Musings from Armando Saldaña
The Answer to All Your Troubles (Part 1)
This is a long E-mail, but I think it'll be worth it.
I've noticed two reccurent problems on Dramatica writers: 1) The
"I'm encoding the same scene/information over and over in all the throughlines"
syndrom. 2) The "I always fold a storyweaving" syndrom.
I know that well because I had those two problems myself. Here are
Let me show you the problem in vetro, let's say that I'm writing a
story about a deformed child who is neglected by his father, in which Young Jed (the
deformed child) is Protagonist and Main Character and Old Abraham is Contagonist and
Obstacle Character. Now here comes the problem, I used to encode things like: - OS
Signpost 3: Concious. "Abraham makes Jed conscious that he doesn't loves him" -
MC Signpost 3: Understanding. "Jed understands that Abraham doesn't loves him" -
OC Signpost 3: Being. "Abraham stops pretending that he loves Jed in order to make
him know so" - SS Signpost 3: Future. "Abraham and Jed now know that ther won't
be any love in their future"
Now, I went to storyweaving and only then I realiced that that was
the same darn* scene written four times!
Why did that happened? Because I started writing with some ideas
about the story and when I started encoding I only sticked to my original ideas, and
didn't create new ones to flesh my storyforming apreciations in a dramatic and interesting
Now here's the cure, step by step:
1. make a complete tale about each throughline. Go to the Reports
section, look at the Story Engine Settings report and look at each throughline Domain,
Concern and Problem. It looks like this: OS: Mind, Preconscious, Effect. MC: Physics,
Doing, Effect. OC: Psychology, Being, Result. SS: Universe, Progress, Accurate.
That is to say that your MC tale is about a character who is triying
to change a negative effect by doing something. And your OS tale is about some characters
that are fixed on the unthinking reactions somethings causes them and have problems with
the effect this causes. (NOTE: On the OS Throughline you'll have to define your Objective
Characters into a group. Go to the Story Info Window and look at the Period and Place
fields. Are your Objective Characters a community? A working group like a police force?
People find at random that shares the same fate, like in a Vonnegut novel? Your Objective
Character group definition could be as broad as America or as the Milky Way, but the more
precise, the better for you)
Going back to our example, Our OS tale could be encoded as "A
mid-america small town community that has problems in accepting a deformed boy because
they can't help the repulsive reaction his looks causes them" And our MC tale is
about "A deformed child that's triying to overcome the effect he causes on people
through an activity" let's give him something more "he has an incredible talent
to play the violin. His violin playing has an incredible effect om people that makes them
forget the boys physicallity" (NOTE: Even though the OS problem and the MC problem
are the same "Effect" try and encode them differently. One is a effect of
repulsion, the other is an effect of atraction. Do this every time you have the same
element in different apreciations) Our OC tale is about a "Stepfather who used to be
an alcoholic and after his only son was born deformed (let's give him more) and his wife
died in the delivery room, he became sobber. But since his quitting didn't fixed his boy
and didn't bring back his wife, (and he doesn't have the consollation of alcohol anymore)
the man blames himself for all the misfortune and isn't able to accept his son love."
Finally our SS tale is about "A father and son who isolate themselves from the
outside world, more and more each time, until the moment they became misfits, not acurate
enough to be sociable accepted, so they have to turn to each other"
Having worked on your throughline tales your apreciations have much
more room to grow, but still beware: the idea inertia can get you to encode apreciations
with the same ideas over and over. When this happens, go back and change them! think hard
"How can I make another use of "Understanding"? The boy can't understand?
He misunderstood the other character words? He tries to make everyone understand how it
And then, be creative! Don't be bullied by the software to beleive
that you must give an exact answer like if you're working with Microsoft Excel. You are
writing! and when encoding don't think on terms of black and white. My rule of tumb is
"The apreciation says "Understanding", if my encoding idea just feels like
"Understanding" (even if I didn't use the word "understand" anywhere)
I go for it!
So using all this**: - OS Signpost 3: Concious. "Jed decides to
give a public violin performance. He goes to the church with his violin without even
consulting the preacher. After the service, when the people is getting up he shouts 'Wait,
I wanna play for you!' and drags himself to the stand. Everyone lowers their sight. Jed
takes his violin but before playing a single note he hears a little girl saying ''why is
he so ugly, mommy, did he sinned a lot? Jed frozes. He takes down his violin and goes
home." - SS Signpost 3: Future. "Abraham is in his living room, he never goes to
church. Jed arrives home. His father looks at him coldly and says 'I heard you made a fool
of yourself today at church. Now you'll have to spend the sundays in here with me... just
what I needed' And goes into his room" - MC Signpost 3: Understanding. "Jed
doesn't wants to understand the comunity rejection, his father rejection. He tries to
scape the pain. Once more he goes into the attic to play his violin for 12 hours or more,
uninterrupted" - OC Signpost 3: Being. "Abraham hears the violin and gets
furious. He plans to go to the attic and shout the kid to shut up, but while going up the
stairs Jed's music works his magic. Abraham sighs and began to cry. Abraham reaches
something inside of him. He spends all night siiting in the hallway under the attic trap
door, hearing his son playing. Criying in silence"
Now, that works a lot better.
NOTES: Please forgive my horrible spelling and use of english. I
write all these e-mails in spanish and try to translate them the best I can.
* Forgive me for using the word "Darn" but I needed to
express my frustration of looking at an unuseable encoding.
** These type of encoding the plot progressions, to encode them as
events, opposed to the Exploration Areas Encoding described in the Storyguide book works
for me. You can encode your progressions as Exploration Areas if you like and still use
the Throughline Tales techniques described here. If you want more information on how I
weave the Event encoding progressions (and about weaving), I'll write about these in other
E- mail called "The answer to all your troubles-2"