Comments on Dramatica Theory

Many of you have had to hear my ramblings on Dramatica and some even thought, Yeah, I get it, but for those that don’t understand the concept, I would like to do a series to explain Dramatica and how I use it in my manuscripts.  I cannot explain how I apply Dramatica, the art of storytelling, archetypal characters and story types without explaining first, just what Dramatica Theory really is.

Dramatica, like most theories on the structure of story telling, provides the writer with a series of tools and methods for creating a fully qualified story with strong dramatic impact.  Aristotle pointed out in his book Poetics the general structure of stories:

  1. To create a story, it must have a definite beginning, middle and ending.  You can’t leave the reader hanging without resolving the conflict, you can’t dump them into the story without developing that conflict and you can’t just write the start and end without connecting the two.
  2. Plot is a series of incidents wherein one event is the cause for the next.
  3. The plot outlines a change in the life of the protagonist.

Got that?  Easy enough huh?  The problem with early theories is that they are too general.  As writers, we don’t want too much formula, but not having enough can lead to the most dreaded of all writing problems . . . Writers Block!  With only the knowledge that you are supposed to have a beginning, a middle and an end, it is quite easy to get lost in the middle somewhere, wondering where your story is going.

Thus were born the formulae of writing.  Many theories focus on simple patterns beginning with genre and ending up with archetypal stories.  As a writer, you will find the shelves filled with such stories at your local bookstore. Pick up a science fiction, romance or mystery novel and you will find plot-oriented stories that follow a very rigid structure.  For example, among the so-called “Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction”:

  1. Plot comes first and the characters’ actions are retrofitted to it.
  2. Make the story fit the crime.
  3. Watsons are discouraged.
  4. For dramatic reasons, there should be some emotion and drama, but foremost it is a detective novel.

More rules were outlined by Howard Haycraft in 1968 (a renewal of the reader’s guide published in 1941).

These formulatic stories are fine for many readers and there is a place for them on the shelves of bookstores, but I myself, cannot read a novel written were I can predict the entire plot structure based only on a few lines.  Ergo, Dramatica Theory.

Dramatica provides a theory with enough structure so that the writer doesn’t have to “go it alone”, but not so much that drama and creativity are stifled to fit a mold.  It provides a release from “Writer’s Block” by giving the writer enough guidance to get through the rough patches, but enough “wiggle room” to break down barriers and create stories that will take the reader on a journey they have not yet experienced.

My manuscript, The Seraphim Protocol, is a science fiction/horror story; two genres that are well known for being very formulatic.  But in this case, the story is character-oriented meaning the plot exists for the development of the characters.  My characters drive the plot, not vice-versa.  The setting, the horrific events . . . all there to provide the evidence for the Grand Argument of the story.  Even in my upcoming short story Line Jumping, the plot is due to the characters and is there to answer the Grand Argument.

And having summarized why I chose to use Dramatica Theory as my method of writing, next time I will explain the Grand Argument and its place in storytelling.

My sources:

The Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction –

The Best Approach to Story Structure –

Phillips, Melanie Anne and Huntley, Chris. (2001)  Dramatica: A New Theory of Story. Fourth Edition.  Burbank: Screenplay Systems Inc.


About Webgoji

I am a member of the Kansas Writers Association and Wichita Writers Guild. I have successfully completed National Novel Writing Month and have completed 3 different novels. My first novel "The Fay Dragon Chronicles" unfortunately wasn't published, but I am currently trying to get my second book "The Seraphim Protocol" published. View all posts by Webgoji

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