Category Archives: Dramatica Concepts

What’s In Your Story’s Mind?

As with people, your story’s mind has different aspects. These are represented in your Genre, Theme, Plot, and Characters. Genre is the overall personality of the Story Mind. Theme represents its troubled value standards. Plot describes the methods the Story Mind uses as it tries to work out its problems. Characters are the conflicting drives of the Story Mind.


To an audience, every story has a distinct personality, as if it were a person rather than a work of fiction. When we first encounter a person or a story, we tend to classify it in broad categories. For stories, we call the category into which we place its overall personality its Genre.

These categories reflect whatever attributes strike us as the most notable. With people this might be their profession, interests, attitudes, style, or manner of expression, for example. With stories this might be their setting, subject matter, point of view, atmosphere, or storytelling.

We might initially classify someone as a star-crossed lover, a cowboy, or a practical joker who likes to scare people. Similarly, we might categorize a story as a Romance, a Western, or a Horror story.

As with the people we meet, some stories are memorable and others we forget as soon as they are gone. Some are the life of the party, but get stale rather quickly. Some initially strike us as dull, but become familiar to the point we look forward to seeing them again. This is all due to what someone has to say and how they go about saying it.

The more time we spend with specific stories or people the less we see them as generalized types and the more we see the traits that define them as individuals. So, although we might initially label a story as a particular Genre, we ultimately come to find that every story has its own unique personality that sets it apart from all others in that Genre, in at least a few notable respects.


Everyone has value standards, and the Story Mind has them as well. Some people are pig-headed and see issues as cut and dried. Others are wishy-washy and flip-flop on the issues. The most sophisticated people and stories see the pros and cons of both sides of a moral argument and present their conclusions in shades of gray, rather than in simple black & white. All these outlooks can be reflected in the Story Mind.

No matter what approach or which specific value is explored, the key structural point about value standards is that they are all comprised of two parts: the issues and one’s attitude toward them. It is not enough to only have a subject (abortion, gay rights, or greed) for that says nothing about whether they are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Similarly, attitudes (I hate, I believe in, or I don’t approve of) are meaningless until they are applied to something.

An attitude is essentially a point of view. The issue is the object under observation. When an author determines what he wants to look at it and from where he wants it to be seen, he creates perspective. It is this perspective that comprises a large part of the story’s message.

Still, simply stating one’s attitudes toward the issues does little to convince someone else to see things the same way. Unless the author’s message is preaching to the audience’s choir, he’s going to need to convince them to share his attitude. To do this, he will need to make a thematic argument over the course of the story which will slowly dislodge the audience from their previously held beliefs and reposition them so that they adopt the author’s beliefs by the time the story is over.


Novice authors often assume the order in which events transpire in a story is the order in which they are revealed to the audience, but these are not necessarily the same. Through exposition, an author unfolds the story, dropping bits and pieces that the audience rearranges until the true meaning of the story becomes clear. This technique involves the audience as an active participant in the story rather than simply being a passive observer. It also reflects the way people go about solving their own problems.

When people try to work out ways of dealing with their problems they tend to identify and organize the pieces before they assemble them into a plan of action. So, they often jump around the timeline, filling in the different steps in their plan out of sequence as they gather additional information and draw new conclusions.

In the Story Mind, both of these attributes are represented as well. We refer to the internal logic of the story – the order in which the events in the problem solving approach actually occurred – as the Plot. The order in which the Story Mind deals with the events as it develops its problem solving plan is called Storyweaving.

If an author blends these two aspects together, it is very easy miss holes in the internal logic because they are glossed over by smooth exposition. By separating them, an author gains complete control of the progression of the story as well as the audience’s progressive experience


If Characters represent the conflicting drives in our own minds yet they each have a personal point of view, where is out sense of self represented in the Story Mind? After all, every real person has a unique point of view that defines his or her own self-awareness.

In fact, there is one special character in a story that represents the Story Mind’s identity. This character, the Main Character, functions as the audience position in the story. He, she or it is the eye of the story – the story’s ego.

In an earlier tip I described how we might look at characters by their dramatic function, as seen from the perspective of a General on a hill. But what if we zoomed down and stood in the shoes of just one of those characters, we would have a much more personal view of the story from the inside looking out.

