Dramatica is a theory of storyform creation that forces the writer through various choices to narrow down the potential storyform until it's manageable. It postulates that every story is the exploration of an argument from multiple angles, until a single solution is discovered and used. Dramatica tends to work best when used as a brainstorming tool to help identify problems in a narrative, though it can be followed with quite a bit of detail to provide a workable outline. Dramatica doesn't always apply, but when it does it can be an excellent source of insight into the dreaded "what's your theme?" question. They've stuffed most of their theory into a comic book version that's pretty easy to follow. Oh yeah, and don't confuse them with the troll wiki Encyclopaedia Dramatica. Just don't, okay?
Main Character vs. Impact CharacterDramatica divides the storyline into the external tale (protagonist vs. antagonist) and the emotional connection (viewpoint character vs. impact character). The viewpoint character is the one we most closely identify with, and the impact character is the one who prompts the viewpoint character to change. (For simplicity, let's call the main character "the Hero" for the rest of this synopsis. Not that they have to be heroic or anything, but it's easier.) This division is quite helpful in stories where we see through the eyes of someone who isn't the main mover and shaker in the tale: To Kill a Mockingbird, Moby-Dick, Sherlock Holmes, and the like.
Basic Story QuestionsDramatica asks you to decide between options like these:
- Does the Hero need to Change or to remain Steadfast in their convictions?
- An alternate way of seeing this: Does the Change need to happen inside the Hero, or outside in their environment only?
- If they need to Change, is it that they need to Start doing something or Stop doing something?
- If they need to remain Steadfast, are they waiting for something to Start or something to Stop?
- In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge needs to Start caring about his fellow man. He definitely needs to Change from being self-centered to being other-centered.note
- In 12 Angry Men, our Hero starts with the right idea and has to bring others around to his point of view, so he's Steadfast, waiting for them to Start caring about truth and justice.
- In Enemy Mine, our Hero needs to Stop seeing all Dracs as enemies, definitely a Change.note
- In The Dark Knight, our Steadfast Hero never gives up his ideals, as he works to Stop the Joker's reign of terror without breaking his One Rule.
Hero's Personal StyleOf all these sections, I tend to consider this one last; it seems the easiest to flip around without having to rewrite the story from scratch. But here they are:
- Is the Hero a Do-er or a Be-er?
- Is their problem-solving style Logical or Intuitive?
Story DriversHere's the two Dramatica concentrates on:
- Is the story driven by Action or by Decision?
- To clarify: Does an Action cause people to make Decisions, or does a Decision cause people to take Action? Pin down the initial cause.
- Is the story brought to its conclusion by a lack of Time or a lack of Options?
Story EndingHere's the questions Dramatica asks:
- Does the Hero Succeed or Fail?
- Is this Good or Bad?
The Four ThroughlinesAfter you're done deciding on the eight options above, Dramatica starts giving you options to narrow your storyform. Basically, there are four main stories at work:
- The Overall Story, which is the main plot arc (for example, in Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man is trying to stop Doctor Octopus)
- The Main Character's Story, which is the dramatic arc of the main character (For example, Peter Parker is losing control of his powers due to the stress of balancing his superhero side and his everyday life)
- The Impact Character's Story, which is the Impact Character's dramatic arc (For example, Mary Jane's attempts to get closer to Peter while pursuing her own dreams)
- The Main vs. Impact Story, which covers the struggles of the Main and Impact character as they seek to influence each other (For example, Peter Parker struggling to meet his commitments while Mary Jane pulls away)
CharactersThe talk about Throughlines only covers two characters, because it's only interested in how the Main Character and the Impact Character affect each other. The next part of storyweaving works on figuring out where each character fits into the overall plot. This is where the division between the viewpoint character and the actual protagonist can be most keenly felt. There are eight character archetypes:
- The Protagonist, who considers the problem and pursues a solution;
- The Antagonist, who seeks to avoid the protagonist and force them to prevent their actions;
- The Guardian, who seeks to help someone in the story and acts as the conscience;
- The Contagonist, who seeks to hinder someone and offers temptation;
- The Sidekick, who demonstrates faith and supports another character's efforts;
- The Skeptic, who offers doubts and indirectly opposes another character's efforts;
- The Emotion, who acts through feeling and seeks to be uncontrolled
- The Reason, who acts with logic and seeks control