Category Archives: The Dramatica Chart

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…

The Dramatica Structural Model

Here’s an article I wrote about fifteen years ago that described the reason for and functioning of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements.  Though our understandings have refined over the years, the underlying concepts remain unchanged.

The Model of Dramatica

by Melanie Anne Phillips

An Introduction to Quad Structure

Just as the physical Periodic Table of the Elements is divided into families, such as the noble gasses or rare earths, so too is the Dramatica Table of Story Elements. Families occur in groups of four called Quads.

A Quad is much more than just a framework to hold story points. In fact, there are a number of relationships expressed by the quad form. By itself, the bare quad represents a linear equation. Each of the four smaller squares in the Quad represents one of the variables in the equation.

In addition, if one moves through all four variables in a Quad in a particular order, it adds a non-linear aspect to the Quad’s list of functions. Also, by comparing and/or interacting the variables in the Quad, a relativity is described in which an overall equilibrium must be maintained keep the value of the Quad as a whole within prescribed limits.

So, a Quad functions in four ways simultaneously:

1. As a physical expression of linear equations.

2. As a temporal expression of non-linear equations.

3. As a conceptual expression of relativistic relationships.

4. As a framework for Appreciations, much like a Periodic Table of Elements.

To illustrate these four functions, we can assign an arbitrary name to each of the four variables so that we may write the forms of their relationships.

The Linear Form

Using these variables, the linear equation expressed by the Quad reads:

A/B = CD

There are two ways to read this equation: as an objective description of the processes of the mind and alternatively as a subjective description of the experience of engaging in those processes.

The Objective interpretation of the equation reads (in conversational terms): When “A” is considered against “B”, their relative value is measured against the product of “C” and “D” combined. Simply stated, this means that logic and emotion are co-dependent, for reasons we shall see later.

The same equation interpreted Subjectively reads: When “A” is held separate from “B”, “C” and “D” will be blended. Simply stated, this means that the mind must blur the distinction between some items in order to define others.

Clearly, both interpretations are similar, but each casts the meaning of the equation in a slightly different light. Just as clearly, we are not using mathematical symbols in the same way one might in standard Algebra. In fact, the verbal description of the equation sounds more like a chemical function than a mathematical equation. As we shall soon explore, the Mental Relativity model of self-awareness describes the binary nature of neural firing as it relates to the biochemical impact of the environment surrounding neurons. Therefore, the mathematical model requires a symbolic means of expression that can accommodate both.

The Non-Linear Form

Rather than looking at a quality pertaining to a single Quad as we did with the linear form, we will be examining the permutation of a single Quad through several iterations which describe the non-linear form.

For reference, examine the following figure which illustrates the fully developed model as a whole once the Quad has gone through all of its iterations, which according to theory, ultimately bring it back to its initial values.

The above model is made up entirely of Quads in a multi-dimensional matrix. The matrix is constructed by representing the spatial, fractal nature of Quads in the vertical plane, and by representing the temporal, frictal (dynamic fractal) nature of Quads in the horizontal plane. It is the interference pattern created by the intersection of the fractal and frictal relationships which expands to fill three dimensional space in the model. Each position in the matrix, therefore, represents a different blend of fractal and frictal influences, and the matrix itself, therefore, forms the visual equivalent of a relativistic formula.

The non-linear nature of each Quad is seen in the iterations through the horizontal plane. For example, if we take our sample Quad of A,B,C, and D, we can move it through four iterations which effectively create a Quad of Quads, as illustrated below:

4                                        2

Graphically, the first iteration is achieved by flipping the physical Quad like a page in a book from left to right. The resultant Quad still represents the form of the initial linear equation, A/B = CD, but the values of the variables have changed so that the equation now reads C/D = AB.

Iteration number 2 flips the new Quad over from top to bottom, arriving at a third set of values for the equation which now read B/A = DC.

Iteration number 3 flips the newest Quad from right to left creating a final, fourth set of values such that D/C = BA.

Iterations of Iterations

If we were to proceed through the final iteration (number 4) the Quad would return to its original position such that A/B = CD. At first it might appear that we have come full circle. But in fact, although each individual variable is back in its original place, their relationships have not returned to the original. This is because going “once around the track” with the position of the variables has actually changed the nature of the equation itself.

