Deciding on character elements

Hello, everyone!

Does the storyform influence the character elements? Or are the elements of the characters independent of the storyform?

I have been using the Dramatica Pro Story Engine to learn dramatica. I wrote up an OS story outline with a concern of obtaining (basically an adventure story), and through it I had a faint intuition of the characters. Making some choices gave the MC problem as logic and solution as feeling. Same with the OS. No wonder this is the crucial element.

However, there are a few things that confuse me. The dramatica software still allows me to pick up the character elements independently of this storyform - is that possible? Shouldn’t one of the elements of the MC be locked on to logic?

Also, a related question - doesn’t this mean that use of the archetypes limits the number of storyforms we can work with?

And more on the overall intent here, how do I pick character elements if archetypes are not an option?

Once you get down to 1 storyform the Crucial Elements should be identified on the Build Characters screen. In Dramatica Pro v4.0 at least it doesn’t lock them, just highlights them to give you an indication that you should assign them that way.

The Crucial Elements are the only way that the storyform impacts the character elements. But yes, technically if your MC Crucial Element is Avoid or Reconsider, either your MC is the OS Antagonist, or your antagonist is a complex character.

Note that a lot of Dramatica users don’t use the character elements much. When you try to assign them, they have a habit of changing on you! (e.g. character I thought would be Help, maybe even a Guardian, turned out to represent Hinder!) They tend to fill in naturally on their own. Maybe a good way to do it would be to wait until your draft is half written, then take a look at what you’ve got. As always YMMV (your mileage may vary).


I understand this better now. My overall intent is to become really familiar with dramatica terminology, elements and issues, and also the process. To that end, I set out to write the simplest story that I could think of - and presumed that the simplest story will need archetypes.

But NOW, I understand that archetypes is ONE arrangement of elements, and a different arrangement doesn’t really complicate anything. The setups, conflicts and interactions have to be done for them anyways. So I can proceed without any confusion from here.

I understand what you are saying. I think I’ll start with the archetypal arrangements and make subjective representations of the characters, and try and conceive the scenes of the current story form there. In the process, the elements will reorganize into stable arrangements (some elements might feel out of place on the players that contain them), and the individual characters will gain shape.

Will update how this process goes!


Sounds like a fantastic way to learn Dramatica! Nothing beats learning by doing.


@thewinster I would just add: if you are committed to using the character elements, you could check out the section on characters in Dramatica for Screenwriters.

I keep trying to use the character elements but I find that it’s so time consuming and I think there are probably faster “Dramatica-compatible” approaches to distinguishing your OS characters. One that @jhull suggests in the Subtext manual is to use shorthand and define them by their function, e.g. Luke is a “whiny farmboy”.

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This is a cool idea, and I’m sure there are stories where this bares out, but I’m not sure this is entirely accurate.

My understanding of the Crucial Elements is they’re representing the heart of the Main Character / Influence Character argument and tying it to the OS.

The defintion on says

The single dramatic element that links the Overall and Main vs. Impact stories together. The Main Character’s decision regarding the Crucial Element ultimately leads to an Outcome of Success or Failure and a Judgment of Good or Bad.

Take Finding Nemo as an example:

Marlin’s crucial element is Avoid
Dory’s crucial element is Pursuit

Assuming the characters aren’t complex, then Marlin is the Antagonist and Dory is the Protagonist around the goal of “Saving Nemo”. That feels wrong.

Now, if we’re saying it’s a distilled version of the MC / IC dynamic. Marlin is always trying to avoid / prevent danger and Dory is always charging head first into things.

As always, I’m happy to be wrong.

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Finding Nemo is an interesting case. Looking at other Avoid MC stories like Becca (Pitch Perfect), the Jamie Fox cabbie in Collateral, T’Challa & Simba – it seems clear that none of those stories have classic (archetypal) Antagonist or Protagonist. The MC represents Avoid in relation to the Goal, without being a full Antagonist.

