Dramatica Pro – software for writers

Facebook Twitter Email

While we’re on the topic of software for writers I thought I’d have a look at Dramatica Pro (http://www.dramatica.com, $209 for the download version). Some programs for authors are designed to support the creative process by providing flexible tools that allow the writer to freely explore the depths of their imagination. Then there’s Dramatica Pro.

I’ve tried, I swear to God I’ve tried. I’ve had Dramatica Pro for almost thirteen years now and every once in a while I fire it up and try to build a novel or a script using its unique approach. It really is a bizarre experience. The best way to illustrate this is to walk you through the quick set-up for a piece of fiction.

OK you start with a set of questions about your story – let’s go for the simple list of 60 for beginners. Apparently there are 32,768 different types of story in the Dramatica model, and there are eight archetypal characters but you can mix bits of them up together to make more complex characters. Interestingly they identify a main Character (let’s say Sherlock Holmes) and an Enemy (Moriarty), but also an Impact Character who is the greatest influence on the hero and seeks to lead them astray (so I guess that’s Watson).

Anyway I choose my eight characters (including the Logical one, the Emotional one, the Sidekick, the Obi-Wan father figure etc.) and then it’s onto the story. This is where it starts to feel like I’m being pushed through a very narrow pipe. Dramatica asks a series of increasingly odd questions like “Is the nature of the problem all the characters deal with to do with Situation, Activity, Manipulation or Fixed Attitude?”

What?

This is one of the biggest problems with Dramatica Pro, it has it’s own terminology, or uses concepts in a way that makes it extremely hard to grasp what the program is asking for, even with copious explanatory notes.

OK, I choose Situation. Based on this it then tells me that the struggle between my Hero and the Impact Character is all about Fixed Attitude!

Really?

If I want to change this, I have to go back and choose another item from the previous menu to free up options further down the line. At this point I’m starting to rebel but nonetheless I plough on.

Some of the questions, to be fair, are not that odd: is the story driven by a time lock (“Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth”) or an option lock (“If you don’t go out there everybody everywhere will say, “Clint Eastwood is the biggest yellow-belly in the West.”). On the other hand some of them would baffle Aristotle: “Which personal issue affects the hero: Chaos, Knowledge, Order or Thought?”. After a few hours of this you end up with one storyline out of the 32,768, in my case without the faintest clue of how I got there or how I’m going to turn it into a book.

In fact what you have is a bunch of parallel themes, each with several stages. For story ‘completeness’ each of these threads has to be woven through the story and brought to a satisfying conclusion, otherwise the narrative is flawed. How the hell Dickens, the Brontës, Joyce and Graham Greene managed in the days before Dramatica Pro I’ve no idea.

So, the final step is to divide your tale up into sections (28 is the recommended number of scenes) and then make sure that each of the themes get adequate treatment along the way. In case you get stuck the 300+ page guide gives helpful advice like “we might begin with Main Character Signpost 1 and Journey 1, then show Objective Story Signpost 1, then Obstacle Character Signpost 1, Objective Story Journey 1, Subjective Story Signpost 1 and Journey 1, and end with Obstacle Character Journey 1”!

So each scene has a little shopping list of stuff like “Describe how the Impact Character moves from Being to Becoming!” which you have to shoehorn into the tale. This is the point where I seriously start to struggle. Now with a Ph.D in Shakespeare I don’t think I’m that thick, but I find the whole process deeply de-motivating, confusing and counter-productive. The software forces me to follow very strictly delimited paths, with the end goal of producing a treatment from which the actual piece of fiction can be created. My problem is that by this point I’ve lost all interest in the story and characters, and most of the will to live.

Basically Dramatica Pro is Hollywood blockbuster script writing by numbers, and it offers up a very prescriptive idea of what makes a story. It has good reviews from people like Tracey Hickman (author of a handful of Dungeons and Dragons tie-in books) and several script writers, and the site offers workshops for budding authors. If you look at the website you can see lots of examples of the method being applied retrospectively to films, which makes me think that it has more appeal as a rather odd method of formalist critique than as a writer’s tool. One acid test of whether a system like this is any good is to look at how successful the creators, Melanie Ann Philips and Chris Huntley, have been as writers themselves. The only film I could find them credited for is a B-Grade horror film called The Strangeness (1985) which has a 5.5/10 rating on IMDB.

Back to Scrivener then.

32 Comments

  1. David A says:

    Finally, someone who sees the ridiculousness that is Dramatica! Another aspect that shows the lack of depth to the theory, is the reliance on its comparison to the mind and psychology, when neither creator have that background. This is highlighted by the evident lack of psychological acknowledgement that this process kills the muse. If the theory works, the process that gets to the result does not.

    The other interesting factor is that the whole thing is promoted by a very small group of people. I would not like to think how many people buy this on the promise of becoming great writers, and never really use it after the initial exploration.

    Having also watched some of Melanie’s video ‘lessons’, she does not come across as someone who knows the theory inside and out, as someone who fundamentally believes in it (in one video she even draws 8 boxes for signposts and journeys before realizing at the point of filling them in that there are only 7!). And then she created Storyweaver, which is about as anti-Dramatica as you can get.

    It’s just all very very weird.

  2. matson english says:

    Yes, Dramatica is horrible and demotivating because of the large learning curve, and I think most people buy and after they try it they say is this nuts or what? You waste a lot of time answering stupid questions and who knows what the black box does in the end. I think if Dramatica is ever to take off the user interface must be more friendlier, with that I mean simpler to understand, for Bozos like me (Phd). Maybe they should talk to Philip Parker who has created a computer system that can write books about specific subjects in about 20 minutes, In fact, Amazon lists over 100,000 books attributed to Parker, and over 700,000 works listed for his company.

  3. Bob R. says:

    Thank you, John. My experience was just like yours, and I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me.

  4. Gregory says:

    I have been playing with Dramatica for a few weeks now.

