Dramatica Theory of Story Structure

Dramatica Theory of Story Structure

Originated in 1994, the The Dramatica Theory of Story Structure is a diagnostic modelling tool built around a concept called “The Story Mind.” According to this notion, every story has a mind of its own – its psychology is built by the story’s structure and its personality is determined by the storytelling.

The theory claims that this model of the mind was developed unintentionally over centuries of storytelling as a by-product of the attempt to communicate information and emotions across a medium from an author to an audience.

In this light a story is seen as an argument in which the author, hoping to convince the audience of a point of view, suggests that a particular approach to problem solving is (or is not) better than all others that might reasonably be tried in a given situation.

To successfully make this argument, all other pertinent problem solving approaches much be examined in the story as well and shown to fall short of the one promoted by the author.

In the process of including all the reasonable ways one might go about solving a particular problem, all universal human points of view, attitudes, and approaches must appear for any story’s argument to be complete.

Over centuries of trial and error storytelling, these human qualities became fixed as the conventions of story structure from characters, to theme, to plot.

Therefore, the Dramatic theory sees characters as representing our various drives and motivations, theme is seen as our conflicting value standards, plot represents our problem solving methods, and genre describes the overall attitude (personality type) of the Story Mind itself.

While these notions are merely conceptual, the Dramatica theory ultimately developed beyond this into a very specific math-based model of psychology. The model itself is a visual representation of the relationships among dramatic elements and the dynamics which drive them.

Appearing not unlike a cross between the Periodic Table of Elements and a three dimensional chess set, the Dramatic Table of Story Elements is divided into four families: Universe (representing situations), Mind (attitudes), Physics (activities) and Psychology (manners of thinking).

These four families are represented as occupying a square (called a quad) divided into four parts, one family in each corner. The position of each item in a quad is important because the quad actually represents an equation purported by the Dramatica theory to represent the basic building block of thought.

With the four families at the top, the model extends down three additional “levels”, creating a three-dimensional volume in which the story’s argument takes place and can be charted, analyzed and even predicted.

Each level below the top is continually subdivided into smaller and more refined dramatic units. For example, Universe is subdivided into Past, Present, Future, and Progress. Each of those smaller units is subdivided as well until at the fourth and bottom level of the model, each family contains sixty-four elements.

The equations used to create the model establish consistent relationships among dramatic elements. For example, one of the subdivisions under the Mind family is “Memory” which falls in the same relative position in its quad to “Past” in the Universe family. Therefore, Memory is to Mind as Past is to Universe. The entire model is consistently structured in this manner.

In addition, the structure is not fixed, but flexible. The Dramatica theory uses a series of “dynamic operations” to twist and turn the model like a Rubik's Cube in order to create the dramatic potentials necessary to support an author’s intent.

In later years, the ongoing development of Dramatica split into two branches. First is ongoing exploration into using the model to understand the workings of the human mind itself – an area of research called (by the theory creators) Mental Relativity. The second area of development is the implementation of the model as a patented computer program called “The Story Engine” which can be used to analyze story structures to find holes and inconsistencies and also used to interactively suggest how to fix and fill them.

Dramatica theory has been taught at several universities, including the University of California at Los Angeles, where the theory creators taught a twelve-week “for credit” course for several years.

The most definitive explanation of the theory can be found in the book, Dramatica – A New Theory of Story (ISBN 091897304X ISBN 978-0918973047), authored by the theory co-creators.


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