Story Structure Tip | The Four Dimensions of Story

Every complete narrative has four elemental dimensions: Characters, Plot, Theme, and Genre. You can think of them as the four “bases” of narrative, much like the four bases of DNA. And as with DNA, you can structure the genome of any narrative by using them in the right combinations.

To get a feel for how they work together at a structural level, conside other groups of four that have the same interrelationships:

Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb

Earth, Water, Wind, Fire

Mass, Energy, Space, Time

All three of these sets start off with the most fixed item – the one of the four that is most solid or defined.

Next is the counterpoint to that static element, the action element that has a special binary relationship with the first item. They work upon one another, affect one another directly.

Third is a modifier that alters the context of the first item. For example, Adjective modifies Noun, and Noun provides the specificity of what they Adjective is modifying. Similarly, Wind creates the atmosphere in which Earth reside, and Earth affects Wind by its mountains and canyons. Space provides context for Mass, and Mass warps Space.

And finally, Adverbs, Fire, and Time alter the second items in the list, altering actions, the stat of water (liquid or steam), and the applicaton of energy.

Characters are the fixed items of narrative. They have traits, attitudes, and manners of thinking that define them. They interact with Plot and both affect and are affected by what happens. Theme modifies Characters, providing a message or moral context by which Characters are judged. And Genre modifies Plot so that events are taken in context.

Mass, Energy, Space, and Time in the physical universe are matched by their equivalents of Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire in the mental universe. For example, Knowledge is the Mass of the mind. It is the most substantive, static, and fixed component of self-awareness.

Thought, is the counterpoint of Knowledge. Just as Energy might be applied to move around bricks (Mass), so too Thought can build complex constructs from knowledge. And just as Mass and Energy can be converted into one another as in E=MC2, so too Knowledge and thought can be transmuted as well. A little bit of Knowledge can generate an awful lot of Thought, just as a tiny bit of Mass (in an atomic bomb or a piece of firewood) can generate an awful lot of Energy. But going the other way, it take a great quantity of Energy to make a small amount of Mass, just as it takes much Thought to arrive at true Knowledge.

All of these sets are in play in narrative stucture – the four dimensions that show up in different tangible ways. For example, every scene can be understood as similar to an electrical circuit, in which the dramatics of the scene is created by the four narrative dimensions of Potential, Resistance, Current, and Power (or Outcome). These four dimensions might appear in a scene in any order, but if one component is missing, the dramatic circuit will not flow.

Returning now to our starting point of Characters, Plot, Theme, and Genre, these are the four components of the dramatic circuit of the story at large. Each affects and is affected by the other three, but due to their unique natures, their interrelationships are different. And collectively, when all are present and all are tuned to one another to work synchronously in concernt, the story flows, at a structural level, the genome of the narrative is complete, and the entity that it creates grows to maturity.

All that remains is to tell the story.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-Creator, Dramatica