But which character should be our Main Character? Most often authors select the Protagonist to represent the audience position in the story. This creates the stereotypical Hero who both drives the plot forward and also provides the personal view of the audience. There is nothing wrong with this arrangement but it limits the audience to always experiencing what the quarterback feels, never the linemen or the water boy.

In real life we are more often one of the supporting characters in an endeavor than we are the leader of the effort. If you have always made your Protagonist the Main Character, you have been limiting your possibilities.

Melanie Anne Phillips

The Story Mind concept is at the heart of our
Dramatica Story Structuring Software

The “Influence Character” in a Nut Shell

Stories have a mind of their own, as if they were a person in their own right in which the structure is the story’s psychology and the storytelling is its personality.

Characters, in addition to acting as real people,, also represent facets of the overall Story mind, such as the Protagonist which stands for our initiative to effect change and the Skeptic archetype which illustrates our doubt.

Yet in our own minds is a sense of self, and this quality is also present in the Story Mind as the Main Character.  Every complete story has a Main Character or the readers or audience cannot identify with the story; they cannot experience the story first hand from the inside, rather than just as observers.

This Main Character does not have to be the Protagonist anymore than we only look at the world through our initiative.  Sometimes, for example, we might be coming from our doubt or looking at the world in terms of our doubt.  In such a story, the Main Character would be the Skeptic, not the Protagonist.

Any of the facets of our minds that are represented as characters might be the Main Character – the one through whose eyes the readers or audience experience the story.  And in this way, narratives mirror our minds in which we have a sense of self (“I think therefore I am”) and it might, in any given situation, be centered on any one of our facets.

Yet there is one other special character on a par with the Main Character that is found within ourselves and, therefore, also within narrative: the Influence Character.

The Influence Character represents that “devil’s advocate “ voice within ourselves – the part of ourselves that validates our position by taking the opposing point of view so that we can gain perspective by weighing both sides of an issue.  This ensures that, as much as possible, we don’t go bull-headedly along without questioning our own beliefs and conclusions.

In our own minds, we only have one sense of self – one identity.  The same is true for narratives, including fictional stories.  The Influence Character is not another identity, but our view of who we might become if we change our minds and adopt that opposing philosophical point of view.  And so, we examine that other potential “self” to not only understand the other side of the issues, but how that might affect all other aspects or facets of ourselves.  In stories, this self-examination of our potential future selves appears as the philosophical conflict and ongoing argument over points of view, act by act.

Ultimately we (or in stories, the Main Character) will either become convinced that this opposing view is a better approach or will remain convinced that our original approach is still the best choice.

No point of view is good or bad in and of itself but only in context.  What is right in one situation is wrong in another.  Situations, however, are complex, and often are missing complete data.  And so we must rely on experience to fill in the expected pattern and to project the likely course it will take.  Entertaining the opposite point of view shines a light in the shadows of our initial take on the issues.  Psychologically, this greatly enhances our chances for survival.

This is why the inclusion of an Influence Character in any narrative is essential not only to fully representing the totality of our mental process but to provide a balanced look a the issues under examination by the author.

Using Main Character Resolve

Just because a Main Character ultimately remains steadfast does not mean he never considers changing. Similarly, a Change Main Character does not have to be changing all the time. In fact, that is the conflict with which he is constantly faced: to stick it out or to alter his approach in the face of ever-increasing opposition.

Illustrating your Main Character as wavering can make him much more human. Still, if his motivation is strong enough, your Main Character may hold the course or move toward change from the opening scene to the denouement. It all depends on the kind of experience you wish to create for your audience.

There is no right or wrong degree of certainty or stability in a Main Character. Just make it clear to your audience by the end of the story if he has been changed or not by the experience. Sometimes this happens by forcing your Main Character to make a choice between his old way of doing things or a new way. Another way of illustrating your Main Character’s resolve is to establish his reaction in a particular kind of situation at the beginning of the story that tells us something about his nature. After the story’s climax, you can bring back a similar kind of situation and see if he reacts the same way or not. From this, your audience will determine if he has Changed or remained Steadfast.

What if a Main Character Changes when he should Remain Steadfast, or Remains Steadfast when he should Change? Choosing your Main Character’s Resolve describes what your Main Character does without placing a value judgment on him. The appropriateness of his Resolve is determined by other dynamics in your story which will be addressed later. For now, simply choose if your Main Character’s nature has Changed or Remained Steadfast.

