Your Story Has a Mind of Its Own

By Melanie Anne Phillips

What if your story had a mind of it’s own, as if it were a character unto itself with its own personality, its own psychology?

Suppose your characters were seen as the conflicting drives of this “Story Mind,” theme as its troubled value standards, plot as its efforts to resolve its problems, and genre as the Story Mind’s overall personality?

More importantly, what if you could psychoanalyze your story’s mind to learn who your characters should be, what thematic issues you should explore, how your plot should unfold, and what unique twists define your story’s genre?

In this book you’ll learn about all facets of the Story Mind. You’ll find out how to create a personality profile for your story and to use it as a map to exactly what your story is about and what happens in it.

Structure Vs Passion

The Story Mind approach to story is a structural one. But no one reads a book or goes to a movie to enjoy a good structure. No author writes because he is driven to create a sound structure. Rather, audiences and authors come to opposite sides of a story because of their passions – the author driven to express his, and the audience hoping to ignite its own.

What draws us to a story in the first place is our attraction to the subject matter and the style. As an audience, we might be intrigued by the potential applications of a new discovery of science, the exploration of newly rediscovered ancient city, or the life of a celebrity. We might love a taut mystery, a fulfilling romance, or a chilling horror story.

As an author what inspires us to write a story may be a bit of dialog we heard in a restaurant, a notion for a character, a setting, time period, or a clever twist of plot we’d like to explore. Or, we might have a deep-seated need to express a childhood experience, work out an irrational fear, or make a public statement about a social injustice.

No matter what our attraction as audience or author, it is our passions that trigger our imaginations. So why should an author worry about structure? Because passion rides on structure, and if the structure is flawed or even broken, then the passionate expression from author to audience will fail.

When structure is done properly, it is invisible, serving only as the carrier wave that delivers the passion to the audience. But when structure is flawed, it adds static to the flow of emotion, breaking up and possibly scrambling the passion so badly that the audience gets nothing of what the author was sending.

Yet, the attempt to ensure a sound structure is an intellectual pursuit. Questions such as “Who is my Protagonist?” “Where should my story begin?” “What happens in Act Two?” or “What is my message?” force an author to turn away from his passion and embrace logistics instead.

As a result, an author often becomes mired in the nuts and bolts of storytelling, staring at a blank page not because of a lack of inspiration, but because he can’t figure out how to make his passion make sense.

Worse, the re-writing process is often grueling and frustrating, forcing the author to accept unwanted changes in the flow of emotion for the sake of logic. So what is an author to do? Is there any way out of this dilemma?

In the pages that follow, you’ll discover a new way of writing stories – a method that allows an author to retain his passion even while serving the demands of structure. This system can be used either before you write to know exactly where things will be going or after you write to find and refine the structure already hidden in your passion.

You won’t be asked to discard any techniques or approaches you are currently using. Rather, you’ll simply be adding to what you already know, to what you are already doing; extending your understanding of how stories really work and how to write them.

So join me on an expedition into the new world of the Story Mind. The risks are low, the potential rewards are great, and all you need to carry with you is your own passion.

Introducing the “Story Mind”

This book is entitled, “The Story Mind.” and as described above, the Story Mind is a way of looking at a story as if all the characters were facets of a larger personality, the mind of the Story itself.

To illustrate, imagine that you stepped back from your story far enough that you could no longer identify your characters as individuals. Instead, like a general on a hill watching a battle, you could only see each character by his function:

There’s the guy leading the charge – that’s the Protagonist. His opponent is the Antagonist. There’s the strategist, working out the battle plan – he’s the Reason archetype. One soldier is shouting at the pathos and carnage – he’s the Emotion archetype.

The structure of stories deals with what makes sense in the big picture. But characters aren’t aware of that overview. Just like us, they can only see what is around them and try to make the best decisions based on that limited view. And so characters must also be real people as well, with real drives and real concerns.

Characters, therefore, have two completely different jobs: They must act according to their own drives and desires and also play a part in the larger mosaic of the story as a whole. The trick is to create a story in which these two purposes work together, not against each other.

As individuals, each character must be fully developed as a complete human being. As cogs in the Great Machine, they must each fulfill a function. So, when we develop our characters we need to stand in their shoes, make them real people, and express ourselves passionately through each of their points of view. But when we develop our story’s structure, we must ensure that each character fulfills his, her, or its dramatic purpose in the story at large.

It is that larger purpose that we call the Story Mind. As previously described, the Story Mind is like a Super Character that generates the personality of the overall story itself, as if it were a single, thinking, feeling, person. So, in addition to being complete people, each of our characters also represents a different aspect or facet of a greater character, the Story Mind.

For example, the Reason archetype represents the use of our intellect. The Emotion archetype illustrates the impact of our feelings. Individually as supposedly real people, they each employ both Reason and Emotion in regard to their own personal issues. But when it comes to the central issue of the story – the message issue that is the essence of what the overall story is about – then one of these two Characters will attempt to deal with that issue solely from a position of Reason and the other solely from the position of Emotion.

This is why we, the audience, see characters simultaneously as real people and also by their dramatic functions, such as Protagonist and Antagonist. Regarding their own concerns, characters are well rounded. Regarding the overall concern of the story as a whole, they are single-minded. Collectively, they describe the conflicting motivations or drives of the Story Mind.

But characters are only part of the story. As we shall see, Plot, Theme, and Genre are represented in the Story Mind as well. For now, suffice it to say that the Story Mind is the character of the story itself.

Why a Story Mind?

Before asking any writer to invest his or her time in a concept as different as the Story Mind, it is only fair to provide an explanation of why such a thing should exist. To do this, let us look briefly into the nature of communication between an author and an audience.

Tales vs. Stories

When an author tells a tale, he simply describes a series of events that both makes sense and feels right. As long as there are no breaks in the logic and no mis-steps in the emotional progression, the structure of the tale is sound.

Now, from a structural standpoint, it really doesn’t matter what the tale is about, who the characters are, or how it turns out. The tale is just a truthful or fictional journey that starts in one situation, travels a straight or twisting path, and ends in another situation.

The meaning of a tale amounts to a statement that if you start from “here,” and take “this” path, you’ll end up “there.” The message of a tale is that a particular path is a good or bad one, depending on whether the ending point is better or worse than the point of departure and perhaps whether or not the result was worth the journey.

This structure is easily seen in a vast majority of familiar fairy “tales.” Tales have been used since the first storytellers practiced their craft. In fact, many of the best selling novels and most popular motion pictures of our own time are simply tales, expertly told.

