Category Archives: Dramatica

Dramatica is a theory of narrative structure that became the basis for Dramatica story development software. This category covers all things Dramatica from the practical to the science behind it.

Browse through the articles or use the search box at the top of the page to find just what you are looking for, and may the Muse be with you!

“Ability” and Story Structure

What’s “Ability” have to do with story structure?

In this article I’m going to talk about how the Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure uses the term “ability” and how it applies not only to story structure and characters but to real people, real life and psychology as well.

If you look in Dramatica’s “Periodic Table of Story Elements” chart (you can download a free PDF of the chart at ) you’ll find the “ability” in one of the little squares.  Look in the “Physics” class in the upper left-hand corner.  You’ll find it in a “quad” of four items, “Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire”.

To begin with, a brief word about the Dramatica chart itself.  The chart is sort of like a Rubik’s Cube.  It holds all the elements which must appear in every complete story to avoid holes.  Conceptually, you can twist it and turn it, just like a Rubik’s Cube, and when you do, it is like winding up a clock – you create dramatic potential.

How is this dramatic potential created?  The chart represents all the categories of things we think about.  Notice that the chart is nested, like wheels within wheels.  That’s the way our mind’s work.  And if we are to make a solid story structure with no holes, we have to make sure all ways of thinking about the story’s central problem or issues are covered.

So, the chart is really a model of the mind.  When you twist it and turn it represents the kinds of stress (and experience) we encounter in everyday life.  Sometimes things get wound up as tight as they can.  And this is where a story always starts.  Anything before that point is backstory, anything after it is story.

The story part is the process of unwinding that tension.  So why does a story feel like tension is building, rather than lessoning?  This is because stories are about the forces that bring a person to chane or, often, to a point of change.

As the story mind unwinds, it puts more and more pressure on the main character (who may be gradually changed by the process or may remain intransigent until he changes all at once).  It’s kind of like the forces that  create earthquakes.  Tectonic plates push against each other driven by a background force (the mantle).  That force is described by the wound up Dramatica chart of the story mind.

Sometimes, in geology, this force gradually raises or lowers land in the two adjacent plate.  Other times it builds up pressure until things snap all at once in an earthquake.  So too in psychology, people (characters) are sometimes slowly changed by the gradual application of pressure as the story mind clock is unwinding; other times that pressure applied by the clock mechanism just builds up until the character snaps in Leap Of Faith – that single “moment of truth” in which a character must decide either to change his ways or stick by his guns believing his current way is stronger than the pressure bought to bear – he believes he just has to outlast the forces against him.

Sometimes he’s right to change, sometimes he’s right to remain steadfast, and sometimes he’s wrong.  But either way, in the end, the clock has unwound and the potential has been balanced.

Hey, what happened to “ability”?  Okay, okay, I’m getting to that….

The chart (here we go again!) is filled with semantic terms – things like Hope and Physics and Learning and Ability.  If you go down to the bottom of the chart in the PDF you’ll see a three-dimensional representation of how all these terms are stacked together.  In the flat chart, they look like wheels within wheels.  In the 3-D version, they look like levels.

These “levels” represent degrees of detail in the way the mind works.  At the most broadstroke level (the top) there are just four items – Universe, Physics, Mind and Psychology.  They are kind of like the Primary Colors of the mind – the Red, Blue, Green and Saturation (effectively the addition of something along the black/white gray scale).

Those for items in additive color theory are four categories describing what can create a continuous spectrum.  In a spectrum is really kind of arbitrary where you draw the line between red and blue.  Similarly, Universe, Mind, Physics and Psychology are specific primary considerations of the mind.

Universe is the external state of things – our situation or envirnoment.  Mind is the internal state – an attitude, fixation or bias.  Physics looks at external activities – processes and mechanisms.  Psychology looks at internal activities – manners of thinking in logic and feeling.

Beneath that top level of the chart are three other levels.  Each one provides a greater degree of detail on how the mind looks at the world and at itself.  It is kind of like adding “Scarlet” and “Cardinal” as subcategories to the overall concept of “Red”.

Now the top level of the Dramatica chart describe the structural aspects of “Genre”  Genre is the most broadstroke way of looking at a story’s structure.   The next level down has a bit more dramatic detail and describes the Plot of a story.  The third level down maps out Theme, and the bottom level (the one with the most detail) explores the nature of a story’s Characters.

