Story Structure Help for the Ukraine

A writer in the Ukraine recently wrote me with some questions about the Dramatica theory of narrative structure.  First, his questions (indented) and then my answers below each.


I’m a big “Dramatica” fan from Ukraine!

Recently I was struggling with understanding some “Dramatica” aspects and especially with translating “Dramatica Dictionary”.

Can you, please, help me? Unfortunately, I haven’t found answers to my questions on your web-site.

Hello to the Ukraine!

Nice to meet you.

Here are some answers to your questions. I’ve put my answers right below each question for easy reference:

1. I agree, that we need Overall Story as bird’s eye view, Main Character Storyline to get to know more about MC, to sympathize and even empathize with him, to see the Story through his eyes nd of course we need MC/IC Storyline to see the battle between two alternate Approaches and Worldviews.

But I can’t understand one thing – why do we need separate IC Storyline? I thought we are interested in IC as long (and as much) as he has direct connection and influence on MC. Yes, we need Impact Character to show MC an alternative way, but having separate IC Line – is it so necessary?

Here are some thoughts on that. First of all, in the mind, the MC represents our sense of self – our identity – “I think therefore I am.” The IC represents the person we might become if we decide to change. And so, in the course of our internal exploration as to whether to retain our identity exactly as it is or to alter it in regard to a particular issue represented by the IC we need to know as much about the IC as we can, in order to make our best educated guess as to whether to stick to our guns or alter our outlook.

Also, the four throughlines represent I (mc), You (ic), we (mc vs. ic) and They (OS). We need all four points of view to understand the environment in which we make our decisions.

2. If we have a Story where there are Main Character and Protagonist (separate characters) – MC goes through a mental emotional journey and decides: he will Change or remain Steadfast. But does Protagonist go through such inner journey or he just goes from Event to Event in a Story (goes only through Outer Journey)? Protagonist doesn’t need to choose between Change and Steadfastness, right?

Correct. Protagonist is only concerned with achieving the goal, though he or she may have very personal and passionate reasons for doing so. But, they are not internally conflicted and do not question their chosen point of view on the matter.

3. When we separate Main Character from Protagonist – does Main Character still have a Goal? Or the main Story Goal is only in hands of Protagonist?

The MC still has a personal goal – it is the kind of angst or anguish they are trying to overcome. The MC’s Concern and Issue and Problem give us some indications as to the nature of that angst. But, keep in mind that the MC, if not the protagonist, must be one of the other characters. If you are using archetypes, the MC could be any of the other 7 archetypes. This is important because the MC’s choice to change or remain steadfast is the lynchpin between the personal issue and story goal that the protagonist is after. The way the MC chooses will determine if the Protagonist finds success or failure, even if the MC is not directly involved in that effort.

4. In the Story Climax there is a battle between Protagonist and Antagonist. But when we have separate Main Character – should he also be involved in this battle? Or he has his own – battle between him and Impact Character?

You suspect correctly, the MC will have a battle of morals or outlooks with the IC in the climax. BUT because the MC will also be one of the objective characters, in that role the “player” that is both MC and an objective character may be involved with the Protagonist in the battle with the Antagonist.

5. If we have a Story with separate Protagonist character and Main Character and also have Complex characters with swapped characteristics like in “Wizard of Oz” – is there a possibility, that Protagonist and Main Character would seem like cardboard cutouts in comparison? Can we accidentally make our supporting character More Interesting than our Main Character or Protagonist? The Only way we can make Main Character complex – is to combine him with Protagonist? The Only way we can make Protagonist complex – is to combine him with Main Character?

Well, any characters can swap characteristics, so if you want a complex “player” then assign the role of MC to a complex objective character. Still, consider that the MC gets a whole class by himself and so does the IC. Also, the MC/IC conflict gets a whole class. But the OS only gets one class and that is where all the objective characters live. So, just by the set-up, stories are designed to give far more exploration to the MC, IC, and their relationship than we find in the OS. You’ll find that this depth of personal, internal exploration makes the MC plenty complex, no matter if their objective player role is archetypal or complex.

6. What came first: Action or Decision? For me it’s really hard to judge. It’s like asking “What came first: Chicken or Egg?”. They are so interconnected. I thought that what if the answer is hiding in Inciting Incident – what Event pushes the Story Forward? If we answer this – we’ll know: Action or Decision, right?

