Category Archives: Dramatica Unchained

Narrative Media & The Individual

By Melanie Anne Phillips

I was going through some old back-ups of my computer from many, many years ago and came across this lecture I had prepared for a meeting of psychiatrists involved in the psychological aspects of art and therapy.

Alas, after being invited to speak, I met with one of the principals involved (a Freudian psychiatrist) and he was so appalled by the “radical” concepts I was proposing that he cancelled my appearance, rather than subject the members of his group to these dangerous and subversive concepts.

Hey, I thought I’d toned it down. Go figger….

Well, here’s the transcript of what I would have said, given the chance….

Transcript of a Lecture

Prepared for the semi-annual convention of

The Southern California Psychoanalytic Society


The Center for Psychoanalytic Studies of Creativity and Art
of the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute

Media and the Individual

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, the Dramatica theory of story

Stories, especially those told in the media of film or television, can have a tremendous impact on an audience. Experiencing a story is similar in many ways to experiencing events in “real life”. Stories can make us laugh or cry, leave us feeling euphoric or depressed, lead us through a logistic consideration, or leave us in an emotional state.

In this age of broadcast media, CD ROMS, and high-tech motion pictures, the average citizen in our society may be exposed to almost as many narrative experiences as life experiences. As a result, understanding the nature and mechanism by which stories affect audiences can lead to insights in media impact on an individual’s outlooks and attitudes.

From one perspective, we might identify four areas in which this impact manifests itself: One, the emotional mood an audience is left with at the conclusion of a story, Two, the emotional journey experienced by an audience during the unfolding of a story, Three, understandings arrived at by the audience by the conclusion of a story, Four, logistic considerations made by the audience during the unfolding of the story. Because these are so basic and important, let me take a moment to expand slightly on each of these concepts.

1. Emotionally, a story can change the mood of an audience from what it was at the beginning of a story to a completely different emotional state by the time it is over. This might pertain to the way the audience feels about a particular topic, or simply might change the underlying mood of the audience overall.

For example, in a story such as “Remains of the Day”, an audience might be brought to a saddened and frustrated emotional state that might linger well after the story is over. This mood could even recur when some symbol or set of circumstances in everyday life triggers a conscious re-consideration of the story or a subconscious response based on patterns experienced in the story.

In addition, an audience’s emotional response toward a particular topic, symbol, circumstance, or pattern may be altered through the story experience, leading to anything from changes in likes and dislikes to changes in attitudes, loyalties, or motivations in regard to a specific topic.

2. In the process of experiencing a story, audience members may be carried from one emotion to another in an order that might conform to or differ from their experiences in “real life”. This can either reinforce or alter habitual patterns of emotional response, albeit in a small and perhaps temporary way. For example, if an audience member were to identify with a character, such as Agent Mulder in “The X-Files”, he or she might (over time) become more likely to play hunches or, conversely, less likely to accept things at their face value.

3. By the end of a story, the audience may be brought to an understanding it did not possess prior to participating in the story process. For example, in “The Usual Suspects”, the big picture is not grasped by the audience until the final pieces are dropped into place near the end. This creates an insight, as opposed to a logistic argument, and can be used to change audience opinion in regard to a particular issue, either through manipulation or propaganda.

4. As a story unfolds, a logistic argument may be constructed that leads linearly from one point of consideration to a conclusion. In “JFK”, for example, a continuous chain of logic is built link by link over the course of the film in an attempt to prove the filmmaker’s contentions about the Kennedy assassination. This method can exercise audience members in logistic methods that may be repeated unconsciously in their everyday lives.

From this brief look at the power of the visual media, we can get a sense that many people might be better understood by becoming aware of the kinds of stories to which they are exposed, and many people might also benefit from carefully tailored story experiences.

But what exactly is the mechanism of story, and precisely how can one use that mechanism to create specific impact on an audience? Those questions have plagued authors for centuries, and are also of utmost important to those who may feel that an understanding of story can enhance therapist/patient interactions.

Fifteen years ago, my partner, Chris Huntley, and I began an exploration into these issues which culminated in a book, “Dramatica – a New Theory of Story.” Tonight I want to touch on a few of the essential tenets of the Dramatica theory which I hope will provide some insight into the mechanism of story.

Traditional theories commonly see stories as narratives in which characters, representing real people, engage in activities comprising a plot which illustrates a moral point pertaining to a particular theme in a setting and style which determine genre. In contrast, Dramatica sees every complete story as an analogy to a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity. That’s quite a mouthful, so let me say it once again for clarity… Dramatica sees every complete story as an analogy to a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity.

In other words, stories are not really about characters, plot, theme, and genre, but rather, characters, plot, theme, and genre represent different families of consideration that go on in a single human mind when it is trying to come to terms with an inequity. Characters are the different motivations of the Story Mind that influence each other, jockey for position, or come into conflict. Theme represents the value standards of the Story Mind – the measuring sticks by which the Story Mind determines what is better and what is worse. Plot demonstrates the Story Mind’s methodologies or techniques it employs in trying to resolve the inequity at the heart of the story. And genre determines the Story Mind’s personality – what kind of a mind it is that is doing this consideration.

Well, that’s a rather bold statement to make. After all, why would such a complex model of psychology end up being at the center of story structure? Surely writers didn’t sit down and say, “I think I’ll write an analogy to a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity.” Not hardly. So where does the Story Mind come from? According to Dramatica, this model of the mind happens quite naturally, by itself, as a byproduct of the process of communication.

