Blog Post

The Novelist's Struggle With Dramatica

Nov 16th, 2015

Generally speaking, screenwriters find the Dramatica theory of story easier to use than novelists. Less a matter of talent or know-how and more a result of their preference for the subjective nature of things, the struggle novelists experience when processing their work through the Dramatica lens can be neutralized with a better understanding of what the theory communicates.

Novelists often look at the storyform, or any of Dramatica's story points, from the point of view of their characters. They are so used to being their characters, thinking their character's thoughts and imagining what their character would feel inside, that they have a difficult time breaking out of that more subjective view into something a little more objective. For example, a novelist might encode and show the Main Character's Issue as if they personally are feeling the issue, when it reality it is the Author's commentary on the Main Character's Issue.

This usually plays out with half-baked encoding that shows where the Main Character is coming from, but really doesn't get to the heart of why it is an actual issue for the story. When faced with a Main Character Issue of Altering the Future for Someone (Interdiction) they might write:

Roger worries about how he can make life better for his family

Thinking that this is a successful encoding of Dramatica's story point. But it isn't. It's only half an inequity, half an issue. Contrast that with this:

Roger, worried about making a better life for his family, purchases a shotgun and robs three local banks.

Now we have a story. Now the Main Character's Issue is an actual issue. Why? Because the Author has made it so. The Dramatica story point isn't there to grant the writer free storytelling, its primary responsibility is to provide a touch point for the Author to communicate their viewpoint of the world to the Audience. The storyform is a hologram of Author's intent.

Screenwriters often don't deal with the inner monologues of their characters; the form doesn't allow for that. When siphoning their work through Dramatica, screenwriters get it. They are used to writing a blueprint for a story, rather than the experience of a story.

Novelists on the other hand are always in the heads of their characters; multiple characters at times. The Dramatica storyform defines the Author's perspective on conflict NOT the character's perspective. When depicting what the Main Character Concern or Issue or Problem, you define what you the Author see as the source of conflict for their character. You're defining the Problem and the Solution and every other story point. Think of the Dramatica storyform as a blueprint for your story's thematics and the rest will come naturally.