Category Archives: Dramatica Software

Can There Be More Than One Protagonist In A Story?

A writer recently asked:

I write Western genre screenplays. And I love to use Dramatica Pro. In Western Genre sometime I will run into more than one  protagonist more than one antagonist . I name my antagonist in Dramatica Pro and then when I try to name another antagonist it will not allow me to go any further down the road in story. Will there be another advanced software in Dramatica Pro that will allow me to name more than one antagonist and let me go on with my story and continue to use Dramatica Pro?

Here’s my reply:

There is only one protagonist and antagonist in a story, but there may be more than one story in a single book or movie.

The protagonist is defined as the character who is leading the effort to achieve the Story Goal, and the antagonist is trying to prevent him from doing that.

The protagonist and antagonist represent initiative and reticence in our own minds – the force to effect change and the force to prevent change or to embrace or return to the status quo.

There can be a protagonistic group where, as an assembly they all function as a single protagonist, but if there were just two protagonists, they would both have to be the prime mover of the quest to the goal and they both can’t be, by definition. Or, each could have a separate Story Goal that affected everyone, but then you really have two stories.

In a nut shell, here’s why narrative works that way. Narratives reflect how people interact in real life. As individuals, we all have a sense of initiative, reason, emotion, skepticism and so on. And in solving personal problems we use all of these to try and find the solution.

But when we come together as a group toward a common purpose, we quickly self-organize into specialities, where one person becomes the Voice of Reason, another as the resident Skeptic and another as the Prime Operative who pushes everyone else forward toward completion of the group’s goal.

The “specialists” are represented in narrative as the archetypes, and each is just one facet of all the traits an individual has, yet each function just as we do in groups, focusing on just one aspect of the problem solving so that, collectively, the group can go into more detail and thought than if we were all general practitioners, each trying to be a jack of all trades (as we have to do for our personal issues.

Now the protagonist in the group – the one leading the effort – does not have to also be the main character. The main character is the group’s identity – the character who represents the spirit of the group – its personality in a sense. Sometimes the leader of the effort is also heart and soul of the group, in which case you have a typical hero who not only does the job, but also has to grapple with a personal issue – a decision about his own value standards that can make or break the overall effort depending on how he decides to see things, often in a leap of faith, as when Scrooge changes in A Christmas Carol.

So, only one protagonist or antagonist or reason archetype or emotion archetype, etc. per narrative.

BUT, often stories have sub-narratives built around some of the archetypes. Everyone has a story of their own. And so does every character in an overall story. We just don’t always choose to sell those “sub-stories” because we want to focus on the principals and not clutter things up.

But, you can take any character and create a sub-story around a personal goal in which he is the protagonist and main character in his own personal narrative that is not at all the issue the whole group is dealing with. This sub-story might be completely independent of the main story, or it might be hinged so that events in a character’s personal narrative are so potent than it causes the character to step out of his function in the overall story in a surprising way.

After all, our own personal narratives tend to be more important to us than the narrative of the overall group with whom we are associated.

So, with sub-stories, it can seem as if there are two protagonists in the story and even two antagonists, but they aren’t really in the same story but in a sub-story in the same overall “world” you’ve created in your story telling – your story universe.

I hope this helps provide some new ways in which to think about your characters and plot.

Let me know if you have any additional questions and may the Muse be with you!

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

Creating Characters with Dramatica Writing Software

Dramatica Story Development Software has many powerful tools for creating and developing characters.  This video clip provides an introduction to all of them.

Not only will this help you if you use Dramatica, but even if you don’t the concepts of character by themselves will open new creative opportunities.

Try before you buy…


How do you import a Word document to Dramatica?

Quick answer:

You can copy and paste text from any Word document into any question in Dramatica.

But, having said that, there is no reason to import a complete story or Word document into Dramatica.

Dramatica is not a word processor and it doesn’t “read” your story.  In fact, you aren’t supposed to write creatively in Dramatica.  So what does it do?

1.  Dramatica finds holes and inconsistencies in your story’s structure.

2.  Dramatica makes suggestions for how to fill and fix them.

In short, Dramatic ensure perfect story structure.

How does it do this?

Dramatica is built around the world’s first and only patented Story Engine.  It is a model of story, similar to how the double-helix is a model of DNA.

