Essential Perspectives in Your Story’s Structure

All meaning comes from perspective – putting things in context. And perspective is created by the combination of what you are looking at and where you are looking from. Change the object of your intention and perspective is altered. Shift your point of view and perspective shifts as well.

The Dramatica Story Structure Chart is a map of what you might wish to explore (look at) in a story.  When you pick your topics and add points of view you have determined how your readers or audience will be positioned in regard to the issues you wish to explore, which is the essence of story structure

The Dramatica chart is divided into four different sections, each one representing a different kind of topic.

SITUATIONS:  The first section deals with stories about fixed situations, such as being stuck in a collapsed mine or struggling with a disability.

ACTIVITIES:  The second area is for stories about activities like trying to win a race or the effort to discover a lost civilization.

ATTITUDES:  The third covers stories about fixed attitudes, mindsets, fixations or prejudices.

MANIPULATION:  The final section deals with changing attitudes, manners of thinking, and emotional progressions such as slipping into a depression.

 

To create meaning in our story we need to add points of view to the topics under consideration.

Just as there are four kinds of topics, there are also four points of view from which to see them.  They are the Objective View,  the Subjective View, the Main Character View, and the Influence Character View.

THE OBJECTIVE VIEW:  The Objective view explores your story’s topics as would a general on a hill watching a battle in the valley down below. Though he cares about the conflict below him, he is not directly participating and also sees a bird’s eye view of the broad strategies involved. Essentially, the Objective view encompasses the “Big Picture” of the grand schemes in your story – from the outside looking in.

THE MAIN CHARACTER VIEW:  But what about the personal view – what things look like from the inside looking out. For that, we have to imagine that we zoom down from the hill into the shoes of one of the soldiers on the field of battle. We experience what he experiences, we feel what he feels, we see things through his eyes. This is the most personal point of view in a story, and it is that of the Main Character – the character with home the reader/audience most identifies – the one whom the passion of the story seems to be about or to revolve around.

THE INFLUENCE CHARACTER VIEW:  The third point of view is from the inside looking in – much like one soldier encountering another in the midst of all the dramatic explosions. This represents the way we all look within ourselves to consider our options, other outlooks we might adopt, whether or not we should change our point of view. So this is the view of the Main Character looking at the Obstacle Character – representing that alternative paradigm we might change to embrace.

THE SUBJECTIVE VIEW:  Finally, there is the Subjective view of the argument we make with ourselves about the pros and cons of sticking to our guns or changing our minds. This is represented by the personal skirmish between the Main and Influence charactersin the midst of the overall battle as seen by the general from the Objective view.

In essence, these four points of view are equivalent to I, You, We and They.

The Main Character is “I” – our sense of self or identity in our own minds.

The Influence Character is “You” – perhaps our future “I” – another way of being we might adopt.

The Subjective Story is about “We” – our examination of the relationship between our now and futures selves – the difference between who we are and who we might become.

The Objective Story is “They” representing all the other aspects of ourselves that aren’t being pressured to possibly change.  This is the realm of the archetypal characters.

Having outlined the four topic categories and the four points of view, what remains is to combine them together to create your story’s structural perspectives. In fact, all four topic categories must be explored in your story for it to feel complete. What sets one story apart from another begins by the author’s decision as to which point of view will be used to explore which topic category.

When the points of view are matched to a corresponding topic realm, four principal perspectives are created for your story. And each perspective is a different angle on the truth at the heart of your story – a different approach to discovering and solving the problem issue that creates all the difficulties in your story.

This match of point of view and topic area of interest is called a “Domain.” So, since the four points of view are matched up with the four topic areas, your story will have four Domains of perspective – the Objective Domain, Subjective Domain, Main Character Domain, and Influence Character Domain.

To fully develop your story, you’ll need to dig deep into each domain to see in greater detail the true heart of your story’s problems. This means that each point of view looks deeper and deeper into sub-topics within the overall topic over the course of the story.

To facilitate this, each domain in the chart is divided into smaller and smaller parts – squares  within squares so they are balanced evenly within the mechanics of your story’s structure.

As an example, in the Dramatica chart we find that the overall area of Situation is sub-divided into four smaller aspects: Past, Present, Future, and Progress, while the area of Activities is divided into Learning, Understanding, Doing, and Obtaining.

