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Dramatica is a tool, not a decree

Posted: Sep 03, 2010 2:16 pm
by phillybudd
I know from my own experience working with Dramatica, as well as so many of the other posts I see here, that there is a tendency to look at the story form Dramatica ends up giving you as some sort of decree as to how your story is supposed to go. And please understand I am saying this to myself as much as anyone else.

I suspect Chris will agree with me when I say that the story form is a tool, not a decree.

As a composer of orchestral and chamber music, I know that this is also a tendency in that world. The musical forms we all learn become a template that we drop our ideas into. But when you look at the music of the past, it is those works whose composer imposed his own craft and ideas onto the theory that have come to be known as "masterpieces". The first movement of a symphony, for example, up until the mid-20th century, was almost always in a form known as Sonata Allegro: Part One = statement of themes (in different keys), Part Two = Development (the "battle", conflict of themes), Part Three = Recapitulation (restatement of themes in the same key, i.e. reconciliation). But look at the works of Mozart, or Beethoven, or Brahms, or Shostakovich, and you realize the power of those pieces is the way in which they played with the knowledgeable listener's expectations regarding the form. Why did Beethoven, for example, in his Third Symphony in E-flat major, introduce an entirely new theme in the middle of the development section, one we'd never heard earlier, and in A minor (the furthest key possible from E-flat major)? Why was Shostakovich so fond of beginning the Recapitulation (Reconciliation) before the Development (Battle) had even finished? Because that was they way they viewed the world.

Now, just as in Dramatica, all the musical elements must be present for the form to be "complete and correct". But the great composers loved to play with these forms in such a way that they were full of surprises. Things were withheld to be dealt with later, or they put the form on hold to charge out in a new direction temporarily as a kind of red herring.

I love the theory of Dramatica: it excites me and helps me and inspires me to examine my characters and themes and situations in ways I had never considered before. And in fact, the whole Problem/Solution/Symptom/Response piece has caused me to examine my own neuroses!

The story I am working on has blossomed in ways I never knew it could, using Dramatica. But I also know that for this story to be mine, I need to use Dramatica as a tool. It is the hammer that drives the nail. But I hold the hammer.


Re: Dramatica is a tool, not a decree

Posted: Oct 01, 2010 3:24 am
by phillybudd
I was just scrolling through the tips of the day, and came across this post from 2004. I was tickled to see I had used the same hammer and nail analogy:

Re: Dramatica is a tool, not a decree

Posted: Oct 01, 2010 10:40 am
by Chris Huntley
Yes, Dramatica proposes a "perfect" storyform, but stories are not perfect, especially once you encode and storyweave them into the finished work. There is a LOT of wiggle room for interpretation.

And, there are times when writers INTENTIONALLY break story dramatics in order to surprise, upset, or otherwise manipulate their audiences. The film Psycho kills the Main Character 20-25 minutes into the story. This was done for shock value. Once the MC is dead, a new story takes its place that is more robust. The Crying Game did something similar, and there are many other examples of stories where the story's dramatics are futzed with on purpose. Anyone remember "No Country for Old Men?" :D