Last week, I tested a word processer for writers called Scrivener. This week, I took a program called Dramatica Pro for a test drive. Like Scrivener, Dramatica Pro purports to be a writer’s dream tool. Whereas Scrivener strives to create the ideal environment for writing, Dramatica Pro aims to help writers create more powerful stories. Dramatica was originally developed for screenwriters, but is now used by novelists, playwrights, and other creative types.
According to the Write Brothers website, Dramatica Pro is the only story development software to receive a four star review from Writer’s Digest magazine.
But can a computer program really help you build a better story?
This week, I decided to find out.
Let’s Play 20 Questions—Or 250!
Dramatica’s main feature is its StoryGuide system—basically, a really long questionnaire that walks you through the novel-outlining process. You can choose to answer sixty, seventy-five, or two hundred and fifty questions depending on your patience level. Each time you answer a question, Dramatica narrows down its bank of “storyforms” until you arrive at a single outline for your story.
The creators of Dramatica analyzed hundreds of famous books and movies in order to come up with their bank of “storyforms,” and as you click through the questionnaire you can read dozens of examples of the plot, character, and theme questions you’re being asked about.
For the sake of thoroughness, I decided to do the two hundred and fifty question version. I poured myself a big cup of tea, rolled up my sleeves, and got ready for what I thought would be a fun little brainstorm about my story idea.
I soon discovered that the StoryGuide process isn’t something to take lightly at all. Every question had me thinking for several minutes. I thought I knew what my story was going to be about, but Dramatica helped me realize that I really hadn’t thought some areas through at all.
Here are a few sample questions from the StoryGuide (and my flustered reactions).
From the Character section:
Your main character prefers to work things out:
-Externally as a Do-er
-Internally as a Be-er
(I don’t know! I haven’t gotten that far yet!)
From the Plot section:
What type of Limit will bring your story to its climax?
(I didn’t know I had to have either!)
From the Theme section:
The common area of Concern shared by the characters in your story is:
-How Things are Changing
(What does it even mean for a character to be concerned with “obtaining?”)
As you can see, developing a story with Dramatica Pro isn’t exactly a no-brainer—at least, not if you’re a total beginner. To use Dramatica effectively, there’s a lot of lingo and a lot of new concepts to grasp, and wading through the definitions, explanations, and examples can take hours.
An Education in Story Structure—If You Have the Patience
If you have the patience to play with Dramatica for a long time and read through its (hefty) instructional materials, your reward will be an education in advanced story structure, character building, and theme.
If you’re a writer who normally flies by the seat of your pants, only to be confronted by plot or character holes later on, Dramatica can help you lay a more solid foundation for your novel. If you’ve ever struggled to come up with a universal theme for your story, Dramatica makes it nearly impossible to proceed without one.
Dramatica is also an antidote to writer’s block. Stuck on a character? Playing with Dramatica for a while can give you insight into your character’s personality and motivations. Stuck on a plot point? Dramatica’s questions can get your brain moving again.
At $269.95, Dramatica Pro is priced for screenwriting professionals and other writers who will use it in their everyday work. After using it for a week, I wouldn’t recommend it for the casual weekend novelist. But if you’re serious about learning powerful techniques for structure and theme, Dramatica might be the tool for you.
You can download free trial of Dramatica Pro here.