October 10


S. Pettyway of Connecticut asks:

What’s the deal with that writing program “Dramatica Pro” and is it really worth it? Or Should an inspiring screenwriter such as myself stick with the old tools of the trade, my heart and mind.

After having played with many programs over many years, my feeling about software and technology in general is that the best thing it can do for you as a screenwriter is get out of your way. Screenplay formatting software (Final Draft and others) is terrific when it is not buggy because it just sits there and lets you write. Some outlining software is pretty good this way, too, but it does not seem to be much better than a legal pad or index cards.

Programs like Dramatica Pro seek to impose a particular story philosophy on you. In fact, that is their whole reason for being – to shape your ideas to fit their story philosophy and thereby make your task easier and make the result better. The problem is, part of being a writer is developing your own story philosophy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard to understand as many well thought out ideas about story as you can, but I find any software that tries to marshal me into its story structure and concepts quickly becomes extremely frustrating.

There is no shortcut.

You are the creator of the story; you are not merely a scribe filling in blanks. This is not a moral position, but a statement of fact. Filling in the blanks simply does not work. Ideas about story structure are all imperfect – mostly after the fact analysis (even the old Aristotle). That means you need to invent each story you write – struggle through the issues the same as every writer, even the best of them, reinvent your personal story philosophy as you go, and no software, no book, no video tape, no CD will ever give you the answer. You must find it for yourself.

With all that said, there may be some successful screenwriter somewhere who made a sale using some story crafting software, but I guarantee it wasn’t because of the software. If you enjoy tinkering with new software (I know I do) and have a couple hundred bucks to spare – go ahead and play with it. Play is good and it might inspire you to create something. But don’t spend your food money or your school money or your mortgage money on it. Writing software is just a toy.

Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.

Posted October 10, 2005 by TW in category "Resources


  1. By Stephen Benson on

    thank you for the advice. it mirrors what i was told by my (music not literary) agent. “get the content on to the page and then we’ll worry about the form.” (bob steele)

  2. By alan on

    write on a blank page – paper or electronic. um, let’s see–another way to put it – the paper should not tell the writer what to do

    okay, that’s all i got

  3. By Dave on

    This is not being a smartarse or anything….but isn’t coming up with your own original story the fun bit of writing a screenplay? The actual screenplay is the hard work, but letting your mind flow and swirl with the possibilities, twists, turns, and such, to me, is extremely enjoyable. Just my thought.

  4. By jmsullivan on

    I love the _idea_ of reducing the creative process from a huge tangled mess of crap against a plain white background to a series of very simple decisions. Cowboys or gangsters? Call the cops or take the money and run? Kill the bad guy or let him get away? Hey, look, a screenplay! That would be great.

    It would also be neat if pigeons pooped gumdrops and sex grew on trees…

    I try out pretty much all of these “build your story” programs – it’s a character flaw – and I’ve never found any of them helpful. They encapsulate stuff that I’m sure works for the person who designed the program. But Jon’s right, you can’t just buy that person’s experience on a CD and use it. You just have to hammer this stuff out for yourself.

    Dramatica I find particularly obnoxious. It’s as though it knows it’s going to frustrate you, and it’s setting you up for the “well, perhaps you’re just too backward to grasp the subtle brilliance of my methods” argument.

    Even outlining programs, like StoryView which I want so badly to love, end up gathering dust on my hard drive. Nothing works like a pad of paper or a treatment in Word.

  5. By Alan B on


    I find Dramatica extremely useful. Rather than a straightjacket, I find it liberating. What it does is put out a whole bunch of ideas that stimulate my imagination. How does _that_ relate to my story idea? It’s produced some very interesting things and some very strong themes in my work.

    I have to say, I think the “blank page” and “inspiration must be developed from within” methods are a myth. Creativity is the brain filling a gap between one idea and another. One has to have some ideas to begin with. Dramatica provides a wealth of them, in a structured form that will tend to produce a story with thematic depth.

    Anyway, I say buy Dramatica, work with it. It does take some dedication, but once you understand it, you’ll start seeing the underlying principles in every great piece of fiction.

  6. By Kari on

    I like Dramatica. It is very complicated because it asks you to go deep in analyzing your story idea. I have found it is worth the time for me. It helps me find and address weaknesses in my characters, plot and conflicts. I like to build the plan first, and then write the story. If you want to start with a blank page and write without any plan, you would hate it.

  7. By .odnamrA on

    Sorry, Mr. Deer, but this post is –contrary to other posts of yours– misinformed and misleading. You obviously hasn’t taken the time to carefully evaluate what Dramatica Pro has to offer and hasn’t seriously tried to use it to write a story (I wonder if you’ve actually used it beyond the non-operational online demo).

    Dramatica is not a “philosophy,” nor seeks to impose nothing on you. It’s simply a tool that works within very particular parameters.

    It’s not a shortcut –in fact, newbies find it extremely difficult to use– and it’s not a template where you “write by the numbers” –many produced/published authors (check them in the dramatica.com page) have used it and it hasn’t affected their personal styles in one iota.

