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The Dramatica Structure - Elements

by Melanie Anne Phillips
creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica

Most of the Dramatica Tips of the Week are very practical and immediately useful. But every once in a while, someone asks a "theory-oriented" question that requires a completely impractical answer.

Today someone wondered:

Why do the Elements at the bottom of each Class in the Dramatica Structure have the same names, but fall in different arrangements?

The answer to this gets into the heavy-duty theory at the heart of the patented Story Engine that drives the Dramatica software. Unless you just love to curl up with a good book by Einstein or Stephen Hawking, just delete this particular tip now – don’t torture yourself!

Rest assured, the very next tip will be completely practical and useful right out of the box, no assembly required! But in deference to those who believe, The Truth is Out There, and will risk even their sanity to uncover it, here is the answer to the question….

First, a quick "non-math" answer in conversational terms:

The Elements are the same names in each Class because they represent the basic truths in the story. They are in different arrangements because each Class looks at them in a different way.

A FAR longer, more complete, but still "non-math" answer:

Just like those "blue blocker" sunglasses or "seeing the world through rose-colored glasses," looking at the Dramatica structure ( ) we can think of each "Class" as a different filter on our world. The four classes filter things such as External or Internal States and Processes. The physics filter, for example, is an External Process and lets through more activities and tends to block out or de-emphasize situations, attitudes, and mental activities.

The next level down adds a second filter to the "pack". In fact, that Type level shows what that already once-filtered "truth" looks like through each of the same four original filters, giving us Understanding, Learning, Doing and Obtaining, each also representing an External or Internal state or process.

But, by looking through two filters instead of one, we have not only blocked out more of the original "light of Truth" but we have also added some distortion because of the greater "thickness" between us and Truth. Ultimately, it is this progressive distortion that shifts the Elements from Class to Class.

The distortion can be seen in the different arrangement of External, Internal, State, and Process from level to level in the structure.

Here’s how that arrangement has changed:

At the top "Class" level, the upper left hand corner is Universe (External State), diagonally is Mind (Internal State), Upper right is Physics (External Process) and diagonally in the lower left is Psychology (Internal Process). So, the two External "filters" (Universe and Physics - state and process) are a the top of the chart, horizontal to each other.

Now, at the next level down in Physics, Obtaining and Doing are the External state and process, but they have moved to a Diagonal relationship instead of horizontal like Universe and Physics.

The next level down - the Variations (under Obtaining, for example) has Approach, Attitude, Morality, and Self-Interest - the results of what each of the four filters does if added to the "pack" already containing Physics and Obtaining. Here, Approach and Morality are focuses on the impact on others (External) and Self-Interest and Attitude are focused on the self (Internal) But, the distortion has now shifted the External pair again, so rather than being horizontal in the chart as in the Classes, or diagonal as in the Types, they have now become a vertical relationship in the Variations.

Now, the Elements represent the basic components of the Truth. That’s why the Element names are the same in each of the four Classes. The idea is, that no matter how you are trying to come to the Truth, it is ultimately the same Truth - only the path is different. But to get down to those components, we have to have FOUR filters in our pack. In effect, although we are approaching the same Truth, the path we have taken will have given use different experiences, and therefore clouded our appreciation of the Truth once we achieve it. This is represented by the distortion.

But we have already seen the Truth distort from horizontal to diagonal to vertical. What’s left? A complete breakdown of some of the basic connections underlying our understanding. There are so many filters, the "crystal grows dark" and our ability to find meaning loses resolution. We can see as far as Pairs of Elements, but we can’t see the Elements as individual components.

Under Morality, for example, we have the Elements Faith, Disbelief, Conscience, and Temptation. Which is more External; which more Internal? Which is more or a State or more of a Process? Individually, they seem equally comprised of aspects of External, Internal, State, and Process. For example, Faith is IN something External, but DRIVEN by an Internal commitment. It is the State of "having Faith" but also the Process of "believing."

But when we break it all down into pairs, we have better luck in finding External and Internal. Faith and Disbelief, as a pair, seem very much to come from inside and be how we feel about things outside, so they "feel" Internal.

Conscience and Temptation "feel" like forces outside ourselves which act upon us. This is why characters are often portrayed with a little Angel and a little Devil on their shoulders - it externalizes the pair.

All this is a result of the lost of "resolution" because we have added so many layers of filters. The distortion has to be mentally swept under the carpet, because having exhausted horizontal, diagonal, and vertical, we’re fresh out of places to stash it. So, our human minds assigned that left over distortion at the Element level to the Class as a whole. Therefore, in keeping with our mental method, the Dramatica Structural Model has a different way of arranging the pairs in each of the four Classes, each representing one of the four different kinds of left over distortion.

How does this left-over distortion actually shift the Element Pairs? Well, it is a complex pattern which is not unlike the spiral pattern of DNA. But to get a "taste" of it, look at the position of the two paired Elements "Knowledge" and "Thought" in each Class. You will find them in the upper left-hand corner of the Elements. You will note that they stay in exactly the same position in each of the four classes - there is no shift for distortion. They form the "anchor" from which the degree of distortion is measured by the human mind. All Truth is measured against Knowledge and Thought (disclaimer on this later!).

There are three other pairs, each of which forms a different anchor or each of the four filters in each Class. They are Proven/Unproven, Considerations/Reconsideration, and Certainty/Potentiality. These four pairs of Elements hold the same positions in all four Classes. Why? Really they should shift, but if they did, there would no baseline from which our minds could measure anything about Truth.

A quick example of this. Do you remember as a kid, lying down in the back seat of your parent’s car and seeing a truck moving backward through the window? Do you recall how for a moment you couldn’t be sure if you were going forward or the truck was going backward? That happened because you had no frame of reference, no measuring stick. You had to look outside and see a tree or get up and see the road to determine who was moving and who was not.

Similarly, if all our distortions - all our filters - are seen as moving, how can we find solid mental ground? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just see the Truth directly, and not have to bother with filters at all? But, to wax poetic, "The Tao that can be spoken is NOT the Eternal Tao" and "One cannot look into the face of God." and "You can’t handle the Truth!"

Simply put, we aren’t omniscient. We are not equipped to see the whole Truth directly, but must seek to learn more about it by glimpsing a part of it, and then assembling the pieces to try and grasp the whole. But, like the carpet which curls up on one corner when we try to nail down another, one of the four filters is always slipping out of alignment when we try to measure the others. So, we sweep that distortion under the curling carpet and stand on that corner to hold it in place while we watch the others curl. In this way, we feel we at least have one solid anchor from which to judge the Truth.

It is interesting that pattern is virtually the same as the double-helix of DNA (only it is actually a quad-helix, rather than double!) Oops - sorry, I promised no math! Strike that last comment from the record and I’ll get back to basics....

Okay... The Dramatica model picks External State as the anchor for the structure, and the External Process as the anchor for the shift in distortion. It could be any combination of the four filters in any other arrangement, but once you pick an arrangement, it has to be used as the anchor EVERYWHERE in the model, in the theory, in the software. If you shift to another, then you lose your consistent measuring stick.

To understand the External State requires Knowledge and to understand the External Process requires Thought, throwing such things as feelings into the non-measuring-stick category. This, of course, is a bias that favors certain American cultural expectations. And in fact, that is why we chose this arrangement out of those available. After all, we are explaining the theory and marketing the software initially to our own culture. It made sense then to build the first of the systems to favor the standard locally preferred. It doesn’t mean it can’t be used by any other culture. It simply means that it presents a certain way of looking at things that is rather typically American. Writers from other cultures can easily "translate" that perspective.

It is my hope that some day we will be able to (we will live long enough!) to create all the other versions. But that is going to take as many years as the current system, and we’re all getting tired!

In any event, the pairs of Elements are shifted through horizontal, diagonal, and vertical arrangements from one Class to the next. This is the Structural part, driven by the External State, the anchor for Truth. But the anchor for this distortion is in Physics, the External process anchor for Distortion.

To see this in action, go to the Elements in the Physics Class. Take any group of 16, like those under the Type of Understanding, for example. Now, look at the pair of Elements, Knowledge and Thought. In Physics, that pair is matched with Ability and Desire. Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire is the most "undistorted" quad of Elements in the entire model. It is the Internal equivalent of Universe, Mind, Physics, and Psychology.

Look at the pair of Elements with which Knowledge and Thought are matched in each of the other four Classes. In Mind it is Actuality and Perception. In Psychology is it Inertia and Change. In Universe it is Order and Chaos.

Now going back to the Physics Class, you can see that each of the other three pairs with which Knowledge and Thought are matched come from the horizontal, diagonal, and vertical quads of Elements, in relationship to where Knowledge and Thought are.

Of course there is all manner of math behind this, but suffice it to say that this pattern is repeated with consistent distortion throughout the structure.

The end result is that when you choose one Class as the Objective Story Domain, you are also selecting the Elements at the bottom of that Class as the building blocks of the Objective Characters. The Elements will be the same, because they represent the same ultimate Truth, but because of the distortion, they will be arranged in a different pattern that at least keeps the distortion consistent from place to place.

In this way, character relationships will illuminate an aspect of smaller truth that will seamlessly fit into the overall larger Truth stitched together in the Big Picture of the overall story.


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About Dramatica and StoryWeaver

What They Do

Dramatica is a tool to help you build a perfect story structure.  StoryWeaver is a tool to help you build your story's world.

Dramatica focuses on the underlying logic of your story, making sure there are no holes or inconsistencies. 

StoryWeaver focuses on the creative process, boosting your inspiration and guiding it to add depth, detail and passion  to your story.

How They Do It

Dramatica has the world's only patented interactive Story Engine™ which cross-references your answers to questions about your dramatic intent, then finds any weaknesses in your structure and even suggests the best ways to strengthen them.

StoryWeaver uses a revolutionary new creative format as you follow more than 200 Story Cards™ step by step through the story development process.  You'll design the people who'll inhabit your story's world, what happens to them, and what it all means.

How They Work Alone

By itself Dramatica 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 they go.

How They Work Together

But, the finished work of a structural writer can often lack passion, which is where StoryWeaver can help.  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 find one program or the other the most initially appealing, both kinds of writers can benefit from both programs.

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