Book Cover (movie poster) and relationship to OS, MC and interplay

I have a theory, which I want to run past everyone. I think it connects Dramatica with the graphic arts, in choosing book covers. (Indies out there have to make the call themselves, so I think this helps).

Here’s my take:

Covers need to reflect Genre and Story domain.

In Dramatica theory, the overall story is in one of these realms: Situation, Action, Mind, or Manipulation.

The OS throughline determines the book cover background.
The MC throughline determines if the cover needs a character or not.

I wrote this on a forum recently,

“Romance is relationship driven. Needs two people. Their connection closeness in the picture reveals how steamy. Character-driven romance, a step back from romance, has one character and a stance showing the type of issue: angst vs pensive. Plot and environment driven stories (city/politics/apocalyptic) must show the setting. A silhouette means strong character, without suggests multiple POV with a MC there to tie together the conspiracy/problem. Now as for the illustrated covers, cozies or rom comedies, the fun illustration and pastel pinks, blues, greens, MEANS light read. Sweet, fun, low stress.”

Here are the options.

OS in Activity (MC in Universe or Mind)
OS in Universe (MC in Activity or Manipulation)
OS in Mind (MC in Activity or Manipulation)
OS in Manipulation (MC in Universe or Mind)

Thinking about the movie-covers/posters we see on Subtext and bookcovers (as mentioned above), I’d say Genre works this way.

OS in Activity: Background with a vehicle or flames
(MC in Universe): Running/fighting character on cover
(MC in Mind): Close up of angst Main character

OS in Universe: Standing silhouette on cover
(MC in Activity) MC in still pose with weapon or alert stance
(MC in Manipulation) MC in silent, pensive pose

OS in Mind : Close up on cover, often black background
(MC in Activity) Symbolic item highlighted
(MC in Manipulation) Frightening item or face

OS in Manipulation: Two people on cover facing or looking opposite
(MC in Universe): One of the characters on cover in action pose
(MC in Mind): Close up of angst MC

I’m not sure I’ve broken it down perfectly, and a review-search of Subtext covers can confirm/contradict me (I’m not currently active). But my point is the cover is the interplay between the OS and MC, which also uses the Genre items (colors, lightning, spaceships) as visual keys.

Okay, I’ve thrown my idea out for comment.


Would you believe Chris Huntley (Dramatica co-creator) has a whole slidedeck where he goes through movie posters and how they communicate MC, OS, IC, and RS? I made my own when I was teaching story at CalArts.

In other words–yes!

Would love to see what else you find :slight_smile:


Any online version of this available? (@chuntley?) Thanks!

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A few things to consider:

  • As far as I know, there are only few movies with just one poster. Most of them have a variety of them, not necessarily in the same style (Superhero team posters for instance may have group shot posters as well as solo posters). I don’t know the decision process behind the posters/covers on Subtext
  • Movie Posters might lose their relevance.
  • Different countries/cultures might have different ideas as to what makes good movie posters (for certain genres)

Still, this sort of thing is interesting enough that I want to make this a new statistics side project. I am going to get all the posters I can find for the movies I have Dramatica data on, and tag the posters by graphic design, imdb genre, country, and story points. Maybe we’ll see some correlation, taking into consideration that our data sample will still be fairly small.

And maybe we will arrive at similar conclusions.


Great idea! I’d like to see this.

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