Elements: Apply both the presence and 'lack of' to same story point / question?

Hi all,
New to Dramatica, I’ve read up to about page 130 in the book and very much enjoying the theory. I’ve also played around a bit with the demo software (Windows unfortunately).

One question I had was regarding applying Elements; in the software the Context help will say something like this, for an MC Problem of Control:

Either the existence or lack of control is the central problem that causes the Main Character’s difficulties.

So if you chose Control as the MC Problem, could you give the MC a problem where she has “too much control” in one area of her life, and too little in another? For example, a main character who both:

  • has an over-controlling mother who is preventing her from pursuing her dream to become a ballet dancer, AND
  • has a problem with lack of control in her dance practice (though otherwise a beautiful dancer, her movements are not as controlled as they should be)

Hope that question makes sense and I’m not mangling too many terms!

I think you’re describing the growth there, and as far as I’m aware, it’s really more of a ‘one or the other’ approach.

Having “too much of something” is considered a Stop story – a Change MC has to stop something that they are doing (e.g. the dancer being a control freak in class); a Steadfast MC has to wait for something outside of her control to stop before she can succeed (e.g. her over-controlling mother has to stop being a control freak).

“Too little” is a Start story – a Change MC has to step up to the plate and handle the problem (e.g. Start believing in herself and her ability to control her movements); a Steadfast MC has to wait for something outside of her control to start before she can succeed (e.g. her mother has to start believing in her daughter’s ability to dance).

I’m sure someone else can describe it better, or correct me if I missed the point. But I’m fairly sure that you’re referring to the MC Growth.

Basically, you’re asking “Can I just say she has control issues?”

If she changes, accepts uncontrolled as a way out – meaning, maybe – I’m going to let my emotions flow freely through me and come what may – then sure.

This was an interesting question.

@jamjam1794 is right that having “too much” and “too little” does align with stop/start but I’m not sure how strictly it does that. Plus, in a case like this, you’d be ‘averaging’ the two things…

More importantly, I think that once you wrote this story out, one of the two would take priority, and the other would fade a bit. Not being able to control her dancing might begin to seem like a side-effect of her mother, like anxiety or something.

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That’s what I was struggling to work out. Dramatica is very binary with the dynamics, so I’m still kind of uncertain about it. I know that the Resolve sort of flirts from one to the other before settling, but I’ve never heard anything like that about the Growth. Always seems to be very ‘one or the other’, rather than a mix of the two.

My main argument would be that if you demonstrated that she had too much control in one scene and no control in the very next scene (in the same throughline), it would get muddled. Unless the ‘uncontrolled’ was in another throughline, the MC throughline would get confusing because the character would be inconsistently changing their problem or drive from scene to scene.

It feels like you need to find a way to fit all of the “problems” under one umbrella (control), rather than split them into different “good/bad” scenarios. Like: “the dancer’s mother has no control over her daughter’s life, causing her to try and intervene in her career; the dancer struggles with her controlled movements, etc.” But, like you said, during the writing that will happen naturally.

Thanks Mike (@MWollaeger), that’s exactly what I meant (that she has control issues, and that being free and unfettered is the solution)! I’m glad to know it’s permissible in the Dramatica model. And thanks for the tip about priority, I can definitely see that as you get your “story encoding” down and then start writing, you may find that one side (either “too much” or “too little”) takes priority.

It’s kind of interesting though, because I can actually see that someone who has a problem with “too little” control could solve that problem by embracing Uncontrolled rather than continuing to fight for Control. Please see my work-in-progress examples below…

@jamjam1794, thanks for the info, but yeah I was sort of asking a different question, probably not clearly enough. That said, your mention of the “too much” vs. “too little” terms definitely helps illustrate this better in my mind – so huge thanks for that!!

Cheers guys

  • Mike Lucas

As I wrote the last post, some things started to become clear for my work-in-progress, a fantasy novel called Oathbreakers that I’m currently outlining. (Note the dancer stuff in my first post was kind of a made up example, though I might use it as a bit of background color for my main character.)

The Main Character, Caitlin, is a young magic-born girl, and has unique potential beyond most magic-born. She has several Control-related problems:

  • “too much”: Her mother is VERY controlling (lots of backstory reasons for this, including loss of Caitlin’s sister)
  • “too much”: Various characters are attempting to control her for their own reasons (some good, some bad).
  • “too much”: The government/establishment has a pervasive System in place for controlling all magic
  • “too little”: She has difficulty controlling her magic, from the beginning of the story when she is untrained, continuing throughout the story as the regular training methods don’t work well for her.
  • “too little”: Minor character traits about lack of control that get her into trouble (carelessness that makes her clumsy, lack of emotional control, the dancing I mentioned in my first post, etc.)

