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ULYSSES III v1.1 / Enhanced Plain Text Editing:1,2,3




DRAMATICA STORY EXPERT 5 / Powerful Fiction Writing Collaborator


dse icon large MAJOR NEW RELEASE


NAVIGATION NOTE: Click on the product text links above to jump to that review.

SIDEBAR: In addition to app screenshots, you'll notice clickable banners for trying I highly recommend this online training video resource, as it will save you time and money while teaching you the app of your choice. There's a program to fit every budget. It also makes for a great gift with the holidays coming up soon.

grammarian pro

GRAMMARIAN PRO: Users will be pleased to learn that their favorite Grammar and Spell Checking Tool Kit works with both Ulysses III and Dramatica Story Expert. I highly recommend Grammarian Pro for all writers.

NOTE: Dramatica Story Expert, Ulysses III, and Grammarian Pro are Mavericks OS X compatible.


by Eden Maxwell


Late Fall, 2013


“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty.
I only think about how to solve the problem.
But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

—R. Buckminsnster Fuller


NOTE: Please bookmark this page for future reference.


ulysses III logo


ULYSSES III (v1.1) from The Soulmen

A marvelous three pane writing app


To jump right in and get a feel for how this app works, I’m writing my review of Ulysses III and Dramatica Story Expert with the newly updated Ulysses III (v1.1).

If you’ve been a loyal Ulysses 2 fan for its long form writing model and convenience, then don’t expect Ulysses III to be a familiar and enhanced version. The developers make it clear that Ulysses III is a completely different program with its own set of rules and conventions—so calling this new app Ulysses III was no doubt a calculated marketing decision to appeal to a broader user base that goes beyond long form writing.


Apparently, after ten years of development, marketing, and support, The Soulmen team of Max Seelemann, Marcus Fehn, Friedrich Gräter, Götz Fabian, and Vivien Botin felt that they had gone as far as they could with Ulysses 2—and wanted new challenges. To continue on the road to success, it’s critical to know when to move on.


Ulysses 2 had appealed to me over the years because of two main reasons: 1) The developers were responsive, and they issued regular updates to improve the app, and 2) The app’s design focused on the writing, not distracting menus and the like. I could see all the pertinent information in my writing project at a glance: chapters as tabs, notes, list of documents/chapters, groups & collections, and so on—including the indispensable global search and replace function, which was extremely useful for continuity in my upcoming novel.

Although it's on the way out, Ulysses 2 remains a great plain text editor dedicated to long form writing. You use markup, or special characters to denote italics, headings, bold, and the like. Ulysses III also employs markup.


According to the developers, they will continue to support Ulysses 2 for as long as it’s feasible, which is understandable. Initially, support reasonably includes a Ulysses 2 (v2.2.1) exporter for moving your writing projects to Ulysses III.

The exporter converts Ulysses 2 documents into Ulysses III sheets (more about them later), which you can then simply drag onto the Ulysses III icon in your dock, or onto the sheet list pane. I’ve tried the exporter, and it reliably transfers the information: chapters, notes, keywords, etc.

NOTE: Ulysses 2 also now works with the Mavericks OS X.


Ulysses III is an innovative environment for writers built around a revolutionary and reliable text engine. This ‘enhanced plain text editor’ seamlessly combines the best attributes of minimal markup with the power, elegance, and simplicity of Mac OS X.

Ulysses III has been optimized to work with Mavericks OS X.

- 64 Bit application
- Retina Display enhanced

While Ulysses 2 revealed mostly all windows up front, Ulysses III has its features mostly and neatly tucked away until needed; operations are available through Keyboard shortcuts and a minimalist set of corresponding menu selections.


NOTE: Ulysses III was indenting lines when exporting. This issue has been fixed with v1.1. You can now change the indentation of exported RTF/PDF files. The default zero indent in preferences refers only to the Ulysses III editor, not to the exporters.

Ulysses III v1.1 is a major release that includes many improvements, tweaks, optimizations, and bug fixes. The major enhancements include the following.

