A deeper understanding of propaganda / Dramatica

I’m referencing a previous post titled Black Panther Analysis and brought the topic of propaganda onto a seperate post soas not to hijack that original thread.

So, continuing…

My thoughts:

By leaving patterns out of a story, that kind of story is designed to encourage audiences to “fill in the blanks” that heavily relies on common narratives that exist in a given culture in a specific time.

Some people will reference the most often cited narrative in the culture at that time to “fill in the blanks”.

Some people, who have a broader awareness of historical/cultural facts, are likely to “fill in the blanks” with different information. Having a broad awareness immunises an audience member from the intended propaganda.

Is the story therefore successful for the more aware audience member?

I would venture to say that audience members with broader knowledge can still appreciate other aspects of a propagandised film or book but they are not going to soak up the reinforced common narrative.

Propagandised films and books lose relevance across time, thereby not really standing the test of time. But, if they have other redeeming aspects they might, but will likely be seen as a curiosity by later generations. Or, perhaps they will be called a book or film of its time.


The next question is regarding how patterns are left out.

So! Has the film Natural Born Killers (a film cited in the Theory Book as a propagandised film) been analysed in light of its propaganda?

I haven’t seen it yet, but based on the critical response and box office results I would say this film is 99% NOT propaganda.

I haven’t seen Black Panther either (assuming that’s the one you’re referring to).

Yes, many people have given it very positive reviews. Some have noted a gap in the story argument and still like it.

I wouldn’t know about percentages of propaganda at this stage in my learning - though I’m sure it’s somehow measureable.

Since I haven’t seen it, maybe one I have seen would be a good case study for identifying propaganda.

Natural Born Killers is cited as an example in the Theory Book. Since I have seen that one I could follow an analysis of it (if it’s been analysed).

Actually…it wasn’t so much a gap that was detected as much as it was raising questions that have no quick and dry answers. I believe that’s how it was described to me by someone who saw Black Panther.

And then when Khodu brought up propaganda in relation to Black Panther, I got digging for a deeper understanding.

Another example is Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged. It has the propaganda label despite it being a huge seller. It’s been criticised for being more about the message rather than the story.

It all got me thinking - is that how propagandised works feel? As if the work is bringing up questions and not giving answers? Giving incomplete answers?

E.g. “Who is John Golt?”

Making people “fill in the gaps”? How is that done? What is it about the structure that makes an audience feel that way?

And finally, I sure as hell hope I don’t inadvertantly do that in my own stories and I want to be sure I don’t.

It’s usually by leaving out a Throughline - telling a complete story(form) and allowing the Audience to fill in the blanks from their own experience.

They do it in Thelma and Louise. I’ve never seen Natural Born Killers so I can’t help you out there, but I do know there is an article online about it (the main Dramatica site).

I wrote about the use of propaganda in Dunkirk and also about the use of propaganda in Moonlight.

Black Panther is a Marvel movie about superheroes saving the world, so I really don’t think they were trying to manipulate the Audience by leaving out huge portions of story structure. Creed was great and I imagine the same thing from this latest film.

1 Like

That’s interesting about Dunkirk. It’s funny that because it wasn’t holding my interest when I was watching it (and I really like war films). I will read your article on that - thank you!

Yes, Thelma and Louise is also in the Theory Book as an example. I didn’t watch it with a critical eye back then. It’ll be another one on my list to rewatch in light of my new found understanding.


I’ve seen a claim Black Panther has the same story structure as Rocky 3. Haven’t analyzed it, but on the surface that seems true with Killmonger in the Clubber Lang role, though there is of course different motivations. The other storylines are also different.

1 Like

Jim is saying that there is a 99% chance the film is not propaganda; he’s not saying that it’s 1% propaganda. In other words, he is asserting that it has a complete storyform.

Ayn Rand’s book is propaganda via a different method, which is drumming a message into an audience. This also forces people to think about it because it is trying to make a case. Dramatica Propaganda works by leaving something out and forcing you to think about it. So abundance and scarcity are both propaganda, but are wildly different.

1 Like

Sometimes with the level of specificity Dramatica offers, it is easy to slip into quite direct meanings. Thanks for clarifying. Having said that, it would be quite remarkable if Dramatica was capable of offering a percentage of propaganda within a tale. :wink:

My understanding of propaganda within Dramatica has been clarified.

Seeing as I like to keep things simple, this is it:

  • Hidden or missing patterns e.g a whole throughline or specific story points etc. = propaganda aka broken storyform. There are different types of propaganda such as conditioning, shock, awareness and misdirection. Each has it’s own technique but all have missing patterns and usually encoded symbols.

  • All throughlines/patterns are present = closed story aka complete story aka grand argument

  • An open story does not make it propaganda because patterns are intact.

I don’t know anything about Dramatica propaganda. Just pondering here. But if something is effective as propaganda–that is, the audience fills in the missing gaps to complete the message whether the author intended that or not–would that still be considered a broken Storyform? Or would the audience filling in the gaps be enough to complete a storyform? At best, I suppose it could only complete the storyform for those for whom the propaganda was perfectly effective.