The cool thing is that I think Uncontrolled is the solution to most or all of the above, even the “too little” ones. Embracing her wild spirit is the way to both break free of the control of others, and to make effective use of her unique magic. Kind of a “let go, Luke” moment but in the sense of bursting the dam, letting it all come loose, rather than Trusting in the Force like in Star Wars.

Does that make sense? I hope it does because it feels right to me. What’s neat is that I had all of the above in my plan before I found Dramatica, but it feels like the theory is clarifying things and making me realize where the focus should be once I start writing. (I’m also finding some areas where Dramatica might be telling me to change things, but that will have to be a separate post… :wink: )


Hi Jamie @jamjam1794 , sorry I missed your second post. I wonder what you think of my last post with real examples from my work-in-progress story. It seems to me like it will work simply because the solution to all the Control problems is “letting loose”, breaking the chains that others have placed on her, or that she has placed on herself.

Hmm … I just read the MC Growth definition and you’re right that Growth does seem to apply to this question, it needs to be considered. What’s interesting is that the too-much-control instances for my MC are all external (others trying to control her), and the too-little-control ones are internal. From my reading of the Blade Runner example, it’s permissible to have both external & internal encodings of your Problem:

Deckard’s manipulated by Bryant into resuming his old line of work, regulating escaped replicants. He also manages to keep his emotions and feelings in check. (from Blade Runner MC Problem: Control)

Of course, both of Deckard’s are “too much” and so he is a Change/Start character. It’s not as obvious for me, but I think my MC is also Start because she needs to solve all her problems the same way Deckard did - by embracing Uncontrol. (This is all assuming my MC is a Change character, which I think she is, but I’m still not 100% on that!!)

That said, given my MC is a young (maybe around 12-14) girl, I think I’ll keep her away from the hard liquor part of Uncontrol:

After retiring a replicant, he attempts to loosen up by drinking hard liquor. (from Blade Runner MC Solution: Uncontrolled)


No problem! Whenever I think of “too much”/“too little” I just immediately connect the problem/drive to the growth, so that may be my own bias. I’m still learning the theory (3 years on), so I’m just as clueless in many areas of the theory. Always eager to learn.

In my opinion (with no clue on your story or other throughlines), your MC definitely seems like a start character. She needs to either start letting go and embracing the lack of control (change), or she needs people around her to start letting her be her own person (steadfast). If you’re not sure of your MC’s growth or resolve, just explore the other throughlines and those two will fall into place.

Dramatica is very binary, but that’s why it’s important to frame your story the right way. If you are looking at the details (too much mother, not enough dance) then it can be tricky. But maybe that’s not the right perspective. That’s why I bumped it to a slightly more abstract story about control issues.

Dramatica is strict, but we have to be careful to not make it more strict than it needs to be. For instance, the Jane the Virgin pilot does not actually have an ending. It’s implied, but it isn’t there. Being too strict with “you must have all five drivers” would have been the wrong way to go for various reasons that Chris goes into in the podcast.

Back to mlucas’s question. Maybe the character needs to stop trying to fit into other people’s boxes, maybe the character has to hold out for other people to start liking what she’s doing.

My gut is still with you, that this isn’t really how it would play out, but there’s nothing to say that it couldn’t.

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This is really important. Ride this feeling as far as it can take you. Too much theory can get in the way.


Thanks everyone. Having to focus my thoughts for this discussion has actually brought a lot of clarity to my discussion, and I’m finding things are “feeling right” more and more.

I like that feeling when the software suggests or picks something and at first you’re like “huh?” but when you think on in it a bit you realize it totally fits what you were picturing. Or helps you add to your ideas, or even change them, but in a way that “fits”. (I’m just using the demo now but I’m definitely thinking to get the full version… too bad I’m on Windows! Also too bad I missed some kind of sale by a few days… oh well.)

Invest in the program. It makes it so much easier.


Done! A few days ago … and I already managed to get down to one storyform!

The technique of saving several versions, so that I was free to make changes but go back if I didn’t like them, really helped. I must have ended up with like 10 files (SteadfastGood1, SteadfastGood2, ChangeBad1, etc.) before really honing in on the essence of my story!

I’m preparing to write a big post on how much I love this tool now that I’m starting to get the hang of it. In my current state of enthusiasm I might title the post something like “HOLY COW DRAMATICA IS AWESOME” but maybe that’s too much? :wink:

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No, that’s actually what you should title it. And let us know when you do. It’s always great hearing someone having a great time writing and improving their understanding of story.

