A Dramatica User Writes...
Can anybody explain the usage of the "element" level of Dramatica especially as it refers to theme and character? I'm about to pull my hair out.
Chris Huntley Replies...
I may not be the best person to describe this to you (since I am partially responsible for your confusion), but let me try. Who knows -- maybe I'll phrase something in a new and "digestible" fashion.
There are 256 elements that comprise the Dramatica "element level" of the Dramatica thematic structure. These are best seen as four "chess sets" of 64 elements, one chess set per Class (or Domain). There are only 64 unique names that describe the 256 elements; each name appears four times--once per chess set. The difference between the chess sets is the arrangement of the elements. Though a dynamic pair (elements in a diagonal relationship within a quad) are never separated, they will be paired with different dynamic pairs in each chess set.
CHARACTERS AND ELEMENTS
Within each chess set of 64 elements, there are four "sets" of 16 elements. These sets are best described as the "Motivations," "Methodologies," "Standards of Evaluation," and "Purposes" as they relate to Character. Collectively, these are the character "functions." (NOTE: Dramatica uses and reuses ALL structural items in different contexts for different purposes. These labels, e.g. motivations, etc., are only appropriate within the context of examining elements in terms of characters.)
There are two primary areas to be discussed about elements with regards to characters:
1) Objective Character Elements
2) Subjective Character Elements
OBJECTIVE CHARACTER ELEMENTS:
Objective characters are created from (and defined by) the elements found within the Objective Story Domain (one of the four chess sets that has been chosen as part of the "arena" or context within which the Objective Story is explored). So, right there we have narrowed the 256 elements to just 64. The elements in the Objective Story domain (in the context of Character) represent different attitudes and approaches to problem solving (e.g. proaction, test, deduction, desire, etc.). These attitudes and approaches serve to illustrate how to or how NOT to resolve an inequity. As such, they represent a "function" within the problem solving process. Each of these functions must be represented in a fully argued story, a Grand Argument Story. Anything that acts as a representative for one or more of these functions is called an Objective Character.
Though these objective characters can remain abstractions (e.g. the faithful supporter, and the proactive tester), most authors prefer to embody them in a person, place, or thing -- a "player." When you attach or assign an element (or objective character) to a player, you are creating a person, place, or thing that represents that element and whose primary purpose as an objective character is to exemplify the element's functionality in the Objective Story. Most objective characters in modern, Western stories are made up of several to many character elements and therefore have a lot of functionality needed to be displayed.
There are MANY ways to illustrate an objective character's function(s). The most direct method is to have that objective character DO whatever he or she represents. If he represents Chaos, then he likes to stir things up. If he represents Deduction, then he narrows down the possibilities like Sherlock Holmes. If he represents Effect, then he might be the poster child for the Love Canal or Three Mile Island (that paints a pretty picture, doesn't it?). However, the objective character need not contain that attribute; it can be attributed to him. If he represents Faith, he might be a priest (we need never know whether or not he HAS faith, only that he represents faith). If he represents Desire, everybody might want his body or fall in love with his face. If he represents Inaction, people might call him lazy and shiftless (even though he might be working on some secret project at night without their awareness). I hope you get the picture.
The bottom line is this -- every element within the Objective Story domain (all 64 of them) represent a function of the complete problem solving process. When a player embodies one or more of these functions, we refer to them in the Objective Story throughline as an Objective Character. Players that do not represent any of the character elements in the Objective Story throughline are window dressing. (NOTE: Window dressing characters aren't bad, it is just important to know that they can be changed or removed on a whim without affecting the cohesiveness and completeness of your Grand Argument Story. The same is not true of the objective characters. If you remove one, another one must take its place in order to continue illustrating the element(s)'s functionality.)
SUBJECTIVE CHARACTERS AND ELEMENTS
Subjective characters, the Main Character and the Obstacle Character, differ in their relationship to elements by comparison to the Objective Characters. The Main and Obstacle characters each have his or her own complete domain. That means each has its own chess set of elements (64 elements each). In a FULLY argued story, the Main Character and the Obstacle Character will each explore ALL of their elements in an effort to resolve their respective inequities (problems). This is one of the reasons why Main and Obstacle characters appear to be more well rounded, more complete than the objective characters. Within the domain of each of the Subjective Characters, we will find one element that is the source of his or her drive (the problem element), the cure for that drive (the solution element), the primary symptom of the drive (the focus element), and the treatment or response to the symptom (the direction element).
It is important to note that the Player that embodies a Subjective Character will also embody an Objective Character. For example, there are many stories whose Main Character is also an archetypal objective character (Pursue, Consider, etc.) known as a protagonist. Obstacle characters are frequently combined with objective character elements like Conscience, Help, Support, or Hinder.
THEME AND THE ELEMENT LEVEL
The meaning of any individual element name is thematic in nature. Faith, Chaos, Trust, Reaction, etc. suggest thematic content.
However, and this is a big HOWEVER, the context within which to view elements as thematic is to see them as part of the entire (thematic) Dramatica structure, contrasted by the Character Dynamics and the Plot Dynamics. If your context exclusively concerns the Dramatica structure, then the Variations are much more thematic in nature (and closer to a more traditional understanding of "theme") than the elements, types, or classes.
I hope this saves you some hair.
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