Help, I can't stop overthinking

Quick background: I’ve had the good fortune to publish 7 novels (6 with big publisher, 1 with small press) since 2009. So, I’m not new to story, but I’m new to Dramatica and ready to work, learn, and push myself to be better.

I bought the program last year and despite eagerly diving in, I was simply overwhelmed by this new way of working. I set it aside. Deciding to take a new direction with a new project, I bought a book about Dramatica for Screenplays. I’m diving in again, and this time, the overwhelm has been less, but still daunting. A small part of my project was already written, which I thought would help me learn/reinforce this new process, so I’ve gone back and tried to plug in my story pieces according to the story form print-out, adjust the story to better meet the new structure criteria. (Not so different from the reverse-engineering way many of you have examined films - which has been helpful to a point.) The terminology and similarities of dynamic pairs are a challenge to pinpoint for me, as is grasping how to define the Types. Some are easy but others leave me feeling like I’m missing something… for those difficult ones I end up with a long and broad sentence to ‘fill in’ that blank and feel like I’m off target anyway. I think I’m making this harder on myself than it truly needs to be.

Does anyone have suggestions on how to better grasp the expansive concepts of this program/theory and nutshell them down to a workable unit? FWIW, the Activity Type seems very accessible and understandable to me. But there are aspects of each of the other 3 Types that feel so broad, I can’t fathom how to slice it into one defined bite that fits the places the story form has slotted it. Thanks in advance for any replies. (:smile:

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This is only partially tongue in cheek, but…

Dump Dramatica for Subtext (Dramatica without all the hard stuff).

Subtext is Jim Hull’s online app that shifts the focus from the theory back onto your story.

Another option is to watch the story coaching/Subtext/Dramatica youtube series that Jim and I are doing. We’re not rushing through – so you can see how the development is happening.

Another option is to incorporate one aspect at a time. I’d prolly start with understanding the impact character.

And finally, remember that you’ve published! You intrinsically understand story.


Seconding everything @jassnip especially using Subtext. (FYI here’s the link to the series she’s doing with Jim:

I think this a problem that’s endemic with Dramatica. The thing to remember (and I really wish I had learned and internalized this advice earlier) is that Dramatica is a description of how our minds work naturally:

So you really don’t need to complete every story point for it to work. In fact as @jhull would say, trying to do this is counterproductive to finishing anything.

Jim’s suggested approach is to use and or create a Premise (which he explains on Subtext) and then construct the story only using Drivers, Signposts and (possibly) PSR beats.

If you’re more of an organic writer, @mlucas has been evolving an ongoing process of outlining as he goes.

I’m not 100% sure understand this part your question – are you having trouble illustrating the storypoints? For that I highly recommend leaning on the gists if you have access to them (e.g. the Mac version of Dramatica or Subtext). I really think it’s almost impossible to get a feel for what different storypoints are pointing to without gists.

Finally, check out Jim’s Playground series to get better at illustrating. I found this invaluable

In terms of learning how Dramatica works, in my opinion there’s no substitute for getting involved in group analysis. I learned more by analyzing Cars and Beauty and the Beast with @greg, @hunter, @mlucas and others than anything else. Jim does this in his Subtext Writer’s Room as well.

Good luck!


Thank you for this. I’ll check out the links. I have the Windows version of Dramatica, and if I’m correct, the Mac version looks quite different. (I’d like to download the Mac version, as I have a Mac laptop as well as a windows laptop, but I doubt my additional downloads work that way. hee hee) I’ve read through the analysis of several stories/movies posted here. I’ll check out some more. I really appreciate the reply. Best- Linda


Lots of good advice has already been given (that is, go to the experts and take it slow), but I’d add that coming here with one question at a time is a great way to learn. Be wild with the theory, try crazy things to see what works and what doesn’t, ask questions, make assertions, don’t be afraid to experiment and take the theory new places, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Just be open minded enough to listen to others and accept that something you’re trying to do might be wrong even if you can’t see why just yet. And when people tell you you can’t do something with the theory, explain where you’re coming from so they can better explain where they think you’re going off track. Be willing to be told you’re off track, but get good answers on why you are. You will learn more and, often, the folks explaining it to you will get something out of it too.
And don’t question the theory too much until you get a good feel for it. Trust it for a while. Then question everything about it.