When we seek to communicate we can’t reach our audience directly – mind to mind . Rather, we must transmit our message through a medium. To do this, we fashion a symbolic representation of what we have in mind in the hope it will affect our audience the same way it does us. In effect, we create a model of what we are thinking and feeling for the audience to embrace. Which symbols we use depends upon our personal experiences and the culture in which we are working. But beneath the specific symbols are the essential human qualities that are the same in all of us – all cultures and all times.

In and of themselves, these qualities do not yet constitute a model of the mind. For example, if we wanted to convey fear, then we would choose a symbol that would invoke fear in our audience. That human quality would then be communicated. But it is only a small part of what makes up each of our minds.

As communication evolved, the earliest storytellers progressed beyond simply expressing basic emotions or single concepts and began to tell tales. A tale is a progression of symbols that connects one feeling or consideration to the next in an unbroken chain. In this way, an author could lead an audience along an emotional journey and also illustrate that a particular approach led to a particular outcome.

It didn’t take these authors long to realize, however, that the human heart cannot leap from one emotion to another indiscriminately without passing through the emotions in between. This concept is well documented in The Seven Stages of Grief, and even in Freud’s Stages of human development.

Similarly, a logistic chain must not skip any links or it will be held as invalid. So, when telling a tale, the early storytellers developed a feel for which intermediate symbolic steps were required to get from one point of view to another, both logistically and emotionally. We see the result of these discoveries in concepts such as the hero’s journey, and story as myth.

Still, this is not a complete model of the mind. A tale is simply a statement that a series of concepts led from point A to point B. In other words, the message of a tale is that a particular series of events can happen. It will be accepted or rejected by an audience solely on the basis of taking the right steps logistically and making the right connections emotionally. Yes, this could happen, or no it could not.

Many fine works through the ages and even today in novels, motion pictures and television are really not complete stories, but simply tales. So what constitutes a story? Well, if a tale is a statement, then a story is an argument. A tale says, “this path led to this outcome indicating it is a good way or a bad way to go about solving a problem”. A tale states that a particular outcome is possible. A story says, “this path always leads to this outcome indicating it is always a good way or a bad way to go about solving a problem”. A story argues that a particular outcome is inevitable.

If an early author made a statement that a particular case was good or bad, he or she would simply have to prove that a particular approach led to a positive or negative outcome. But if that author tried to tell the audience the approach was always good or always bad, more than likely someone in the audience would say, “Well, what about under these conditions,” or “what about in this context?” Being right there, the author could counter that rebuttal by explaining how the approach would still be best or worst even in that additional case. He or she would either make the point, or fail to make it, in which case the argument would be lost, and the tale would remain as a only a statement, true for that case alone.

As the art of communication evolved beyond the spoken word to the written word, however, the author was no longer physically present to argue the point. Instead, if an author wanted to “prove” inevitability, he or she would have to anticipate all reasonable challenges to that statement, and preclude dissension by incorporating all appropriate arguments in the work itself. In this manner, by the time the story is told, not only is a statement made that an approach is good or bad, but all necessary supporting arguments have also been made to “prove” it could not be any other way.

To make these supporting arguments, an author needs to look at the story not only from his or her own point of view, but to anticipate all the other points of view on the issue that audience members might take. By the time the work is finished, it should represent a full exploration of the issue at the heart of the story – both logistically and emotionally, addressing all considerations a human mind might explore within the scope of the argument. In so doing, a complete mind-set is created – an full analogy of a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity – the Story Mind.

Characters, plot, theme, and genre, evolve naturally out of this process to represent the full spectrum of considerations made by the human mind. Acts, Sequences, Scenes, and Events also evolve naturally as the Story Mind finishes considering the issue from one point of view and shifts it’s attention to another.

Okay, suppose we have a Story Mind. What do we do with it? Or, more importantly, how does the audience receive it? In fact, the audience examines the Story Mind from four distinct perspectives. Imagine for the moment that a story is a battle. We might hold the Story Mind out in front of us, “Alas, poor mind,” and look at it from a distance. For the audience, this perspective is like that of a general on a hill, watching the story’s battle. From here, we are looking from the outside in. We can see all the broad strategies and forces at work, but we are distanced from them. Although we may be concerned for the soldiers on the field, they are too far away to identify as individuals, so we classify them by their functions instead. There might be the soldier leading the charge – a protagonist archetype, or a deserter cowering in the bushes – the skeptic archetype. In an of it self, this view offers the best perspective on the “big picture” but at the expense of any personal involvement. So, in Dramatica, we refer to this as the Objective perspective.

For a more involving point of view, let us zoom our audience into the shoes of one of the soldiers on the field. Suddenly, we are seeing things from the inside, looking out. We are no longer privy to the broad developing movements of the battle as a whole, but we have a much better understanding of what it is like to be in the midst of the bombardment, trying to do our job and get out alive. The soldier from whom the audience experiences the story first hand is the Main Character of the story. It is important to note that the Main Character need not be the Protagonist, any more than any of us has to be the central figure in every group in which we are involved. Authors may choose to position the audience on the sidelines to gain an understanding of the battle from off-center. For example, in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the Protagonist is Atticus (the Gregory Peck part in the movie), while the audience see the story through the eyes of his young daughter, Scout. If Atticus had been the Main Character, the audience would have felt self-righteous in doing the “moral” thing. But by placing the audience in Scout’s shoes, Lee Harper suckered us into being prejudiced against the unseen Boo Radley, showing us all that prejudice does not have to come from intentional hatred or meanness, but can rise quite innocently through assumption. In Dramatica, we refer to this most personal view as the Main Character perspective.

