Saturday, June 16, 2012


It’s been a while since I’ve written about my writing. What have I been doing? Since March, I’ve been studying the DRAMATICA software and theory.

What is DRAMATICA? It’s what Hollywood screenwriters (and probably a whole lot of professional novelists) use to help them structure their stories. You tell DRAMATICA about the story you’re thinking about writing, or one you’ve already written (and is in need of ideas for revision), and it helps you hone in on theme, plot and character to end up with a perfectly structured story.

There are many ways to use DRAMATICA, but the Query System (see image below) is a great place to start. It asks you about 200 questions, which successively narrow your story, until it has created the perfect structure, or story form, for the story you want to tell. 

Then it offers suggestions about other story elements that fit, or complete, your story. DRAMATICA may not have a human brain, but it does generate copious reports that give the writer lots of food for thought. The reports are specific to your story form.

I especially like how it shows me which of my characters will conflict with each other, and why, depending on the dramatic function I’ve assigned to them.

When I first started using DRAMATICA, I felt cheated that I’d been a writer for many years, but hadn't heard about the software that I believe will revolutionize my writing. Seriously. No more groping around in the dark for months or years, trying to figure out my story. The flood lights have come on. The path is lit. 

DRAMATICA has been in existence for about 20 years, and is used in many university classes. My guess is that it’s used in all screenwriting classes. 

DRAMATICA is amazing. 

It also has a STOUT learning curve. Anyone can download the 350-page DRAMATICA THEORY book off the internet, which gives you the theory behind the software. I’ve read the book twice now and still do not understand it as thoroughly as I intend to. The book also includes about 60 pages of word definitions, many of which are particular to DRAMATICA and are essential to understand correctly, if you expect the software to be of any real value to you.

Since March, I have run several of my story ideas through the software and am beginning to understand it quite well. Last weekend, I completed my Story Form for the Inspirational Romance that I will begin to write in a week or two. I had first imagined the story last January, before buying DRAMATICA. I used the 90-Day Novel to help me get a handle on my characters, and to begin to flesh out the plot.

What DRAMATICA added to it is HUGE. 

I now know, which I would never have figure out myself, the thematic focus of each of the four essential story lines (throughlines) for a well-told story--MY PARTICULAR STORY--and what the characters will be concerned about at each of the Plot Points, which DRAMATICA calls Signposts and Journeys. It’s helped me understand how all of my characters will interact, and the potential conflicts they will cause. I wouldn't have thought about these things otherwise, or certainly not to the depth that DRAMATICA has suggested to me. 

To quote Glen C. Strathy, “Dramatica is undeniably a work of genius. Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley, who invented both the theory and the software, have made a totally original and monumental contribution to our understanding of how to write good stories. I fully believe Ph.D. students will one day be writing dissertations theses based on their work.”

I do not doubt that what Glen said is true. 

I also know that I intend for DRAMATICA to be my partner with every manuscript I write from here onward. I only wish I had discovered it much, much sooner. I'm almost certain I would've been published by now, if I'd had DRAMATICA to help guide my choices, and to understand what it takes to write a WELL TOLD STORY. 

This is one screen shot of the software, when you're in the Query System module:

Should you go out and buy DRAMATICA? If you're willing to put in the time (a LOT of time) to understand it, YES. If not, don't bother.

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