Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story
By Melanie Anne Phillips
and Chris Huntley
Storytelling the Structural Appreciations
Storyforming Structural Appreciations
By answering the eight essential questions we greatly refine our understanding of the
way our story will feel to our audience. The next task is to clarify what it is we intend
to talk about. In the Theme section of The Elements of Structure we were introduced to the
various Appreciations an audience will look for in the course of experiencing and
evaluating a story. Now we turn our attention to examining the issues we, as authors, must
consider in selecting our story's Appreciation's. We begin with the Appreciations that
most affect Genre, then work our way down through Plot and Theme to arrive at a discussion
of what goes into selecting a Main Character's Problem.
Selecting the Domains in your story
One of the easiest ways to identify the four Domains in your story (Objective Story,
Subjective Story, Main Character, and Obstacle Character) is by looking at the characters
that appear in each Domain. Who are they? What are they doing? What are their
relationships to one another? Clearly identifying the characters in each throughline will
make selecting the thematic Domains, Concerns, Ranges, and Problems for the throughlines
For the Objective Story Throughline:
When looking at the characters in the Objective Story Throughline, identify them by the
roles they play instead of their names. This keeps them at a distance, making them a lot
easier to evaluate objectively. For instance, some of the characters in
Shakespeare's Hamlet might be the king, the queen, the ghost, the prince, the
chancellor, and the chancellor's daughter, while the characters in The Fugitive
might be the fugitive doctor, the federal marshal, the dead wife, the one-armed man, and
so on. By avoiding the characters' proper names you also avoid identifying with them and
confusing their personal concerns with their concerns as Objective Characters.
Aren't the Main Character and the Obstacle Character also part of the Objective
The Main Character and the Obstacle Character will each have a role in the Objective
Story in addition to their explorations of their own throughlines. From the Objective
Story point of view we see all the story's Objective Characters and identify them by the
functions they fulfill in the quest to reach the Objective Story Concern. The Objective
Story throughline is what brings all of the characters in the story together and describes
what they do in relation to one another in order to achieve this Concern.
It is extremely important to be able to separate the Main Character throughline from the
Objective Story throughline in order to see your story's structure accurately. It is
equally important to make the distinction between the Obstacle Character and the Objective
Story. Exploring these two characters' throughlines in a story requires a complete shift
in the audience's perspective, away from the overall story that involves all the
characters and into the subjective experiences that only these two characters have within
the story. Thus, each of these throughlines should be considered individually.
The Main Character and the Obstacle Character will, however, each have at least one
function to perform in the Objective Story as well. When we see them here, though, they
both appear as Objective Characters. In the Objective Story all we see are the
characteristics they represent in relation to the other Objective Characters.
So if your Main Character happens to be the Protagonist as well, then it is purely as the
Protagonist that we will see him in the Objective Story. If your Obstacle Character is
also an Archetypal Guardian, then his helping and conscience are all you
should consider about that character in the Objective Story.
In every story, these two will at least be called upon in the Objective Story to represent
the story's Crucial Element and its dynamic opposite. It is possible that the Main and
Obstacle Characters could have no other relationship with the Objective Story than these
single characteristics. The point is that their importance to the Objective Story should
be thought of completely in terms of these and any other Objective characteristics which
For the Subjective Story Throughline:
When looking at the characters in the Subjective Story Throughline, it is best to look
at the Main and Obstacle Characters by their relationship with each other in lieu of their
names. The Subjective Story Throughline is the "We" perspective, (i.e.
first-person plural) so think entirely in terms of the relationship between the
Main and Obstacle Characters, not the characters themselves. Thus, "the relationship
between Dr. Richard Kimble and Sam Gerard" is the focus of the Subjective Story
Throughline in The Fugitive, whereas The Verdict focuses on "the
relationship between Frank Galvin and Laura Fischer."
For the Main Character Throughline:
When looking at the Main Character's Throughline, all other characters are unimportant
and should not be considered. Only the Main Character's personal identity or essential
nature is meaningful from this point of view. What qualities of the Main Character are so
much a part of him that they would not change even if he were plopped down in another
story? For example, Hamlet's brooding nature and his tendency to over-think things would
remain consistent and recognizable if he were to show up in a different story. Laura
Wingfield, in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, would carry with her a
world of rationalizations and a crippling propensity to dream if we were to see her appear
again. These are the kinds of things to pay attention to in looking at the Main Character
For the Obstacle Character Throughline:
When considering the Obstacle Character's Throughline, look at their identity in terms
of their impact on others, particularly the Main Character. Think of the Obstacle
Character in terms of his name, but it's the name of someone else, someone who can really
get under your skin. In viewing the Obstacle Character this way, it is easier to identify
the kind of impact that he has on others. Obi Wan Kenobi's fanaticism (regarding using
the force) in Star Wars and Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard's tenacity (in out-thinking
his prey) in The Fugitive are aspects of these Obstacle Characters that are
inherent to their nature and would continue to be so in any story they might be found in.