In fact, the equation has also gone through the first of four iterations such that it now reads:

A/C = DB

Whereas the initial equation compared diagonal relationships between variables (called Dynamic Pairs), the new equation compares horizontal relationships (Companion Pairs) between variables as illustrated below:

Initial Equation

Iterated Equation

The matrix of the model is constructed by representing this new equation as the first Quad in a new Quad of Quads, as illustrated below:

Once again, the new Quad flips from left to right, top to bottom, and right to left, filling in the matrix until a second complete Quad of Quads is formed from equations which compare the horizontal variables.

When the equation in the new Quad of Quads finally returns to its initial orientation, it has once again been altered by the process. Now, although the variables still remain in their initial positions, the equation now compare them vertically, as shown below in Dependent Pairs:

Through its four iterations, this new equations adds another Quad of Quads in the “B” position of the horizontal plane. When it returns to its original orientation of variables, the equation has changed one final time. So far, the following three iterations have been explored:

What pattern remains for the final Quad of Quads? Actually, there are two patterns remaining:

The equation on the left serves to examine the four variables as individual elements, ignoring (for the moment) their similar qualities as a family. In this way, the unique qualities of each may be explored. Conversely, the equation represented on the right looks at nothing but the family characteristics, ignoring individual deviations entirely.

Just by looking at the relationships expressed by these two Quads, we can see a tangential difference in the internal dynamics compared to the pairs of the first three styles. In fact, this indicates a completely different set of functions performed by these Quads than we have previously seen.

For example, in the Quad on the left, we have already compared the value of the variable “A” to “B”, “A” to “C”, and “A” to “D”, in the original three Quad forms by virtue of the pair relationships created in A/B = CD, and all of it’s permutations. As earlier mentioned, this was an “Objective” reading of the equation.

Also, as we have already seen, in a “Subjective” interpretation, “A” and “B” are held separate, while “C” and “D” are blended. For example, “A” is compared to “CD”, to “CB”, and to “BC”, and “B” is compared to “CD”, to “AC”, and to “AD”.

In each case, the notion of an Objective and a Subjective view is accepted as a given, and rather than being built into the Quad is held as a responsibility of the Observer. Having fully explored the Quad relationships with this given, it is time to turn the tables on the Observer and compare the Objective to the Subjective. This is why the Quad dynamics appear quite unlike what has come before.

Let us examine the meaning held by each of these new Quad forms. We’ll begin with the Independent Quad:

The first iteration of this perspective is to see how “A” relates to the combined influence of “B”, “C”, and “D”. There are two ways to calculate this influence. One way puts “A” outside of the product of “BCD” as illustrated below:

This is a pseudo-objective relationship, illustrating that the observer at “A”, seeks to approach Objectivity by excluding self from the equation. Clearly, from the previous Quads, we can see that “A” influences the other three variables in many ways. Therefore, rather than being a truly Objective view in which the Observer can actually stand apart from that which is observed, the Observer is always impacting the observation.

To carry it a step farther, as we read this page, we assume we are taking an Objective view of the Quad Dynamics without affecting them. If we accept the point of view of the reader as true Objectivity, then the view from “A” is pseudo-objectivity, and more like a Subjective view of the Objective.

In contrast, the Subjective component within the Quad itself appears as follows:

Here, the Observer combines the influences of “AB”, “AC”, and “AD”, and as a result, “A” is given equal weight with the product of “BCD”. This is a pseudo-subjective view, for the truly Subjective view does not look outward at all. In a sense, the Observer at “A” examines how everything relates to him or her, but is not actually examining his or her self. So, rather than being truly Subjective, this approach is more like an Objective view of the Subjective.

The three-pronged pseudo-subjective pattern is referred to as a Splay, and the closed pseudo-objective pattern is called a Display.

Each Quad in the fourth and final Quad of Quads in the overall model represents both views. By the time it has gone through all of its permutations, each of the independent variables has been compared to all combinations of the other three, both Objectively and Subjectively, and the final Quad has been completed.

Still remaining is the Collective view, illustrated below:

This view has only one interpretation: we are no longer seeing the variables as individual units, but instead see only the result of the entire equation, all internal relationships taken into account. This Collective view essentially defines a family in which the Quad belongs. It is both the sum of the parts and an umbrella which covers all considerations falling under its heading.

Since we have already explored four Quads of Quads for a total of sixteen, we can project a pattern of sixteen family names, each of which describes and represents one Quad. In the model, these family names form a second level in the three-dimensional matrix, as illustrated below:

(Click on the image to navigate through the structure.)