— a new sidebar global search feature via CMD-SHIFT-F (indespensible)

— a new open panel via CMD-O

— a new quick export preview via CMD-SHIFT-P

— a new “Styles” preference pane to add personalized export styles for HTML, PDF, Word, RTF, and ePub

— an ePub exporter

— end-tag completion and automatic list continuation via Edit > Substitutions

— typewriter Scrolling via CMD-ALT-T (we missed you)



In Microsoft Word or TextEdit, for example, you boldface text through formatting, e.g, CMD-B for bold; in Ulysses 2 and III, you use tags similar in concept to HTML to transform a word into bold, italics, headline, etc.

Ulysses III uses minimal markup to \_define\_ (italics) text. From headlines to lists, from block quotes to comments, you, for example, simply \**type it in**\ — which denotes strong for boldface. Ulysses III does offer the convenience of using CMD-B for bold and CMD-I for italics.

The Ulysses III editor also employes inline tags for footnotes, comments, links, and image attachments—which can you can also drag’ n ‘drop. To give you a sense of what is happening, bold and italics (shown above) are displayed as styled in the text.


When you want to print your work or check your markup tags for accuracy, you export the sheet so that it opens up in your favorite text editor—Microsoft Word, TextEdit. From there, you can further tweak your copy indents, spacing, font size, and so on for printing.


If you’re a blogger or anyone concerned with web text content, a more efficient way to preview your work is to use the Marked app by Brett Terpstra. With its carefully thought out features, explanations, and customizable previews, Marked does double duty as a course in Markdown and is a true bargain. Another big plus is that user support by the developer is also first-rate.

Marked is a handy utility that previews Markdown-formatted (a simple markup language for the web) files in its own floating window—you can adjust its translucence in the background; these previews display how your Markdown files will appear when converted to HTML or XHTML.


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Marked App for the web Brett Terpstra



Marked shares a philosophy with Ulysses III; both apps allow you to concentrate more on your writing and less on text formatting or how your Markdown plain-text formatting syntax is rendering. For your web content, you’ll find that you’re more organized and productive when using these two apps together.

From within Ulysses III, you can view your plain text files in Marked by selecting ‘txt’ and ‘Open in Marked’ from the Quick Export (CMD-6) popover—make sure Markdown is selected. To view the latest results of your writing in Marked, invoke CMD-6, and hit return. Your text and tag changes will then show up in Marked’s preview window.

Marked / US$3.99 (From the App Store)


While Ulysses III is new, it’s interface and conventions are not completely foreign. There is a small learning curve to Ulysses III with it’s minimal yet powerful set of rules.

The concept underlying Ulysses III is based on three-pane-apps many of us already use: Mail, iPhoto, and other popular programs such as Microsoft Outlook 2011. In these apps, a single library is the efficient repository of every piece of content. Ulysses III applies this simple organizational idea to everything you write: from letters, notes, blog posts, to long form writing—novels and other works.


All writing is done on Ulysses III’s sheets. Sheets are equivalent to documents (pages) with some major differences: for example, sheets don’t require a ‘title’ or a ‘file name’—which while being convenient takes a bit of unlearning.

Sheets can hold any amount of text, and you can freely move sheets around and sort them, as necessary. You can select multiple sheets and glue them together (CMD-J). The glued sheets will then behave as a single sheet in the editor. You can also unglue sheets, as well.


While I was writing this review, I found myself out of habit hitting (CMD-S), which is no longer required; behind the scenes, Ulysses III is forever on auto-save mode, instantly saving your text, as you type.

As noted earlier, Ulysses III is a single-library app; all your text lives in this single library. There is no ‘Open’, no ‘Save’, no Finder access—everything you need is available inside the Ulysses III UI window.

Although Tabs (referencing chapters) from Ulysses 2 are nowhere to be found in Ulysses III, you can add sheets to Favorites—which acts as a more informative tab that displays a beginning text snippet of that sheet/chapter. Simply drag’ n’ drop sheets onto the star icon, then hit (CMD-5) or click on the star icon to open the Favorites popover. Favorites are flexible, as they can be deleted, rearranged, navigated via keyboard, and so on.

