The Dramatica Dictionary
Catalyst • [Variation] • The item whose presence always pushes the story forward toward the climax • The Catalyst is what creates breakthroughs and seems to accelerate the throughline it is affecting. In both the Objective and Subjective Stories there occur dramatic “log-jams” when things seem to be approaching a halt. This is when the Catalyst is necessary, for its introduction will either solve the puzzle that’s holding things up or else make the puzzle seem suddenly unimportant so the story can continue.
Cause • [Element] • dyn.pr. Effect<–>Cause • the specific circumstances that lead to an effect • The character containing the Cause characteristic is concerned with what is behind a situation or its circumstances. This can lead it right to the source of trouble, the source of control. However, sometimes many things came together to create a particular effect. In that case, the Cause characteristic may fail by either looking for a single source or trying to address them all while ignoring the option of simply dealing with the effect. • syn. reason for, effector, source, agent, antecedent
Certainty • [Element] • dyn.pr. Potentiality<–>Certainty • the determination that something is absolutely true • The character representing the Certainty characteristic is not a risk taker. It must be completely sure before it takes action or accepts information as true. The slightest potential for error or change will stop it in its tracks. On the plus side, it never goes out on a limb far enough to break it; on the minus side, it might never get out far enough to get the fruit either. Many opportunities are lost to it because it hesitates until it is too late. • syn. sureness, definiteness, having no doubts, total reliability, indisputability, irrefutability, unmistakability, certitude, conviction
Change Character • [Character Appreciation] • the subjective character who changes his approach or attitude in a story • The Change Character is the single character who does change in a story in an attempt to resolve his personal problem. The Change Character must be either the Main Character or the Obstacle Character but cannot be both. A Change Character cannot tell until the end of the story whether or not he will change, and even then, a Change Character has no way of knowing whether or not changing will lead to success or to resolving his personal problem. However, in every story, either the Main Character or the Obstacle Character will Change in response to the other’s Steadfastness and become that story’s Change Character.
Change • [Character Dynamic] • The Main Character changes his essential nature while attempting to solve his problems • Every Main Character represents one special character element. This element is either the cause of the story’s problem or its solution. The Main Character cannot be sure which it represents since it is too close to home. Near the climax of the story, the Main Character must demonstrate whether he is going to stick with his original approach in the belief that it is the solution or jump to the opposite trait in the belief he has been wrong. In “Leap of Faith” stories this will occur during a “moment of truth.” In “Non-Leap of Faith” stories this will occur over the course of the story and be assessed for Change or Steadfastness in the end of the story. When a Main Character abandons his original story-long approach for its counterpart, he is said to Change.
Change • [Element] • dyn. pr. Inertia<–>Change • an alteration of a state or process • Change is the force that alters. A characteristic representing change is quick to adapt but also cannot leave well enough alone. It feels that if things have been one way long enough to establish a pattern, it is time to change it. • syn. altering, altering force, modify, reshape, adjust, adapt
Chaos • [Element] • dyn.pr. Order<–>Chaos • random change or a lack of order • Chaos is disorder, randomness, anarchy. The Chaos characteristic is brilliant at cutting through a Gordian knot. But then it just keeps cutting every rope it sees until the chandelier falls on its head. It “stirs the pot” just to see what will bubble up to the top. • syn. randomness, anarchy, disorder, formlessness, noncohesion
Chapter • [Dramatica Definition] • a temporal unit of dramatic construction usually employed in books • Stories contain too much information to be grasped in a single moment. As a result, the information is doled out over time in segments. Each medium gravitates toward its own kind of segments. Books, especially novels, usually employ Chapters. Chapters may represent complete dramatic explorations of one aspect of the overall story or they may be more arbitrary divisions, determined by changes in location, changes in central characters, or changes in storytelling mood or style. In fact, the Chapters in a single book may vary in what defines each one. The principal use of Chapters is to break the unfolding of a story into portions of a like nature which are small enough to be considered at one time by the audience. In this way, the audience is able to arrive at an understanding of parts of a story along the way, rather than waiting until the end of the whole. In a practical sense, Chapters allow the audience to digest a complete thought before moving on to another. In books, this provides the audience a convenient pause point with an accompanying sense of closure when reading intermittently.