The sixteen family names at the second level are called Variations. Each Quad of four Variations functions just like the Quads of Elements at the first level. Also each Quad of Variations is described by single family at an even higher level made up of family names called Types, represented in the third level up from the bottom of the model. Finally, each Quad of four Types culminates in a single family name called a Class.

It should be noted that by the time we have moved up four levels, the Collective approach to the Quad has been explored to the same degree as the diagonal (Dynamic) , horizontal (Companion), vertical (Dependent), and Independent comparisons, balancing them in an initial equilibrium.

This can be seen in the “weight” carried by the Collective iteration, not by how many elements it contains. To illustrate this, note the fact that although there are sixty-four Elements, there are only sixteen Variations, and four Types in a single Class. Here’s why: Each Variation, being a collective, has the same “weight” as four Elements, because in fact it is composed or comprised of four Elements. So, sixteen Variations weigh as much as sixty-four Elements. Similarly, four Types also weigh as much as sixty-four Elements, which is the same weight as sixteen Variations. And finally, a single Class also has the weight of sixty-four Elements, or sixteen Variations, or four Types.

From this explanation, we can see that each level can be taken separately as another temporal iteration originating with a single quad at the Element level and carrying it to it’s ultimate extent. In fact, it is a closed system from this perspective, though as we shall see later, from other perspectives it will appear to be an open system, best described as a quad-helix.

To recap then, we have iterated a single quad into a horizontal arrangement of sixty-four elements, then jumped into the vertical dimension and worked upwards from a wide particulate view to a singularity. In doing so, each iteration has not only carried the process along, but has also built up a “weight” which really represents “pre-processing” of future iterations. In other words, part of the substance of future iterations along the linear progression is accomplished in advance as the product of earlier iterations.

That this should exist is essential to the model. It represents a relativity among the operations so that no event which takes place in the iterative progression does so in a vacuum. Rather, it has a more holistic impact, not unlike the effect of gravity or the effect of the biochemistry of the brain as a medium across which the impact of a neuron firing is eventually felt by another neuron even though they have no direct synaptic connection.

In the model, the iterations from quad to quad of quads to set of sixty-four elements creates a progressively stronger impact on the next “step” to come. Therefore, with each iteration, there is less “control” available to that next iteration because the values of its variables and the natures of its operations have already been “weighted” to fall within certain limits.

Now, this would then give more weight to the earlier iterations than to the later ones, except for another essential component of the model, and that is bi-directionality. Rather than beginning at the bottom and working up, we could begin at the top and work down to create the structure.

In this approach, we start with a single item from a quad, such as the variable “A”, which we have used in our generic representation of A, B, C, and D. If, rather than combining discrete particles into larger units we “deconstruct” an Elemental particle into smaller units, we move in an opposite direction.

The single Class item at the top of the iterative tower is exactly the same as an Element in any one of the quads in the structure, including the quad which began the original iteration at the bottom. The only difference among the quads is the arrangement of Elements within the quad, and the arrangement or contextual position of a given quad in the overall matrix (representing it’s relativistic qualities in the structure as a whole).

So, beginning with a single item at the Class level, we can break it down into four component pieces represented by a quad containing a full complement of A,B,C, and D. From this, we can deconstruct each of the four components of the Type quad into four Variations each, also representing A,B,C, and D. Finally, each Variation can be broken down into four Elements, A,B,C, and D.

What we did originally when working up was to take a temporal or progressive view of the structure and follow the iterations to a point of singularity. What we have now done is to start with a singularity and take a spatial or component view of the structure, breaking each piece into smaller and smaller components as we work our way down to indivisible pieces.

Why are the Elements indivisible? Because when you start at a Class item and work your way down to the bottom level, one of the four Elements will be identical in nature and quality to the Class item itself. So, for example, starting with a Class item with a quality of “A”, we find at the bottom Element level a quad with an A,B,C, and D in which the Elemental “A” has the same nature as a starting point of iteration and the same contextual quality of position as the Class item A. In other words, the temporal and spatial qualities, or put another way, the progressive and relativistic qualities are identical between Class “A” and Element “A”.

