Universe Physics Mind Psychology

Comedy (Humor)

Situation Comedy

Physical Comedy

Comedy of Manners

Comedy of Errors


Objective Story

t*iaift Character

Subjective Story

Obstacle Character

Suppose we wanted to write a Comedy with the Objective Story Domain of Universe and the Main Character Domain of Physics. We could assign all of the Domains to the grid in the Comedy mode of expression like above.

If we are good storytellers, all four throughlines would have a consistently humorous (comedic) feel to them. The Objective Story would be a situation comedy; the Main Character would be a physically goofy or funny person(e.g. Stanley Ipkiss in The Mask); the Obstacle Character might be someone who is constantly being mistaken for someone else or mistaking the Main Character for someone else; the Subjective Story relationship between the Main and Obstacle Characters would be conflicting over silly or exaggerated differences of opinion.

Though a story like this covers all of the storyforming bases, its single mode of expression lacks the emotional depth that comes from variety. This monotone form of storytelling is fine (and often preferable) for some forms of storytelling. Many audiences, however, prefer to have greater variety of expression in their stories. As it stands, this example story lacks any educational intent (Information), any sense of seriousness (Drama), and any pure diversions (Entertainment).

How does one diversify? Assign each Domain to a different mode of expression.

A story of such a completely mixed arrangement has no single, overriding feel to it. What it gives up in consistency, however, it gains in variety.

The Objective Story (Universe/Entertainment) would be set in some unique or viscerally intriguing setting (perhaps a Western, the distant future, or the dark side of the moon) in which something is amiss. In this setting we find our Main Character (Physics/Comedy), perhaps clumsy (e.g. Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther), or overly active like Ace Ventura. Providing a nice contrast to the humorous nature of the Main Character are the serious impact of Obstacle Character's manipulations (Psychology/Drama). Finally, we add the Subjective Story relationship (Mind/Information) as it describes how the Main and Obstacle Characters' fixed attitudes conflict over "what it all means."

This is the heart of Dramatica's approach to Genre. At its most basic level it is a choice between four modes of expression. At its most exciting and elegant, it concerns the sophisticated relationship and dynamics that are created when the four modes of expression, the four structural Classes, and the four Domains are brought together. The Class/modes of expressions grid allows authors to select Domains using their feelings and intuition. By carefully setting these Dramatica relationships in a story, you can create a powerful Genre experience for your audience with exactly the impact you intended.

Finally, there is a greater depth to Dramatica theory that offers more information about what is really going on in Genre. It may be more than you really need to consider for your style of writing and the kinds of stories you create. If you'd like to explore this final aspect of The Elements of Structure, read on.

The Class/modes of expression table we have been using makes it appear as if a throughline must remain in one mode for the duration of a story. In fact, this is only the Static Appreciation of Genre. In actual practice, the Genre of a story develops as the story unfolds, so that it may appear to be simply a Drama as it begins, by the time it is over it will have defined exactly what kind of Drama it is.

In this respect, beginning as one among a broadly identifiable group of stories and ending up where no other story has gone before, each and every story develops its own unique Genre by the time it is over. The manner by which this happens pertains to the Progressive Appreciation of Genre, which we will now explore.

First of all, once a throughline is assigned to a Class, thereby creating a Domain, that particular combination will remain for the duration of the story. Therefore, when we examine how the Mode/Class table is laid out, we can see that each Domain will fall in a vertical column and stay there. The Progressive nature of Genre is seen when each Domain slides up and down its particular column so that during the story it may touch on all four modes of expression. The fact that each Domain is always in its same Class gives them consistency; the ability to shift modes of expression gives them versatility.

Just as with Progressive Plot appreciations there are limits to how a Domain can move from one mode to another. Like the Acts in Plot, Domains must move through modes of expression in a particular order. The rule of thumb is that a Domain cannot skip over a mode (according to the order used in the table) but must go through each mode of expression in between to get to the desired one.

The reason for this limitation is that neither the human mind nor the Story Mind can shift mental gears from, say, first gear to third gear without going through second gear. Modes of expression are largely emotional concerns, and as such, the human mind must be allowed to experience the transition from one emotional state to the next if it is to feel natural.

A good example of the awkwardness that results from ignoring this rule of thumb can be found in the motion picture, Hudson Hawke, starring Bruce Willis. The filmmakers made a valiant effort to break convention and have a serious heist thriller jumbled up with comedy and even song and dance numbers in the middle of a robbery! This might have worked, had the audience been taken through the intermediate modes. Alas, such was not the case and therefore the story simply came out jumbled and impossible to get a grip on emotionally.

It should be noted that sometimes in the process of storytelling an author will want to shock an audience. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including breaking structure or skipping the transitional modes of expression. These kinds of techniques are fully explored in the Storyweaving section of The Art of Storytelling. For now, our discussion is limited to what a consistent progression of Genre would be.

If you have closely examined the table, you may have wondered if the mode at the top (Information) could ever connect to the mode at the bottom (Entertainment) without having to go through both Drama and Comedy first. The answer to this question is, "Yes."

If you were to clip the Class/modes of expression table out of this book (not recommended!) you could bend it around from top to bottom to make a cylinder. When presented in this form, it can be seen that Information is actually right next to Entertainment. So, during the course of a story, a single Domain might shift up or down or all around, as long as it stays within its Class column.

Taken together, all four Domains could shift from scene to scene into different relative positions, not unlike a combination lock, making the story all comedic at one time, serio-comic at another, and so on. By the end of the story, the progressive shift of Domains provides the combination for the unique Genre of a story.

Film Making

Film Making

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