A step by
step approach to story development, from concept to completed story for
your novel or screenplay. More than 200 interactive Story Cards guide
you through the entire process.
powerful story structuring software available, Dramatica is driven by a
patented "Story Engine" that cross-references your dramatic
choices to ensure a perfect structure.
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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Storytelling & Encoding Plot
Encoding Static Plot Appreciations is very simple. One need only figure out what it is.
How and when it is going to actually show up in the story is a completely different issue
and is part of Storyweaving.
The way to approach the encoding of Static Plot Appreciations is more or less the same for
all of them. As an example, let us consider something fairly conventional: a Goal of
Obtaining. Obtaining what? That is what encoding determines. The Goal might be to Obtain
the stolen diamonds, a diploma, or someone's love. In each case, Obtaining has been
effectively encoded. Which one you might choose is dependent only upon your personal muse.
Interestingly, there are many ways to stretch an appreciation to fit preconceived story
ideas. Suppose that we want to tell a story about a woman who wants to be President. It
might be he wants to be elected to the office. That would encode a Goal of Obtaining. Or,
he might want to have people believe he was the President on a foreign trip. That would be
a Goal of Being. He might already hold the office but feel that he is not authoritative
enough and wants to Become presidential. That would encode a Goal of Becoming.
Clearly, there are ways to bend a story concept to fit almost any appreciation. And, in
fact, that is the purpose of encoding - to create a symbol that represents an
appreciation's particular bend. So, going around the remaining Types, we might also have a
Goal about discovering a president's Past, how much legislative Progress a president is
able to make, the Future of the presidency, whether the president is able to address
Present concerns, to Understand the president's vision, Doing what is necessary regardless
of chances for reelection, Learning the President's hidden agenda, Conceptualizing a new
order, Conceiving a new kind of political leverage, trying to evoke the Memory of a past
president's greatness, responding with Preconscious reflexes should the president be
attacked, trying to curb a president's subconscious drives until after the election,
making the president Conscious of a problem only he can solve.
Each of the above encodings deals with the presidency, but in a completely different way.
This allows an author to stick with the subject matter that interested him in the first
place, yet still make sure the Story Goal is accurately encoded. And why even bother?
Because the wrong perspective creates the wrong meaning. Anything that is not properly
encoded will work against the dramatics of your story, rather than with them, and your
story's overall message and experience will be weakened.
Encoding Progressive Plot Appreciations
Progressive Plot Appreciations are also relatively straight forward. At act resolution
there is a simple method for encoding Signposts and Journeys that also establishes the
plot aspects of your story's scenes.
Signposts and Journeys
When we develop a plot, we are in effect planning a Journey for our characters. In this
respect, we might imagine our plot as a road. We have already discussed how that road
might be thought of as containing four signposts which define three journeys. Our
characters' Point of Departure is marked by the Type at Signpost #1. This Type is
the name of the town at which we are beginning our Journey. In our example, the characters
are in the good borough of Learning.
We have also planned a destination for our characters. Again, in our example, we wish our
characters to arrive at the village of Obtaining. Obtaining's city limits are marked by
In order for our characters to experience the Journey we intend, we also want them to pass
through the towns of Understanding and Doing along the way. Once they have arrived at
Obtaining, they will have covered all the ground we want them to.
Our Plot is not only made up of Signposts, but also the experience of traversing the road between
If we have four Signposts, we can see three Journeys between them. The Signposts merely
provide our audience with an impartial map of the checkpoints along the way. It is the
Journeys, however, that involve our audience in the experience of crossing that ground.
Some writers have learned to create stories in a Three Act Structure. Others have
worked in a Four Act Structure. In fact, both are needed to map out the
terrain and involve the audience.
Now that we know the names of the Signposts in our Objective Story, it is time to describe
the kinds of Journeys that will take place on the road between them.
In our example, the three Journeys are:
- Topic 1. Learning -----> Topic 2. Understanding
Topic 2. Understanding -----> Topic 3. Doing
Topic 3. Doing -----> Topic 4. Obtaining.
For a hypothetical story, we might then encode each Signpost and Journey as follows:
- Type 1. Learning
Our characters Learn that a number of robberies have occurred involving diamonds.
- Type 1. Learning------> Type 2. Understanding
As our characters Learn about the robberies that have occurred, they become aware of
similarities in the crimes. Eventually, the similarities are too much to be coincidental.