When looking at a single Class “tower”, we can easily see each of the two “A”‘s a being starting points. But, it does not at first appear that they share identical context. This becomes clear, however, when take into account that there are actually four Class towers (or matrices), each one beginning with a different Element at the top. So, there is an “A” Class, a “B” Class, a “C” Class, and a “D” Class, each at the top of a different matrix.

The four matrices are not independent, however, but represent collectively the full extent of “arguing” a single quad down to it’s smallest components – smallest because at the bottom of each matrix, there will be a single quad which is identical in content and alignment to the initial quad made up of the four Class items at the top of the quad-matrix. That quad at the bottom of each of the four matrices is also the beginning point for each matrix in the iterative progression that works from the bottom up.

It all begins to look a little recursive, and from this perspective it is. Again, it only appears recursive when it is perceived as a closed system. In other articles, I describe the dynamics which rearrange the alignment of the items in the four matrices. These dynamics represent the process approach to the model, from which perspective it appears as an open-ended, ongoing iteration which never exactly returns to the point of origin.

Some final thoughts about the structural matrices before we conclude our Introduction to Quad Structure….

Because each of the four Class matrices starts at the top with a different Element as the “seed”, one finds that the alignment of the Elements in each of the quads on the lower level reflects that initial starting point. In other words, one might look at the matrix creation process as being iterative, and if we seed the function with a value of “A”, it will create a matrix that is identical in structure but different in arrangement of content than if we had begun with a value of “B”, for example.

Still, all four Elements, A, B, C, and D must appear in every quad in all four matrices. So, the “filtering” effect of “looking” at the lower levels through the “perspective” of the Element which is the Class item at the top makes itself manifest not in different content (which must still be the four Elements) but in different arrangements of the Elements within the quads.

For example, the quads in the “B” matrix would place the “B” Element in the upper left hand corner of each quad, rather than the “A” Element as in the “A” matrix which we have illustrated in detail. But, just as when the progressive iteration from bottom to top shifts from the Element level to the Variation level and enters the vertical dimension, the nature of the realignment of Elements in the matrix changes when we move from top to bottom and arrive at the bottom Element level.

Note that when moving to the Variation level from the bottom, we indicated that most of the influences had already been pre-determined by the relativistic effects of the earlier iterations. And, in fact, we had already described the Dynamic, Companion, Dependent, and Independent aspects of Elemental relationships, leaving only the Collective relationship to be explored. So, the entire vertical structure, when seen from the bottom up approach pertains only to that last 1/2 of the fourth kind of pairing, the Collective.

Similarly, when looking from the top down, the last level at the bottom pertains only to the final aspect of deconstruction. Down to this point from the top, we have dealt with the arrangement of quads by noting their movement as Elements. But the “perspective shift” that occurs at the bottom Element level shifts for the first time into the binary. Rather than rearranging the quads as four Elements, the shifting occurs among bonded pairs comprised of two Elements each.

These bonded pairs do not rearrange at the Element level within a quad, but within a group of four quads. So, looking at the element levels of each of the four matrices, we see that the make-up of each bonded pair remains the same, but the position of the bonded pairs relative to those in the other matrices is different.

The repositioning of bonded pairs within the quads of quads is the result of the “filtering” effect caused by the iterative deconstruction from top to bottom. Conversely, that each matrix is topped by a Class item that is a different Element, is the result of the shift caused by seeding the progressive iteration with a different arrangement of bonded pairs. Taken together they represent a unified model of the structure of the mind.

But the model is not yet complete. As it stands, the model is fixed and inanimate; hardly in line with the dynamic nature of the mind. In fact, structure is only half of the Mental Relativity model. The other half are the algorithms which describe how the components of the structure are rearranged, much as one might twist up a Rubik’s cube, how this is driven by external and internal stimuli, and how it builds up potential, much like winding a clock.

While the brain may be described in terms of its components, the mind is a machine made of time. Only when both the structural and dynamic aspects of the model are brought together can the mind/brain connection be drawn in such a way as to create a model which can both describe and predict.

In summary, we can see all around us reflections or harmonics of some of these concepts. That we see the external world as being most essentially described at a macroscopic level as being comprised of Mass, Energy, Space, and Time, that we see at a microscopic level the building blocks of existing as being Gravity, Electromagnetism, Strong, and Weak forces, that we see four bases in DNA and that they combine in bonded pairs, that we see a spiral in a Galaxy and in a Teacup, should not surprise us. For in the end, the order we see in the the universe is projected by our own minds, and if we look as deeply as we can at anything, we will ultimately see no more than ourselves staring back. To look most deeply into the universe it to look into a mirror.

