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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Storyweaving & Storytelling
There are two kinds of storytelling: techniques, those that affect the arrangement of
things (spatial) and those that affect the sequence of things (temporal). In Dramatica
theory, we have cataloged four different techniques of each kind.
Building size (changing scope)
This technique holds audience interest by revealing the true size of something over the
course of the story until it can be seen to be either larger or smaller than it originally
appeared. This makes things appear to grow or diminish as the story unfolds.
Conspiracy stories are usually good examples of increasing scope, as only the tip of the
iceberg first comes to light and the full extent is ultimately much bigger. The motion
picture The Parallax View illustrates this nicely. Stories about things being less
extensive than they originally appear are not unlike The Wizard Of Oz in which a
seemingly huge network of power turns out to be just one man behind a curtain. Both of
these techniques are used almost as a sub-genre in science fiction stories, recently
notable in Star Trek The Next Generation.
Red herrings (changing importance)
Red herrings are designed to make something appear more or less important than it
really is. Several good examples of this technique can be found in the motion picture The
Fugitive. In one scene a police car flashes its lights and siren at Dr. Kimble, but
only to tell him to move along. In another scene, Kimble is in his apartment when an
entire battalion of police show up with sirens blazing and guns drawn. It turns out they
were really after the son of his landlord and had no interest in him at all. Red herrings
can inject storytelling tension where more structurally related weaving may be lethargic.
(Note the difference from changing size, which concentrates on the changing extent of
something, rather than re-evaluations of its power.)
Meaning Reversals (shifting context to change meaning)
Reversals change context. In other words, part of the meaning of anything we consider
is due to its environment. The phrase, guilt by association, expresses this notion.
In Storyweaving, we can play upon audience empathy and sympathy by making it like or
dislike something, only to have it find out it was mistaken. There is an old Mickey Mouse
cartoon called Mickey's Trailer which exemplifies this nicely. The story opens with
Mickey stepping from his house in the country with blue skies and white clouds. He yawns,
stretches, then pushes a button on the house. All at once, the lawn roll up, the fence
folds in and the house becomes a trailer. Then, the sky and clouds fold up revealing the
trailer is actually parked in a junkyard. Certainly a reversal from our original
Message Reversals (shifting context to change message)
In the example above, the structure of the story actually changed from what we thought
it was. In contrast, when we shift context to create a different message , the structure
remains the same, but our appreciation of it changes. This can be seen very clearly in a Twilight
Zone episode entitled, Invaders, in which Agnes Moorhead plays a lady alone on
a farm besieged by aliens from another world. The aliens in question are only six inches
tall, wear odd space suits and attack the simple country woman with space age weapons.
Nearly defeated, she finally musters the strength to overcome the little demons, and
smashes their miniature flying saucer. On its side we see the American Flag, the letters
U.S.A. and hear the last broadcast of the landing team saying they have been slaughtered
by a giant. Now, the structure didn't change, but our sympathies sure did, which was the
purpose of the piece.
Building importance (changing impact)
In this technique, things not only appear more or less important, but actually become
so. This was also a favorite of Hitchcock in such films as North By Northwest and
television series like MacGuyver. In another episode of The Twilight Zone,
for example, Mickey Rooney plays a jockey who gets his wish to be big, only to be too
large to run the race of a lifetime.
There is often a difference between what an audience expects and what logically must
happen. A prime example occurs in the Laurel and Hardy film, The Music Box. Stan and Ollie
are piano movers. The setup is their efforts to get a piano up a quarter mile flight of
stairs to a hillside house. Every time they get to the top, one way or another it slides
down to the bottom again. Finally, they get it up there only to discover the address is on
the second floor! So, they rig a block and tackle and begin to hoist the piano up to the
second floor window. The winch strains, the rope frays, the piano sways. And just when
they get the piano up to the window, they push it inside without incident.
After the audience has been conditioned by the multiple efforts to get the piano up the
stairs, pushing it in the window without mishap has the audience rolling in the aisles, as
Out of sequence experiences (changing temporal relationships)
With this technique, the audience is unaware they are being presented things out of
order. Such a story is the motion picture, Betrayal, with Ben Kingsley. The story
opens and plays through the first act. We come to determine whom we side with and whom we
don't: who is naughty and who is nice. Then, the second act begins. It doesn't take long
for us to realize that this action actually happened before the act we have just
seen. Suddenly, all the assumed relationships and motivations of the characters must be
re-evaluated, and many of our opinions have to be changed. This happens again with the
next act, so that only at the end of the movie are we able to be sure of our opinions
about the first act we saw, which was the last act in the story.
A more recent example is Pulp Fiction in which we are at first unaware that things
are playing out of order. Only later in the film do we catch on to this, and are then
forced to alter our opinions.
Flashbacks and flash-forwards (sneak previews and postviews)
There is a big difference between flashbacks where a character reminisces and
flashbacks that simply transport an audience to an earlier time. If the characters are
aware of the time shift, it affects their thinking, and is therefore part of the story's
structure. If they are not, the flashback is simply a Storyweaving technique engineered to
enhance the audience experience.
In the motion picture and book of Interview With The Vampire, the story is a
structural flashback, as we are really concerned with how Louis will react once he has
finished relating these events from his past. In contrast, in Remains Of The Day,
the story is presented out of sequence for the purpose of comparing aspects of the
characters lives in ways only the audience can appreciate. Even Pulp Fiction
employs that technique once the cat is out of the bag that things are not in order. From
that point forward, we are looking for part of the author's message to be outside
the structure, in the realm of storytelling.
As long as the audience is able to discern the story's structure by the time it is
over, the underlying argument will be clear. Beyond that, there is no law that says if,
when, or in what combinations these Storyweaving techniques can be brought into play. That
is part of the art of storytelling, and as such is best left to the muse.
The one area we have not yet explored is the impact medium and format have on Storyweaving
techniques. Not to leave a stone un-turned, Dramatica has a few tips for several of these.
to the Next Section of the Book-->
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A New Theory of Story
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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
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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
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How They Do It
Dramatica has the world's only
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StoryWeaver uses a revolutionary new
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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
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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
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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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