Dec 04 2013

Is That Mumbo? Or Jumbo?

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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.


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. ¬.¬

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