How I got six Dramatica storyforms by following one

Mock covers I made for Starfighters beta readers. I intend to publish the series this year (2023).

A fellow writer on the Subtxt discord forums asked me to describe in more detail how I ended up with six storyforms (five substories) after following just one storyform when I was writing Starfighters. I made a picture to visualize it better (click for bigger version):

Diagram of storyforms with the main one at the top. Width represents duration (pages).


Starfighters began as an idea for a novel, which I started writing in 2017. It took me one and a half years and 370,000 words to finish the draft. By this time I knew it was much longer than a single book should be (!) and I was starting to get some ideas of how to split it into a trilogy.

I followed a single Dramatica storyform throughout. I didn't begin it knowing the storyform, but once I had a vague outline and was a few chapters into the draft, I was able to determine the storyform, which held true for the whole thing.

Storyform Summaries

The trilogy is about a group of modern-day college kids who get wrapped up in a galactic war that's been going on for centuries. Becca, the Dramatica Obstacle Character, is the one who recruits them; she's been involved in all this since she was sixteen. MC Devin is a new recruit who develops yet another one of his laser-focused crushes on Becca.

Book 1 follows the college kids being recruited into the Firelion Club, which is a front for the galactic alliance's defense and recruiting operations on Earth. A lot of the conflict comes from doubting the Club, and from MC Devin doubting himself. Eric (the trilogy's Skeptic character) and Becca share the OC role.
Book 2 delves deeper into some of the lies, bargains and secrets from Book 1, with enemies infiltrating the Club, and OC Becca and MC Devin breaking a lot of rules that perhaps they shouldn't.
Book 3 everything has fallen apart and the raw recruits are the last hope for a world that considers them criminals, and doesn't even know the war against the Unworlded exists. Devin is again the MC, and Becca shares the OC role with Eric and "Voice-Becca" (another aspect of herself).

The Cole substory is about a Firelion pilot captured by the enemy Unworlded, who take control of his mind. With Dream-Becca's help Cole must repress a specific memory to keep its secret from the Unworlded. (MC Cole, OC Dream-Becca).

The Alice substory follows a tween (13) Prescient Communications Officer in her struggle against the otherworldly intelligence that lives at the heart of the Prescient Communication Black Box (a kind of limited ansible). The "sisters or not?" Relationship Story between Alice and Becca is quite apparent -- it's how I noticed the substory in the first place, after a particularly meaningful hug. Alice even names the relationship: motherfeelingcoloursisters. (MC Alice, OC Becca)

Lessons Learned

Do Follow a Single, Main Storyform

Having a storyform & Subtxt "Premise" to follow while I was writing DEFINITELY helped. Not only in completing the draft, but in allowing the space for the substories to emerge, which made the story that much richer and interesting to me. I wasn't aware of the substories while drafting (with one exception, see below), but being able to think about the main story and its intent clearly, gave me the freedom to explore things without being too worried I was off base.

You Don't Need to Analyze The Storyforms While Drafting

I actually did notice the "Alice vs. the Void" substory when I was halfway through the draft. Because it seemed to be coming out well on its own, I purposely avoided finding the storyform. This was a good choice, as it allowed me to just explore this subplot and especially MC Alice's "change arc" in a free, sort of unfettered way. I truly enjoyed writing all of Alice's scenes, probably more than any other POV character. (Note: at the time I even sought Jim Hull's advice on this, in one of the very first Subtxt Writer's Rooms, circa August 2017. He agreed with the approach, to just let the substory come out naturally. Thanks Jim!) 

Note: if you notice a substory cropping up in your own work and you get stuck on it, and strongly feel that figuring out the storyform will help you, that's okay too. I'm only reporting my own experience, on one draft, and that may differ from yours.

Substory Storyforms Aid Revision

I became aware of the Book 1 and Cole substories early during revision, and of course I already knew about the Alice one. I was able to determine the storyforms without too much trouble, and they were very useful during revision. Sometimes they helped me realize where I needed to add new material, or tighten what was there. In other cases the storyforms helped to confirm that I was on the right track with things as they existed in draft, or in how I'd chosen to revise them.

The Alice substory in particular helped because the OS was rather weak in that; it only became more clear towards the end of the draft. I added several scenes and parts of scenes in order to strengthen and better communicate the conflict with the "Void Sentience."

It's kind of funny -- for the Book 2 and Book 3 storyforms, I actually didn't realize they were there until well after finishing revision. It was only when I was re-reading the books at the pace a reader would that they became apparent. Did I make any changes because of these? Maybe a few, very small ones, as by this point there wasn't much that needed changing.

Interesting Structural Patterns

Becca as the Obstacle Character

In all six storyforms, the Becca character is the OC! No wonder when I was drafting I kept thinking of it as "the Becca show" even though I knew Devin was the MC.

Note, in a couple of the six she shares the OC role with another character. Also note that because of certain sci-fi elements, there are a couple other "aspects" of Becca which become different Players at different times, and sometimes it's one of these that acts as OC. (In my notes I called these Dream-Becca and Voice-Becca, to help distinguish them!)

All Four Overall Story Domains

All four OS Domains are represented among the six storyforms. (2 Psychology, 2 Universe, 1 Physics, 1 Mind)

All Four Concern Quadrants

All four Dramatica Concern quadrants are represented: three lower-left (trilogy & book 1 Becoming, book 3 Future), one lower-right (book 2 - Learning), one upper-right (Alice - Progress) and one upper-left (Cole - Memory).

Individual Book Storyforms

There is no rhyme or reason to the individual book storyforms* -- they don't follow any kind of progression in terms of the trilogy's Transits or anything. Personally, I like how this turned out. I feel it adds a sort of eclectic, unpredictable feel to the story. But maybe I'm imagining that.
* actually, one minor pattern is that the Book 1 storyform is quite close to the overall trilogy one. Same throughline Domains/Concerns, but with a Change MC instead of Steadfast, and an OS Problem of Disbelief instead of Help. I think book 1 having a similar feel or "narrative personality" to the series is a rather common thing -- e.g. I'm pretty sure this is true in Harry Potter.

One thing to point out. Although I'm certain the skeletons of the individual book storyforms were all there in the draft -- this is how I intuited exactly how to break it into a trilogy -- they were probably "filled out" during revision to some degree. I think revising a novel knowing the beginning and end just naturally pushes you into cementing its underlying intention, especially if most of that is present in the draft.

One Tragedy, Five Triumphs

Only book 2 is Failure/Bad. The rest are all Success/Good!