Skip to main content

Unraveling (or raveling up) Dramatica

I've been meaning to write this post for a month, now, and finally, today, I have no trip to pack for, nothing to plan, nowhere to rush, so here it is at last.

I mentioned Dramatica in an earlier post, and I need to explain what the heck that is. Dramatica is both a theory and a software program that walks you through the theory using your own novel-in-progress. I'm just using a free version of the software, which I find frustrating, since I can't save anything, so I can't say whether the software is worth the money.

Here's my little sum-up of the theory, as I understand it.

Or, if you're interested in the details, check out the Dramatica website at, or click on one of the links in the website the Hickmans created for our conference workshop in June: (sorry, my links refuse to work today for some odd reason. Maybe because I have no clue how to use them).

Dramatica uses the human mind and its problem-solving process as a model to talk about the structure of traditional story.

*Note: If I were more computer-savvy I would insert a picture of a brain right here for a visual aid. Oh well.

Plowing along.

Story is the author's attempt to present his argument that his way is the best way to tackle the story's main problem. If any of the parts and pieces that make up what Dramatica calls a "Grand Argument" story is missing, the story will feel incomplete. Some of those essential pieces: character, which examines the Story Mind's motivations; plot, which looks at Story Mind's methods for solving the problem; theme tells us why it all matters; and genre, the general attitude that colors everything else.

The perspective of the argument matters, too, because point of view creates meaning. Every Grand Argument story considers four different Throughlines, or perspectives, through which the story could be told: if, for example, we tell the story of a battle from the point of view of a soldier in a battle, we also need to think about the overall perspective of the battle as it would seem if you saw it from a hill overlooking the battlefield; we need to imagine it from the perspective of the impact character, or the character who most powerfully affects the main character's decisions and actions, and consider the arc and dynamics of how those two characters change and interact.

*Note: insert snore right here.

Don't worry--I don't get it either. And I'm pretty sure I don't use the program the way the authors meant it to be used. I just putter around here and there in the book and play with the free software. I don't like the idea of squeezing parts of my story into some prefab mold. I'm too rebellious, and I really hate boxes.

But Dramatica and the Story Mind model do get me thinking about what motivates my characters, and about finding balance and looking at opposing motivations; it gets me imagining how the story must seem from the antagonist's point of view, and wondering which guy in my list of characters impacts my main character the most. Maybe it will help me see some of the things missing from my story and help me fill in the gaps. Maybe.

Maybe it will help some of you other author-people out there. The Hickmans swear by it. If you figure out what it all means, please feel free to enlighten me, too.

Dramatica did get me thinking in a new way about a story I've been trying to fix for a couple of years now.

Fresh eyes for an old story? That can only be a good thing.

Now if only I can find time to write...


  1. I've been studying up on Dramatica lately too! And you're right, it's a tough read and kind of a maze to figure out. I'm learning that it's helping me to make my story more satisfying and that's what I really want. I've also found that some of my characters that don't "fit the mold" are actually fitting the mold--just in an unexpected way. If I make headway, I'll let you know. If you do, please do likewise! ;)

  2. Yeah, it's funny, at first I wasn't sure I had an impact character, and then I thought I might have two, and now I'm thinking one of those isn't an impact character, but a mirror for the main character--an alternate self--and then it feels like my brain is melting down. But whether or not my characters really fit, I'm getting brainstorms about interesting things to do with my story.

    I do think I just need to plow through the entire book. When we both finish it I'd love to talk about it with you. Hopefully it will all make more sense by the end.

  3. If you're at all interested, I have a website that studies story structure and story theory using Dramatica as the baseline.

    A big part of my effort is spent towards explaining Dramatica terms in a way that might be more accessible than what you've read so far.

    You can find it at


Post a Comment