So there you have the chart from the top down, Genre, Plot, Theme and Characters.  And as far as the mind goes, it represents the wheels within wheels and the sprectrum of how we go about considering things.  In fact, we move all around that chart when we try to solve a problem.  But the order is not arbitrary.  The mind has to go through certain “in-betweens” to get from one kind of consideration to another or from one emotion to another.  You see this kind of thing in the stages of grief and even in Freud’s psycho-sexual stages of development.

All that being said now, we finally return to Ability – the actual topic of this article.  You’ll find Ability, then, at the very bottom of the chart – in the Characters level – in the upper left hand corner of the Physics class.  In this article I won’t go into why it is in Physics or why it is in the upper left, but rest assured I’ll get to that eventually in some article or other.

Let’s now consider “Ability” in its “quad” of four Character Elements.  The others are Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire.  I really don’t have space in this article to go into detail about them at this time, but suffice it to say that Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire are the internal equivalents of Universe, Mind, Physics and Pyschology.  They are the conceptual equivalents of Mass, Energy, Space and Time.  (Chew on that for awhile!)

So the smallest elements are directly connect (conceptually) to the largest in the chart.  This represents what we call the “size of mind constant” which is what determines the scope of an argument necessary to fill the minds of readers or an audience.  In short, there is a maximum depth of detail one can perceive while still holding the “big picture” in one’s mind at the very same time.

Ability – right….

Ability is not what you can do.  It is what you are “able” to do.  What’s the difference?  What you “can” do is essentially your ability limited by your desire.  Ability describes the maximum potential that might be accomplished.  But people are limited by what they should do, what they feel obligated to do, and what they want to do.  If you take all that into consideration, what’s left is what a person actually “can” do.

In fact,  if we start adding on limitations you  move from Ability to Can and up to even higher levels of “justification” in which the essential qualities of our minds, “Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire” are held in check by extended considerations about the impact or ramifications of acting to our full potential.

One quad greater in justification you find “Can, Need, Want, and Should” in Dramatica’s story mind chart.  Then it gets even more limited by Responsibility, Obligation, Commitment and Rationalization.  Finally we end up “justifying” so much that we are no longer thinking about Ability (or Knowledge or Thought or Desire) but about our “Situation, Circumstance, Sense of Self and State of Being”.  That’s about as far away as you can get from the basic elements of the human mind and is the starting point of where stories begin when they are fully wound up.  (You’ll find all of these at the Variation Level in the “Psychology” class in the Dramatica chart, for they are the kinds of issues that most directly affect each of our own unique brands of our common human psychology.

A story begins when the Main Character is stuck up in that highest level of justification.  Nobody gets there because they are stupid or mean.  They get there because their unique life experience has brought them repeated exposures to what appear to be real connections between things like, “One bad apple spoils the bunch” or “Where there’s smoke , there’s fire.”

These connections, such things as –  that one needs to adopt a certain attitude to succeed or that a certain kind of person is always lazy or dishonest – these things are not always universally true, but may have been universally true in the Main Character’s experience.  Really, its how we all build up our personalities.  We all share the same basic psychology but how it gets “wound up” by experience determines how we see the world.  When we get wound up all the way, we’ve had enough experience to reach a conclusion that things are always “that way” and to stop considering the issue.  And that is how everything from “winning drive” to “prejudice” is formed – not by ill intents or a dull mind buy by the fact that no two life experiences are the same.

The conclusions we come to, based on our justifications, free out minds to not have to reconsider every connection we see.  If we had to, we’d become bogged down in endlessly reconsidering everything, and that just isn’t a good survival trait if you have to make a quick decision for fight or flight.

So, we come to certain justification and build upon those with others until we have established a series of mental dependencies and assumptions that runs so deep we can’t see the bottom of it – the one bad brick that screwed up the foundation to begin with.  And that’s why psychotherapy takes twenty years to reach the point a Main Character can reach in a two hour movie or a two hundred page book.

Now we see how Ability (and all the other Dramatica terms) fit into story and into psychology.  Each is just another brick in the wall.  And each can be at any level of the mind and at any level of justification.  So, Ability might be the problem in one story (the character has too much or too little of it) or it might be the solution in another (by discovering an ability or coming to accept one lacks a certain ability the story’s problem – or at least the Main Character’s personal problem – can be solved).  Ability might be the thematic topic of one story and the thematic counterpoint of another (more on this in other articles).

Ability might crop up in all kinds of ways, but the important thing to remember is that wherever you find it, however you use it, it represents the maximum potential, not necessarily the practical limit that can be actually applied.

