Applying Dramatica to Real World Narratives

Analyzing and Predicting the
Activities of Groups & Organizations

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Based on theories developed by
Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley

Introduction to Dramatica Theory and Applications

The Dramatica Theory of Story is a model of the mind’s problem solving processes which has been successfully employed for seventeen years in the analysis and construction of fictional stories ranging from major Hollywood productions to novels, stage plays, and television programs.

Software based on the Dramatica Theory is built around an interactive Story Engine which implements the problem-solving model as a method of determining the meaning and impact of data sets and of predicting motivations and actions based on potentials inherent in the data.

This is achieved by creating a Storyform – essentially, a schematic of the problem solving processes at work, their interactions, their outcomes, and the future course they will take.

The Dramatica system and its problem-solving algorithms can be applied with equal success to the analysis of real-world situations as well, specifically in determining the motivations behind the actions of a target group and in the prediction of their future actions and potentials for action.

Scalability and the Story Mind

To illustrate this methodology let us consider a generic target group. This might be a clique, club, movement, political faction, tribe, or nation. This highlights an important benefit of the system: Dramatica is scalable. It works equally well on individuals or groups of any size.

This kind of scalability is described by a Dramatica concept referred to as the Story Mind. In fiction, characters are not only individuals but also interact in stories as if they are aspects of a larger, overall mind set belonging to the structure of the story itself.

If, for example, one character may emerge in group actions and discussions as the voice of reason while another character, driven primarily by passion, becomes defined as the heart of the group.

Stories reflect the way people react and behave in the real world, and when individuals band together as a larger unit, they fall into roles where the unit itself takes on an identity with its own personality and its own psychology, almost as if it were an individual itself, in essence, a Story Mind.

Fractal Storyforms in the Real World

Similarly, if several groups become bound, as when factions join as members of a larger movement, the movement begins to take on an identity and the factions fall into roles representing aspects of individual problem solving processes.

Dramatica can move up and down the scale of magnitude from the individual to the national and even international level, while retaining an equally effective ability to analyze and predict based on its underlying model. This phenomenon is referred to the Fractal Storyform.

In actual practice, many groups of interest are ill defined, have blurry edges and indistinct leadership. Still, the core motivations of the target group can be determined, and from this the edges of the group can be refined sufficiently to create a storyform of the appropriate magnitude to suit the task at hand.

Memes and Story Points

Dramatica makes a key distinction between the underlying structure of a story and the subject matter that is explored by that structure. For example, every story has a goal but the specific nature of the goal is different from story to story. Elements such as a goal which are common to every story and, hence, every problem solving process, are referred to as Story Points.

Similarly a culture, ethnic group, religion, political movement, or faction will employ the same underlying story points but will clothe them in unique subject matter in order to define the organization as being distinct and to provide a sense of identity to its members.

Once a story point has been generally accepted in a specific subject matter form it becomes a cultural meme. Efforts to analyze and predict a culture based on memes alone have largely been unsuccessful.

Dramatica’s system of analysis is able to strip away the subject matter from cultural memes to reveal the underlying story points and thereby determine the specific storyform that describes that group’s story mind.

Essentially, Dramatica is able to distill critical story points from raw data and assemble them into a map of the target group’s motivations and intentions.

Passive Participation and Active Participation

One of Dramatica’s greatest strengths is that it works equally well in constructing stories as in analyzing them. We refer to analysis as Passive Participation and construction as Active Participation.

When dealing with a target group of interest, these two approaches translate into the ability to passively understand the target group and anticipate its behavior, and also to actively create courses of action by which to intervene in and/or influence the group’s future activities and attitudes.

To understand, we determine motivations and purposes.

To anticipate, we project actions and intent.

To intervene, we define leverage points for targeted action.

To influence, we determine nexus points for focused pressure.

Analysis

The passive approach is comprised of Analysis and Prediction. Analysis is achieved by first identifying independent story points and then determining which ones belong together in a single storyform.

Identifying Story Points 

In addition to cultural memes, story points can also be derived from the target group’s public and private communications, in news publications and vehicles of propaganda, in works of art (both authorized and spontaneous), in popular music and entertainment, in the allocation of resources, and in the movements and gatherings of individuals. In short, any data can directly or indirectly provide valid story points.

Identifying a Storyform

Once a collection of story points has been assembled, it must be determined which ones belong together in the same storyform. Each storyform represents a different state of mind, but there may be many states of mind in a single target group. These are not different mind sets of individuals, but different mind sets of the group itself:. And just as stories often have subplots or multiple stories in the same novel, target groups may have a number of different agendas, each with its own personality traits and outlook.