That’s pretty spot on. But, you’ll find that the inciting incident of Action or Decision keeps repeating itself throughout the story. In other words, the inciting incident (action or decision) will occur prompting a response of the remaining item. For example, if an earthquake happens, it prompts decisions about what to do next. If a princess DECIDES to marry someone by the end of the week, everyone springs into action to win her hand. But, once the inciting incident has been dealt with, immediate potential is neutralized. But then, a new inciting incident will crop up requiring a new response. In this manner, .the “driver” will always be the same, throughout the story – in other words, the causality between action and decision is maintained.

The other key point is that whatever the driver is at the beginning that sets things off in a tizzy (action or decision), the plot will be brought to a conclusion by the same driver as the inciting incident. So, action driven stories will end through an action taken at the end that stops the domino effect of the causality. Similarly, decision driven stories will end through a decision that ends that causality.

But that’s just my assumption. For example, first scene in movie “Armageddon” (1997) shows that Meteor “Shower” destroys satellite = Action. Then they are talking about it and trying to develop a plan for rescuing Earth = Decision. Then they arrive to the oil derrick, train men to be an astronauts = Action and so on. So, maybe, in this movie Action is primary.

You pretty much have it. Even though the Bruce Willis character “decides” to sacrifice his life by setting off the bomb, it is the action of the bomb exploding that ends the causal runaway domino effect.

In detective story (like Colombo, Poirot, Sherlock) first we see the Murder = Action and then we see Investigation = Decision.

Yes. And it is an action that is required at the end as well.

In “Ocean’s Eleven” during the whole movie they are trying to develop a plan of the robbery – so it’s Decision Story? But there are plenty of Action (actually performing what they planned).

Yes – keep in mind that the choice of action or decision only determines the causal order of what drives the story. How MUCH of each is in a story is completely up to you and your storytelling. So, a story that begins with a decision, such as The Godfather, can have a tremendous amount of action in it but it ends in the decision to accept Michael as the new Don.

Then what are Decision-movies? Maybe “12 Angry Men”? The whole movie is a Decision-making process. But Inciting Incident was the Murder – Action again.

Well, we never see the murder in 12 Angry Men. It has already happened in the back story. The story begins with the charge to come to a decision. Still, you have to be careful. A story with a decision as the goal does not necessarily mean that it begins and ends with a decision. You really have to look at the back and forth alternation of decision and action to see which one triggers a sequence and which one wraps it up: which creates a potential and which neutralizes that potential.

Yes, I remember that when deciding A or D we don’t need to look at how much A or D there are in a Story.

Indeed. In fact you not only don’t need to look at that, you shouldn’t.

But what is the best, quick and accurate way to identify A or D then?

Look for the moments when a story seems like all the forward momentum has been halted or all the potential has been resolved or all the momentary frenzy has been satisfied. What satisfied it – an action or decision? And what throws another monkey wrench in the story forcing the characters to respond – an action or a decision?

7. Can the Contagonist slow down the Protagonist by accident, can C even not know that he’s doing it? Or he should always be aware about his function and be consciously willing to slow down the Protagonist?

Objective characters, like the protagonist, antagonist and contagonist, are defined by their function in the story. They are defined about how the “work,” not by their opinion of themselves. For example, you could have someone who prides himself on being logical but is actually making all his decisions based on passion. This would be the Emotion archetype, not the Reason archetype for though he things of himself as Reason, his actual function is as passion.

Objective character are objective because we seen them from an objective point of view, like a general on a hill watching a battle. You identify them by their function in the story, not by their awareness of non-awareness of that function.

8. Who can be an Impact Character in a Story:

– Love Interest?

– Sidekick?

– Guardian?

– Contagonist?

All of the above. Any of the Objective Characters can be the IC. Objective characters are identified by role, IC (and MC) are identified by point of view. You can attach a point of view to any of the Objective charactrs.

Seems like each of then can be IC.


9. What is the difference between Preconditions and Prerequisites? What are real-life examples (or from movies)? Is it like: if I want to become a student of Oxford, for example, I need to know English not lower than a certain level (this is Precondition). And for this I need to take some necessary steps (Prerequisites) like watching more movies without translation, engage with English tutor or even living in UK for some time to listen to the native speakers. Is my understanding correct?

Best way to think of it is prerequisites are logistically necessary to advance the effort toward the goal. But preconditions are only necessary because someone insists those things are added on. For example, to meet one of the requirements of a goal, the protagonist needs a boat to get across a river. There’s only on person who has a boat and he will let the protagonist use it if the protagonist will take his daughter along. So, the boat is the prerequisite, the daughter is the precondition.

10. What is the difference between Inaction and Protection? It’s the same for me. What real-life or movie example illustrates these terms?