Character • [Dramatica Definition] • In Dramatica, there are two major divisions of Characters: the Subjective Characters and the Objective Characters. In the most frequently told kinds of stories, Subjective Characters are the smaller group, consisting of only the Main Character and the Obstacle Character. Both of these are concerned with providing the audience with a Subjective view of the story. There can be, and frequently are, many more Objective than Subjective Characters. An Objective Character is defined as a specific collection of dramatic Elements or characteristics that remains consistent for the entire story. There are sixty four elements in the Dramatica Structure which represent the building blocks of Characters. All sixty four elements must be used to fully develop the story’s argument. To have meaning to an audience, the group of elements that makes up each objective character must present a consistent viewpoint (with regards to the story goal/problem) during the course of the story. In this way the relative attributes of each of these elemental approaches can be clearly explored during the course of the story. Sixty four elements may at first sound too limited to create interesting characters, but when you consider that the number of arrangements of the elements is multiplied by the way the might be grouped, the total number of characters that can be created is in the millions. In regard to story, the Objective Characters present the story to the audience and the Subjective Characters allow the audience to participate in the story. Because of this, Subjective Characters are unique in that they do double duty by having a special relationship with the audience and pulling their weight as Objective Characters as well. This is because they are concerned both with the Main Character’s personal problem and also the Objective Story problem.
Character Dynamics • [Dramatica Definition] • dramatic potentials which determine a Main Character’s Resolve, Growth, Approach, and Mental Sex.. • Some characters are used for entertainment purposes only. Others have dramatic functions they fulfill. Of those that have functions, the Main Character is the most important for it represents the audience position in the story. As a result, the audience sees more of the forces that drive the Main Character than of any other. These forces are the Character Dynamics. There are four primary Main Character Dynamics, each of which provides the audience with a different kind of information about how it relates to that character. Main Character Resolve determines if the Main Character will ultimately Change or Remain Steadfast in regard to the central issue of the story. Main Character Growth determines if the audience will, in regard to the Main Character, be waiting for something to Start or Stop in the story. Main Character Approach determines if the Main Character is a Do-er or Be-er by preference. And Main Character Mental Sex determines if the Main Character uses Male or Female problem solving techniques.
Choice • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Delay<–>Choice • making a decision • Choice is simply a decision as to which is the best path toward resolving a problem. A character will ponder all the information and factor in all his feelings and arrive at a decision. Sometimes a character will choose before all the information is in. This can lead him to take steps that may ultimately prove to be counter-productive or even self-destructive. On the other hand, such intuitive leaps can bypass a number of obstacles on the way to a story’s conclusion. Still, “snap judgments often lead to regrets for those whose only exercise is jumping to conclusions.” — Dramatica fortune cookie • syn. decision, selection, determination, pick
Circumstances • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Situation<–>Circumstances • an emotional assessment of one’s environment • Circumstances describes the way a character feels about his environment. Whereas Situation is rated in terms of satisfaction, Circumstances are rated in terms of fulfillment. Emotion, therefore, is the standard of measurement a character uses to evaluate his Circumstances. Often a character must accept unfulfilling Circumstances because he needs the benefits of the Situation. Or a character may accept an unsatisfying Situation because it comes with fulfilling Circumstances. Over the course of a story, the balance between the two measurements can vary greatly. • syn. how things stand emotionally, emotional evaluation of the environment, value of existing conditions, relationship to others
Class • [Structural Term] • The broadest, most genre-like classification of a story’s structural nature • The possible places where problems can exist can be divided into four areas, and we call these areas the four Classes. The Classes are separated by distinctions between inner and outer states and processes. Universe and Physics represent external states and processes respectively, and Mind and Psychology represent internal states and processes respectively. Though Classes have the same names as Domains, they represent only a structural ordering of semantic terms and are not the same as Domains which are more dynamic appreciations created by matching a Class with one of the four throughlines.
Closure • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Denial<–>Closure • bringing something to an end or to completion • Closure can be seen in two ways. One, it can be an ending. In this sense, it prevents what has happened from being changed; it protects a memory or a situation because the window of opportunity for change has ended. In the other sense, Closure can be seen as a continuance. This is because a process made into a closed loop will just go on forever, repeating the same course. In some stories Closure settles all the dramatic potentials to show that the issue of the story has been resolved. In other stories, Closure is used to show that even though the immediate problem has been resolved, the volatile relationships among the characters is never-ending. Closure is useful in letting one know when the job is done. Negatively, Closure tries to bring everything to a conclusion even if it is a continuously growing process that is completely open-ended. The attempt to stop such an evolution would be either fruitless or disastrous. But is a process closed or not? When is a career at an end? • syn. finishing, completion, resolution, recursive
Commitment • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Responsibility<–>Commitment • a decision to stick with something regardless of the consequences • A commitment forms the essence of the steadfast character. When a character makes a commitment, it is a decision not to quit regardless of the obstacles that may come. This allows the character to accept much higher costs on the way to a goal than he would if he re-evaluated every time something went wrong. A problem arises, however, when one of those obstacles turns out to be impassable. If a character reaches this point, he cannot achieve the goal. But since he is Committed, he does not re-evaluate and instead continues to beat his head against a brick wall. • syn. dedication, devotion, steadfastness, zeal
Companion Pair • [Structural Term] • In any given quad, the two top items share a relationship between them in the same way the bottom two share a relationship. What separates the two pairs is what dramatic focus they create. Each pair in each quad will be focused in a slightly different place, creating a gradual shift in the model from one point of view to its opposite. In many quads, the top pair will appear to be more oriented toward the environment in comparison to the bottom pair which is more oriented toward the mind. Either the top or bottom pair can be referred to as a Companion Pair, meaning that the two items that make up the pair are companion rather than in conflict.
Complex Characters • Whenever even a single element is added or removed or swapped in an Archetypal character, that character becomes Complex. The more elements that differ from the Archetypal, the more complex the character becomes. Characters in a story need not all be Archetypal or all be complex. Making some characters more complex than others is a valuable storytelling tool that allows for more exploration of certain areas of the story while underplaying others.
Conceiving • [Type] • dyn.pr. Conceptualizing<–>Conceiving • coming up with an idea • Conceiving is the process of arriving at an idea. If there were no artificial light in the world, one might conceive the need for some form of electric torch. That would be conceiving. But the design of an actual incandescent bulb versus a fluorescent one would require conceptualizing a specific implementation of the idea one has conceived. Conceiving need not come before conceptualizing. For example, a common dramatic technique is to give a character a very clear mental image of an object or arrangement that holds the solution to the story’s problem. But the character does not know the solution lies in the conceptualization. It is only when he finally conceives of the need for a particular kind of solution that he realizes he had the answer all along. Simply put, Conceiving defines the question, Conceptualizing clarifies the answer • syn. originating, inventing, devising, engendering, hatch ideas
Conceptualizing • [Type] • dyn.pr. Conceiving<–>Conceptualizing • visualizing how an existing idea might be implemented • Conceptualizing means coming up with a practical implementation of an idea. It is not enough to simply have the idea. To conceptualize, one must develop an actual mental model of how such an idea might be made manifest. In other words, one might have an idea to build a spacious house. But to conceptualize the house one must imagine everything that makes up the house — the design, the layout, the colors and textures, everything that is essential to understanding what that specific house is. A character that deals with conceptualizing would be well aware of the kind of solution that will eliminate the problem but spend his time trying to devise a specific way of achieving that solution • syn. visualizing, imagining, envisioning, visualizing implementation
Concern (Objective Storyline) • [Type] • the goal or purpose sought after by the objective characters • The Objective Story Concern is the area which all the Objective Characters are hoping to have a good grasp of by the end of the story. Their goals and purposes will all share some aspect of the Type item which is their story’s concern. There is also a Subjective Story Concern which is the area of concern between the Main Character and the Obstacle Character. This is also a Type item which describes the nature of what the Main and Obstacle Characters are seeking from each other.
Conditioning • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Instinct<–>Conditioning • responses based on experience or training • Conditioning describes learned responses to various stimuli. Similar to Instinct in that the Consciousness in not involved until after the fact, Conditioning differs insofar as it was not inherent in the basic nature of a character but acquired though training or familiarity to impose its triggers on the mind. Since Instincts are intrinsic and Conditioning is learned, they frequently come in conflict over how to respond. This concept alone has provided the theme for many intriguing stories. • syn. habituation, trained response, accustomed response, adaptive adjustments
Confidence • [Variation] • dyn.pr. Worry<–>Confidence • belief in the accuracy of expectations • Confidence points to the future. It is not a rating of the present situation but a positive evaluation of how things will turn out. Confidence, therefore, is a great motivator in unknown situations. This is because Confidence is not based on predicting a situation but on the experience of past situations. The downside is that Confidence erodes the motivation to prepare for the unexpected. If past experience has always shown that even the most threatening disasters have worked themselves out, then one will ignore potential danger that may turn out to be real. We see this in history time and time again, such as the way the people of Pompeii remained in their homes while Vesuvius bellowed smoke for the umpteenth time. • syn. hopeful prospects, positive expectations, faithful anticipation, optimism
Conscience • [Element] • dyn.pr. Temptation<–>Conscience • forgoing an immediate pleasure or benefit because of future consequences • Conscience is the motivation that negative consequences are unavoidable if a present desire is acted upon. Conscience can serve a character well in overcoming strong transient desires that would bring disasters upon him. If the negative consequences are purely imaginary, however, Conscience constricts the free expression of one’s heart .• syn. forgoing for fear of consequences, forgo, forbearance, temperance, abstinence, restraining oneself
Conscious (The Conscious) • [Type] • dyn.pr. Memory<–>Conscious • present considerations • When one has all the facts, knows all the impact — both positive and negative; when one is fully aware of detrimental consequences and still decides on the poor course of action, there is something wrong with the way one arrives at conclusions. This is the subject of stories focusing on the Conscious. The key here is not to redefine who a character is but to lead him to relearn how to weigh an issue so his conclusions are less destructive to himself and/or others. • syn. considerations, sensibilities, cognizant, ability to consider, sensible, informed contemplation, contemplation
Consequence (Objective Storyline) • [Type] • The result of failing to achieve the goal • For every goal there is a consequence. Consequence describes the results of failing to achieve the goal. This predisposes the goal to be something desirable but this is not necessarily true. Sometimes the difference between goal and consequence can be one of choosing the lesser of two evils. More optimistically put, goal and consequence might be measures of magnitude of two favorable outcomes. Sometimes the Consequence will occur if the goal is not met, other times the consequence already exists and can only be eliminated by meeting the goal. So if they are close in their negative or positive value, it may be difficult to be sure which is the consequence and which is the goal. An easy way to be certain is to see which one the Main Character hopes to achieve.