    First, this goes without saying that the learning curve is steep and much of that is to do with the terminology, which is off putting, opaque and unnecessarily obtuse. However this does not make the underlying point less valid, only harder to see. You want to become a great photographer you have to learn f-stop, appeture, and a myriad of other terms that are just as off putting. Of courser a great teacher will make that process more enjoyable, but if the goal is for learn, sometimes you have to accept a bad teacher. Dramatica is the only teacher I have found who goes to the depth it does. Nothing else does that I have found. So I do not think this is the real issue with Dramatica though it in no way helps it.

    For me the reason Dramatica can seem so off putting is Dramatica gets so deep, it can come across as very sterile. It can be the same thing with photography. We want to take great pictures cause we see great pictures. But then when we start to learn how a great picture is really taken we find it is far more complex then we ever imagined and requires way more effort then we ever imagined. It seems to suck the life and color right out and you forget about the great pictures. Dramatica does the same thing with storytelling. I felt this immediately when looking it but I also had an intuitive sense that there was something there. Sure some people intuitively get all this and do not need explicit understanding, just as some great athlete can perform things the ordinary person can not, but they still have to learn everything about their sport and study it like crazy to get to the level of truly great.

    I had studied other plot devices like the hero’s journey or the three act structure. They seemed fine but are severally lacking. Dramatica has those in it but they are only part of it.

    Dramatica is very much like the frame of a house upon which you lay down the walls, and color, and furniture and decorations. Most stories, when stripped of those things are dull. It looses all character, theme, adventure, emotion, spectacle and voice. Who wants to hear that story. No one. No more then anyone would want to live in a house with no walls or furniture. But that is not what Dramatica is for. Its about the frame and only the frame. It is about making sure the frame is ideal to best hold up those other things, the things that people will actually remember. No matter how good those other things are, if the underlying structure is mess those other things are goring to be at best muted, and at worse destroyed.

    The old saying is everyone is just retelling the same story over and over again. Dramatica stripes things down to that one original story. For them, in essence, they saying that original story has 32,000 different story forms. This of course ignores that you can take that same story form and present it in an almost infinite number of ways. But at its core what Dramatica is saying at the structural level is sound. As you get to know the different parts that make it up, you find for every choice you make your limiting yourself from another choice. If you choose the main character to be a man of action and that is his role in the larger story, you can not have him suddenly become a lazy sod. He has to stay the steadfast man of action. To have him go from man of action to lazy sod would be another story a story about a man changing from a man of action to a lazy sod. Each choice is limiting what you can do.

    And it turns out, storytelling is really just a ton of binary choices. So many that the audience does not see that. A good story seems to be so much more then the sum of its parts. In fact, even the writer may not see it. They may intuitively be able to do this, as many have, without ever realizing that they are, unconsciously making a large number of binary choices that will lead to the story, the one specific story they want to tell. But that does not change what is actually happening, which is that with ever choice made, another choice is being blocked. If they do not do that they will write nonsense.

    As one example of how completely misunderstood Dramatica is take this: one of the commentators said: “Another aspect that shows the lack of depth to the theory, is the reliance on its comparison to the mind and psychology…” This completely misses the point and clearly shows the person put in almost zero effort to understand the theory outside of their own preconceived opinion.

    There are four basic states going on in any story. Internal vs. External. Process vs. Static. You have an internal process going on or an internal stasis. Or you have an external stasis or an external process. That four items creates all possible combinations of what a story will tell. There is literally no other possible option. Again the Dramatica terminology clouds this with its use of Situation vs Phyics and Psychology vs Mind and again recognizing that their are really only four points to start from can really drain the life out of storytelling, but the point remains, when you break a story down into it’s constitute parts there are only four major things happening. Of course most stories have both, showing the external point of view of the greater story and the main characters pony of view of that external event form the inside. But the great stories, show the internal half and the external half clearly from one specific point instead of muddling them between different characters and points of view. We have all walked out of movies thinking that somewhere in that mess there was a good story. Most often this is because the creators did not manage to clearly delineate what they were showing us, because they themselves could not see it.

    All the sterilizing is not Dramatica’s fault, yet this review wants to make this Dramatica’s fault, as if it is ruining story telling. This is no more true then the theory of relativity ruining the experience of watching a moonrise. If you want to understand how it works it is going to be a totally different experience. It is up to the one who makes that choice to set that aside so they can enjoy the magic of the result once again. It is almost a cliche to say that ‘I wanted to learn how something worked, to only find after it had lost it’s magic.’ But if you want to be able to do it, and do it well, you have to understand how it works. Dramatica helps you understand how it works and makes sure that those choices make sense. You can of course break those rules but most often for most stories those rules will make it a better story not a worse story.

    In the end, when Dramatica is working perfectly, you will not even notice it is there. You will remember the characters and adventure and color and excitement instead of wondering why there was as a plot hole the size of the death star or the characters seemed to not be inhabiting the same story. Dramatica will not make you a good writer. But it will make you a competent writer.

    While I can understand the frustration many people would have over it’s learning curve and terminology, your review fails because you simple do not understand how it works. Dramatica definitely does not do itself any favors in this regard, however that does not make your review valid. This is no different then complaining about Photoshops because you do not understand levels, curves, color and saturation. Do not blame the software because you do not like what it tells you.

    • John Guy Collick says:

      Hi Gregory – thanks for your comment. I think it would be really helpful, if you have time and you are using Dramatica to write a book, to walk us through how you’re putting it together. It might give us a better understanding of a process that, at the moment, seems very opaque and over-complex.

      • Hello, John…

        Thank you for this post about Dramatica Pro! I appreciate the effort you’ve made to get a grip on it. I only just discovered it myself yesterday, but now I have something I never had with Scrivener: a kaleidoscopic view of story.

        It’s beautiful.

        My perception of it so far comes from the User’s Manual located at the end of the Help File, where each building block of the Dramatica concept of story is itemized and explained.

        I’m humbled.

        I see, now, that there’s oceans more to “story” than I realized. I also see why other software applications like Scrivener and other books on writers’ craft leave me feeling frustrated.