Each of these areas requires a little study to really understand how to use the chart to explore your subject areas in a way that creates the kind of impact you wish to have on your readers or audience.

Summing up, for a story to having meaning and to build a message, we must include all four of the topic areas and all four points of view to fully develop the four essential perspectives of story structure.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creatorDramatica

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The Cardinal Rule of Storytelling

You probably know someone who can take a bad joke and tell it so well that you are rolling on the floor. And you probably know someone who can’t tell a joke to save their life, even if the joke itself is hilarious.

If you start with a joke that just isn’t funny, even the best delivery in the world won’t improve the humor of the punch line, but getting there may have been a hoot. Conversely, if the joke is outstanding, a terrible delivery will rob the experience of its levity even though you still see what was supposed to be funny.

Stories work the same way. Even a perfect structure will lay there dead if poorly told. But a good storyteller will keep a reader/audience riveted, even if they clearly see how flawed the structure really is.

Point being, structure is not the Story God. It is a means to an end. It is far better to break structure and go with your Muse than to shackle yourself to the nuts and bolts of story mechanics at the expense of inspired storytelling.

Naturally, the best stories are those that have sound structure and passionate storytelling. But if you find the two diverge, it is always better to err to the side of passion.

Remember the cardinal rule of storytelling – Never bore your audience.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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A Story’s Four Essential Throughlines

Imagine a story’s structure as a war and the Main Character as a soldier making his way across the field of battle. Suddenly, through the smoke of dramatic explosions he spies a murky figure standing right in his path. In this fog of war, the Main Character cannot tell if this other soldier is a friend or foe. Either way, he is blocking the road.

As the Main Character approaches, this other soldier starts waving his arms and shouts, “Change course – get off this road!” Convinced he is on the best path, the Main Character yells back, “Get out of my way!” Again the figure shouts, “Change course!” Again the Main Character replies, “Let me pass!”

The Main Character has no way of knowing if his opposite is a comrade trying to prevent him from walking into a mine field or an enemy combatant trying to lure him into an ambush. And so, he continues on, following the plan that still seems best to him.

Eventually, the two soldiers meet, and when they do it becomes a moment of truth in which one will win out. Either the Main Character will alter course or his steadfastness will cause the other soldier to step aside.

This other soldier is called the Obstacle (and sometimes Influence or Impact) character. He represents that “devil’s advocate” voice we all have in ourselves that makes us consider changing our ways.

In our own minds we are often confronted by issues that question our approach, attitude, or the value of our hard-gained experience. But we don’t simply adopt a new point of view when our old methods have served us so well for so long. Rather, we consider how things might go if we adopted this new system of thinking.

We look at it, examine it from all sides and ask ourselves, how would my life, my self-image, my identity be if I were to become that kind of person by giving up my old views in favor of this new, unproven one that is only potentially better?

It is a long hard thing within us to reach a point of change, and so too is it a difficult feat in a Story Mind. In fact, it take the whole story to reach a climax in which all the research has been done that can be done. And even then, both sides of the argument are so well balanced that the Main Character cannot see a definite edge to either.

This crucial moment leads to those weighty decisions where Main Characters step off the cliff into the darkness, hoping they’ve made the right choice – the classic “Leap of Faith.”

Of course, not all decisions are that cataclysmic. And as we shall see, there are many other ways the differences between Main Character and Obstacle Character points of view can resolve. But for now, it suffices to acknowledge that a Story Mind that did not include and Objective view, a Main Character view, and an Obstacle Character view could not possibly feel like our own minds in real life as we seek to make the best choices based on our best information.

Many novice authors fashion only the first two points of view, believing that a general epic story and a personal view through the eyes of one of the characters is enough. More experienced authors recognize the need to show an alternative approach to that of the Main Character, and include the Obstacle Character as well. But a surprisingly small percentage of authors ever realize that a fourth perspective is necessary or a story will feel incomplete.

What is that final view point? It is the personal argument between the Main Character and the Obstacle Character as they approach each other: their own private skirmish right in the midst of the overall battle.