Well, enough of this.  To close things off, here’s the Dramatica Dictionary description of the world Ability that Chris and I worked out some twenty years ago, straight out of the Dramatica diction (available online at :

Ability • Most terms in Dramatica are used to mean only one thing. Thought, Knowledge, Ability, and Desire, however, have two uses each, serving both as Variations and Elements. This is a result of their role as central considerations in both Theme and Character

[Variation] • Desire<–>Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • Ability describes the actual capacity to accomplish something. However, even the greatest Ability may need experience to become practical. Also, Ability may be hindered by limitations placed on a character and/or limitations imposed by the character upon himself. • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency

[Element] • Desire<–>Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • An aspect of the Ability element is an innate capacity to do or to be. This means that some Abilities pertain to what what can affect physically and also what one can rearrange mentally. The positive side of Ability is that things can be done or experienced that would otherwise be impossible. The negative side is that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done. And, just because one can be a certain way does not mean it is beneficial to self or others. In other words, sometimes Ability is more a curse than a blessing because it can lead to the exercise of capacities that may be negative • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-creator, Dramatica

Author’s Note:  Check out all our Dramatic products here.

And here’s something else I created for writers….

Dramatica Do-er vs. Be-er

A Dramatica student asks:

In Dramatica theory, are all Objective Characters be-ers and all Subjective Characters do-ers?

My reply:

No, there is no assignment of be-er or do-er to objective characters at all. Objective Characters, such as the archetypes, are all defined by their functions only, when seen in terms of structure.

Naturally, in storytelling, you layer on a personality for each objective character to help the readers or audience connect to them as real people. And that personality, which is independent of structure, could be a do-er or a be-er, but it is not assigned by structure.

Conversely, Subjective Characters, of which there are two: Main and Influence, will be do-ers or be-ers, based on which domain you have chosen for them in your structural storyform. Universe (Situation) and Physics (Activities) are both externally focused areas of exploration, so if your Main character resides in one of these, he or she will be a do-er as a result.

And, since the Influence Character is diametrically opposed in outlook to the Main Character, they will be positioned in the domain opposite that (diagonally) to the Main Character. So, if your Main Character is in one of the external domains, your Influence Character will be in one of the internal domains: Mind (Attitude) or Psychology (Manner of Thinking), which will make it a be-er.

So, to sum up, only the two subjective characters are structurally mandated as be-ers or do-ers, they will be opposites.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Can There Be More Than One Protagonist In A Story?

A writer recently asked:

I write Western genre screenplays. And I love to use Dramatica Pro. In Western Genre sometime I will run into more than one  protagonist more than one antagonist . I name my antagonist in Dramatica Pro and then when I try to name another antagonist it will not allow me to go any further down the road in story. Will there be another advanced software in Dramatica Pro that will allow me to name more than one antagonist and let me go on with my story and continue to use Dramatica Pro?

Here’s my reply:

There is only one protagonist and antagonist in a story, but there may be more than one story in a single book or movie.

The protagonist is defined as the character who is leading the effort to achieve the Story Goal, and the antagonist is trying to prevent him from doing that.

The protagonist and antagonist represent initiative and reticence in our own minds – the force to effect change and the force to prevent change or to embrace or return to the status quo.

There can be a protagonistic group where, as an assembly they all function as a single protagonist, but if there were just two protagonists, they would both have to be the prime mover of the quest to the goal and they both can’t be, by definition. Or, each could have a separate Story Goal that affected everyone, but then you really have two stories.

In a nut shell, here’s why narrative works that way. Narratives reflect how people interact in real life. As individuals, we all have a sense of initiative, reason, emotion, skepticism and so on. And in solving personal problems we use all of these to try and find the solution.

But when we come together as a group toward a common purpose, we quickly self-organize into specialities, where one person becomes the Voice of Reason, another as the resident Skeptic and another as the Prime Operative who pushes everyone else forward toward completion of the group’s goal.

The “specialists” are represented in narrative as the archetypes, and each is just one facet of all the traits an individual has, yet each function just as we do in groups, focusing on just one aspect of the problem solving so that, collectively, the group can go into more detail and thought than if we were all general practitioners, each trying to be a jack of all trades (as we have to do for our personal issues.

Now the protagonist in the group – the one leading the effort – does not have to also be the main character. The main character is the group’s identity – the character who represents the spirit of the group – its personality in a sense. Sometimes the leader of the effort is also heart and soul of the group, in which case you have a typical hero who not only does the job, but also has to grapple with a personal issue – a decision about his own value standards that can make or break the overall effort depending on how he decides to see things, often in a leap of faith, as when Scrooge changes in A Christmas Carol.

