A step by
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powerful story structuring software available, Dramatica is driven by a
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advanced screenwriting software available, Movie Magic is deemed a
"preferred file format" by the Writer's Guild. An industry
standard, MMS is used by professionals and studios around the world.
index cards - Name them, add notes, titles, colors, click and drag to
re-arrange, adjust font, save, export and print. An essential tool for
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The Art of Storytelling
Introduction to Storytelling
All complete stories exhibit two principal aspects: an underlying dramatic structure
which contains the story's inherent meaning and a secondary meaning which is created by
the manner in which that structure is presented in words and symbols. In practice, neither
aspect of story can exist without the other, for a structure which has not been made
tangible in some form cannot be communicated and similarly no mode of expression can be
created without something to express.
The first half of this book explored The Elements Of Structure. Its purpose was to define
the essential components that occur in the dramatic structure of all complete stories.
These components fell into four principal categories: Character, Theme, Plot, and Genre.
This half of the book explores The Art Of Storytelling, which documents the process of
conceptualizing and conveying a story. This process passes through four distinct stages:
Storyforming, Storyencoding, Storyweaving, and Reception.
An author might begin either with Structure or Storytelling, depending upon his personal
interests and/or style. If you come to a concept that is unfamiliar or unclear, you may
wish to use the index to reference that topic in The Elements Of Structure or to take
advantage of the extensive appendices at the back of the book.
The Four Stages of Communication
There are four stages of communication that stand between an author and an audience
when a story is related. Stage one is Storyforming, in which the arrangement and sequence
of dramatic appreciations are determined. Stage two is Encoding where the Storyform
appreciations are translated into topics and events that symbolize the essential dramatic
concepts in terms the author anticipates will have meaning to an audience. Stage three is
Storyweaving, where all the independent illustrations are woven together into a
synthesized whole that is the story as it will be presented to an audience. Stage four is
Reception in which the audience assigns meaning to what they observe the work to be,
hopefully decoding the intent of the author with some degree of accuracy.
The Four Stages of Communication
In bringing a story to an audience, through any media, there are four distinct stages
of communication through which the story will pass. When an author is developing a
story or looking for ways in which to improve it, a good idea is always to evaluate how
the story is working at each of these stages individually. Problems can exist in any
single stage or bridge across into many. Seeing where the problem lies is half the work of
The Four Stages are:
Stage 1: Storyforming -- at which point the structural design and dynamic settings of
an idea are conceived. This is where the original meaning of the story is born, the
meaning which the author wants to communicate.
Stage 2: Storyencoding -- where the symbols with which the author will work are
chosen. Stories are presented through characters, setting, and other particulars which are
meant to symbolize the meaning of the story. No symbols are inherently part of any
Storyform, so the choices of how a particular Storyform will be Storyencoded
must be considered carefully.
Stage 3: Storyweaving -- where the author selects an order and emphasis to use in
presenting his encoded story to his audience in the final work. The way in which to
deliver a story to an audience, piece by piece, involves decisions about what to present
first, second, and last. The potential strategies are countless: you may start with the
beginning, as in Star Wars, or you my start with the end, as in Remains of the
Day, or with some combination, as in The Usual Suspects. What you most want the
audience to be thinking about will guide your decisions in this stage, because choices
made here have the most effect on the experience of receiving the story as an audience
Stage 4: Reception -- where the audience takes over, interpreting the symbols
they've received and making meaning of the story. The audience is a very active
participant in its relationship with a story. It has preconceptions which affect how it
will see anything you put in front of it. The audience is presented with a finished,
Storywoven work and hopes to be able to be able to interpret the work's symbols and
decipher the Storyforming intent of the authors behind the work. The accuracy with which
this is accomplished has a lot to do with how the story was developed in the other three
stages of communication.
There are many ways to play with any one of these stages and many reasons for doing so. It
all depends on what impact the author wants to make with his work.
Genre, Plot, Theme, and Character
In each of the four stages of story communication, authors have recognized four aspects
of storytelling at work: Genre, Plot, Theme and Character. In other words, first there
must be a Storyforming stage in which Genre, Plot, Theme, and Character are designed as
dramatic concepts. Next is the Encoding stage where Genre, Plot, Theme, and Character are
symbolized into the language of the culture. Stage three, Storyweaving, sees the author
blending the symbolic representations into a seamless flow that presents the symbols for
Genre, Plot, Theme, and Character to an audience. The final stage of Reception puts the
audience to work decoding the symbols to appreciate the author's intent as represented in
Genre, Plot, Theme, and Character.
