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Concerns, Ranges and Problems
Domains and Beyond
As we have seen, each of these sixteen perspectives has a slightly different flavor as a
result of the particular point of view linked with a specific Class. This alone is a more
quantitative way to look at Theme than has previously been available, yet we still have
three more levels of the thematic structure to explore! Each level will have its own kind
of perspectives. For convenience, we call the thematic perspectives created at any level appreciations,
which simply means that is how we appreciate a problem at that level from that point of
Due to practical constraints on the size of this book, we won't be able to go into as much
detail for appreciations at the Type, Variation, and Element levels as we might like. What
we can do is provide a general description of the appreciations found in each
throughline. Once one gets a feel for how a throughline changes the meaning of a
structural item in general, one can apply that understanding to any item in the structure
and arrive at an accurate dramatic appreciation.
To recap, the Main Character Domain represents the audience point of view in a story. The
Obstacle Character Domain is the opposing point of view the audience is asked to consider.
The Subjective Story Domain contains the passionate argument between those two points of
view. The Objective Story Domain is the realm of the practical argument about the relative
value of all approaches that might be taken in regard to the story's central problem including
those of the Main and Obstacle Characters.
So, a Main Character Throughline explores what it looks like and feels like to
have a particular kind of problem (often seen as drive). The Obstacle Character
Throughline explores what kind of impact someone with that kind of problem (or drive) has
on the people and events around him. The Subjective Story Throughline determines which is
the better position to be in personally between Main and Obstacle, according to the
author. The Objective Story Throughline determines which is the better position to be in
for the benefit of everyone else.
Keeping these points of view in mind, let's see what other appreciations are created at
the Type, Variation, and Element levels.
Just as the combination of a throughline and a Class creates a Domain in which the problem
appears from that point of view, the combination of a throughline and a Type creates an
area of Concern. So, there will be an Objective Story Concern, a Main Character Concern,
an Obstacle Character Concern and a Subjective Story Concern in every complete story. As
its name implies, a Concern reflects the area in which the problem will be of greatest
concern for each throughline.
Objective Story Concern
The Objective Story Concern is the area in which all of the characters share a common
concern. This might be a single item they are all concerned about, or it might be that
each of them has a personal concern of this nature. For example, if the Objective Story
Concern was the Type "Obtaining", then all the characters would be concerned
with Obtaining something. In such a story, everyone might be trying to Obtain the same
thing, such as a buried treasure. In another story with an Objective Story Concern of
Obtaining everyone might be trying to Obtain something different. The Protagonist might
want to Obtain the treasure, but the Reason Character might want to Obtain a diploma. The
nature of the Concern is shared, not necessarily the specific manifestation of it.
Later, in the Plot and Encoding sections, we will touch on how one can pull these
different items of Obtaining together into the same story. In the example above, the
Protagonist could be a treasure hunter wanting to Obtain the treasure. The Reason
Character who wants to Obtain a diploma in archeology joins the Protagonist's team because
he seeks the quest for the treasure as the basis for his doctoral thesis. Tying items
together in this manner is not a structural aspect of story, but one of storytelling, and
is therefore beyond the scope of this section on The Elements of Structure.
Keep in mind that a Concern of Obtaining might also mean a Concern of getting rid
of something. Whether one wants to Obtain or wants to stop Obtaining does not change the
nature of the area of Concern. So, for this appreciation and all the following,
remember to consider it as either meaning not enough of something or too much of
Main Character Concern
As one would expect, the Main Character Concern is of interest only to the Main Character.
This appreciation describes the area in which the Main Character is most worried or
interested in regard to the way it sees the problem.
If Obtaining were the Main Character Concern, the Main Character alone would be trying to
get or get rid of (hold on to or refuse to hold on to) something. None of the other
characters would share this Concern because the other throughlines are all in other
Classes with different Types. This divergence is what gives a story some breadth and a
sense of completeness for an audience. Rather than focusing on just one issue, every point
of view regarding the story's problem falls into a different Domain with its own unique
Similarly, a Main Character with a Concern of Memory would be trying to remember, to
forget, to establish a memory, or to prevent one from forming.
Obstacle Character Concern
Because the Obstacle Character Throughline is looked at in terms of its impact, the
Concern here will be seen as the area in which the Obstacle Character has its greatest
effect. A way of phrasing this is to say that the Obstacle Character's impact primarily
Concerns this area. So, an Obstacle Character Concern of Obtaining here would describe an
Obstacle Character who changes what is or can be Obtained (or refused) because of his
impact on the people and events around him.
Subjective Story Concern
The Subjective Story Concern describes the area of greatest conflict or divergence between
the Main and Obstacle Characters. They might see eye-to-eye everywhere else, but when it
comes to the Subjective Story Concern, they always come to blows. It is the nature of the
way the thematic structure is created that the Concern of the Subjective Story Throughline
will seem to grow out of the Main and Obstacle Concerns.
