Thoughts on Some Difficulties in Using Dramatica


Using Dramatica, even if you understand it is difficult and Dramatica itself even explains why: It’s a transition through a bump. Thank you Jim, and Jassnip and everyone else, for showcasing different ways of making this transition.

I think I’ve noticed something interesting in the major set of questions that come about when working with Dramatica. And, I think that, on analysis, Dramatica itself may actually illustrate why a certain set of these questions often seems more difficult to answer than others.

First, there are questions with an eye toward understanding the concepts, usually dredged up from one’s time studying the theory. Next, there are questions about how to use the theory, generally sourced from a desire to produce a finished product. Finally, there a number of questions more about how to take one’s understanding and use it in the actual writing process. That is, how to transition from having “learned” the theory to using it in one’s writing.

The first set is quite clearly the dynamic between Understanding and Learning. The second set, which is the dynamic between Doing and Obtaining, is almost as clear. Either of these types of questions involves, per Dramatica parlance, a slide. That suggests a similarity that makes either type of question easy to answer.

That last set, though, to take one’s understanding and use it in the writing process, is different, and often seems to be the most difficult to answer. These questions can be seen as a transition from either Learning to Doing or from Understanding to Doing. In either case, the transition involves a bump, and I think that’s the reason there is more difficulty in answering such questions.

Even the layperson’s terminology for such questions, often has similar phrasing:

  • How do I get over that hurdle?
  • I just can’t make that leap…
  • etc.

Thus, I venture to suggest that the most difficult part of Dramatica is neither Learning, nor Understanding the theory. Don’t misread this; those pieces are difficult aspects, definitely. But, I think the most difficult part for Dramatica users is making that bumpy transition from Understanding (or Learning) to Doing.

Thus, I seriously appreciate seeing various processes of this transition. For example, @jassnip’s recent workshop post, or @jhull’s work with the Subtext video courses. Thank you, so much, everyone, for sharing your processes thereof. It really does help.


Ha! Great synthesis to many, many words of encouragement over the decades given to many, many writers new to Dramatica and stuck.


It’s been a few years now of getting back into it and only now do I feel like I’m really able to use the dramatica tool, specifically, setting up the story engine and getting it right --but also using it as a drafting tool, and not sweating having to try a few things. It’s supposed to be enjoyable and make things easier. If it’s making things harder, you’re not there yet.

I think I decided I don’t want to be a theorist. I just want to use it to write. And I can’t do both. Other’s may be able to. I can’t. Jim and Chris are better at it. Let them do it. I can take brilliant stabs at it, but I’m just as often wrong as right. Ultimately, I don’t live and breathe it the way they do, and I don’t want to. Best advice they have is use the tools, fiddle with them to get inspired and, at a certain point, kick it to the curb and write.

Besides, pretty clear to me that you don’t know much about Dramatica if you’re not actively writing, because you can’t only know it from the outside and have it mean a damned thing. You have to know it from the inside of the experience or there’s no way it will make any sense.

But, if you’re like me, you won’t believe me and you’ll learn things the haaard waaaay…


Damn, that’s well put. And why should we be surprised it follows the progression through a quad?

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Oh, I’ve had to myself. I think by now I’ve been exploring the theory since the early 2000’s. All of that is part of the reason I wrote this post.

Thanks, I guess. After seeing this I went back and checked what I did. It’s more a measure of the Physics quad while standing on Obtaining/Achieving. I guess, in essence, that does make it a full quad. Interesting insight!


measure vs progression. another interesting distinction I should have burned into my brain by now. good.

I am working with Dramatica since 2014. I can also confirm that it takes a while until you get satisfactory results for your own writing. But Learning and Understanding Dramatica is worth the effort and time for writing (Doing) and Getting Applause (Obtaining) later ;o).

After many misunderstandings and failed tries with the theory and the tool I realised it’s not perfection what counts. I don’t need every single element to be right from the beginning. What really matters is the process of Story Forming. The process supports to develop a very basic idea to something more: premise, acts, scenes, sequences, themes, conflicts, inequities …

The process supports me to discover my stories in a way I was never be able before.

Other methods and theories (STC, HJ, Syd Field, McKee…) are helpful as well but address only specific areas or only plot. However, I wonder if you could start with Dramatica without knowing any other writing theory.

What I also learned in the process learning Dramatica is that the process keeps changing. Maybe because Dramatica is about perspectives and as the understanding develops the perspectives on the process also changes.

One of my recent epiphany with Dramatica is: Gists are very powerful.

So for the time being, once I have a completed a storyform I try assigning Gists for most of the elements.

This step works like a reassessment of my initial thoughts.

If I can’t find powerful Gists for the elements I usually rework the storyform.

