Thinking of Your Audience First

Narrative structure isn't always about the story--sometimes it can help an Author better understand their Audience.

Although the software is not properly set up for it, you can create the structure of your story based on how you want your audience to receive your story, i.e. how you want your story to feel to them. In order to do this, you need to understand the connections that some appreciations have with one another.

Some authors like to write what they want to write without a single thought spent on their audience. Others write by focusing on their audience from the very beginning. Either way is acceptable; the end result will be the same.

There are four major Audience Appreciations--Nature, Essence, Reach and Tendency. From what I understand these appreciations describe how your audience will receive your story. I say as far as I understand because personally, I don't use them that much. This could be because they're at the very bottom of the Story Points Chart; more likely it's because there's enough elsewhere to worry about!

These appreciations cannot be selected directly in the software; their answers instead come as a result of other choices you make. If you'd like to know how you can think of your audience first, here are the combinations:


The Dramatica defintion describes Nature as:

The seminal dramatic framework of a story's message which indicates if the Main Character makes a proper decision to Change or Remain Steadfast.

Which is to say were the Main Characters assumptions of what was going on correct when they arrived at the climax of a story?

Nature comes as a result of combining Main Character Resolve and Objective Story Outcome and breaks down like this:

  • Apparent Dilemma - CHANGE and FAILURE
  • Actual Dilemma - CHANGE and SUCCESS
  • Apparent Work - STEADFAST and FAILURE
  • Actual Work - STEADFAST and SUCCESS

Was it really a dilemma that the Main Character was facing (Actual Dilemma) or did it just seem that way (Apparent Dilemma)? Did the Main Character really need to dig her heels in (Actual Work), or was she wrong about what was really going on around her (Apparent Work)? Because of the choices made in reference to the Resolve and Outcome, your audience will inherently know the answer to these questions.


This one I never use--mainly because instinctively it seems wonky to me. The quick definition of Essence is:

The primary dramatic feel of a story.

Sounds dreadfully important, doesnt it?!

Essence comes as a combination of Main Character Growth and Main Character Judgment and breaks down like this:

  • Positive Feel - either START and GOOD or STOP and BAD
  • Negative Feel - either START and BAD or STOP and GOOD

Basically your story will feel Positive if your Main Character is starting something good or stopping something bad. And conversely, your story will feel Negative if your Main Character is starting something bad or stopping something good.

Makes sense, but what about Star Wars? If the above is true, then Dramatica sees Star Wars as having a Negative Feel. Huh? Luke has a major chip on his shoulder (Stop) that in the end, he is able to resolve (Good). Seems pretty positive to me. Is this part of Dramatica wrong?

I don't think so. Instead of negative or positive I like to think of Heavy or Light. A film with a Negative Feel will feel very Heavy--almost as if there is a huge weight pressing down on the Main Character. I think this comes as a result of our focus on their Growth. As the Dictionary Definition of Essence says, "In a Negative Story, the focus is on the effort to escape the problem."" To an audience that burden to escape feels heavy.

Likewise in a Positive Essence film I like to think of it as feeling very Light. In a Positive Story, the focus is on the effort to find the solution, the Dictionary adds, no longer does our focus as an audience feel like an extra added burden. Finding a solution suggests a feeling of freedom and perhaps hope.

So it's not so much that we feel down or depressed in a Negative Essence story (I certainly didn't feel that way with Star Wars), it's just that an audience will instinctively feel this way towards their overall appreciation of your story.1


Who will empathize with your story and who will simply sympathize with it? Turns out the answer could be Male or Female, both or neither, all depending on the Mental Sex of the particular audience member.

Reach comes as a combination of Mental Sex and the Objective Story Continuum and breaks down like this:

  • Male - MALE and Timespace
  • Female - FEMALE and Spacetime
  • Both - MALE and Spacetime
  • Neither - FEMALE and Timespace

You have to go back to 1999 to have the answer spelled out in the Dramatica Tip of the Month for May of that year:

For Male (mental sex) audience members, their empathy/sympathy factor is determined by Mental sex. Male audience members will tend to empathize with Male Mental Sex main characters, and tend to sympathize with Female Mental Sex main characters. For Female (mental sex) audience members, their empathy/sympathy factor is determined by the Story Continuum. Female audience members will tend to empathize with Spacetime stories, and tend to sympathize with Timespace stories.

So if you want only Male audiences members to really empathize with your Main Character (Armageddon) set the Mental Sex to Male and Story Continuum to Timespace. Want to write a chick flick (Pride and Prejudice)? Then set the Mental Sex to Female and the Story Continuum to Spacetime. Want both sexes to empathize? Set it to Male and Spacetime like they did in The Devil Wears Prada. While often referred to as a chick flick, Prada appealed to a much wider audience than Pride and Prejudice. Audience Reach had a great deal to do with that.

Of course, if you want to write a story no one will empathize with set it to Female and Timespace. Good luck with that!


The last of these is actually the most helpful and comes as a combination of Main Character Approach and Story Driver:

  • Willing - DO-ER and ACTION story or BE-ER and DECISION story
  • Unwilling - DO-ER and DECISION story or BE-ER and ACTION story

Tendency is also probably the easiest to understand. If the story requires an Action to move it forward, a Be-er is not going to be willing to participate--at first. They may eventually, but their first instinct will not be to contribute to any forward movement.

Same with a Do-er in a Decision story. Their wheelhouse lies in taking actions and making things happen externally. Their instincts would be quite unwilling to make the kind of internal decisions that the logic of a story requires.

Your Audience Awaits

Make of these what you will. Again, I rarely use them when starting to write a story. It's nice to know the Reach of my story (which for some reason or another always ends up Both) and whether my Main Character will be Willing or Unwilling to involve themselves in the Objective Story. But I don't pay much attention to the other two. Your results may vary.

Still, it's interesting to see that an audience will feel certain things based on the combination of certain structural items.


  1. Please note that this article appears in our Vault section and therefore serves a historical purpose, not an educational one. For an updated and far more sophisticated of this and the other Audience Appreciations, please read our series on The Audience Appreciations of Story
Originally published 07-11-2007

Download the FREE e-book Never Trust a Hero

Don't miss out on the latest in narrative theory and storytelling with artificial intelligence. Subscribe to the Narrative First newsletter below and receive a link to download the 20-page e-book, Never Trust a Hero.