        In the words of “Gregory” above, “Dramatica is the only teacher I have found who goes to the depth it does. Nothing else does, that I have found.”

        I agree.

        Without that depth of understanding of what makes one story great and another mediocre at best and a fantastic waste of time at worst, you have about as much chance of creating a story like “The Shawshank Redemption” as you’d have of winning the lottery.

        As I was studying the Dramatica Pro User’s Manual, I was thinking of “The Lymond Chronicles” by Dorothy Dunnett… a 6-volume series that is (in my opinion) the finest work of historical fiction ever written.

        I have tried many times to “analyze” it, but I always wind up doing what Nora Roberts calls “falling into the story” instead; but now, with Dramatica at my fingertips, I’m going to be able to gather together at least the broad brushstrokes.

        I’m thrilled!

        In fairness, though, I should probably mention that I have the kind of mind that won’t rest until its intellectual-scanning capability has cast its net over an entire subject and come away with at least the most important points.

        Somebody else, you know, might prefer to roll up their sleeves and get busy writing their next book without wasting a minute more than necessary on slippery concepts like structure. Their motto is like Nike’s: “Just do it!”

        My question, though, is “Do what… exactly?”

        For me, Dramatica is an experience akin to sunshine dispelling the fog. It makes me think of that hit single, “I Can See Clearly Now”…

        …with a smile!

        🙂

        warmest regards…

        Elizabeth

        P.S.

        For an enhanced understanding of Dramatica,
        I recommend Jim Hull’s site, NarrativeFirst.com

        see especially A Story Is An Argument

  5. Jim Hull says:

    Somebody talking about me? 🙂

    What a great discussion–and Gregory pretty much nails it. “no more true than the theory of relativity ruining the experience of watching a moonrise” is something I will quote for a very long time when it comes to talking and teaching about Dramatica.

    To answer some questions posted by the original author — you’ll find that the very best examples of Dramatica theory in action come from Shakespeare himself. The storyform for Hamlet is the strongest of the bunch (http://dramatica.com/analysis/hamlet). Romeo and Juliet and Othello a close second. In fact, the better or more “classic” the story the stronger the illustrations for the individual story points found within the storyform.

    Dramatica takes a very objective look at story. Many writers rebel at this because they like the entire subjective experience of actually writing. Different writers see a blank page differently – some see endless opportunity, others see a wall. For those who see a wall, Dramatica can help in the construction of the story from the outset. For those who see endless opportunity Dramatica seems too restrictive and detrimental to the creative process.

    No one approach excels over the other — it all depends on the Author. I’ve worked with both structuralists and organic writers. The former love working with Dramatica from the outset, the latter prefer waiting until they get down their first draft. Either way, writers will always have to come back to Dramatica if they want to insure that they have covered all the bases (plugged any “story holes”).

    Back to the original post — I agree Aristotle would have been baffled. But he would have been equally baffled by Copernicus. 🙂 The guy who came up with the ground-breaking concept that stories have a “beginning, middle and end” would stare slack-jawed at the idea of a Main Character Unique Ability or an Overall Story Benchmark. It took thousands of years for people to realize that the Sun was the center of the Solary System. Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long for our collective understanding of story…

    This idea of having to divide a tale up into sections is a misinterpretation many acquire from the theory book. When you speak of having to “shoehorn” ideas in, my best advice would be to completely ignore Dramatica until you have the first draft done. If you do, and you still feel like you’re forcing stuff in there either a) your story conflicts with itself or b) you don’t have the right storyform. b) usually explains why most people struggle with the theory. If it’s a) then you’ll have to make some tough decisions in order to have your story make sense and feel emotionally fulfilling. Of course, you can always pick option c) and ignore everything, cross your fingers and hope for the best…

    I’ve been working with the theory for almost 20 years now, and while I’ve been able to build a successful business consulting using the concepts of Dramatica I’m *still* learning something new everyday. Personally I find that exciting. Mastering it would leave little to look forward in the coming years 🙂

    As far as the “Dramatica is only good for analysis” argument, I have sold a story that was built from the ground-up using concepts from the theory. It was a treatment for an animated film that I sold to Dreamworks. Of course it hasn’t been made into an actual film yet (a process that has absolutely nothing to do with the story itself), but I can tell you that after pitching it there wasn’t a single note from any of the executives. I attribute this to the completeness of the story–a quality Dramatica helped solidify.

    I can tell you from experience that it is a back-and-forth process and always, always, always — the storyform I came up with in the beginning never turned out to be the one I actually ended up writing. Sometimes it was close, but the majority of time the characters took over or a new idea steered the plot in a different direction. When that happened I would sit down and go back through the process of really discovering what it was I was trying to say. Dramatica, again, is a very objective writing partner. You can’t assauage the reality of a broken story with a great pitch when working with the program.

    In the end, it’s the same process writers have been using for hundreds of years. Write, analyze, rewrite, analyze, rewrite, analyze, write and so on and so on. Only now writers have the opportunity to be objective about their own work. That’s groundbreaking. So yes, Dramatica helps you analyze what you’ve written, but it also goes one step further and tells you information about your story that you never told it…that’s beyond groundbreaking. Now you’ve got an objective partner helping you with the actual process of writing…there really is nothing else like it. Whether you’re looking back and analyzing or looking forward and creating, Dramatica has you covered.

    If you have any other questions please let me know. Thanks again for a great discussion!

  6. David A says:

    Always the same couple of people promoting Dramatica.

    If you want to write, write.

    If you want to pretend to be a writer and have no interest in a decent finished work, Dramatica is for you.

    Any sane person can see that the terminology in the software is so vague and twisted that it could mean anything.

    And that’s marketing folks! Sell the dream, forget reality.

