Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Dramatica, Part Four

DramaticaTWELVE ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS TO ANSWER BEFORE YOU BEGIN A WRITING PROJECT. (Or as a reader, to help you have a deeper understanding of dynamics at work).

I am indebted to the Dramatica software and to The Dramatica Theory of Story as presented by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley.

They are not responsible for my understanding or lack thereof of such theory.  For the real deal, please go to:




So using Gatsby, what are the twelve essential questions with which we can begin to understand a novel’s structure?

The twelve questions are divided into three groups:

  •     Questions that deal with character dynamics.
  •     Questions that deal with plot dynamics.
  •     Questions that deal with theme dynamics.

In this blog entry, we’ll deal with the first two groups, and in our next entry, hopefully wrap up our discussion of Dramatica as a tool for writers.

Group One: Character Dynamics.

Question One: Main Character Resolve

At the end of the novel do we see our main character as having?

  • Changed or
  • Remained Steadfast

Nick Carraway changes.

Nick Carraway was raised to be tolerant of other’s moral shortcomings.  The events that occurred in the summer of ’22, however, gave him an aversion to the ways of the corrupt and dissolute, and his essential nature changed:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in mind ever since.  ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’  In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments… Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.  And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.”

Question Two:  Main Character Growth

Your Main Character Changes his nature by?

  • Losing a characteristic (Stop behaving in a certain way)
  • Adding a characteristic (Start behaving in a certain way)

Nick stop’s reserving judgment, as illustrated in his moral indictment of Tom and Daisy Buchanan:

“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified.  It was all very careless and confused.  They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made….”

Question Three:  Main Character Approach

Your Main Character prefers to work things out?

  • Externally as a Do-er.
  • Internally as a Be-er

Nick Carraway deals with personal issues internally — he prefers to adapt himself to his environment:

“I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires…

Question Four:  Main Character Problem-Solving Style:

What is Main Character’s problem solving style?

  • Linear
  • Holistic

Nick uses the problem solving technique of cause and effect (linear).

Group Two: Plot Dynamics

Question Five:  Overall Story Driver:

What drives the Overall Story forward?

  • Actions force decisions
  • Decisions force actions

Although in love with the young soldier, Gatsby, in his absence Daisy decides to marry Tom:

“And all the time something within her was crying for a decision.  She wanted her life shaped now, immediately-and the decision must be made by some force-of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality-that was close at hand.”

The Buchanans, Gatsby, Nick, and Jordan decide to go into town on the hottest day of the year, which results in confrontation and death:

“So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.”

Once he is disillusioned, Nick decides he can no longer live in the East:

After Gatsby’s death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eye’s power of correction.  So when the blue smoke of brittle leaves was in the air and the wind blew the wet laundry stiff on the line I decided to come back home.”

Question Six:  Overall Story Limit:

What kind of limit brings the novel to its climax?

  • A Timelock
  • An Optionlock

The objective characters have explored all possible avenues (options) for fulfilling basic drives and desires.

Question Seven:  Overall Story Outcome:

Your characters’ efforts to achieve the story goal end in?

  • Success
  • Failure

Nick and Jordan have a parting of the ways:

There was one thing to be done before I left, an awkward, unpleasant thing that perhaps had better have been let alone.  But I wanted to leave things in order and not just trust that obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away.  I saw Jordan Baker and talked over and around what had happened to us together, and what had happened afterward to me, and she lay perfectly still, listening, in a big chair….

For just a minute I wondered if I wasn’t making a mistake then I thought it all over again quickly and got up to say good-by.

‘Nevertheless you did throw me over,’ said Jordan suddenly.  ‘You threw me over on the telephone.  I don’t give a damn about you now, but it was a new experience for me, and I felt a little dizzy for a while.'”

Nick reflects on Gatsby’s failure to realize his dream of obtaining Daisy:

I went over and looked at that huge incoherent failure of a house once more…And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”

Once Wilson realizes Myrtle is having an affair, he attempts to hold onto her, which results in failure:

He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world…

‘I’ve got my wife locked in up there,’ explained Wilson calmly.  ‘She’s going to stay there till the day after to-morrow, and then we’re going to move away.’

…A moment later she rushed out into the dusk, waving her hands and shouting — before he could move from his door the business was over.

…Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust.”

Question Eight:  Main Character Judgment:

The Main Character’s personal resolution is shown to be?

  • Good
  • Bad

Nick realizes it’s important to have a certain amount of cynicism when interacting with human beings:

When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby was exempt from my reaction — Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.

No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it was what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

We’ll deal with Thematic Questions in the next post.

Also, two notes:

I’ll be migrating my website to WordPress soon, to provide more consistency, style, and to facilitate updating.

Also news on my novel: The Consecration of Jacob Jordaens. The cover has been chosen, and two novelists have graciously written great reviews, which will appear on the back cover.  Soon, I should be able to announce the novel’s availability.


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