At this point, we have fulfilled the purpose of this article, which was to provide an introduction to Quad structure. Other articles describe the mechanism by which the model is dynamically rearranged, how that reflects the functioning of our mental processes, the biologic basis of self awareness, and the practical application of the Mental Relativity theory and model to everyday concerns.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Examples of Story “Concerns”

In previous classes, we’ve looked at how to zero in on the nature of your story’s central driving problem or issue at the most broad stroke level by seeing it as being an external state or process (situation or activity) or an internal state or process (attitude or chain of thought).  But we can delve even deeper into the story’s problem by further sub-dividing whichever of these four realms the story is in into four even more detailed categories.  For example, we can sub-divide a situation into Past, Present, Future and Progress.  Or, we could sub-divide a state of mind into Memory, Conscious, Subconscious and Preconscious.

Why these words – especially since some like Progress and Preconscious seem out of place or unfamiliar?  I’ll get into that in a minute, but first, consider that Past is to Situation as Memory is to Attitude. And, Present is to Situation as Conscious is to Attitude.  The point is that in order to look at your story at a more detailed level, you need to sub-divide the nature of the problem without bias or warping or changing your point of view.  You must, as an author, remain objective when dealing with structure so that the sub-categories in one realm have exactly the same relationship to the parent category in each of the four realms.  Only by being consistent in examining our structure can we accurately build it.

Finally, in answer to the question of “why THOSE words” – well the simple answer is that the Dramatica theory was built by taking that objective look at structure as deep as we could see with it, sub-dividing and then further sub-dividing the nature of the driving tensions of the dramatics until we could sub-divide it no more.  The names of these sub-categories were chosen to be as unbiased as possible to keep each realm consistent.  But, because every culture has its own biases built right into the language, we found that sometimes we had to slightly redefine a common word to get to the meaning we really wanted, and other times we had to use the closest match or even come up with a new word to fit the meaning that should be at a particular sub-category if it was to not introduce that cultural bias.  So, Progress means how we measure how the situation is changing.  Preconscious is how we measure how our attitude is changing.  Preconscious describes the fixed filters of our mind to which we can compare how our overall outlook is changing.

Motivations, Methodologies, Evaluations and Purposes

Every story has a mind of its own, as if it were a single chcaracter, a single person.  The Dramatica theory of story structure includes a chart, sort of a “periodic table,” that maps out four different levels of consideration of the story mind. T

he bottom level (Elements) describes the story mind’s motivations, and has the greatest impact on character.  The next level up (Variations) represents the story mind’s value standards and is seen the story’s theme.  The third level from the bottom (Types) describes the story mind’s methods of problem solving and is made manifest in the plot.  At the top, the fouth and final lvel (Classes) ourlines the story mind’s purposes and has the greatests structural impact on genre.

Taken together, all four levels can be seen as a map of the topical or thematic aspects of all the dramatic elements in a story.

Levels of the Story Mind

The mind of your story, as with our own minds, can be seen to have four levels of consideration which fall into four topic categories describing the kind of thing that is being considered.

For any topic, the mind considers in terms of its Motivations (created at the character level), Value Standards (at the thematic level), Methodologies (at the plot level), and Purposes (at the genre level).

The four primary topic categories are Universe (an external state or situation), Mind (an internal state, attitude or fixation), Physics (an external process or activitiy), and Psychology (an internal process or manner or pathway of thinking).

Picking one of these four topic categories as being the nature of your story’s problem determines where your reader or audience will be looking.  Picking one of the four levels of consideration determines where they will be looking from.  The combination of what you are looking at and where you are looking from creates perspective and it is that perspective that defines the very nature of your story’s unique underlying dramatic structure.

Dramatic Quads & Dramatic Pairs

In each quad of Elements, we find not only Dynamic (diagonal) Pairs, but horizontal and vertical pairs as well. Horizontal Elements are called Companion Pairs, and vertical Elements are Dependent Pairs. Each kind of pair describes a different kind of relationship between the Elements, and therefore between the characters that represent them.

In addition to the three types of pairs, we can look at each Element as a separate component and compare it to the overall nature of the quad itself. This Component approach describes the difference between any given Element and the family of Elements in which it resides (quad). Therefore, the degree of individuality the characters represent within the “group” can be explored.