So, only one protagonist or antagonist or reason archetype or emotion archetype, etc. per narrative.

BUT, often stories have sub-narratives built around some of the archetypes. Everyone has a story of their own. And so does every character in an overall story. We just don’t always choose to sell those “sub-stories” because we want to focus on the principals and not clutter things up.

But, you can take any character and create a sub-story around a personal goal in which he is the protagonist and main character in his own personal narrative that is not at all the issue the whole group is dealing with. This sub-story might be completely independent of the main story, or it might be hinged so that events in a character’s personal narrative are so potent than it causes the character to step out of his function in the overall story in a surprising way.

After all, our own personal narratives tend to be more important to us than the narrative of the overall group with whom we are associated.

So, with sub-stories, it can seem as if there are two protagonists in the story and even two antagonists, but they aren’t really in the same story but in a sub-story in the same overall “world” you’ve created in your story telling – your story universe.

I hope this helps provide some new ways in which to think about your characters and plot.

Let me know if you have any additional questions and may the Muse be with you!

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

Four Facets of the Story Mind

One of the unique concepts that sets the Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure apart from all other story paradigms is the assertion that every complete story is a model of the mind’s problem solving process.

This Story Mind does not work like a computer, performing one operation after another until the solution is obtained. Rather, it works more holistically, like our own minds, bringing many conflicting considerations to bear on the issue. It is the author’s argument as to the relative value of these considerations in solving a particular problem that gives a story its meaning.

To make his case, an author must examine all significant approaches to resolving the story’s specific problem. If a part of the argument is left out, the story will have holes. If the argument is not made in an even-handed fashion, the story will have inconsistencies.

Characters, Plot, Theme, and Genre are the different families of considerations in the Story Mind made tangible, so audience members can see them at work and gain insight into their own methods of solving problems.

Characters represent the motivations of the Story Mind (which often work at cross purposes and come into conflict). Plot documents the problem solving methods employed by the Story Mind. Theme examines the relative worth of the Story Mind’s value standards. Genre establishes the Story Mind’s overall attitude, which casts a bias or background on all other considerations. When a story is fully developed, the model of the Story Mind is complete.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

Essential Perspectives in Your Story’s Structure

All meaning comes from perspective – putting things in context. And perspective is created by the combination of what you are looking at and where you are looking from. Change the object of your intention and perspective is altered. Shift your point of view and perspective shifts as well.

The Dramatica Story Structure Chart is a map of what you might wish to explore (look at) in a story.  When you pick your topics and add points of view you have determined how your readers or audience will be positioned in regard to the issues you wish to explore, which is the essence of story structure

The Dramatica chart is divided into four different sections, each one representing a different kind of topic.

SITUATIONS:  The first section deals with stories about fixed situations, such as being stuck in a collapsed mine or struggling with a disability.

ACTIVITIES:  The second area is for stories about activities like trying to win a race or the effort to discover a lost civilization.

ATTITUDES:  The third covers stories about fixed attitudes, mindsets, fixations or prejudices.

MANIPULATION:  The final section deals with changing attitudes, manners of thinking, and emotional progressions such as slipping into a depression.


To create meaning in our story we need to add points of view to the topics under consideration.

Just as there are four kinds of topics, there are also four points of view from which to see them.  They are the Objective View,  the Subjective View, the Main Character View, and the Influence Character View.

THE OBJECTIVE VIEW:  The Objective view explores your story’s topics as would a general on a hill watching a battle in the valley down below. Though he cares about the conflict below him, he is not directly participating and also sees a bird’s eye view of the broad strategies involved. Essentially, the Objective view encompasses the “Big Picture” of the grand schemes in your story – from the outside looking in.

THE MAIN CHARACTER VIEW:  But what about the personal view – what things look like from the inside looking out. For that, we have to imagine that we zoom down from the hill into the shoes of one of the soldiers on the field of battle. We experience what he experiences, we feel what he feels, we see things through his eyes. This is the most personal point of view in a story, and it is that of the Main Character – the character with home the reader/audience most identifies – the one whom the passion of the story seems to be about or to revolve around.

THE INFLUENCE CHARACTER VIEW:  The third point of view is from the inside looking in – much like one soldier encountering another in the midst of all the dramatic explosions. This represents the way we all look within ourselves to consider our options, other outlooks we might adopt, whether or not we should change our point of view. So this is the view of the Main Character looking at the Obstacle Character – representing that alternative paradigm we might change to embrace.