Protection can be like building up defenses or standing between danger and someone else or fighting to keep harm from coming to something or someone. Inaction is not doing anything at all. But, sometimes, just standing by, as in passive resistance, can be a tool for change for it causes forces to change directions to go around you into a new course.

11. What is the difference between Proven and Unproven? It also seems the same for me. Is it just shifted emphasis? Like first i concentrate on what is proven and make my assumptions and decisions based on it. But then I look at clues and shady relationships that are still unproven and try to find evidence to prove they really exist.

Proven and unproven are ways of evaluating. Those focusing on Proven seek to build an understanding based on what is actually known, leaving out anything that is not yet certain. Those focusing on Unproven seek to widen consideration to what might be since it has not yet been ruled out.

“We have proven he was in the same city as each of the three murders at the same time they were committed.” “Sure, and so were 10,000 other people. What you haven’t proven is why he was there.”

Sorry for long letter. I just want to figure out “Dramatica” and, hopefully, successfully use it to make full Stories.

No problem. Always happy to help a seeker.

Thank you for your time and can’t wait to read answers)))




Another of my compositions

Here I wanted to write something that was reminiscent of a cathedral more more ethereal, kind of stoned, more like a suggestion of religion without spirituality, laid on the foundation of ceremony and built out of traditions whose original purposes are long forgotten and no longer relevant.

Violence in Charlottesville

Since violence seems to be the hot topic on everyone’s mind, can’t we just all agree that violence is bad, but sometimes necessary in self defense? In the heat of passion all it takes is one person on any side to strike the first blow and the whole group he belongs to is blamed for all that follows. Consider the “shot heard round the world” in which one shot, perhaps even an accidental discharge from a British soldier’s musket triggered the Revolutionary war. Or the ramifications of Lincoln bing cagey and resupplying Ft. Sumter with a publicized cargo not including munitions, thereby forcing the South to take the first shot if they were to claim sovereignty. And then there is the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand that triggered WWi.

While it is easy to blame a whole group for the actions of a few, what is more important is to understand the agendas of the forces that are coming to blows. In this case, it is those who would create a society in which only white people have full rights, vs. those who feel all races should be treated with equal rights. Simple as that.

Now, there is one complication. There are many Southern folk who value to wonderful traditions of Southern hospitality, and the essence of true gentlemen such as Robert E. Lee. Lee was a man of honor – he was offered command of the Union forces and declined out of honor to accept command of the Confederate forces instead.

It is that kind of honor, and the true courage of going into battle against superior numbers and protecting one’s family and heritage that leads many in the south to stand against the removal of statues that they see has monuments to those noble attributes of their culture.

The problem is, that slavery was all tied up in it. Arguments can be made that it was really an issue of states’ rights, or that the South was unfairly economically oppressed by the North to its own advantage. And even that it was the North’s oppressive economic policy brought about by the higher population centers giving the North more political power in a democracy that forced the South to maintain slavery or to become an economic wasteland. But there is also solid evidence of the horrors or slavery and the dehumanizing of our fellow human beings and of those who fought to preserve slavery because they actually believed it was right and it was how God intended it to be.

So when the non-slavery non-racists heritage folks show up to protest the removal of a statue, and the white nationalists are there chanting against minorities, with a stated agenda of hate, then what are the heritage people to do?

If they leave, their monuments are gone. But if they stay, their Confederate flag waves along side the Swastika – two banners held over the same mingled group in a rally.

What message does this send? What taint does it put on the non-racist heritage folk?

Personally, I do believe those who were joining the protest rally who we not racist probably left, rather than stand under the Nazi banner. And those that remained may have wanted to preserve their heritage, but were also racists.

And so, we all have a choice to either let those voices of intolerance and hate have their say, unopposed, just as it was in Germany so many years ago. Or, perhaps this time, we stand against what we have seen before. We stop them in their tracks.

And by what right do we do this in a nation that proclaims freedom for all? Because those under that banner proclaim there should not be freedom for all, but only for their kind. And this is not just free speech, it is a call for revolution against the Constitution of the United States, and that give us the right to stand against them. They can say what they want. But when they incite actions against the Constitution, that moves along the slippery slope of Treason.

The protestors speak in terms of hate, race war, exclusion and supremacy. The counter-protestors speak in terms of love, social peace, inclusion, and equality.

But we are all human, and when impassioned, we can become violent. And that is unfortunate for it clutters the true battle between those who would do harm to others not like themselves and those who would help everyone who loves peace.

