What precisely is a "solid story form"?

Let’s say you were given a stack of ten story forms. You had to select the solid story forms from that stack. You did not have access to the Dramatica software. How would you go about identifying which of the story forms were solid?

Every storyform is inherently “solid”.

It’s usually the work that brings up questions of solidity.

When you encounter the term “solid storyform”, it usually means there is enough present within the narrative to form a coherent argument. The more storypoints within the narrative that reflect a single storyform, the more obvious the point-of-view being presented. Although, I’m sure there’s a point where too much becomes too much and it becomes a bit mechanical.

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If you didn’t have Dramatica with you, how would you go about determining whether there was enough present within the narrative to form a coherent argument?

Sometimes my wife (not a Dramatica person) will read or watch something and immediately say “that writer just didn’t know what he (or she) wanted to say.”

Maybe the best way might be to look at examples of “complete” and “incomplete” stories that you’ve seen to watch them and compare your reaction without trying to analyze. @jhull used to mark incomplete stories on his website (but not anymore?).

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I’d like to do a double blind test just to see the results. Get a long list of movies. Have somebody who is an expert with Dramatica figure out which of these stories are complete and which ones aren’t. Then get a bunch of people who know little of Dramatica identify, independently, each movie as complete or not. Figure out the percentage of viewers in the second group who identify the movie as complete or not and check those percentages against what the expert said.

Jim’s test is to look at Rotten Tomatoes. Usually (but not always) films that get high ratings have complete stories, and ones that have very low rankings are broken.


Asking people who know little of Dramatica to identify a story as complete would be tricky, because how would you define complete to them?

But if you’re willing to substitute “great” for “complete” for the non-Dramatica-savvy, then part of your experiment has already been done. Compare the Rotten Tomatoes rating of films that are considered complete stories on Narrative First or the Dramatica site.

However, there aren’t that many “validated as incomplete” films because it’s not something the Dramatica community has focused on; it’s sort of boring to analyse a film if it doesn’t at least seem complete. (Not to mention having to sit through it.)


Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, Tangled, Jurassic Park, Frozen. Are they complete? Why or why not?

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I like that test a lot. But, the story form has to be completed by somebody who does not, yet, know the Rotten Tomatoes rating.
That would keep people from subconsciously treating a movie differently because of its rating when it comes time to draft the story form.

I hope I’m not coming across as impolite or rude here, if I am then I sincerely apologize. This is just how my brain works. I’m always analyzing and always deconstructing. I mean no offense. I used to work on the cybersecurity team for the US Department of Defense satellite communications backbone. I used to tear things down to their basic bits and screws and processes and put them back together again. Its just something I’ve always done, even as a young boy.

…Huh. As I was thinking about it, I realized I could explain my “sniff test” in a manner similar to the Bechdel Test. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a “feminist test” to see if there are female characters with personal qualities:

There must be at least two female characters…
who talk to each other…
about something other than men. (Addendum: other than stereotypically “female” things.)

So we can do the same thing for Dramatica! I’ll call it the… “Power Test?” :laughing:

There must be at least two subjective characters–a Main Character and an Influence Character…
who have a cross-influential relationship with each other…
about personal issues besides the Overall Throughline.

This, I feel, is one of the most important aspects of Dramatica Theory, and also the most likely to be overlooked by non-Dramatica-influenced writers. If you have a single main character, or a broad party of mains with no influential heart, you’ll get a slightly more shaky plot–all popcorn thrills, but no real depth. (Sadly, I think even my beloved Worm would fall into this second category.)

I can probably suss out some other, more situational ones, such as trying to make the Main Character and Influence Character both “change,” trying to contort a Linear/Holistic thinker into the opposite problem-solving style, or trying to wring a happy tone out a story that’s clearly gunning for Success-Bad. But those won’t apply to every story. Once I’d located a Relationship Throughline, though, my next instinct would be to start looking for Theme-Counterpoints, maybe see if they’ve established a Problem versus a Symptom/Focus. But those would rely on knowledge of the Dramatica Chart (which, handily, I have memorized).


When I was new to Dramatica I had many similar thoughts – cool experiments that could be devised to “prove” its accuracy. (I also work with computers, and have a Physics degree.) Part of me still thinks those could be kind of cool … but …

… once you understand Dramatica, it’s like you just learned math for the first time, and you see that kind of test would be like verifying whether 1+1=2. Useful, but almost painfully obvious. That’s probably why it hasn’t been pursued yet.

On the other hand, I’ve seen several much more advanced experiments prove fruitful:

  • Checking whether one can analyse and get the same exact storyform as the experts (Dramatica site, users group, Narrative First), without knowing a thing about the storyform. I’ve managed to do this several times. To me, this proves a lot – you only have a 1 in 32,768 chance of getting it by chance.