Movies like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” have an overall Objective story, a Main Character with a problem, and an Obstacle Character who has a different point of view about the propriety or validity of the Main Character’s approach or attitude. But even with all that, it is lacking one crucial thing – the interaction between Main and Obstacle as the duke it out philosophically.

In “Nightmare,” Jack Skellington believes he can be something beyond his nature and resolves to try. His girlfriend states that he should be happy with who he actually is, and not to try and be something that really isn’t him.

Jack will have none of it, and sets plans in motion that cause all the problems of the story. In the end, he realizes she was right and resolves from now on to be the best of what he truly is.

But the problem is that they never discussed these differing philosophies. They simply stated their opposite beliefs and in the end, Jack changes course and she remains on the road where she started.

Though there is a message, without the give and take between the Main and Obstacle, we the audience are given no information on how to achieve that change of heart within ourselves. So the message is simply acknowledged as being noble, but it isn’t personalized or taken to heart.

This fourth point of view is called the Subjective Story. It is the perspective of the battle over philosophies that explores the value of each belief system fully and completely, testing one against the other, pitting them against each other in all contexts. Only if this is seen in the Story Mind does the audience become convinced that the message is of real value to them.

So, these four throughlines – Objective, Main, Obstacle, and Subjective are all required for a story structure to feel complete. They likely seem pretty strange and unfamiliar in contrast to your usual way of approaching stories.

Fortunately, there is a much simpler way to think about these throughlines. The Main Character represents the “first person” perspective: “I”. He looks at the Obstacle Character’s philosophy and sees that character as “You.” He considers the personal skirmish between himself and the Obstacle character as defining “We,” and the view from the hill of the whole durn thing looks at “They.”

I, You, We, and They – the simpler, more familiar equivalents of Main Character, Obstacle Character, Subjective Story, and Objective Story. They are the four points of view we have in real life, and they must be represented in stories if they are to successfully press home their messages to the audiences.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica
Creator StoryWeaver

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Mentors, Guardians, Obstacles & Star Wars

Here’s an unusual situation where both Chris and myself independently answered the same question from a writer. Comparing our two replies is both interesting and also sheds light on two different ways of looking at the same central story structure concept.

A writer asks, regarding the original Star Wars movie (Episode IV):

In your book, Dramatica, you have Obi Wan as the obstacle character. This is counter-intuitive. In every other story methodology, Obi Wan is the mentor, and Dark Vader is the opponent. Darth Vader directly opposes Luke.

Please explain.

Chris Huntley’s reply:

Most every other story methodology does not identify the four throughlines and their significance.

In the “big picture,” the empire is at war with the rebels. The constant warring between the factions causes trouble for everyone. In that throughline, the empire, led by Gran Mof Tarkin, is shown to be the “bad guys,” the rebels are the “good guys,” the farmboy from Tatooine is the hero driving the story forward, the retired Jedi master is the guardian (mentor), and the emperor’s henchman is the one that seems to mess up everyone’s agenda. This throughline is the logical part of the author’s position.

Luke, as the Main Character, is someone who dreams of being a do-gooder, or saving the day, etc., yet he is stuck on a planet as far from the core (and action, he thinks) as is possible. He has Jedi blood, unbeknownst to him, which gives him skills and powers beyond his years. It is raw talent that needs training and focusing. He tests himself by putting himself in dangerous positions, which turn out to be far more dangerous than he can handle (e.g. the Tuskan Raiders, Breaking Leia out of the cell block, etc.). This throughline provides the personal side for the audience to empathize and step into the story.

Obi-wan is Impact Character. He is Luke’s trainer, not only in the use of the Force but in learning to believe in himself — to trust himself…to trust the Force. This throughline provides the influence needed to force Luke to grow.

The relationship throughline is about the Mentor/Student relationship that develops between Ben and Luke. This throughline is the emotional center of the author’s position.

NOTE: In Star Wars (1977), Darth Vader does not directly oppose Luke. In fact, the two only have one somewhat direct confrontation at the end of the story in the trench on the Death Star. In subsequent films, the two come into direct confrontation, but that is, as they say, another story.

Best regards,
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers Inc.