Regarding the theory itself, in no particular order:
1 realize that the terms themselves are all approximations for the ideas they’re trying to convey. ( Commonly Misunderstood Definitions )
2 realize that the terms are all referring to processes. It’s not enough to say ‘John obtained the map’. You need to explore the process John of coming into or maintaining possession of the map.
3 Related to 2, learn how to encode conflict. You don’t need paragraphs to do this, but you do need more than just a mention of the Dramatica term. Being conscious of an itch isn’t a problem. Being conscious of an itch causing one to fail a test is. ( From Conflict to Storyform )
4 make it a point to think of your story in terms of a Storymind and it’s perspectives rather than as events that happen to characters
5 know what it is you want to say with your story

6 I started not to put this one, but I will. Be cognizant of the function of the level you’re working on. Not sure how much others do this, but it helps me to keep in mind when I’m working at the genre level vs the plot, theme, or character level. The processes of encoding each is pretty much the same for me, but there’s a big difference in treating an encoding as a plot and treating one as a theme when writing it.


Another vote for Subtext. I find it allows me to get out of my own way.


I had the same problem at the beginning with Dramatica.

How to - Writing a Novel with Dramatica

Another advice I could give for a start

  • Don’t worry too much on the details and don’t confuse yourself. I spent too much time in the beginning, trying to understand everything, but still learning today, that I misunderstood something in the past. It was too much for a start, expecting gaps in the beginning…

Try to answer at least

  • OS: Where does my story play (Kosmos, World, Setting)
  • MC: Who is my Main Character and what is his personal journey aside from the OS story?
  • IC: Who is the Character with the strongest impact on the Main Character and forces him to change or stay steadfast?

Than try to find a concern, issue… for the three

Another but tricky one is the Relationship Throughline. This took me a while and I am still learning. But think about the dynamics between a couple, friends, sister and brother, mother and son, twins, father and daughter. Everyone may have individuals problems (as MC or IC) but together as “team” they have something that defines their relationship. A relationship has always a state (new, existing) and has a direction (improve, decline).

From my experience the RS comes to light step by step when you write, especially when you work on revisions. Its like “Now I know what they are talking, its all about UNDERSTANDING friendship, being true to your friends, even if it hurts being honest” You don’t write like this, but you write scenes where this comes to light

Last but not least…

Focus on a few main questions: What is…

  • OS Problem: What is the problem that starts your story?
  • Goal: What is the Goal the Protagonist (often also the MC) is responsible for?
  • Resolve: Does your MC change or does he has to be steadfast until the end to reach the Goal?
  • Outcome: Does your Protagonist/MC solve the Problem by reaching the Goal?
  • Judgement: Is it (for you) a good think, how the MC solves his personal problems at the end?
  • Approach: Is your MC a Do-er Step-by-Step or a Be-er First Think than act?

Thanks Greg. Especially for putting in #6 despite your reservation. That is a very valid point and it did resonate with me. I appreciate you taking the time to reply. This is definitely helpful.

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Thank you Gernot. Definitely good advice in your reply and I’ll be adding some to my notes. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

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Can you analyze something with it or do you need to know the exact premise statement? For practice, I’m trying to analyze something preexisting and fill in holes without changing too much around, but I can’t say for sure what the original intent was.

I have the same problem with Dramatica.
Perhaps it is not overthinking, but not knowing what all the terminology means, which is causing to rethink the goals, concerns, ect.

My story has a bit of ToyStory IC (which is Buzz Lightyear) and RS between Woody and Buzz.
It has also a bit of MC learning like in How To Train a Dragon with Hiccup and Toothless.
It has also some OS of Dancing with Wolves.

What I notice is that I’m convinced of my storyform, studing all the terms in every (sub)Quad.
Until something changes because it doens’t feel right.
And then the (changed)Concern, Issue and Problem in these TL doesn’t feel like my story anymore.
So changing the Storyform again.

The effect is that I create storyforms many times.
How do you stop that?
Or is that an indication that I don’t know my story good enough, and have to follow trough?
Or is that the learing part of Dramatica?
Or all?
Sometimes I feel so tired that any OS, MC, IC and RS seem to fit on any Situation, Activity, Manipulation or Fixed Attitude, and getting nowhere.