Now, as the Main Character struggles to make his way through the field of battle, a figure blocks his path. Through the smoke of all the dramatic explosions, the Main Character cannot tell if this figure is a friendly soldier trying to divert him from a mine field, or an enemy soldier trying to lure him into an ambush. As the Main Character approaches he yells, “Get out of my way!” The obstacle in his path shouts, “change course”. In the end, either the Main Character will run through the Obstacle Character to succeed or die in the mine field, or he will relent and change course to succeed or fall prey to the ambush. Neither decision guarantees success except as a reflection of the author’s argument This view is called The Obstacle Character perspective.

Finally, the audience will want to examine growth in the relationship between the Main and Obstacle characters as they “have it out” in their personal skirmish in the midst of the overall battle. No longer standing in the Main Character’s shoes, the audience judges on against the other as if they were two fighters circling. Because it deals with the conflict between two subjective points of view, this is called the Subjective perspective.

One way to get a feel for these four perspectives is to think of how the audience relates to the characters in each. The Main Character is first person singular – the “I” perspective. The Obstacle Character is seen through the Main Character’s eyes, and is the “you” perspective. The Subjective view is the “we” perspective, and the Objective view the “they” perspective. “I”, “you”, “we”, and “they”.

Symbolically, the Main Character represents where we are positioned at any given moment in our own minds – our sense of self. The Obstacle Character represents an alternative paradigm we are considering – we haven’t adopted it yet, so we don’t see things from that perspective yet, but merely examine that perspective from where we are. The Subjective view represents the process of trying to weigh the pros and cons of two points of view in a balanced fashion. The Objective view represents our attempt to look at our own mental processes analytically. Taken together, all four perspectives are like different camera angles on the same football game. Each is valid from its own point of view, but also incomplete. If they run in parallel the audience will come to a full understanding of all valid considerations regarding the story’s central issue and a complete argument will have been made.

There isn’t time this evening to even scratch the surface of describing the components of these four parallel arguments, but let us focus on the Main Character and examine some of the key considerations as an example. In this way, the nature of a story’s impact and how to control it to desired audience effect can be, at lest partially, illuminated.

To get meaning from the Main Character’s journey, and audience will need to know some things about the nature of that journey and its outcome. For one thing, by the end of the story the audience will want to know if the Main Character has changed or not. Many students of story erroneously believe a character must change in order to grow. In fact, a character might grow in their resolve while remaining the same. This calls for clarification of terms. In Dramatica, we define a steadfast character as one who keeps the same paradigm or character traits in regard to the story’s central issue of argument. A change character is one accepts the Obstacle Character’s alternative paradigm and adopts a new way of thinking or feeling. Because of the difficulty in overcoming obstacles and avoiding the apparently easier way out, a steadfast character needs to muster emotional reserves in order to remain steadfast, much like Job in the bible story.

Some well known Steadfast characters are James Bond in every movie except “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, and Clarise Starling in “Silence of the Lambs”. Well known change characters are Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars”, and Ebeneezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”

As indicated earlier, change or steadfast alone does not guarantee success or failure. So an author must decide which it is to be. By “success” we do not mean a value judgment, but a simple assessment – did the Main Character achieve what he set out to achieve or not? It doesn’t matter if the Main Character realized that achieving his goal would be the wrong thing to do, for example, but simply, in the end, did he do it or not.

Once that determination is made, an author can ask himself or herself, “Now, how does the Main Character feel about the outcome? Did he or she resolve his or her personal angst or not?”

Earlier, I mentioned Clarise Starling in “Silence of the Lambs”. This story ends in a success because the original goal was to capture “Buffalo Bob” and rescue the senator’s daughter, which she does. But, if you recall the end of the movie, her graduation ceremony is not presented as the celebration we might expect. Rather, the camera moves slowly in long shots, the music is very somber, and Clarise is left pretty much alone – until she is called to the phone. It is Hannibal Lecter who immediately asks her, “Are the lambs still screaming?” She does not answer because they still are.

Hannibal Lecter was her Obstacle Character, even though Buffalo Bob was the Antagonist. With his question and answer, “quid pro quo”, he forced her to tell her story and ultimately to face the reason she is in her career – trying to save every lost lamb to make up for the one she couldn’t save as a child. To find relief from this central angst, she must let go of that experience and move on. But she cannot, and hence her success is tempered with her ongoing angst. In Dramatica, we call this a judgment of “Bad”. If angst is overcome, the judgment is “Good”.

Audiences are strongly affected by the four combinations of Success/Failure and Good/Bad. Look at the different overall viewing experiences of the Failure/Bad story of “Hamlet”, the Failure/Good story of “Rain Main” in which he doesn’t get the inheritance, but overcomes his hatred for his father, the Success/Bad story of “Remains of the Day” in which he successfully maintains the household through all trials and tribulations but fails to obtain a loving relationship, and the Success/Good story of “Star Wars”.

There are many more considerations pertaining to a Main Character, and a multitude of others in the other three perspectives as well. For example, a more Objective issue is whether the story’s scope is such that it is brought to a conclusion by a Timelock or an Optionlock. We all know Timelocks like “48 hours”, but just as many stories are drawn to an end by running out of options, again, as in “Remains of the Day.”

Why a lock at all? Since the choices a Story Mind is pondering have dire consequences, the consideration might go on forever if the scope of the argument were not limited. I know I never go to the doctor until I’ve exhausted all other possibilities that could avoid it. In that case, I have been trying to deal with an inequity limited by options – when there are no alternatives left, I must choose to go or not, but I can learn nothing else (within the scope of my argument to myself) that will help me make the decision. In contrast, a Timelock is as simple as having a friend ask you to join him or her for a movie that starts at 9:00 and you can’t make up your mind because you like the movie and hate the friend, or vice versa. Not surprising that real human considerations should be reflected in story or in the Story Mind.

