most essential form. Another of the four will prove to be the Solution. A third element is the Focus of the story, where the Problem appears to principally manifest itself. The final element represents the Direction that is taken in response to the Focus.

Each of these elements has a specific and recognizable function even in traditional story theory. For example, we know that characters often work not toward the real solution but to a perceived solution. And characters frequently grapple with a problem that is ultimately recognized as only a symptom of the real problem.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

The Crucial Element

The point at which the Objective Story and the Main Character hinge is appropriately called the Crucial Element. In fact, the Crucial Element is one of the sixty-four Objective Character Elements we have already explored (in the Dramatica Theory Book). When we look at the Objective Character Elements as the soldiers on the field (from our earlier example), there is one special Element from which the audience experiences an internal perspective on the story. This is the Main Character position in the Objective Story, and the Element at that point is the Crucial Element. As a result, whichever Objective Character represents the Crucial Element should be placed in the same player as the Main Character. In that way, what happens during the Main Character’s growth will have an impact on his Objective function. Similarly, pressures on his Objective function caused by the story’s situations will influence his decision to change or remain steadfast.

We can see that a Protagonist will only be a Main Character if the Crucial Element is one of the Elements that make up a Protagonist. In other words, a Protagonist has eight different Elements, two from each dimension of character. If one of them is the Crucial Element, then the player containing the Protagonist must also contain the Main Character. This means that there are really eight different kinds of heroes that can be created. An action hero might have a Crucial Element of Pursue, while a thinking hero might have a Crucial Element of Consider. Clearly, the opportunities to create meaningful Main Characters who are NOT Protagonists are also extensive.

The Obstacle Character has a special place in the Objective Character Elements as well. We have already discussed Dynamic Pairs. As it turns out, the point at which an Obstacle Character will have the greatest dramatic leverage to try and change the Main Character is the other Element in the Dynamic Pair with the Crucial Element. In simpler terms, the Main and Obstacle Characters are opposites on this crucial issue. Often one will contain the story’s problem, the other the story’s solution.

In the Objective Character Element set, if the Main Character (and Crucial Element) stands on Pursue, the Obstacle Character will occupy Avoid. If the Main Character is Logic, the Obstacle Character will be Feeling. In this manner, the essential differences between two opposite points of view will be explored both in an objective sense, looking from the outside in, and also in a subjective sense, from the inside looking out. All four throughlines come into play (Objective Story, Main Character, Obstacle Character, and Subjective Story), and by the end of the story, the audience will feel that the central issue of concern to the Story Mind has been fully examined from all pertinent angles.

To summarize, a complete story requires that both the Objective and Subjective views are provided to an audience, and that they are hinged together around the same central issue. This is accomplished by assigning the Main and Obstacle Characters to the Objective Characters who contain either the story’s problem or solution Elements. The Element held by the Main Character becomes the Crucial Element, as both the Objective and Subjective Stories revolve around it.

The Crucial Element: Where Subjective meets Objective

The Crucial Element will be an item which is at the heart of a story from both the Objective and Subjective points of view. How this happens depends greatly on the Main Character. The Crucial Element is the connection between the Main Character and the Objective story and makes the Main Character special enough to be “Main.” This issue at the heart of the Main Character is thematically the same issue which is at the heart of the Objective Story.

For Example:

To Kill A Mockingbird Crucial Element is INEQUITY

Inequity is the problem which is causing all of the conflict around the town of Maycomb. The trial of Tom Robinson brings all of the towns’ people into squabbles about inequity in the treatment of different races, inequity among the social classes of people, their levels of income, and their educations.

Scout, as the Main Character, is driven by her personal problem of inequity. This is symbolized most clearly in her fear of Boo Radley. Kept at the margins of the Objective Story dealings with the problem of inequity, Scout however comes to see her prejudice against Boo Radley as being every bit as wrong.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Archetypal Methodologies

Shifting our attention to the Methodology Set, a very useful thing becomes evident. Because the Methodology Elements are also arranged in Dynamic Pairs, we can simply duplicate the Archetypal pattern from the Motivation Set and the Archetypal Characters will cover the Methods they represent in stories as well.

For example, a Protagonist who is Motivated by Pursuit employs a Methodology of Pro-action, and a Skeptic who is Motivated to Oppose employs a Methodology of Non-Acceptance.

This Archetypal Pattern continues through all four character dimensions such that a Protagonist will be motivated by Pursuit, employ a Methodology of Pro-action, Evaluate its progress by the Effect it has, and strive toward achieving Actuality as its Purpose. Each of the Archetypal Characters follows the same pattern for both its External and Internal characteristics, resulting in an alignment of character Elements in four dimensions.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Character Element Pairs

In each quad of four Elements, the items that are diagonal from one another hold the greatest potential for conflict because they are exact opposites.

For example, Pursuit is the opposite of Avoid. As a result, when we place the Protagonist on the Motivation of Pursuit, we would expect the Antagonist to represent Avoid. As we have illustrated in the previous section, that is exactly the case. Similarly, when we place the Reason Archetype on Logic, it comes as no surprise to find Emotion residing on Feeling, since it is diagonal from Logic. In fact, every pair of Archetypes that are in a diagonal relationship will generate the greatest dynamics between them. This is why we call two Elements in diagonal opposition a Dynamic Pair.