This can be illustrated with an example from everyday life: a single individual may respond as a banker at his job, a father and husband at home, a teammate in a league and a son when he visits his own parents. Similarly, a target group may have one storyform that best describes its relationship to its allies and another that describes its relationship to its enemies.

It is crucial to determine which storyform is to be analyzed so that an appropriate subset can be selected from all derived story points.

Results from Limited Data

The Story Engine at the heart of the Dramatica software cross-references the impact and influence of different kinds of story points as they interact with one another, both  for individual story pointsand for groups of story points.

Once the scope of the storyform is outlined, the software can actually determine additional story points within that closed system that had not been directly observed as part of the original data set. This creates a more detailed and complete picture of the situation under study than is evident from the limited data.

Spatial Data vs. Temporal Data

Unique to Dramatica’s software, the Story Engine is able to determine the kinds of events that must transpire and the order in which they will likely occur, based on the static picture of the situation provided by the complete storyform.

In stories, the order in which events occur determines their meaning. For example, a slap followed by a scream would have a different meaning that a scream followed by a slap. Similarly, if one understands the potentials at work in a storyform derived from story points pertaining to the target group, the Story Engine is capable of predicting what kinds of events will likely follow and in what order they will likely occur.

Conversely, if the originally observed data set includes sequential information, such as a timeline of a person’s travels or of the evolution of a sponsored program, the Story Engine can convert that temporal data into a fixed storyform that will indicate the motivations and purposes of the group that led them to engage in that sequence of events.

Prediction

The Dramatica theory and Story Engine (when properly used by experts) is able to translate the spatial layout of a situation into a temporal prediction of how things will unfold from that point forward.

Signposts and Journeys

The Dramatica storyform breaks events into Signposts and Journeys. These concepts are similar to the way one might look at a road and consider both the milestones and the progress being made along the path.

In stories, this data is described by Acts, Sequences, and Scenes, concepts which represent different magnitudes of time. Acts are the largest segments of a story, sequences one magnitude smaller, and scenes are even smaller dramatic movements.

Wheels within Wheels

It is commonplace to think of story events as simply being driven by cause and effect. A more accurate model may be roughly visualized as wheels within wheels, where a character sometimes may act in ways against its own best interest. For example, larger forces may have been brought to bear and might carry greater weight.

The outside pressures that are brought to bear on the target group build up these potentials as if one were winding a clock. In stories, this creates potentials that make each wheel (such as an act of a scene) operate as if it were a dramatic circuit.

Each story point within a given dramatic circuit is assigned a function as a Potential, Resistance, Current, or Power. Determining which of these functions is associated with each story point is essential to accurately predicting the nature and order of a target group’s future activities based on an understanding of the different magnitudes of motivation at work.

Closed Systems and Chaos

Storyforms are closed systems. They are snapshots of a moment in time in the mindset of a target group. But just as an individual or a character in a story is constantly influenced by outside events, new information, and the impact of others, so too is the target group. To the ordered world of a storyform, such outside influence is seen as chaotic interference.

The accuracy of a storyform analysis and its predictions has a short shelf life. The more volatile the environment in which the target group operates, the more quickly the accuracy of the storyform degrades.

Fortunately, storyforms can quickly incorporate new data to be updated in real time to give a constantly refreshed accuracy to the analysis.

In addition, just because a target group’s motivations and agenda is continually being altered by outside events does not mean the effects upon it are completely chaotic.

Some influences, such as an earthquake, an unexpected death, or a surprise attack are truly chaotic, while other influences only appear to be chaotic because they are not part of the closed storyform. Rather, they are part of a larger story.

Applying the concept of the fractal storyform, it is possible to create additional storyforms of both larger and smaller magnitudes to surround the target group so that it is seen not only by itself, but also as a player in a larger story or in terms of individual players within it. In this manner many events which previously appeared chaotic can be predicted and the accuracy of the target group storyform is enhanced.

Movie Frames

Another method for minimizing inaccuracy in prediction is to create a series of storyforms for the target group over a given period. These are then assembled in sequence, like frames in a movie, to determine the arc of change over time.

Truly chaotic events will largely cancel out, but ongoing influence from larger and smaller storyforms with their own individual agendas will create a predictable curve to the manner in which the target group’s storyform is changing, thereby allowing us to anticipate not only what the target group might do on its own, but what it is likely to do as the situation in which it operates continues to evolve.

Direct Intervention

In contrast to Passive methods, with Active methods we consider altering the actions and attitudes of a target group by either direct intervention or indirect influence.

Identifying a Problem

Once a storyform has been created and analysis and prediction have been employed, an assessment must be made to determine if the target group is currently of a mindset contrary to our interests and/or if it will be in the future.

Before a response can be developed, the specific nature of the problem must be fully defined. Again, the storyform and its component story points offer an accurate mechanism for determining the specific nature of the problem: the story point or story point arrangements that are in conflict with our interests.