- Type 2. Understanding
Our characters arrive at the Understanding that there is one multi-national consortium
involved in the heists.
- Type 2. Understanding ------> Type 3. Doing
The more our characters Understand about the consortium, the more they are able to
figure out which smaller organizations are involved, as well as the names of specific
individuals. Eventually, the characters Understand enough of the organization of the
consortium to try and put someone on the inside.
- Type 3. Doing
Our characters track down and infiltrate the consortium.
- Type 3. Doing ------> Type 4. Obtaining
Our characters get in tighter and tighter with the consortium until they are finally
trusted enough to be employed in heist. Through a series of dangerous maneuvers, our
characters are able to get word of the heist back to their organization, who alert the
- Type 4 . Obtaining
Our characters retrieve the stolen diamonds.
As you can see, the Signposts outline the direction events will take. The Journeys help
bring them to life.
Main Character Domain Plot Progression
By now you should be familiar with the concept that the Main Character represents a point
of view for the audience. In fact, the audience stands in the shoes of the Main Character
and sees what he sees and feels what he feels.
In the Objective Story Domain, the Plot Progression concentrates on the kinds of
activities in which the Objective Characters are involved. In the Main Character Domain,
Plot Progression describes the stages of the Main Character's Growth.
Each Type in the Main Character Domain reflects the Main Character's primary concern at
that point in his development. Eventually, he will grow enough to deal with the issue
closest to his heart: the Main Character Concern. Let's look at an example of how you
might encode this by continuing to develop the story we presented for Type Order Plot
Progression of the Objective Story.
In this fictitious story example, the Main Character Domain has been chosen to be
Universe. The Type order selected for the Main Character is as follows: Past, Progress,
Present, and lastly Future.
- Type 1. Past
The Main Character is a law enforcement agency Department Chief with political
aspirations. He has zero tolerance for officers of the law who have accepted payoffs from
organized crime. As the story opens, his chief Concern of the moment is the past history
of graft in his department.
- Type 1. Past ------> Type 2. Progress
The Main Character investigates Past instances of Consortium influences in his
department. Using this historical information, he gets closer to infiltrating the
- Type 2. Progress
The Main Character decides his agents are too weak to resist stealing money from the
Consortium. Therefore, he takes the case himself, going undercover and slowly snaking his
way into the heart of the Consortium over a period of some months.
- Type 2. Progress ------> Type 3. Present
The more the Main Character gets deeper into the Consortium, the more he is trusted
with the Consortium's funds. Also, he finds himself in something of a Godfather position
in which local businesses and organizations come to him for help. For a while, he is able
to either deny them or pacify them.
- Type 3. Present
Now, well established in the Consortium, the Main Character is faced with a situation
in which an important Children's Hospital will be closed... unless he uses some of the
Consortium's ill-gotten gains to provide the necessary funding.
- Type 3. Present ------> Type 4. Future
The Main Character gives in to the needs of others, violating his own zero tolerance
code of ethics because of the serious needs of the children. Still, he is able to get the
goods on the Consortium enough to stop some of their local plans, though not enough to
damage the consortium at core level. When he is "brought in from the cold" by
his agency, they treat him as a hero for his success. In contrast, he is troubled by his
own ethical failing. He gave in to the temptation to take the money.
- Type 4. Future
Though he is in a better position than ever to break into the political scene and
demand strict adherence to a code of ethics, his grand words about his Future are now just
ashes in his mouth, as he sits miserably in his office pondering his shortcomings, drained
Obstacle Character Domain Plot Progression
The Obstacle Character in a story never stands alone, but is always evaluated in terms of
his impact on the Main Character. When encoding the Obstacle Character Domain Plot
Progression, this is equally true. Unlike the Main Character Type Order which reflects the
Main Character's Growth from one concern to another, the Obstacle Character Type Order
reflects the progression of the Obstacle Character's impact on the Main Character. In
other words, each of the four Obstacle Character Types describes a chink in the Main
Character's armor, a weakness that is exploited by the Obstacle Character. This forces the
Main Character to consider issues that will ultimately bring him to Change or remain
For example, in our sample story, the Obstacle Character Domain is in the Mind Class. As a
result, the Obstacle Character Domain Types are Memory, Preconscious, Conscious, and
Subconscious. This means that the Obstacle Character will (in some order) force the Main
Character to remember (Memory), to respond differently when there is no time for
consideration (Preconscious), to become aware of something (Conscious), and to desire
Encode the Obstacle Character's Types by the impact the Obstacle Character has in that
area of concern on the Main Character. In this way, your Obstacle Character will force
your Main Character to grow to a point of potential Change. That is the function and
purpose of the Obstacle Character in a story.