In a structural sense, tales have power in that they can encourage or discourage audience members from taking particular actions in real life. The drawback of a tale is that it speaks only in regard to that specific path.

But in fact, there are many paths that might be taken from a given point of departure. Suppose an author wants to address those as well, to cover all the alternatives. What if the author wants to say that rather than being just a good or bad path, a particular course of action is the best or worst path of all that might have been taken?

Now the author is no longer making a simple statement, but a “blanket” statement. Such a blanket statement provides no “proof” that the path in question is the best or worst, it simply says so. If the blanket statement reflects popular assumptions, it might be accepted at face value. But, if the blanket statement diverges from conventional wisdom or expectation, an audience is not likely to accept such a bold claim, regardless of how well the tale is told. It will demand to be convinced; it will demand proof.

In the early days of storytelling, an author related his tale to his audience in person. Should he aspire to manipulate his audience by making a blanket statement that conflicted with the norm, the audience would likely cry, “Foul!” and demand that he prove it on the spot.

Someone in the audience might bring up an alternative path that hadn’t been included in the tale. The author could then counter that rebuttal to his blanket statement by describing how the path proposed by the audience was not as strong as the path he did include. One by one, he would disperse any challenges to his tale until he either exhausted the opposition or was overcome by an alternative he couldn’t dismiss.

But as soon as stories began to be recorded in media such as song ballads, epic poems, novels, stage plays, screenplays, teleplays, and so on, the author was no longer present to defend his blanket statements. If he were to convince his audience of his point of view he must anticipate all reasonable challenges that might arise to his blanket statement and incorporate them in his presentation in advance. In fulfilling this new requirement, authors pushed the tale format forward beyond the blanket statement until it became a new art form we call the story.

A story is a much more sophisticated form of communication than a tale, and is in fact a revolutionary leap forward in the ability of an author to make a point. Simply put, a tale is a statement, a story is an argument.

Now this puts a huge burden of proof on an author. Not only does he have to make his own point, but he has to prove (within reason) that all opposing points are less valid. Of course, this requires than an author anticipate any objections an audience might raise to his blanket statement. To do this, he must look at the situation described in his story and examine it from every angle an audience might consider in regard to that issue.

By incorporating all reasonable (and valid emotional) points of view regarding the story’s message in the structure of the story itself, the author has not only defended his argument, but has also included all the points of view the a person would normally take in examining that central issue. In effect, the structure of the story now represents the whole range of considerations a human mind would make if fully exploring that issue.

As each of the points of view is explored and the argument is made, the structure of the story begins to resemble a map of the mind’s problem solving processes, and (without any intent on the part of the author) has become a Story Mind. The more accurately the story’s structure represents the Story Mind, the more powerful the story’s argument.

And so, the Story Mind concept is not really all that radical. It is simply a short hand way of describing that all sides of a story must be explored to satisfy an audience. And, and if this is done, the structure of the story takes on the nature of a single character.

Armed with this information we are now prepared to examine the nature of the Story Mind, and to see how we might apply what we discover to meet the demands of a logical structure without sacrificing our passion.

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 it’s 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 he goes 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.

In the Genre section of this book, we’ll describe how to get a feel for the personality of the story you wish to tell, how to create a Genre map describing your story’s primary attributes, and how to develop your story so that its unique qualities surface and reveal themselves.


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 specific thematic topic 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 us 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 we do. Unless the author is preaching to the audience as choir, he’s going to need to convince it 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 its previously held beliefs and reposition the audience so that it adopts the author’s beliefs by the time the story is over.

In the Theme section of this book we’ll outline how to discover your story’s message and how to create a thematic argument that presents all sides of the issues. You’ll find out how to make your point without hitting the audience over the head with binary statements of right and wrong, and how to lead the audience to your point of view.


Novice authors often assume the plot of a story is the order in which events unfold. In fact, the order in which events are revealed to an audience is seldom the same order in which they happened to the characters. Through exposition, an author unveils the story, dropping bits and pieces that the audience rearranges until the 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 considers these elements as it develops a plan of action is called the Storyweaving.

If an author blends these two aspects together, it is very easy to 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. In the plot section of this book you will learn how to create a complete sequential treatment for your story and to develop an exposition plan that involves and captivates your audience.


If characters represent our conflicting drives yet they each have a personal point of view, where is our 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 first person experience of the story – the story’s ego.

Earlier 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 waterboy.

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.

In the Character section of this book we will fully describe each of the Story Mind’s drives, how to choose the right one as your Main Character, and how the Main Character needs to come into conflict not with the Antagonist but with an Obstacle Character who represents the opposite point of view.

Getting Our Mind Together

We’ve now established four key aspects of the Story Mind. Characters are the conflicting drives of the Story Mind, theme its reassessment of values, plot its problem solving techniques, and genre its overall personality. But how do these fit together in an integrated story?

When an audience sits down with a book, in a theater, or in front of a television, it is sitting down with a person to make conversation. In fact, it is a one-sided conversation. Your story must have a personality intriguing enough to hold the audience’s interest until the show is over.

Is your story a good enough conversationalist, or does it need to go back to finishing school with another draft before it is ready for prime time? You have days, months, perhaps even years to prepare your story to exude enough charisma to sustain just one conversation. How disappointing is it to an audience when a story’s personality is plain and simply dull?

As an author, thinking of your story as a person can actually help you write the story. All too often, authors get mired in the details of a story, trying to cram everything in and make all the pieces fit.

Characters are seen only as individuals, so they often unintentionally overlap each other’s dramatic functions. The genre is depersonalized so that the author trying to write within a genre ends up fashioning a formula story and breaking no new ground. The plot becomes an exercise in logistics, and the theme emerges as a black and white pontification that hits the audience like a brick.

Now imagine that you are sitting down to dinner with your story. For convenience, we’ll call your story “Joe.” You know that Joe is something of an authority on a subject in which your are interested. You offer him an appetizer, and between bites of pate, he tells you of his adventures and experiences.

Over soup, he describes what was driving him at various points of his endeavors. These are your characters, and they must all be aspects of Joe’s personality. There can be no characters that would not naturally co-exist in a single individual. You listen carefully to make sure Joe is not a split-personality, for such a story would seem fragmented as if it were of two or more minds.

While munching on a spinach salad, Joe describes his efforts to resolve the problems that grew out of his journey. This is your plot, and all reasonable efforts need to be covered. You note what he is saying, just an an audience will, to be sure there are no flaws in his logic. There can also be no missing approaches that obviously should have been tried, or Joe will sound like an idiot.