THE SUBJECTIVE VIEW:  Finally, there is the Subjective view of the argument we make with ourselves about the pros and cons of sticking to our guns or changing our minds. This is represented by the personal skirmish between the Main and Influence charactersin the midst of the overall battle as seen by the general from the Objective view.

In essence, these four points of view are equivalent to I, You, We and They.

The Main Character is “I” – our sense of self or identity in our own minds.

The Influence Character is “You” – perhaps our future “I” – another way of being we might adopt.

The Subjective Story is about “We” – our examination of the relationship between our now and futures selves – the difference between who we are and who we might become.

The Objective Story is “They” representing all the other aspects of ourselves that aren’t being pressured to possibly change.  This is the realm of the archetypal characters.

Having outlined the four topic categories and the four points of view, what remains is to combine them together to create your story’s structural perspectives. In fact, all four topic categories must be explored in your story for it to feel complete. What sets one story apart from another begins by the author’s decision as to which point of view will be used to explore which topic category.

When the points of view are matched to a corresponding topic realm, four principal perspectives are created for your story. And each perspective is a different angle on the truth at the heart of your story – a different approach to discovering and solving the problem issue that creates all the difficulties in your story.

This match of point of view and topic area of interest is called a “Domain.” So, since the four points of view are matched up with the four topic areas, your story will have four Domains of perspective – the Objective Domain, Subjective Domain, Main Character Domain, and Influence Character Domain.

To fully develop your story, you’ll need to dig deep into each domain to see in greater detail the true heart of your story’s problems. This means that each point of view looks deeper and deeper into sub-topics within the overall topic over the course of the story.

To facilitate this, each domain in the chart is divided into smaller and smaller parts – squares  within squares so they are balanced evenly within the mechanics of your story’s structure.

As an example, in the Dramatica chart we find that the overall area of Situation is sub-divided into four smaller aspects: Past, Present, Future, and Progress, while the area of Activities is divided into Learning, Understanding, Doing, and Obtaining.

Each of these areas requires a little study to really understand how to use the chart to explore your subject areas in a way that creates the kind of impact you wish to have on your readers or audience.

Summing up, for a story to having meaning and to build a message, we must include all four of the topic areas and all four points of view to fully develop the four essential perspectives of story structure.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Enough Theory! How Does Dramatica Work on REAL Stories?!

From a Dramaticapedia reader:

Your blogs seem to be always in the abstract. Let’s see something about a successful story in the real world.    I would love to see a Dramatica setup for real stories that have been successful.

My reply:

Here’s a link to more than 70 complete analyses of novels, movies, stage plays, and television programs:

Now here’s a link to almost 200 additional “raw” storyforms (just the 80+ Story Engine settings) for a number of popular stories in various media:

Here’s another link to an ongoing series of podcasts, each analyzing a different story in various media:

And finally, here’s a link to some analysis videos as well:

As for my posts being abstract, yep, you’re right – I’m the abstract one. Chris, the other co-creator of Dramatica is the more practical-minded of the two of us. (All the above links come from his company’s web site, which is far more focused on application.)

The way we work is, I advance the edges of the theory and he figures out how to put it to work. When he turns one of my concepts into something tangible, I used that as a platform to reach for the next concept. That is why we have worked so well together for over 20 years, and why Dramatica has become both so extensive in theory and useful as well.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Does Dramatica Edit Your Story For You?

A writer asks:

Does Dramatica software edit and give better solutions for certain parts of a story as an editor may do?

My reply:

Dramatica doesn’t read or process what you write in it. Rather, it asks a series of multiple-choice questions about your dramatic intent. As you answer them, Dramatica’s interactive Story Engine cross-references the dramatic impact of your answers to start building the underlying logistic structure of your story. The more choices you make, the more options are ruled out because of the combined influence of what you’ve already chosen. Eventually, you answer enough questions for Dramatica to go ahead and finish the rest of the structure for you.

This structure is called a Storyform, and it is essentially a map of all your story points and how they relate together in your story. But, this is just the basic bare-bones structural points – it doesn’t include your subject matter or any of your storytelling style. For example, every story has a goal. As a result of your answers, Dramatica may determine that the goal in your story is about Obtaining something. For another story you might develop, the goal might turn out to be Becoming a different kind of person. Clearly those are two different kinds of goals, and each one would be the dramatically sound goal for each particular story.

But, if your goal were Obtaining, Dramatica won’t tell you what is to be obtained. Or, if you have a goal of Becoming, it won’t tell you what kind of person the character is trying to become. That part is up to you. But if you know your goal is Obtaining and NOT becoming, then you understand that underlying structural story point and then need to fill it in with your own subject matter.