Unfortunately, my presentation is also under a timelock, so I must soon draw my argument to a conclusion. Before I do, however, I have one final area I’d like to touch upon – the subject of Propaganda, as it . Dramatica theory holds a wealth of information about propaganda, but one particular notion is particularly intriguing.

(Here I will hold up a larger version of the attached picture)

What is the first thing you notice about his picture? I’m almost afraid to ask this question of a room full of psychiatrists! For most people, they would notice the missing eye. In fact, they would, at some level imagine an eye in that vacant spot to, if nothing else, verify their assessment of what is missing. The propaganda in this picture is that is a man’s face, due to the tie at the bottom. While the audience is busy filling in the blank, they don’t notice the ace up the sleeve. It’s the old slight of hand – you watch the magician’s right hand, while his left is palming the ball.

This particular propaganda technique is used to strong effect in “Thelma and Louise”. There is one piece of missing information. It is never explained in the story exactly what happened to Thelma in Texas that is clearly fueling her drive for independence. The subject is brought up but the missing piece is never filled in. So, the primarily female audience fills it in for itself. Subconsciously, if not consciously, most female audience members make an association with something from their own lives or their own fears that would be strong enough to conceivably drive them to the same response. In this manner the plight of Thelma is personalized.

So far, so good. But when Thelma and Louise drive over the cliff rather than spend the rest of their lives in prison, the message is also personalized – if you try to buck the system, you will have a choice of death figuratively or literally, or a more confining prison than the one you are already in. By making one a housewife and the other a waitress, most women will even more strongly identify at some level with these characters than if they were a bank president and a congresswoman. But the key to the impact is the missing Texas piece, which changes the movie from a story about two women seeking independence to a propaganda piece which puts emotional pressure on female audience members to stay in their place – or else!

Was this intentional? Who’s to say. The script was written by a woman, and it is my understanding that the Texas Story is told in the first draft. But as we know from ink blots, author intent need not be present to generate audience effect.

Of course, we have only explored one kind of propaganda. In fact, there are a multitude of others. In “Thelma and Louise” the mechanism of propaganda involves a missing piece of information. Another technique adds an unnecessary piece of information. As an example, let us look as Disney’s “The Lion King.”

Much has been written about the possible negative racial bias created by the Hyenas in the story. Whoopi Goldberg does the voice of the principal Hyena. The Hyenas, which are dark-skinned, live in the symbolic equivalent of a ghetto. They are forbidden to set foot in the sunny world of other jungle animals. They are shown to be stupid, sneaky, and cowardly. When they do have the opportunity to enter the forbidden world, they destroy the neighborhood. Order is only restored when they are driven back to their wasteland.

But this is not the propaganda of Lion King; it is merely “manipulation”. By way of definition, “manipulation” occurs when a meta message which exists above the structural message of the story at large is discernible to the audience. In other words, if the audience is able to tune in to a bias, it is manipulation. But if the audience is unaware that it is being biased by subliminal symbolic references – THAT is propaganda.

A clever propagandist will use manipulation as a distraction, to better obscure the propaganda going on elsewhere in a story. In “The Lion King”, while attention is drawn to the potential racial issues, it is hardly ever noticed that there is an even stronger anti-female bias in the undercurrent. Why doesn’t Simba’s mother ascend to the throne when her husband is killed? Why do all the female lions accept the rule of the Simba’s evil uncle? Why do they do all the hunting as if it is their genetic duty? What of Nala, the female lion who stays during the hard times, tries to help and pays her dues while Simba is hiding in the forest living the good life? Why is the cowardly Simba who runs from responsibility given the crown as soon as he returns? These biases seldom come to conscious consideration, as the minds of audience members are busy wondering why the Hyenas are black.

And, being a children’s film, the damage is even worse, since the racial manipulation is beyond the scope of most children, so the built-in bias is accepted as propaganda instead, influencing a whole generation of young people to unquestioningly believe that minorities belong in the ghetto and males have a divine right to rule. Again, was this intentional? Who’s to say. But if it wasn’t, imagine the damage caused by accident.

Clearly, the visual media have a powerful impact on society as a whole and each of us individually. When one becomes familiar the mechanism of story, one can better identify this impact, and even work to employ it with precision.

I thank you for your time, and hope you found it well spent


Contact me about narrative consultation for fiction and in the real world

Robert McKee

A writer emailed me with the following comments:

Your ideas make so much more sense than certain other writing teachers. For example, McKee.  I don’t see any logic to many of his statements.  He says things such as ‘imagine the universe of story as a triangle of possibilities.’ and he draws squiggly lines that’s supposed to represent the story going back and forth from positive to negative territory. He is proud of his ideas but they just don’t make much sense and I certainly don’t find them to be practical. I doubt he has any sort of background in math or physics or logical thinking.

My reply:

I know what you mean.  Back in the early 1990’s, just after we developed the first version of Dramatica, we invited McKee to come by our offices and give us his feedback.  We were just starting out in the field and were kind of in awe of him, as he was the leading “guru” of the time.  So, it was with nervous but eager anticipation that we awaited his comments while we demoed the Dramatica software and explained the concepts behind our Dramatica theory of story.

When it was over, he bolted up from his chair, proclaimed that this was the exact kind of crap he had been fighting against for all those years, and stormed out of the room.  We were crushed.  Our hero had just pronounced that we were less than worthless – we were the enemies of all writers.