Simply put, Dramatica’s model of story contains all the elements necessary in a complete narrative and also has built-in “rules” on how these pieces can go together so that your story both makes sense and feels right to your audience.

These rules weren’t artificially created and imposed on your story, but were derived from narrative itself – what it is, how it works, how it affects readers or audiences.

So how do you use it?

Functionally, Dramatica is a series of questions about your underlying structure that are connected to the Story Engine. Every time you answer a question by making a choice about how your structure is or how you want it to be, the Story Engine cross references that choice with all the other choices you have made to do three things: One, ensure you aren’t working against your own structure and Two, points out where you have holes and inconsistencies in your story’s structure and Three, makes suggestions for how to fill the holes and fix the inconsistencies by using the rules of narrative to project the direction your narrative needs to take to most strongly support the story your answers have shown you wish to tell.

So, in Dramatica you are not working with the text you wrote for your story, but are answering questions about the reasons behind why characters do things and feel as they do, how that relates to the events in your plot, your them and the structural demands of your genre.

When you are finished, you will have a full understanding of all the dramatic elements in your story, how they work together, and how to unfold them so they make sense to your reader or audience. To help you with this, after you have completed your structure, Dramatica generates about 100 pages of explanatory reports about many different aspects of your story that you use as reference while you write and make revisions on your story in your word processor.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Learn all about Dramatica’s StoryGuide feature…

Click on the links to see streaming video demonstrations of the StoryGuide:

The Story Guide

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Navigation

Part 3 – The HelpView System

Part 4 – Answering Questions

Part 5 – HelpView in Action

Part 6 – Answering Structural Questions

Part 7 – Answering Storytelling Questions

Part 8 – Creating Scenes or Chapters

Part 9 – Avoiding Story Holes

Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 10 “When to Use Dramatica”

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

For some authors, applying Dramatica at the beginning of a creative project might be inhibiting. Many writers prefer to explore their subject, moving in whatever direction their muse leads them until they eventually establish an intent. In this case, the storytelling comes before the structure. After the first draft is completed, such an author can look back at what he has created with the new understanding he has arrived at by the end. Often, much of the work will no longer fit the story as the author now sees it. By telling Dramatica what he now intends, Dramatica will be able to indicate which parts of the existing draft are appropriate, which are not, and what may be needed that is currently missing. In this way, the creative process is both free and fulfilling, with Dramatica serving as analyst and collaborator.


Now this passage in the original theory book is just the tip of the iceberg.  In the twenty some-odd years since we wrote this, I’ve discovered a whole bucket of insights and practical tips that can really leverage Dramatica (both the theory and the software) to far greater power in their application.

Speaking of Dramatica software, this is one of the few passages in the theory book that references it when it says, “By telling Dramatica” and “Dramatica will be able,” which clearly are not speaking of the theory by itself.

While I’m on this topic, let me hold forth a bit about the relationship between theory and software so we can clarify that issue, be done with that, and move on.  First of all, the theory is a conceptual construct that accurately describes the function of the forces that make up narrative.  In other words, the theory really sees narrative as a collection of dynamics that are interrelated, rather than seeing narrative as a structure made up of story points.

“What about the Dramatica Chart?” you might ask.  “That’s made up of all kinds of structural points including some called ‘elements’ – you can’t get any more structural than that.”  Well, now, that’s not exactly true.  It’s how it appears, to be sure, but that not really what it is.  (Notice how I’m diverging farther and farther away from practical tips here, but I promise: I’ll get to those down near the bottom of what now appears to be one freaking huge annotation….

Every item in the Dramatica Chart (AKA the Dramatica Table of Story Elements) is actually a process, treated as an object.  WTF?  Okay – imagine you make a list of chores for the day that includes washing the dishes, paying the bills, and going shopping.  Each of those is really a process, isn’t it?  But on the list, they are all treated as things: chores.  By thinking of a complex process at a thing, the complexity kind of melts away so that you can begin to see how one “thing” relates to another.

The Dramatica Chart is, essentially, a map of how all the processes that make up narrative relate to one another.  By treating them as objects, we can see those relationships more easily (and some of them are so subtle that you can’t see them at all until you create a chart in that manner and get rid of all the complexity).

