This post comprises my early thoughts on Dramatica Pro.
Dramatica Pro is weird. I feel like, after using it for several days now, I don’t understand what it is yet. This is probably a very bad thing for any software (especially software whose evaluation trial expires after five days). And yet, I keep thinking there might be some kind of there there.
The software is designed to walk you through what they call “The Dramatica Methodology” or somesuch, which is apparently a set of theories about story construction. Consequently, the language they use to describe the writing process feels cult-like. They acknowledge this, in a way, by providing a menu option to use “layman’s terms” instead of “Dramatica terms.” Which begs the question: why are they insisting on using these bizarre terms anyway, if layman’s terms are available. Also: laymen? Really? They do know that that’s originally a religious concept, right?
I have only worked through the tutorial to the point where you start “building characters,” which means you drag little (ugly) clipart representations of the people in your story on top of tiles with labels like “Faith” and “Hope” and “Thoughtfulness” and so on. They’ve got this complicated map set up where diagonal tiles have one kind of relationship (I think it’s oppositional) and straight-across tiles have another (I think it’s complementary). Scott McCloud would love this shit! Ha! Me, it confuses — but also titillates.
Speaking of Scott: I think he wrote in one of his books that using randomizing processes to help him get started on a story was one of his favorite tricks. This reminded me of when I was in creative writing class in college, and we were told to use the I-Ching to come up with story ideas. Which, by the way, works. I think Dramatica Pro may have the same effect, because I do find myself coming up with ideas as I work through this weirdness. For example, dragging a character onto a tile generates a set of sentences about that character: “Ba Noi’s struggle for knowledge is in opposition to Dan’s acceptance of the way things are,” and so on. Meaningless, ultimately, but … well, suggestive. Maybe this is the reason behind the cult?
The software is ugly, and uses its own strange interface conventions. Not at all what I’d expect from a Macintosh program designed for creative professionals. Aside from the general ugliness, it’s also not fully functional in the way that I expect contemporary software to be. For example: little niceties like being able to insert my own clipart for the character faces would be welcomed. Dramatica has a hard-coded set of generic GeoCities-era pixel art you’re supposed to use for this purpose.
More thoughts later (yes, I paid for the software). I’m guessing I’ll either toss it aside or actually subscribe to the cult at some point. So yeah, like I said in my previous post introducing this series, I hope you weren’t expecting a full-on review. I’m of several minds, still. For now, I’m moving on and will play with something else for a while.