Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged“
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica
Now that we’re familiar with some of the elements of structure with a nod toward storytelling techniques, it might be a good time to consider how we might create and maximize the meaning of our story for our readers or audience.
All meaning comes from perspective – putting things in context. 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 a story’s perspective that describes how your readers or audience will be positioned in regard to the issues you wish to explore.
The chart is divided into four different sections, each one representing a different kind of topic. The first section deals with stories about fixed situations, such as being stuck in a collapsed mine or struggling with a disability. The second area is for stories about activities like trying to win a race or the effort to discover a lost civilization. The third covers stories about fixed attitudes, mindsets, fixations or prejudices. And the final part deals with changing attitudes, manners of thinking, and emotional progressions such as slipping into a depression.
Each of these topic categories is called a “class” of topics, and each has a name. The area that covers situations is called the “Universe Class” because it centers on a fixed external state of things. The part dealing with activities is called the “Physics Class” because it is about external processes. The third section of topics is the “Mind Class” because it is about fixed internal states. The final realm is the “Psychology Class” since it focuses on internal processes.
Simply put, there are two external classes and two internal classes. Similarly, two of the classes deal with states and two with processes. As you can see, the Dramatica chart maps virtually every kind of consideration you might want to explore in a story, for there isn’t any story issue that doesn’t fall into a category as either an external or internal state or process.
But, what we wish to talk about in our story – what we are looking at – is only half of what creates the perspective that contains meaning. To complete the structure of our story we need to add points of view to the topics under consideration.
Just as there are four classes of topics, there are also four points of view. They are the Objective, Subjective, Main Character, and Obstacle Character. 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.
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 batter. 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 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.
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 Obstacle characters in the midst of the overall battle as seen by the general from the Objective view. In essence, the four points of view are equivalent to I, You, We and They – the four angles we have on ourselves and our fellow human beings. Main Character is “I” – our sense of self or identity in our own minds. Obstacle Character is “You” – perhaps the future “I” – another way for being we might become. Subjective is “We” – our examination of the relationship of our now and futures selves – the difference between who we are and who we might become. Objective is “They” – all the other aspects of ourselves that are not under pressure of possibly changing, represented by all the characters in our story other than Main and Obstacle.
Now that we have outlined the four topic categories and the four points of view, what remains is to combine them to create your story’s 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 angle and object is called a “Domain.” So, your story will have four Domains of perspective – the Objective Domain, Subjective Domain, Main Character Domain, and Obstacle Character Domain.
Within each domain we’ll need to dig deeper and to see in greater detail in order to uncover the true heart of your story’s problems. To this end, each domain is divided into smaller and smaller parts – wheels within wheels in the mechanics of your story’s structure. For example, in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, Scrooge is a “Mind Domain” character because he is driven by a fixed attitude of selfishness. The ghosts are “Universe Domain” character because they are stuck in a fixed situation – their own ethereal condition that cannot directly effect the world of men.
One magnitude of detail deeper in the Dramatica chart we find that the overall Class of Universe is sub-divided into four smaller aspects: Past, Present, Future, and Progress. And how appropriate (or predictive) that the ghosts of “A Christmas Carol” are Past, Present, and Future. And what about “Progress”? Why it is the ghost of Marley who argues to Scrooge that he forges his chain link by link, extending it day by day with every selfish act. His message is one of
Progress which is why it makes the collective argument of all four ghosts feel complete.
In conclusion, one must establish perspective in order to create meaning and therefore message. The Dramatica chart provides a map of topic categories to which we can apply the four essential points of view and thereby full develop our story perspectives.
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