NOTE: I also found it handy to use the sidebar to keep track of my chapters.


Most of Ulysses III’s advanced features are tucked away in small popovers. They remain hidden until you need them, which makes for a clean interface. Most popovers can be torn-off and turned into always-on floating HUDs for quick reference and/or direct access. As you can detach them, popovers also make good use of a second monitor.

While some popovers are only available from within the editor, others can be called up in the lower sidebar gear icon or the contextual menu invoked on a group. For example, you can select Quick Export, which gives you a preview of the exported text in the selected mode; for example, select RTF to open in TextEdit via the dropdown menu in the popover. You can also check text statistics (words, paragraphs, pages, etc.) via its own popover.


Here’s a another game changer. There is no ‘font size’ in Ulysses III. But, you can adjust text size using the Zoom menu: (CMD-plus) and (CMD-minus) zoom in or out, and (CMD-zero) resets to the default size—much like text sizing in your browser.


Previous users of three-pane-apps will from the get-go feel comfortable using Ulysses III. If you’re familiar with Markdown and Textile, then you will feel right at home in the editor environment. And, if not, learning to work with markdown text is simple enough.

The user interface (UI) is elegant, well thought out, and there are no distractions to your writing, especially in full screen mode:




  1. The sidebar is divided into sections that are self-explanatory—your sheets and where they are stored. If you’ve got iCloud enabled, or you’re a user of the Daedalus Touch app (highly recommended), you will see different sections available in the sidebar.

  2. The sheet list is where all your texts reside.

  3. The editor is where you do your writing.


Another major benefit is that Ulysses III fully utilizes iCloud. If you have iCloud properly set up (make sure ‘documents and data’ are also enabled in your iCloud preferences), Ulysses will store via Apple’s servers all the sheets that you drag’ n’ drop onto on your iCloud inbox (sidebar section). You can then access your synched sheets/texts from all of your Macs, as long as you’re connected to the web.


At first, how iCloud worked with Ulysses III was not immediately apparent to me. If you make a change on a sheet ‘On My Mac’, it remains local on your computer. If you want those changes reflected in that sheet on iCloud, you must move or copy that local sheet onto the iCloud Inbox icon. Then, that updated sheet will be synched and available on all your Macs.

Note: Keep versions of your sheets straight in your mind. For example, you can start editing a sheet ‘On My Mac’ only to realize you’ve already worked on the same sheet via iCloud. Using Browse All Versions from the File menu is helpful in keeping versions (save version is created using CMD-S) organized, should you forget, or need to see an earlier draft.


As an alternative (or addition) to iCloud, you can use your Dropbox account to sync your Ulysses III sheets to all available devices linked to the same Dropbox folder.

daedalus icon


While we’re on iCloud, it’s timely to mention the Daedalus Touch app for iOS from the Soulmen, which is seamlessly integrated into the Ulysses III library. What I like here is that no setup is required.

Daedalus Touch stacks (its metaphor for folders that contain sheets/documents) automatically show up via iCloud as groups in the Ulysses III sidebar; you can then use most of Ulysses III's advanced features to continue the work you started on the road, while having a cappuccino in your favorite coffee shop, or wherever your wanderlust takes you. If you like, for example, you can also export the contents of a sheet to your email address, as a ‘txt’ or PDF attachment.

Note too that the material flows both ways. You can copy sheets via iCloud from Ulysses III to Daedalus Touch.

Functional, minimalist, and easy to use, Daedalus Touch and Ulysses III were made for each other. After testing Daedalus Touch on my iPod Touch 4, I was pleased to discover that I could still write quite well on that diminutive scale. I’m sure Daedalus Touch is a much better experience on the iPad with retina display.

Daedalus Touch: US$4.99 (from the App store).