Obstacle Character Domain Type Order Encoding
In this fictitious story example, the Obstacle Character Domain has been chosen as Mind.
The Type order selected for the Obstacle Character is as follows: Preconscious, Conscious,
Memory, and lastly Subconscious.
- Type 1. Preconscious
The Obstacle Character is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He sees justice and honor as
being flexible, dependent upon the situation. His very attitude causes unthinking
responses (Preconscious) in the Main Character, who reacts to every instance of the
Obstacle Character's sliding scale of values as if he were shocked with an electric prod.
The Obstacle Character's actions force the Main Character to lose his temper, make threats
he later regrets, and smash things in a fit of self-righteous rage.
- Type 1. Preconscious ------> Type 2. Conscious
As the Main Character becomes more obsessed with infiltrating the Consortium and edges
toward putting himself under cover, the Obstacle Character's flexible ways infuriate him
more and more. Eventually, the Obstacle Character has had enough of this, and begins to
intentionally exhibit his easy attitude in front of the Main Character, so he can make him
aware of situations in which rigid views just won't work.
Type 2. Conscious
The Obstacle Character carries the argument to the Main Character that no one is immune
to temptation. Going under cover in the Consortium will surely cause the Main Character to
break if he does not learn to bend. Prophetically, the Obstacle Character makes the Main
Character aware (Conscious) that there are some situations in which a fixed code of ethics
creates a paradox where one must re-examine one's ideals.
Type 2. Conscious ------> Type 3. Memory
Coming to see that even though the Main Character is now aware of the issues involved,
he still does not relent in his plans, The Obstacle Character begins to bring up "the
old days" when they were both beat cops together, fresh out of growing up in the same
neighborhood. The Obstacle Character uses the Main Character's memories to drive home the
point that the Main Character was also flexible in those days, and they laughed at the
stiffs who usually ended up getting killed or going crazy.
Type 3. Memory
The Main Character has gone so deeply under cover that no one at the agency has heard
from him in days. The Obstacle Character contacts and meets with the Main Character,
finding him caught in a web of self-doubt, unable to choose between sticking with his code
or helping the children's hospital. The Obstacle Character forces the Main Character to
remember their days growing up together in the same neighborhood. Recalling how the Main
Character's thinking was not always so black and white, he urges the Main Character to
learn a lesson from those memories and bend with the wind, rather than snap under the
pressures that are upon him.
Type 3. Memory ------> Type 4. Subconscious
Unable to be in further contact with the Main Character who remains under cover, the
Obstacle Character gets a few old friends from the early days to cross paths with the Main
Character in the attempt to loosen him up. Each has been told by the Obstacle Character to
remind the Main Character about "the old days" and how much fun they used to
have, how many dreams they shared before they got "locked in" to the system.
(Note to authors: The Obstacle Character need not be physically present in order for
his impact to be felt!)
Type 4. Subconscious
Now that the Main Character is back in the agency, the Obstacle Character passes
judgment upon him. He tells the Main Character to look to his heart - look to all the
noble things the Main Character had hoped to do in the political realm. The Obstacle
Character asks the Main Character how he feels now, knowing that he has violated the very
ideals he had intended to run on. "What does your heart tell you now?" he asks
of the Main Character, then walks out leaving the dejected Main Character alone.
Subjective Story Domain Plot Progression
It is always best to work on the Subjective Story Domain last since it describes the
growth of the relationship between the Main and Obstacle Characters, and therefore needs
to call upon what was previously determined for them.
Imagine for a moment that the Main Character is a boxer. As an audience we stand in his
shoes, effectively becoming him for the duration of the story. We look in the far corner
and see our opponent, the Obstacle Character warming up for the bout. As the fight begins,
we pass through changing concerns represented by the Main Character Domain Type Order. As
the fight progresses, the Obstacle Character lands some telling blows. These are described
by the Obstacle Character Type Order.
