Opinions, Questions, and Hunches on Dramatica Theory

Come here to ask questions or give advice about the theory that forms the basis of Dramatica.

Opinions, Questions, and Hunches on Dramatica Theory

Postby Goose » Jun 28, 2013 10:21 am

So I recently discovered Dramatica and have been completely consumed by it for the past week. But I have some serious issues with it. Hopefully, someone can help me with them. Warning: this post is VERY long.

The next two paragraphs are my overall feelings on Dramatica and why am posting here. My actual questions (8 total) start after them, though they require some of my background thought process first. Also, at the end are my concluding thoughts about Dramatica, at least currently.

First of all, I believe Dramatica is very beneficial for writing, is exploring avenues of story never considered before, and works well. I think the creators are simply pioneers. However, just because something works most of the time does not mean it is a comprehensive or complete or even a remotely good theoretical model. I can’t help but feel that some of the choices in creating the Dramatica model were made arbitrarily, or based on instinct or a “sense of balance” and not a sound logical process. I also understand that Dramatica is, like all theories, a working theory, but it seems more similar to other story paradigms than it thinks, based less on theory than on aggregating examples or writer instinct. Of course, I just may not be grasping the logic behind it all, so I hope someone can help.

The main reason I am posting here: I have found the Dramatica Theory severely confusing, and not because the concepts are too difficult. The arguments do not follow a step-by-step logical process that you find in most abstract scientific or mathematical theories (I have a much easier time understanding theoretical physics like String Theory, even with no strong background in it). I scoured Dramatica Theory and the internet looking for more information or clarity to no avail. This experience leads me to believe two things: either the theory is sound, but is just presented poorly OR the theory is not sound, and the writers compensate by making things vague and confusing (either consciously or not). I will not accept that the theory is sound, presented well, but I just don’t get it. No, I am not some egotistical smarty-pants. I will freely admit when some abstract or complicated topics are over my head as long as I trust the logical process behind it, which in this case, I do not. But how could I trust it? Dramatica Theory spectacularly conceals or ignores most of its assumptions, axioms, and logical processes related to the creation and application of the model. The definitions of words give little indication of what the word represents in the model logically, or the reason for its particular placement. The Dramatica model is simply not reproducible given the information in the Dramatica Theory Book. As a result, I do not really trust the results Dramatica gives me. Phew! I know I sound a bit like the Skeptic or Reason Archetype, but in order for me to use something, I need to understand or trust it.

OK. Let me start with my thought process leading up to my first question that I hope someone more skilled in the Theory can help. Since, I could not find too much information, I decided to use my own logical processes (and some of my own language, sorry) to hopefully come to the same conclusions as Dramatica.
The Story Mind is composed of four viewpoints that the reader can experience. The reader can experience looking inside someone’s head (I, or MC), looking at someone else (You, or IC) looking at everyone objectively (They, or OS), and looking at relationships (We, or SS).These 4 viewpoints completely cover all possible POV that humans could experience, and that’s why stories are great.

These viewpoints are described with two dimensions: their position (external or internal) and their motion (static or process). These set up the Class quad: Situation, Activity, Manipulation, and Fixed State. Situation is an external state, Activity is an external process, Manipulation is an internal process, and Fixed Attitude is an internal state. As an example, the MC (or my) viewpoint can be fully described by my Situation, my Activity, my Manipulation, and my Fixed Attitude. Therefore, each viewpoint embodies all members of the Class quad, and the Story Mind embodies all viewpoints. So, the Story Mind is described in three dimensions: viewpoint (4 options), position (2 options), and motion (2 options), resulting in 16 unique scenarios. So far, so good.

According to Dramatica, in a Grand Argument Story regarding theme, there is one problem or disturbance in each of the four Story Mind viewpoints (MC, IC, OS, SS), but those same problems can only fall on each of the Class members only once to create a Throughline. So we get a total of 4 problems (or angles of the big problem causing the disturbance) in our story.