You add groups and filters via the sidebar’s plus menu, and you add new sheets via CMD-N. When you select a group in the sidebar, its contents are displayed in the sheet list. Select a sheet from the sheet list, and it shows up in the editor pane.

Filters are a special kind of group. Once set up, they will look at the group they’re in and list all sheets that match the set criteria. For example, you can set up a filter that only lists sheets with a keyword of awareness. If you place your keyword deep within a nested group, say, six levels down, the filter will only show matching sheets within that group. In other words when you place a filter inside a group, it will only find sheets within that group.

Holding down the (CMD) key allows you to select multiple groups and filters, which lets you to see their combined contents conveniently listed in the sheet list column.


You can easily navigate between sheets from top to bottom directly from within the editor. The keyboard shortcut for this is (CMD-ALT-up/down arrows).


Atop every sheet is the 'attachment bar'. Attachments allow you to place arbitrary content next to your main content: images, text notes (which you must scroll through), and keywords. As mentioned above, keywords are especially useful, as you can set up filters that will look for them.

Images and text notes can be attached multiple times, and all attachments can be torn off and placed anywhere onscreen. You can even zoom into images, flip through PDFs, and use most markup tags within text notes.

Another useful way to add notes is to create annotations, or inline comments—{annotation between brackets}.

u3 icon full


I'm sure I'm not the only one who would appreciate this time-saving feature implemented: when you return to a sheet, it should remember the last edit point in the text when you quit the program—as it does so well in Ulysses 2 where the cursor thoughtfully returns to the previous position after restarting.

Note: While Ulysses III is running, double-clicking on a sheet in the sheet list will bring the cursor to the last edit position.


Ulysses III comes with instructions (with a refreshing sense of humor) that are easy to follow. Invoking (CMD-9) brings up the hidden column on the right containing the full list of available markup definitions and shortcuts—from headlines to lists, links to images, and footnotes.

Tip: From the Markup Cheat Sheet (CMD-9), click on any listed markup and it will be applied to the current selection.


At first after being married to Ulysses 2 with its see everything at a glance interface and its Tabs for chapters, I wasn’t sure whether Ulysses III with its hidden features minimalist model would work for me and my novel—long form writing.

Fortunately, the more I use Ulysses III the more I love it—which is the true test, and reminiscent of my experience with Ulysses 2 when I launched that app on my computer years ago. Ulysses III will continue to evolve with new features and improvements under the capable hands of the developers. Innovators like The Soulmen should be rewarded for their dedication and fine work. They earned it.

You may or may not end up using Ulysses III for long form writing; in any case, this new well-conceived lean writing app from The Soulmen will not disappoint.

Enough said.

Download a demo of Ulysses III and experience this gem: a unique writing environment.

Ulysses III: US$39.99 (from the App Store)

OS X Mavericks compatible

The Soulmen




NOTE: When you're ready to export your finished Dramatica treatment, I highly recommend first working with the copy in Ulysses III, as reviewed up top.

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Dramatica Story Expert assists writers of fiction in seeing what is working in their story and what needs fixing. It couldn’t get any better.


During my Hollywood days in Los Angeles more than ten years ago, I had reviewed Dramatica Pro, and concluded then that it was a terrific tool for fiction writers including, of course, screenwriters. However, I couldn’t properly apply DP to myself in a full-fledged manner, as at the time I was working on a nonfiction-writing project.

Now, as I come full circle and throttle into writing my novel, I can more fully explore Dramatica Story Expert (DSE) to see how the app can assist me in developing my ideas into a compelling and satisfying narrative.


In writing, I’m a panster instead of a plotter. I sit at my computer, and begin writing by the seat of my pants to see where my characters want to go, rather than first imposing myself into the work with planned notes. Knowing from the get-go what will happen from beginning to middle and then to end might be reassuring, but I find it constricting, stifling, and limiting—in art and writing. I don’t think about what I’m going to write (an idea may get things going) before writing. I jump in and let the prose speak for itself, which works for me.


