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Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story
Complex Motivation Characteristics
Rules for Building Characters?
The question now becomes, "Is there a definitive set of rules that govern how
characteristics may or may not be combined without violating the analogy of the Story
Mind?" Let's find out.
A Character Cannot Serve Two Masters
The first thing we notice when examining the Motivation Characters is that there is
never an instance where a Character contains both characteristics in a Dynamic
Pair. This makes common sense: "One cannot serve two masters." Essentially, how
can you be AGAINST something at the same time you are FOR it? So, our first rule of
combining characteristics is: Characters should never represent more than one
characteristic in a Dynamic Pair.
Can't Serve Two Masters at the Same Time....
Sounds good, but what if you want to create a Character who represents one view and then
the other. For example, if you had a one-woman show, you would need to combine ALL 16
Motivation characteristics into one person. This is accommodated by the difference between
a character and a player. In a one-woman show, even if it is a single story
argument, there might be a multitude of characters but only one player. The key to keeping
them separate is that the player changes from one character to another, never
simultaneously portraying more than one, such as by donning different apparel or adopting
a different voice.
In light of this additional information we add a second rule of thumb to our first: Players
should never represent more than one character at a time.
The Meaning of Objective Character Elements
In truth, there are many valid reasons for combining opposing characteristics in one
body. An example is Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. As Jekyll and Hyde, this
player has a split personality representing, in effect, two Characters in the same
Dramatica sees a player as a shopper filling a grocery sack full of characteristics. You
can select whatever you want, as long as you don't put in both Elements of a Dynamic Pair.
You can also carry as many bags as you can handle.
But wouldn't a fixed grouping of characteristics prevent a Character from growing? For the
answer, look back at what these characteristics really are. They are the problem-solving
processes within the Story Mind seen Objectively. They are Objective Characters.
Objectively, characters remain the same; it is Subjectively that they grow as
points of view change. In a sense, the Objective nature of characters describes their
innate disposition, in which no changes can be made. The Subjective nature of characters
describes their learned behavior, which is what can be evolve in the course of a story.
What does all this mean in a practical sense to us as Authors? First, Dramatica tells us
there are only 16 Motivations to spread among our players. If we use the same
characteristic twice, it clutters our story. If we neglect to employ one, there will be a
hole in our story's argument. Finally, we have a great deal of flexibility to create
unique and memorable characters while fulfilling all the requirements an audience will
look for in a Story Mind.
Complex Characters in
Gone With the Wind
Simply "Gone With The Wind"
As an exercise, let's take a look at how the Motivation characteristics are represented
and combined in some familiar well-written stories. Why don't we tackle something simple
like Gone With the Wind.
"Simple?" you say. In terms of thematics, Gone With the Wind is an
extremely rich and complex story. But in terms of the characters, GWTW is no
more complex than any of the other stories we have analyzed so far. Let's see how.
Scarlett and Rhett
A list of the most notable Characters might include: Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler,
Ashley Wilkes, Melanie Wilkes, Scarlett's sister Suellen, Frank Kennedy, Scarlett's father
Gerald O'Hara, and Prissy. Taking them one at a time, we can see the stuff they are made
Intuitively, we sense that Scarlett and Rhett are the two most important characters.
Looking at the 16 characteristics, Scarlett is clearly Pursue. She pursues Rhett, she
pursues Ashley, she pursues the tax money, she pursues a fortune. She is motivated to get
people to consider things they normally would not. Based on this analysis we will call
Scarlett PURSUE and CONSIDERATION.
Rhett, on the other hand, spends most of his time avoiding. He avoids getting involved in
the war, and by his contraband dealings he avoids financial hardship. He avoids Scarlett's
advances, avoids the firing squad, avoids paying her the tax money, and on and on.
Nonetheless, it is Rhett that continually urges Scarlett (and everyone else) to reconsider
their actions. So Rhett comes down as AVOID and RECONSIDERATION.
Comparing Scarlett to Rhett, each contains one action characteristic and one decision
characteristic. Solely in terms of Motivations, Scarlett and Rhett are Archetypal
Protagonist and Antagonist.
Melanie and Ashley
There is little to disguise Ashley's effect as TEMPTATION upon Scarlett. Just because
he never actively tempts her does not diminish his actual temptation value. And this is a
good point to file away for later: A character does not have to actively or even
consciously employ a characteristic to represent it.
Looking for Ashley's physical characteristic, although it is not strongly drawn, we
find him to be HINDER. Now since his physical self is designed to be the source of
Scarlett's temptation, Hinder has been down-played to make him more attractive.
Nevertheless, he repeatedly jeopardizes Scarlett's situation. Temptation and Hinder make
Ashley a Contagonist.
Melanie, in complement to Ashley, is CONSCIENCE and HELP. She continually tutors Scarlett
in the "correct" morality, simultaneously cleaning up the real world messes that
Scarlett leaves in her wake. Melanie is forever smoothing ruffled feathers and it is she
who handles the hiding of the Yankee renegade soldier that Scarlett shoots. Conscience and
Help make Melanie the Guardian.
It is interesting to note the Character pairings designed into this story. Scarlett
(Pursue and Consideration) is paired with Rhett (Avoid and Reconsideration). Ashley
(Temptation and Hinder) is paired with Melanie (Conscience and Help). Obviously, Margaret
Mitchell had an amazingly intuitive sense of where the dramatic potentials lie. (But then,
we knew that already, didn't we?) Let's see if this pattern continues.
