Blog Post

The Narrative Code Behind Scene Construction

Sep 28th, 2016

Continuing our exploration into the structure of scenes within Dramatica, consider three different modalities of events within a single scene:

  1. Setup, Revelation, Conflict, & Aftermath
  2. Potential, Resistance, Current, & Outcome
  3. Situation, Activity, Fixed Attitude, Manner of Thinking

The first two have been adequately explained in prior articles, the last has not.

Until now.

Note: The following represents preliminary thought and investigation into constructing a scene with Dramatica. For a complete and detailed explanation please read Writing Perfect Scene Structure with Dramatica.

Progression and Dramatic Circuit

Dramatica co-creator Chris Huntley explains the difference between the first two:

This was originally identified as Setup, Interaction, and Aftermath, but was expanded to further describe Interaction as Revelation and Conflict to more accurately reflect the Potential, Resistance, Current, and Power or Outcome of a 'dramatic circuit'. The difference is, SRCA (Setup, Revelation, Conflict, Aftermath) is a linear description of a scene, while PRCP or PRCO is a list of components in the scene that do not necessarily have to follow that linearity. For example, you might lead with the Outcome (A large wall with a bunch of unconscious horses laying in a pile around it), then then follow with the Potential (A runaway horse pulling a buggy), then focus on the Resistance (Someone in the buggy madly pulling on the reigns trying to stop the horses), and Current as the horse and buggy rapidly approaches the wall.

SRCA is the temporal progression of events while PRCO represents the spatial progression of the dramatic circuit.

The third modality?

  • Situation: a bunch of unconscious horses laying in a pile
  • Activity: horse and buggy rapidly approaching a wall
  • Fixed Attitude: a runaway horse pulling a buggy
  • Manner of Thinking: someone in the buggy madly pulling on the reins

These four describe the area of conflict inherent within each event. Touching each Domain within different events gives a scene the same feeling of completeness the Four Throughlines do within a complete story.

Identifying Sources of Conflict

A runaway horse pulling a buggy is an example of a Fixed Attitude? And someone in the buggy madly pulling on the reins is an example of a Manner of Thinking? The first two examples make sense, but the last two seem like confirmation bias.

Until you remember that--as will all things Dramatica--the dramatic elements identify the source of trouble.

The source of trouble within the event of a runaway horse pulling a buggy is the Impulsive Responses or Fears of the horse--not the running away. The running away is a result of the problematic fear.

The source of trouble within the event of someone in the buggy madly pulling the reins is the Conceiving or Conceptualizing or even Becoming--the manipulations existing as driver tries to coerce animal. The pulling on the reins is a byproduct of the problematic manipulation.

While the relationship between the three modalities still exists within a shroud of mystery beneath Dramatica's story engine--a means by which to construct solid scenes around meaningful and purposeful events now exists.

The Fourth Modality

Dramatica theory is quad theory. If you can find three of something, you can usually identify a fourth--it just takes a little time to wrap your head around it.

The context of SRCA to an Author is Time: the Setup happens before the Revelation which happens before the Conflict which happens before the Aftermath. You could replace SRCA with 1-2-3-4 and the meaning would remain the same to the Author. This is simply the order of presentation of the Events.

The context of PRCO to an Author is Space: the spatial relationship between the components of the dramatic circuit. In other words, if you think of the individual parts of an actual circuit board there is a place where the Potential is carried, where the Resistance is found, the Current, and the Power (or Outcome).

The circuit board carries the dramatic logic of the relationship between the Events, but the order in which the Author looks at them--or presents them to an Audience can change.

The context of TKAD to an Author is Mass.

TKAD what?

The Dramatica Quad

In Dramatica, every quad is really another way of looking at Thought, Knowledge, Ability, an Desire (TKAD). Dramatica is a model of the storymind--an internal representation of our external universe:

  • Thought is the Energy of the mind
  • Knowledge is the Mass of the mind
  • Ability is the Space of the mind
  • Desire is the Time of the mind

These four bases find themselves at the Class level within the Dramatica Table of Story Elements:

  • Fixed Attitude classifies problems of Thought/Energy
  • Situation classifies problems of Knowledge/Mass
  • Activity classifies problems of Ability/Space
  • Manners of Thinking classify problems of Desire/Time

When classifying the Events at the Scene level--at the point where the Dramatica model loops back onto itself--Authors look to Fixed Attitudes, Situations, Activities, and Manners of Thinking.

The Fourth Modality

With Time, Space, and Mass accounted for, only a context for Energy remains. This is where Active, Passive, Increasing, and Decreasing Tension exists.

Update on Sep. 29: After sleeping on it, the real answer hit me while I was running this morning: the final and fourth modality is Proactive, Reactive, Passive, and Defensive. Dramatica experts will recognize the lineage of these terms in the Proaction, Reaction, Inaction, and Protection quad under the Issue of Strategy in the Activity Domain.

  • Proactive: horse and buggy rapidly approaching a wall
  • Reactive: a runaway horse pulling a buggy
  • Defensive: someone in the buggy madly pulling on the reins
  • Passive: a bunch of unconscious horses lying in a pile

The Four Scene Appreciations

With the fourth and final modality set, Authors can now develop their scenes by identifying the area of conflict in each event, the order in which they appear, their relationship to each other in terms of the dramatic circuit, and the flow of energy through that particular event.

Returning to the horse and buggy scene from above, an Author might recreate Huntley's example by writing:

Setup: (a Passive Situational Outcome) A large wall with a bunch of unconscious horses laying in a pile around it

Revelation: (a Reactive Fixed Attitude Potential) A runaway horse pulling a buggy

Conflict: (a Defensive Manipulation Resistance) Someone in the buggy madly pulling on the reigns trying to stop the horses

Aftermath: (a Proactive Activity Current) the horse and buggy rapidly approaching the wall.

This is, of course, not the only way a scene plays out in Dramatica. With four modalities and four options in each, 24 permutations exist. Add to that the infinite varieties of ways to split-up a scene across several different logical scenes, and those options multiply exponentially.

This excerpt from the Dramatica theory book on Events Masquerading as Scenes gives a hint as to the possibilities:

Changing locations during a scene obscures this temporal division of twenty-four scenes. For example, imagine an Activity Event (action) taking place in the jungle. Follow that with a Manipulation Event (deliberation) back home in England. The change in location makes one feel that two different scenes have occurred. Yet, if you design the story well, the Fixed Attitude and Situation Throughlines will also be represented just before, during, or just after changing locations.

In the coming days and weeks, we will explore these various combinations in our Dramatica Scene Analysis feature, soon to begin here at Narrative First.