My reply:

The Obstacle Character, by definition, is the one who stands in the path of the Main Character approaching life in his same old usual way. He is an obstacle to staying in a mental rut. It is the Obstacle Character who constantly pressures the Main Character to change his ways, to alter his manner of thinking or of doing things. Clearly that is Obi Wan, not Vader.

Now, while Obi Wan may traditionally be labeled a “mentor”, that label doesn’t work for every Obstacle Character. For example, an Obstacle Character may not like, care about, or even be aware of the Main Character. It could be a rock star whom the Main Character will never meet. But, by following the disintegrating life of the drug-using rock star in the tabloids, the Main Character comes to realize that he must change his ways and does, perhaps. Therefore, this character has been an obstacle to the Main Character continuing down the same path – his original life course, but he would hardly be seen as a stereotypical “mentor”, which is far too limiting a label.

Further, in the original Star Wars movie, “Episode IV – A New Hope” (to which I believe you are referring) Darth does not directly oppose Luke. Darth opposes everyone. He chokes his own people. It is he who comes up with the plan to release the Millennium Falcon with a tracking beacon which ultimately leads to the rebels getting the plans that destroy the death star (“This had better work, Vader….”).

Darth is a character we call the Contagonist – a name we coined to describe this character who is not the head villain (the Emperor as represented by the Gran Mof Tarkin and all his storm troopers is the real villain of Star Wars, as we see even more definitively in the prequels. Darth, in fact, is diametrically opposed to his old master, Obi Wan. That is why the two of them must battle one on one.

Now, this is not to say that Darth is the opposite of Obi Wan’s function as Obstacle Character. There are two kinds of characters in stories: Objective Characters who are seen by their function, such as Antagonist and Protagonist, and two special Subjective Characters who are seen by their points of view, such as Main Character and Obstacle Character. Luke and Obi Wan (and any Main and Obstacle Characters would) have two different perspectives on life, and it is the heart of the story to see if the Main Character will or will not be convinced to adopt the Obstacle Character’s view.

This is what leads to the leap of faith or moment of truth for the Main Character. In Luke’s case, Obi has been on his case for the entire movie to reach out and touch the force, to trust himself and his abilities, even so far as to put him in a helmet with the blast shield down during training so Luke could only rely on his own feelings. That is why just before Luke destroys the death star, he is using the targeting computer and Obi’s voice returns to remind him, trust your feelings, Luke. Luke finally let’s go, trusts in himself and turns off the computer, much to the dismay of the command center. And yet, it is that decision, driven by a story-long pressure from Obi Wan as the Obstacle Character, that brings him to that necessary step if he is to ultimately succeed. (Imagine how unfulfilling it would be if he turned off the computer and as a result failed to destroy the death star, or if that scene had not been even included with Obi Wan’s voice – the ending, though a success, would have lacked something that helped make it so fulfilling).

But, that is only Obi’s subjective character role. Obi Wan also has an objective character role – the Guardian (comprised of Support and Conscience and more). The Guardian is an archetype, meaning it is actually made up of a number of different character attributes that all share a similar flavor, just as in chemistry all the elements naturally fall in to families, such as the rare earth elements or the noble gases. That’s why chlorine and fluorine are so similar, for example.

When all the elements from one family end up in the same character, it is an archetype. So, the opposite of the Guardian is the Contagonist (made up of Oppose and Temptation, among others). By “nature” he opposes everyone, not just Luke. But, his function to oppose is in DIRECT conflict with Obi Wan’s nature to support. Similarly, Darth’s “Temptation” (of the dark side) is balanced and diametrically in conflict with Obi’s “Conscience” (to follow the force).

So, while Luke in the plot must get past Darth who, like many implementations of the Contagonist archetype, is essentially the empires guard dog, it is Obi who opposes Luke’s desire to be part of the system with all its tech toys and weapons and convinces him to trust his own inner abilities.

Of course, there is far more going on in Star Wars than this simple exploration. And, each of these concepts appears in different ways in different stories. But, this should at least outline for you the purpose of the Obstacle Character (also called the Impact or Influence Character) and why Darth, though dressed in black, is not the real villain of Star Wars, just the henchman of the villain.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

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Storytelling and Cognitive Modeling

Recently, an associate suggested a tie-in between cognitive modeling of cultural storytelling preferences and Dramatica that might, someday, provide guidelines for “writing the next Star Wars.”