Naturally, with so many internal steps and appreciations, the opportunity for
miscommunication is considerable. In addition, since the audience members are looking from
stage four back to stage one, they are in fact authors of their own Reception. In this
role the audience may create meaning that is fully supported by the symbology, yet never
intended by the author.
How Dramatica Fits In
The study of Reception theory is well documented in many books, articles, and essays.
The process of storytelling is brilliantly covered by many inspired teachers of the art,
including Aristotle himself. Dramatica provides a view of story never before seen so
clearly: an actual model of the structure and dynamics that lie at the heart of
communication - the Story Mind itself. By using the structure of story as a foundation,
the process of communication becomes much more accurate, giving the author much more
control over the audience experience.
Author as Audience
With the author at one end of the communication chain and the audience at the other, it
is not unusual for an author to cast himself in the role of audience to see how the story
is working. In other words, many authors approach their story not so much as the creator
of the work, but as its greatest fan. They look at the blended result of Storyforming,
Storyencoding, Storyweaving and Reception and judge the combined impact even as they write
it. This can be extremely valuable in making sure that all stages of communication are
working together, but it carries hidden dangers as well.
When an author adopts the audience perspective, he compresses all four stages together.
Thus, Genre, Plot, Theme, and Character become complete, yet their components become
nebulous and much harder to define. This makes it very easy to tell if something is going
wrong, but much harder to determine which part of the process is at fault.
To avoid this problem, Dramatica suggests first building a Storyform that spells out the
dramatic appreciations necessary to fashion a complete argument in line with one's intent.
Then, referring to this structure while encoding (or symbolizing) the storyform, an author
can make sure that missing or inconsistent pieces of the storyform are not masked under
Emphasis Where Emphasis is Due
Encoding simply creates scenarios and events that illustrate the Storyform's dramatic
appreciations. In the Encoding stage, no illustration is more important than another. The
emphasis is provided by the nature of the illustration. For example, a Goal of Obtaining
might be encoded as the attempt to win a fifty dollar prize or the effort to win the
presidency of a country.
Further emphasis is set in the third phase of communication, Storyweaving, when the
illustrated appreciations are actually written into the work, favoring some with extended
coverage while de-emphasizing others with mere lip service. In this manner, the portions
of a Storyform structure which are more central to an author's personal interests rise to
the surface of the work while those of less interest sink to the bottom to form a complete
but minimalist foundation for the story's argument.
In short, it is fine to stand back and admire one's handiwork, criticize it, and see if
all its parts are working together. The audience point of view, however, is not a good
perspective from which to fashion a work.
In keeping with this philosophy, this book began by outlining The Elements Of Structure.
Now it is time to shift mental gears and outline the process of communication itself as
expressed in The Art Of Storytelling.
The Art of Storytelling
Introduction to Storyforming
When an author begins work on a story, he seldom has the whole thing figured out in
advance. In fact, he might start with nothing more than a bit of action, a scrap of
dialogue, or perhaps only a title. The urge to write springs from some personal interest
one wants to share. It could be an emotion, an experience, or a point of view on a
particular subject matter. Once inspiration strikes, however, there is the compelling
desire to find a way to communicate what one has in mind.
Another thing usually happens along the way. One creative thought leads to another, and
the scope of what one wishes to communicate grows from a single item into a collection of
items. Action suggests dialogue which defines a character who goes into action, and on and
on. Ultimately, an author finds himself with a bag of interesting dramatic elements, each
of which is intriguing, but not all of which are connected. It is at this point an
author's mind shifts gears and looks at the emerging work as an analyst rather than as a
The author as analyst examines what he has so far. Intuitively he can sense that some
sort of structure is developing. The trick now is to get a grip on the "big
picture." Four aspects of this emerging story become immediately apparent: Character,
Theme, Plot, and Genre. An author may find that the points of view expressed by certain
characters are unopposed in the story, making the author's point of view seem heavy-handed
and biased. In other places, logic fails, and the current explanation of how point A got
to point C is incomplete. She may also notice that some kind of overall theme is partially
developed, and that the entire work could be improved by shading more dramatic elements
with the same issues.
So far, our intrepid author has still not created a story. Oh, there's one in there
somewhere, but much needs to be done to bring it out. For one thing, certain items that
have been developed may begin to seem out of place. They don't fit in with the feel of the
work as a whole. Also, certain gaps have become apparent which beg to be filled. In
addition, parts of a single dramatic item may work and other parts may not. For example, a
character may ring true at one moment, but turn into a klunker the next.
