Review: Dramatica Pro 2.0
Published By: Screenplay Systems
Retail Price: $299
So, you want to write the Great American Novel? Screenplay? Grocery List? There are over 32,000 Storyforms in the naked city, one of them can be yours. As always, I followed my established routine for reviewing software. First, I opened the box.
Installation proceeded smoothly. A key disk limits the number of installs. Therefore, make sure you do an uninstall before you do any maintainance to your hard drive, such as reformatting or optimizing.
I fired up Dramatica and was greeted with the Dramatica desktop:
Although I pride myself on my ability to learn things quickly, I actually needed to read the User's Manual to understand what I had gotten myself into. And the Theory Book. And The Story Guide. And The Story Book. Ok, I even attended a nine week course taught by one of the co-creators. Words I never thought I'd use, especially in the same sentence, are "steep" and "learning curve." This is one piece of software that you can't use straight out of the box. However, the results are worth it.
Now, this being my first time, you'd think I'd start with the Story Guide Pro option, however, I was feeling rather good about myself, having been taught by an expert. So, I clicked on the Query System Box and was greeted with this:
Here's my definition of the word "story." A story is what happens to characters you care about (this is where Dramatica excels, more on that later). For now, I picked the character-driven approach and "Storyforming." Telling your story and forming your story are two different things. The heart of the Dramatica theory is that your story is the unique solution to the problem that you've set forward to solve when you begin to write. This is called a Grand Argument Story (Dramatica deals with this exclusively). This is not to say that there aren't other types of stories, it's just that all the ones I've encountered fit this theory quite nicely.
To get to one unique storyform, out of the possible 32,768 mentioned earlier, there are twelve essential questions that you must answer. Some are easy, others are hard. The hardest I had to come to grips with was choosing a "Mental Sex." Your character can either be a Male or Female Mental Sex, irregardless of their actual gender. I had problems with this because my tough-as-nails, hard-boiled private investigator is better off as a Female Mental Sex character. Why? Because Dramatica defines Male Mental Sex as solving problems linearly, while Female Mental Sex looks at the holistic, or relational view of a problem.
Having arrived at a single storyform, I had the option of printing a four-page report. This, in addition to my earlier Xeroxing of the 88 page workbook, allowed me to proceed to the next step. Here's where the fun begins. A cursory glance at the report revealed that I'd answered one of the twelve essential questions incorrectly. So, I went back and fixed it, which wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I had to "unanswer" a few questions to get back to the answer I needed to change, then re-answer the unanswered questions. This process didn't take long. I reprinted the report and moved on.
There are four Domains under which your story takes place. In addition to the Objective Story and Main Character Domains, with which you're probably all familiar, there's the Subjective Story and Obstacle Character Domains. These allow for a broader interpretation of your story. They also involve many fill in questions, as opposed to the bullet and menu choices I was making throughout the twelve steps. The goal here is to more fully define the Main and Obstacle Characters, and how they relate to your story.
To create a character in Dramatica, go to the "Character" section. After fiddling for awhile, I came up with this:
Dramatica presupposes that there are eight character archetypes: Protagonist, Antagonist, Sidekick, Skeptic, Emotion, Reason, Guardian, or Contagonist. They relate to each other in various ways. Now, you can change the relationships between them and even combine archetypes into complex characters!!! It's my belief that the best movies have one thing in common: Simple Stories & Complex Characters. OK, that's two things, but you get the idea. After creating individual characters, you can go to the "Build Characters" area and create the relationships between them. The possibilities are virtually endless. A feature I particularly liked was being able to put faces to the characters. Dramatica provides several PICT files, or you can import your own.
From the Story Guide: "Plot encoding creates a framework for the events that will take place in your story. Part of this framework consists of Story Points such as Goal and Requirements. The other part establishes a Timeline that indicates events that will be happening as your story progresses."
Now, as I'm sure you're aware, a story has a beginning, middle, and end. This is where we get our modern 3-Act structure, which dates back to before the time of Aristotle. Dramatica, however, proposes the 4-Act structure, as each Class has four Types in the level just below the class. Therefore, each act will explore one of these types in each of the various throughlines. The order in which the Types are explored determines the Progressive meaning of that throughline's evolution. (OK, I'll admit it. I stole that description from the class syllabus.) While these two theories may seem in conflict, they actually complement each other. The software refers to these as Signposts, and Journeys. You have four signposts, which relate to the types mentioned above. To get from one to the next, you take a journey. Starting at Signpost #1, and ending and #4, gives you three journeys, or acts. Similar, yet different. Plot encoding entails making these choices for the four throughlines. At this point, Dramatica invited me to print the Story Guide Plot Progression Report.
"StoryWeaving" is how Dramatica describes putting all the Signposts and Journeys in the proper order to tell your story. Now, you could simply shuffle the 28 "scenes " [(4 Signposts + 3 Journeys) * 4 Throughlines in mathmatical format] and come up with "Pulp Fiction." Not having not seen the film, but simply having read the screenplay, I'm probably the only person who just doesn't get it. In fact, I think this is the film that proves the rule that Dramatica sets forth. All the Journey #1's and Signpost #1's, must come before the #2's, the #2's before the #3's, and so on, until you reach the fourth signpost for the four throughlines.
The goal of this software, is to get you to a place where you can write your high concept story. To accomplish this objective, Dramatica provides 48 different reports (everything from The Twelve Essential Questions Report to The Kitchen Sink Report, really). Now, all this output may seem undaunting to the first time user. However, to fully enjoy Dramatica, you don't necessarily want or need to print them all. You can import them into a word processor and tweak them, if you'd like. Dramatica even comes with it's own glossary of terms (words that you've known for years have slightly different meanings here). I like the importing feature for that reason. I was able to reform the various reports in "my own image."
The fine folks at Screenplay Systems have an excellent tech support line, in case you have a simple question like, "How do I change one of my answers to the Twelve Essential Questions?" They also have a website! (Doesn't everybody?) Find it at: http://www.dramatica.com. Check out their really cool online comic book while you're there, too.
A lot of people would steer you away from this type of software by saying you can come up with your own ideas. This may be true. As for me, Dramatica functions better at the rewrite level. Others will want to follow the steps I outlined above. As you become more familiar with the program, you'll want to explore various aspects of the software that I've touched on only briefly here and develop your own unique style. Dramatica is not meant to be the place where you write your story. It's meant as a tool to help you know your story better before you write. By the way, Dramatica is also available in a Windows version for the "PC-afflicted" among our readers. Admittedly, it took me four months of working with Dramatica to get to a place where I'd feel comfortable writing a review that you'll read in two minutes or less. But if writing was easy, anybody could do it. So, Dramatica Pro 2.0 isn't for everyone. Just for those of us that want to write compelling stories.