Over the main course of poached quail eggs and Coho salmon (on a bed of grilled seasonal greens), Joe elucidates the moral dilemmas he faced, how he considered what was good and bad, better or worse. This is your theme, and all sides of the issues must be explored. If Joe is one-sided in this regard, he will come off as bigoted or closed-minded. Rather than being swayed by his conclusions, you (and an audience) will find him boorish and will disregard his passionate prognostications.

Dessert is served and you make time, between spoonfuls of chocolate soufflé (put in the oven before the first course to ready by the end of dinner) to consider your dinner guest. Was he entertaining? Did he make sense? Did he touch on topical issues with light-handed thoughtfulness? Did he seem centers, together, and focused? And most important, would you invite him to dinner again? If you can’t answer yes to each of these questions, you need to send your story back to finishing school, for he is not ready to entertain an audience.

Your story is your child. You give birth to it, you nurture it, you have hopes for it. You try to instill your values, to give it the tools it needs to succeed and to point it in the right direction. But, like all children, there comes a time where you have to let go of who you wanted it to be and to love and accept who it has become.

When your story entertains an audience, you will not be there to explain its faults or compensate for its shortcomings. You must be sure your child is prepared to stand alone, to do well for itself and to not embarrass you. If you are not sure, you must send it back to school.

Personifying a story allows an author to step back from the role of creator and to experience the story as an audience will. This is not to say that each and every detail in not important, but rather that the details are no more or less important than the overall impact of the story as a whole. This overview is one of the benefits of looking at a story as a Story Mind.

The following is excerpted from
Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley

The Four Throughlines

It is not enough to develop a complete Story Mind. That only creates the argument the audience will be considering. Equally important is how the audience is positioned relative to that argument.

Does an author want the audience to examine a problem dispassionately or to experience what it is like to have that problem? Is it more important to explore a possible solution or to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of alternative solutions? In fact, all of these points of view must be developed for a story to be complete.

An author’s argument must go beyond telling audience members what to look at. I must also show them how to see it. It is the relationship between object and observer that creates perspective, and in stories, perspective creates meaning.

There are four different perspectives which must be explored as a story unfolds in order to present all sides of the issue at the heart of a story. They are the Objective Story Throughline, theMain Character Throughline, theObstacle Character Throughline, and theSubjective Story Throughline.

The Objective Story Throughline

The first perspective is from the Objective Story Throughline, so called because it is the most dispassionate look at the Story Mind.

Imagine the argument of a story as a battle between two armies. The Objective Story view is like that of a general on a hill overlooking the battle. The general focuses on unfolding strategies and, from this perspective, sees soldiers not by name but by their function on the field: foot soldier, grenadier, cavalryman, scout. Though the general may care very much for the soldiers, he must concentrate on the events as they unfold. Because it emphasizes events, the Objective Story Throughline is often thought of as plot, but as we shall see later, plot is so much more.

The Main Character Throughline

For a story to be complete, the audience will need another view of the battle as well: that of the soldier in the trenches. Instead of looking at the Story Mind from the outside, the Main Character Throughline is a view from the inside. What if that Story Mind were our own? That is what the audience experiences when it becomes a soldier on the field: audience members identify with the Main Character of the story.

Through the Main Character we experience the battle as if we were directly participating in it. From this perspective we are much more concerned with what is happening immediately around us than we are with the larger strategies that are really too big to see. This most personally involved argument of the story is the Main Character Throughline.

As we shall explore shortly, the Main Character does not have to be the soldier leading the charge in the battle as a whole. Our Main Character might be any of the soldiers on the field: the cook, the medic, the bugler, or even the recruit cowering in the bushes.

The Obstacle Character Throughline

To see the third perspective, keep yourself in the shoes of the Main Character for a moment. You are right in the middle of the story’s battle. Smoke from dramatic explosions obscures the field. You are not absolutely sure which way leads to safety. Still, before there was so much turmoil, the way was clear and you are confident in your sense of direction.

Then, from out of the smoke a shadowy figure appears, solidly blocking your way. The shadowy figure is your Obstacle Character. You can’t see well enough to tell if he is friend or foe. He might be a compatriot trying to keep you from stepping into a mine field. Or, he might be the enemy luring you into a trap. What to do! Do you keep on your path and run over this person or try the other path instead? This is the dilemma that faces a Main Character.

To completely explore the issue at the heart of a story, an Obstacle Character must present an alternative approach to the Main Character. The Obstacle Character Throughline describes the advocate of this alternative path and the manner in which he impacts Main Character.

The Subjective Story Throughline

As soon as the Main Character encounters his Obstacle, a skirmish ensues at a personal level in the midst of the battle as a whole. The two characters close in on one another in a theatrical game of “chicken,” each hoping the other will give in.

The Main Character shouts at his Obstacle to get out of the way. The Obstacle Character stands fast, insisting that the Main Character change course and even pointing toward the fork in the road. As they approach one another, the interchange becomes more heated until the two are engaged in heart-to-heart combat.

While the Objective Story battle rages all around, the Main and Obstacle Characters fight their private engagement. The Subjective Story Throughline describes the course this passionate battle takes.

The Four Throughlines Of A Story You Know

Here are some examples of how to see the four throughlines of some well known stories. Completed stories tend to blend these throughlines together in the interest of smooth narrative style. From a structural point of view, however, it is important to see how they can be separated.

Star Wars

Objective Story Throughline: The Objective view of Star Wars sees a civil war in the galaxy between the Rebels and the evil Empire. The Empire has built a Death Star which will destroy the Rebels if it isn’t destroyed first. To even hope for a successful attack, the Rebels need the plans to the Death Star which are in the possession of a farm boy and an old Jedi master. These two encounter many other characters while delivering the plans, ultimately leading to a climactic space-battle on the surface of the Death Star.

Main Character Throughline: The Main Character of Star Wars is Luke Skywalker. This throughline follows his personal growth over the course of this story. Luke is a farm boy who dreams of being a star pilot, but he can’t allow himself to leave his foster parents to pursue his dreams. He learns that he is the son of a great Jedi Knight. When his foster parents are killed, he begins studying the religion of the Jedi: the Force. Surviving many dangerous situations, Luke learns to trust himself more and more. Ultimately he makes a leap of faith to trust his feelings over his computer technology while flying into battle as the Rebel’s last hope of destroying the Death Star. It turns out well, and Luke is changed by the experience.

Obstacle Character Throughline: The Obstacle Character of Star Wars is Obi Wan Kenobi and this throughline describes his impact (especially on Luke Skywalker) over the course of the story. Obi Wan is a wizened old Jedi who sees everything as being under the mystic control of the Force. He amazes people with his resiliency and ability, all of which he credits to the Force.

Subjective Story Throughline: The Subjective Story throughline of Star Wars describes the relationship between Luke and Obi Wan. Obi Wan needs Luke to help him and he knows Luke has incredible potential as a Jedi. Luke, however, needs to be guided carefully because his desires are so strong and his abilities so new. Obi Wan sets about the manipulations which will help Luke see the true nature of the Force and learn to trust himself.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Objective Story Throughline: The Objective view of To Kill A Mockingbird sees the town of Maycomb with its horns locked in various attitudes over the rape trial of Tom Robinson. Due-process has taken over, however many people think this case should never see trial. As the trial comes to fruition, the people of the town argue back and forth about how the defense lawyer ought to behave and what role people should take in response to this alleged atrocity.

Main Character Throughline: The Main Character of To Kill A Mockingbird is Scout and her throughline describes her personal experiences in this story. Scout is a young tom-boy who wants things in her life to remain as simple as they’ve always been. Going to school, however, and seeing the town’s reaction to her father’s work introduces her to a new world of emotional complexity. She learns that there is much more to people than what you can see.

Obstacle Character Throughline: The Obstacle Character point of view in To Kill A Mockingbird is presented through Boo Radley, the reclusive and much talked about boy living next door to Scout. The mystique surrounding this boy, fueled by the town’s ignorance and fear, make everyone wonder what he is really like and if he’s really as crazy as they say.

Subjective Story Throughline: The Subjective Story view of To Kill A Mockingbird sees the relationship between Scout and Boo Radley. This throughline explores what it’s like for these two characters to live next door to each other and never get to know one another. It seems any friendship they might have is doomed from the start because Boo will always be locked away in his father’s house. The real problem, however, turns out to be one of Scout’s prejudice against Boo’s mysterious life. Boo has been constantly active in Scout’s life, protecting her from the background. When Scout finally realizes this she becomes a changed person who no longer judges people without first trying to stand in their shoes.

Summary – The Grand Argument Story

We have described a story as a battle. The overview that takes in the full scope of the battle is the Objective Story Throughline.

Within the fray is one special soldier through whom we experience the battle first-hand. How he fares is the Main Character Throughline.

The Main Character is confronted by another soldier, blocking the path. Is he friend or foe? Either way, he is an obstacle, and the exploration of his impact on the Main Character is the Obstacle Character Throughline.

The Main and Obstacle Characters engage in a skirmish. Main says, “Get out of my way!”, and Obstacle says, “Change course!” In the end, the steadfast resolution of one will force the other to change. The growth of this interchange constitutes the Subjective Story Throughline.

Taken together, the four throughlines comprise the author’s argument to the audience. They answer the questions: What does it feel like to have this kind of problem? What’s the other side of the issue? Which perspective is the most appropriate for dealing with that problem? What do things look like in the “big picture?”

Only through the development of these four simultaneous throughlines can the Story Mind truly reflect our own minds, pitting reason against emotion and immediate advantage against experience in the hope of resolving a problem in the most beneficial manner.

Learn more about the Story Mind

and the Dramatica Story Structure Software

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Dramatica Theory Overview (video)

This is a video clip from the “classic” 1999 12 hour video program on narrative structure entitled, Dramatica Unplugged.

In this segment, the key concepts and breadth and depth of the Dramatica Theory of Story are presented in concise form.

See all 112 story structure videos for free…

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Know Your Story Points – Main Character “Growth”

Over the course of your story, the Main Character will either grow out of something or grow into something. Authors show their audiences how to view this development of a Main Character by indicating the direction of Growth by the Main Character.

If the story concerns a Main Character who Changes, he will come to believe he is the cause of his own problems (that’s why he eventually changes). If he grows out of an old attitude or approach (e.g. loses the chip on his shoulder), then he is a Stop character. If he grows into a new way of being (e.g. fills a hole in his heart), then he is a Start character.

If the story concerns a Main Character who Remains Steadfast, something in the world around him will appear to be the cause of his troubles. If he tries to hold out long enough for something to stop bothering him, then he is a Stop character. If he tries to hold out long enough for something to begin, then he is a Start character.

If you want the emphasis in your story to be on the source of the troubles which has to stop, choose “Stop.” If you want to emphasize that the remedy to the problems has to begin, choose “Start.”


Whether a Main Character eventually changes his nature or remains steadfast, he will still grow over the course of the story. This growth has a direction. Either he will grow into something (Start) or grow out of something (Stop).

As an example we can look to Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Does Scrooge need to change because he is excessively miserly (Stop), or because he lacks generosity (Start)? In the Dickens’ story it is clear that Scrooge’s problems stem from his passive lack of compassion, not from his active greed. It is not that he is on the attack, but that he does not actively seek to help others. So, according to the way Charles Dickens told the story, Scrooge needs to Start being generous, rather than Stop being miserly.

A Change Main Character grows by adding a characteristic he lacks (Start) or by dropping a characteristic he already has (Stop). Either way, his make up is changed in nature.

A Steadfast Main Character’s make up, in contrast, does not change in nature. He grows in his resolve to remain unchanged. He can grow by holding out against something that is increasingly bad while waiting for it to Stop. He can also grow by holding out for something in his environment to Start. Either way, the change appears somewhere in his environment instead of in him.


A good way to get a feel for the Stop/Start dynamic in Change Main Characters is to picture the Stop character as having a chip on his shoulder and the Start character as having a hole in his heart.

If the actions or decisions taken by the character are what make the problem worse, then he needs to Stop.

If the problem worsens because the character fails to take certain obvious actions or decisions, then he needs to Start.

A way to get a feel for the Stop/Start dynamic in Steadfast Main Characters is to picture the Stop character as being pressured to give in, and the Start character as being pressured to give up.

If you want to tell a story about a Main Character concerned with ending something bad, choose Stop.

If you want to tell a story about a Main Character concerned with beginning something good, choose Start.

This article was excerpted from Dramatica Story Structure Software

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Is Story Structure a Myth?

By Melanie Anne Phillips

A whole flock of Story Gurus (myself included) will tell you that stories have structure. Therefore, if you learn that structure you’ll improve your stories. Ostensibly, this will lead to fame, riches, a keen sense of accomplishment, and the unparalleled pleasure of the act of writing itself.