Caveat on propaganda excerpted from p.259 of The Theory Book

  • It is like a virus or engaging in germ warfare.
  • Once an audience is exposed to a propagandistic message, the only way they can neutralize it is to balance it with an equal but opposite force.
  • Sometimes propaganda can benefit from real world coincidences: The China Syndrome’s mild propaganda [IMO, real world can be too unpredictable to rely on to prove a story].
  • Often real life or the passage of time can undermine the effectiveness of propaganda e.g. Reefer Madness may have been effective when it first came out, but audiences today find its propaganda against drug use obvious, simplistic, risible and, more importantly, ineffective.

I was banging on about the last point in previous posts of mine on this topic. It’s good to see that point, and others I hadn’t considered, in the theory book too :slight_smile:

If the missing gaps form a pattern, strictly speaking yes it would be considered a broken storyform.

However, the intention of the author would make a difference on whether it happens, I would imagine.

Let me explain:

Usually, if an author is deliberately (with intention) leaving out a pattern of story points, that would mean the author knows storyform and consciously leaves out specific patterns he or she knows would affect the audience in a particular way.

Alternatively, if an author - let’s say a less aware author - left out storypoints, it’s unlikely there will be a pattern in it…because he or she isn’t aware enough to know which ones will do the trick. Of course, there is always luck!

I was a bit worried about the missing storypoint pattern thing myself because I’m still learning and it is likely I would’ve left out storypoints in my own stories. Did I intend to do that? No. But I could still inadvertently do it. In that case, my readers, I hope, would’ve informed me.

. Feel free to ask away. Sometimes the best way to get this info to stick is to explain it to someone else. So, you are doing me a favour :))))

1 Like

Dramatica is qualitative not quantitative so that aint’ gonna happen.

Not necessarily. There’s a movie that’s been said to contain propaganda because of a missing sign post. I think it’s Moonlight that I’m thinking of, but not for sure because I haven’t seen it. Something about not showing the time the character spent in jail. It may have been the intention not to show that and let the audience fill it in, but I can see a sign post being left out just because someone didn’t know how to get a character from A to B and decided it didn’t matter and getting lucky by leaving out just enough for the audience to fill in what they need to. If propaganda is leaving story points unillustrated in the narrative to allow the audience to participate in the argument, then unintentional propaganda seems possible and even extremely likely.

If propaganda can only occur because of author intent, then it seems like leaving part of the story out isn’t enough. You’d also need to skillfully and purposefully guide the audience to look at those missing points so that they were sure to fill in the right gaps. Like leaving out Progress and then having some characters wonder what could have happened to Character X to cause him/her to change so. Even then it seems like an author could accidentally do that.

It seems to me the answer then, as always, would be to look at the Storymind. If the author accidentally guides the audience to fill in the blanks, he accidentally creates a Storymind that is using propaganda. But, even if he intends propaganda but fails to guide his audience to the right place, he unintentionally creates a Storymind that is not using propaganda and instead has only a broken or incomplete storyform. I could very well be wrong (and probably am) but it seems like properly produced propaganda could conceivably contain a complete storyform

Moonlight is missing the OS throughline, not just a signpost. The link to an article about it is above, supplied by Jim Hull.

Closed (or complete) stories allow authors to present their points of view in the form of an argument which the audience can then take or leave. Incomplete stories, with missing patterns, require the audience to fill in the blanks. Audience participation is also a key effect of propaganda.

And, yes, to create propaganda, there are techniques that are focussed on the nature of the impact, the area of impact and the degree of impact. The techniques are outlined in the Theory Book on p. 256. And, it’s all rather advanced stuff.

This is why I brought up that it is highly likely that an author would have to know what they are doing, I.e. they are aware and skillfull, in order to achieved their intended propaganda.

apparently I missed that comment from jim. But looking at the article, it’s not saying the OS is missing, just that the movie spends very little time on it. It says there are two SPs missing, one for OS and one for MC and i guess it’s the combination of missing points that creates the propaganda. Clever! But I don’t think it necessarily negates the idea of unintentional propaganda, which you also seemed concerned about, or address the reason why a storyform that objectively asks the audience to fill in that gap-if indeed it does-would be a broken storyform.

I’ll confess I haven’t read the theory book in a while and don’t remember any of the part about propaganda or the techniques for it. Was never particularly interested as I need to figure out how not to leave points out of my story before learning the skill of purposefully leaving them out.

Yeah, exactly the same for me, TBH. It’s hard enough to remember to include all the SP’s.

Yes, the article said that the OS throughline is there but rarely shows up in the story. Isn’t that pretty much the same as it being missing? :pensive:

That’s not how I took it, anyway. Although I think Jim mentioned that the MC throughline was like 75% to the OS having about 3% and that led to the personal feel of the movie, so maybe that’s included in propaganda. But my understanding is that the throughlines don’t have to be described with equal space in the story or to any certain extent. They just need to touch on the relevant Storypoints.

Heck, if you consider the claim that Dramatica has the ability to produce a several hundreds page report of just storypoints (but doesn’t allow access to it) and that to properly illustrate everything would take a minimum of like 1200 pages or something,basically every throughline is barely there. I think it’s said that you can get enough into a 300 page novel or a 2 hour movie for the audience to get it and give the rest of the argument to you.

Moonlight is not missing the Overall Story Throughline.

In my original analysis I thought that was the case, but after talking with Chris Huntley about it and then going through the User Group analysis it became clear to me that it was only missing ONE SIGNPOST from the Throughline.

That article should explain it more (Moonlight analysis) and @Gregolas is right, it was meant to draw the Audience in to become a part of the MC’s journey – to supply the missing piece with their own experience.