Using Forewarnings

Whether or not the characters are aware of them, the audience will need to see forewarnings that indicate the approach of the Consequences. Forewarnings describe the kind of items that can be used to indicate approaching Failure.

One way to bring Forewarnings into your story is to have them be glimpses of one item that gets worse and worse, such as the growing cracks in a dam above the town in which your story takes place.

Another way of bringing in Forewarnings is to use many things of a similar nature. This happens in Ghostbusters where all kinds of paranormal activity increase as Armageddon approaches. The ghosts are causing all many different types of problems, more varied than just cracks in a dam, yet they are all appropriate because they are of a like nature.

Forewarnings do not have to be based on something falling apart. Forewarnings can also be seen as something which grows, such as the slowly growing fire in Towering Inferno.

Word Salad: Slicing and Dicing Story Structure

A writer recently asked:

I’ve read what you wrote about slicing and dicing the Dramatica chart on your web site and in Dramticapedia. It’s very interesting.

Two questions if I may:

* Limiting depth: “When you limit depth, you simple don’t explore one or more aspects of a story: Character, Plot, Theme, or Genre.”

Q: If you don’t explore Plot, you don’t have the signposts. So how does your story move along?

* Limiting breadth: “Two throughlines provide a conflict. But three seems to be one conflict and another superfluous throughline that bounces off nothing.”

Q: In Dramatica I thought 3 throughlines — MC, OC and SS — were necessary to explore the conflict between the main and obstacle characters. I guess I didn’t get that right?

Examples of those two approaches would be great of course!

My reply:

In answer to your question on “Limiting Depth”:

Q: If you don’t explore Plot, you don’t have the signposts. So how does your story move along?

Two points: First, stories may be all about character growth. For example, a character may simply explore their feelings about life, people they know or thematic values and topics. There need be no events, happenings, or progress to illustrate how that character is growing, how the thematic message is evolving or how the genre is adding depth and richness as the story progresses. For example, look to the classic play, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. In this play there is no plot to speak of, yet the two principal characters progress along lines of growth or at least exploration of their feelings, make thematic points and establish a genre.

Other stories in a similar stream of consciousness style (as also used by Virginia Woolf) while including events, do not concern themselves with creating a full-story meaning for the happenings, but simply a series of random occurrences which transpire. This illustrates a second approach to writing without plot, per se: to have things take place, but not to use them to convey meaning. In such a story, one is not exploring plot – in fact, one has not created a true plot, just sequence of events. These serve to give the characters something to do other than talk, yet are intentionally presented so that the reader or audience understands no message is contained in the jumble of activities. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is an excellent example of this style.

Also keep in mind that there is a big difference between a tale and a story. A tale is a simple linear progression of characters, plot, theme, and genre. A story uses each scene as a building block in a larger mosaic that creates a “big picture” message. So, even if the events make sense as a logical series of happenings and function well as a tale, this does not mean the events contribute as part of a story’s plot in terms of an overall message. Orlando, at times, does indicate a reason-based progression but its impact has little to do with the growth of the main character or the development of the theme. At most, it adds some elements to the genre, but in the storytelling sense, not structurally.

In answer to your second question on limiting breadth:

Q: In Dramatica I thought 3 throughlines — MC, OC and SS — were necessary to explore the conflict between the main and obstacle characters. I guess I didn’t get that right?

Actually, all three throughlines are indeed necessary to exploring that conflict, but what if you don’t explore the conflict? Suppose you have a one-person show where the Main Character presents just his own reasons for what he did and his own value standards that he questioned in the process. You might explore all four levels of the Main Character throughline without ever mentioning the influence of an Obstacle Character, any Subjective Story conflict between the two, or even an Objective Story involving anyone else.

Or suppose you have just a Obstacle Character explaining, “I had to change his mind… I knew he was on the wrong track. At first I appealed to his reason while sharing the bus together one day on the way to work. Failing any impact from that, I tried another tack, the passionate approach, and tried to invoke some sort of emotional response. And still, nothing.” This could be a wonderful opening to a story that only explored the Obstacle Character throughline without ever describing the Main Character’s point of view or the specific arguments between them.

Now here’s an advanced concept that applies to both Slicing and Dicing:

Just because characters are almost always built from elements doesn’t mean you can’t build them from the other levels of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements. At the level of the Table above the elements are the Variations. Though these are usually employed as the building blocks of the theme, they might equally be represented as characters instead. So, for example, you might have a character representing “hope” or “rationalization” or “wisdom”.

In a Sliced story with only the variation level, you might choose to illustrate the Variations as characters and simply have each stating his or her (or its) belief in the preeminence of the quality it represents. Or, in a Diced story with only one throughline, you could mix it up so that the Variations are represented by characters, the Elements by the plot, the top “Class” level would indicate the thematic issue (such as Physics, external processes, seen as the focus of the theme) and the Types become the Genre components.

Such stories are occasionally told, though they are not popular as they require an awful lot of work by the reader or audience to shift their minds around to see things in that way. It is not impossible, just difficult, and puts a burden of effort on the recipient of the story that normally resides with the author.

Finally, consider that many of the stories told are not really stories but tales. As referenced above, a tale is nothing more than an unbroken chain of events and/or experiences that make logical and/or emotional sense. Tales are free of the restrictions and requirements that bind stories, and so they can be far more free form, make incomplete arguments just for effect, and can include any number of random happenings either for intended impact on the readers/audience or for simple convenience to the author, or for stream-of-consciousness expression as part of the creative effort.

In such a case, any fragment or level of a story structure, sliced or diced, will easily mix into the overall word salad.


Relationship of Story Driver to Journeys

Recently, a writer asked about the relationship of the Story Driver to the three Journeys in every throughline.  Here’s my response:

The Story Driver is one of the eight dynamic questions (the eight “essential” questions) that Dramatica asks, including Main Character Resolve (change or steadfast) and Story Outcome (Success or Failure).

Story Driver is Action or Decision. That means that the story is kicked off by either an action taken (such as a murder) or experienced (such as an earthquake) or by a decision made (such as to quit smoking) or arrived at (such as “I’ve gotta stop being a workaholic”)

The four signposts in each act are just that – signposts along the road from the inciting incident to the conclusion of your story. Moreover, each signpost can be seen as a town along the road. Each town has a particular nature (like “Learning” or “Understanding”) and somewhere between the two towns, the influence of one gives way to the influence of the other.

So, when you Journey from town to town you are gradually moving from the heart of downtown (greatest influence) of one through the area where their influence is equal until you arrive at the downtown (greatest influence) of the next town.

Four towns are along the road for each of the four perspectives. So, there are four Signposts spanned by three journeys.

Each Journey is kicked off by another incident of the Story Driver. So, if an action started the quest from the first town (signpost) the leads it to the second signpost, then things would stop right there unless the Driver kicks it into gear again with another incident. Eventually, the fourth signpost (the destination) is reached and the momentum is brought to a complete stop by a final Driver incident that bring all the inertia to a halt. So, the Driver starts it all and the Driver brings it all to a conclusion, and the Driver is what kicks off each journey and brings the whole quest to a conclusion.

Sequences, Variations, and Acts

A Dramatica user just asked:

I have reached a small roadblock in reference to SEQUENCE, in terms of a division of ACT and organization of SCENE. The term is not covered in your Dramaticapedia pages nor in your theory book online. I have an old reference manual (I bought the product in 2005) that covers the issue somewhat. It seems like an important concept to me since I am writing a novel.

I am confused about your use of Sequence as you talk about 4-ACT structure, since you talk about the Concern being looked at from the VARS of each type as it sequences through the 4 acts. Does this mean that in BEING you are looking at (CONCERN=BECOMING) as judged by [knowledge ability desire and thought]? Or am I judging BEING through those four variations:    as in     (BEING [knowledge, ability, desire & thought]) and applying that to BECOMING? 

When I look at this second interpretation it makes more sense, but I don’t want to force myself into overburdened complication (which I have a tendency to do).

My reply:

Actually, both of your statements are true:

The Concern is valid throughout the entire course of the story, so it is going to be shaded and better understood by experiencing it (learning about it) through all four variations of a given act.