You can answer the questions about something you’ve already written, or something you are going to write. Either way, Dramatica will provide that kind of help for over eighty different story points from the Main Character’s personal problem to the overall concern that everyone is worried about in the story at large. Armed with this information, you have a sound dramatic framework from which to write.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator StoryWeaver
Co-creator Dramatica

Story Structure Help for the Ukraine

A writer in the Ukraine recently wrote me with some questions about the Dramatica theory of narrative structure.  First, his questions (indented) and then my answers below each.


I’m a big “Dramatica” fan from Ukraine!

Recently I was struggling with understanding some “Dramatica” aspects and especially with translating “Dramatica Dictionary”.

Can you, please, help me? Unfortunately, I haven’t found answers to my questions on your web-site.

Hello to the Ukraine!

Nice to meet you.

Here are some answers to your questions. I’ve put my answers right below each question for easy reference:

1. I agree, that we need Overall Story as bird’s eye view, Main Character Storyline to get to know more about MC, to sympathize and even empathize with him, to see the Story through his eyes nd of course we need MC/IC Storyline to see the battle between two alternate Approaches and Worldviews.

But I can’t understand one thing – why do we need separate IC Storyline? I thought we are interested in IC as long (and as much) as he has direct connection and influence on MC. Yes, we need Impact Character to show MC an alternative way, but having separate IC Line – is it so necessary?

Here are some thoughts on that. First of all, in the mind, the MC represents our sense of self – our identity – “I think therefore I am.” The IC represents the person we might become if we decide to change. And so, in the course of our internal exploration as to whether to retain our identity exactly as it is or to alter it in regard to a particular issue represented by the IC we need to know as much about the IC as we can, in order to make our best educated guess as to whether to stick to our guns or alter our outlook.

Also, the four throughlines represent I (mc), You (ic), we (mc vs. ic) and They (OS). We need all four points of view to understand the environment in which we make our decisions.

2. If we have a Story where there are Main Character and Protagonist (separate characters) – MC goes through a mental emotional journey and decides: he will Change or remain Steadfast. But does Protagonist go through such inner journey or he just goes from Event to Event in a Story (goes only through Outer Journey)? Protagonist doesn’t need to choose between Change and Steadfastness, right?

Correct. Protagonist is only concerned with achieving the goal, though he or she may have very personal and passionate reasons for doing so. But, they are not internally conflicted and do not question their chosen point of view on the matter.

3. When we separate Main Character from Protagonist – does Main Character still have a Goal? Or the main Story Goal is only in hands of Protagonist?

The MC still has a personal goal – it is the kind of angst or anguish they are trying to overcome. The MC’s Concern and Issue and Problem give us some indications as to the nature of that angst. But, keep in mind that the MC, if not the protagonist, must be one of the other characters. If you are using archetypes, the MC could be any of the other 7 archetypes. This is important because the MC’s choice to change or remain steadfast is the lynchpin between the personal issue and story goal that the protagonist is after. The way the MC chooses will determine if the Protagonist finds success or failure, even if the MC is not directly involved in that effort.

4. In the Story Climax there is a battle between Protagonist and Antagonist. But when we have separate Main Character – should he also be involved in this battle? Or he has his own – battle between him and Impact Character?

You suspect correctly, the MC will have a battle of morals or outlooks with the IC in the climax. BUT because the MC will also be one of the objective characters, in that role the “player” that is both MC and an objective character may be involved with the Protagonist in the battle with the Antagonist.

5. If we have a Story with separate Protagonist character and Main Character and also have Complex characters with swapped characteristics like in “Wizard of Oz” – is there a possibility, that Protagonist and Main Character would seem like cardboard cutouts in comparison? Can we accidentally make our supporting character More Interesting than our Main Character or Protagonist? The Only way we can make Main Character complex – is to combine him with Protagonist? The Only way we can make Protagonist complex – is to combine him with Main Character?

Well, any characters can swap characteristics, so if you want a complex “player” then assign the role of MC to a complex objective character. Still, consider that the MC gets a whole class by himself and so does the IC. Also, the MC/IC conflict gets a whole class. But the OS only gets one class and that is where all the objective characters live. So, just by the set-up, stories are designed to give far more exploration to the MC, IC, and their relationship than we find in the OS. You’ll find that this depth of personal, internal exploration makes the MC plenty complex, no matter if their objective player role is archetypal or complex.

6. What came first: Action or Decision? For me it’s really hard to judge. It’s like asking “What came first: Chicken or Egg?”. They are so interconnected. I thought that what if the answer is hiding in Inciting Incident – what Event pushes the Story Forward? If we answer this – we’ll know: Action or Decision, right?

That’s pretty spot on. But, you’ll find that the inciting incident of Action or Decision keeps repeating itself throughout the story. In other words, the inciting incident (action or decision) will occur prompting a response of the remaining item. For example, if an earthquake happens, it prompts decisions about what to do next. If a princess DECIDES to marry someone by the end of the week, everyone springs into action to win her hand. But, once the inciting incident has been dealt with, immediate potential is neutralized. But then, a new inciting incident will crop up requiring a new response. In this manner, .the “driver” will always be the same, throughout the story – in other words, the causality between action and decision is maintained.

The other key point is that whatever the driver is at the beginning that sets things off in a tizzy (action or decision), the plot will be brought to a conclusion by the same driver as the inciting incident. So, action driven stories will end through an action taken at the end that stops the domino effect of the causality. Similarly, decision driven stories will end through a decision that ends that causality.

But that’s just my assumption. For example, first scene in movie “Armageddon” (1997) shows that Meteor “Shower” destroys satellite = Action. Then they are talking about it and trying to develop a plan for rescuing Earth = Decision. Then they arrive to the oil derrick, train men to be an astronauts = Action and so on. So, maybe, in this movie Action is primary.

You pretty much have it. Even though the Bruce Willis character “decides” to sacrifice his life by setting off the bomb, it is the action of the bomb exploding that ends the causal runaway domino effect.

In detective story (like Colombo, Poirot, Sherlock) first we see the Murder = Action and then we see Investigation = Decision.

Yes. And it is an action that is required at the end as well.

In “Ocean’s Eleven” during the whole movie they are trying to develop a plan of the robbery – so it’s Decision Story? But there are plenty of Action (actually performing what they planned).

Yes – keep in mind that the choice of action or decision only determines the causal order of what drives the story. How MUCH of each is in a story is completely up to you and your storytelling. So, a story that begins with a decision, such as The Godfather, can have a tremendous amount of action in it but it ends in the decision to accept Michael as the new Don.

Then what are Decision-movies? Maybe “12 Angry Men”? The whole movie is a Decision-making process. But Inciting Incident was the Murder – Action again.

Well, we never see the murder in 12 Angry Men. It has already happened in the back story. The story begins with the charge to come to a decision. Still, you have to be careful. A story with a decision as the goal does not necessarily mean that it begins and ends with a decision. You really have to look at the back and forth alternation of decision and action to see which one triggers a sequence and which one wraps it up: which creates a potential and which neutralizes that potential.

Yes, I remember that when deciding A or D we don’t need to look at how much A or D there are in a Story.

Indeed. In fact you not only don’t need to look at that, you shouldn’t.

But what is the best, quick and accurate way to identify A or D then?

Look for the moments when a story seems like all the forward momentum has been halted or all the potential has been resolved or all the momentary frenzy has been satisfied. What satisfied it – an action or decision? And what throws another monkey wrench in the story forcing the characters to respond – an action or a decision?

7. Can the Contagonist slow down the Protagonist by accident, can C even not know that he’s doing it? Or he should always be aware about his function and be consciously willing to slow down the Protagonist?

Objective characters, like the protagonist, antagonist and contagonist, are defined by their function in the story. They are defined about how the “work,” not by their opinion of themselves. For example, you could have someone who prides himself on being logical but is actually making all his decisions based on passion. This would be the Emotion archetype, not the Reason archetype for though he things of himself as Reason, his actual function is as passion.

Objective character are objective because we seen them from an objective point of view, like a general on a hill watching a battle. You identify them by their function in the story, not by their awareness of non-awareness of that function.

8. Who can be an Impact Character in a Story:

– Love Interest?

– Sidekick?

– Guardian?

– Contagonist?

All of the above. Any of the Objective Characters can be the IC. Objective characters are identified by role, IC (and MC) are identified by point of view. You can attach a point of view to any of the Objective charactrs.

Seems like each of then can be IC.


9. What is the difference between Preconditions and Prerequisites? What are real-life examples (or from movies)? Is it like: if I want to become a student of Oxford, for example, I need to know English not lower than a certain level (this is Precondition). And for this I need to take some necessary steps (Prerequisites) like watching more movies without translation, engage with English tutor or even living in UK for some time to listen to the native speakers. Is my understanding correct?