This, for me, opened the whole discussion regarding the relationship between story structure and storytelling – specifically in this case, between our Dramatica theory of narrative and cognitive modeling of audience reactions to stories.

Here is my reply to my associate:

To me, it is important to think of stories as having layers:

The first layer is the structure

The second layer is the subject matter

The third layer is the storytelling style

The fourth layer is the target audience, which will be pre-primed with its own expectations.

In Dramatica theory, Chris and I have named these stages:

1.  Storyforming

2.  Story Encoding

3.  Story Weaving

4.  Story Reception.

Returning to my earlier analogy where I referred to the Dramatica model as the DNA of story structure, these stages have the following correlation:

1.  Species Genome (human, house cat)

2.  Individual Genetics (height, hair color, predilection toward specific diseases.

3.  Clothing, body building, style, and presentation

4.  Surrounding culture, societal norms and expectations, etc.

In terms of characters:

1.  Psychology (The underlying functioning of the mind below the conscious mind – i.e. neuroses, biases)

2.  Personality (The true nature of one’s identity – charismatic, timid, natural leader, joker)

3.  Persona (The image we wish to project to others – i.e. appearing confident, though really fearful)

4.  Presentation or Perception (How the persona is tailored to a particular audience and/or how the audience is pre-loaded to perceive the persona).

Dramatica theory and the story engine function only at the first of these stages – creating a map of the dramatic potentials of a story or a character – the psychology of the story mind or the character mind.

Chris and I have written extensively on the other three in order to provide a means of connecting the raw framework of narrative psychology to the finished product of stories as they are presented to an audience.

And it is in this realm that the suggestions made in your note might be extremely useful.

What makes Dramatica unique is that all previous attempts to understand story structure looked at the way people were dressed and trying to determine from it the underlying psychology.  While there can be some generalized correlation between, for example, people who wear red and a given neurosis, Dramatica can map the psychology directly.

Yet that map is sterile and bears no passion with it.

And so, while essential for creating a sound foundation that is a true functional narrative, Dramatica can never provide all the emotive aspects that make stories (and characters) so attractive.

Conversely, while work on cognitive models of story reception can be extremely useful in establishing guidelines for storytelling, such guidelines will always shift as the culture changes and need to be updated regularly.  Attempts to find absolutes through cognitive modeling can never discover the underlying DNA of character any more than we can determine a person’s individual genome from their wardrobe.

The key to developing a fully connective methodology for “writing the next Star Wars” is to build a bridge between Dramatica and cognitive modeling from the other side of the storytelling/structure divide so that both the underlying psychological functioning of a story and the cultural/societal preferences for substance and style are maximized to create a finished work that is both accurate to human nature and responsive to human desire.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

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The StoryWeaver Method – Step 1

The StoryWeaver Method is a step by step approach to developing your novel or screenplay.

StoryWeaver will help you create your story’s world, who’s in it, what happens to them, and what it all means.

The StoryWeaver Method ~ Step 1

The Four Stages of Story Development

There are four stages to StoryWeaver’s story creation path:

1.  Inspiration

2.  Development

3.  Exposition

4.  Storytelling

In the Inspiration section, Storyweaver will help you come up with ideas for your Plot, Characters, Theme, and Genre.

In Development, you’ll flesh-out these ideas, adding details and making all the bits and pieces work together in harmony.

Exposition will help you determine how to reveal your story to your readers or audience, story point by story point.

The Storytelling stage is where you will develop a sequential plan for how your story should unfold, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, event by event.

By the end of the path, you’ll have a completed story, fully developed, expertly told.

In the next step, StoryWeaver will lay the groundwork for finding and expanding the initial inspiration for your story.


The StoryWeaver method is based on our

StoryWeaver Story Development Software

Just $29.95 ~ Try it for 90 Days Risk Free

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Enough Theory! How Does Dramatica Work on REAL Stories?!

From a Dramaticapedia reader:

Your blogs seem to be always in the abstract. Let’s see something about a successful story in the real world.    I would love to see a Dramatica setup for real stories that have been successful.

