Category Archives: Plot Features

Dramatica’s Plot Sequence Report – Deep Theory

  A Writer Asks:

1) In the plot sequence report, the variations by which the signposts are
explored are shifted to a different domain. Is the same true for the
variations (theme/sequences) explored in the journeys?

The quick answer is:

Don’t use the plot sequence report for Signposts and Journeys!

In fact, the plot sequence report does not deal with Signposts but with the order of the Types in sequence. Signposts are part of a Signpost/Journey pair, which constitutes a single “act” in any given throughline. Types, in contrast, are structural appreciations of order in which subjects are explored in the story.

So, Signposts must contain the fruit of the previous Journey (if any) and the seeds of the one to come, just as the Journey must reflect the roots of the earlier Signpost and the flowers of the coming one as well.

In the plot sequence report, the Types are seen as existing without journeys, from a purely structural point of view. This is what a story looks like after it is told, when all the pieces are in place and you can chart the order in which subjects were explored.

In that context, each Type seems to be explored by a different quad of Variations. But in Signposts and Journeys, the association with Variations does not hold up. The Variations listed for a given Type in the plot sequence report would only hold true at the exact center of your exploration of a signpost, halfway from one journey to the next.

In short, Signposts are not like Types. Signposts are ALWAYS morphing or evolving out of one Journey and into the next. Look at them like “bell curves” or the top of a hill on a roller coaster. The Signpost is only a pure Type at the very top – just one tiny point in time in your story. On either side, it is part Journey and therefore the Variations for that Type don’t apply.

Now, there IS one context in which you can loosely apply the Variations from plot sequence to signposts. As has been noted before, the AMOUNT of time you spend exploring Signposts relative to Journeys is completely up to your storytelling choices. So, in some stories you might just touch on a signpost in a single line of dialog and then spend the rest of the act in the journey, moving gradually to the next momentary signpost. Similarly, in other stories you might spend nearly the whole act exploring the signpost, then have only a very brief journey to the next signpost. In this kind of story you can loosely apply the Type Variations from the plot sequence report since time is kind of frozen by taking that single moment of the signpost and extending it through storytelling.

In general, however, use the plot sequence report to get a feel for the thematic progress of your story in relationship to the structure of the plot, but avoid using that as a template for the Signposts and Journeys.

(As a side note, it was argued before DPro 3.0 that perhaps the plot sequence report should be eliminated since it might lead to this exact kind of confusion. But, a lot of people like the structural overview of their story it provides, so we kept it in. The plot sequence report should only be used for your story’s structure, Signposts and Journeys should only be used for your storytelling.)

One other note: Journeys don’t have any Variations at all because they are constantly in motion. In fact, it is the flow of a Journey itself that generates Variations (which gives us a feel for how plot works to generate theme).

The Writer Also Asks:

2) If so, are they shifted to the same domain?

See above.

3) And what’s the theory behind the shift? Why is that particular
domain/variation quad chosen?

There is a simple answer and a complex answer. The simple answer is first:

The structure as seen in the chart is “at rest”. It contains no dramatic tension. When you answer the eight essential questions and the four structural choices (or any other combination of choices that arrives at a single storyform) you are not just picking points on the structure, but priming the story engine.

After your last choice, the engine has all the information it needs to run. The engine then twists and turns the structure like a Rubik’s Cube on steroids. All of the pieces get mixed up in ways that are directly the result of your choices. But because the choices influence each other at different levels and in different ways, the overall arrangement of items to one another (such as Types to Variations) is not consistent under all conditions (with all choices).

The complex answer is REALLY complex. It gets into the actual mechanism of the engine that applies the twists and turns to the structure as a result of your storyforming choices.

I’ll give you a brief overview, then point you to some pages on my web site which go into more detail if you want it.

Different choice you make in storyforming have different kinds of effects on the twisting and turning of the model. Some choice determine whether specific quads will be rotated in position (like turning a dial) to the right or the left one item (one notch). Others determine if items in a quad will be “flipped” in position, such as “logic” and “feeling” exchanging places. Other choices determine if the quads below an item will be carried with it when flipping or rotating or will be left behind in their original places while the item above flips or rotates in its own quad.

In fact, the effect of some choices is so complex that it doesn’t determine anything directly about the structure, but instead changes the effect of other choices! So, certain questions may determine if another question will cause a flip or a rotate.

Taken all together, the story engine is an elegant representation of the Dramatica theory. But even so, it is not representative of the WHOLE theory.

For example, part of the process of “winding up” the structure to create dramatic tension by answering questions involves the following:

There are actually TWO wind ups. One winds up around the Objective Story Problem Element, like a clock spring (using the kinds of flips, rotates, and “carrying the children” as explained above.) The other winds up around the Main Character Problem Element.

One of the wind ups is applied FIRST to the “at rest” structure, the other is applied SECOND. Which is first is determined by certain storyforming choices. The first wind up is closest to an “at rest” structure. The second is actually winding up a structure which is already partially wound up by the first. So, the second one is less close to “reality” than the first. You can see that this has an impact as to whether or not the audience will feel like the Main Character OUGHT to change or to remain steadfast, regardless of what he or she actually does.

The way the software is limited compared to the theory in this example is as follows:

The only two Domains which can wind up are the Main Character and the Objective Story. This is a Western Cultural favorite – so prevalent in fact that almost all stories told in Western culture use this approach. But there is no reason in theory as to why the Obstacle Character and Subjective Story might be the ones to wind, or even the Main Character and the Obstacle Character.

Clearly this would create a completely different feel for a story’s dynamics, since the order in which the items in the structure are explored and also the order in which they come into conjunction is quite different. But, this was just too much to incorporate in the original engine.

Now, one might think that the engine is quite large in the software because of all this complexity. But, as with a Rubik’s cube (which has only 27 pieces but creates 40,000,000,000,000,000 combinations – or thereabouts according to the label) the story engine creates all 32768 storyforms with only 28K of inter-related algorithms.

And, just as with the cube, it is hard to see at a glance at a finished pattern what twists and turns when into making it.

Someday, perhaps, other aspects of the theory will be incorporated into the software. For now, it is important to know that the software is right about 90% of the time – or put more accurately, the software is right for 90% of the stories you are likely to tell. But, if you have a story to tell that is running up against the software, ask yourself whether you are telling a story that is close enough to Western Cultural norms so that you should alter your story to match the storyform, or if you are telling a story so far from Western norms that perhaps you need to rely more on the theory than the software.

Well, that’s enough of the complex explanation. If you REALLY want more, visit the Mental Relativity Web Site.

There you will find the first few chapter of a book I am writing on the math behind the theory. The deepest exploration into these concepts in terms of the actual math can be found at:

Good luck!