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Is That Mumbo? Or Jumbo?

Back in 2006, when SJ was coming to a close and I was looking at the whole writing thing, I invested in a copy of Dramatica Pro, a piece of software that hails itself as “the ultimate creative writing partner.” I banged around with it some then, with mixed results… and by “mixed” I mean “not very much in the way of useful.” I did write a lot of stuff– 1200 words detailing the childhood of a character who ended up being cut from the book for instance. Oops. But I didn’t get much actual story from it all, among other things because I kept getting hung up on all the jargon the program was throwing at me.

The software, you see, is based on the “dramatica theory” of storytelling, which is a slippery hodgepodge of narrative structure and pop psychology meant to appeal to the kind of writers who think The Hero of 1,000 Faces is the One True Book of Writing. [1] So to get the most use out of the software, you have to A) understand, and B) buy into the whole dramatica model, which treats characters as “types” and lays out all stories as an interplay of relationships between those types (and gives you the prescribed “right answer” for said relationships). It’s all very abstract, which it would kinda have to be as a unified field theory of plot, and at the same time comes off as a straitjacket. “If your protagonist is a Perceptive type, then the opposing concept is Fate.” That kind of thing.

…Meh.

As far as the actual plotting of the story goes, it seems to mostly be a modified snowflake method, starting with a one-sentence tag line, expanding to a one paragraph synopsis, and so on. However, I never actually got that far using Dramatica Pro because I always got bogged down in the character section, trying to shoehorn one character into the “Impact Character” role, another into the “Guardian” role, etc. Instead of just a relatively simple list of who the characters are and what they’re about, mapping the characters to the various types is supposed to show how they relate to each other later, guiding the story structure and blah blah blaaaahhh forget it.

There is a newer version of Dramatica Pro only for the Macintosh; since my new Mac lappy is my “writing machine,” I downloaded a demo to give a try last night, wondering if it might be more useful, or at least a little less of an uphill climb. Verdict: It’s a little more fun to play with just because it’s not stuck in 1999 in terms of user interface, but all the core problems are still there. Lots of jargon, little in the way of nuts-and-bolts story creation. Being able to give your impact character a clipart character avatar doesn’t make your impact character any less obscure a concept.

So for now at least, I’m sticking with the snowflake method. It worked pretty well for my NaNoWriMo novel, I just need to get better at thinking in terms of more “novel-length” stories.

-The Gneech

[1] For the record, The Hero of 1,000 Faces is a great book and has a lot of useful insight. But it’s a scholarly study of world mythology, you’re not supposed to use it as a paint-by-numbers formula for screenplays, everyone in Hollywood. ¬.¬

Originally published at gneech.com. You can comment here or there.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
lady_ravenlocke
Dec. 4th, 2013 07:08 pm (UTC)
If you're looking for a Mac-friendly writing suite that doesn't restrict you quite the way Dramatica Pro does, consider Scrivener? I'm a windows user, myself, and they just recently released it for windows and the program is fantastic! (and if NaNo holds true to the last year or two, NaNo winners usually get a coupon for the program as a winner goodie.
the_gneech
Dec. 4th, 2013 08:03 pm (UTC)
Scrivener looks kinda neat but it's not what I was looking for w/ Dramatica. I was trying to find something to help me w/plot structure in a very basic level, like figuring out who does what next. Scrivener appears to assume you have at least an outline (if only in your head).

I grabbed a copy of the Snowflake Method software this morning and I've been using it for a new project, it seems to be working well for me. Thanks for the recommendation, tho! :) I'll keep Scrivener in mind for the manuscript process.

-TG
houseboatonstyx
Dec. 4th, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC)
All those things are too structured for me. I keep reverting to Word 2003 View/Outline, where grows humongous sargasso and I can never find the scene about who did what to whom when. Especially with half a dozen parties of adventurers wandering around.

What seems to be helping at the moment, is a lot of small Word 2003 files named in series, visible in the system Folder list. Plus a Word file called "Scene List", arranged by when each incident will actually get shown in the story.

The key for me is grouping those small files not by POV character but by need for consistency. Like, everything that happens on the ship together, regardless of who did it or when.
kensterfox
Dec. 4th, 2013 09:56 pm (UTC)
I had a flirtation with Dramatica a few years ago, and I found it similarly incomprehensible, at least as far as character roles and plot moment labels and all that sort of thing. Glad it's not just because I'm thick. ^.^
the_gneech
Dec. 7th, 2013 02:40 pm (UTC)
It could just as easily be I'm thick, too! ;)

-TG
rowyn
Dec. 6th, 2013 01:22 am (UTC)
I should not judge this method by your description, but it sounds so awful I don't even want to browse the table of contents. c_c
chipotle
Dec. 7th, 2013 03:52 am (UTC)
I actually really like Dramatica Pro, but it took me a long time -- a long time -- to really feel like I understood it enough to make use of it. The unusual terminology doesn't help. I don't know that it's any better (or worse) than the snowflake method, but it's seemed to be working for me.

The notion of the impact character is actually really useful for story construction, though, or at least it has been for me (eventually!). Longer stories have an overall plot and a main character arc -- in the overall plot the driver is the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist, and in the main character arc the driver is the relationship between the protagonist and the impact character. The impact character usually seems to end up being a mentor or (potential) love interest, but could be anything else that makes sense.
the_gneech
Dec. 7th, 2013 02:39 pm (UTC)
The Snowflake Method isn't really anything that ground-breaking, it's just a nicely-organized way of moving from a one-line "elevator pitch" style description to a treatment, then a scene breakdown, etc. It doesn't have any prescription for character roles, thematic structure or anything of that sort, it's purely a "nuts-and-bolts of the manuscript" technique.

re: impact character, I just picked on that as a suitably jargoney term. ;) I don't doubt that Dramatica has a lot of utility and useful ideas, it just isn't really right for my work style. I'm glad it works for you, tho! :)

-TG
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