Storyforming from a Premise

I usually start with half-baked ideas, but I’m ready to accept that the software may change them. In order to accommodate the different perspectives of the throughlines and the conflict necessary for the story, I have to modify and I accept that the software takes me to the necessary places. So a lot of times what started as “the love story of the Samurai and the Royal Gardener” ends up as “burying bodies in the zen stone garden.”


Hey @Lakis, I have started several stories with far less than that.

Now the bad news: until you have something you want to say, I think a storyform is going to be kind of meaningless. Yes, you’ll have a storyform. But will you have anything that connects you passionately to the story? How can you write a story you don’t deeply care about?


That’s awesome!

I think that’s what I struggle with sometimes. Or more often, I realize I’ve chosen the wrong storyform.

I hear you Mike, and I agree. So how do you figure out what connects you passionately to the story? Does Dramatica help with that? Or do you have to write a draft first before you figure it out?

I guess to halfway answer my own question, you could take the half-baked ideas and try to find a Premise (Armando’s approach) or a Narrative Argument (@jhull 's) or something similar (I think Jim had some other exercises adapted from Chris Huntley? I’m not sure) and then create a storyform from that.

Is that a productive approach? Basically I’m looking for a shortcut to a better outline to work from … right now the process seems to take so long :confused:

Anyway thanks to you both for your replies!


I think the trick is to keep doing something until you find it. Armando’s method or Jim’s method will work if they work. Sometimes they do, because you end up getting grabbed by what you are saying. Sometimes it takes writing an entire draft or two or three or four (for example: my current project) before you finally find the thing you want to say. And in my case, it didn’t change the storyform. But now I can really write it.

I think the trick is to keep moving. Try a premise. Try a narrative argument. Try putting that person you are staring at on the subway into the role of the MC. (You don’t have an MC, btw.) Sitting at your desk trying to get some tool or another to work when it is not working is demoralizing. Try something else. You can always circle back.


Thanks Mike. This is good, honest advice. :slight_smile: Which I know already but always forget.


Imagine that a big Hollywood producer asks you to write a story about something you find boring (“the saga of how shoeshine was invented!”) or even something that you actually hate (“a story to justify why there’s nothing better than working in a cubicle”). Eventually, all writers learn to find passion in items that we initially thought we didn’t care about.

Dramatica is way less restricting than a Hollywood producer (or a London editor, if you want). You can twist and turn abstract concepts like “Desire” until you find something that really attracts you.


@ArmandoSaldanamora so how important is the specific storyform you choose? Of course I understand that using a single storyform to tell a complete story, and that there might be genre reasons for choosing Psychology for a psychological thriller. But other than that, if I have an idea (like the one above), does it really matter which specific storyform I choose to try to develop it? Or does it make more sense to choose a storyform without so much thought and then as you say, “twist and turn” the concepts until I connect with them?

From reading these boards I think a lot of us spend a ton of time thinking and rethinking which storyform is right for our ideas and I’m of two minds as to how useful that is (as opposed to just committing to one and focusing on the encoding).

When it comes to one’s own stories, I feel like there is a kind of “storyforming continuum”.

On one end of the scale is when you have a very strong story idea, developed enough that the throughlines are recognizable. In this case there probably already is a storyform* even if you don’t consciously know what it is, and your subconscious may resist you if you try to cram it into a different storyform. (I say may but I know mine would!) Generally what you want here is to find the storyform that represents the structure you’ve already got in mind. That storyform can still help you develop your idea further and write it, since even though your idea was complete enough to get down to one storyform, you may not have considered all the story points, and probably won’t grasp one or two of your throughlines as well as the others.

* or a small subset of storyform variations, e.g. the same basic storyform with different Outcome.

On the far other end is something like the Story Embroidery exercises, where you start with a storyform and make a story from that. (YouTube videos are available for some of the DUG Story Embroideries, or here’s an online example that we took pretty far: Story Assembly II)

In between would be things like your idea at the start of this thread, which might fit best in a certain OS Domain, and/or a certain Concern quadrant, but the rest may be wide open.


As I mentioned to Greg on the other thread, my current story (which you helped with) started closer to b) the story embroidery approach, but in development was pulled toward a) a different storyform that my subconscious wanted to tell.

So is that an inherently inefficient way to go about it? Will the story embroidery approach get easier and faster the more you do it and understand Dramatica? Or am I just the kind of writer who needs to follow the approach that assumes that there is already a subconscious storyform there?

I guess the answer (as always) is “know thy (writer) self”. And maybe know the project.

I’ve never tried that (other than the online exercise that we didn’t finish, and that was a group thing). But I don’t think it’s inherently inefficient if it helps you come up with ideas that lead you to a story you want to tell. Working with the building blocks of a complete story may help you get there faster, even if you end up deviating from the initial plan.

Sort of like you started with the instructions for a Town Lego Police Station, then halfway through building it your sister sticks a Chewbacca figure in the partially complete jail, and you suddenly realize you want to make it a Space Pirate Hideout-Base. It ends up as something else, but the Police Station helped you get there.


Actually I think this point is super important and might alleviate the fear/procrastination of writers (of whom I have been one) who can’t finish an outline without “getting the storyform right”.

1 Like

In my experience it’s more important how you handle the storyform than the items you chose.

I’ve written psych-thrillers with Psychology OS Domain, but also with Universe OS Domain or Activities OS Domain…

It’s some sort of a tug-of-war between finding the right storyform and telling it right. In the end (and after several drafts) you’ll find the right form and the right telling.

Sigh! Nothing however saves us writers from doing several drafts!


:slight_smile: Glad I’m not alone!

1 Like

Absolutely! That’s why I say you have to keep moving – eventually, you will find something.


@Lakis Armando makes the point I was coming here to make – you seem to think there is something linear about how you can write your story. I think progress happens over here, then over then, then back over here… it’s a feedback loop that settles in on the right idea and construct.

The advantage Dramatica provides is one of additional tools. When a story feels off, you can put your intuition aside and look at something objective. When that creates a seed, you can jump back to inspiration. It’s all very give and take.


I spent years and years believing that the way to write a story was just drafting and redrafting. Then I realized that structuring and outlining would help, and it did – a lot! But then I got into my current phase where I end up writing and rewriting my outlines. Dramatica was supposed to help with that – i.e. speed up the structure part. I would say I’m not quite there with that yet. Now the risk is that I just spend the time encoding and re-encoding the storyform.

I think I’m getting better at the jumping back and forth though.


This is for screenplays?

Novels. Does that make a difference?

I think it’s easier to pare movies down for outlines, but I could be biased towards what I do.

1 Like

It would be interesting to look at the differences between the two forms especially as relates to using Dramatica. I wonder if Dramatica might be even more important for novel writers because it’s so easy to get lost in substories or extraneous scenes that you love but don’t belong in the book.