The other way around I feel that most of the times the analysis are right. The movies and podcast from the DUG, the analysis from Jim, it all makes sense in the end. I also see and here the struggle in the DUG, but the end results is solid and good compared with the Movie discussed. So Dramatica has to be right…

I think most if not all of us have this problem at some point @Jeri.

I’m still in the middle of it: my novel (that I’m currently revising) went from OS Physics/Doing to OS Psychology/Conceiving to OS Psychology/Conceptualizing.

I also changed who the MC was in the middle.

I would not recommend this process! However, my book is now much, much better than it was. And I’ve learned so much, I don’t think the process will be so ugly the next time around. Subtext helped.

I do think that I might have gotten to this point faster if I had forced myself to finish the first draft sooner even if it meant turning off Dramatica for a few months – but I’m not sure.

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I’ve decided to stop fighting this. Why not make it many times?

I find that the more I learn about my story, the better the story is–but it also frequently causes me to re-think my storyform.

I think I approached Dramatica initially thinking that it was a magic tool. It’s not–it’s just a tool. A really really good tool.


I love this! “Why not make it many times?”

That’s what you’re doing anyways when you rewrite and rewrite. And rewrite again.


I think if you’re making progress on your story (either preparing / outlining, or writing the draft), the whole re-storyforming thing can be great.

  • Start with one or a few candidate storyforms.
  • Use what you know from that/those to dive into your story further (outlining, drafting).
  • Use what you learn from your story to feed back into your storyforming.
  • Repeat.

All good, because you keep moving forward.

But going around in circles with different storyforms and never making any progress on your story or your understanding of it, that is NOT good. Set a limit on how much time you spend storyforming, and stick to it. You have to actually develop your story to understand it better.

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And herein lies the struggle–which I can tell you from experience applies not just to Dramatica but to any structural pre-production process. How do you know when you’re doing the work vs. spinning in circles? At what point in the process do you allow yourself to revisit the storyform vs. plowing through? I realize of course that you can’t generalize answers to this question.


Hmm. I would say that you assume your storyform is correct until you have evidence (from your actual story) that suggests it’s not.

Then you can either keep writing and only use the parts you still think are correct (e.g. you might remain certain of the Resolve and throughline Domains). Or you can go back and try to find the right storyform. But you should probably give yourself a time limit for the latter.

I would tend to wait for “positive” rather than “negative” evidence – like “OMG this is so cool, I bet the OS Problem is actually Equity, that makes so much sense!” Rather than “oh, what gives, I thought the MC Direction was Ability but this looks like Desire”. When you get into the heads of the characters, as you must do to write, a lot of things get all skewed.

One thing, if you notice your story is really weak in some area, like missing a throughline, that might make it impossible to find a single storyform. In that case you might be better off making notes on how you could improve the missing piece, and then proceed writing the draft as if you had already written it that way. After a while of writing as if you had it right from the start, maybe the storyform will start to become clear.

Also, since the storyform really boils down to a message, the meaning of the story, it might actually be a good thing if you get it wrong initially. I truly believe that if you set out to say one thing, but the story ends up saying something else, that “something else” will probably be deeper and more meaningful. (The tricky thing is to fix it on revision and make sure everything works with the new meaning.)


This is amazing advice.



I do a couple of storyforms until it feels right and my desire to start writing kicks-in.

I write first either scenes or scene outlines or a synopsis for the throughlines.

Sooner or later I see the storyform needs adjustments. I stop writing, change it and continue writing. Often a couple of rewrites is required to fit it to the new storyform.

This iterative process is part of Dramatica and every iteration gives me more insights and confidence into my story. From my experience, every iteration is worth the effort as it usually makes my text written better and stronger.

If it is difficult to find a storyform with “positive evidence” (thanks @mlucas) it’s a sign that there might be no story to tell.

To save time I keep everything I write outside Dramatica. This makes changing the storyform easier as I don’t need to rewrite/copy the content.

A learning for me was to give up to search the perfect storyform and accept and expect there are more storyforms to come.

For my screenplay I am working on right now I am on version 75. This just changed when we were shooting a few scenes for a short film. While on the set I figured the goal for my protagonist is not Future but Progress. I won’t be surprised if it will something else tomorrow.


Thank you all for sharing your thoughts, struggles and experiences.
This is really helpfull.

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