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.


Who am I as a Writer? (And Who are You?)

A blogging friend alerted me to a 31-day scrapbooking challenge with Ali Edwards. I've always been a fan of Ali's, and have bought all of her books. The challenge is less about scrapbooking our memories via photos than it is about journaling. Each day over 31 days, we are given a single-word writing prompt. The challenge is to take a photo that represents the meaning of the word to us. But more than that, to do some serious journaling about what the word means to us. Well, as serious as you can be, considering you have space for about 400 words, max, for each prompt.

I began the challenge a week late, however after seeing the list of writing prompts, I realized I could do it at my own pace, without having to wait for her daily emails. Passionately energized by the idea, maybe a little obsessed, I completed the entire 31-Day scrapbook over Memorial Day weekend.

The challenge was a perfect solution for me. I had longed to get involved with a 365-Photo-a-Day challenge, and had indeed started one in April. But after two weeks, I saw how wonderful it would be to explore, but also that I didn't have time for a project THAT ENORMOUS.

The 31-Day challenge, which I completed in four days, was the perfect size. Why did I want to do it at all? I'm two months away from leaving one full time career, and lifestyle, before taking up another that will be as different to me as night and day. To go from a wildly social life to one that is more hermit-like. I wanted to explore my thoughts and feelings about leaving the old, as well as my hopes and fears about the new.

One of the one-word writing prompts was: YOU. Who am I?

Well, I am definitely not a professional photographer, but I am a serious student of color and of scrapbooking.

I am also a serious writer.
But as a writer, who am I?

Right now, I just don't know anymore. Being a librarian, I buy and later see all the YA books being released to the reading public. As well, I'm well aware of what's being sold, via agent reportage, via Publishers Marketplace. These are the books that will be released in about two years.

I'm not so hot on the current and future YA market, that is filled with, as everyone knows, vampires, shapeshifters, werewolves, paranormals. Every stripe of dystopia. Truly crazy-sounding, high-concept ideas that instead of intriguing me, make me want to say, "Oh, come on. Seriously?"

Though I am supposed to be revising a contemporary realistic Young Adult novel, I am more comfortable with the story lines of inspirational romance. I used to be such a snob about romance! But the market has truly changed and, obviously, so have I.

I've been reading a lot of Harlequin Love Inspired Historicals. I truly respect the genre. The quality of writing in pretty darned good. It's not literary, but it never pretended to be. There's a wide variety of time periods and settings, and each one delivers a terrific, sweet love story. There is also an aspect of faith, but it's not heavy-handed. And, the heroes and heroines are very realistic, flawed people. These are definitely not fairy tales, and I like that about them.

So my current writing conundrum is this: Who am I as a writer? Which manuscript should I be spending my still-limited writing time on? The YA manuscript that is in need of a bit of further revision? Or the Harlequin Inspired Historical novel that I began plotting last January, but haven't looked at since?

What road do I want to travel and eventually find myself on? I think I would much rather, God willing, find myself among the writers of Harlequin Love Inspired novels.

If you are a writer, do you ever wonder if you're writing in the genre where you truly belong? Or do you always feel completely comfortable, completely confident, with the type of story that you are writing?

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