Ideas for outlining

It’s been a long time since I seriously delved into the theory side of Dramatica. For years, I kinda thought the stuff I had already learned gave enough guidance for my intuition to do the rest, and delving into the finest nuances of Scenes and Events would just be a waste of time.

But now, having learned about circuits, modalities etc. and seeing how ridicilously accurately they reveal why my favorite scenes and sequences feel the way they do (and why problematic scenes seem to lack drive), I decided to try to apply this to my outlining.

I’d like to share what I’ve been doing in case someone finds it useful in their own work, or can suggest improvements – lot of room for that, I’m sure.

Here’s what I’ve been doing in Excel: the Signpost and Journies of each Throughline with the Sequences of the PSR below.

So, I started wondering what would happen if the Acts were replaced with the Sequences and the Sequences with the Elements below:

What confused me was the notion that each Element was a Scene, when scenes in my treatment seemed to cover entire Sequences; and they weren’t dragging on for pages and pages – more or less four minutes of screen time max. So I wondered: isn’t each of these Elements already Event-sized?

Reading Chris’ example Jim linked in his article gave me more perspective on what an Event might be: it doesn’t drag on for an entire paragraph of a screenplay treatment, it’s more like a sentence or two, while Scenes seem to be the size of a paragraph or two.

This was a huge revelation. I decided to try ordering Scenes as closely as possible with the storytelling in my treatment. But simply putting the Scenes in one linear timeline felt wrong, cause that’s not how film works: some Scenes have more center stage, while others are being hinted at. So I decided to do this:

Each Throughline is color-coded. The top level is a sort of “main plot” from the audience’s perspective; it’s constructed from all Throughlines based on my intuition and knowledge of which Throughline is most dominant in my story at any given time. The second level are the Sequences I know are there (have started in the storytelling), but haven’t yet “blossomed”. Whenever there’s a Scene below the main plot, it is visited after the Scene above.

As you can see, the yellow of the IC throughline is first dominant, with the blue of the SS Throughline only starting, before dominating the IC Throughline. And boy, does this feel right! To me, it feels like the union of the messiness of storytelling in my head with the structural intent I know is covered under the jumbling perspectives.

EDIT: The dotted vertical lines are points where a typical “scene” break might be felt by the audience.

Any thoughts are welcome!

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One thing that might help is to not think of the Dramatica Acts, Sequences and Scenes as such but instead as Signposts, Ranges and (Dramatic) Units (though I think there could be a better term for Sequence/Range*). That way, you don’t get them confused with the traditional scenes and such.

Other than that, I always find it interesting to get a glimpse into someone’s head like this. I had not thought about the process like this, and with the addition of @Jbarker’s process I could see someone taking pieces of each for their own creation. And I always love it when someone uses a spreadsheet for their stories. It is so much more approachable to me than the fairy dust of other authors.

It also seems to me as though you would not easily lose sight of what’s going on in your visualisation; as long as you only tell one story.

*the word “Range” has no sequential order to it. How about Array, String, Lineup, Menu, Procession, Cycle, Course, Chain?

I know for me personally it was a challenge to think of every element as a scene unto itself, which is why I think I used the Z pattern for the creation of that particular script. Finding the conflict between the two diagonal elements and making that one scene echoed some of the same things I’d already read, and practiced to some extent, via McKee’s story. Dramatica and the Z pattern was more effective because it identifies those elements/values for you.

What I did differently and believe was described by perhaps Melanie somewhere was wrapping the conflicting elements around other ones of another sequence, making the event “bigger” and more dynamic. For instance, rather than just approaching the story as a sequence fulfilling the IC throughline, then the MC, OS, RS respectively (or however they may fall), I would parse together perhaps the MC and OS so that the Z patterns of both would result in a cause and effect between the diagonal, conflicting elements of both. I believe this was described as an advanced technique, but when I was creating the story and trying to weave the elements together, intertwining them made more sense with regards to how I wanted the story to play out.

The best thing is the process is always evolving based on things one learns so I’m sure whenever I get around to the next script, it will look much different - but for this particular project, outlining it vertically the way I did help me to organize all the elements, throughlines, etc., so that I could focus on the cause and effect between each.

I was thinking more along the lines of a spatial consideration, as in “home on the range” or county. That said I like your notion of thinking of something sequential…though I’m not connecting with your examples…any other ideas? It would be great to find an alternative for Sequence that isn’t Sequence!

I’m a bit confused about this. Is it the author’s own choice that dictates the pattern of the Scenes, or is it a pattern dictated by the Storyform like the Sequences in the PSR?

For example, I could swear Permission at the beginning of my OS Throughline goes either “Potentiality, Acceptance, Certainty, and Nonacceptance” or “Potentiality, Acceptance, Nonacceptance, and Certainty”. But is it my storytelling choice or did I intuitively arrange them in the “right” order?

As far as I know, he is only talking about the Sequences (Variation level), not the Element level. The “right” order of the Elements is not visible to us, but is technically calculated by the software.

It’s not even clear whether the Elements underneath the Variation are the right ones. I mean, who’s to say that a Permission Range would necessarily have Potentiality, Acceptance, Nonacceptance and Certainty Units? They might have Proaction, Reaction, Deduction and Induction Units, or something else entirely.

But the element level is so minute that you might as well rely on your intution.

Ah! But in the PSR, not all of the Sequences are in a Z pattern? Somehow, Dramatica seems to know perfectly where the pattern is different.

Yeah, I wondered if it could be that simple, since nothing Dramatica ever seems to be. If I understood right, the “scrambled” nature of all the pieces in every level reflects the indirect, “justified” look of the story problem – like a sort of Rubik’s Cube. So I guess this applies to the Elements too?

Hmmm… I’m starting to go back to my original conviction that digging any deeper than the PSR is a waste of time – especially if I end up confusing myself with the wrong ordering of the Elements.

I read your post more carefully and realized I hadn’t quite understood this – but I do now; and THIS, to me, seems like a more productive way of creating scenes at the moment – thinking of scenes in terms of the conflict between Dynamic Pairs.

Correct, they’re not all Z pattern - in some cases, it’s given as two sets of two that are diametrically opposed which ultimately means together they encompass one scene. If you haven’t already, you might want to check out Armando’s book Dramatica for Screenwriters; there are several sections on this that he goes into detail with that I found helpful.

That being said, I didn’t always follow the order the PSR gave them in. In my particular case, I had a lot of story points already worked out in my head and reversing the order made more sense to get the cause and effect I wanted. The important thing is that they’re all explored in some manner which results in the diagonals that can be viewed as revelations, twists, etc.

Shawn Coyne speaks to something quite similar in his Story Grid podcasts where scenes change as a result in a shift of values, like oppression --> freedom, following McKee’s idea of +/- charges at the beginning and end of scenes (though he goes into double negatives and positives and, as I mentioned elsewhere a couple of weeks ago, he views the “value” as being what’s at stake in the scene which may be a more approachable methodology with regards to understanding than merely exploring them.)