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Dramatica: A New Theory of Story Kindle Edition
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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I think the Dramatica theory of story is absolutely brilliant. It is for those interested in what makes a really good story. This book is not for those who just want to skim and get a new formula for writing a novel or screenplay.
The theory doesn’t have to be mastered in one sitting. It’s interesting enough, that it can help writers continue to grow in skill for years. For those who create the story as they go along, Dramatica helps build solid complete plots as you go. For those who want everything planned out before they write they can create detailed roadmaps. Dramatica helps plan the structure in the first draft reducing the number of re-writes.
So What is the Dramatica Theory?
Over the last 30 years, the theory developers examined traditional historical theories of story, examined enduring stories, and tried to find the common threads throughout all of them. And the theory is not finished, it’s evolving. They analyzed why stories worked, how stories "satisfy" the seemingly insatiable human need for storytelling.
In a nutshell Dramatica says an enduring story needs to have 1) an overall story goal that the problems of a 2) main character and an 3) "influence" character are bathed in. The fourth key piece is development of the relationship between the main character and the character who influences the path the MC takes to the story goal. Dramatica calls these "throughlines" (they're somewhat like storylines or plotlines).
Dramatica defines 8 traditional roles found in almost all stories world wide. The roles integrate the characters with the 4 throughlines. The authors use the term “archetypal roles to describe the functions in a story. The Protagonist is defined as the player that drives the overall story goal to a conclusion. The Antagonist tries to stop the story goal from being achieved (in direct opposition to the protagonist who is trying to achieve the story goal). The other 6 roles are skeptic/sidekick, reason/emotion, guardian/contagonist (developed in the theory). The purpose of each role is to explain a part of the puzzle to convince the reader of the credibility of the story’s conflict and solution. Dramatica breaks down the elements of each of the 8 roles and provides a method for exchanging the characteristics of each of these "archetypal" characters to make unique, more complex characters instead of the familiar but more boring archetypes.
I was surprised to learn that the protagonist can be a different character than the Main Character. The purpose of the MC and IC is to pull the reader/audience into the story problem and allow them to have an emotional stake in the conflict. The MC and IC can be any of the 8 “functional” roles depending on the emphasis the author wants the reader/audience to experience. The MC’s function is to be the emotional link between the story and the audience. This is an odd concept but once I read the examples it was obvious. When the MC and Protagonist are the same character that is the basis for the very familiar and traditional western culture single character "hero" story.
Dramatica is a theory. It's not a writing formula, it's not a technique, it's not really a "how to" write procedure. It deals with story structure, not the nuts and bolts of putting a novel or screenplay on paper. It builds a plot without plot holes or unfinished plot lines. It shows how to develop interesting characters that integrate character with plot and theme. It includes convincing proof to make the climax and story solution satisfying to the reader/viewer.
I've read a lot of how to write books and I keep coming back to Dramatica because it pulls all those other structural approaches together. Many of the other books fit just fine in the Dramatica framework, but if you understand Dramatica, you don't really need the others because it covers the narrower principles all the others address in e.g. writing a drama, a mystery novel, writing science fiction, writing an action movie, writing a play, writing a screenplay. Dramatica deals with the concept of the "story" regardless of medium or genre.
This book is the free downloadable PDF version (still available online free), but this is in a bound book format. I got tired of flipping thru the loose leaf PDF version I printed out years ago and bought this and the Kindle version so I could use it with newcomers in our writing group, and search the ebook to find specifics.
As brilliant as I think the theory is, the written explanations have always frustrated me, thus only 4 stars. The authors are so deep into the theory and development of it they don't have the objectiveness to see it from the outside and explain it well to a newcomer. As the theory has evolved (it's still evolving), they've changed a lot of the vocabulary used to better identify specific meanings, but haven't gone back and changing it in older versions or postings or writings. There is some unnecessary repetition, vague definitions that I think should be cleared up in the book. This makes it all incredibly confusing to a new person. The new Dramaticapedia site is an attempt to remedy that. Jim Hull's Dramatica site is a resource for learning about the theory, analyzing stories (movies), and learning to use the software. Armando Saldana Mora’s book is another helpful attempt to get the most out of the theory and software.
The theory can be learned and applied without the software, but the software gives you more options and the ability to test out different story forms until you find one that feels right. I recommend reading the book and looking at the websites and trying to write some stories first, then downloading the free 90 day trial copy when you understand the throughlines and archetypal elements. The Mac version of the software (called Dramatica Story Expert) is newest. There is a Windows version of the software (called Dramatica Pro) that has been supposed to be upgraded for at least 6 years but still isn’t.
Second, the people claiming this to be a slog to get through are correct. And, frankly, it's not because the subject matter itself is difficult or complex, though it is, it's because the authors are rather poor at explaining things. As a result, you'll want to consult other resources in addition to this book. Fortunately, other resources abound. Just Google "Dramatica" and you'll find plenty of online resources, including blogs dedicated to Dramatica, YouTube videos, podcasts, Dramatica for Screenwriters, and so on.
But even recognizing that this book isn't as good as I'd like it to be, and will likely require outside resources to really understand, the question isn't, "does this require effort," but "is the effort worth it? Does this new theory of story provide real insight that you can't get from other theories?" And to that, the answer is, "Yes." It is worth the slog. And it's a slog you'll want to make with a hard copy of the book rather than a digital download. If you're a student of story, you'll want to be familiar with Dramatica. It's worth it.
The text cites well-known novels and films and provides clear insight on the structure of their narratives, as well as how they directly mirror our brain's thought processes. After continuous reading of this book, I was able to witness all of it's theory in action, and it has made me a lot more aware on the nature of conflict and human reasoning. I can't say enough about this book, but I can say that I discovered it for free on the dramatica,com website, and used it enough to want a physical copy.
If you are a writer, I definitely recommend you try this book out, even if only the free version. It has opened my eyes.
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