Frank Kennedy, Suellen O'Hara, Gerald O'Hara, and Prissy
Scarlett's screaming sister Suellen plays nicely as FEELING and UNCONTROLLED, making
her the Emotion Character. Her choice of husband, Frank Kennedy (who is snatched by
Scarlett) is again, an opposite. Kennedy, by virtue of his steadfast business development
and religion of practicality defines LOGIC. And also by virtue of his steadfast business
development and resistance to diverging from his plans demonstrates that he represents
CONTROL (restraint). Kennedy fits nicely as the Reason Character, again, in a
complementary posture to his intended bride.
Finally, we reach a most telling pair. First, we perceive Scarlett's father Gerald O'Hara
has FAITH. He believes that a war will never happen, then believes the South will win.
Even when they have already lost he won't give up his faith. He goes into a fantasy world
rather than admit his faith is in error. On the flip side, he constantly OPPOSES
Scarlett's wishes. In the opening scene, Scarlett wants love but her father is pushing
real estate. After the fall, he keeps jumping in with inane comments about the way
Scarlett is handling the house. Consistently (albeit gently) he opposes her.
Prissy, on the other hand, has no faith at all. She is absolutely convinced that no matter
what the situation, the worst will happen. She is a DISBELIEVER pure and true. And yet,
she SUPPORTS Scarlett in every self-serving endeavor she instigates. As with other
characters we have examined, Mr. O'Hara and Prissy have swapped characteristics, this time
between the Skeptic and Sidekick. They are a complementary pair. This is a wonderful twist
from a thematic standpoint, pairing and swapping characteristics between a rich white
landholder and a poor black slave.
Complex Characters in
Principal Characters in Rear Window
If there is anything that can be seen as "typical" about a Hitchcock film it
would be his forefront use of thematics. Rear Window is no exception. As
with Gone With the Wind, the enjoyment of the story comes largely from what
happens between the lines. But unlike GWTW, the characters in Rear
Window are relatively complex.
At first glance, it may seem that there are quite a few characters, what with the
neighbors and all. There's the Composer, trying to sell his first hit song. There's Miss
Lonely Heart, who can't get a date. We see a lot of Miss Torso who exercises in front of
her open window. Upstairs is the Couple With the Dog, downstairs, the Sunbather. And, of
course, Thornton the murderer.
More prominent, of course, is Jeffries and the characters we see in his apartment: his
girlfriend Lisa; Doyle, the detective; and his Nurse. (It is important to note that
Thornton also shows up in Jeffries' apartment near the end of the story and is the only
neighbor to do so.)
The Top Five
The purpose of characters is to show how aspects of the Story Mind deal with a problem.
And this is what determines that the neighbors are not Objective Characters. Aside from
Thornton, they all have their own little stories, but only interact with each other
peripherally, if at all. Their private stories enhance the thematic atmosphere of the
overall story but neither advance nor clarify the plot.
If we eliminate all the neighbors who do not interact, we pare our list down to five
actual characters: Jeffries, Lisa, Doyle, Nurse, and Thornton. If Rear Window is
well written, we would expect all sixteen motivation Elements to be distributed among
these five. Let's see if they are.
Elements of the Top Five
Who represents FAITH? Unquestionably Jeffries. He maintains his belief that a murder
has been committed in the face of objections by each of the other characters. Lisa can't
talk him out of it and neither can his Nurse. Thornton denies it by his actions and Doyle
is not convinced until after the proof is irrefutable. In fact, Doyle personifies
DISBELIEF, even while HELPING Jeffries gain information to which he would not otherwise
have access. Lisa comes around to accepting the possibility and so does Nurse. Thornton
already knows the truth, but Doyle is never convinced until he sees the
proof with his own eyes.
In addition, Doyle relies on LOGIC to support his disbelief. He will not accept Jeffries'
contentions without logical arguments. Then is Jeffries FEELING? No. Jeffries does not
disregard Logic in his considerations; he merely can't supply it. Jeffries urges the
others to CONSIDER what he knows and what he suspects. Lisa, on the other hand,
continually acts on impulse without regard for logic, illustrating nicely the
characteristic of FEELING.
If Jeffries is CONSIDERATION, we would expect his nemesis, Thornton, to cause
RECONSIDERATION, and he does. Thornton's apparently guilt-free actions are a constant
force that urges Jeffries (and the others) to RECONSIDER. All we ever see of him is that
he acts methodically to carry out his plan, whatever that might be. It is his
methodical approach that makes Thornton the CONTROL Character as well. He wastes no time
or energy on anything but the task at hand, whereas Jeffries dabbles at whatever fills his
view, even when it interferes with his goal of getting the goods on Thornton. Jeffries
plainly illustrates the Element of being UNCONTROLLED.
Even though Lisa SUPPORTS Jeffries in his quest, she manages to HINDER his efforts through
distraction and re-direction of their conversations. She clearly TEMPTS him to give up
PURSUING this crazy scheme. In contrast, Jeffries' Nurse OPPOSES his efforts, even while
providing a moralistic philosophy or CONSCIENCE to his every comment. And, of course,
Thornton would prefer to AVOID the whole thing.
If we take a slightly different form, we can arrange the five Characters as column
headings and list their characteristics beneath them.
Rear Window Characters in the Motivation Set
Assigning the Character names of Rear Window to the Motivation
Characteristic Quads we get:
Using the grid above we can predict the principal conflicts of Rear Window
simply by noting which characters are in Dynamic (diagonal) positions and the issues
(Elements) over which each pair will diverge.
In summary, the set of sixteen Motivation Elements offers a valuable tool for
understanding some of the essential building blocks of Objective Characters and how they
can be distributed to create both Archetypal and Complex characters.
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Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
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Copyright 1996, Screenplay Systems, Inc.
The Dramatica theory was developed by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley
Chief Architect of the Dramatica software is Stephen
Dramatica is a registered trademark of Screenplay Systems Incorporated
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