Well, he was just the first of a long line of folks who are so into the passion of writing that they see any attempt to approach it logically as an all out assault against the Muse – an effort to subvert her and replace inspiration with scientific analysis.  It took many years after that before we really had a lock on the idea that structure is logical, storytelling is passionate.  And that structure is a carrier wave that delivers the storytelling experience.

Structure can ONLY be understood by logic; the magic of story can ONLY be engaged by our emotions.  Both the binary and the analog must be present in order to fully satisfy the human mind, from its neural networks to its biochemical drives.

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!

Mental Sex: The Truth About Cats & Dogs

 A Writer Comments…
Hi Melanie—

Appreciate the time you took clarifying Male & Female perceptions of time and space. Now, if you have time for another question… What is the difference between a female mental sex way of viewing the world and an animal’s way of viewing the world? To use your (lovely) blustery-day-big-puffy-clouds example, wouldn’t a kitty cat get a sense of the flavor of the day without thinking about or being aware of any patterns? Wouldn’t changes in acceleration affect the kitty cat’s energy level?

I imagine this kitty cat getting playful, or frightened, or purring. It’s a fun thought so early in the morning.

Take care,


My Repy…

Yep, you’ve got the right idea about cats. And, in fact, dogs are much more male mental sex as a species. Returning to the idea that (to the extent we can see from our position INSIDE the universe) Space and Time form a continuum, then we not that this continuum might be looked at as a railroad track. The track from Space to Time is divided off in railroad ties. The perceptive “bandwidth” of any individual human can be represented as a box car of slightly differing lengths, averaging around seven ties long.

Now, that means that the average human sees only seven “ties” worth of the Space/Time continuum at any given moment (point in time along the track). But, if the individual focuses or diverts attention more toward space, the box car will move along the track in that direction. So, although the car will still only span seven ties, the portion of the track occupied will be more toward the spatial side than the temporal.

Male and female mental sex are like two different box cars, linked together. Since they don’t occupy the same position on the single track, one is more toward a spatial view and the other more toward a temporal. In any given environmental situation (position on the track), the male car will be more toward space, the female more toward time, but the two slightly overlapping where they link.

Up and down the track they move, each capable of seeing the same sights and getting to the same places, but never at the same moment.

Now, imagine a second and a third track running along side the first one. Each of these other two tracks is running in the same direction (say, Left to Right) as the first track, but they start at a different point to the Left and end at a different point to the right.

If Space is to the Left, then the Cat track will start a bit further to the Right (Time) and end a bit further to the Right than the Human track. This means that although Humans and Cats will run in parallel along portions of their natural route, Cats will also extend farther toward Time than the Humans. As a result, the Center of the Cat track, will be farther to the Right (Time) than the center of the Human track, and as the cars move back and forth, Cats, on the average as a species, will seem more toward the Female Mental Sex side (Time) compared to Humans. Similarly, the Dog track is a bit more, overall, toward the Left (Space) side, and therefore Dogs, as a species, on the average, will seem to be more Male Mental Sex than Humans, as a group.

Another notable difference among the species, is that while Human box cars may span seven ties on the track, Cat and Dog cars may span only perhaps four. This means that the “resolution” by which Cats and Dogs perceive their environment (and themselves) is less detailed (narrower bandwidth) than it is with Humans, even though we all share the same perspectives. This is why dogs seem so simple in their emotional responses, and cats so simple in their logic.

Dogs, being more Male Mental Sex as a species, have an edge in logic, masking the narrower bandwidth, but since their box car is not as wide, the emotional response is double whammied. The reverse is true for Cats.

Well, hopefully this little analogy might help people avoid having one track minds, eh what?

Dramaticapedia – The Number 64

It has been suggested that the fact there are 64 dramatic Elements in the Dramatica Theory of Story is mighty suspicious.  After all, that’s a real convenient number if you are going to be creating a software program, such as Dramatica Pro.  Which naturally leads to the speculation that perhaps the Dramatica Theory is not so much about what’s really going on in story as it is about describing stories in terms of how software might best look at them.

Another unsettling fact is that you’ll find a lot of symmetry in Dramatica – pairs of things like Protagonist and Antagonist, quads of things like the four Domains: Objective Story, Subjective Story, Main Character and Obstacle Character, and so on.  Perhaps one of the most “disturbing” aspects of the theory is that everything is in even numbers – 2 Subjective Characters, 8 Archetypes, 4 Plot Signposts, etc. – Or, perhaps it just appears that way….

After all, there are 3 Plot Journeys that span the 4 Plot Signposts and give us the standard Three Act Structure.  But, you can also structure a story to emphasize the first Signpost, the three Journeys, and then the final Signpost, thereby creating the feeling of a 5 Part Plot Progression (handy for television programs and their commercial breaks).  In addition, you can clearly illustrate all four Signposts and all three Journeys in a throughline thereby creating 7 different dramatic movements along the way.

As a final example of odd numbers in Dramatica, there are four primary character functions: Protagonist, Antagonist, Main Character and Obstacle Character.  Protagonist and Antagonist fight over the goal, Main Character and Obstacle Character fight over moral values.  Often, stories will make the Protagonist the Main Character and the Antagonist the Obstacle Character so that only two players represent all four attributes between them.  In such a case, these two characters fight over the goal and also fight over moral values.  This can get pretty confusing, so often authors will split one of those character to create a “dramatic triangle” to make the two kinds of conflict easier to follow.  In such a case, you might have the Protagonist be the Main Character, the Antagonist fight with him (or her) over the goal and the Obstacle Character (often a “love interest”) fight with him or her over moral values.  Suddenly four attributes becomes three characters.