Outside the ring sit the judges. They do not stand in the shoes of the Main Character, nor
are they concerned, fearful, or impacted by the Obstacle Character's attack. Rather, the
judges watch two fighters circling around the issues - maintaining the same relationship
between them as adversaries, but covering different ground in the ring.
So it is with the Subjective Story Domain Type Order. As the first round begins, the Main
and Obstacle Characters converge on a particular issue. They argue the issue, each from
his own point of view. Once they have thrashed that topic into submission, they move on to
another area of friction and continue sparring.
In this fictitious story example, the Subjective Story Domain has been chosen to be
Psychology. The Type order selected for the Subjective Story is as follows:
Conceptualizing, Conceiving, Being, and lastly Becoming.
- Type 1. Conceptualizing
Conceptualizing means working out a plan, model, belief system, or paradigm. In the
Subjective Story, the Main and Obstacle Characters quickly come into conflict about how to
look at the relationship between organized crime and law enforcement. The Main Character
argues that law enforcement is like a breakwater, holding back an ocean of anarchy. The
Obstacle Character sees the system more like an ecology, where each kind of activity has
its place in an ever-changing environment.
- Type 1. Conceptualizing ------> Type 2. Conceiving
As new information about the increasing number of diamond heists builds, both the Main
and Obstacle Characters approach the problem, arguing over how to put the clues into a
meaningful pattern. When they discover the international Consortium, the Main Character
looks for ways to stop it completely, while the Obstacle looks for ways to divert it.
Based on his views, the Main Character Conceives of the need to place one of his agents
deep within the Consortium as a mole. The Obstacle Character argues that the Main
Character is thinking about it all wrong. They should be working out how to make the
heists too difficult and costly a venture so the Consortium will go elsewhere to greener
- Type 2. Conceiving
Conceiving means coming up with an idea or determining a need. They finally come up
with the idea of using the Main Character as the mole in an undercover operation, agreeing
that this will be the best way to proceed given their two points of view. They both
believe that this plan will not only achieve their purposes, but will also make the other
see the error of his ways. The Main Character believes he will be able to prove that he
can stop the Consortium dead in its tracks, and the Obstacle Character believes the Main
Character will be forced to compromise and change his point of view.
- Type 2. Conceiving ------> Type 3. Being
As the Main and Obstacle Character come up with more ideas to help him rise among the
Consortium, they realize they are still not seeing eye to eye on how to run this
operation. The Main Character starts acting more and more impatient with the Obstacle
Character, being more and more like the role he is playing to be in among the sting. The
Obstacle Character starts taking on a different role, that of the Main Character's nagging
- Type 3. Being
Being means acting a role or playing a part. With the Main Character now on the inside
of the Consortium, he adopts the role of an up-and-coming organized crime boss. The
Obstacle character is only allowed to see him while playing the role of his long-time
friend and priest. Having to meet under the gaze of criminals, their relationship becomes
one of play-acting.
- Type 3. Being ------> Type 4. Becoming
In their meetings, the Obstacle Character argues that if the Main Character is
determined to follow through in his plan, and successfully become a mole in the
Consortium, the Main Character needs to play the role better than he has been. This will
mean acting ruthlessly and letting a few people get hurt. The Main Character argues that
he will not cross his personal line, even if that choice blows his cover: if he acted like
them, he says he would be no better than they are. The Obstacle Character points out that
if the Main Character doesn't bend his own code a little more, they will both become
suspected narcs and probably be exposed. This comes down to the choice between letting
crime money be used to save the children's hospital or letting the hospital be shut down,
and the Main Character chooses to save it.
- Type 4. Becoming
Becoming means truly transforming one's nature. The Obstacle Character points out to
the Main Character that The Main Character is no longer the self assured champion of
righteousness he once was. He points out that there was no escaping the change that the
Main Character made in his personal code to be able to bring the Consortium to some
measure of justice. The Main Character responds that the angst he is suffering is a test
of his moral fiber. Those who stand against the pressure and survive Become stronger for
it. He throws the Obstacle Character out of his office yelling that they will never work
together again, but it is clear that the Main Character has seen too much in himself and
has become convinced that his moral ethics are no longer as powerful as they used to be.
to the Next Section of the Book-->
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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
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What They Do
Dramatica is a tool to help you
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How They Work
By itself Dramatic appeals to
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