The Secret Bigot

We need to be concerned about all the closet bigots who would deny equal opportunity to anyone secretly based on color, creed, gender, sexual preference or religion. Equal protection under the law and the equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the essence of the combined philosophy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

And beyond that, the American Ideal is to equally treat everyone with respect and to find strength in our diversity, and the human ideal must go beyond tolerance to a celebration of our diversity, for it opens our minds to new ways of thinking and living and brings color to the fabric of life.

But there is one form of diversity which we should not tolerate and that is the forces of hate and violence who would deny equality, for, by definition, they are traitors to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Violence is wrong no matter who practices it UNLESS it is used to stop those who would violently assert their supremacy over any other group, rather than upholding the Constitution. If we do not defend the Constitution, then it is just a piece of paper.

If we would let a foreign nation walk in and take over the country, the Constitution means nothing. And if we let supremacists secretly work to subvert the Constitution, then that document means nothing, for we are saying that equality is no longer the code by which we live and we, ourselves, have trampled the Constitution by defaulting our responsibility of constant vigilance.

For there are those in our nation, citizens like ourselves, who are so filled with hate against those they deem as different, that they wish to create a new land in which only their own kind is entitled to protection under the law.

When a group seeks to subvert the very fabric of a free nation, and when its rally’s are a call to action to cause this to happen, it is an enemy of freedom and democracy and has forfeited its right to free speech, because it is enacting treason.

Now, it is correct that the anti-fascists were also violent at Charlottesville, though not to the same degree as they did not kill anyone. But, the point of this is that the fascists work in secret to be unfair intentionally to other races, religions, genders, and so on. Whereas, does anyone really believe that anti-fascists work secretly to deny equality to other races, religions, genders, etc? Anti-fascists only work to subvert one group – the fascists, who would subvert the rest of us.

Still, the main point is that we all have a right to hate others, but we do NOT have the right beat-up or kill them because we don’t like them. And yet, that is what fascism is. And so, anti-fascists, by definition, are against that, which again, makes every American who believes in the Constitution and Bill of Rights an anti-fascist.

If anti-fascists use clubs or bombs or cars to attack fascists holding a peaceful, though hate-filled rally, the anti-fascists must be held accountable. Yet regardless of the issue of violence – let’s just put that aside for a moment – consider what people with the beliefs of these white supremacists might be doing every day in their jobs to hurt all other races, religions, and people of other sexual preferences – in secret, holding back dreams, denying services, refusing loans, not promoting, not giving raises, not giving the best medical care.

Fascists see it as their duty to wage war against “sub-humans” which means anyone not like them. And that they can practice this in untraceable ways, unseen, and unchecked, quite frankly scares the hell out of me.

The Impact of Stories

Stories, especially those told in the media of film or television, can have a tremendous impact on an audience. Experiencing a story is similar in many ways to experiencing events in “real life”. Stories can make us laugh or cry, leave us feeling euphoric or depressed, lead us through a logistic consideration, or leave us in an emotional state.

In this age of social networks, streaming media, and high-tech motion picture production, the average citizen in our society may be exposed to almost as many narrative experiences as life experiences. As a result, understanding the nature and mechanism by which stories affect audiences can lead to insights in media impact on an individual’s outlooks and attitudes.

From one perspective, we might identify four areas in which this impact manifests itself:

One, the emotional mood an audience is left with at the conclusion of a story.

Two, the emotional journey experienced by an audience during the unfolding of a story.

Three, understandings arrived at by the audience by the conclusion of a story.

Four, logistic considerations made by the audience during the unfolding of the story.

Because these are so basic and important, let me take a moment to expand slightly on each of these concepts.

One: The Mood at the End

Emotionally, a story can change the mood of an audience from what it was at the beginning of a story to a completely different emotional state by the time it is over. This might pertain to the way the audience feels about a particular topic, or simply might change the underlying mood of the audience overall.

For example, in a story such as “Remains of the Day”, an audience might be brought to a saddened and frustrated emotional state that might linger well after the story is over. This mood could even recur when some symbol or set of circumstances in everyday life triggers a conscious re-consideration of the story or a subconscious response based on patterns experienced in the story.

In addition, an audience’s emotional response toward a particular topic, symbol, circumstance, or pattern may be altered through the story experience, leading to anything from changes in likes and dislikes to changes in attitudes, loyalties, or motivations in regard to a specific topic.