  7. John Guy Collick says:

    As I mentioned in the comment thread higher up, what I’d really like to see is a description of the Dramatica process from start to end – with a book complete and ready to publish. I’m not saying this in any ‘Prove it then!’ way, I genuinely want to see the process at work. Gregory, Jim and Elizabeth – if you have written, are writing or even better, have a completed novel, or know of one well enough to be able to describe how Dramatica was used to put it together then please share it. All I’m still seeing is retrospective analysis, and triumphalist claims that the system is the answer to every writer’s dreams. Saying that Shakespeare’s plays are the perfect example of the Dramatica structure is meaningless – it no more proves the system works than Hamlet proves Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex. I would like to see Dramatica Pro in action creating a novel so that skeptics like myself can finally understand how it can be of value to a writer.

    • Bruce says:

      Hear hear
      Wasted $200 on this drivel. Tried very very hard … have taken a stalled story that sat on a shelf for a decade and tried processing it through the story engine … no less than eight iterations later and I find Dramatica is squeezing my novel into a simplistic 45 minute TV episode. After months of effort the best solution I’ve found is to use Dramatica to map out two or even three sub-stories … but then there is no mechanism to ‘weave’ them into one novel. There is no way for one ‘story mind’ to converse with another … so its a pointless exercise for anything larger than a screenplay. I’m not adverse to psych, philosophy or systemic thinking (have an honours degree in history and philosophy and a PhD in computer science) but this, whilst written in pseudo academic language (but not even a single citation), is so full of holes and shrouded in its own ever-changing jargon that it is less than useless.
      During the period in which I struggled to make Dramatica work with my story, I wrote about 6000 words of plot notes, character outlines and the like in Scrivener … and in all honesty, I doubt that more than a paragraph of that could be attributed in any way to any input from Dramatica.

      Question I keep asking myself is:
      if Melanie (who must be just about the least effective public speaker ever – 6 parts waffle : 1 part ambiguity : 3 parts advertising. 900+ self indulgent minutes to deliver maybe 30 minutes of incomplete content) is the co-creator, then whatever happened to the other one? Ashamed?

      • Jim says:

        Bruce,

        It might be helpful to actually investigate what it is you’re talking about before you come off sounding completely ridiculous. Chris Huntley, the other co-creator of the theory, continues to develop Dramatica for Write Brothers, Inc. For easy reference, please see: http://dramatica.com/community/team

        Secondly, in regards to your issues with weaving multiple stories together. Dramatica does not provide any direction or “rules” for weaving different stories together because as far as the theory is concerned that is completely up to the talent and taste of the Author. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is possible to weave different “minds” together and come out with a work that is well received. A television series — one that centers around a single story for the entire series and then several “substories” for different seasons — works in much the same way a novel does. Even individual episodes can work themselves as standalone stories that perhaps hint at the larger story going on in the series.

        Your assertion that Dramatica is written in “pseudo academic language” is entirely incorrect and shows a complete lack of understanding. In order to define the theory that is 100% accurate regardless of medium (film, novel, play, short story), certain accepted terms needed to be redefined. In addition there are areas of the current Dramatica model that are difficult to describe with the English language (the difference between Being and Becoming a prime example). If you have a specific term that you need help defining or understanding please let me know, otherwise you can always check out the dictionary here: http://dramatica.com/dictionary.

        Narrative is narrative regardless of medium. Stories function the same whether they appear in film, plays, or novels. To Kill a Mockingbird, regarded as one, if not the, best novel of the 20th century “fits” into Dramatica theory with no caveats or exceptions. John, your argument regarding Hamlet providing Freud’s theory would work if Freud was arguing for a holistic system of narrative.

        He wasn’t.

        I have sold properties to two studios now and have used Dramatica to help craft those stories in a way that left executives struggling to come up with “notes” or changes. The stories were complete and worked on a logical and emotional level that many were not accustomed to seeing. So David A, please understand that your assumption that I don’t write is insulting and uncalled for.

        If I wanted to take the time to write a novel I know for a fact that I would receive the same kind of response. Unfortunately the audience for such an endeavor is so low and continuing to decline that I’d rather spend my time working on something that will actually be enjoyed and beloved by many. Thus, John you will probably never see a step-by-step approach towards writing a novel coming from Dramatica. It would be great if a novelist would take the time to learn and appreciate the theory and then outline his or her steps towards crafting a memorable novel.

  8. Washington says:

    Why is Dramatica Pro only concern with developing the Main Character and the Impact Character, what about the Protagonist (if that person is not the main character), the antagonist etc.?

    • Trev says:

      How is the main character not the protagonist? While there are two distinct types, how does one not pursue or avoid change and still be the character we want to read about? I have never used any software and I am looking for one that will guide me to the proper form and function of a story. I am in no way selling or buying at this point, but you sound uneducated about literature. See definition from Dramatica Pro of protagonist below. Maybe that was your problem. A main character/protagonist is the same thing, otherwise they seem to me to be a narrator and not a main character.

      Protagonist
      Archetype dyn.pr. Antagonist ↔ Protagonist
      An Archetypal Character who represents the qualities of Pursuit and Consider
      An Overall Story Character charged with the responsibility of pursuing a solution to the story’s Overall (Objective) problem. An Overall (Objective) problem does not mean it can’t be personal. Rather, it means that all of the dramatically functioning characters in the story are concerned about the outcome. The true Archetypal Protagonist pursues the solution against the Antagonist. In other stories a close cousin of the Protagonist shares all the same elements except he tries to avoid the Antagonist’s plan. For the Pursuing Protagonist the goal is to cause something. For the Avoiding “Protagonist” the goal is to prevent something.

  9. Mike says:

    Thank you John for a great post and a few laughs:) I too gave up with Dramatica Pro.
    In my case because it killed my creativity.