But is that true? Do stories have a structure? And even if they do, is there really any way to figure out what it is? Based solely on the number of competing theories, one might suspect that either stories don’t have structures or that even those who spend their entire lives trying to figure it out, can’t!

But there’s an alternative explanation – actually, a couple of them, and I’d like to share those with you now….

First of all, we have two questions:

1. Do stories have structures?

2. Can we ever really define what they are?

We’ll take them in turn.

Stories have structure. There, I said it. But now I have to prove it. And so I’ll say something else – not all written works are stories. And many of those other kinds of writing don’t have any structure at all. In other words, when people use the term “stories” in a casual way to mean any durn thing an author writes, well, then it is impossible to agree if stories have structure or not, ’cause some of them do and some of them don’t.

So the first thing we need to do is divide what we commonly think of as stories into two different camps. One includes all those written works that have structure and the other contains all the written works that don’t.

Now its pretty silly to say that that any written work could exist that has absolutely no structure. So I’ll go back a bit on what I said. Even a dictionary has structure, sentences have structure, and paragraphs follow the conventions of a particular gramatic form.

Every random collection of words with no intent behind them has structure. Why? As a species we see animals in clouds, mythic figures in glops of stars, and impose images on inkblots. From this we can surmise that the human mind tries to impose structure even on chaos. No matter what written work we might examine, no matter how fluid and free-form, there will be those who see a clear structure in the thing.

Let’s no be so picky. If you see structure in everything, then you already don’t think structure is a myth so my work is done here. But when most people think of structure in regard to writing, they are not talking about grammar or form. Rather, they have “formula” in mind. In other words, writers tend to equate structure with a rigid formula for telling a story – a list of requirements that must be met or the story will suffer.

So let’s go with that and refine our first question to read as follows:

1. Is there a rigid formula that must be followed to write a successful story?


Wait a minute! Didn’t I just say “Stories have structure,” and now I’ve turn ’round and proclaimed , “No they don’t.”

Yes. Yes I did. And here’s why…. Stories have structure but that structure isn’t a rigid formula; it is a flexible form. That’s why its so hard to see – its never quite the same from one story to the next.

Yet, the elements remain the same: There are Characters, Plot and Theme. There are personal problems, and goals, and moralities. There are acts, and scenes and beats. We feel their necessity, we sense their consistency, yet these are just impressions. The actual nature of the structure remains elusive, seen only in glimpses in shadows, never showing itself clearly.

This is not surprising. It is like the old story of three blind men trying to describe an elephant: One feeling the trunk, “It is long and twisty like a snake”. Another, examining the leg, “It is tall and round like a tree.” The last, exploring the ear, “It is thin and flat like a rug.”

Story Gurus are each describing the same elephant in the room. Each is seeing a portion of the truth. While the descriptions seem in conflict or at least disparate, they are really just parts of the same beast.

I’m not here to promote my particular view of the critter. Rather, I figure my “truth” is also just another facet of a greater “Truth”. So in regard to the questions I posed, let me answer like this:

Yes, stories have structure. No, we’ll never see the whole of it. But the more story gurus you study, the more sides you see of what stories are, what they can be, how they work, and how to build them.

Embrace what works for you, reject what feels wrong, and strive to develop your own take on story structure, always remembering that no matter how clearly it appears to you, its probably just another piece of the puzzle.

The bottom line is apply structure only in ways that enhance your productivity and your enjoyment in pursuing your craft. Anything else has no more place in your writing life than a rigid structure can be applied to every kind of story.

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Do You Write Like An Actor or a Director?

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Here are two ways to approach the craft of writing. The first is to step into the role of each character and write it very personally, as if you were an actor portraying a part. The second is to consider what each character must do to fulfill its purpose in the story, then orchestrate their interactions as if you were directing a movie or stage play.

Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, the Writer-Actor exudes passion. His or her characters are alive with a personal perspective with which the reader or audience can instantly and deeply identify.

Each character is seen through the eyes of all the others, so the reader/audience feels as if they come to know the characters, not just as players in the Big Picture, but as real people who not only love and hate, but are loved and hated as well.

This creates a rich emotional fabric to a story. But the benefits of being a Writer-Actor don’t stop there. Indeed, even the narrative itself benefits from this approach. Small experiences and individual observations illuminate the environments through which the characters pass.

A Writer-Actor’s narrative is likely to be filled with sensory descriptions as to the temperature, background sounds, colors, textures, tastes, and smells that are present in each scene. In this way, not only do the characters feel real, but so does the world in which they move.

But what about the downside of such a personal approach? The greatest danger of allowing oneself to actually become a character while writing is that one loses site of the needs and structure of the overall story.

Characters tend to take on a life of their own and almost demand that they move in certain directions, even if those are in conflict with the purposes of the story at large. In addition, the benefits of some unifying overview are often lost in the cacophony of individual voices.

Having briefly explored the pros and cons of the Writer-Actor approach, let’s examine some of the benefits and drawbacks of the Writer-Director’s method.

In the plus column, the Writer-Director produces a vision. The characters take on a grand importance as pawns in a larger scheme, a greater meaning.

Each character is seen as a cog in an elegant machine, inexorably moving forward like clockwork toward a specific purpose which will ultimately be revealed. The natures of their interrelationships are discovered and defined as understandable threads in the tapestry of the tale.

In addition, characters are tied directly to plot, theme, and genre, integrating them into the story as a whole, illustrating their interdependence with the forces that shape their world and, by inference, ours as well.

But in the negative column, a Writer-Director tends to objectify characters, leading them to come across more as puppets than people. All the beats of character growth are precisely hit, yet the overall flow can feel forced and formulaic.

What’s more, the stage on which the characters strut can seem more Machiavellian than organic, and the story plods along in some sort of Calvinistic pre-destination rather than an unknown realm in which anything might happen.

If you have begun to think that perhaps neither of these approaches, by itself, is sufficient to the task of creating a passionate story that leads to a well-defined message, you are correct.

And that is the point of this exercise. By nature each of us tends to be one of these two kinds of writers. As a result, we excel in half of what readers/audiences are craving, yet fall short in the other side of their needs.

The solution, of course, is to learn to employ tools in the areas in which we do not have natural ability or inclination. That is, in fact, the concept behind learning the craft of writing. We study and exercise not to make ourselves more talented, but to supplement our effectiveness in those areas in which we are not as innately gifted.

So, the first step of the task at hand is to identify which kind of writer you are. The second step is to practice writing with the other method as well.