Two: The Emotional Journey

In the process of experiencing a story, audience members may be carried from one emotion to another in an order that might conform to or differ from their experiences in “real life”. This can either reinforce or alter habitual patterns of emotional response, albeit in a small and perhaps temporary way. For example, if an audience member were to identify with a character, such as Agent Mulder in “The X-Files”, he or she might (over time) become more likely to play hunches or, conversely, less likely to accept things at their face value.

Three:  The Understanding at the End

By the end of a story, the audience may be brought to an understanding it did not possess prior to participating in the story process. For example, in “The Usual Suspects”, the big picture is not grasped by the audience until the final pieces are dropped into place near the end. This creates an insight, as opposed to a logistic argument, and can be used to change audience opinion in regard to a particular issue, either through manipulation or propaganda.

Four: The Logical Journey

As a story unfolds, a logistic argument may be constructed that leads linearly from one point of consideration to a conclusion. In “JFK”, for example, a continuous chain of logic is built link by link over the course of the film in an attempt to prove the filmmaker’s contentions about the Kennedy assassination. This method can exercise audience members in logistic methods that may be repeated unconsciously in their everyday lives.

From this brief look at the power of the visual media, we can get a sense that many people might be better understood by becoming aware of the kinds of stories to which they are exposed, and many people might also benefit in a number of ways from carefully tailored story experiences.

This article was excerpted from:

Introduction to Communication

The process of communication requires at least two parties: the originator and the recipient. In addition, for communication to take place, the originator must be aware of the information or feelings he wishes to transmit, and the recipient must be able to determine that meaning.

Similarly, storytelling requires an author and an audience. And, to tell a story, one must have a story to tell. Only when an author is aware of the message he wishes to impart can he determine how to couch that message so it will be accurately received.

It should be noted that an audience is more than a passive participant in the storytelling process. When we write the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” we have communicated a message, albeit a nebulous one.

In addition to the words, another force is at work creating meaning in the reader’s mind. The readers themselves may have conjured up memories of the fragrance of fresh rain on dry straw, the trembling fear of blinding explosions of lightning, or a feeling of contentment that recalls a soft fur rug in front of a raging fire. But all we wrote was, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

We mentioned nothing in that phrase of straw or lightning or fireside memories. In fact, once the mood is set, the less said, the more the audience can imagine. Did the audience imagine what we, the authors, had in mind? Not likely. Did we communicate? Some. We communicated the idea of a dark and stormy night. The audience, however, did a lot of creating on its own.

While some authors write specifically to communicate to an audience, many others write because they wish to follow their personal Muses. Sometimes writing is a catharsis, or an exploration of self. Sometimes authoring is a sharing of experiences, fragmented images, or just of a point of view. Sometimes authoring is marking a path for an audience to follow, or perhaps just presenting emotional resources the audience can construct into its own vision.

Interactive communications question the validity of a linear story itself, and justifiably so. There are many ways to communicate, and each has just as much value as the next depending upon how one wishes to affect one’s audience.

It has been argued that perhaps the symbols we use are what create concepts, and therefore no common understanding between cultures, races, or times is possible.

On the contrary, there are common concepts: morality, for example. Morality, a common concept? Yes. While not everyone shares the same definition of morality, every culture and individual understands some concept that means “morality” to them.

In other words, the concept of “morality” may have many different meanings — depending on culture or experience — but they all qualify as different meanings of “morality.”

Thus there can be universally shared essential concepts even though they drift apart through various interpretations. It is through this framework of essential concepts that communication is possible.

To communicate a concept, an author must symbolize it, either in words, actions, juxtapositions, interactions — in some form or another. As soon as the concept is symbolized, however, it becomes culturally specific and therefore inaccessible to much of the rest of the world.

Even within a specific culture, the different experiences of each member of an audience will lead to a slightly different interpretation of the complex patterns represented by intricate symbols.

On the other hand, it is the acceptance of common symbols of communication that defines a culture. For example, when we see a child fall and cry, we do not need to know what language he speaks or what culture he comes from in order to understand logistically what has happened.

If we observe the same event in a narrative, however, it may be that in the author’s culture a child who succumbs to tears is held in low esteem. In that case, then the emotions of sadness we may feel in our culture are not at all those intended by the author.

The accuracy with which an author is able to successfully convey both concept and context defines the success of any communication. And so, communication requires both a sound narrative and an effective translation of that narrative into symbolic language.

These requirements create an immensely rich and complex form which (though often practiced intuitively) can be deconstructed, understood, and manipulated with purpose and skill.

To begin such a deconstruction, let us next examine the origins of communication and the narrative form.

This article was excerpted from: