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Encoding Objective Characters
Although encoding places the argument of a story in the context of real life, the
storyform itself is not real life at all. It is an analogy to the mind's problem-solving
process. We all know what it is like to face problems in our own lives. However, we have
no way of knowing what our manner of dealing with problems looks like from the outside;
from a more objective viewpoint. Storyforms deal with only one problem, which is seen from
two principal directions: the inside and the outside. When we look at the problem
from the inside, we can connect with experiences we all have had. The view is familiar and
we relate emotionally to situations that touch our personal nerves. In fact, we tend to
substitute our own experiences in place of what we observe in the story. This subjective
view holds our feelings and gives credibility to the objective view.
Out of Body Experiences
When we take an external view of a story, however, we no longer identify with the Story
Mind directly but view it more like we would in an "out of body" experience. It
is if we had stepped out of our own heads, then turned around to see what we were
thinking. It is from this view that the author makes his rational argument, telling the
audience, "If it feels like this from the inside, you'll want to be doing that."
Even this simple message carries value for an audience since the audience members can
benefit from good advice born of experiences they have not had to suffer personally. In
this way, when similar situations occur to them subjectively they can recall the objective
dictum from the story giving them at least one plan to try.
Characters as the Author's Contentions
All the ways of considering each problem are represented by a story's characters.
Because they represent parts of the argument, Objective Characters must be called in the
proper order and combination to support each of the author's contentions. This all sounds
very complex and manipulative. It is. But as authors, when we are on a roll we don't stop
to consider each aspect of what we are doing. Rather, it all synthesizes together into the
smooth flow of creativity that we "feel" through our writer's instincts. If the
complexity is not there beneath it all, however, there will be noticeable holes in our
plot and inconsistent characters.
Dramatica identifies every point of view that is essential to the objective argument. It
allows an author to divvy them up amongst his characters, then tracks the progress of the
characters through the story. In this way, an author can cut loose with creative fervor
until the muse fails. Then he can call on Dramatica to locate the end of the thread so he
can begin to weave it again.
Just because characters are Archetypal does not mean they cannot be fresh and
interesting. Archetypal Characters have just as many diverse characteristics as Complex
Characters. The only difference is how these characteristics are divided among your
story's characters. When an equal number are given to each character and when all the
elements making up each character are from a single "family" of elements,
Archetypal Characters are created. In this sense, an Archetypal Character set is like an
alignment of the planets: each individual orbit is complex, but we choose to observe them
when they are all lined up in a clear and simple pattern.
Nonetheless, we must still explore all aspects of each character to make the Story Mind's
argument fully. However, since there is such consistency to the way the elements are
distributed, the audience will anticipate the content of each character, allowing an
author the luxury of using shortcuts to describe them. In fact, once a character is
outlined enough to establish its Archetypal tendency, an author can leave out the rest of
the information since the audience will fill it in anyway. In a sense, a character is
guilty of being Archetypal until proven otherwise.
A Sample Story Using Archetypes
When an author wishes to concentrate primarily on action or entertainment, it is often
best to take advantage of the Archetypal arrangement to fully make the story's argument
with a minimum of exposition. The characters still need to be interesting in order to
involve an audience in their story. To illustrate how even Archetypal characters can be
intriguing, let's create story using only Archetypes and dress them up in some attractive
Creating a Protagonist
We want to write a simple story using Archetypal Characters. We can create a
PROTAGONIST called Jane. Jane wants to... what?... rob a bank?...kill the monster?... stop
the terrorists?... resolve her differences with her mother? It really doesn't matter; her
goal can be whatever interests us as authors. So we'll pick "stop the
terrorists" because it interests us. All right, our Protagonist -- Jane -- wants to
stop the terrorists.
Creating an Antagonist
Dramatica says we need an ANTAGONIST. Antagonist by definition is the person who tries
to prevent achievement of the goal. So, who might be diametrically against the completion
of the task Jane wants to accomplish? The Religious Leader whose dogma is the source of
inspiration that spawns the acts of terror?... The multinational business cartel that
stands to make billions if the terrorists succeed in their scheme?... Her former lover who
leads the elite band of criminals? We like THAT one! Okay, we have our Protagonist (Jane)
who wants to stop the terrorists who are led by her former lover (Johann).
Creating a Skeptic
Two simple Characters down, six to go. Dramatica now tells us we need a SKEPTIC. Who
might oppose the effort and disbelieve in the ultimate success of good Jane? A rival
special agent who doesn't want to be left in the dust by her glowing success?... Her
current love interest on the force who feels Jane is in over her head?... Her father, the
Senator, who wants his daughter to follow him into politics? Good enough for us. So we
have Jane who wants to stop the terrorists, pitted against her former lover Johann who
heads the criminal band, and opposed by her father, the Senator.
Creating a Sidekick
To balance the Skeptic, we're going to need a SIDEKICK. We could bring back her current
lover but this time have him knowing how much ridding the world of scum-sucking
pigs appeals to Jane so he remains steadfastly behind her. Or we might employ her
Supervisor and mentor on the force who knows the depth of Jane's talent, wants to inspire
other young idealists to take action against threats to democracy, or prove his theories
and vindicate his name in the undercover world... We'll use the Supervisor. So here's Jane
who wants to stop the terrorists, pitted against her former lover Johann, the head of the
band who wants to stop her, opposed by her father, the Senator, and supported by her
Creating a Contagonist
Let's bring in a CONTAGONIST: the Seasoned Cop who says, "You have to play by the
rules" and thwarts Jane's efforts to forge a better modus operandi?... Or, the Ex-Con
with a heart of gold who studies the classics and counsels her to base her approach on
proven scenarios?... Or, her friend Sheila, a computer whiz who has a bogus response plan
based on averaging every scenario every attempted? Computer whiz it is. So Jane wants to
stop the terrorists, is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who
wants to stop her, opposed by her father, the Senator, supported by her Supervisor, and
tempted by her friend Sheila, the computer whiz.
Creating a Guardian
Keeping in mind the concept of Dynamic Pairs, we are going to want to balance the
Computer Whiz with a GUARDIAN. The Master of the Oriental martial arts who urges her to
"go with the flow" ("Use The Force, Jane!")?... The Ex-Con again who
urges, "Get back to basics"?... or perhaps the Seasoned Cop who paves the way
through the undercover jungle?.... We like the Seasoned Cop. Note how we could have used
him as Contagonist, but elected to use him as Guardian instead. It's totally up to us as
authors which characteristics go into which players. Jane wants to stop the terrorists, is
pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, is
opposed by her father, the Senator, supported by her Supervisor, tempted by her friend
Sheila the computer whiz, and protected by the Seasoned Cop.
Creating Reason and Emotion Characters
Since we really like some of our earlier concepts for Characters, let's use the Ex-Con
as REASON, stressing the need to use classic scenarios. We'll balance her with the Master
of the Oriental martial arts, who maintains Jane's need to break with the Western approach
by letting loose and following her feelings.
Well, that seems to cover all eight Archetypal Characters: Protagonist, Antagonist,
Skeptic, Sidekick, Contagonist, Guardian, Reason and Emotion. Finally, we have Jane who
wants to stop the terrorists and is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover
Johann) who wants to stop her, is opposed by her Father, the Senator, is supported by her
Supervisor, tempted by her friend Sheila the computer whiz, protected by the Seasoned Cop,
urged by the Ex-Con to copy the classics, and counseled by the Master of Oriental martial
arts to let loose and follow her feelings.
The Same Old Story?
This is beginning to sound like a lot of many stories we've seen before. Why have we
seen this so many times? Because it is simple and it works. Of course, we have limited
ourselves in this example to the Archetypal Characters, not even taking advantage of the
Complex Characters we could also create.
When you keep in mind the Dramatica rules for mixing and matching characteristics to
create Complex Characters, you have an astronomical number of possible people (or
non-people) who might occupy your story. Because of the structure of inter-relationships
Dramatica provides, they will all fit together to the greatest potential and nothing will
be duplicated or missed. As a result, the Story Mind will be fully functional; the
argument fully made.
It is not the content that makes characters complex, but the arrangement of that
content. We all know people who have one-track minds or are so aligned as to be completely
predictable (and often, therefore, boring!) People who are more diverse contain
conflicting or dissimilar traits and are much more interesting to be around. So it is with
Imagine building characters to be like playing Scrabble. There are a given number of
letter tiles, no more, no less. The object is to create words until all the tiles have
been employed. The game won't feel "complete" if any tiles are left over. Now
imagine a set of words that are all the same length and use up all the letters so none are
remaining. Suppose there is only one combination of letters that will accomplish this. If
we build characters that way, we get the one and only Archetypal set. There's nothing
wrong with playing the game that way, but after a few zillion times, seeing the same
limited set of words over and over again wears pretty thin. It is much more interesting to
create a wide vocabulary of all kinds and sizes of words.
Archetypes Have Their Place, But....
