Structure Models in Dramatica and How to Find Them

by Dane Tyler

Mr. Strathy,

First, please let me thank you for this website and the invaluable information you're providing to writers of every level. I can't tell you what a great impact you've had on me through the advice and instructional articles you've posted here. The information is practical and clear, and I've been able to incorporate it immediately into my writing.

My question is based on one of those advice posts, wherein you answered a question from a reader asking about a protagonist/main character who believes the problem is one thing but discovers later it's something else entirely.

The description you gave for the Dramatica theory story structure was "Symptom/Response-Problem/Solution" (mirroring the 4-part structure of classical stories).

I've been reading Melanie Phillips' book on Dramatica theory and have learned about the classes, types, variations and such (the chess board grids) and how to pick the dynamic pairs using them, but I haven't encountered any place yet wherein the story structures like Symptom/Response-Problem/Solution are described.

Realizing there are 32,000 story forms Dramatica can come up with, I suppose my question is dual-pronged:

1) Does the book describe the structures like the one you provided to your reader, so I can look to see what other structural options there are, and
2) Is the structure you provided one of those 32K story forms, or is story form different than structure?

Thank you again for the fantastic and practical information, and for opening my eyes to how great a tool Dramatica theory is.

Answer: Welcome to the dramatica learning curve.

Melanie discusses the symptom, response, problem, and solution elements on page 120 of the Dramatica book. You can also look up the terms in the glossary. Every story form has these elements (though not every story illustrates them). Putting one of these in each act is a technique I borrowed from Armando Saldana-Mora, who has contributed a lot towards making dramatica more accessible.

Regarding the 32,000 story forms, I'm sure you can understand why they are not all
laid out in the book. It would make for pretty dull reading. They are buried in the Dramatica software program. You can't actually find them all listed, but as you make choices for a story, the program gradually zeros in on the structure that best fits those choices.

In answering a question on this site, I always assume the person asking does not have access to the software. I try to give answers based on the theory itself rather than try to find a specific story form to fit the person's story.

For instance, the theory tells you characters tend to tackle the symptom before their realize the real problem. The software would tell you that the symptom for your specific story should concern X while the problem concerns Y (X and Y being different for each story form).

My aim is to help people move forward with their writing, not to get them bogged down too much with learning the theory or to cajole them into buying the software.

It wouldn't be fair, after all, for me to say to someone, for example, "According to your specific story form, the Requirements in your story should concern Conceiving an Idea." To be that specific, I would have to do a complete analysis of their story, using the software, and then tell the person what the software says about the other 50 or so elements in their story (because they'd want to know), which would probably confuse the heck out of them and could even paralyze their creative flow. Suddenly, instead of trusting their creativity and inspiration, they'd be relying on me to tell them what to do.

Besides, if they use the software themselves, they might decide on a different story form for their story. There's a lot of subjectivity in terms of the choices you make.

So I prefer to stay more general and just feed people a bit of theory to stimulate their imagination and help them past their current block or dilemma.

Comments for Structure Models in Dramatica and How to Find Them

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Aug 27, 2012
Excellent Answer!
by: Dane

Thank you for the direction! I, myself, have tried and didn't like the Dramatica software. But I have enjoyed Melanie's book, and I do like how you've cut things to a practical core here on the site.

I look forward to the answers to each question when I see them. Thank you for fielding mine.

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