To this end it is pretty easy to determine whether you are a Writer-Actor or a Writer-Director. Just sit down to create a character from scratch. Pick a name, a gender, and age, and a job or vocation. Then try each of the following.

Based only on that limited information about that character try to put yourself in the character’s shoes. Imagine you are them, they are you. Then see if you can come up with a problem in their lives, a description of how it affects them and what they are thinking of doing about it. Who are the other people in their lives, and how are they affected at a personal and/or emotional level by the problem and by the potential solutions?

If you found that exercise easy, perhaps even fun, then you are a Writer-Actor by nature. If you found it tedious, uninspiring, and fruitless, you’re a Writer-Director.

To be sure, try the other method: Start with the same bare-bones information about the character. Ask yourself, who are the other characters with whom this person would be interacting. What kinds of conflicts might occur among them. What kinds of problems would result from this conflict, and what would it lead your character to do?

If this was the easier one, then you are a Writer-Director without doubt. You see, both approaches are trying to get to the same place, but they come to it from a different creative mind set. And in so doing, they miss different things along the way.

The remedy is obvious. To enhance your abilities as a writer, you need to be fluent in both approaches, using them in a complementary fashion to fully ignite the fires of passion within a solid logistic framework. And even if you have a great built-in sense of one or both of these, it can only help to fine tune them so that your story development and storytelling become even more powerful.

Here are two plans to help you find both. Well call this strategy, “Hats and Charts”.

A surprising number of authors actually wear different hats while writing different characters. I’m not speaking metaphorically here, they actually wear physical hats. This helps them imagine themselves as a given character, such as a cop or a chef.

Not surprisingly, the extension of this is to wear costumes – the clothing you expect your character might brandish. It can be as simple as a scarf, the way you comb your hair, your make-up, perfume or cologne, or all the way to a full wardrobe.

It is really not as silly as it sounds. Do you not feel differently depending upon the kind of clothing you wear on a given day? Does not a uniform influence the way a person thinks? It is not any less true that a writer’s work will very depending upon what he or she is wearing while creating.

Try music that a character might play, put on a television show or movie your character might watch. Tack pictures your character might have in their home to a cork board in your line of sight as you write. Perhaps add pictures that seem like the realm in which they move – a desert island, a ship, the dark dungeons below the Vatican.

All of these ideas grow from the “Hats” concept. You can and should give some time to thinking about other similar ways of making yourself feel like your character feels.

To become a better Writer-Director, you need a completely different plan – “Charts”. The idea here is to objectify your characters – to see them as components in the store, elements with which you will build the tale.

You can begin my making a chart of each character and listing as many details about them as you can. For example, where did each character go to school? What hobbies does each have? What are their religious affiliations, if any? To what political party do they belong? How strongly do they subscribe to the philosophies in these groups? What are their physical abilities/disabilities? What are their hair colors, skin texture, skin color, weight?

Create a time-line graph for each characters’ emotional journey through the story. Use different colors for different moods or feelings and plot the intensity of those emotions. By examining these passions analytically, it helps you see patterns and uncover skipped or missed beats in the flow.

Using index cards and colored yarn show all the relationships among your characters including familial, professional, historical, philosophical, and so on.

Try writing a description of each character as if you were a private detective hired to follow them for a day. You have no personal interest in the character, but your job is to document everything they do (and even how they act) in as much detail as possible.

Each of these exercises helps you step out of a character’s shoes and see them in a functional manner, both as themselves and also how they interact with others.

As you have no doubt surmised, the perspectives of the Writer-Actor and Writer-Director are so divergent that it is virtually impossible to do both at the same time. In the writing process, therefore, you should use them in succession.

Begin with the approach to which you are naturally inclined for this will provide you with the greatest raw inspiration. When you have finished a section or your Muse comes up for air, use the opportunity (which would otherwise be wasted down-time) to apply the exercises from your secondary approach to the material you have just written.

By revisiting the material while it is still fresh in your creative spirit, but from an alternate point of view, you can reprocess the material and fill in the gaps left by your initial creative burst.

Once you have finished the complete story, go back and run it through both approaches again to ensure that not only do the individual scenes sing like a Spring bird, but that the entire work unfolds smoothly, like the passage of a fine season.

In the end, if you take the time to learn, practice and employ both methods of developing characters, your stories will be far more well rounded and well received.

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The 28 Magic Scenes (Part 1 of 3)

Here’s a handy method for converting Dramatica narrative structure into real scenes from which you can actually write your story!


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When Dramatica Was Young

Here’s the transcript of a talk on Dramatica I gave in 1997 – another archival discovery on some old back-ups of a long-ago computer that no longer exists…

LAAC Conference Room Transcript

A Meeting with Melanie Anne Phillips

February 23, 1997


Today’s meeting is a moderated interview with Melanie Anne Phillips. This is a private conference open only to members of Word Spinners’ Ink and the Internet Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Please join me in welcoming Melanie Anne Phillips. Melanie is co-developer of Dramatica, both an extensive theory of story structure and a popular line of software products that use those theories for story creation and development.

In addition to co-developing Dramatica, Melanie is the former Director of Research and Development at Screenplay Systems, Inc. Prior to her association with Screenplay Systems, she amassed some 200 credits in non-union film production, including the directing of two independent features, editing of features and larger budget industrials, and writing work for various productions ranging from features to television commercials.

Melanie, do you have any opening comments you would like to make before we start accepting questions?


Well, greetings to everyone, and thank you all for driving so far to be at this conference! I hope you find it useful and interesting, and feel free to ask me anything (within reason!)

If you like, I can just jump in and talk about the theory and software…


Melanie, we have two Dramatica owners in the Room. For those who aren’t, can you summarize how Dramatica, the software, is intended to function as a story aid?


Sure, Mr. Moderator…

Most tools for creating stories mix up the story structure and the story telling. They are blended together, making for a good description of the finished story, but hard to use for creating one. So, the first thing the Dramatica software does is separate the two into completely different stages of story construction.

Now, this is not how authors normally operate. We come up with a bit of dialog, a setting, a piece of action or a favorite concept, and off we go without even considering if it is structure or
storytelling technique.

So, in that respect, Dramatica takes a bit of getting used to, but when you consider that West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet have almost the same structure but completely different storytelling, then you can see the advantage in the writing stage to separate them.