Picking the proper Classes for the
Domains in your Story
Which is the right Class for the Main Character Domain in your story? For
the Objective Story Domain? For the Subjective Story Domain? For the Obstacle Character
Domain? Assigning the appropriate Dramatica Classes to the Domains of your story is a
tricky but important process.
There are four Domains or throughlines in a story: the Main Character, the
Obstacle Character, the Subjective Story, and the Objective Story. These throughlines
provide an audience with various points of view from which to explore the story. The four
audience points of view can be seen as I, YOU, WE, and THEY as the audience's point of
view shifts from empathizing with the Main Character, to feeling the impact of the
Obstacle Character, to experiencing the relationship between the Main and Obstacle
Character, and then finally stepping back to see the big picture that has everyone
in it (all of THEM). Each point of view describes an aspect of the story experience
to which an audience is privy.
There are four Classes containing all the possible kinds of problems that can be felt in
those throughlines (one Class to each throughline): Universe, Mind, Physics, and
Psychology. These Classes suggest different areas to explore in the story. The areas can
be seen as SITUATIONS, FIXED ATTITUDES or FIXATIONS, ACTIVITIES, and MANNERS OF THINKING
In Dramatica, a story will contain all four areas to explore (Classes) and all four
points of view (throughlines). Each Class will be explored from one of the throughlines.
The combination of Class and throughline into a Domain is the broadest way to describe the
meaning in a story. For example, exploring a Main Character in terms of his situation is
quite different than exploring a Main Character in terms of his attitude, the activities
he is involved in, or how he is being manipulated. Which is right for your story?
Pairing the appropriate Class with the proper throughline for your story can be difficult.
An approach you may find useful is to pick a throughline, adopt the audience perspective
that throughline provides, and from that point of view examine each of the four Classes to
see which feels the best.
Each of the following sections present the four Classes from one specific audience
perspective. For best effect, adopt the perspective described in the section and ask the
questions as they appear in terms of your own story. One set of questions should seem more
important or relevant from that perspective. NOTE: Selecting a throughline/Class
relationship (or Domain) indicates much about the emphasis you wish to place in the
context of your story. No pairing is better or worse than another. One pairing will be,
however, most appropriate to what you have in mind for your story than the other three
Dynamic Pairs of Domains
Each of the throughlines in a story can be seen as standing alone or as standing in
relation to the other throughlines. When selecting which Classes to assign the
throughlines of your story, it is extremely important to remember two relationships in
particular among the throughlines:
The Objective Story and Subjective Story throughlines
will always be a dynamic pair
The Main Character and Obstacle Character throughlines
will always be a dynamic pair
These relationships reflect the kind of impact these throughlines have on each other in
every story. The Main and Obstacle Characters face off throughout the story until one of
them Changes (indicated by the Main Character Resolve). Their relationship in the
Subjective Story will help precipitate either Success or Failure in the Objective Story
(indicated by the Story Outcome).
What these relationships mean to the process of building the Domains in your story is that
whenever you set up one Domain, you also set up its dynamic pair.
For example, matching the Main Character throughline with the Universe class not only
creates a Main Character Domain of Universe in your story, it also creates an Obstacle
Character Domain of Mind. Since Mind is the dynamic pair to Universe in the Dramatica
structure, matching one throughline to one of the Classes automatically puts the other
throughline on the opposite Class to support the two throughlines' dynamic pair
Likewise, matching the Objective Story throughline with Psychology to create an Objective
Story Domain of Psychology will automatically create a Subjective Story Domain of Physics
at the same time. The reasoning is the same here as it was for the Main and Obstacle
Character throughlines. No matter which Class you match with one of the throughlines on
the Dramatica structure, the dynamic pair of that class will be matched to the dynamic
pair of that throughline.
Who am I and what am I doing?
When looking from the Main Character's perspective, use the first person singular (I)
voice to evaluate the Classes.
