Coming Up With a More intuitive "Translation" of Dramatica's Core Elements

Hey everyone.

I think most of us have struggled with wrapping our minds around Dramatica’s dictionary at one point or another. A lot of the terms are counterintuitive, which is a big part of the reason for Dramatica’s infamously steep learning curve.

There have been several versions of the term set now, but even the latest one remains pretty opaque to my eye. I know this is what the “gists” are for, but these are often too situation-specific to help me grasp the essence of the element they’re meant to replace. What I want are general labels which can convey the “feeling” of each element in a way that makes the whole system easier to understand at a glance.

As such, I’ve been trying to come up with my own “translation” of Dramatica’s terminology with an eye towards maximizing intuitiveness and comprehensibility. It’s essentially my personalized crib sheet. As of right now, I’ve got “translations” for all the core elements, and I’m working my way up to variations. Woohoo!

I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with so far because in the few months I’ve been using these translations, I’ve found them surprisingly helpful-- but I’d love to know if anyone might have ideas/suggestions for how to make this crib sheet better.

I’m also curious whether any of you have come up with similar lists!

First though, a bit about my methods. These were/are my ground rules when it comes to creating these “translations:”

  1. I consider every element together with its dramatic pair. I do so because I think this is the best way to get a “handle” on what they mean. Hence, this is more a list of “Dramatic Axes,” rather than Dramatic Elements.

  2. I only use verbs as labels, as this seems the best way to convey a sense that these elements are all “active.” We’re not “chaos” so much as we’re “chaos-ing,” if you will.

  3. I opt for maximum intuitiveness with each label rather than preserve perfect accuracy. Hence, I sometimes use the same word in different pairs, or use more than one word for a single element.

  4. I try to capture what I believe to be the essence of each term as Dramatica defines it, even if that means using words that clash with the original terms. It also means that every label I’ve come up with is a result of my (no doubt imperfect) understanding of the source material. Take everything below with a grain of salt. Some of the entries are a bit of a stretch. This is NOT a perfect list. It’s just the one I’ve got right now.

Revised Terms, with Original Terms in Parentheses where Required:

  1. Can - Want (Ability - Desire)
  2. Allow - Refuse (Acceptance - Rejection)
  3. Conform - Deviate (Accurate - Non-Accurate)
  4. Be - Appear (Actuality - Perception)
  5. Avoid - Pursue
  6. Observe - Introspect (Aware- Self-Aware)
  7. Cure - Cope (Cause - Effect)
  8. Ensure - Chance (Certainty - Potentiality)
  9. Change - Endure
  10. Disrupt - Organize (Chaos - Order)
  11. Abstain - Indulge (Conscience - Temptation)
  12. Compare - Reexamine (Consider - Reconsider)
  13. Control - Free
  14. Winnow - Gather (Deduction - Induction)
  15. Determine Cause - Infer Effect (Determination - Expectation)
  16. Believe - Disbelieve
  17. End - Continue
  18. Consider Balance - Consider Imbalance
  19. Estimate - Reestimate (Evaluation - Reevaluation)
  20. Feel - Reason
  21. Aid - Impede (Help-Hinder)
  22. Intuit - Theorize
  23. Remain Neutral - Defend (Inaction - Protection)
  24. Believe - Think (Knowledge - Thought)
  25. Discourage - Encourage (Oppose - Support)
  26. Suppose - Expect (Possibility - Probability)
  27. Act - React
  28. Process - Result
  29. Imagine - Anticipate (Production - Reduction)
  30. Project - Speculate
  31. Trust - Prove (Proven - Unproven)
  32. Accept - Test (Trust - Test)

Let me know what you think!


I probably will post a few more sentences after reading your whole post in depth later, however, gists didn’t replace anything. I considered them expounding concepts/terms.

Your wanting to only use verbs speaks physics to me. It might be fun to experiment word changes to reflect mind and psychology and universe individual gist lists. Thanks for the cool idea.

While I applaud the effort and the work offered, i’m not sure there is a translation that is always more intuitive. Only a more intuitive translation for a given story. For instance, in one story “cancelling dinner plans” might be extremely intuitive for someone while “holding ones life together” might not be seen as intuitive at all. And yet, in another story, which one is intuitive and which is not could be completely swapped.

Unfortunately, the most all-encompassingly intuitive translation is going to have less to do with the terms themselves and more to do with something like a feeling for, or a complete grasp of, the terms location on the table. But I don’t know how to put a feeling into the table in place of the terms.

However, that said, I think a great way to get in touch with that feeling, or to get to where you can grasp it, is to compare the feeling between lots and lots of gists or variations of the term in question. So coming up with better terms for your current story should still take us a long way toward getting the DTSE to come across as more intuitive.