Equally true, the attempt to get to the center of the story’s problem will be enhanced by looking at each Type in each Act through the four Variations of that act.  In this way, by the end of the story the location of the story’s central problem can be triangulated on (or actually quadrangulated, since there are four Acts and four Types).

But, it is not as complex as that sounds.  In truth, because all our minds work alike beneath the level of our personalities, in storytelling, all one must do is make sure that the Concern, each Act’s Type, and each Act’s Variations are all represented.  The reader/audience will assemble that information in the proper place all by itself so that the Variations act as “lenses” to clarify the location of the problem.

So, simply ensure that those elements are in the mix, and your reader/audience will actually do the hard work for you.


Choosing a “Concern” for Your Story

The Concern of a story tends to revolve around a definable area of activity or exploration. This central hub may be internal such as Memory or Conceiving (coming up with an idea). Or, it may be external such as Obtaining or Progress.

When choosing a Concern it is often useful to ask, “What kind of things do I want the characters in my story to explore?”

Keep in mind that the Concern only describes WHAT is being looked at. HOW to look at it is determined by choosing the Thematic Issue.

The choice of Concern sets limits on how much dramatic ground the Theme can potentially encompass and therefore includes some kinds of considerations and excludes others.

Excerpted from
Dramatica Story Development Software

Choosing an Objective Domain for Your Story

The Objective Story Domain is the throughline which describes how all of the story’s characters have been brought together. By choosing this Domain, the author sets the background against which the story will be told. Therefore, its influence is gently felt throughout the story.

A UNIVERSE story deals with an unacceptable situation – one in which the external environment is seen as problematic. This could be a job situation with poor working conditions, being trapped in a sunken ship, waking up as someone else, living next to an orphanage that keeps you awake at night with its screaming waifs or any other intolerable state of affairs.

Often, the best way to see a Universe Objective Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Universe: The Past, Progress, The Future, and The Present. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Objective Characters in a Universe Objective Story.

A PHYSICS story employs an activity that needs to arrive at a solution. This might be the effort to steal the crown Jewels, win the love of your heart’s desire, make the Olympic team, or raise the money to buy the orphanage and evict all the screaming waifs.

Note that if the existence of the orphanage is the focus of the story, it is a Universe (Universe) Domain. However, if the effort to buy it is the focus, it is a Physics (Physics) Domain.

Often, the best way to see a Physics Objective Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Physics: Doing, Learning, Understanding, and Obtaining. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Objective Characters in a Physics Objective Story.

In a like manner, the Mind Domain reflects a state of mind and the Psychology Domain describes a mental activity (or manner of thinking).

Mind Domain stories might be about prejudice, a lack of self-worth (if it is a fixed view), or a refusal to see the value of someone’s desires. Remember that, as an Objective Story Domain, these fixed states of Mind will be the source of the problems that everyone in the Objective Story deals with. This would be an Objective view of problems of fixed states of mind, and not looking at how it feels to have these fixations.

Often, the best way to see a Mind Objective Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Mind: Memory, The Preconscious, The Subconscious, and The Conscious. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Objective Characters in a Mind Objective Story.

PSYCHOLOGY Domain supports stories where people take too many risks, are egocentric, or make light of serious situations. Objective Stories of this Domain will look at the effect of a person’s or persons’ thinking in these ways to manipulate others. Placing the Objective Story in this Domain means in essence that the story will objectify Psychology, taking an Objective view of these ways of thinking and their effects. The problems that everyone in the Objective Story deals with will come from ways of thinking and their manipulations.

Often, the best way to see a Psychology Objective Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Psychology: Conceptualizing, Being, Becoming, and Conceiving. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Objective Characters in a Psychology Objective Story.

As a final note, it is important to keep in mind that stories are often not about a problem that exists but a desire to be fulfilled.

Stories of this nature can create a much more positive feel as exemplified in a Universe story in which an heiress must spend a million dollars in 24 hours to inherit 30 million more, a Physics story where a mountaineer hopes to be the first to scale a mountain on Mars, a Mind story of unconditional love, or a Psychology story about overcoming a dependence on sedatives.

The choice of Domain narrows the playing field of a story. Without actually putting up walls, choosing a Domain shifts the focus of audience attention by establishing the center around which broad scale dynamics will revolve. The Dramatica engine is calibrated to this center.

Excerpted from
Dramatica Story Development Software