Having analyzed, then, the author sets about remedying the ailments of his work in the
attempt to fashion it into a complete and unified story. Intuitively, an author will
examine all the logical and emotional aspects of his story, weed out irregularities and
fill in cracks until nothing seems out of place in his considerations. Just as one might
start with any piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and in the end a larger picture emerges, so the
story eventually fills the author's heart and mind as a single, seamless, and balanced
item, greater than the sum of its parts. The story has taken on an identity all its own.
Looking at the finished story, we can tell two things right off the bat. First, there
is a certain logistic dramatic structure to the work. Second, that structure is expressed
in a particular way. In Dramatica, we call that underlying deep dramatic structure a
Storyform. The manner in which it is communicated is the Storytelling.
As an example of how the Storyform differs from the Storytelling, consider Romeo and
Juliet and West Side Story. It is easily seen that dramatics of both stories are
essentially the same. Yet the expression of those dramatics is completely different.
Storytelling dresses the dramatics in different clothes, couches the message in specific
contexts, and brings additional non-structure material to the work.
The structure of a story is like a vacant apartment. Everything is functional, but it
doesn't have a personality until someone moves in. Over the years, any number of people
might occupy the same rooms, working within the same functionality but making the
environment uniquely their own. Similarly, the same dramatic structures have been around
for a long time. Yet, every time we dress them up in a way we haven't seen before, they
become new again. So, part of what we find in a finished work is the actual Grand Argument
Story and part is the Storytelling.
The problems most writers face arise from the fact that the creative process works on both
storyform and storytelling at the same time. The two become inseparably blended, so trying
to figure out what really needs to be fixed is like trying to determine the recipe for
quiche from the finished pie. It can be done, but it is tough work. What is worse, an
author's personal tastes and assumptions often blind him to some of the obvious flaws in
the work, while over-emphasizing others. This can leave an author running around in
circles, getting nowhere.
Fortunately, another pathway exists. Because the eventual storyform outlines all of the
essential feelings and logic that will be generated by a story, an author can begin by
creating a storyform first. Then, all that follows will work together for it is built on a
consistent and solid foundation.
To create a storyform, an author will need to make decisions about the kinds of topics he
wishes to explore and the kinds of impact he wishes to have on his audience. This can
sometimes be a daunting task. Most authors prefer to stumble into the answers to these
questions during the writing process, rather than deliberate over them in advance. Still,
with a little consideration up front, much grief can be prevented later on as the story
to the Next Section of the Book-->
How to Order Dramatica:
A New Theory of Story
the Table of Contents
Back to the Dramatica Home Page
Copyright 1996, Screenplay Systems, Inc.
The Dramatica theory was developed by
Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley
Chief Architect of the Dramatica software is Stephen
Dramatica is a registered trademark of Screenplay Systems Incorporated
the Dramatica Theory Home Page
Try Dramatica & StoryWeaver Risk
*Try either or both for 90 days. Not working for you?
Return for a full refund of your purchase price!
About Dramatica and
Hi, I'm Melanie Anne Phillips,
creator of StoryWeaver,
co-creator of Dramatica
and owner of Storymind.com. If you have a moment, I'd like to tell you
about these two story development tools - what each is designed to do, how
each works alone on a different part of story development and how they can be
used together to cover the entire process from concept to completion of your
novel or screenplay.
What They Do
Dramatica is a tool to help you
build a perfect story structure. StoryWeaver is a tool to help you build
your story's world. Dramatica focuses on the underlying logic of your
story, making sure there are no holes or inconsistencies. StoryWeaver
focuses on the creative process, boosting your inspiration and guiding it to add
depth, detail and passion to your story.
How They Do It
Dramatica has the world's only
patented interactive Story Engine™ which cross-references your answers to
questions about your dramatic intent, then finds any weaknesses in your
structure and even suggests the best ways to strengthen them.
StoryWeaver uses a revolutionary new
creative format as you follow more than 200 Story Cards™ step by step through
the story development process. You'll design the people who'll inhabit
your story's world, what happens to them, and what it all means.
How They Work
By itself Dramatic appeals to
structural writers who like to work out all the details of their stories
logically before they write a word. By itself, StoryWeaver appeals to
intuitive writers who like to follow their Muse and develop their stories as
But, the finished work of a
structural writer can often lack passion, which is where StoryWeaver can help.
And the finished work of an intuitive writer can often lack direction, which is
where Dramatica can help.
So, while each kind of writer will
find one program or the other the most initially appealing, both kinds of
writers can benefit from both programs.
Try Both Programs
We have a 90
Day Return Policy here at Storymind. Try either or both of these
products and if you aren't completely satisfied we'll cheerfully refund your
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