My reply:

Here’s a link to more than 70 complete analyses of novels, movies, stage plays, and television programs:

http://dramatica.com/analysis/comprehensive

Now here’s a link to almost 200 additional “raw” storyforms (just the 80+ Story Engine settings) for a number of popular stories in various media:

http://dramatica.com/analysis

Here’s another link to an ongoing series of podcasts, each analyzing a different story in various media:

http://dramatica.com/audio

And finally, here’s a link to some analysis videos as well:

http://dramatica.com/video

As for my posts being abstract, yep, you’re right – I’m the abstract one. Chris, the other co-creator of Dramatica is the more practical-minded of the two of us. (All the above links come from his company’s web site, which is far more focused on application.)

The way we work is, I advance the edges of the theory and he figures out how to put it to work. When he turns one of my concepts into something tangible, I used that as a platform to reach for the next concept. That is why we have worked so well together for over 20 years, and why Dramatica has become both so extensive in theory and useful as well.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Posted in Dramatica Software | Comments Off on Enough Theory! How Does Dramatica Work on REAL Stories?!

Does Dramatica Edit Your Story For You?

A writer asks:

Does Dramatica software edit and give better solutions for certain parts of a story as an editor may do?

My reply:

Dramatica doesn’t read or process what you write in it. Rather, it asks a series of multiple-choice questions about your dramatic intent. As you answer them, Dramatica’s interactive Story Engine cross-references the dramatic impact of your answers to start building the underlying logistic structure of your story. The more choices you make, the more options are ruled out because of the combined influence of what you’ve already chosen. Eventually, you answer enough questions for Dramatica to go ahead and finish the rest of the structure for you.

This structure is called a Storyform, and it is essentially a map of all your story points and how they relate together in your story. But, this is just the basic bare-bones structural points – it doesn’t include your subject matter or any of your storytelling style. For example, every story has a goal. As a result of your answers, Dramatica may determine that the goal in your story is about Obtaining something. For another story you might develop, the goal might turn out to be Becoming a different kind of person. Clearly those are two different kinds of goals, and each one would be the dramatically sound goal for each particular story.

But, if your goal were Obtaining, Dramatica won’t tell you what is to be obtained. Or, if you have a goal of Becoming, it won’t tell you what kind of person the character is trying to become. That part is up to you. But if you know your goal is Obtaining and NOT becoming, then you understand that underlying structural story point and then need to fill it in with your own subject matter.

You can answer the questions about something you’ve already written, or something you are going to write. Either way, Dramatica will provide that kind of help for over eighty different story points from the Main Character’s personal problem to the overall concern that everyone is worried about in the story at large. Armed with this information, you have a sound dramatic framework from which to write.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator StoryWeaver
Co-creator Dramatica

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The DNA of Story Structure

Narrative structure has, at its core, a code not unlike that of DNA.

We first documented a model of this DNA of story in our 1994 book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story, concurrent with the release of our Dramatica software, which implemented the model as a patented interactive story engine that enabled writers to design the genome of their stories’ narratives.

Today, more than twenty years later, there is still much confusion as exactly what Dramatica is, though the model has been successfully used by more than 100,000 writers around the world, on best selling novels, on motion pictures with billions of dollars of collective box office, and most recently by the CIA and the NSA in applying narrative structure to understand and anticipate the actions of terrorist groups and lone wolves.

To help clarify the nature of the Dramatica model, I’ve prepared the following short list of points that may provide a framework from which to appreciate what Dramatica really is:

First, think of the Dramatica model as the DNA of story.

This is not a loose analogy.

In organic genetics, the model of DNA is not a specific genome but a description of how genomes can be formed.

The model of DNA is (in part) defined by having four bases and a double-helix assembly. And this is the level at which the Dramatica model functions as well.

Dramatica is the DNA of narrative structure. It is a quad-helix arrangement with four bases. It describes how narratives can be formed.

From it, you can build specific narrative genomes for species of stories, just as you can create a human genome or one for a cat.

The model of DNA does not change in the case of a human or cat genome just as the model of Dramatica does not change in the case of any given storyform.

Dramatica is not a specific narrative structure – it is a model of DNA from which specific narrative structure are created.

Just as a specific genome holds the instructions for building a particular creature, so too, a specific storyform holds the instructions for building a particular narrative.

