Phillips & Huntley - Dramatica

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

If the structure of concern is ubiquitous, one would expect far more than 100 or so examples of it to turn up in any given study. If the structure of concern shapes us as organisms and shapes our brains, personalities and behavior, one would expect to see evidence of it absolutely everywhere one looked. We do. They are called “stories”, and according to one theory of story and dramatic structure known as Dramatica (see also Storymind), stories can be intensively and extensively analyzed using concern structure concepts. Stories are pervasive examples of the structure of human concerns, exploring all four time-energy horizons of a situation which presents a conflict or a dilemma to be solved.

Dramatica is not currently studied widely in academic circles. It is a theory of story used by professional screenwriters, novelists and other story writers. The theory is an independent construct, but the Dramatica theory book is most often purchased along with a software writing aid that helps authors structure and elaborate their work with reference to that theory. Dramatica is thus a professional tool, and it has not had much uptake outside of professional circles.

The authors of Dramatica, Melanie Ann Philips and Chris Huntley, describe Dramatica as a complete theory describing a particular class of stories: Grand Argument Stories. These stories explore a thematic argument in a manner that is exhaustive or complete. This describes most storytelling,
but it specifically excludes certain kinds of experimental writing, and other writing traditions in which the conventions of the Grand Argument Story are suspended or violated in certain ways. However, most storytelling conforms to the Grand Argument model, or subsets of that model (Phillips & Huntley,

Philips and Huntley represent stories as models of the human mind. More specifically, they are models of the activity of the human mind as it struggles to resolve an inequity, anomaly or breach of some kind. They describe a scenario where one of our prehistoric ancestors encounters a bear
on the trail. This is an unstable confrontation. Something has to give. Our ancestor has two basic options: either she can change or the world can stay fixed, or the world can change and she can stay fixed. The core categories are self and world, stasis and change (as also examined by Strickland, 1989).

Another way to explore this drama of confrontation is to consider the difference between primary and secondary control. If our ancestor exerts primary control, the she forces the world to change, i.e. she can drive off the bear. If she exerts secondary control, she can change the situation by
changing herself, and run away. Whichever way she sets her mind, she has to manage her internal reactions and her external actions. She may also try to influence the internal reactions and external actions of the bear (e.g. by playing dead). If she manages all of these horizons of activity in a successful manner, and she returns to her band’s campsite intact, her bandmates will want to know what choices she made and why, as well as what the challenges and outcomes were in making these choices. They will want to learn about and enhance the controllability of events (Girotto & Rizzo, 1991). Tales impart knowledge about the concern structure of challenging events, and thus
impart survival value, much as other forms of social learning do (Steadman & Palmer, 1997; Sugiyama, 2001a; 2001b).

In the scenario of the confrontation with a bear, the outlines of the four Classes of story problems in the Dramatica Story Mind (four problem domains) can be discerned (internal/external, static/dynamic). These are:

P – Physics (Activity): Changing-External – Problem created by an action or activity.

A – Universe (Situation): Fixed-External – Problems with fixed/constant constraints, a state of affairs.

E – Mind (Fixed Attitude): Fixed-Internal – Problems with fixed/rigid thoughts, prejudices, attitudes, ways of seeing things.

I – Psychology (Manipulation): Changing-Internal – Problems created by a manner of thinking, manipulation of/from others, deepening emotional problems, etc.

The PAEI element listed before each Dramatica element indicates which style of thinking is best suited to match the various classes of problems. Following these elements, we have the four terms Physics, Universe, Mind and Psychology. These terms are the original terms for the Dramatica Classes, published with the early editions of the theory and software. The user base of professional writers provided the feedback that these four terms seemed abstract and far removed from the rest of the professional discourse among writers, and so some revised terminology was included in later versions of the software and theory. These revised terms are included in brackets alongside the original terms. Descriptions are then offered for each item.

The Dramatica model is nested and recursive. Within each Class of this concern structure model, there are four Types describing the types of problems one can have in that Class. Below the Types there is a layer of Variations, four for each Type, sixteen for each Class. Drilling down one more level brings us to the level of Elements, sixty-four for each Class.

Basically, at every level, each one of the four items at that level is broken down into four more items. This is the nested aspect of the model. The model is recursive because if you want to analyze a dramatic feature below the level of sixty-four elements, you do so using the four original classes again.


This exposition gives a rough and simplified sense of how the Dramatica theory of story structure represents story Themes. In addition to Theme, the theory of story structure also describes models of Character, Plot and Genre. Dramatica also encompasses other theories besides the theory of
structure, such as theories of storytelling, story-weaving (the art of exposition) and story reception. The overall model is very rich, and in some ways it defies summary, given how involving and how unique it is as a framework for understanding and writing stories. It can best be approached through primary resources, available online from various outlets endorsed by the co-creators of the model. I have summarized Dramatica briefly here in order to introduce it as a major model of narrative and story, putatively based on some very basic categories of human problem solving, that exhibits the structure of concern throughout its various theories, and that also serves as a uniquely productive example of how the recursive nesting of concern structure constructs can be used to model complex events in the world.

Although this exposition of Dramatica is incomplete, it suggests that a richer understanding of event structure is possible – one that might help us understand much more about the human need and capacity for stories. It should be emphasized that this theory of dramatic structure models event structure itself, not just literate stories. It could easily describe the action of a silent film, for example, or a mime routine. It also describes the structure of attention one must maintain in order to process a dramatized event. One must be properly oriented to the high-level thematic domains, as scenes and sequences unfold to complete the dramatic argument or assessment of the enacted situation.

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