Now for the software…  We took all these relationships among narrative processes that we found and discovered they had a pattern – think the DNA of story.  Every story has its own genome or perhaps “memnome” (playing off the word “meme” which is like a gene or cultural awareness).  But, they all use the same bases and there is an underlying deep structure to the way they are assembled.  (In DNA it is a double helix, in Dramatica it is actually a quad helix, which is why the “objects” in the Dramatica Chart are arranged in quads.)

So, we described this model of structure mathematically.  We realized that the way these elements could go together could be described by algorithms and these algorithms became a computer implementation of the model of DNA of narrative that is the story engine in Dramatica software.  Everything else in the software – the tools, features, interface and questions – are all just ways of accessing that algorithmic model.

The idea is to treat the model like a big piece of marble.  Michelangelo said, he just chipped away anything that didn’t look like what he was trying to portray and what was left was the image he was going for.  That’s how you use Dramatica: answer the questions so it sculpts the model to gradually look more and more like what you have in mind for your story.  Eventually, you’ll enter enough information about your mental image, that the model with all its DNA-style algorithms can determine that the unseen in-between impact of all your choices on each other can pre-determine what other potential choices must be if they aren’t to work against or undermine what you’ve already said you want to do narratively.  In plain language.  The more information you put into the model about your story, the more you limit what your other options are, without working against yourself dramatically.  Simple as that.

You can see this at work in the story engine feature in the software.  Every time you make a choice, the number of other options is reduced.  In Dramatica Story Expert there is a feature that shows all the choices you explicitly make in blue, and when enough information is input that other choices can be made by the model, these implied choices show up in red.  Interestingly, it never take more than about twelve explicit choices to know enough about your story to generate more than seventy other implied choices.  Pretty weird, huh?  But accurate as great-grandpa and his spittoon.

Now back to the title of this original section in the theory book, “When to Use Dramatica.” Well, to use Dramatica you really need to know what your story is about before you start.  Oh, you can use it without a clue, but then every choice you make is rather arbitrary.  Of course, you might go into the process with no story idea at all and then answer questions like, “Is your overall story about a situation, activity, attitude or manner of thinking,” and that might actually help you gravitate toward one kind of a story rather than another.  And, as you continue answering such questions as “Is your Main Character a Do-er or a Be-er” then you build up elements of the framework of a story, just like in 3D printing until you have a complete structure.  It won’t have any subject matter yet – it will just be a bunch of girders and pulleys.  So, you’ll then follow through the storytelling section of the software to describe what kind of subject matter in your story is going to fulfill each of those structural requirements.  For some folks, that’s the best way to go.

But for me, and writers like me, I’m more like ol’ Michelangelo.  I want to know what I’m trying to get at first, then use Dramatica to chip away at that block of Muse-provided marble until I can see the structure at the heart of the story I want to tell.  Doing it this way, I already have all my subject matter and a story concept in mind.  Dramatica then becomes a way of finding the dramatic center of all that material, the way you might find the geographic center of a country.  It brings clarity and gives you a pivot point around which to build and balance your story.

That, in fact, is why I created StoryWeaver after co-creating Dramatica: to provide tool for generating ideas, zeroing in on subject matter.  In short, to come up with people I’d like to write about before they became character, events before it became a plot, a message before it became a theme, and an atmosphere before it became a genre. Then (after using StoryWeaver to work out my story’s world) – then I go to Dramatica to X-ray the damn thing and see what kind of structural skeleton its got.

So when to use Dramatica (software)?  If you already know what your story is and how its structured, what do you need software for?  If you need inspiration, use StoryWeaver.  If you need structural grounding and guidance, use Dramatica.

When to use Dramatica (theory)?  The theory is an understanding.  It doesn’t generate creative motivation.  But, if you know it, the underlying concepts will open new doors to explore creatively and will almost subliminally guide your efforts so that the more theory you know, the more your stories will seem to be complete, make sense, not drive, and have consistency of outlook and consistency of impact.

And if you use the Dramatica software at least once every few months, you’ll find that our writerly instincts are constantly drifting off true and being warped by new life experiences and old justifications.  Dramatica points to the proper lane on the freeway that will get you there – the corridor of clear thinking.  It doesn’t regiment your Muse but keeps it from running off a cliff like the vast majority of lemming-like writers out there who follow formulas right behind the writer in front until they end up in a broken heap at the bottom of what might have been the best story they ever told.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

Structure your story with Dramatica software…

Write your novel or screenplay step by step with StoryWeaver…