NaNoWriMo and the Overall Story Inhibitor

I've been doing NaNoWriMo this month, which has been great for getting over perfectionism issues. I've previously blogged about it here.

One thing with NaNo is you end up experiencing the story a lot more like a reader would, since you're writing 5-10 pages every day and often following unexpected twists and ideas as they come up. You're also seeing things more from the characters' perspectives too, really in your story.

That subjective view can sometimes be problematic when outlining, especially when using Dramatica which requires you to take a step back to a more objective, authorial view. But it's tremendously important when first-drafting: to write good fiction you need to really place yourself in your story, to see and taste and feel what your characters do.

Enter The Overall Story Inhibitor

I found this one sequence of my story had all this tension and forward momentum that kept building up over several scenes, almost making it hard to breathe because everything was moving so fast. Then there was a powerful scene that broke the tension and suddenly everything has slowed down and there's all this breathing room in the story again. The characters have gone from rushing to clandestine meetings and fighting alien spider-things to hanging out in a study hall and discussing how to meet women.

It was hard to think of it from a Dramatica perspective as I was writing, so I didn't even consider the OS Inhibitor until after I'd gotten into the "more breathing room" scenes. Then I laughed out loud because the thing that slowed everything down was Devin (MC) getting very painfully rejected by Becca (IC). This had impact in all the throughlines, but a lot of it was OS. And the OS Inhibitor? Denial! (Denial includes things like rejection and being rejected.)

When Becca tells Devin to leave her alone, that she's not going to recruit him after all, the story takes a much-needed breather.

It's incredible how the storyform predicted that would happen -- and how well it works, how well it just feels right for everyone to regroup after that big rejection.

I've never had a way to describe it before Dramatica, but I personally love the proper use of Inhibitors in stories. I HATE it when things go too fast for too long and there's never any space where things slow down. When the Inhibitor is used properly the characters can breathe a little, take stock of what's going on, and end up relating to each other in different, more relaxed sort of ways then when the sky is falling. Most importantly, with the Inhibitor it feels right for this to happen, rather than arbitrary.

The Catalytic Effect of Responsibility

Now that I'm taking a step back, I can also see the Overall Story Catalyst of Responsibility at work in those earlier fast-paced scenes too. Everyone keeps trying to take responsibility for things, taking charge:
  • Becca: "I need to go to the secret meeting. Alone."
  • Devin: "I need to find Becca and help protect her."
  • Chatham: "I am in charge here. I know how to deal with the problem--and opportunity--that Becca represents."
All this just pushes everything to a head.

Actually, I just realized that I had planned to have Becca reject Devin in an earlier scene, before all this major conflict was done, but when I tried to write that I couldn't make it happen, I kept waffling. I thought I was just afraid to let my poor MC get hurt, and maybe there was some of that, but now that I see what the rejection did to the story it wouldn't have worked there because it wasn't time to slow down yet!

Another Tool In The Dramatica Belt

To me, this is one of Dramatica's most useful aspects -- validating what you've already created and understanding how it's working. When I get into revision, I'll understand how the Catalyst and Inhibitor are working and what parts of the story might need tweaking related to them, while others need to be left alone.

I'm pretty sure Becca's rejection will stay. 😉


  1. (Cross-posted at

    Hi Mike:

    I've been doing NaNoWriMo too and am also using Dramatica for my story structure. A few days before Nov. 1, I sketched out a Dramatica storyform. What I'm writing is a bit different than what I expect most people are doing, i.e. it's not a straight novel per say.

    I'd just finished the book "Call Me By Your Name" and was so moved by it, having identified with Elio (being a young gay man), with Oliver and the book’s setting (I was an American student who lived in Rome, Italy for a year), and with the book’s time period (the novel takes place during the very same year I was living in Italy). The story and the emotions it evoked resonated with me so much I decided (Decision, coincidentally, is my Story Driver) to undertake a semi-autobiographical story and perhaps spin it into some inspired fiction.

    I selected a storyform based on myself as a main character, with certain circumstances of my life in mind, and a sense of a story arc – albeit a faint and incomplete one. After my minimum required decisions were input, I ended up with a complete storyform, one in which Dramatica had filled in a great deal more information than I had input. While I had no detail to support it yet, the storyform felt right–right in a personal sense, knowing myself, my own issues, my hopes and dreams, etc. (Note, I did however selfishly make sure I had a happy ending in there.)

    I figured I'd riff on the initial events I’d selected, then create additional fictional ones from them – taking the story off into some uncharted territories. But as I started off the month, I continued to cull more and more from memories and real stories of my own life. Each one would elicit another, then another. As the days and weeks progressed, I found I wasn't veering off, as I’d expected I would, into Fictionland. Instead, I was finding the storyform still intact while I continued to fill in many more parts of my life, in a rather non-linear process. Using the Plot Sequence Report, I carved out thematics for the selected scenes of my life to plug into. It’s rather fun to think of a memory – they’re springing up like popcorn now – then look for a thematic it might fit under in one of the signposts, find that its story placement fits not only into the story structure but also (somehow magically) the real chronology of my life, and have it all make sense within one of the four throughline viewpoints. It's rather amazing how it’s all fitting together. And each storypoint completed suggests another related story or memory from my life for me to shape and fit into the narrative arcs.

    About halfway through November, when I realized this was how it was going to go, I committed to this project more clearly as memoir and began undertaking it essentially as therapy – an exercise in self examination, awareness and discovery. I’m learning a great deal about myself as all this formulates. And the more I get into it, the more I’m letting my hair down. At this point, however, I have no intention of anyone, other than me, ever reading it.

    But who knows?

  2. Hey @MiggsEye, great to hear from you! I think you're my first blog commenter!

    Your memoir and the process you're going through writing it sound fantastic! As I mentioned on Discuss Dramatica, I think you're taking the perfect approach by assuming it's just for yourself. A lot of people on the Holly Lisle writing forums recommend the same thing for fiction -- "first draft is just for you". It's very freeing. By the time you're done, I think you'll know whether you want to ever share it, for now you can enjoy its creation.


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