Best way to think of it is prerequisites are logistically necessary to advance the effort toward the goal. But preconditions are only necessary because someone insists those things are added on. For example, to meet one of the requirements of a goal, the protagonist needs a boat to get across a river. There’s only on person who has a boat and he will let the protagonist use it if the protagonist will take his daughter along. So, the boat is the prerequisite, the daughter is the precondition.

10. What is the difference between Inaction and Protection? It’s the same for me. What real-life or movie example illustrates these terms?

Protection can be like building up defenses or standing between danger and someone else or fighting to keep harm from coming to something or someone. Inaction is not doing anything at all. But, sometimes, just standing by, as in passive resistance, can be a tool for change for it causes forces to change directions to go around you into a new course.

11. What is the difference between Proven and Unproven? It also seems the same for me. Is it just shifted emphasis? Like first i concentrate on what is proven and make my assumptions and decisions based on it. But then I look at clues and shady relationships that are still unproven and try to find evidence to prove they really exist.

Proven and unproven are ways of evaluating. Those focusing on Proven seek to build an understanding based on what is actually known, leaving out anything that is not yet certain. Those focusing on Unproven seek to widen consideration to what might be since it has not yet been ruled out.

“We have proven he was in the same city as each of the three murders at the same time they were committed.” “Sure, and so were 10,000 other people. What you haven’t proven is why he was there.”

Sorry for long letter. I just want to figure out “Dramatica” and, hopefully, successfully use it to make full Stories.

No problem. Always happy to help a seeker.

Thank you for your time and can’t wait to read answers)))



The Dramatica Concept

Over the years there’s been so much sophisticated material written about how the Dramatica theory of narrative structure deals with all kinds of complex story issues that it is easy to forget about the central purpose of Dramatica in the first place.

So, here’s a short article to help those of you new to Dramatica to get a grip on what it is and why its important.


There’s two parts to stories – the part that gets us all excited (the subject matter and style) and the dry, frustrating part (the underlying structure).

Writers also come in two varieties – the intuitive writers who like to follow their Muse and the logical writers who like to build their stories from the ground up, according to plan.

There are very few folk who do both very well.  We usually call them “Master Storytellers” or John LeCarre or Shakespeare or Aaron Sorkin.

For the rest of us, we usually have some degree of talent in one of the two areas and a noticeable lack in the other.  Me – I’m great at following the Muse, but can’t structure a story worth a darn.

So, twenty years ago, a friend of mine and I went hunting for the answer to story structure.  Along the way, we invented a whole new theory of it called “Dramatica.”

Dramatica says that structure is like the platter on which you serve up your passion and ideas.  Structure is like the carrier wave in radio upon which the program is broadcast.

If structure is done right, it is invisible – just like that carrier way you never hear in a radio program.  But if it isn’t tuned properly, it gets in the way of the program, creating static and drop-outs.  And, you certainly don’t your readers dropping out of your story or stumbling over a logical problem when logic is the last thing you want them to be thinking about.

So, the Dramatica theory deals solely with that dry, uninteresting, but essential underlying “story argument,” because without that sound foundation, even the most interesting subject matter and most intriguing storytelling will collapse.

Well, that’s an introduction to the concept.  What I’m writing these days is like “doctorate level” dissertations – for the following of hard-core structuralists I’ve collected over the years.

Keep in mind, it is all about form, not formula.  It is more like studying good graphic design than paint by numbers.

If you are still interested, I can point you at some good videos and articles I’ve created over the years on the basic concepts.  Just let me know.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Learn more about Dramatica Theory


What Good Is Dramatica?

Chris Huntley and I developed a theory of story structure back in the early 1990’s.  Our theory was all about the relationships among structural story points – like a Rubik’s cube of story structure.  We programmed those relationships – that cube of story – into a software program called Dramatica where they became something we call the “Story Engine,” and it is not like any other tool for story.

Basically, you answer questions about the kind of structure you want for your story, and behind the scenes, the Story Engine adjusts the relationships among all the story points of your potential structure accordingly.

As you answer each question, it tightens up your structure a little more until you reach a point where all the other questions are automatically answered because your previous questions have enough influence to lock the structure.

You can answer the questions in any order you like, starting with the ones most important to you on a given story, and in this way, your story structure always reflects your intent as an author, yet is always complete and consistent.

Simple concept, but it requires a bit of learning about the story points, the questions and their implications for your story.

If you are more of an intuitive writer, you may find it a little too specific, but if you are looking for some guidance or a framework for your story that provides form, not formula, then Dramatica is probably just what you are looking for.

Like all our products for writers, it comes with a risk-free 90 Day return policy, so if it doesn’t work with your writing style, you can get just ask for your money back.