  10. Tristano Ajmone says:

    Hi everybody, I’ve read all these posts about Dramatica and though I leave my opinion and experience here too. I want to clarify that I have no interests in promoting Dramatica software whatsover. As a fact, I’ve used the software mainly on a friend computer, my main interest has been with the Dramatica Theory book (which is freely availble in PDF, or in paperback edition).
    I admit that Dramatica has a rather steep learning curve, and it took me over a year to fully digest the theory, reading the book over and over again (end fiddling with the software now and then).
    The reason I haven’t bought the software is because I realize that having the software without having learned the theory is not much use. The software is meant as a tool for those who know the theory (and the terminology of the theory).
    Yes, Dramatica has a terminology of its own. The terms are vague because they have to be so. It is the combinations of those terms, when they intersect with each other according to author choices, that provides a more specific frame/context into which is possible to direct the story points being handled.
    During my early period of study of Dramatica I was skeptic too, so the way I tested it out was by examining well formed stories (novels or movies) and transpose them into the software by answering the various questions. What came out was the software was able to predict in great detail the thematic elements and plot progressions of the given story. By this approach I’ve managed to fill in the understanding gap that made it difficoult for me to use it as a creative tool.
    It’s sad to read that some people jumped into purchasing the software with such high expectations but after gave up on it out of disappointement. Buying the software in no way exonerates from reading the theory book (which comes with the software as a Help file, but is best to be downloaded in PDF or purchased in paper).
    That said, the fact that Dramatica made sense for me and for many others doesn’t mean it will make sense for everybody. I think that the debate on which approach is better (ie: planning structure/plot first, or chasing the muse of free inspiration) is a rather sterile and consumed debate.
    Also, in no way Dramatica is promoted as a magic tool that will allow you to come up with a full story by clicking buttons. More likely (if you’ve read the book) you’ll have a story in your mind, and have written a good draft of it on paper, at that point Dramatica is the perfect (in my opinion) tool for veryfying that all dramatic elements are in place in order to form a valid argument for the audience/readers.
    The often forgotten point is that Dramatica deals with a special kind of story: the Grand-Argument Story, which is the core concept of Dramatica Theory.
    In no way the authors of Dramatica (Chris Huntely and M. Philips) have been misleading the public about it. On the contrary, the abundance of free material online should provide anyone with a clear understanding that Dramatica is a rather engaging adventure, a time-consuming study. Nowhere it says that the software will magically make you master its theory. Of course, practice helps and there are some aspects of Dramatica Theory that are computationally complex, and can be achieved with the software ONLY, but the Theory is enough to be employed as a guideline in writing.
    My impression is that Dramatica is a great tool when it comes to transposing a story from one medium to another, like making a movie from a book, and viceversa. Because Dramatica pins down the key thematic elements, it will allow to preserve structure across media without loss of dramatic potential.
    I’m sure many people will not like Dramatica, or are not keen to understanding it (and its nothing to do with being intelligent or stupid, it has to do with mental attitude), but I think its unfair to state blankly that Dramatica “doesn’t work” or is “no good” or is a tool for failed writers, and so on.

  11. James Maynard Gelinas says:

    I’m of mixed feelings about Dramatica. The theory book available for free is riddled with terminology inconsistencies and omissions. One example is in character generation. The book describes a quad of four character ‘dimensions’: Motivation, Evaluation, Purpose, and Methodology. In each dimension, are sixteen elements. Choose two elements for each character ‘archetype’ in a specific order: (like protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, skeptic, emotion, reason, contagonist, and guardian. The book lays out a chart for each of these archetypes using Motivation as an example. Then it describes how to create ‘complex’ characters by mixing elements in nonstandard order. BUT: it NEVER provides a complete chart of all archetypes across all dimensions, leaving the reader download a trial of the software (or buy it) and query the system for the entire chart.

    Yet the book does describe each element in Motivation twice. Thanks for the redundancy.

    The book is riddled with omissions such as these. Making manual implementation of the theory from readings difficult to impossible.

    Others have mentioned that while the theory has a certain internal consistency that makes it attractive, there are no public real-world examples of works written using the theory as proof. Nor any means of formal proofs. A theory such as this _should_ produce consistently salable output. And if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with the theory. This is a system that desperately needs real-world examples produced by non-biased third parties. As it stands now, only proponents evangelize for it. Which doesn’t speak to its underlying viability.

    I’ve spent weeks digging through this theory and trial software trying to see if it will help a stuck project. And I’m still not certain it produces any usable output as an outline or otherwise. I want it to work. Because I want to solve problems inherent in my project. But I grow ever more doubtful that the theory holds up in implementation like its proponents claim. I’m on the fence. But very glad I used a trial of the software before buying.

  12. Glen Strathy says:

    Personally, I find Dramatica works best in small doses. A little bit is empowering. Too much and you drown in the effort to “get everything right.” For instance, “Dramatica for Screenwriters” by Armando Saldana-Mora offers a far more practical, easier-to-use approach than the original Dramatica book (but you do have to be familiar with the software and theory first). I wrote a little article explaining how to write a quick story synopsis using Dramatica’s 8 basic plot elements eight years ago, and if you google “plot outline” it still comes out near the top of the list.

    Sometimes it helps to just apply the basic theory and skip the software. And sometimes it helps to not go any deeper than the “types” level in the software.

    Also, if you’re more of a pantser than a plotter, it’s best to write a draft, or most of a draft first, and then use Dramatica to figure out how to improve your structure.

  13. Timo Fair says:

    I would really like solid proof that Dramatica actually worked for someone. Sure you can get someone like Huntley up there to promote the software simply by lending his name for a cut… but where is the proof that this software has created a decent story that has not only been sold but made well…

    “There is no greater proof of an archetype than the realisation that all these separate theories – indeed my own too – are really identical.”

    Into the Woods – John Yorke

  14. K Hottel says:

    Most of the comments and complaints that I see on here are due to simple ignorance –
    not in an insulting way but in a literal way of not educating yourself.

    Read the theory book. All of it. The system is sound and all your questions will be answered. If you still don’t like it, don’t use it. Just don’t go around saying it’s bad or broken because you don’t know how to use it.

    The theory is posted in full for free on their website.

  15. Neville Hurt says:

    Hi everyone from the UK.

    I had my Dramatica breakthrough on 27th Oct 2017. Everything I had learnt really came together, and I feel I must share my experience. I really, REALLY understand everybody’s frustration at this product, and I feel I can explain things better . . .