Now, the purpose of a Grand Argument Story is to imitate a human mind experiencing and tackling the problem from each and every possible scenario. However, as stated before, we have 16 unique scenarios, and therefore need 16 unique angles of the problem, not 4. Dramatica imposes a limit by only allowing the combined dimensions of position and motion (resulting in the 4 members of the Class quad) to be used only once throughout all viewpoints. For example, Dramatica treats an Activity problem from the MC viewpoint as the same as an Activity problem from the IC viewpoint, when really they describe different scenarios. One is “I have an activity problem” and the other is “you have an activity problem”, two different angles. Similarly, if you choose the SS problem as Situation, Dramatica ignores the SS Activity problem, the SS Manipulation problem, and the SS Fixed Attitude problem. This leads mew to my first question:

1. Why does Dramatica impose this limit? Shouldn’t each viewpoint have a problem in each member of the Class Quad in order to have a Grand Argument Story?

I do not understand the logic of the quads. But this is how I view them: a quad is composed of four items that represent the four scenarios generated from the combined dimensions of motion and position (external state, internal state, external progress, internal progress). So a quad exists as a 2D representation, until it is looked at with the four viewpoints giving its third dimension (essentially a quad cube). I want to ignore the viewpoint for a second and just look at the 2D quads, which is how they appear throughout Dramatica.

A quad has four corners occupying a square. In accordance with the theory, we give the symbol “A” for the top left that represents “external state”, “B” for the bottom right that represents “internal state”, “C” for the top right that represents “external process”, and “D” for the bottom left that represents “internal process”. For example, in the topmost Class stage, A = Situation, B = Fixed attitude, C = Activity, and D = Manipulation. I also will assume that the motion/position dimension idea holds for all quads in the model, not just Class (though I am not sure if this is the case, more on this later).

How are A, B, C, and D related? I remember reading something about a pseudo-mathematic equation of A/B = CD, which supposedly means that “when A and B are separated, then C and D are blended” or something. The equation does not make sense to me. I do not understand the logic or the apparent psychology behind it.

2. What’s the deal with the equation A/B = CD? How is it that when an “external state” is separated from an “internal state” that an “external process” will blend with an “internal process”?

Dramatica mainly focuses on the relationships between A, B, C, and D of a quad through Dynamic, Companion, and Dependent Pairs. The Dynamic Pair states that the diagonal items in a quad contrast the most. So, “A” representing “external state” is most opposed to “B” representing “internal state”. The “C” representing “external process” is most opposed to “D” representing “internal process”. Therefore a Dynamic Pair contains items of the same motion (state) but different position (external and internal).

Using the same logic, a Companion Pair (horizontal items) in a quad contains items of different motion, but the same position. A Dependent Pair (vertical items) in a quad contains items of different motion, and different position. If two items in a quad have the same motion and the same position, they are the exact same item, which does not lend us any information about relationships, and so I ignore it.

3. How do the logic of Dynamic, Companion, and Dependent Pairs make sense according to motion and position? Why is an “external state” most opposed to an “internal state” instead of an “internal process”? Am I way off with this motion/position thing?

I also do not understand the recursive nature of quads. Based on Dramatica, it seemed clear to me that the quads simply got smaller and smaller within each other. So, the top right item of the Class quad could actually be subdivided into a whole new Type quad, and then the Variation quads, and finally the Elemental quads containing 256 items total (though only 64 unique ones). Why do we stop at Elements and not go further? Why are the Elements the building blocks of this model? It is not entirely clear to me, but I assume it has something to do with balancing the idea of “four” in the model. The quad has four items (from the motion and position dimensions) and there are four viewpoints; therefore, everything must be four in order to maintain balance. The model must only have four levels of recursive quads. This may have been exacerbated by the four established literary terms: character, theme, plot, and genre. But desire of balance is not a logical argument, but instead a satisfaction of our psyche. Einstein desired one equation to describe the Universe, but that doesn’t mean one exists.

I initially thought that maybe the Elements were the building blocks because at that point our four towers of quads (Situation, Activity, Manipulation, and Fixed Attitude) converged. Once we got to the Element stage, all of the sudden our items in the quads repeated. In fact the 64 Elements generated in one Class are the same as the Elements generated in another. But wait, why do the 64 elements repeat at this level? There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it (more on this later).

4. What is the logical reason that Elements are the building blocks? Why not go down further recursively from Class? Or stop earlier?

