How are the Dramatica variations "Ability" and "Skill" different?

I have been trying to differentiate the two, but I am ending up in murky grounds. Ability seems to be a capacity to do right here, right now. Skill seems to be potential, developed or undeveloped.

Skill’s synonyms are syn. proficiency, aptitude, competence, adeptness, degree of expertise, practiced ability, honed ability

Ability’s synonyms are syn. talent, knack, capability, capacity, faculty.

There is no differentiation. The best case I was able to make was that Ability is potential, and skill is tapped potential. But then Ability is defined as innate capacity to handle a task, while Skill is explained as aptitude that may or may not have been developed.

So, what is going on here? I am wrecking my head at finding a sharp distinction.

Is it potential versus practice? Is it capacity versus training?

I’d be very thankful for someone explaining the distinction to me with story points in movies whose story forms have been analyzed.

On the same note, what is the different between Thought and Contemplation? Is it that Thought is reorganizing knowledge and Contemplation is centred on an object or issue?

Edit: My current understanding is that Skill is potential while Ability is the capacity to accomplish something right here, right now. But then, what about tapped potential? Is that a story point in ability or skill? Can someone help me distinguish the two not with synonyms but illustrations?

Is driving an ability? What about a budding race car driver? Is his driving an ability or skill? If we are talking about paying the bills, is it a financial ability or a present situation? If I run to my school, is it an ability to reach school or skill to be a long distance runner?

Ability = I can take a deep breath and hold it.
Skill= I can perform a tracheotomy


Thanks! So, ability is about meeting the demands of day to day existence, or as the definition says, capacity to handle a task.

Skill on the other hand is special, related to a developed or undeveloped talent.

The distinction between Skill and Ability is less important than what Skill and Ability mean in context. Within the context of an inequity, or within your story, Ability is a motivation, while Skill is an evaluation. One’s theoretical ability to perform a tracheotomy after reading about the process in a medical book might motivate a character to push others out of the way in order to help someone choking on a piece of food. But one’s evaluation that a theoretical knowledge of the operation is inferior to practical surgical expertise may have a character holding others back while first checking to see if there’s a doctor in the house.

Rather than comparing Skill and Abiltiy directly against each other, it may also help to instead focus on the difference between their dynamic pairs. An understanding of Ability vs Desire and Skill vs Experience should shed more light on what they mean to your story than Ability vs Skill.


Well, that seems like a good mental model to distinguish between an ability and a skill - motivation versus evaluation.

Does this still apply for the Dramatica story form of Star Wars? The OS issue is that of Skill, where everyone is obsessed with it. And Relationship issue is Ability, where Obi Wan wants Luke to be a Jedi Knight. How are the two issues different? Is there something I am missing?

Applying the motivation versus evaluation contrast, we can make an argument that the OS issue is of evaluation, where everyone is obsessed about how good everybody else and themselves are; while Obi Wan is dealing with channeling Luke’s motivation into becoming a Jedi Knight.

As you can tell, I am slightly confused and trying to make sense of these different insights. In my experience, there are definitions and then there are illustrations, and the definitions run round and round in circles with other definitions, while their illustrations are not tight, hard and fast instances of abstract definitions.

My apologies, I wasn’t thinking clearly yesterday. I had in mind Ability at the bottom of the chart and never moved outside of that thinking (perhaps because I was looking strictly at the Physics quad). Of course, Ability can be an evaluation as well when under a methodology of Being. I will try to return to address the difference in those when time permits.

Thank you! Looking forward to it. :slight_smile:

The point of Ability is around being capable or incapable. The point of Skill is around being practiced or skilled at something.

There is a tremendous amount of overlap between the two, in terms of individual events and stuff within stories that could fit either. And that’s 100% okay. Like @Greg says you need context to understand what the source of conflict really is. Even in a story where the OS Issue is Skill, if you watch a scene or two you might think “wow, this story is all about Ability”. You need the full context.

Does that help? It really helped me to understand that all the Dramatica terms are like this. Nothing is really exclusive (though some will have more overlap and others less, by their nature). Asking how they’re different is like asking what the difference is between a father and a police officer – the definitions might be totally different, yet a particular person could be both. The context tells you which one matters/applies in the moment (e.g. changing diapers vs. being present at a bank robbery).


My first answer still partially stands in that it’s about the context. And comparing them to their dynamic pair may still be the better route. Aptitude vs Experience and Aptitude vs Desire should give you two different views of Aptitude. But in this case, rather than motivation vs evaluation, we have one evaluation under Doing and one under Being. So the difference is going to be something like Skill/Ability as a component of engaging in a physical activity and Skill/Ability as a component of adapting a lifestyle. I might be fully capable of Doing tracheotomies, but be entirely incapable of Being a doctor (terrible bedside manners, you know). Or I might be able to be great at Being a thief (no moral compunction against taking others belongings) but be terrible at Doing theft (not very sneaky, not good at hiding, clumsy while sneaking through laser grid alarm systems).


Thank you @mlucas and @Greg . It definitely helps. I’m still not crystal clear, but like you said, it’s all about the context and the story. Perhaps actually using them while writing a story will make things much clearer.


This is almost always true for me.

But here’s the thing. It really doesn’t matter too much if your specific examples of skill and ability are a little wobbly. It’s okay for your skill to look a little like ability and your ability to look a little like skill. Because in the context of the story, seeing your examples compared against Experience or Desire will clear that right up for the audience.

Just to keep playing off the same example:
“I am a very skilled surgeon, but I lack experience in tracheotomies”
“I am a very skilled surgeon, but I desire to perform on broadway”

See? Even using the exact same illustration for both Skill and Ability, you can easily feel the difference in those two statements.

For the first statement, you can almost imagine a scene with a surgeon explaining that he’s good at what he does but has never performed the procedure he’s about to have to perform in order to save this person, almost as though he’s telling someone that he can do it, but that it may not be perfect.

For the second one, you almost imagine a scene where a surgeon is explaining that he’s at the top of his game, but would give it all up for a speaking role in Wicked or Hamilton or whatever the current big Broadway thing is.

Or just to push it a little further, i just grabbed a random gist that was not Skill or Ability. Let’s see what it looks like when we replace the previous example with it.

“I’m focused on the current situation but I lack experience in tracheotomies”
“I’m focused on the current situation but I desire to perform on broadway”

Looks pretty muddy when you try to figure out if we’re talking about Skill or Ability, because it doesn’t really look like either. But when you look at the relationship between being focused on the current situation and Experience or Desire, you can still get the feeling that the first example is about someone doing something and the that the second one is about someone being someone or something. This is because the storyform doesn’t care what the appreciation is, but what its relationship to the appreciations around it is.

An article (on…or maybe, don’t remember) once suggested that there were four processes in the mind, but then went back and said that really you could view it all as one process in the mind that just looks different depending on where it appears in relation to the other processes in the mind.

Conceivably, every appreciation on the Dramatica table could be replaced with “being focused on the present situation” and still work because of each instance of it having a special relationship to each of the other instances of it.


This is a really great example.