    Chris Huntley and Melanie Ann Philips are competent professionals who really understand story, yet their theory book- in my opinion – is just a terrible confusing mess ! ! !

    To understand Dramatica, we really must begin with the four conflicts – that we learnt in our writing courses, and in other “How to write a book, and get it published” tomes – that were rubbish.

    ACTIVITY = dramatic dynamic eternal events that change = Human V Enviroment / Nature
    SITUATION = a single fixed external event = Human V Enviroment

    FIXED ATTITUDE = Mostly Human V Human – a prejudice – BAD
    Human V Self – a moral – GOOD
    In other words, a single fixed internal (the mind) idea.

    MANIPULATION = Mostly Human V Self – goings on in your own mind – GOOD
    Human V Human – plotting with others to kill someone – BAD
    In other words, multiple internal (the mind) ideas, that change.
    This is very useful to describe people that are in two minds – don’t know what to think – and are willing to change their mind. Also describes a community with different ideas and opinions – GOOD or BAD.
    ######

    The throughlines – points of view with a conflict and a sub theme attached – are a great way of dealing with a story. Here is where most people are going WRONG – ALL THROUGHLINES ARE FROM THE MAIN . . . MAIN, get that . . . CHARACTER.

    The Impact character is NOT . . . I repeat. . . NOT the second character’s point of view, AT ALL.
    Think about “To Kill A Mockingbird”. The IC line in that was Scout (MC) looking with her friends at the absent IC – Boo Radley, the mysterious neighbour. It was not from Boo’s point of view. The only time he came into the story was in the MC Versus IC line. The unique ability and fatal flaw in that line belong again to MAIN CHARACTER, that uses them when looking towards the IC – the so-called – YOU perspective. “What are YOU doing to me ?” or more importantly, the MC is saying to their friends, “That nasty IC did this to me the other day . . . ”

    Let’s give a good example of well placed conflicts on the 4 lines, that make this program work . .

    Overall Plot – this is quite a weak line. This isn’t really the main story, at all. The main story you are writing is the overall STORYMIND – the total of 4 lines. Use – FIXED ATTITUDE here. Then you can have a MAIN Versus Prejudice in small community.

    MAIN – MANIPULATION. Here is MAIN Versus MAIN . . . a person, who doesn’t know what to think. They are a BE-ER. They are sitting at home alone, being a detective – PLAYING A ROLE – as the software wants us to use. They don’t mind being STEADFAST, yet they could be a CHANGE character.

    IC – Yes, this could be the most important line of all. It makes your writing sound really professional. MAIN complains to other characters about what the IC has done. ACTIVITY.

    MAIN V IMPACT – SITUATION – How their relationship stands over time.

    Put these lines into your program, for in my next post I’ll have some examples of how the lines work together with themes.
    #####

    I’d let the program tell you if the MAIN is a DO-ER or BE-ER, you would be surprised. Same with LOGICAL and INTUITIVE.

    I’ll finish here by saying that a GRAND ARGUMENT story is a stand-up row between MC and IC, till one backs down or changes the other. Also pairs of archetype characters argue over who is more suited to fix the problem. The themes are also argued – between A versus B, A versus C etc. I for one think this argument sounds rubbish. I’m not so sure if that is the right way to go.

    Hope this helps . . .

  16. Neville Hurt says:

    Hello again . . .

    Let’s recap.

    Set up the following –

    OVERALL – FIXED ATTITUDE
    MAIN- MANIPULATION
    IC- ACTIVITY
    M v I – SITUATION

    MAIN CHARACTER – CHANGE OS PLOT – Action Optionlock Success Good

    Scroll down the page and see how the themes pan out on the different lines. Try to see what I say could fit those themes in that way. GOOD LUCK.

    1. MC ISSUE = KNOWLEDGE PROBLEM = UNPROVEN

    By meeting an IC, a knowledgable MC is taught to apply wisdom in order to see great value in believing in facts.

    2. MC ISSUE = CIRCUMSTANCES PROBLEM = SELF-AWARE

    During a period of activity, an over-emotional MC was taught by an IC to look into their affairs more deeply. The MC soon discovered evidence that their future wasn’t so rosy as it appeared.

    3. MC ISSUE = KNOWLEDGE PROBLEM = PROCESS

    A MC with false knowledge of the future learns to apply enlightenment from an IC, and decides not to worry.

    4. MC ISSUE = PERMISSION PROBLEM = NON-ACCEPTANCE

    After it was deemed deficient, a MC inventor gave up on an idea. However on meeting an IC, the inventor decided their idea had merit. Soon after the invention was reappraised . . .

    5. MC ISSUE = THOUGHT PROBLEM = THEORY

    An over-confident MC’s threat to women has been rumbled by an IC. The womaniser decides to mend his ways.

    6. MC ISSUE = DESIRE PROBLEM = DETERMINATION

    A MC has great idea to make his life better in the future. While beavering away, he meets an IC. After gaining more skills from the IC, the MC comes to the conclusion that his great idea, may not be so great after all . . .

    7. MC ISSUE = SENSE OF SELF PROBLEM = SPECULATION

    A MC looks back over his unsuccesful life. After becoming great friends with an experienced IC, the MC believes that he will finally achieve greatness !

    Yes, I do agree these may seem “Cookie Cutter Plots”. What do you think ? Do we have to squeeze our plots into this standard ones ? It that why we are all going so wrong ? Do only “Cookie Cutter Plots” work ?

    Hope you understand my way of thinking. Bye, till next time . . .

  17. Neville Hurt says:

    Hello again,

    Everyday I wake up now, and more realization dawns on me. You see, I take what I have learnt in the past on writing – I am nearly middle aged * give a loud cough * and only passed GCSE English exams- or use limited life experience from what I see on TV in documentaries etc – and can see what Dramatica is talking about. I can even improve it further !

    In this post we look at a SITUATION storyform . . .

