Dramatica Pro, The Ultimate Writer’s Companion, by Michelle Alexandria

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and came away scratching your head, thinking “that screenplay sucked. I could have written something better.” Come on, be honest, of course you have. You have ideas, I have ideas – hell we all have ideas. Story ideas are a dime a dozen, what separates writers from wannabes is the ability to actually sit down and create a fully realized, three-dimensional tale, that is so riveting that the reader can’t put it down until the words “The End” appear.

You think that these writers must be genius’ to be able weave such tales: that the hands of god have cosmically touched these writers. Well if you thought that, you would be wrong. The dirty little secret in Hollywood is that a large chunk of today’s hot screenwriters use a fascinating piece of software called “”Dramatica Pro.””

“Dramatica Pro” is a software package that its developers, Screenplay Systems, Inc. call “The Ultimate Writer’s Companion.” This software package steps you through the entire process of outlining a story. It does this by handholding you through the entire process of brainstorming your story. The Dramatica Query System (DQS) presents you with numerous questions relating to your story. You have several different ways you can proceed, you can either use the system’s quick start query engine which will help you create your story outline by asking you 12 “Essential” questions about your plot, characters, and story points – if you go through this short little guide you will be well on your way to creating your first story in less than a day.

Most writing tools would just stop there, but Dramatica goes to extremes with it’s full blown “story form” path. If you select this option be ready to really think about your story. The full DQS will ask you well over 400 questions related to your story, characters, themes. Going through this process will let you outline your story and think about every conceivable variation or potential plot dynamic.If you run into the dreaded 2nd act problem, there’s a unique feature called “spin the wheel” which will randomly shuffle some of your earlier responses. So for instance if you originally wanted your main character to be the silent stoic type who remains rigid throughout the story, the system will randomly change some of your choices, which may unlock new possibilities for you. As you go through your story, you can print out a hundred different reports for your story. Including complete psychological profiles of your characters, one-page treatments, and more.

This is the part where I have to tell you that Dramatica is more than a simple software package, it’s a whole new way of thinking about the actual process of creating a story. It takes you beyond the simple three-act structure, and delves into new themes and new ways of thinking about how to create fully realized three-dimensional characters. The Dramatica story process is broken out into five separate areas: The Story Mind, The Objective Storyline, The Main Character Storyline, The Obstacle Character, and The Subjective Storyline.

To help understand and guide you through this new system of writing, Dramatica Pro comes with outlines to over 100 films, including “Star Wars,” “The God Father,” “Rebel Without A Cause,” and more. So if you find you are stuck at certain questions, the program gives you detailed explanations, definitions and links to examples. For instance, if you don’t know what the system means when it asks you “is the outcome your story a success or a failure,” you click on the definitions tab and it’ll give you a clear definition of what it’s looking for after reading that, you can click the story example tab and you will get 10 examples, i.e. “the Rebel Alliance destroys the death star at the end of the movie.”

Once Dramatica Pro is done prompting, nudging, and guiding you through this extensive and overly detailed process your story outline is complete and ready to go. When you are done, you can view all your reports and output it into it’s companion product Screenwriter 2000 which is yet another writing tool, that allows writers to type industry standard Screenplays without worrying about the proper script format.

Dramatica Pro is an example of a program that works too well. It is a pretty addictive program, but at the end of the day, you still have to go out and physically write your script or novel. At certain points doing all the prompting and handholding, you get to the point where you are like shut up already, just let me write my story. My other criticism is, in it’s own way the program is very “rigid” in how it goes about the story creating process. The package is also lacking in one very basic area – there’s no spelling or grammar checker.

After playing with the program for several months, I found it to be both a tremendous help and a useless tool at the same time. If you are like me and don’t really believe in outlining your stories, and would rather stare at a blank page, put on a good CD and just go “to town,” then Dramatica will not be the program for you. But if you are like the other 80 or 90 percent of the writers out there who like to outline, research, plan, and plot out everything to it’s very last possible detail, then “Dramatica Pro” is the must have tool.

Final Grade A

Reviewed by Michelle Alexandria