Typical questions in this process: Why is the OS actually Universe? Whay is everyone concerned with Security? Is it not Obligation?

If I have the Gists I combine it with some standard statements from the Dramatica software.

The printout with 70+ sentences about my story looks like:

  • Everyone is troubled by Being Stuck in a Foreign Country
  • My Main Characters concern and imbalance in his life can measured by Gaining Something
  • My Influence Character focus creates problems for Main Character by Doing Something That Has Negative Repercussions
  • The Relationship is affect by issues of Earning a Particular Group’s Confidence vs. Worry

Wow, that’s great stuff. And I go, ah that’s my story, I couldn’t tell it before, but somehow I felt it. This was tough, but now its time, now I can write what I thought I wanted to say …

Last remark: Might be happen that I have written a couple of pages, that I say: Nah, this is not Obligation, this is Interdiction … and I go back … but this is the process ;o)


Great note, saving this to my current story directory as a reminder.

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I think you absolutely could start knowing none of the theories you mentioned. I think you need an idea about how to write scenes, and I think an idea of how a story builds would help, but that’s all you’d need.



This is what happened with me! My brain rejected all the other theories, they literally made me feel sick to the stomach, so I couldn’t learn them. Until I found Dramatica, then I was able to see what was missing in those theories, so now I can understand them without feeling sick (because I know they’re not all-encompassing).


And that is the key, enjoying and having fun with using it. Everyone’s brain and perceptions are unique, and for sure that is part of the usage process. I have so much fun hearing (reading) how others experience it. It helps with my encoding and use, since the 90’s on an email list. I came up with an idea with the v.1.6 and now its percolating as a possible animate, leading me to wonder if I put a lot of simple tales together, could that create a storyform? etc. That might be a better step into its sci-fi short story series and/or novels. The intense fiction writing is still a reality, but I had to face the fact that I have to expose myself and that takes courage … and timing. It’s been a wonderful presence in my acting classes and performances, too. It’s given depth in understanding.

Did you know that Chris and Melanie worked in the industry, chitchatting together for years all the things they noticed about storytelling in human history past and present because they enjoyed talking about it and figuring things out about it? They started noticing patterns … haha. Producing stabs of brilliance is what it’s all about, imho. And coming in spurts seemed to be the norm. I had an art teacher who studied under a great artist tell me that it is normal for an artist to take breaks (time off) from ‘production’. He, also, told me to always repeat a color at least three times in a work, even though it be just a dab. Later in a writing class, I discovered that if I did not repeat something in a short story three times, the class audience did not catch it. That was a transition point for me. I was able to see all art processes followed some same pattern, We love patterns, don’t we? Dramatica users probably love them a lot!


Dramatica has so much, we get to pick stuff we’d like to emphasize based on individual taste.

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In the 90’s heydays of free airline travel-mile reward tickets, I went to a few weekend workshops at Screenplay Systems in Burbank. They were a fantastic way to absorb the theory into a comfortable tool. Also, we got to phone call ‘Richard’ and ask anything we wanted about the theory and how we were using it in current writing. Then he got hired by a producer and that service ended, and I missed that person to person interaction. So I contacted a writer I had met at the workshop, who was involved with industry writing and who enjoyed the analytical discussions, Sandy Stone.

I dug out some old short stories I had written in college classes (before Dramatica). I knew those stories inside and out! So with them and a first draft partial of a novel I was slogging through, I created a packet. I asked him if he could go over them and let me know what their storyforms, storypoints, character analyses, and etc. (you get the drift) were, just like we had gone over with the movies at the workshop. It was worth every penny spent for those analyses. I cannot describe my upbeat internal process connecting theory points and what I had done, as I read through his analyses. Amazing.

I remember one four-sentence paragraph about two characters’ activities where each sentence turned out to represent (cover) a point in a quad. (one sentence covered one square, then another to another, etc.). Now, that was just from my own brain’s writing without working ‘from dramatica’ purposely. I might have read the theory book before, but I never gave much thought. In fact the only consistent thought I had about Dramatica at that time was that I did not understand it, much. So later when I included it as a learning tool for analysis, Sandy’s breakdowns, writings and discussions with me showed me how much I did understand and gave me confidence. (and made Dramatica fun, again … haha)


This would be a good place to remind everyone of a great suggestion and/or caution given to us by Armando Saldanamora in another forum, years before the publication of his Dramatica for Screenwriters.

To paraphrase: Do not use a writing of yours that means a lot to you as the [initial?] tool to take apart and analyze, as a way to learn the Dramatica theory for writing. In fact, he then spontaneously created a fun short example using a vampire, I think, demonstrating ‘stuff’.


would love to see that.