Consider • [Element] • dyn.pr. Reconsider<–>Consider • weigh pros and cons • A Consideration is the act of deliberation. A character possessing the Consideration characteristic keeps pondering an issue, running it over in his mind. Once he has latched onto a topic, he refuses to let it go until it is resolved. This trait aids in keeping one’s motivations impervious to erosion. On the other hand, the Consideration characteristic may not let sleeping dogs lie. Therefore it can lead to stirring up all kinds of negative reactions. • syn. deliberate, contemplate, ponder, weigh in the mind, mull
Contagonist • [Archetype] • An Archetypal Character representing the qualities of temptation and hinder • A concept unique to Dramatica, the Contagonist is the character that balances the Guardian. If Protagonist and Antagonist can archetypically be thought of as “Good” versus “Evil,” the Contagonist is “Temptation” to the Guardian’s “Conscience.” Because the Contagonist has a negative effect upon the Protagonist’s quest, it is often mistakenly thought to be the Antagonist. In truth, the Contagonist only serves to hinder the Protagonist in his quest, throwing obstacles in front of his as an excuse to lure him away from the road he must take in order to achieve success. The Antagonist is a completely different character, diametrically opposed to the Protagonist’s successful achievement of the goal
Control • [Element] • dyn.pr. Uncontrolled<–>Control • directed, constrained • The Control characteristic causes a character to methodically direct its actions and deliberations to the specific purpose at hand. This leads to a great degree of focus. The drawback is that when one focuses, one loses peripheral vision. The purpose can become so all consuming that many peripheral yet essential parts of the equation are ignored until it is too late to save the whole project • syn. regulate, organized management, steer, conduct, guide, manipulate, focused organization
Cost (Objective Storyline) • [Type] • the price that must be paid while meeting the requirements of the goal • Requirements are not always met just by applying effort. Sometimes they involve trade-offs necessitating the acceptance of loss in another area in order to meet the requirement. The damages sustained in the process of meeting the requirement are the Cost of achieving the goal. Cost should not be confused with Consequence. Consequence is a state of things that either exists and will be vanquished by the goal or will come to exist unless the goal is achieved. In contrast, Cost builds over the course of the story all the way to the climax. Sometimes by the end of the story, the consequence of not achieving the goal is far less than the cumulative cost of achieving it. If there is a single large cost to be paid right at the moment of the climax, the Main Character may decide he has paid enough already and determine the goal is just not worth it, electing to stop trying. If there is no large cost at the end, the Main Character may decide to keep on going for an insignificant goal motivated by the thought of how much they already invested. In the words of the songwriter/singer Don McLean, “The more you pay, the more it’s worth.”
Critical Flaw • [Variation] • The Subjective Character trait that inhibits or undermines the effectiveness of that Subjective Character’s Unique Ability • To balance the Main Character’s extraordinary status conveyed by his Unique Ability, he must also be shown to be especially vulnerable in one area as well. This vulnerability is called his Critical Flaw. The Main Character’s Critical Flaw is his Achilles heel that prevents him from being too one-sided. Just as with Unique Ability, the Critical Flaw can be quite mundane as long as it can threaten him with failure from an unprotectable direction. The specific Critical Flaw must be unique to the Main Character in the story. However, the more common the Critical Flaw is to the audience, the more it will identify with the Main Character’s predicament. In Start stories, the Critical Flaw inhibits the Main Character from using his Unique Ability. In Stop stories, the Critical Flaw undoes the work done by the Unique Ability after the fact. Only when the Main Character learns to either Start or Stop as required by the story can the Critical Flaw be avoided, allowing his Unique Ability to solve the problem. The Obstacle Character in any story also has a Unique Ability which makes him uniquely qualified to thwart the Main Character. But in his character as well is a Critical Flaw which prevents him from just totally overwhelming the Main Character. This is again a trait which is unique to this particular character, but its effects are felt in a different area than the Main Character Critical Flaw because of the Obstacle Character’s different purposes.
Crucial Element • [Element] • The single dramatic element that links the Objective and Subjective stories together. The Main Character’s decision regarding the Crucial Element ultimate leads to and Outcome of Success or Failure and a Judgment of Good or Bad.