The point of all this is that you aren’t limited to exploring just even numbers or things in fours, eights, sixteens, or sixty-fours.  And yet, the Dramatica theory (and especially the Dramatica chart) does divide itself into these even number chunks based on multiples of four.  So why is that?!!!

Simple – because we all think in four dimensions: Mass, Energy, Space and Time.  There are no other dimensions we can directly sense (though we can conceive of all kinds of dimensions in M theory, for example).  But at the very top of that heap are the four dimensions we can sense directly.

Actually, Dramatica goes beyond that.  It sees those four external dimensions but also sees four internal ones as well: Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire.  What the hell?  Stay with me here…  Knowledge is the Mass of the mind.  It is “material” in the mind – the fixed and defined.  Thought is the Energy of the mind.  Just as Energy can rearrange mass or become attached to it as potential, so too can Thought organize Knowledge and also be attached to it as potential.

Ability is the “Space” of the mind.  Say, what?  Think about it.  Mass exists in Space; Ability exists in Knowledge.  And you can think about Mass and Space in terms of what is and what isn’t just as you can think about Knowledge and Ability in terms of what you know and what you don’t.  It is really the relationship between what you know and what you don’t that defines Ability just as the relationship between what is and what is not defines Space.

Now, Desire….  Desire as it equates to Time in the external dimensions.  Time can only be measured by comparing what was to what is and what might be – that is how we can experience the concept of motion – by comparing where something was to where it is and projecting where it might be.  Internally, Desire is determined by comparing how things were to how they are and how they might be.  And in this way we measure progress, which is how we see motion in our lives.

This isn’t just a lot of cute loose connections between hard physics and pop psychology – oh, no!  Well, not entirely anyway.  You see, in physics E=MC2, which is to say that Energy equals Mass time the speed of light squared.  How is speed measured?  in Space and Time (cm per second, in the case of Einstein’s equation).  So, even in the physical world, four things – Mass, Energy, Space and Time – can be combined into three (Mass, Energy and Speed).  Sounds a lot like Dramatica, don’t it?

Well, then you’ll love (or hate) this…

The primary equation of the Dramatica model of story from which the entire structure is built is quite simple: T/K = AD, or Thought divided by Knowledge equals Ability time Desire.  What the hell?  (again!)  Okay… when we think in logic, we are parlaying our Thought against our Knowledge.

Example:  Knowledge bends our thoughts in new trajectories because of what we know, just as Mass in Space bends energy (such as light waves) along the vectors of its gravity.  “Plain English, PLEASE!”  ‘Kay….

It takes a lot of thought to make a little knowledge, just as a little bit of knowledge can generate an awful lot of thought.  Now…  isn’t this interesting…  That relationship between Knowledge and Thought is the same as the relationship between Mass and Energy in Einstein’s equation:  It takes a lot of energy to make a little mass but a little mass can generate an awful lot of energy.

What an interesting (or convenient) similarity between Dramatica and Relativity.  Well, here’s a little more then…  If you take the equation of Dramatica – T/K = AD and do a little rearranging using Algebra by multiplying each side by K you get T = K (AD).  Looks unnervingly like E=MC2, doesn’t it?

Of course, in Einstein’s version, Space and Time are combines into C2 (which is the Speed of light (Time) multiplied by the wavelength of light (Space), thereby combining Space and Time into a single C2.  Why is it a constant?  Because when the speed goes up the wavelength goes down so they are both on this cosmic seesaw and collectively never change their value, even when they keep rocking back and forth.

So too it is in Dramatica.  Ability and Desire are blended by our minds into “Desirability” so we can think logically in Knowledge and Thought.

Think about the ramifications – no matter how great our knowledge or thought, if either our ability or desire are zero, then nothing’s going to happen because it means all our considerations amount to naught.  But if every element in the equation has a value of more than zero, there will be some degree of motivation within us.

We all know that different frequencies of light have different speeds, but none of them have a speed of zero or light would have to have a wavelength equal to infinity.  And in our minds, there are many emotional flavors of desire, but none are really ever at a zero-level or Ability would have to be infinitely huge (like, God, say…) or we’d never move.

My but haven’t we drifted far afield from “The Number 64” (the title of this article).  Alright, here’s another co-incidence for you – the IChing has 64 elements, just like the Dramatica Chart.  Honest to Madeline Albright, we didn’t know that until someone brought it to our attention once Dramatica was released.  But the really strange thing is that the pictograms in the I Ching line up exactly with the same mathematical progressions in Dramatica.

In fact, one Dramatica user was so intrigued that he created a whole explanation of how Dramatica’s archetypes correspond to the I Ching.  You can find it at  assuming you’re interested.  (It’s there even if you aren’t interested – like Schrodinger’s Cat)

Legend has it that the guy who originated the IChing got the idea from looking at the patterns on the back of a tortoise.  Not surprising.  If Dramatica and it’s equations are based on how the mind makes patterns, then any pattern we see is not so much generated by what we observe but by our projection of a pattern upon it from those available to our minds in order to understand it as fully as we can.  After all, a sprial in a teacup and a spiral in a galaxy have no similarity at all except in our own minds.

Oh, and as for the I Ching – to get the best interlock between the Dramatica Chart and the I Ching’s chart of Trigrams, be sure to use the “Pristine Yi King” rather than today’s common “I Ching” which was corrupted from the original by an ancient monarch seeking to bend the meaning of the grid to his own political motives.

So Dramatica deals with the concept of a Story Mind – that every story’s structure is the psychology of a SINGLE mind in which all the characters represent facets.  And, since Einstein’s equation was all about Relativity in the physical universe, we decided to name our equation and the model of psychology that grew from it, Mental Relativity.  I have a whole web site devoted to it, though it hasn’t been updated in years (no time, honest!)