It’s been a long time since I watched Finding Nemo, but in my memory Marlin does pursue finding his son more than any other character. Am I misremembering or is that how you see it too @glennbecker ?
One thing to consider is that Nemo himself shares the IC role and he probably represents Pursuit more than Dory. So in the OS maybe Marlin’s pursuit of Nemo is really coming from Nemo, while Marlin still represents Avoid in relation to the Goal (“I have to prevent Nemo from getting hurt…I guess I’ll have to find him first”).


That’s how I remember it.

My understanding though is the Crucial Elements are separate from Archetypes.

For example, you may have Crucial Elements that have no overlap with Archetypes, ie Accurate / Non-Accurate or Evaluation and Reevaluation.

The way I think of it, which may be wrong, is that the Crucial Elements are describing the “arguement” or juxtaposition of the MC / IC theoughlines and connecting that thematically to the OS.

So, the difference of Marlin being risk averse and Nemo / Dory being like puppies wanting to explore the big world around them are what the Crucial Elements are describing.

Marlin could be the Protagonist or the Guardian in the OS and it would not change that dynamic.

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My understanding is pretty much the same – the Crucial Elements are the connection or overlap between subjective (MC/IC) and Objective (OS). But I believe that the points of overlap on the OS side – the bind points for that connection – are the character elements themselves. The same character elements used in forming archetypes.

There’s some pretty good analysis in this article: The Crucial Element to Telling a Great Story - Articles - Narrative First . Starting about halfway down with the heading “Crucial Elements not Character Traits” seems quite applicable to this conversation.


That is a great article. Thanks for giving me a chance to read it again!

I think we’re 99% in agreement on everything. But I still want to to split hairs here. If I’m wrong, great!

  • The Crucial Elements pair describes the argument or contention between MC and IC
  • They overlap with with the OS Problem & Solution or Focus & Direction
  • The Archetypes in Dramatica are defined in relation to the Story Goal
  • These are all processes of the Story Mind found at the Element level

My hair splitting is that these are different appreciations of the same elements.

  • An OS Problem of Avoid
  • MC Crucial Element of Avoid
  • Archetypal Antagonist’s motivation of Avoid

The Crucial Elements are not in relation to the Story Goal. They points of overlap with the OS Problem & Solution or Focus & Direction.

An OS Solution of Pursuit and a Motivation to Pursue the Goal are different appreciations.

Pointing out other’s predilection for running away, an example from article, is not the same as Preventing the Story Goal. They are both Avoid, but different appreciations of it. Like how a Benchmark of Past is different than a Signpost of Past and a Consequence of Past.

I could be wrong. It could be none of the examples we’ve about have Archetypal characters. Either way, when I get pedantic it’s usually because something big is about to click for me.

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No. The Storyform doesn’t know or care how many characters are in the story and doesn’t care which players get which elements.

No. The elements on the character elements screen work differently than the elements in the Storyform. If the OS problem is Logic, then all players in the OS will experience conflict because of Logic. The reason you can still assign all of the character elements out is because at some level you still want to see each of those elements expressed within each throughline, and maybe even within each signpost. So every player in the OS will experience conflict of Logic, but maybe one player will represent Pursuit while addressing Logic while another player represents Certainty while addressing logic, and another player will represent Logic while addressing Logic, and so forth.

In the MC throughline, the MC player would ideally take each of the elements in turn while addressing conflict of Logic.


From this I gather that the work on characters happens on multiple levels. Characters have a dramatic function, so it makes sense to tie them up in the thematic structure.

At the same time, the characters also have to live in our imagination, so the “Luke is… a whiny farmboy” also is a good place to start.

I like this parallel approach.



It has the added benefit of leading you to treat characters in the OS obejectively in the development stage (instead of using their names, which might lead you to a subjective perspective more appropriate to the MC or IC throughlines), and in theory it can loosely encapsulate the characteristics without the brain damage of going through each characteristic one by one.

It’s probably easier to start with “the hotheaded cousin” and “the impish friend” – at least for the first draft. Later on if necessary you can go back and make clear that Tybalt is Feeling and Uncontrolled and Mercutio is Disbelief, Oppose and Proaction.

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