Now, if you are looking just at structure alone, it is a very bare-bones affair There is none of the flavor of the story, but just a raw skeleton. For example, we might say that structurally, the goal of a story is “Obtaining” something. But Obtaining WHAT? The WHAT would be the storytelling. It might be to Obtain a diploma, someone’s love, the stolen treasure, etc. But in each case, the structure is about Obtaining.

It is this underlying deep structure that determines the “mind set” of a story. For example, a story with a goal of “Obtaining” would be structurally different from a story with a goal of “Becoming” something. But either of these could be expressed in an infinite number of ways through storytelling.

Now, the Dramatica software says, instead of looking at a story as a series of events that leads from one point to another, look at stories more like a sphere made up of interconnected storypoints. In fact, to make sense, story must be three dimensional, rather than simply linear. In this way, you can wrap around an idea and explore it fully.

If you take the linear approach, you have a “tale” rather than a story, which is not bad, but just more simple. A tale says that this event led to the next and the next and ended here. It
works as long as the chain is unbroken in both logic and feeling.

A Tale is just a “statement”. But a Story is an “argument”. A story must show context, and examine the issue from all sides, rather than just one. If a point of view is left out, it becomes a plot hole, an inconsistent character, or a warped theme.

The Dramatica software has in its memory, a model of the storypoints that make up the sphere of an argument, as if it were one of Bucky Fuller’s geodesic domes. This model is much like a Rubik’s cube… It has specific pieces that must show up in every story, but they can be arranged in a myriad of ways and still remain a viable cube or a viable story argument.

By making choice about how dramatic items should come into conjunction to create
potential, an author uses Dramatica to arrange the story’s structure while
always maintaining a valid story argument.


Thanks, Melanie. THAT gets off and running.


Melanie, can you explain the differences between Archetypal and complex characters for us?


Sure. In a nut shell, all characters, be they Archetypal or Complex represent different elements of the drama that must appear in all stories. In a sense, these Elements can be arranged in something of a Periodic Table of Story Elements. When you put all of the elements that fall in the same family into a single character, you have created an Archetype. When you distribute elements from the same family in different characters, they become Complex.

In either case, the same dramatic functions must be performed, but it is just a question of who is going to do it. The advantage to archetypal characters is that the audience will assume
archetypal unless told otherwise by the author.

So, rather than having to illustrate each element separately, you can illustrate only the family the archetype belongs to, and the audience will assume the rest, giving you more media real estate for other things, like special effects or theme. The disadvantage is that the archetypes are so evenly constructed internally, there are no surprises there..


You wouldn’t want conflicting elements in the same character, would you? I mean, would you want a skeptic or also sometimes functioned as a sidekick? Wouldn’t those be mutually exclusive, or would they?


Well, there are some elements that mix to create sparks, and others that work more like oil and water. In Dramatica, we have charted out the Periodic Table of Story Elements to help us determine which characteristics will successfully go together and which won’t.

In Dramatica, families of elements fall into “Quads”, such as “Pro-action, Re-action, Inaction, and Protection”. The point of the whole quad is to illustrate how, in this particular story, these different approaches fare against the story’s problem. A rule of thumb it, that no single character should contain more than one element from the same quad.

It is important to note that this does not prevent internal conflict. Dramatica separates characters into two types: Objective and Subjective. Objective characters are like – suppose a general is watching a battle from a hill and sees the soldiers down below. He can’t tell who is who as individuals because he is so removed from the situation. But he can identify them by function. He’ll see the horse soldier and the cook and the guy leading the charge. To fulfill their “story function” each character has a job, or jobs. The jobs need to be consistent with one another to make any kind of sense.

But, if the audience swoops down and occupies the shoes of one of the soldiers on the field, we get a second kind of character – the Subjective character, who represents a point of view, rather than a function. Note that a single “player” on the field can function as an Objective character and also represent a point of view.

The Subjective aspect is where you see the pathos of inner conflict and changing attitudes. The Objective aspect is where the structural integrity of the argument is maintained in a logistic sense.

So, in this manner, a “Hero” is a Protagonist (objectively) who is also the Main Character (subjectively), but there is no reason why the audience cannot be positioned elsewhere. We may want our audience to see things from the water boy’s position rather than from the quarterback’s.


Hi, Melanie . . . we also have a couple Collaborator owners on board here today, and the debate has been mildly ranging for a couple months now about the pros and cons of both. Your opinions, if you’re familiar with Collaborator?

Also you may want to comment on the differences between Dramatica and Dramatica Writer’s Dream Kit, and what you really get for the extra money in the full Dramatica system.


Okay, this is a multi-part question. Collaborator, and the two version of Dramatica. Here goes…

I know the Collaborator creators. Sadly, once of them recently passed on. Collaborator bases its approach on Aristotle’s “Poetics”. It asks a series of questions that are really good ones every author should know about a story. It also provides tools for organizing material in a storytelling sense.

Where it differs from Dramatica, is that although it is a useful organizational tool, it doesn’t tell the author anything the author has not told it. In contrast, Dramatica’s “Story Engine” is not a data base, but a “live” model of the relationships among dramatic elements. That is the real value of the software and what sets it apart from anything else. As an author answers questions about the story, the story engine begins to “predict” other dramatic items that must also be present as a result of those choices.

In fact, with as few as 12 questions (the 12 essential questions) Dramatica can predict a complete dramatic argument. Now, I know that is a way out statement, but here is why it works…

Some choices about a story have only marginal impact on the structure, others have wide ranging impact. You can approach Dramatica’s sphere or Story Engine in any order through the
dramatic items. For authors who like to sculpt their stories, they can choose more nuanced
dramatics to play with, and slowly build up a complete structure.

But for those who know what they want and wish to get right to the point, they can answer the 12 essential questions and have enough broad influence to have predicted all else that must follow.

So, although Collaborator is very good in making sure you cover your bases and in making you think, Dramatica is more like a knowledgeable critic who will make suggestions and notice when you leave something out or put it in the wrong place.

The difference between DreamKit and Pro is simply how many dramatic story points the engine gives you to work with. The both have the same engine, but Pro accesses more story points than DreamKit, making it more complex, and more powerful.

And of course, Pro costs more than twice as much as DreamKit!


That answers a lot . . . I never really thought Dramatica and Collaborator were mutually exclusive, and I’ve been using Collaborator successfully as a thought organizer. The only other concern/question I have about Dramatica is what appears to be a relatively high learning curve. This learning curve has elicited a somewhat negative response with some reviewers of the software. Would you care to comment?