If the Subjective Story Concern were Obtaining, the Main and Obstacle would argue over
whether or not they should have something. It might be something only one of them has or
can have (who should have it?) or it might be something they must either have together or
not at all.
Wrapping Up Our Concerns
As we have seen, matching a Type with a throughline creates a Concern. Each Concern
provides a deeper appreciation of a different side of the story's problem for the
Variations On A Theme
Moving down to the Variation level, we find appreciations that further refine the
understanding of the story's problem as it is seen from each throughline. Each of these is
called a Range for it describes the Range of subject matter that is
appropriately explored in regard to the Concerns in a given Domain. In a sense, the Range
might be thought of as the thematic topic for each throughline.
Objective Story Range
This appreciation describes the kind of value judgments that seem to pertain to all the
characters and events in a story. For example, a Range of Morality will have a dynamic
counterpoint of Self-Interest. This means the thematic conflict in the Objective Story
Throughline would be Morality vs. Self-Interest. Because Morality is the Range, it would
be in the forefront and appear as the topic or subject matter of the Objective Story
Because Morality is the Objective Story Range, it will appear almost everywhere. In
a hypothetical story, we might see a man taking candy from a baby, a headline proclaiming
that a company's profits are up, while behind the newsstand we see the company dumping
toxic waste in the background. Illustrations of the Objective Story Range can focus on the
characters or can act as a flavoring for the story as a whole. We shall explore this in
greater detail in the Encoding section.
Main Character Range
The Main Character Range (and its counterpoint) represent the thematic conflict of
personal interest to the Main Character. It will be seen in the kinds of things this
character notices which no one else does. Because it is so personal a value judgment, the
author can use this appreciation to whisper his point of view, rather than shouting it
overtly, as might happen with the Objective Story Range. Because it is so personal, the
Main Character Range helps bring humanity to the Main Character. It is through the issues
explored through the Range that the audience can identify not only with the Main
Character's head but his heart as well.
Obstacle Character Range
The Obstacle Character Range provides a way of evaluating the appropriateness of the
Obstacle Character's impact. The Obstacle Character Range and Counterpoint act as a
balance or scale against which the results of the Obstacle Character's point of view are
weighed. This is where an author can truly tip the balance as to which point of view the
audience comes to favor. Later we shall explore how that balance might be tipped back and
forth over the course of the story, making a more realistic and less heavy-handed
statement of the author's bias.
Subjective Story Range
The Subjective Story Concern describes the area of shared concern for the Main and
Obstacle Characters. The Subjective Story Range and Counterpoint describe why they come to
blows over it. The Main Character will believe the Subjective Story Range (or
counterpoint) is the value standard that should be used when looking at the Subjective
Story Concern. As a result, The Main Character will see the Concern in a particular light.
In contrast, the Obstacle Character will believe the other Variation (Range or
counterpoint) is the proper way to evaluate the Concern. Since this standard of measure
results in different conclusions about the Concern, the Main and Obstacle Characters come
into conflict. They use these two points as they argue over two issues: what should be
done about the Concern, and which is the best way to look at it.
Finally, we have arrived at the most basic and precise level of understanding in regard to
a story's problem: the Element level. It is here that the source of difficulties
experienced in each throughline can be found. The Objective Story Problem is something
that will affect all of the characters and all that they do.
In contrast, the Main Character's Problem will be the source of his drive. Ultimately, it
may turn out to be (or reflect) the Objective Story Problem, or have the potential to
solve the Objective Story Problem, if only the Main Character can bring himself to apply
The Obstacle Character Problem is the source of his drive as well, but rather than being
experienced by the audience as to what is driving them it will be examined from the
outside, "What is driving him or her."
Lastly, let's examine the Subjective Story Problem. Unlike the Problems in each of the
other throughlines, this one is not about an item, but a relationship - the relationship
between Main and Obstacle. What is at the heart of their disagreements? What is the most
essential issue from which all their conflict grows? The Subjective Story Problem
describes the most refined view of what drives (or pulls) the Main and Obstacle Characters
At this point we have defined all of the principal thematic perspectives in a story. We
have determined that any Problem might be understood in terms of its Class, Type,
Variation, and Element. We have further described that the story's central Problem itself
can never be seen directly, but will be approximated by exploring how it appears from four
different points of view. Each view will provide its own understanding of the nature of
the Problem's Class, Type, Variation, and Element. Each of these is called an
appreciation. When all the appreciations are considered together in the mind of the
audience, the author's bias on the issues at the heart of a story is established.
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Copyright 1996, Screenplay Systems, Inc.
The Dramatica theory was developed by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley
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About Dramatica and
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