    In the themes type in FATE or something like that in Overall Plot.

    Set throughlines up as

    OVERALL – SITUATION
    MC – MANIPULATION
    IC – ACTIVITY
    M v I – FIXED ATTITUDE

    In the storyform – you get a series of stages that demonstrate each conflict –

    OVERALL – The Past = The Future = Changing = The Present

    M – Play a role = Changing Nature = Con Idea = Develop Plan

    IC – Understanding = Doing = Obtaining = Gather Info

    M & I – Memories = Impulsive = Desires = Contemplation

    What this means in plain english – although I’m twisting things around a little – is . . .

    OVERALL – A community is broken – going down the toilet. The people moan about the past, whinge about the future, say things are getting worse, and complain that the present is simply awful.

    But help is at hand . . .

    MAIN – Someone breaks away from the group. He decides to be a bit of an amateur detective. Instead being a closed-minded old whinger, he becomes an intelligent open minded soul. He is able to come up with a possible plan to mend the society, which is fully developed.

    You see, MAIN has met an IC – whose society was broken, but got fixed – and so the pair got on famously.

    MAIN v IMPACT – The friendly pair spoke together about their memories of both societies, they poured out their heart-felt emotions, then they paused together lost in thought.

    IC – MAIN got so excited about what IC had told him, that he dashed back to the awful group living in poverty, and gushed away to his father. MAIN told him about a wonderful person that he had just met. He told his parent about how to understand the person, what they did together, what was obtained from the experience, and most of all how to process that information.

    THERE . . . I hope you are enlightened as MAIN and his father !

    See you next time, for an ACTIVITY assessment with an exciting crime experience . . .

  18. Neville Hurt says:

    Hello again.

    Well, all this Dramatica fever is getting to my head. I’m sorry if you were expecting the crime experience. That will have to wait for another conflict demonstration . . .

    You’ll have to be content with people doing an ACTIVITY, in which someone’s attitude gets in the way.

    Set up as follows

    OVERALL – ACTIVITY
    MAIN – FIXED ATTITUDE
    IC – SITUATION
    M v I – MANIPULATION

    The storyform will go something like this –

    OVERALL – Gather Info = Doing = Obtaining = Understand

    MAIN – Memories = Impulsive Responses = Desires = Contemplation

    IC – The Past = Change = The Future = The Present

    M v I – Con. Idea = Develop Plan = Play a role = Changing Nature

    This means in plain English is . . .

    OVERALL – A whole group decides to do an activity. They learn about how to do it. They perform it. Get experience from it. Then they understand if they should have done it at all, or if they should keep doing it in the future.

    But a member of the group as an “Attitude”. This probably is a good one, but people aren’t so sure . . .

    MAIN – He looks at his memories to see where the attitude came from. He deals with his emotional baggage, then he decides if he should really change or not !

    But help is at hand in the form of a mentor or – IC.

    Main V Impact – Together they come up with a teaching plan of action. They act as amateur teachers – teaching each other a thing or two, then one of them WILL CHANGE.

    Main is not so sure about the teaching, so he goes to a friend. Taking him aside they chat . . .

    IC – Main talks to friend about his mentor. Main mentions about their past, and how things have changed for himself. Main discusses what he hopes for the future, and importantly – what he believes now.

    I hope you have all CHANGED your understanding of Dramatica on ACTIVITY in this way !

    See you all soon.

  19. Neville Hurt says:

    Hello. I promised you a crime caper, so here it is. It is very brief.

    FIXED ATTITUDE DEMO

    Set up something along the lines of –

    OVERALL – FIXED ATTITUDE

    M AND I – SITUATION

    MAIN – MANIPULATION

    IC – ACTIVITY

    A storyform with themes of Perception and Actuality –

    OVERALL – Memories = Inner Desires = Impulsive Responses = Contemplation

    M AND I – The Past = How Changing = The Future = Present

    MAIN – Play A Role = Changing Nature = Con. Idea = Developing Plan

    IC – Doing = Gathered Information = Obtaining = Understanding

    so here we go . . .

    Overall – Everybody is convinced Joe Bloggs is as guilty as hell. No-one believes otherwise, not even the police. They all talk about Joe’s past crime glories. They moan he should rot in jail.
    And they all say what they would like to do to him, if they could mete out justice. But Joe is innocent, and they have to learn to change their ideas . . .

    MAIN – Detective Campbell is on the case. He too believes Joe is guilty. But he must remain impartial, and weight up the facts. He is a stern man, but softens as he learns of Joe’s plight. Thanks to the investigation, Detective Campbell conceives the idea that Joe is innocent, and must help him win his freedom.

    M versus I – Mr. Quinann is a forensic expert. He shows Detective Campbell clues from the past. Talks about changing techniques, that could prove Joe’s innocence in the future. And he talks about what things mean for the present.

    IC – Detective Campbell is convinced things don’t add up, so he goes to Senior Detective Masey for his long years of experience. He tells him about Mr. Quinann’s activities, and what clues they gathered, and mentioned what they got from the experience. Then he ends with their understanding of the situation . . .

    Hope you like that and hope your views about Dramatica are no longer FIXED NEGATIVE ONES !

    • John Guy Collick says:

      Thank you Neville for going to the trouble of working through these Dramatica Pro scenarios – I really appreciate your hard work and I hope they’re of benefit to anyone struggling to get their head round the program. Cheers – John

  20. Neville Hurt says:

    Hi. Thanks John, but I haven’t yet quite finished . . .

    We have to look at MANIPULATION, and I can go to town on this conflict, as I think it will prove to be the most useful of the four.

    In a romance like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE these stories could go –

    MAIN – toss ideas about to decide – Should I go out with him ? Is he right for me ? Should I marry him ?
    Main could have a father with a fixed attitude – You will NOT marry anyone ! ! ! !
    The IC would help change father’s mind.
    Main would have a relationship with – their boyfriends, father , reason character.