Archetypal Characters have their place, mind you. If an author's focus is on Plot or
Theme, he may want to create easily identifiable Archetypes as a shorthand to save space
and time. As soon as the edges of an Archetypal Character are sketched out, audiences (who
have seen these Archetypes time and again) will fill in the rest, pending information to
the contrary. In this way, an author can free up time or pages for aspects of the story
which may be much more interesting to him.
As a result, Complex Characters are often the first things torn down in an effort to
conserve media real estate. This leads to a glut of action-oriented stories populated by
stick-figure people. Whenever there is a glut in one place, you will find a deficiency
somewhere else. The imbalance between glut and deficiency creates demand. Box office is
directly proportional to demand. No more need be said.
Four Dimensional Characters
All characters, Archetypal or Complex, have four levels or Dimensions in which they may
contain characteristics. These are:
3. Means of Evaluation
Archetypal Characters contain one characteristic in each of these areas that describes how
they deal with external problems. They also contain one each that describes how they deal
with internal problems. Altogether they possess eight characteristics.
The easiest way to create Complex Characters is to simply swap a few Elements between
one Archetypal Character and another at the same level. This results in evenly-balanced
characters who aren't nearly as predictable as Archetypes. When the points of view are
mixed so that the focus of a scene or act changes from Methodologies to Motivations, for
example, the manner in which a character responds might also shift dramatically.
Even more Complex Characters can be built by giving more characteristics to some and fewer
to others. For example, one character might have two Motivations, three Methodologies and
so on. Another character might only have Purposes but no Motivations or any of the others.
Those characters having the most characteristics will be called upon more frequently to
appear, thereby strengthening their presence with an audience.
A Character Cannot Serve Two Masters
An author can create characters for any purpose, to be played like cards at particular
points in the hand. The only "rules" of character construction caution against
any character containing more than one Element of a dynamic pair. In addition, it is best
to avoid assigning a character more than one Element from the same quad as the character
would then represent conflicting points of view on the same issue.
At first, this might seem desirable as it would create internal conflict. But in the case
of Objective Characters, they are seen from the outside. We cannot perceive their internal
deliberations. Any internal conflict simple weakens their objective function.
Objective Throughline Characteristics
Elements are the most refined resolution of the problem in a story. Beneath each
Variation are four Elements that make up the parts of that Variation and are also defined
by its umbrella. One of the four elements under the Range is the Problem of the story in
its most essential form. Another of the four will prove to be the Solution. A third
element is the Focus of the story, where the Problem appears to principally manifest
itself. The final element represents the Direction that is taken in response to the Focus.
Each of these elements has a specific and recognizable function even in traditional story
theory. For example, we know that characters often work not toward the real solution but
to a perceived solution. And characters frequently grapple with a problem that is
ultimately recognized as only a symptom of the real problem.
The "Crucial" Element
As indicated elsewhere, stories are really about inequities and their
resolutions. When the four principal elements are considered in this light, the Problem
element appears more like the essence of the inequity. The Solution becomes the essence of
what is needed to restore balance. Depending upon the dynamics of the story, one of the
four elements is "lifted up" as the prominent point of view. It becomes the Crucial
Element upon which all other lesser inequities in the story center. It is Crucial
because if it comes into balance all the remaining inequities of the story are forced to
balance themselves as well. If not balanced, none of the others can be resolved.
Objective Elements and the Subjective Characters
Elements serve to show what the inequity looks like from all possible points of view
and thereby hone in on the source: the one bad apple in the basket. All 64 Elements in
this level must be represented in character form in order to fully explore the story's
inequity. Of all these, two special characters bear special attention: the Main and
The Main and Obstacle characters do double-duty by carrying the Subjective Storyline and
also playing an Objective role by being assigned to two different players that contain an
Objective function. The player containing the Main Character always contains the Crucial
Element in its Objective role. However, that element does not always have to be the
Solution. It might be the Problem, Focus, or Direction Element, depending upon the
dynamics. It is this duality that makes those two players the linchpins of the story: the
hinge upon which the Objective AND Subjective Problems and storylines converge.
The player containing the Obstacle Character also contains the Element diagonal to the
crucial element: the other half of the dynamic pair. In this way as a Main Character or
Obstacle Character comes to eventually change or remain steadfast, the subjective problem
influences how that player will respond in regard to the Objective Element it also
contains. Like magnets with North and South poles, what happens on the Subjective side
will influence the Objective stand, and when pressures force a change in the Objective
stand, it will influence the Subjective point of view. It is no surprise that this
relationship between Objective and Subjective dynamics in characters has seemed so
indefinably obscure for so long.
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A New Theory of Story
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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
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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
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Day Return Policy here at Storymind. Try either or both of these
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