  • When watching the film Collateral, there was a scene that seemed to very clearly show a Variation quad coming from IC’s influence, so I wrote down the quad (Delay/Choice/Preconception/Openness) and the time – a bit after halfway. At that time I did not know the storyform. Afterwards, I found the storyform, checked the PSR and found that quad was indeed in IC Signpost 3! See: Collateral: PSR Quad validation!

  • I think Jim Hull has seen elementary school kids to correctly identify the domains (and concerns?) of some films, on their own.

Not that these were controlled enough to be published in scientific journals or anything… It would cool to be set up proper experiments, but most people who are into Dramatica are more interested in publishing fiction!

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Yes, kids don’t need to prove anything so they find Domains without the weight of preconceptions holding them down.

This might not be what you’re asking, based on subsequent questions, but just in case:

I have an extensive knowledge to the point where I have the entire model practically memorized (when giving blood, I superimpose it on tile ceilings to keep myself from passing out) and I know all the relationships to the point where I don’t need the application except for Plot Progressions–

–and even that is becoming second nature just because of the sheer amount of work I do with Dramatica day in and day out. In fact, about 30 minutes into watching Three Billboards this weekend I could recognize Signposts and Plot Progressions and I could start predicting what was going to come next.

Well, not the specific storytelling, but I knew what Element was up next and it was really crazy how it followed along exactly with a Dramatica storyform.

Sometimes, I get so caught up in the storytelling that I completely miss the storyform all together. This happened with The Shape of Water, I didn’t feel there was a storyform there, reason being (and this is likely what you meant by your original question) there is a sense of emotional fulfillment and logical completeness to the work in question.

It more often than not gets nominated for Best Screenplay or Best Picture, wins several awards for the writing, and has a higher Rotten Tomatoes scoring.

I was so distracted by the un-storyform notion of two cleaning ladies having access to highly classified top-secret assets that I found myself distracted from really listening to what the film had to say.

In addition, I was interrupted halfway through which is always a bad thing.

After it won Best Picture, I went back to see what I missed and within 15 minutes the storyform was super obvious that I’m not sure how I missed it the first time. Again, storytelling and reception can sometimes screw up hearing the message.

Dramatica essentially explains why a story is great and why it stands the test of time. Other theories/paradigms can find similar “beats” or sequences that fit their paradigm but completely ignore the fact that the film is saying nothing.

I once gave a class at CalArts where I went through the Hero’s Journey for the original disaster The Room and showed how you could likely attach swords and elixirs to Tommy Wisseau’s masterpiece.

You wouldn’t be able to find a complete storyform for it.

Rotten Tomatoes is a good barometer. For instance:

  • Lady Bird 99% - complete storyform

  • Get Out 99% - complete storyform

  • Coco 97% - complete storyform

  • Call Me By Your Name 95% - complete storyform

  • The Shape of Water 92% - complete storyform

  • Dunkirk 93% - incomplete storyform (no awards for writing)

  • The Post 88% - haven’t seen it (don’t want to, one nomination for Screenplay from the Central Ohio Film Critics Association)

  • Darkest Hour 86% - incomplete storyform (no awards for writing)

There are outliers - The Florida Project has a 95% rating and has an incomplete storyform, but no nominations for writing–it’s all the acting. There is a chance I incorrectly marked this as Incomplete (and yes, I do mark all analyses on my site as either Complete or Incomplete), as with distance from my first viewing and a better understanding of the final scene, I think there may be a storyform in there.

I would say a better barometer would be some mixture of the rating and the potential awards for writing.


So basically, Jim is never in this situation. He always has Dramatica with him. :slight_smile:


A post was split to a new topic: The Shape of Water Analysis

I did this with my 6 and 9 year old after a movie. They got to the Issues level before it got to hard to ask them questions.

I see this as a common cul de sac people get into. The answer is… it doesn’t matter. Nobody watches a movie to appreciate the storyform.

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The claim, as I understand it, is that people DO watch movies to appreciate the story form. They just don’t know that they are doing it. It is why movies with complete story forms are considered better movies more favored by the average viewer as well as the critic.

But they don’t watch for the storyform. I mean, who eats ice cream for the saturated fats?

I suspect that where you and I are disagreeing is the significance of subconscious motivations.
I eat ice cream because it tastes good. It tastes good because of the saturated fats and sugars. I guarantee you that you do as well. Try to enjoy a bowl of ice cream in which the saturated fats and sugars have been removed. You won’t. Because the saturated fats and sugars are why you like to eat ice cream.

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