Final thought for today – E=MC2 (and constants in general) appear as such only from inside the system being measured.  We always blend two items into a baseline from which to measure and observe the other two.  So, you stepped outside the universe you could clearly see time and space as separate and not locked to each other on that seesaw at all, thereby severing the space-time continuum and making all kinds of things possible (like that two dimensional man on a piece of paper who can’t cross a straight line drawn across the page).

Similarly, we think in threes, but one of the threes is really two things combined.  Looking at others we are observing their universe from the outside and so we see their thought processes in fours, leading us to easily see the solutions to their problems but not to our own.

And lastly, the equation T/K = AD is not the only one in Dramatica.  Sequentially, we go through all permutations such as A/K = TD.  Now that isn’t mathematically equivalent to the first equation, but it describes a particular mindset.  To get the best parallax on the universe, our minds adopt one equation (mind set) after another in order to see things in all possible contexts.  The benefit is that you get more “depth” on the issue, the drawback is that things are constantly changing so that by the time you go through all the mind-sets, the issue may no longer be the same as it was when you started, making your results inaccurate.

It is that inaccuracy that creates the dramatic potential that winds up the Dramatica chart into a single storyform, as all the permutations of the equation are represented in one quad or another – oh yeah – I should mention that each quad is a physical representation of one of the permutations of the equation.  They are twisted and turned to create dramatic potentials among them that describe the conflict between the way things are and the way we want them to be.

This whole system evolved as a survival trait, yet the devil is in the details.  But hey, aint that life.

Dramaticapedia – “Ability”

What’s “Ability” have to do with story structure?

If you look in Dramatica’s “Periodic Table of Story Elements” chart (you can download a free PDF of the chart at ) you’ll find the “ability” in one of the little squares.  Look in the “Physics” class in the upper left-hand corner.  You’ll find it in a “quad” of four items, “Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire”.

In this article I’m going to talk about how Dramatica uses the term “ability” and how it applies not only to story structure and characters but to real people, real life and psychology as well.

To begin with, a brief word about the Dramatica chart itself.  The chart is sort of like a Rubik’s Cube.  It holds all the elements which must appear in every complete story to avoide holes.  Conceptually, you can twist it and turn it, just like a Rubik’s Cube, and when you do, it is like winding up a clock – you create dramatic potential.

How is this dramatic potential created?  The chart represents all the categories of things we think about.  Notice that the chart is nested, like wheels within wheels.  That’s the way our mind’s work.  And if we are to make a solid story structure with no holes, we have to make sure all ways of thinking about the story’s central problem or issues are covered.

So, the chart is really a model of the mind.  When you twist it and turn it represents the kinds of stress (and experience) we encounter in everyday life.  Sometimes things get wound up as tight as they can.  And this is where a story always starts.  Anything before that point is backstory, anything after it is story.

The story part is the process of unwinding that tension.  So why does a story feel like tension is building, rather than lessoning?  This is because stories are about the forces that bring a person to chane or, often, to a point of change.

As the story mind unwinds, it puts more and more pressure on the main character (who may be gradually changed by the process or may remain intransigent until he changes all at once).  It’s kind of like the forces that  create earthquakes.  Tectonic plates push against each other driven by a background force (the mantle).  That force is described by the wound up Dramatica chart of the story mind.

Sometimes, in geology, this force gradually raises or lowers land in the two adjacent plate.  Other times it builds up pressure until things snap all at once in an earthquake.  So too in psychology, people (characters) are sometimes slowly changed by the gradual application of pressure as the story mind clock is unwinding; other times that pressure applied by the clock mechanism just builds up until the character snaps in Leap Of Faith – that single “moment of truth” in which a character must decide either to change his ways or stick by his guns believing his current way is stronger than the pressure bought to bear – he believes he just has to outlast the forces against him.

Sometimes he’s right to change, sometimes he’s right to remain steadfast, and sometimes he’s wrong.  But either way, in the end, the clock has unwound and the potential has been balanced.

Hey, what happened to “ability”?  Okay, okay, I’m getting to that….

The chart (here we go again!) is filled with semantic terms – things like Hope and Physics and Learning and Ability.  If you go down to the bottom of the chart in the PDF you’ll see a three-dimensional representation of how all these terms are stacked together.  In the flat chart, they look like wheels within wheels.  In the 3-D version, they look like levels.

These “levels” represent degrees of detail in the way the mind works.  At the most broadstroke level (the top) there are just four items – Universe, Physics, Mind and Psychology.  They are kind of like the Primary Colors of the mind – the Red, Blue, Green and Saturation (effectively the addition of something along the black/white gray scale).

Those for items in additive color theory are four categories describing what can create a continuous spectrum.  In a spectrum is really kind of arbitrary where you draw the line between red and blue.  Similarly, Universe, Mind, Physics and Psychology are specific primary considerations of the mind.

Universe is the external state of things – our situation or envirnoment.  Mind is the internal state – an attitude, fixation or bias.  Physics looks at external activities – processes and mechanisms.  Psychology looks at internal activities – manners of thinking in logic and feeling.

Beneath that top level of the chart are three other levels.  Each one provides a greater degree of detail on how the mind looks at the world and at itself.  It is kind of like adding “Scarlet” and “Cardinal” as subcategories to the overall concept of “Red”.

Now the top level of the Dramatica chart describe the structural aspects of “Genre”  Genre is the most broadstroke way of looking at a story’s structure.   The next level down has a bit more dramatic detail and describes the Plot of a story.  The third level down maps out Theme, and the bottom level (the one with the most detail) explores the nature of a story’s Characters.