    What it does allows you is to break your story in very tiny pieces and work with them independently in a more efficient way than a set of 5×8 cards. It also makes you consider perspectives that you may have overlooked (that doesn’t mean that it imposes you to use them). It also helps you in creating a quick structure for your story –which is great at the beginning of the writing process.

    What are the advantages of writing with Dramatica Pro against writing in a blank page? Using the piano-playing/writing analogy I’ve used in other parts of this blog, I’d say that it is like the advantages of playing a synth vs. playing a grand piano. Each can do things the others can’t. Some musicians can’t conceive of making music without electronic circuits while others can’t push a key on something that has an electric cord hanging out of it. Beautiful music (or pieces of crap) can come out of any of them.

    Is it worth the price (and lengthy learning process)? I don’t know. Check the above comments and you’ll see that some guys like and some don’t. Judge by yourself. Don’t rely on the opinion of a single person.

    Especially if that person hasn’t really used it.

  8. By TW (Post author) on

    Sorry, Mister odnamrA, but you are wrong. Not only does Dramatica seek to impose its story philosphy on the writer; that is its main selling point. This is directly from the Dramatica website:

    So, what exactly is Dramatica? Dramatica is a whole new theory of Story. Because it wasn’t based on any pre-existing theories, much of what it has to say can sound pretty unfamiliar. Still, the amazing part is that with each new concept you learn, whole new worlds of understanding and skill will open up to you.

    There are really only five central concepts that you’ll need to know to understand all that follows. Thankfully, they can be explained in less than one page each. They are:

    1. The Story Mind
    2. The Overall Story Throughline
    3. The Main Character Throughline
    4. The Impact Character Throughline
    5. The Main Character vs. Impact Character Throughline

    The Story Mind

    The one unique concept that sets Dramatica apart from all other theories is the concept that every complete story is a model of the mind’s problem solving process. To fully explore any issue, an author has to examine all possible solutions to that issue and make an argument to prove to an audience that the author’s way is best.

    And on and on the website goes, explaining the philosophy of Dramatica. In fact, the folks at Dramatica offer a whole book on their story philosophy – “Dramatica: A New Theory of Story” – and they refer you to blogs and other resources helping to promote and “de-mystify” their complicated story philosophy. Dramatica Pro software is designed specifically to take you through the Dramatica analysis and use its concepts to create your story. The software asks you to respond to pre-determined questions, all of which are based upon its theory of story (aka its philosophy), and then recommends pre-determined story structures, also part of its philosophy.

    Dramatica is not unique in this aspect. Competing software programs all have built in philosophies – that is what they are selling. Truby’s Blockbuster is based on his storytelling philosophy which, like Dramatica, is based largely upon Artistotle’s Poetics. Each of them attempts to make Aristotle’s often general ideas more specific and accessible for contemporary writers. Each of these software programs – including Dramatica Pro – is selling its own theory of storytelling, which it wants you to believe is better than the competitors.

    Burying your head in the sand and imagining that you are simply accessing creativity free of theory is probably less likely to serve you in the long run than working to understand the limits of any story philosophy – and any software that incorporates it, taking what works for you from various philosophies, and coming up with your own storytelling ideas.

    Nevertheless, if the Dramatica story philosophy works for you, as some people who responded to this post seem to suggest, great. By all means use it. But don’t do so ignorantly, imagining “Dramatica is not a ‘philosophy,’ nor seeks to impose nothing on you.” Everyone writes from a philosphy, either intentionally or blindly, and all story creation software implies a philosophy, usually intentionally. Some writers are very much in touch with the storytelling philosophies that drive their work (e.g. Aaron Sorkin, Gary Ross) and some are not. It’s easy to get lost if you’re not.

    (And, yes, being the geek that I am, I have worked with the actual Dramatica Pro program – not just the online tour. I based my comments on my experience.)

  9. By Joe on

    Dramatica is a SCAM better avoided. I fell for it a few years ago and all i found was that it’s just another ‘writing program’ scam like all of the rest. They basically take the 7 point plot structure everyone already knows, tell you to apply it to the four different character classes listed by someone else in the comments here to give you a total of 28 specific scenes that you then take and arrange into a specific order according to your story. BUT they packaged it all up in a confusing ‘theory’ that is just annoying as hell to try and use and after you DO learn to use it you realize that it’s not what it’s ever cracked up to be because it doesn’t even fit all stories as it proclaims. Hell, some of the examples they give in applying Dramatica to some stories are so obviously stretched just to force it to fit that story you find out why yourself when you fall for actually buying it then try to use it yourself. The fact is if you already know the 7 point plot structure just do yourself a favor and save your money and take that plot structure and a notepad then write it out for each character in your story and BAM!!! you have basically the same thing as Dramatica but you saved the money, LoL. And laugh at that all you want, bu i fell victim to buying Dramatica years ago and i learned that truth the hard (and expensive) way.

  10. By Jim on

    Joe, like most, hasn’t taken the time to really understand the theory behind Dramatica. In his commentary he reduces it down to a 7-point plot structure. Anyone who has studied Dramatica knows this to be a complete falsehood and an oversimplification. I have sold projects using the “philosophy” of Dramatica, but I think it’s because I’ve spent quite a bit of time really trying to appreciate all that it has to say about story.

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