As Frank Herbert, author of the enduring and magnificent Dune series of novels pointed out in his writing (I’m paraphrasing): to know the future is to be trapped by the future. To keep track of so many characters, relationships, and subplots in his epic novels, Herbert had to be a plotter out of necessity.


I have no animus against plotters. There is nothing inherently wrong with establishing a roadmap via plotting to guide you. If that approach works for you, then that’s all that matters, as finding one’s groove is a personal journey. I've heard some plotters admit that despite their detailed planning, they are often taken by surprise by their characters.

Is a good story similar to a joke? That is, if you have to break it down first, then you’ve lost the edge and it’s no longer funny. As your collaborator, DSE demands that you investigate all the pertinent elements in your story from different points of view to better form a complete story. I had a question. In dissecting my story into its component parts, will it remain compelling to work on, or will it lose its luster, as in explaining a joke? Let’s find out.


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In my painting and writing, I don’t conceptualize or plot out what’s going to happen. The adventure for me, as noted earlier, is in not knowing in advance the events and the ending. Images, abstract and sometimes even photorealistic, and words appear spontaneously from the collective unconscious.

Given my workflow mindset in that I write with no predetermined bias because I too enjoy being surprised and taken off guard by what the characters end up doing and why, I was particularly eager to discover how DSE integrates itself within a mostly unstructured story by a diehard panster.

After writing well over two-hundred pages of my novel (which takes place in an alternate universe), I had developed a cast of characters, scenes, events, and locations, but I didn’t yet have the main bad guy, the antagonist, a cohesive plot—or a clearly defined ending, which pre-DSE was a murky kind of notion that remained elusive.

Additionally, while I had fair understanding of most of my players, of which there are many, at the time I first launched DSE, I couldn’t list or even remember them all—which is a downside to being a panster instead of a plotter who makes helpful notes of such things. Working with DSE compelled me to list my characters and give them additional traits and relationships, which helped me remember and flesh out their identities. 


Dramatica Pro and now DSE (currently for the Mac only) is based on an original and revolutionary book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley. The authors point out their work was not researched nor based on any other theories of story design or analysis. This wonderful book is about theory and how elements in a story need to connect—not about creative writing (your job). And, as with all theories, you must prove its viability to your own self.

NOTE: A digital copy of Dramatica: A New Theory of Story is included with DSE—extremely handy. The book is divided into two principal sections: The Elements of Structure and The Art of Storytelling. I suggest first opening the book to get feel for the theory and its concepts before diving into DSE with its unique terminology.

I had read A New Theory many years ago. I’ve revisited the book and its theory. It’s still lucidly written and delivers a compelling argument of story, as it clearly expresses well-conceived and often subtle concepts that work, many of which will be novel and even challenging to first-time DSE users. Additionally, the book offers superb insights into human psychology and behaviors—aspects of the mind and heart explored in works of fiction.

Grasping the Story Mind, Dramatica’s unique holistic metaphor of a fully developed story (Characters, Plot, Theme, and Genre), may be simple, but not necessarily easy to understand or immediately apparent unless you’re willing to put in the time, which you must. Both A New Theory and DSE require a commitment on your part if you’re to develop the effectiveness in your writing that you desire.


As A New Theory sees it, “Mastering the craft of writing requires a skill in communication and a flair for style. Through communication, an audience receives meaning. Through style, an author achieves impact. The new theory of story explores both aspects of the writing process providing structural guidelines for clarifying communication and artistic techniques for enhancing style.”

When the writing craft is elevated to art, we anoint the enduring work as being literature.


Dramatica Story Expert focuses on the gestalt. Seeing the whole picture from different points of view within a 3D landscape of needs, wants, and action provides a satisfying story because you have addressed both the major and minor questions that the audience will have—which represents the story mind, and the mind is where stories are born, explored, and delivered. Stories that leave out essential elements and answers are doomed to having plot holes, resulting in forgettable lazy work that leaves the audience unsatisfied. Blockbuster action special effects movies like The Matrix, for example, linger on in the memory because the writers didn't forget to address the concerns an audience will have.


