How is Dramatica Theory understood, professionally


I recall someone mentioning last year that people don’t talk about using Dramatica for scriptwriting because of some stigma about it. @jhull , what have you found is the attitude toward the theory out in the field?

I know that people find my stories meaty, but I still hesitate to bring up Dramatica. I hesitate firstly because it has a high learning curve, and secondly it steps on the toes of the sacred Save the Cat/ Hero’s Journey paradigms.

I cringe at the idea that it would be considered akin to “Scientology,” but it IS a bit misunderstood and (at first-impression) mechanical.

Maybe in the 90s, but no one really thinks this anymore (if they ever did).

This is 2020–tech is an integral part of the creative process.

Off the top of my head, professionals who use Dramatica theory (Subtext, in particular) to help write some, part, or all of their stories: Michael DiMartino, Ed Bernero, Joy Lenz, Sebastien de Castell, Chris Sonnenburg, George Strayton, and others.


There have been several decent to solid books published in the last 5 years or so dealing with the science of storytelling, more specifically psychology/neuroscience and audience reception. I think those really keen on storytelling who tend to look/read deeper into the subject are drawn to this “new” exploration. Fortunately, Dramatica has been well ahead of the curve on this and many of these books are essentially proving its significance - despite not approaching anywhere near its depth (granted, much is written on the how and why of the science.)

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Many people on your list are not writers. What is it they use it for?

Every single person I listed is a professional writer, i.e. someone who is specifically paid for writing stories.

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Do you know when DiMartino started using or studying the theory? I know someone who wrote for him and am curious how DiMartino used it in the writers’ room. I can ask and get an answer from the perspective of someone who may not have known it was being employed.

I can ask, but I’m pretty sure it’s after his time on Avatar: Last Airbender. (Well, after and before if you count the live-action Netflix version…)

I struggle to understand how Netflix could have let things get to the point where the creators left the show. Especially after the movie was panned so thoroughly.

Not that I expect you to be up on all things animation, but the movie version of Fullmetal Alchemist was :nauseated_face:

Anyway, I am curious when he got into Dramatica if you can ask for me.

In the future, we’d love to have a Writer’s Room where you interview Sebastien de Castell or Chris Sonnenburg or others, talking about how they use Dramatica. Thanks for sharing this list.

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In the late 90’s or early 00’s, I happened to meet someone at the airport that wrote Regency Romance novels that I had read (when still just delightful stories not the publisher later required ‘spicier’). I was so excited because I enjoyed her books, so much, and told her so. As we were going to different gates, I asked her if she had ever heard of Dramatica, and she flashed a big smile back, “I love it! I use it all the time. Isn’t it just great?!”


Unfortunately, the stigma is still present. I ran into this ignorance several times before and after I posted. It is a direct quote from a 2017 meeting. I only brought this up at the time because of the adverse effects of gaslighting with regard to bias. I believe this occurred because of labeling mindsets out of context. But, it is all a misunderstanding.

Sometimes, often when people are new to Dramatica, problem-solving style seems like a label for someone’s personality or a way to point out their bias. But, problem-solving style is dependent on the narrative and not a label to be used on a person.

The answer, for now, is to gauge the room and adjust to the jargon of the room or educate those who are interested. Whenever we acknowledge our own bias in a context and share from there, we help rebuild the brand.

I remember going to a Dramatica weekend workshop in the 90’s, and a polished, obviously affluent, confident younger gentleman told me in the hallway during a break, “I use the theory, but not the software.” I hypothesize if you mention it along with Aristotle you might be accepted as professional … haha.

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Which do you suggest reading?

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I really liked Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence.” Very helpful to see it from that perspective. Easy to read without getting too much into the neuroscience end of things.

“The Science of Screenwriting: The Neuroscience Behind Storytelling Strategies” is one I have, but honestly don’t recall much off hand because I’ve read so many. I did hi-lite a number of things in it. You may want to check reviews on Amazon.

Not necessarily about the science of writing, “The Idea: The Seven Elements of a Viable Story for Screen, Stage or Fiction” has a few blurbs towards the end on the author being intrigued with Dramatica and how it works (Erik Bork).

Will Storr’s “The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better” is a pretty good read as well.

Overall, I would start with Cron’s book. Most bang for your buck, I think. Loved her entire look at “Show, Don’t Tell” and what it really means.


If you haven’t read Inside Story or My Story Can Beat Up Your Story (MSCBUYS), they are highly correlated with Dramatica and both authors are accessible for consultation.

Inside Story gives a nice walkthrough of the inner workings of the RS as it impacts the OS with classic examples.

MSCBUYS is a streamlined approach, but it comes in handy for crossover consulting.

For neuroscience, there’s some really great podcast interviews: Dr. Andrew Huberman has some great insights on several interviews and Lex Fridman interviews quite a few other thought giants. If you want more let me know.

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Here’s an example of the kind of misunderstandings out there if anyone feels like editing it:

I just looked over that TV Tropes page, and…maybe I’ve overlooked something, but it seems pretty good? I’ve been using Dramatica sporadically for 20 years and I’m not sure I could explain it all quite that well!

It doesn’t force the writer to do anything. It is a way for the writer to find what’s fun, and build on his/her idea. The story is always manageable, and the choices are more what to emphasize. imho, of course

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I appreciate your candor. There’s quite a few errors on their Dramatica page. So, I encourage you to get into the details and discover more. Just to name two from one section on MC APPROACH, The Dark Knight Trilogy’s Bruce Wayne is a Be-er in Batman Begins and a Do-er in the Dark Knight. And, Neo is a Do-er in the Matrix.

It can be a lot of fun to notice how movie titles play up different appreciations. For example, I believe Batman BEGINS is a “Batman START” story if I remember @jhull posts that also confirm Bruce’s MC Approach swings. Moreover, The DARK KNIGHT is a “BAD DO-ER” as the Joker gets the best of him. And, Neo’s fully human and fully software “Do Loop” SITUATION is a DO-ER messiah incarnate in the Matrix.

Batman Begins Character Change

Batman even says he’s a Do-er as a result of his character arc near the end:

It's Not Who I Am Underneath, But What I Do That Defines Me. - YouTube

I guess what I was responding to is that the article on TV Tropes didn’t at all come across to me as “Dramatica is a super crazy thing that only cultists use.” It was a pretty positive tone that was getting the general concept down for a lay audience.

I don’t work in Hollywood and tended to use Dramatica for novels and novellas, so I can’t speak to how it’s seen “in the industry.” It would seem odd to me for there to be a substantial stigma, though, given how prevalent formal story structure/analysis seems to be in the field. (Ironically, I didn’t get to use Dramatica with the one screenplay I’ve written due to its incompatibility with newer versions of macOS, but “how it’s seen by an increasingly exasperated Mac nerd” is an unrelated question.)