I decided to map out the recursive nature of the four levels of quads (Class, Type, Variation, and Element) in hopes of discovering a pattern. I stripped away the vocabulary used in all the quads and instead used only what I knew (or had assumed) of quads: that they contain a certain motion and a certain position. Again, I used the symbol “A” for the top left that represents “external state”, “B” for the bottom right that represents “internal state”, “C” for the top right that represents “external process”, and “D” for the bottom left that represents “internal process”. For the next level, I placed another quad (with A, B, C, and D in the same relative positions) in the place of each A, B, C, and D of the previous quad. Now I had the Type level with 16 items. Now I could actually represent any item in the Type level by two letters, for example AA or DC, with the first letter corresponding to 1st generation position (Class) and the second letter corresponding to 2nd generation position within the 1st generation (Type). So AA (a Type) would be in the top right quadrant of the Class quad, and making a new quad in that, AA would be in the new quad’s top right quadrant. I repeated this for Variation (64 items) and Element levels (256 items).

But what do these letters mean? What do the letters code for? For Class, it was easy: Situation, Activity, Manipulation, and Fixed Attitude. But how does one label a Type? The letters of AD, for example, suggest an internal process (D) imbedded in an overall external state (A). Dramatica says definitively that AD is “The Future”. Maybe, but it gets worse the farther you go down. The code CBDB (C = Class, B = Type, D = Variation, B = Element), should be an external process of an internal state of an internal process of an overall internal state! Dramatica says CBDB is simply the Element, “Induction”, a “method of thought that determines possibility”. Huh?

5. How does Dramatica code the relationships of recursive quads into vocabulary words with specific definitions? How exactly do the four Types’ definitions, for example, logically or mathematically exist in a Class?

Let’s assume that Dramatica indeed has some secret code that changes A, B, C, or D into specific vocabulary words that all makes logical sense. But there is another problem.

According to Dramatica, the code AADB, BACB, CAAD, and DABB all code for the Element, “Desire”, with the same definition. How is that possible? Taking the only information about quads we had (motion and position) we end up with one word seemingly describing four completely different Elements. Using my recursive techniques, each one of the 256 Elements should be different, otherwise they were not derivative (or did not share the same properties) as the original quad. How did Dramatica condense certain codes all into the same meaning?

6. Why do Elements suddenly repeat from Class to Class? How can the same word (and therefore the same meaning) describe four different Elements?

Alternatively, maybe I could have accepted if the codes for “Desire” were AADB, BADB, CADB, and DADB. This would mean that the elements would be virtually the same, recursively, except for the vaguest level, Class. So we would have a Desire under the influence of Situation, of Activity, of Manipulation, and of Fixed Attitute. We would have four Desires, each with a distinct flavor. But this is not the case because it would require the Elements to be in the same relative position in each Class. Instead, the Elements in each Class are strangely rearranged. This means that our four “Desires” are not slightly different flavors, but completely different, and no more the same than any other set of Elements.

However, the Type or 2nd level does have the Element “Desire” in the same position for all four instances of the word, in this case A. “Desire” is in the top right Type quadrant (A) of each of the Class quadrants (A, B, C, or D). In fact, all Elements share this pattern, whether they are in Type position A, B, C, or D. However, when you go down to the Variation or Element level all patterns disappear and the position of the re-occuring Elements appears random. It’s as if Dramatica follows the simple recursive structure from Class to Type, but then all hell breaks loose and anything goes in the Variation and Element stage.

7. What is the pattern of Element position? Why are the Elements rearranged from Class to Class, and how?

I tried a few more things. First, I decided that maybe the meaning of the quad was not in the items themselves, but in the relationships of the items. I looked at the quad in terms of Dynamic, Companion, and Dependent Pairs and not as strictly external, internal, state, or progress. The problem is that I defined the Pairs by the motions and positions, so this really gave me no new information.

Next, I decided to ditch my code-system and try a bottom-up approach to see how the Dynamic Pairs of Elements changed from one Class to the next. The Dynamic Pairs of Elements were never separated which gave me some hope of finding a pattern, but their rearrangement was, again pretty random. For some reason, certain Dynamic Pairs never changed relative position at all from Class to Class (like Knowledge and Thought). I do not know what is so special about these Pairs.

As a last ditch effort, I thought maybe my direct recursive scheme was incorrect, masking the patterns. So I tried a different recursive technique, using a bit more symmetry. I sort of remember reading that from Type to Type, the ABCD quad is reflected across the horizontal or vertical planes. This means that in the Class position of C, we would now have a Type position of C at the top right, A at the top left, B at the bottom left, and D at the bottom right, which is a mirror image on the vertical line of the Type quad in the Class position A. I used this mirror technique across the board from Type down to Elements. I created codes again for each Element, and was left with no pattern. I gave up.

