For writers who are plotters, the answer to What Goes Where may be Dramatica

[ETA 11/27/15: Want to see if you like the results of plotting with Dramatica for structure? Pride’s Children: Purgatory, Book One of the trilogy represented by the whole storyform,  is now available at Amazon – see sidebar.]

Kate Paulk, over at MadGeniusClub, postulates the question today, What goes where? She is a pantser (writes ‘by the seat of her pants’), but wants to know, “So, plotters, where the heck is the secret decoder ring to doing this at a conscious level? This pantser would really like to know.”

MY answer depends on how willing you are to have scaffolding in place when you write, and how much you know about what must go into each scene before you try to figure out who does/says/thinks what when.

If it drives you nuts to have everything decided ahead of time and you want to just go with your instincts – ‘there should be a scene in there somewhere where A tells B about C while they are dancing’ – ie, you’re a true pantser, don’t try Dramatica.

If you find it freeing to have a basic structure set up so that when you come to write/revise a scene you don’t have to worry that you will forget to connect X to Y, because that’s already decided, and now you just have to deal with the scene that brings up X – you can at least consider Dramatica.

‘Outlining’ would give me the heebie-jeebies, because it doesn’t help decide what goes where to tell the full story – it’s just a boring way to tell the story before you write the fun parts. My hat is off to those who can keep enthusiasm for a story outline after outline.

Dramatica, once you get past the steep learning curve, asks you so many questions you think your head will explode, but when you’ve worked your way through, leaves you with an internal structure that is self-consistent – and remarkably free of plot holes. Your characters, as you assign which of the Dramatica characteristics go to each, become fully rounded humans – because each reason a character has to do something also defines the character’s actions.

Dramatica was designed for screenwriters, to tell a complete story as efficiently as possible, because screenplays have very limited real estate: so many pages and so many minutes of screentime. Period.

There is a theory of mind buried in the software, and it is in the realm of the mystical. I find it gut satisfying to struggle with the odd terminology and concepts, because the very oddness makes the questions 1) open-ended (no forcing a plot into a rigid pattern), and 2) finite: once I’m happy with it, a piece just ‘fits.’ In other words, it is the ultimate brainstorming tool.

If you do try structuring with Dramatica, the book Dramatica for Screenwriters, by Armando Saldaña Mora, is priceless because he shows you HOW to take all those odd questions and turn them into a sequential plot.

You don’t end up with a cookie-cutter plot – that would just kill the writing. What you end up with is a plot that feels complete. All your instinctive choices end up with a home – and you can go write it a scene at a time without worrying that you’ve left something out.

My short story, Princeton’s Dancing Child (published as The Dancing Child in the anthology Crime Scene: New Jersey), was written with Dramatica (see free short stories tab). It ended up at 6500 words, give or take a few, to fit everything in (all those questions). To write a short story, you do a smaller structure, developing a layer of the Dramatica file instead of the whole structure.

For my WIP, Pride’s Children (being serialized on Tuesdays – see its own tab), the Dramatica file is completely filled out, and every puzzle piece (they’re called ‘appreciations’) is illustrated (‘encoded’) in the plot at least the recommended number of times (some apps are encoded once per Act, others once in the whole story).

Like a floor plan, the List of Scenes I’ve created in my Dramatica file has a place for everything. Like a floor plan, this ensures everything necessary is present and accounted for BEFORE building a complex structure on top.

The actual writing, ah, well – that’s up to you.

But if you have a structure for ‘What goes where?’ in your scene (and work as a whole), you also have a checklist and the benefit of knowing that everything has a place.

As a side benefit, for someone working with CFS brain, the structure means that I can just concentrate on writing a scene, and I don’t have to worry how it will fit into the book – I already know it will. I discard plenty of words, but I don’t have to discard whole sub-plots and characters. It is quite freeing.

Thanks to Kate for the question, What goes where?

Have you used Dramatica to structure?

My Scene Template includes a place for the Dramatica appreciations as part of the ‘stuff’ that goes into each scene.


9 thoughts on “For writers who are plotters, the answer to What Goes Where may be Dramatica

  1. Catana

    Neither a pantser or a plotter be. I hate outlines, but I can’t see myself working with something like Dramatica either. My method, if I can even call it a method, has been evolving since I started writing fiction. My novels “accumulate.” Just thought of that, so thanks for the impetus to think about it. Each one starts a year or more (sometimes several years) before I begin to write. Scrivener fills up with notes and questions until I have something that’s beginning to look like I might create a structure from it. That’s the primary reason I love Scrivener — I can shuffle stuff around until bits match up, settle into some kind of order, and form a cohesive whole. Organic growth from chaos, I suppose.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      You used the word ‘accretion’ on your blog. I liked that – sort of how the corals grow: grab whatever comes by and see if it fits in somewhere. Whatever works for you – and produces the kind of fiction you want to write.

      Amazing how many different ways there are to write.

      Mine is slow, and may even be slowing me down, but bolsters up some of my deficiencies – so that’s what I do. I think it also permits me to do much more complex plotting than otherwise, and I need that.

      And Scrivener makes it all work so easily – you don’t lose anything, and it’s all searchable.


  2. Jim

    What a great article! Sound advice for those interested in making all the pieces connect. I linked to you on the front page of the Dramatica site. Thanks for sharing!


    1. ABE Post author

      I guess you must use Dramatica, too – what kind of things do you write?

      What I like is that the Dramatica questions make you think – but they don’t provide answers.

      I forgot to mention that, should you be lucky enough to get involved in a screenplay, your Dramatica file will be a great starting place.

      Thanks for the link!


  3. Circe

    This might be helpful! A “pantser” in writing & life, and a non- linear thinker, this dissertation business is making me crazy. I wrote almost nothing for a month while trying to outline. It may have helped–I now have nicer headings & subheadings–but mostly, I write down interesting ideas & respond to theory & go into the “so what?” of Swedish pulgrimage every time I write.
    What method did you use for your dissertation? Dramatica?


    1. ABE Post author

      Dramatica for a dissertation in Nuclear Engineering? Hmmm. Nope – don’t even know if it existed back then – and writing was something that I hoped would happen – in retirement.

      And Dramatica is for FICTION…

      Dissertations are the last major speedbump on the road out of school. In comparison to that, defense of thesis (if required) is a piece of cake. Scary cake, but cake.

      I think that I need a semblance of order in my fiction, even if it is an illusion. You still have to write the story, structure or no structure. 🙂

      I do find that I look for structure – and have been able to help several people finish papers by looking for the structure that was there already in their words, organizing their own material, and pointing out the sections that still needed work. After that, both people finished their papers successfully.



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