Group characters, epigraphs, and Dramatica – a novel use

Dramatica was developed for screenwriters, and some of the features are much harder to implement in a script than they are in fiction, with its variable length and format. One of these is the concept I will call a ‘group character,’ and I will show how I implement a group character using epigraphs.

Most people consider a ‘character’ to be a single entity (say, a human, or HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey) which behaves in a more or less self-consistent way, and either stays the same or changes in a character arc as the story progresses.

Dramatica has a goal: to help create stories which are complete, meaning the argument put forth by the author has been examined from all applicable points of view, and the author has made his/her case for the conclusion presented. Dramatica calls this kind of story a Grand Argument Story (GAS). 

Players and Characters in Dramatica

A story in Dramatica is a Grand Argument Story if a fixed set of sixty-four characteristics in four categories (Motivation, Purpose, Means of Evaluation, and Methdology) is expressed in the story so as to argue the case.

Dramatica does characters differently, but this allows some wonderful variations on the usual idea of ‘character’ while still satisfying the goal of creating a Grand Argument Story.

First, Dramatica calls a CHARACTER a ‘set of characteristics,’ with the caveat that a CHARACTER cannot contain both characteristics in a Dynamic Pair: for example, a CHARACTER cannot be assigned both Motivation of Pursuit and Motivation of Avoidance.

Second, it defines PLAYERS. A single physical entity (HAL again, or the human called Susan) OR a group entity (all the aliens in a single hive mind) is called a PLAYER. And a PLAYER can never represent more than one CHARACTER at a TIME.

It seems needlessly confusing to separate a CHARACTER from a PLAYER. After all, most of the time we create a PLAYER (Susan) and assign her the CHARACTER (referred to by its role in the story to keep things straight) of MOTHER, which carries a bunch of characteristics (as long as they aren’t self-contradictory) such as Motivations of Consider and Pursuit, Purpose of Knowledge and Actuality, etc., and let Susan carry all these characteristics throughout the story, expressing them enough times for the story to be a GAS.

The flexibility allows much more interesting variations.

For example, suppose PLAYER Susan (the human) is to be Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde in our story (split personality). Then we assign her the CHARACTER which contains the characteristics chosen to represent Jekyll and the CHARACTER which represents Hyde – but NOT AT THE SAME TIME.

It needs to be clear which we are expressing in the story at any given time, but Jekyll and Hyde can have their characteristics expressed in the story, carried through from beginning to end, and accomplish our Grand Argument Story. They share Susan’s mind/body – taking turns. The interactions and what they mean stay clean and tidy, even when Susan is expressing one after the other in dialogue or internal monologue.

Another marvelous example is the HANDOFF: one player is assigned a CHARACTER (PLAYER Susan is the Mother) in Act 1. Then, in the beginning of Act 2, Susan dies. And the CHARACTER of The Mother is handed off to Susan’s sister Julie, who now serves the story in the role of The Mother – embodying and expressing the characteristics either by doing them similarly to what Susan would have done (they were sisters, after all), or oppositely (Julie tries to correct what she sees as Susan’s failures).

The CHARACTER continues, the characteristics are expressed in all three Acts, and the goal is satisfied: the story continues to be a GAS. A little work on the part of the writer to make it clear a handoff has occurred, and we are set.

Alternately, if a PLAYER dies, her CHARACTER can continue on by being represent in the story as thoughts in another PLAYERS mind (Daughter: Mother always said…), readings from MOTHER’s diary, dialogue… As long as the CHARACTER’s characteristics continue to be expressed in the story, the story is still a GAS.

Another interesting variation comes from creating a group.

Group characters – a rarity in film

Group characters in film are rare because of three main problems writing (encoding and exposing) a group character:

time limits – a film has to do a lot of explaining to represent something like an alien hive-mind

the actors portraying the group are individuals

even in a mob scene, crowds are usually background rather than characters

It is just too hard; it is easier to have a character who is one of the members of the hive mind; or a character represent one of the individuals in the crowd, or one of replaceable executives in a firm, or the guy who’s in the crowd striking for better compensation because his little girl is ill.

Films have 2-3 hours to get all this information into a viewer, and viewers to absorb it: so most characters in a film are individuals.

Group characters in novels – a possibility

Novels, however, thrive on the ability to put all kinds of alien (pun intended) ideas into a reader’s head – where the reader creates more distinct profiles for the more individual characters, and can easily lump the group into one based on a characteristic or two (all zombies with purple hair Pursue their prey before they Consume them).

Following our Dramatica terminology, we can have a bunch of PLAYERS (say, zombies) assigned the same CHARACTER (say, Antagonist or Bad Guy). As long as all the PLAYERS express the same characteristic, and this stays clear in the reader’s mind, it doesn’t matter which one of them does it at any given time: they are not individual CHARACTERS.

My choice has been to use two group characters (‘Bad Fans’ and ‘Good Fans’) in Pride’s Children in the OS (Overall Story). ‘Bad Fans,’ for example, have a Motivation of Disbelief (‘Disbelief is absolute confidence that something is not true,’ Dramatica, Special Tenth Anniversary Edition), which in my encoding means that if Andrew is quoted as having said something, one of this group will post on his website the most negative interpretation he can get away with short of libel: the Bad Fans cut Andrew no slack.

For the purpose of expressing the Motivation of Disbelief, it doesn’t matter which of the Bad Fans group members takes a crack at Andrew, and I can use the variety of PLAYERS to create an illusion of a whole cloud of negative critics (and play with writing style to individualize them a tiny bit), without letting things get out of balance in the story. (PLAYERS representing the same CHARACTER don’t interact, except possibly to reinforce each other as yes men.)

Expressing group characters in epigraphs

Instead of having random Bad Fans appear in interactions with the other characters during the course of the novel, I have chosen to express them mostly in the EPIGRAPHS at the beginnings of the chapters

An example from the beginning of Chapter 6 (Ward Blackwelle automatically disbelieves Andrew’s disclaimer):

…at the awards luncheon ANDREW O’CONNELL was spotted hitting on tablemate LISETTE BOUDREAU. In the market for a child bride? Despite her mature endowments, the actress is still shy of her sixteenth. Ever-vigilant Papa Boudreau interrupted the tryst-to-be, leaving Lisette wistful. O’Connell disingenuously claimed not to know she was a minor…

Archives, http://www.wardblackwelle.com

I don’t believe I’ve seen this kind of use (not that I’ve read everything out there), where a character is carried throughout a story mostly or only in the epigraphs – which makes the epigraphs not just decoration, but an integral part of the story I’m aiming to tell.

Would love to hear if you already use any of these concepts – and how you do it. Or other crazy ways to tweak Dramatica. Thoughts?

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