8. How was the Dramatica Model created? What was each logical step and decision from beginning to end?

Well that concludes my rampage into Dramatica. At first I was very confused reading the Theory for the first time, then I suddenly “got it”, and then I made the decision to continue digging until I am as confused as ever. Now, I am actually pretty wary of it. Nothing makes sense to me, and there is not a whole lot of information out there, which is why I am here. I know there obviously is a concrete computer code which runs the simulations in Dramatica Pro, but that does not mean the commands are based in a concrete logical theory.

So how come Dramatica seems to work so well? Well, maybe it doesn’t. Looking at the analysis of various movies, I am kind of struck by the leeway allocated for the categories. An MC problem of Trust, for example, could mean that MC has a hard time trusting people, MC does not trust people enough, MC does not trust himself, MC trusts himself too much, people Trust MC too much or too little, MC’s relationship needs more mutual Trust, MC does not value Trust enough as an idea, MC needs to Trust his feelings or instincts or Mother’s advice, or perhaps even MC wishes he had a bigger Trust fund. This one category could really be many other Elements instead, especially if each has just as much leeway. With some clever wording, MC’s problem could potentially be 10, or 15, or 30 other Elements besides Trust. It is not surprising then, when looking at many of the analyses, it honestly looks like some of the categories are a bit of a stretch, where I would have never assigned it (unless Dramatica pushed me to). And on top of that, Dramatica gets away with any blatant inconsistencies by saying that obviously that particular movie deviated from Dramatica’s perfect theoretical structure. Dramatica is pretty tricky.

Well, I question Dramatica’s perfect theoretical structure. Here’s what I think is the deal. Dramatica has a great idea of the Story Mind and comparing a story to how human minds learn about solving problems. Another great idea is the Grand Argument Story, where all theoretical viewpoints are considered. But that’s pretty much where the theory ends (which is admittedly a nice breakthrough in its own right). After that step most of the quad structure, relationships, and assignment of vocab, seems to have been arranged instinctively, or by whatever method produced results. Once that was established, the creators (consciously or not) backtracked to fit a theory to the aggregated data that did not really fit. They compared the Dramatica model to mental relativity, or Einstein’s e=mc2, or psychology without ever getting too concrete. It sounds like it is based in science, but it’s really just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. That is why the Dramatica Theory seems vague and confusing. That is why “Dramatica experts” are still pretty confused about it all. That’s why these logical gaps exist. When it comes down to it, Dramatica is pretty much an advanced story paradigm, like Hauge’s 6 Stages for example, except with the pretension of thinking it is a sound, logical, fundamental theory of psychology or another science. Dramatica is mostly based on the same principal of fitting patterns to what we see in stories, which is useful but not revolutionary or comprehensive. I’d argue that proponents of Dramatica have way too much Faith in the theory.

Of course, this is generalized speculation based on my hunches; I am a Skeptic after all. And regardless, Dramatica still makes me a better writer, I think. But now I just trust it much less. Anyone want to help me restore my Trust in Dramatica?

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Re: Opinions, Questions, and Hunches on Dramatica Theory

Postby stephenbuck415 » Jun 28, 2013 10:58 am


I wish to preface my initial comments here by saying I have only scanned over what you have written and have not read it in its entirety... I'll need to set aside some quiet analytical reading time before a full-read will be possible.

Meanwhile, two initial thoughts come to mind.

1st: Dramatica is not linear, it is not exactly 3-Dimensional, either... it's more 4-Dimensional in a multi-dimensional sort of way. A scene, for example, can be explored to its Element, but if the writer so desires and has enough free time, the entire set of all Dramatica quads can be placed within that single Element for an even greater exploration of it.

2nd: Do you really think that the average writer is going to dedicate enough time to fully map out complete Grand Argument Stories for each character (and thing and event) in their story? It looks like you have presented very strong arguments as far as "the math" is concerned, but considering how long it takes to write a screenplay or novel, and considering the amount of money that screenplay or novel may or -- more importantly, may not -- produce, is the time required worth it in real life?