So there you have the chart from the top down, Genre, Plot, Theme and Characters.  And as far as the mind goes, it represents the wheels within wheels and the sprectrum of how we go about considering things.  In fact, we move all around that chart when we try to solve a problem.  But the order is not arbitrary.  The mind has to go through certain “in-betweens” to get from one kind of consideration to another or from one emotion to another.  You see this kind of thing in the stages of grief and even in Freud’s psycho-sexual stages of development.

All that being said now, we finally return to Ability – the actual topic of this article.  You’ll find Ability, then, at the very bottom of the chart – in the Characters level – in the upper left hand corner of the Physics class.  In this article I won’t go into why it is in Physics or why it is in the upper left, but rest assured I’ll get to that eventually in some article or other.

Let’s now consider “Ability” in its “quad” of four Character Elements.  The others are Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire.  I really don’t have space in this article to go into detail about them at this time, but suffice it to say that Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire are the internal equivalents of Universe, Mind, Physics and Pyschology.  They are the conceptual equivalents of Mass, Energy, Space and Time.  (Chew on that for awhile!)

So the smallest elements are directly connect (conceptually) to the largest in the chart.  This represents what we call the “size of mind constant” which is what determines the scope of an argument necessary to fill the minds of readers or an audience.  In short, there is a maximum depth of detail one can perceive while still holding the “big picture” in one’s mind at the very same time.

Ability – right….

Ability is not what you can do.  It is what you are “able” to do.  What’s the difference?  What you “can” do is essentially your ability limited by your desire.  Ability describes the maximum potential that might be accomplished.  But people are limited by what they should do, what they feel obligated to do, and what they want to do.  If you take all that into consideration, what’s left is what a person actually “can” do.

In fact,  if we start adding on limitations you  move from Ability to Can and up to even higher levels of “justification” in which the essential qualities of our minds, “Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire” are held in check by extended considerations about the impact or ramifications of acting to our full potential.

One quad greater in justification you find “Can, Need, Want, and Should” in Dramatica’s story mind chart.  Then it gets even more limited by Responsibility, Obligation, Commitment and Rationalization.  Finally we end up “justifying” so much that we are no longer thinking about Ability (or Knowledge or Thought or Desire) but about our “Situation, Circumstance, Sense of Self and State of Being”.  That’s about as far away as you can get from the basic elements of the human mind and is the starting point of where stories begin when they are fully wound up.  (You’ll find all of these at the Variation Level in the “Psychology” class in the Dramatica chart, for they are the kinds of issues that most directly affect each of our own unique brands of our common human psychology.

A story begins when the Main Character is stuck up in that highest level of justification.  Nobody gets there because they are stupid or mean.  They get there because their unique life experience has brought them repeated exposures to what appear to be real connections between things like, “One bad apple spoils the bunch” or “Where there’s smoke , there’s fire.”

These connections, such things as –  that one needs to adopt a certain attitude to succeed or that a certain kind of person is always lazy or dishonest – these things are not always universally true, but may have been universally true in the Main Character’s experience.  Really, its how we all build up our personalities.  We all share the same basic psychology but how it gets “wound up” by experience determines how we see the world.  When we get wound up all the way, we’ve had enough experience to reach a conclusion that things are always “that way” and to stop considering the issue.  And that is how everything from “winning drive” to “prejudice” is formed – not by ill intents or a dull mind buy by the fact that no two life experiences are the same.

The conclusions we come to, based on our justifications, free out minds to not have to reconsider every connection we see.  If we had to, we’d become bogged down in endlessly reconsidering everything, and that just isn’t a good survival trait if you have to make a quick decision for fight or flight.

So, we come to certain justification and build upon those with others until we have established a series of mental dependencies and assumptions that runs so deep we can’t see the bottom of it – the one bad brick that screwed up the foundation to begin with.  And that’s why psychotherapy takes twenty years to reach the point a Main Character can reach in a two hour movie or a two hundred page book.

Now we see how Ability (and all the other Dramatica terms) fit into story and into psychology.  Each is just another brick in the wall.  And each can be at any level of the mind and at any level of justification.  So, Ability might be the problem in one story (the character has too much or too little of it) or it might be the solution in another (by discovering an ability or coming to accept one lacks a certain ability the story’s problem – or at least the Main Character’s personal problem – can be solved).  Ability might be the thematic topic of one story and the thematic counterpoint of another (more on this in other articles).

Ability might crop up in all kinds of ways, but the important thing to remember is that wherever you find it, however you use it, it represents the maximum potential, not necessarily the practical limit that can be actually applied.

Well, enough of this.  To close things off, here’s the Dramatica Dictionary description of the world Ability that Chris and I worked out some twenty years ago, straight out of the Dramatica dictionary (available online at :

Ability • Most terms in Dramatica are used to mean only one thing. Thought, Knowledge, Ability, and Desire, however, have two uses each, serving both as Variations and Elements. This is a result of their role as central considerations in both Theme and Character

[Variation] • Desire<–>Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • Ability describes the actual capacity to accomplish something. However, even the greatest Ability may need experience to become practical. Also, Ability may be hindered by limitations placed on a character and/or limitations imposed by the character upon himself. • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency

[Element] • Desire<–>Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • An aspect of the Ability element is an innate capacity to do or to be. This means that some Abilities pertain to what what can affect physically and also what one can rearrange mentally. The positive side of Ability is that things can be done or experienced that would otherwise be impossible. The negative side is that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done. And, just because one can be a certain way does not mean it is beneficial to self or others. In other words, sometimes Ability is more a curse than a blessing because it can lead to the exercise of capacities that may be negative • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency