A Story Mind

What follows is an excerpt from an early unpublished draft of the book that ultimately became, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story. This section introduces the concept of a Story Mind – the notion that characters, plot, theme, and genre are all facets of a larger super mind that is the structure of the story itself


            Stories have traditionally been viewed as a series of events affecting independently-acting characters — but not to Dramatica.  Dramatica sees every character, conflict, action or decision as aspects of a single mind trying to solve a problem.  This mind, the Story Mind,™ is not the mind of the author, the audience, nor any of the characters, but of the story itself.  The process of problem solving is the unfolding of the story.

But why a mind?  Certainly this was not the intent behind the introduction of stories as an art form.  Rather, from the days of the first storytellers right up through the present, when a technique worked, it was repeated and copied and became part of the “conventions” of storytelling.  Such concepts as the Act and the Scene, Character, Plot and Theme, evolved by such trial and error.

And yet, the focus was never on WHY these things should exist, but how to employ them.  The Dramatica Theory states that stories exist because they help us deal with problems in our own lives.  Further, this is because stories give us two views of the problem.

One view is through the eyes of a Main Character.  This is a Subjective view, the view FROM the Story Mind as it deals with the problem.  This is much like our own limited view or our own problems.

But stories also provide us with the Author’s Objective view, the view OF the story mind as it deals with a problem.  This is more like a “God’s eye view” that we don’t have in real life.

In a sense, we can relate emotionally to a story because we empathize with the Main Character’s Subjective view, and yet relate logically to the problem through the Author’s Objective view.

This is much like the difference between standing in the shoes of the soldier in the trenches or the general on the hill.  Both are watching the same battle, but they see it in completely different terms.

In this way, stories provide us with a view that is akin to our own attempt to deal with our personal problems while providing an objective view of how our problems relate to the “Bigger Picture”.  That is why we enjoy stories, why they even exist, and why they are structured as they are.

Armed with this Rosetta Stone concept we spent 12 years re-examining stories and creating a map of the Story Mind.  Ultimately, we succeeded.

The Dramatica Model of the Story Mind is similar to a Rubik’s Cube.  Just as a Rubik’s Cube has a finite number of pieces, families of parts (corners, edge pieces) and specific rules for movement, the Dramatica model has a finite size, specific natures to its parts, coordinated rules for movement, and the possibility to create an almost infinite variety of stories — each unique, each accurate to the model, and each true to the author’s own intent.

The concept of a limited number of pieces frequently precipitates a “gut reaction” that the system must itself be limiting and formulaic.  Rather, without some kind of limit, structure cannot exist.  Further, the number of parts has little to do with the potential variety when dyanmics are added to the system.  For example, DNA has only FOUR basic building blocks, and yet when arranged in the dyamic matrix of the double helix DHN chain, is able to create all the forms of life that inhabit the planet.

The key to a system that has identity, but not at the expense of variety, is a flexible structure.  In a Rubik’s cube, corners stay corners and edges stay edges no matter how you turn it.  And because all the parts are linked, when you make a change on the side you are concentrating on, it makes appropriate changes on the sides of the structure you are not paying attention to.

And THAT is the value of Dramatica to an author: that it defines the elements of story, how they are related and how to maipulate them.  Plot, Theme, Character, Conflict, the purpose of Acts, Scenes, Action and Decision, all are represented in the Dramatica model, and all are interrelated.  It is the flexible nature of the structure that allows an author to create a story that has form without formula.


Read the entire unpublished draft here.

Read the free online edition of Dramatica – A New Theory of Story in its final form.

Get a paperback of the published version for easy reference on Amazon.