Identifying a Solution

Some solutions simply require the alteration of a single story point to a different orientation within the storyform (corresponding to a slight shift in attitude, motivation, or actions by the target group). Often, once the specific nature of the problem is understood, a direct surgical impact on that story point may alter the direction of the story. Modifications to the storyform must be approached with caution, because a single small ill-advised move can sometimes do far more damage than the original problem. More complex problems may require replacing the current storyform with a completely different one.

“What If” Scenarios

Fortunately, Dramatica’s Story Engine allows for altering one or more story points to see the nature of the new storyform that will be created as a result. A large number of alternatives exist by simply altering a few story points, resulting in the ability to game out “what if” scenarios in real time to determine a wide variety of alternatives that would accomplish the same end.

Risk Analysis

By comparing the effectiveness, ramifications, and projected timelines of each alternative storyform solution, it is possible to create an effective risk analysis of each available option to ensure maximum impact with minimum risk.

These alternative storyforms can indicate the kinds of risks involved in each potential response to the problem, as well as the magnitude and likelihood of each risk.

Indirect Influence

Direct intervention may be inadvisable for any number of reasons. Also, if the problem with the target group is its overall attitude, the strength of its motivation, or its unity of purpose, any overt action might prove ineffective or even counter-productive, resulting in a response opposite to that intended.

In such cases, it may be more prudent to exert a gradual influence or series of influences over an extended time. Here again, Dramatica is able to provide tools to know when and for how long to apply specific kinds of visible and/or invisible influence to ultimately obtain the desired changes in the target group’s mindset.

Identifying Problem Qualities and Directions

At times, there may currently be no problem, but the storyform may reveal that, if left unaltered, the course of events will lead the target group into an undesired orientation. This allows for the allocation of our own resources in advance so that we might prevent the Target group from taking that particular course and opting instead for one more consistent with our interests.

Again, the first step is to create a storyform from available data and then determine the qualities of the target group’s story mind that are contrary to desired attributes.

Determining Desired Qualities and Directions

Once the problem qualities and/or directions have been defined, alternative storyforms can be created using “what if” scenarios and risk analysis to determine the best choice for a new storyform we would like to see in place.

This storyform may represent a new state of mind for the target group as a unit, or a different path that will take it through an alternative series of actions than it would otherwise instigate.

Context and the Larger Story

One method of manipulating a target group into a new outlook or attitude is through the subtle placement of the psychological equivalent of shaped charges. Rather that the direct impact of intervention, a number of small, seemingly unconnected exposures to information or manipulated environments can combine to create a single and powerful influence that will provide an immediate course correction to the undesired qualities and directions of the target group.

To effect such a subtle and undetectable influence is possible due to the depth and detail of the Story Engine’s ability to calculate the collective influence of many small magnitude story points on the overall storyform.

Movie Frames

Returning to the “movie frame” concept in a proactive, rather than analytical manner, it is possible to create a series of storyforms, each of which is slightly different that the previous one. As with individuals, the mind of a target group is more open to accepting small changes and establishing a new normal than to larger immediate changes which raise resistance.

Over time, subtle influences can follow a planned arc of change that leads the target to a new mindset, perhaps even diametrically opposed to its original viewpoint.

It is important to recognize that any long-term arc must be constantly updated and adjusted so that new influences are brought to bear to limit or leverage the impact of chaotic influence on the chosen alternative course.

Potential Future Implementations

Currently, the story engine requires manual operators versed in the Dramatica theory for processing and creating storyforms for purposes of Analysis, Prediction, Intervention, and Influence.

In the future, natural language processing can be coupled with the story engine’s operations to bring a degree of automation to the identification of story points using hub theory to locate them in large quantities of raw data.

Influence networks can be employed to determine which story points are likely to belong to the same storyform and to assemble them into alternative storyforms which may co-exist in the same raw data.

Employing a real-time version of Dramatica’s Story Engine could allow for real time analysis of ongoing data flow and indicate new storyforms as soon as they manifest in the mindsets of target groups, alerting operators when existing storyforms have dissolved or altered due to ongoing influences.

Natural language output can provide continuously updated options in time-crucial situations with a series of live “what if” scenario suggestions.

In Summary

The Dramatica Theory of Story and the software that implements the theory in an interactive story engine has, for the last seventeen years, successfully enabled accurate analysis and creation of story structures in motion pictures, novels, stage plays, and all forms of narrative communication.

By identifying the crucial story points in the mindsets of target groups of any size, the Story Engine is equally effective in analyzing and altering a target group’s current and future attitudes and behavior in the real world.

Written June 5, 2011 – Revised June 6, 2011 – Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips

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