I had a problem with one of my projects that was very simliar to yours. For the longest time I thought my MC’s problem was NON-ACCEPTANCE, but nothing seemed to line up with that approach, especially since her response seemed to be PURSUIT (trying to earn acceptance by pursuing unreasonable standards for herself and, later pursuing what she thought would make her happy) After further thinking, I considered AVOIDANCE as the problem since the reason she felt unaccepted was that others seemed to be avoiding her. But no matter how I tried to twist it, PURSUIT was definitely her response and not her solution.

It was only when I looked at the final resolution that I realized that her trying to CONTROL her behavior by acceping others standards was the source of her unhappiness and that by returning to her previous response of (UNCONTROLLED) PURSUIT of what she wanted, that she ultimately forced the IC and the OS characters to RECONSIDER what was best for her.

(I think it is interesting that the quality of her response also contains her solution. I wonder if this is often the case with steadfast characters.)

When the storyform showed me that her IC abandoning her response of SUPPORTing those same standards of behavior and resolving their relational conflict with the solution of OPPOSING those standards and those people who were trying to enforce them, that I felt I finally had the right storyform.

Regarding Growth, I think I read somewhere that if the story Judgement is Good, then Start means the MC is pursuing their problems while Stop means the problems are pursuing them. If I remember this correctly, that may help you figure out which is the correct growth for your MC. I know I struggled over this. I think Steadfast characters are just harder to figure out in general, but in my case, this story is part of a big novel with two MCs and blended storyforms so it’s sometimes hard to tell which issue belongs to whom.

What still puzzles me though is why Steadfast MCs share the symptom/response with the OS, especially since it seems that Steadfast MCs are in conflict with the OS, trying to force both them and the IC to change even though their response to the perceived problem is the same.

Thanks @JAPartridge. I had to re-read your post several times as there’s a lot of interesting info crammed into it!

Growth is a funny one, at first I just ignored it because I had no idea about it. But this part from the help text makes sense to me now:

With Steadfast Main Characters they will not add nor delete a characteristic, but will grow either by more strongly holding on against something bad, waiting for it to Stop, or by more strongly holding out until something good can Start.

For my MC, at least if she is Steadfast, she is definitely Stop.

One thing I have to really thank you for is that your post clued in me in for another possibility for my MC Problem. My storyform has MC Problem of Uncontrolled to represent her “drive to be free and unconstrained by society’s rules and chains”. However, I realize that MC Problem of Control could also work, as her drive could also be expressed as a “drive to be in control of her own life, rather than having others control her”. I hadn’t realized that Control could actually represent freedom in that sense.

I’m not sure if I will use that, but it’s a good thing to have realized nonetheless!

Oh, your comment about the Steadfast character’s Solution (which they don’t embrace) being a way to qualify how they adopt their Response… that’s very interesting. It’s certainly true in my storyform! (well, my original one anyway which I might revise.) I wonder if it’s because the IC is pushing the MC towards the Solution, so that to remain Steadfast the MC has no choice but to redirect that Solution element somehow? But it’s hard to say if this is always the case.

Late to the discussion here, but the simple answer to your question is YES, it can be too much AND/OR too little, as well as positive and/or negative, and an attribute OF something/someone and/or attributed TO something/someone.

Like it was mentioned above, the expression of those varieties will be different, but they can all fall under the same ‘umbrella’ of a single story point.

For example, Obtaining describes both gain and/or loss. Memory describes both remembering and/or forgetting, as well as trying to forget and/or trying to remember, or being remembered and/or being forgotten, etc.


Thanks Chris. Very helpful.

I’m sorry I am so late in responding. I thought I used to get email notifications when someone replied to a message. Life has been crazy enough lately, that I haven’t check back in a while.

I’m delighted if something I said helped you. I by no means consider myself an expert in Dramatica. I sometimes grasp some elements of it intuitively only because, I think, it mirrors real life so well. Steadfast characters, however, are hard for my to get my head around within the context of Dramatica, so maybe we can work out some of the details together since we are working on similar storyforms.

Would you mind sharing your storyform, if not here, at least by PM? I’d love to compare it to the one I’m working on.

Sure! I certainly don’t mind sharing my storyform publicly – you can’t own a storyform any more than you can own a particular story point combination. (Can you imagine? “My story has a Steadfast main character and an Outcome of Failure … no one else is allowed to have that!” :grinning:)

Here’s the image from @bobRaskoph 's awesome table of story points generator:

I actually have a separate PM thread where I and one other member of the forum have been discussing the details of my story, let me know if you’d like in on that.