Developing Stories, Part 4

Continued from Part 3

Well, I thought my journey had come full circle. By August 1 of this year (2012), I’d outlined about six book ideas I had lingering around using the Dramatica story development tool. What I discovered, also, is how thoroughly outlined a story is once I’ve run it through the Dramatica process.

Initially, I tried to take the Dramatica results and pin them into The Hero’s Journey template. I started with THJ on the very first book I’d planned after Scales of Justice, and it went from being a pretty solid story to a doggone good one, IMO. (My wife agrees, so pbbt!) But I found when I did the Dramatica process first, something happened.

I couldn’t make the Dramatica method “fit” into THJ template. I worked on it – and so did my beloved wife – for a long time. Weeks, actually. I struggled to find a way to cram the Dramatica elements into The Hero’s Journey segments so I could marry the two methods, my preferred way, and not have to choose between them.

I just couldn’t do it. They’re two completely different methods. And when held side-by-side with each other, I realized how much fuller the stories became when I used Dramatica. THJ, as much as I love it, is probably a tool best suited for the initial development of a raw idea, something to then feed through the Dramatica process I use, to fill it out and make it stronger.

Dramatica became my go-to development guide for working stories up. I still don’t have the signposts-to-sequences part done on any of them (except that first story, which I’m sure isn’t correct, but am intent on finding out), but I’ve become pretty facile with figuring out what the throughlines are going to be and how to find events in the story which represent each one (or, of course, coming up with them).

Just as I started to settle in and become comfortable with this method of story development, another one came my way.

In some ways, it’s even more intense. It defines similar concepts to Dramatica, with sequences made up of events composing the Acts, but it goes even farther to define each one of the events as broken into four steps, whatever they’re called (beats, maybe? I dunno yet; gimme time). Those four parts are – ready? – the inciting incident, a complication, a (further) complication, and the resolution.

The author forwarding this method also states if we make the overall story the four-part structure, and work with four sequences per act, and break the sequences down to four events each, and make each event have its four separate parts all of which are miniature versions of the level it comprises, and if we do so with an eye toward building in knowledge gaps between characters and audience, and if do so so each marker is conflict which causes a change in the emotional state of the protagonist – *whew!* – we’ll have a satisfying story which our audience will adore and remember.

But…what do all those things mean?

Well, I’m still figuring that out. I haven’t wrapped my head all the way around this one yet. What I do know is, the author is working on a Ph. D. in which he posits the theory that the most highly-rated movies (and stories in general, including novels) are those which are delivered with as much subtext as possible, with a focus on privilege knowledge gaps rather than revelation knowledge gaps.


Yeah.  More on that when I get it.


Developing Stories, Part 3

Continued from Part 2

Well, I had my eight plot elements from the Dramatica story theory in hand. Now I have to use those to develop a plot summary for my story. The summary is easy – just take the eight plot elements and create a one-paragraph summary of the events in your book. It’s a high-level sort of thing, like an elevator- or thirty-second pitch. Simple, once you have the plot elements.

Then, with the summary formed, I was ready to tackle creating the throughlines.

At first, I wasn’t sure this meant. But reading more of’s information gave me the insight to figure out, each of the four throughlines is broken into four major markers, or signposts. Those signposts are similar to the milestones of the four-part story map I’d been using.

Well…sort of.

My mistake came in trying to make the signposts of Dramatica analogous to the milestones. They serve similar functions, but aren’t the same thing. Not exactly. Turns out, however, the concept is just as easy. The first signpost for each throughline is an event which will take place in the first act. The second signpost for all four throughlines will take place in the second act. See how this works? Before long, you’ve got four events in each act.

Wow! I thought, this is fantastic! It’s even more granular than The Hero’s Journey!

Oh, but I wasn’t done yet. As I continued reading more about story development with Dramatica theory, I found those signposts should be translated into sequences, which are then broken into… wait, what?

What’s a sequence?

Sequences are sequences of events which make up chunks of a story. In my case, the sequences make up the Acts of the book. I have four sequences per each distinct section (or Act, if you allow for four of them instead of three, which is the model I use most), for a total of sixteen sequences throughout the book.

Those sequences are broken into four events each. An event is a block of story which comprises the scenes. So, in essence, I’ll have 64 scenes in my book (more or less, depending; I could have more than one event per scene, but they must be in the correct order regardless), which is pretty well standard (48 to 60 is what most writers will say for a novel or screenplay).

Dramatica, therefore, has provided me with a story map containing sixty-four (64) events along the way. Now, that’s a thorough map! How can I get lost that way?

But I wasn’t done yet. Not yet.