Well, nobody ever said story structure was a simple thing. When you see it as a flexible structure, it becomes both simply yet complex in its variety. Dramatica was not built to make writing easier, but to make it harder, by forcing the author to address ALL the issues that can undermine a solid structure.

Because of its range and depth, to understand all the elements at work requires a LOT of study. But, none of us learned to ride a bike or use a word processor in a snap. Believe me, if we could make it less extensive and still have it be as accurate, we would, but the human mind is not that simple an affair, and stories must fill the human mind.


I went through several storyforms before I narrowed things down to one that seemed to work. In the final storyform (which I approached through the Story Engine from the middle out), Dramatica automatically assigned a Purpose characteristic to both my Main and Obstacle characters. How common is this, and why didn’t it happen with the preceding storyforms I tried?

Also, according to the “Quad” structure, my MC’s Purpose fell under Skeptic, and my OC’s Purpose fell under Emotion. Does this make sense, and will it work?


Well, I’ll need a little more information here. Also, the answer may be a little too specific for the general audience, but here is a bit of info that might help…

For those who don’t know, Dramatica sees all complete Objective characters as having four aspects: Motivations, Methodologies, Purposes, and Means of Evaluation.

Each of these four aspects will have its own set of elements. But, which elements fall in which set is not always the same, as it depends upon other dramatic choices.

When you are creating a dramatic structure, there are two special characters that rise above simply being functions. One is the Main Character, representing the audience position in the story, and the other is the Obstacle Character, representing an alternative paradigm to the Main Character’s belief system.

One of the things that connects the Objective and Subjective stories dramatically, is that the issues over which Main and Obstacle diverge are elements which form the heart of their personal issues and also appear in the Objective story overall.

So, when you create a storyform (structure), it will include in it the Main and Obstacle Character’s personal problems. Since those problems show up in the Objective story, the
Main and Obstacle characters must represent those issues in the overall plot as well.

And that is why you will find that certain elements in building your characters are already assigned to your Main and Obstacle. Hope this clarifies


Two questions:

1) How does Dramatica compare to StoryLine Pro?

2) A while back you spoke of a three dimensional matrix of plot points that form a sphere. What are these plot points and how does Dramatica help the writer merge them into a story?


Tom, here’s the answer to question one…

I also know John Truby (creator of StoryLine Pro), as all us story folk hang out at the same conventions! StoryLine Pro is based on John’s classes in story structure. His approach is not so much an overall theory, but a series of really useful tips – templates, if you will, that form the foundations of successful story structures. His templates combine both the story structure and the storytelling to an extent, so that you efficiently create both at the same time. This is much more the manner in which writer’s normally work, rather than Dramatica’s approach to separate the two.

The advantage to John’s system (StoryLine) is that it gives you a solid road map. All you need to do is follow one of the templates and you will arrive at a well structured story. The disadvantage is that if you want to do something even a bit off the path, there is no accommodation for that, and no way to predict what kind of dramatic impact that will have on your overall story.

So, I suggest using StoryLine for telling those specific kinds of stories, and using Dramatica for stories that diverge from the beaten path. Dramatica will be harder to use, but offer more opportunity for doing something different.

Now, for the answer to question 2 – Dramatica story points, what are they and how Dramatica helps writers merge them into stories…

There are over sixty story points in the current Dramatica software. Why this number? It depends on how “refined” you make the framework around your story as to how many “joints” you need where dramatics intersect.

The current version of the software is designed for creating the amount of detail needed in a story of novel or screenplay length. These story points (called “appreciations” in Dramatica) include elements of Theme, Genre, Character, and Plot. To name some, there will the story Goal, Requirements, PreConditions, and PreRequisites. There will be the Main Character Domain (where the point of view resides). There will be dynamic appreciations such as “Does the Main character CHANGE or REMAIN STEADFAST in his or her belief system by the end of the story?”

You will encounter the Thematic RANGE and COUNTERPOINT, a choice of TIMELOCK or OPTIONLOCK to draw the story to a conclusion. There are many more, of course, but you get the idea. Now to merge them into a story, first you take the raw appreciation in your structure, such as the example – a goal of “Obtaining”, and flesh it out into a real story item in storytelling.

To assist you in this, Dramatica has given each story point its own window in the software with a series of buttons to help. The buttons bring up examples of short dramatic scenarios using each story point. Another button shows you any well-known stories which have been analyzed and use that same story point the same way.

There is a button for the theory behind why that story point even exists, and another usage button to show how to employ it. Overall, there are literally thousands of examples and help scenarios, for these items. Finally, to merge them into the linear progression of your story, there is the StoryGuide, which will take you through the whole process of turning a holistic structural model of your story into a progressive linear pathway, much like unraveling a ball of twine into a long string. Hope this answers your question.


Melanie, this has been terrific. But could you explain more about which elements
are in DreamKit and which are reserved for Pro?


Sure! First of all, they both have the same engine running the software. Pro just “taps” it at more points. They also both have the exact same StoryGuide book and path, so new users can
get right into it. Pro has additional appreciations and more examples.

Some of these appreciations unique to Pro are:

The CATALYST that gets each throughline moving when it bogs down. The INHIBITOR
that slows things up. These two work like an accelerator and brake pedal on your
story’s plot.

There is the Main Character’s UNIQUE ABILITY which makes them uniquely able to
solve the story’s problem – if they make the right choice!

Balancing that is the Main Character’s CRITICAL FLAW which always screws them
up, just when they almost get things solved.

In addition, DreamKit allows only for character Motivations, and not the other three aspects.

Also, PRO dynamically determines the kinds of relationships which will exist among your characters.

There are a few other bells and whistles to Pro. but I would say that DreamKit
has everything you need for the average novel or screenplay, Pro is more geared
toward heavy character oriented stories or those with complex plots.


Melanie, on behalf of everyone, thank you very much for taking time to be with
us today. It was an informative session.


And thank you, Ed et al, it has been loads of fun!


Melanie, this has been wonderful! I appreciate so much your taking the time to come here. I’d just like to say here that I’ve learned more about story structure using Dramatica for the last two months than I have in the last 5 or 6 years of reading books about writing, taking writing classes and workshops, and writing.

Let me echo that sentiment. I’m *still* learning. It’s tough work, but every time a door opens, it leads not to a room, but to an entirely new corridor. It’s really, really, helpful. And bless you for putting up the worksheets. I’d already typed them into Winword, but having them on the website is terrific for those who haven’t!

Let me also lead a long, sustained round of applause for the creator of this conference center and our moderator today. Thank you, Ed. We’re much richer because you’re with us!


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