Coming to terms with Dramatica's terms

On a thread on the Discuss Dramatica forums, @Hunter mentioned:

I thought it might be helpful to talk about how to brush up on a particular term. I've used Dramatica for a couple years now and have ended up on a process that usually works pretty well. Note here I'm just talking about the elements themselves (the items within Dramatica's Table of Story Elements), not the the bigger concepts like Resolve or Crucial Element.

Say for example Accurate came up in a story I was writing or analyzing and I wanted to make sure I really got it, I would go through these steps:

  1. Read the Dramatica dictionary entry. If parts of the dictionary entry sound weird or seem hard to grasp, don't sweat it -- the below study will probably help.
  2. Go through the entire gist list for the term.
    a) Pay special attention to gists that seem a lot different from each other. For example, as you read through gists for Accurate you'll find similarities between "keeping accurate notes" and "being accurate" and "demanding accuracy", but you might scratch your head at "tolerating harsh work conditions". But if you're persistent you'll find common ground in "being passable" and "being within tolerances" that will help you bridge the gap to tolerating. At its core, tolerating something -- even something awful -- is about saying "no it's okay, we can handle it, it's good enough" which has common ground with "these notes must be accurate (good enough)".
    It's that common ground that's important. It will help you understand the deeper meaning behind the term that your story-appreciating subconscious intuitively grasps.
    b) If there are gists that still don't seem to fit with the term or each other, post a question on the Discuss forum about it. I'm sure it will help everyone!
  3. Go back to the dictionary definition and think about how the various gists, especially the weird ones, can fit that definition. Again, post on the forum if you're confused.
    (For example, I find it fascinating that "rejecting someone" can be an instance of "refusing to accept that something is closed" (Denial). When you reject or deny an idea, e.g. denying climate change, it's easy to see how that fits the Dramatica definition. But rejecting your girlfriend, that takes an extra twist in the thinking. Hint: denial isn't always wrong.)
  4. Look up Dramatica analyses that use this term, especially for stories you know well, or that have comprehensive analyses done on (though take the older ones with a grain of salt). By reading through the full analysis you can get an appreciation of how it's used for a particular story point. This is especially great if you can find an analysis of the term for the same story point you're wondering about (e.g. an MC Problem of Accurate).
In the end, it's that commonality between all the various gists, and what they have in common with the more abstract dictionary definition, that really defines the heart of the Dramatica term.

Don't Sweat The Overlap

One last tip. Now, other experts may not agree, but I say, don't sweat the other terms that might have some overlap. For example, Understanding and Conceptualizing have some things in common (figuring stuff out). So do Denial and Nonacceptance (rejecting something), Faith and Trust (trusting your spouse), Memories and The Past (a photograph).

I've noticed some writers can get worked up about this, taking a particular example and asking "is this X or Y? It seems like it fits both." The truth is, the individual pieces of "story stuff" in your narrative often do fit more than one term when taken on their own. That's why you need the context of the whole story to appreciate it -- you need to see how everything works together.

So focus on the term you're trying to learn, and don't worry about those overlapping ones...

...with one exception. DO strive to understand the difference between the term and its dynamic pair, or other elements in the same quad. If your Story Goal is Becoming, it's good to know the difference between that and Being. Or if your OS Problem is Deduction, you need to know the difference between that and Induction.