Those are just some quick thoughts and responses to your initial argument. Again, I haven't read it in depth (and it does deserve a complete read, but I just don't have the time available at this moment).

But I do think that you are over-thinking the process, which is also exactly what I did my first few years with the theory.
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Re: Opinions, Questions, and Hunches on Dramatica Theory

Postby Goose » Jun 28, 2013 12:19 pm

Thanks stephenbuck for responding so soon, and I hope you do read through my post.

I want to elaborate a bit more on the difference between a theoretical model and a model tacked on to experimental data (a practical model). A theoretical model or equation is born in this way: axioms and assumptions are listed, a series of logical steps proceed (a proof), which leads to a conclusion (our model or equation). Many mathematical and scientific conclusions are made in this manner, and they form a fundamental basis for our understanding of reality.

In contrast, a practical model (as I am calling it), looks at a bunch of data points and tries to find a pattern. It tacks on an equation to represent the points given, which seems to describe it pretty well. This technique is used heavily in engineering fields, because engineers solely care about results. I have a background in Chemical Engineering and some of the equations describing flow of chemicals through a pipe have over 20 variables involved. These huge equations have NO theoretical basis, but simply somehow get the right result, and are mostly the effort of trial and error.

A theoretical model goes from the bottom-up, and a practical model goes from the top-down. Both are extremely useful.

Dramatica seems to be a practical model disguised as a theoretical model. It really tries to be theoretical, but the logic doesn’t work out. It does not start with axioms and assumptions, or have a clear logical path to its conclusion (if it does, it has not been presented). This is where my questions are concerned. If they can be answered fully, then I may come to accept that Dramtica is actually a theory.

Dramatica does work because it is a practical model. It is a product of looking at a bunch of data and fitting a pattern. But practical models are not fundamental, and they are not always correct. A practical model may only work for a certain range, or for certain examples. In fact, there is really no way to accurately predict for other data points with a practical model, which is why I have a problem with Dramatica. It may work for a lot of stories, but it may not work at all for others. Some data points fit the equation nicely, but without theory, you have no idea if others will. Dramatica is NOT comprehensive. And Dramatica makes up for its limitations as a practical model by being vague and general, much like a Psychic reading Tarot cards but perhaps more effective.

If this is the case, and Dramatica is not a theory, then it should stop pretending or trying to be. The Dramatica Theory book should be completely rewritten to reflect its limitations. It should dump vague, weird logic and blanket terms (such as multidimensional) that do not apply and just be real with us. (I took a few multi-dimensional calculus classes and Dramatica does not include anything concrete). Dramatica should stop being advertised as a revolutionary and fundamental theory, because it is misleading.

Instead, Dramatica should embrace that it is mostly just a practical model that works but no one really knows why. In fact, I believe that Dramatica is probably the best practical model for story structure I have ever seen. But as a practical model, you have to use Dramatica with caution. And you certainly can get a well-structured and completely satisfying story by breaking its “rules” because there is no theoretical basis for the rules in the first place.

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Re: Opinions, Questions, and Hunches on Dramatica Theory

Postby Chris Huntley » Jul 01, 2013 9:07 pm

Answer to question #1: The reason for the limit has to do with finding meaning. Meaning only comes from limited context. When you combine the limited views with each perspective, together they provide a combined SINGLE mind view of an inequity (which has those four frames of reference). Though a perspective, such as that of the MC (I), may be explored from all four domains, meaning comes from exploring the perspective within a single domain for a given storyform (grand argument story). Grand argument stories are simplified versions of the human mind -- they explore a SINGLE inequity within a SINGLE (complex) context, which happens to include multiple frames of reference.

One other note: Because of the limitations imposed by dynamic pair relationships, there are only eight combinations instead of sixteen.
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Re: Opinions, Questions, and Hunches on Dramatica Theory

Postby Chris Huntley » Jul 01, 2013 9:12 pm

You may want to explore Dramaticapedia.com. Though Melanie is a bit long winded at times, she covers each of your questions in a number of different ways.

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Re: Opinions, Questions, and Hunches on Dramatica Theory

Postby JRH147 » Nov 28, 2021 1:59 pm

For those thinking the above diatribe "devastating" or somehow indicative of Dramatica's failure to hold up to scrutiny, I took the time to address each and every point in my series of articles, The Science Behind Dramatica:


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