In biology, DNA is not weighted. There is no greater tendency for DNA to create a particular genome over another.  That is the job of evolution.

Similarly in story, Dramatica is not weighted. There is no greater tendency for Dramatica to create a particular narrative over another.

However, in biology, there is great genetic variance within, for example, the human genome. So, while we can easily identify a species by its DNA, the genetic variance leads to differences in height, weight, bone structure, hair color, and even unseen attributes such as tendencies toward certain diseases.

In species, genes are specific expressions of their common genome, which creates variance among individuals within a species.

In stories, the subject matter and storytelling style are specific expressions of a common narrative, which creates variance among individual stories told from the same storyform.

And so, systems that seek to understand narrative by finding common traits among finished stories is like trying to understand genetics by finding common traits among all animals.

In 1991, we began our three-year exploration into the nature of narrative structure, eventually having a “Eureka!” moment in which we realized that while each character has a full complement of human mental traits, in the story at large, they each function as but a single facet of an overall mind, the mind of the story itself – a story mind.

This occurs in narrative because it occurs in real life, and narrative is our attempt to map out and find meaning in understanding ourselves and our interrelationships with others.

In real life, we each possess the same basic traits such as Reason, Emotion, and Skepticism.  And we use all of them to try and parse our problems and discover solutions.

When we gather together in groups toward a common purpose, we quickly self-organize to become specialists, so one person emerges as the Voice of Reason for the group, and another as the group’s resident Skeptic.  This provides the group with much greater depth and detail as it explores its issues than if all the members of the group remained as general practitioners, trying to cover all the bases to a lesser depth as we do for our own individual problems.

So, the group organization becomes a map of how individuals interact in society, and the specialties within the group define the traits within us as individuals, and illustrate how those mental processes interact within our own minds.

This is why in stories characters must do double duty.  As individuals when working on their own issues, they are general practitioners, and as members of a group, they are specialists.  It is these specialist roles from which character archetypes are derived.

Armed with this new manner of assessing narrative structure, we spent years searching for a model that explained it, ultimately discovering the mechanism of the narrative mind and publishing our theory and model.

Hopefully, this short introduction to the nature of Dramatica will provide some corners to the jig-saw puzzle of cognitive science.

Click here for more information about the Dramatica theory and its ramifications.

Melanie Anne Philips
Creator StoryWeaver
Co-creator, Dramatica

Posted in Narrative Science | Comments Off on The DNA of Story Structure

How to Motivate Your Main Character

You know, my partner Chris Huntley oft has said that the best way to rob a main character of motivation is to give him what he wants.  If you fill his need, he has no reason to go off and try to do anything.  Conversely, if you want to motivate a main character, take away something he wants.  Steal his jewels, rip his heart out, put the love his life in danger, violate his morality, end his way of life.  You pick it – you are the Author/God and the actions of your main character are pre-destined by the angst you give him.

Suppose you have a main character who’s problem is that he doesn’t want anything, doesn’t care about anything, and hasn’t had anything taken from him that he really cares about.  This happens to authors far more often than you might imagine.  So how to you solve this problem and get your main character moving?

All you need is one thing – one person or place or way of life that got under his skin, and somebody up and violated it.  And now, though he is still just as cynical and jaded about everything else, he is in a blood rage because of that one thing and will go to the ends of the earth (or beyond, in some cases) to satisfy his lust for revenge or to try and save that which he holds so dear.

For example, Keanu Reeves as John Wick (great movie, by the way) is a retired assassin.  His wife who drew him out of the business dies of natural causes.  Before she died, she ordered a puppy to be sent to him after her death to remind him of her and give him something to love.  And this incredible killing machine of a man, remains retired, and learns to love more deeply – until the son of a Russian Mob big wig kills his dog for the fun of it.  In the end, everybody dies except for Wick who is now back in business.

The options are endless.  Just pick one that is meaningful to you.  Choose a loss or a threat to something loved by your main character that matches one for yourself, and you’ll find you have no trouble conveying why he is motivated to do whatever you want him to do.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator StoryWeaver
Co-creator Dramatica

I do personalized story coaching.

Click here for details…

Posted in Characters | Comments Off on How to Motivate Your Main Character