1 - The Story Mind
At the heart of the story
engine is a matrix of story points: The Dramatica Chart of Story Elements (which
is not unlike the Periodic Table of Elements in chemistry). You can use it to
create the chemistry of your characters, plot, theme, and genre.
The Dramatica chart
contains all the psychological processes that must exist in a Story Mind. In
fact, every human mind shares all of these processes. What makes one mind
different from another is not the kinds of mental activities in each, but rather
how the activities are interconnected.
Just as in chemistry,
various elements might be combined to create an infinite number of compounds, so
too the dramatic elements of the Dramatica Chart can be combined to create
virtually all valid psychological structures for stories.
At its most simple level,
the chart can be seen as having four principal areas (called classes):
Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology. These represent the only four
fundamental kinds of problems that might exist in stories (or in life!)
Universe is an external
Physics, an external
Mind is an internal state
Psychology, an internal
Essentially, any problem
you might confront can be classed as either an external or internal state or
Universe then is our
external environment. Anything that is a problematic fixed situation falls into
this category. For example, being stuck in a well, held captive, or missing a
leg are all situational “Universe Class” problems.
Physics is about activities
that cause us difficulty. Honey bees dying off across the country, the growth of
a militant organization, and cancer are all “Physics Class” problems.
(Note that if having cancer
is a problem – such as people being prejudiced against you because you are
cancerous – that is a situation or Universe problem because it is a steady or
fixed state: a condition. But if it is the spread of the disease that we see as
a problem, then it is a Physics-style activity problem. It is important not to
assume content in a story falls into a particular class until you determine how
that content is actually problematic.)
Mind is the internal
equivalent of Universe – a fixed internal state. So, a prejudice, bias,
fixation, or fixed attitude would be the source of problems in a “Mind
Psychology is the Physics
of the mind – an internal process. A “Psychology Class” problem would be
someone who makes a series of assumptions leading to difficulties, or someone
whose self-image and confidence are eroding.
(Again, note that having
a negative self-image is a state of “Mind” whereas the erosion of
one’s self-image is a process that must be stopped or even reversed, and would
therefore be a Psychology problem.)
In stories, as in real
life, we cannot solve a problem until we can accurately define it. So, the first
value of the Dramatica Chart is to present us with a tool for determining into
which of the four fundamental categories of problems our particular issue falls.
Now you may think that the
terms, Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology, are
a little antiseptic, perhaps a bit scientific to be applying to something as
intuitive as the writing of stories.
Back when we were naming
the concepts in the Dramatica Theory, we were faced with a choice – to either
use extremely accurate words that might be a bit off-putting or to use easily
accessible words that weren’t quite on the mark.
Ultimately we decided that
the whole point of the theory was to provide an accurate way of predicting the
necessary components of a sound story structure. Therefore, we elected to use
the terms that were more accurate, even if they required a little study, rather
than to employ a less accurate terminology that could be grasped right away.
Returning to the chart
itself, it appears as four towers, each representing one of the four classes and
each class having four levels. As we go down the levels from top to bottom we
subdivide each kind of problem into smaller and smaller components, thereby
refining our understanding of the very particular kind of problem at the core of
any given story.
The top level, being the
most broad, describes the structural aspects of genre. Genre (in the traditional
sense) is largely a storytelling or content-driven realm. But genre is not
immune to structure. In fact, as we shall see down the line genre must be built
upon a solid structural foundation or it will flounder.
The second level, slightly
more refined, deals with the dramatic components that are most associated with
plot, especially at act resolution. That’s an odd term, so let’s
define it. An act is the largest building block of plot. Each act has a
particular kinds of concern that defines all the action that goes on in that
act. For example, one act may deal with looking for a lost object, the next act
with trying to obtain it, and the last act with bringing it back against steep
“Resolution” is a term
we use in Dramatica to describe how big a dramatic component is. The Genre
“classes” cover the whole story since each story falls within a particular
genre. But the acts change over the course of the story, shifting from one
concern in a given act to another in the next. Therefore, we say that the
components of the Dramatica Chart in the second or act level, are of a smaller
resolution. Just as the genre level components are called “classes,” the act
level components are referred to as “types.” So, we have classes of genres
and types of acts.
The third level has the
greatest structural impact on a story’s theme. Each of these components is
called a Variation, as in “variations of a theme.” The Variations are
of an even smaller resolution, and therefore provide more detailed information
about the story’s problem.
A story’s thematic
conflicts can be mapped in the Variation level. Story-wise, variations are sequence
sized. “Sequences” are smaller than acts and are usually comprised of a
number of scenes that deal with a particular moral issue or ethical topic.
The fourth and lowest level
of the chart provides the greatest resolution on a story’s problem. It is
comprised of components called Elements (in reference to their
indivisible nature) and has the greatest structural impact on characters.
It is here in the Element
Level that we find the plethora of human traits that make up our motivations or
drives. It is the interaction among characters representing these various drives
that constitute the scenes of our story. So, we say that the Element Level is at
So, like nested dolls,
scenes fall within sequences within acts within a genre. In this manner, the
structure of a story can be understood not as a simple sequence as one would
find in a tale, but rather as a complex mechanism built of wheels within wheels.
I’ll provide a full
description of the chart and its workings later on, but for now, picture it as a
cross between a three dimensional chess set, a Rubik’s Cube, and the Periodic
Table of Elements, which can be used to build perfect story structures.
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Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips - Owner, Storymind.com, Creator Storyweaver, Co-creator Dramatica