Dynamic Pairs describe Elements with the greatest opposition to one another. Whenever two opposing forces come together they will create either a positive or negative relationship. They can form a synthesis and create something greater than the sum of the parts or they can simply tear away at each other until nothing is left (destructive). Within a quad, one of the Dynamic Pairs will indicate a positive relationship, the other a negative one. Which is which depends upon other story dynamics.

Companion Pairs contain the Elements that are most compatible. However, just being compatible does not preclude a negative relationship. In a positive Companion Pair, characters will proceed along their own paths, side by side. What one does not need they will offer to the other (positive impact). In a negative Companion Pair, one character may use up what the other needs. They are not against each other as in a negative Dynamic Pair, but still manage to interfere with each other’s efforts (negative impact).

Dependent Pairs are most complementary. In a positive sense, each character provides strengths to compensate for the other’s weaknesses (cooperation). Together they make a powerful team. In its negative incarnation, the Dependent Pair Relationship has each character requiring the other in order to proceed (codependency).

Components describe the nature of the Elements in relationship to the overall quad. On the one hand, the individual characters in a quad can be a group that works together (interdependency). The group is seen to be greater than the individual characters that comprise it, at the risk of overwhelming the individuality of its members. This is contrasted by identifying the disparate nature of each character in the quad (independency). Seen this way, the characters are noted for their distinguishing characteristics at the risk of losing sight of shared interests.

Dynamic Relationships are the most familiar to writers, simply because they generate the most obvious kind of conflict. Companion and Dependent Pairs are used all the time without fanfare, as there has previously been no terminology to describe them. Components are useful to writers because they allow characters in groups to be evaluated in and out of context.

By constructing characters with thought and foresight, an author can use the position of Elements in the Chess Set to forge relationships that are Dynamic in one dimension while being Companion and Dependent in others. Characters created with Dramatica can represent both the structural Elements of the Story Mind’s problem solving techniques and the dynamic interchange between those techniques.

Indy… Why does the floor move?

A Dramatica user recently noticed that Elements (the smallest, most detailed story points in Dramatica) are in different arrangements at the bottom of each of the four Dormains.   In other words, he was wondering why the “floor” moved.  (Click here to download a PDF of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements).

Here’s my reply….

Think of each of the four Domains as four different kinds of filters through which to see the story’s problem.  They look at the effects of the problem in terms of Internal and External and divide each of those realms into States and Processes, creating the four Domains – Situation (external state), Attitude (internal state), Activities (external processes), Manipulation (internal processes, psychology or manners of thinking).

By the time you look all the way down to the greatest detail at the element level at the bottom of each Domain, you are seeing the same elements because you are looking at the same central core of the problem – the event horizon of the problem, as it were.  Though they are the same elements, because of the four different filters, they appear distorted.  It doesn’t change their names (the nature of the elements) but the distortion changes the way they appear to group together.  So, while the same elements appear at the bottom of each Domain, the way they are arranged is different due to that distortion.

Always keep in mind that you never actually see the real inequity that is at the heart of the story directly  It does not appear as being any particular story point or arrangement of story points.  Rather, the inequity exists in the relationships among all the story points.  It is the tension created by the gravitational pull of each story point upon all the others (actually the psychological pull, which acts like gravity in a storyform) that describes the effects of that inequity.  When the planets are out of alignment – essentially meaning that there is tension in the storyform map of the story mind’s psychology – then there is inequity.  And it is that inequity that leads to the unwinding of the story, act by act and scene by scene, like a Rubik’s cube being turned, seeking entropy – equity – in a realignment of all the forces into a stable balance once again.

The true inequity that causes the problem sits at the center of the story, in the middle of all the story points, guiding the celestial psychological orbits of the story points not unlike the unseen black hole at the center of our galaxy.  And the elements revolve around it like separate solar systems of mental processes, both logic and passion, wheels within wheels within the space-time of the mind.

Definitive Scientific Article on Dramatica Theory

Here is a link to the definitive explanation of the Dramatica theory (in PDF) from 1993, that explains all of the key concepts in text and graphics, including descriptions of non-story uses of the psychological model and the functioning of the model in terms of the dramatic circuit created by Potential, Resistance, Current, and Power (Outcome) and its relationship to the prediction of temporal story progression in terms of a quad-based 1 2 3 4 sequence.