    However, I can quite specific as how to set a perfect example up. Here we go –

    OVERALL – MANIPULATION using themes of – situation / circumstances
    M v I – ACTIVITY using themes of – senses / interpretation
    MAIN – FIXED ATTITUDE using themes of – truth / falsehood
    IC – SITUATION using themes of – fate / destiny

    MAIN problem = perception Issue = truth OVERALL issue = situation

    So, if we look into Dramatica speak for what : perception and actuality actually mean, we get –

    Perception = An emotional assessment of one’s enviroment
    Actuality = An logistical assessment of one’s enviroment or in plain English . . .

    In the story of Chicken Little (US) – Chicken Licken (UK) –

    Emotional assessment = The sky is falling in – Logistical assessment = An acorn fell from tree

    I think things start to become clear !

    Using other themes to help – MAIN must wonder what the truth really is
    M v I must doing things to see the meaning of events
    IC must deal with what the future must hold when truth is found

    I know, if you have read my posts, that you will be thinking – “Well, have you written anything using this program ?” Well . . . yes . . . in a way.

    Here is a synopsis for a special idea –

    A MC who has many happy memories of his time at the factory, begins to get niggles something is amiss. When a new team member joins, they both work together to discover that sabotage is afoot, and the MC worries that he may lose his job if the factory closes.

    In my next post will be the “absolutely thrilling” – FACTORY SABOTAGE !

  21. Neville Hurt says:

    Hi.

    Well here we go . . .

    If we use the throughlines and themes from the last post with –

    Change Stop Be-er Logical Action Optionlock Success Good

    You will get the following storyform =

    Overall – Develop plan = Conv. An Idea = Play a Role = Change Nature

    M v I – Gather Info = Understanding = Doing = Obtaining

    Main – Memories = Impulsive Responses = Innermost desires = Contemplation

    IC – How Changing = The Past = Future = Present

    So we have 24 scenes in total. We go up and down the columns in logical order – Col 1, Col 2 etc.

    FACTORY SABOTAGE copyright Neville Hurt 2017.

    EPISODE ONE

    MAIN – Memories

    MIKE looks back at his twenty year service with WORMOLD’S – a small family-run factory. He remembers the retirements of the senior engineers when he was a young apprentice, and laughs at some of the pranks played in the tea-breaks.

    OVERALL – Developing A Plan

    MR WORMOLD usually ran his factory very well. MIKE has a few niggles. Maybe this is sabotage ? A trustworthy factory worker – JOHN, who has just started there, could help in an investigation if things look that way.

    IC – How Things Are Changing

    MIKE tells his wife – HELEN that he has made first contact with the newcomer – JOHN.

    M V I – Gathering Information

    MIKE wonders why the ball-bearing machine is erratic. At the next tea-break, MIKE tells his new best friend – JOHN about his vague ideas . . .

    And that’s where we will leave them for this posting !

  22. Neville Hurt says:

    HI.

    Get ready for EPISODE TWO. Where we join MIKE and HELEN at their home . . .

    IC – The Past

    HELEN suggests to MIKE that he should tell JOHN what happened in the past.

    M v I – Understanding

    At another tea-break, JOHN decides that MIKE may have something

    OVERALL – Conceiving An Idea

    HELEN chats to MR. WORMOLD in his office about her concerns. Later, MIKE and JOHN tell MR. WORMOLD that things are far too odd to be a coincidence. They strongly believe that sabotage is the only answer.

    MAIN – Impulsive Responses

    MIKE decides to put away his anger at the thought of possible wrong-doing, and decides to read a couple of MISS MARPLE novels – in a bid to get tips for a possible investigation . . .

  23. Neville Hurt says:

    HI

    EPISODE THREE starts in the office of MR. WORMOLD in his factory . . .

    OVERALL – Playing A Role

    MIKE and JOHN tell MR. WORMOLD that they will play amateur detectives to discover if anything is wrong.

    MAIN – Innermost Desires

    MIKE cannot eat, drink, nor sleep . . . he simply must know the reasons to the odd behaviour of his workmates.

    M V I – Doing

    MIKE and JOHN conduct a well-thought out investigation.

    IC – The Future

    MIKE and HELEN worry about what JOHN has discovered. Helen says, “That was a lovely factory in the past. It would be a shame to spoil it for the future.” MIKE mentions JOHN’s belief in tarot cards. “John gave me a reading. But things don’t look good.”

    Oh, dear . . .

  24. Neville Hurt says:

    HI.

    Well, all good things must come to an end . . . so, here it is *wipe away a tear* . . . the last installment of FACTORY SABOTAGE.

    EPISODE FOUR

    M v I – Obtaining

    Soon MIKE and JOHN collect complete evidence that prove beyond reasonable doubt that sabotage really is afoot !

    IC – The Present

    “JOHN has threatened to resign” says MIKE to HELEN. “Ol’ MR WORMOLD is upset as JOHN was the best worker he has ever had.”

    OVERALL – Changing One’s Nature

    MR WORMOLD is furious. Both he and MIKE had previously trusted people – especially in their profession. They have totally lost faith in their workmates and in the factory. JOHN is also very disappointed and decides to leave the profession.

    MAIN – Contemplation

    We leave MIKE wondering about his own future at WORMOLD’S.

    THE END ?

  25. Neville Hurt says:

    HI.

    Hope you enjoyed that little short story. It is the most complete thing . . . and if I’m honest – and I always am – the best thing . . . I’ve ever written.

    In all my posts, this information came to me in a haphazard way – as ideas always do. It was a case of literally waking up to these new insights as they popped into my brain every morning.

    I found FACTORY SABOTAGE really straight forward – for three throughlines, at least. It was the IC line that caused some thinking – but even that was easier, than without the program !
    I never find myself writing about people from behind their backs ! ! !

    The themes in STORY ENGINE – which is the thing to start with – not the huge LEVEL 1,2, or 3 questions – do mean straight forward things, when you get into the ideas of the program.

    You don’t have to twist the logic about too much, but you do have to think about things from different angles . . .

Reply to Bob R. Cancel Reply