Weekend Notes
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Dramatica: The Strangeness, Charm, & Spin of Character

I've been exploring the creativity tool and writing program Dramatica. I am working on something, trying to organize and take stock of a large amount of material, and it seemed to me that it would be useful to play with something that would make me focus on plot, since I am taking an assemblage of notes on stuff that really happened and trying to convert them into a smooth narrative that didn't happen. And I didn't want to get snagged on the real story at the expense of the fictional one.

I had expected that Dramatica would be a program designed from a perspective different from my own, but, wow, I had no idea how different it would be. Think of the Scott Meredith plot outline married to the idea that all literature is character-driven; think deep affection for really trashy movies; think terminology so abstract as to make descriptions of the fundamental particles like quarks sound colloquial, homey, down-to-Earth; such terminology deployed in the service of a theory of pulp psychology. And combine this with the faith that these elements can be combined into a Grand Unified Field Theory of Story; throwing out old techniques like motif indexes and replacing them with abstraction; co-opting old words like genre and archetype into entities that can be given numerical values that a computer can understand. The hubris of the enterprise is astonishing.

What the creators of this strange program really seem to want is AI technology. But lacking that, they have tried to hack their way around this absence, creating abstract ways of talking about how characters interact that a less that fully sentient computer can manipulate. The software tries to literalize the notion that literature is character-driven, give the computer an algebra of character that can be solved for plot, or at least story structure. (Or you can work from the other direction, starting with your "story form" -- one of exactly 32,768, no more, no less -- and solving for character.) I am being a little simplistic in my description. So let me assure you that what goes on in this program is much much more complicated than what I have described.

Nonetheless, I will continue to enter information into the program's various screens, since it is extracting from me information about the project that's in my head but is not yet written down. The various directions the program seems to want to take me do not seem to me where I want to go, and I am having difficulty parsing many of they questions it asks, but I'm trying not to let that distract me. Ten years ago or so, in the right context I might have tried to design something along the lines of a program like this, except using my own notions of the dynamics of fiction; as I enter information, I'm trying to recapture for myself how mine might have worked had I had the opportunity to take my thoughts further. But I don't think I would ever have gone so far as to try to define the equivalent of strangeness, charm, and spin for character. And yet I can see its necessity for the realization of their vision. Dramatica also provides an interesting perspective on the models an AI might use to evaluate how people behave and anticipate further actions.

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