From the Dramatica Theory Book


Character Elements

The Sixty-Four Element Question

Each of the character dimensions contains sixteen Elements, as we have already seen with Motivations. Each character dimension is referred to as a Set of Elements. All four Sets come together to create what is called a Chess Set (due to its eight by eight grid) as illustrated below:

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Character Motivation Elements in the movie “Jaws”

Character motivation elements as they appear in the motion picture, “Jaws”:

Clearly, the Driver Character characteristics in Jaws are as simple as those in Star Wars. In fact, they are identical in terms of which characteristics are combined into a single Character. However, when we look at the Passenger Character characteristics, we see a new phenomenon: some of those Elements are present in the Driver Characters, two of whom are doing multiple duty.

The Mayor represents Temptation and Hinder as a Driver Character but also represents the Passenger characteristics of Disbelief and Oppose. Hooper, a Driver in Conscience and Help, also represents Logic and Uncontrolled, putting him in conflict with Quint. It is clear that these “multi-characteristic” Characters are much more complex in their make-up and therefore in their interactions than Archetypes. For this reason we refer to them as Complex Characters.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Character Motivation Elements in Wizard Of Oz

Character Motivation Elements in The Wizard of Oz

In looking at these patterns, the Passenger Characters in The Wizard of Oz seem very much like the Passenger Characters in Star Wars, with that one notable exception of the “flipping” of Logic and Feeling in relation to Control and Uncontrolled. In other words, the two Characters simply traded places on one Dynamic Pair of Elements in a single Quad. It makes sense that a stereotypical Reason Character would be logical AND controlled, and a stereotypical Emotion Character would be feeling AND uncontrolled. But if you simply flip the Action Characteristics in relation to the Decision Characteristics, far more versatile Characters are created — characters whose approach is no longer in complement to their attitude, but in conflict with it. In a sense, these Characters are made more interesting by creating an inequity within them even as they continue to represent methods of problem solving within the Story Mind.

Looking at the Wizard and the Wicked Witch we see that the other kind of swapping of characteristics also creates much less stereotypical Characters. Rather than a tempter, the Wicked Witch becomes a completely action-oriented pest not only trying to prevent Dorothy from achieving her goal, but hindering her every step on the way as well. The Wizard becomes a purely decision-oriented tempter who represents taking the apparent easy way out while also (through his fearsome reputation, embodiment, and requests) urging Dorothy and her friends to reconsider their decisions. This lack of action characteristics may help explain why the Wizard is so obviously absent during most of the story, although his influence is felt throughout. Obviously, the nature of the combinations of characteristics has a great impact on which decisions and actions the audience will expect and accept from a Character.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Character Motivation Elements in Star Wars

To enhance our “feel” for the relationships among character motivation elements, let’s add the names of the Characters in Star Wars to Quads of the elements.

Star Wars

The amazingly pure Archetypal Characters of Star Wars translate into a completely symmetrical pattern. Each Character has an Action Quad characteristic and a Decision Quad characteristic. Each pair of Characters is in direct opposition, both internally and externally. Further, Driver Archetypes are represented exclusively in the Driver Quads, and Passenger Archetypes are found entirely within the Passenger Quads.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Grouping Character Elements in “Quads”

A good way to organize character elements is to separate the Action Elements from the Decision Elements. With 16 characteristics, we can create four quads of four characteristics each. This grows from having a Driver Character Quad and a Passenger Character Quad, then splitting each in two (Action Quad and Decision Quad), giving us four Quads: the Action Driver Quad, the Decision Driver Quad, the Action Passenger Quad, and the Decision Passenger Quad.

Motivation Element Quads

Using the Quads to Gain Meaning

In Dramatica, a group of four Quads is called a Set. Note how the set above provides additional meaning. For example, when dealing with a problem of Action in terms of Drivers, one would have the choice to Pursue, Prevent, Help, or Hinder. When a Character represents the Drive to Pursue, it applies itself to achieving the goal. Although it may also want the goal to be achieved, a Help Character focuses its efforts on being useful to the Pursuit of the goal rather than instigating its own effort. This explains the functions of and relationship between the Protagonist’s Drive (Pursue) and the Guardian’s Drive (Help).

Similarly, when a Protagonist’s Drive is Pursue, an Antagonist’s Drive is Prevent. And, of course, the Contagonist Hinders the Protagonist’s Pursuit. In fact, when we consider all four Quads, we can obtain a very precise understanding of why the Eight Archetypal Characters are created as they are and exactly how they relate.

Complex Arrangements of Character Elements

So far we have only explored sixteen different character Elements. One way to create complex characters is by assigning these sixteen Elements to characters in non-archetypal patterns. However, as great as the number of potential characters that can be created is, this limited set of sixteen Elements is still not sufficient to describe all the rich complexities of the Objective Characters we see in sophisticated stories. This is because these sixteen Elements only represent character Motivations. In fact, we call them the Sixteen Motivation Elements.

Characters Do Not Live By Motivations Alone

Like real people, characters are driven by Motivations, but they also aspire to different Purposes, employ different Methodologies in the effort to achieve those purposes, and use different Means of Evaluation to determine the effectiveness of their efforts. The old adage that one should create three
dimensional characters falls short by one dimension. Fully realized characters are four dimensional possessing an Action and Decision Element in each dimension.

From the Dramatica Theory Book