- If the Main Character's Domain is Universe (e.g. Luke in Star Wars or George
in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), questions like the following would arise:
What is it like to be in my situation? What is my status? What condition am I in? Where am
I going to be in the future? What's so special about my past?
- If the Main Character's Domain is Physics (e.g. Frank Galvin in The Verdict
The Verdict or
Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive), questions like the following would be more
appropriate: What am I involved in? How do I get what I want? What must I learn to do the
things I want to do? What does it mean to me to have (or lose) something?
- If the Main Character's Domain is Mind (e.g. Scrooge in A Christmas Carol),
you would consider questions such as the following: What am I afraid of? What is my
opinion? How do I react to something? How do I feel about this or that? What is it that I
remember about that night?
- If the Main Character's Domain is Psychology (e.g. Laura in The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie
or Frank in In The Line of Fire), the concerns would be more like: Who am I
really? How should I act? How can I become a different person? Why am I so angry, or
reserved, or whatever? How am I manipulating or being manipulated?
Who are YOU and what are YOU doing?
When considering the Obstacle Character's perspective, it is best to use the second
person singular ("You") voice to evaluate the Classes. This is best imagined as
if one is addressing the Obstacle Character directly, where "You" is
referring to the Obstacle Character.
- If the Obstacle Character's Domain is Universe (e.g. Marley's Ghost in A Christmas
Carol), you might ask them: What is it like to be in your situation? What is your
status? What condition are you in? Where are you going to be in the future? What's so
special about your past?
- If the Obstacle Character's Domain is Physics (e.g. Jim in The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie
or Booth in In The Line of Fire): What are you involved in? How do you get what
you want? What must you learn to do the things you want to do? What does it mean to you to
have (or lose) something?
- If the Obstacle Character's Domain is Mind (e.g. Obi Wan in Star Wars
Star Wars or
Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?): What are you afraid of? What is
your opinion? How do you react to that? How do you feel about this or that? What is it
that you remember about that night?
- If the Obstacle Character's Domain is Psychology (e.g. Laura Fisher in The Verdict
or Sam Gerard in The Fugitive): Who are you really? How should you act? How can
you become a different person? Why are you so angry, or reserved, or whatever? How are you
manipulating or being manipulated?
Who are WE and what are WE doing?
When considering the Subjective Story perspective, it is best to use the first person
plural ("We") voice to evaluate the Classes. We refers to the Main and
Obstacle Characters collectively.
- If the Subjective Story's Domain is Universe (e.g. The Ghost & Hamlet's pact in
or Reggie & Marcus' alliance in The Client), consider asking: What is it like
to be in our situation? What is our status? What condition are we in? Where are we going
to be in the future? What's so special about our past?
- If the Subjective Story's Domain is Physics (e.g. George & Martha's game in
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?): What are we involved in? How do we get what we want? What
must we learn to do the things we want to do? What does it mean to us to have (or lose)
- If the Subjective Story's Domain is Mind (e.g. Frank & Laura's affair in
Verdict or Dr. Kimble & Sam Gerard's relationship in The Fugitive): What
are we afraid of? What is our opinion? How do we react to that? How do we feel about this
or that? What is it that we remember about that night?
- If the Subjective Story's Domain is Psychology (e.g. Obi Wan & Luke's relationship
in Star Wars): Who are we really? How should we act? How can we become different
people? Why are we so angry, or reserved, or whatever? How are we manipulating or being
Who are THEY and what are THEY doing?
When considering the Objective Story perspective, it is best to use the third person
plural ("They") voice to evaluate the Classes. They refers to the entire
set of Objective Characters (protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, etc.) collectively.
- If the Objective Story's Domain is Universe (e.g. The Verdict, The Poseidon
Adventure, or The Fugitive), consider asking: What is it like to be in their
situation? What is their status? What condition are they in? Where are they going to be in
the future? What's so special about their past?
- If the Objective Story's Domain is Physics (e.g. Star Wars): What are they
involved in? How do they get what they want? What must they learn to do the things they
want to do? What does it mean to them to have (or lose) something?
- If the Objective Story's Domain is Mind (e.g. Hamlet or To Kill A Mockingbird):
What are they afraid of? What is their opinion? How do they react to that? How do they
feel about this or that? What is it that they remember about that night?
- If the Objective Story's Domain is Psychology (e.g. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
or Four Weddings and a Funeral): Who are they really? How should they act? How can
they become different people? Why are they so angry, or reserved, or whatever? How are
they manipulating or being manipulated?
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A New Theory of Story
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