DSE is not a panacea that does all the work for you. DSE is more about education (as in taking a workshop) and comprehension than it is about inspiration, which you must provide. However, the software does include a brainstorming module if you feel stuck or want to explore alternatives to your storyform—the deep dramatic structure of your story. DSE won’t write your work for you, either; instead the StoryGuide module and Dramatica’s query system (DQS) will guide you in making in-depth decisions along several different topic paths and deepening levels of questions to develop and unleash your story.

Dramatica Story Expert helps define and explore why and what you are writing about. As noted earlier, writers committed to fleshing out their stories with DSE’s assistance will at the end of the process weave a good yarn with complex characters that are often based on easily recognizable archetypal characters: protagonist (hero), main character (eyes of the story and audience), antagonist (villain), sidekick, etc.

Complex characters are interesting because they are not black or white; they feel real to the audience unlike forgettable hackneyed cutout figures (a one-dimensional used car salesman). While stereotypes are immediately identifiable oversimplifications, they are most often less satisfying. For example, killing off a character written in by formula usually doesn’t evoke a strong emotional response. A good writer will give even the most minor character a distinctive quality that the audience will remember.


By exploring a new vocabulary in A New Theory of story, you will be rewarded with proven concepts that make for a complete story where both you and your audience will be entertained, captivated, provoked, and ultimately satisfied at story’s end.

Be prepared to study the various in-depth elements used by DSE to develop your story. You’ll have to learn new perspectives in seeing from different points of view; for example—the story mind, throughlines, contagonist, grand argument story, and the impact character to name a few. These new concepts will soon make sense to you because you will see firsthand how much improved your story is becoming in the DSE process.


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Depending on where someone is in his or her story (thinking about it or having written some or even all the dramatic work), not everyone will initially engage DSE the same way, although everyone will eventually meet up at the conclusion. In my case, I had already written a considerable amount of character descriptions, interactions, scenes, and behaviors—so, snippets of information were an easy matter of cut and paste into the applicable DSE query text fields, which helped me arrive at the required single storyform more quickly.

NOTE: Storyforming involves the natural process of thinking about a story before writing begins. This approach covers the more plotter oriented creative, intuitive, and practical decision-making skills common to all writers and storytelling styles.


From the get-go, DSE had me reflect on the archetypal roles of my main characters. In fact, DSE had me reconsider some of their roles altogether, which in turn helped me expand upon easily recognizable archetypes into living and breathing complex players who have a variety of psychological makeups that we all share to one extent or another. I also realized through DSE that I needed additional players to reflect the story’s various perspectives, or throughlines (more about this later).

Knowing what motivates a character provides you with insight into how and why he or she behaves in a certain way. For example, your audience would most likely balk should your hero of integrity and defender of the weak suddenly (unless some disaster befell the protagonist) turned into a serial killer.

DSE guided me to focus even more profoundly on issues of character development. I could now give these players who were already in my story a more defined purpose, which aligned one character with another (and is some cases against), creating dramatic tension.


Building a complete Story Mind according to DSE involves the all important and encompassing argument that persuades an audience to consider the various merits of your story. When your audience is seriously considering your argument of opposing views and accepts your conclusion, you have fulfilled your part as the writer.

Equally essential in developing your story is how the audience is positioned relative to what DSE calls the Grand Argument Story, which, in a Dramatica story, must contain the four throughlines representing the four different viewpoints on the story being told (more about throughlines later).

Taking this holistic approach to story further, we come to appreciate that an author’s argument must transcend telling an audience what to look at. It must also show them how to see it, and why seeing it is important to the story. The relationship between object and an observer creates perspective and completes the work—in all art forms.

In stories, perspective provides context, and context creates meaning, which is necessary if you’re to engage your audience on both a thinking and feeling level.


According to Dramatica: A New Theory of Story: “Does an author want the audience to examine a problem dispassionately or to experience what it is like to have that problem? Is it more important to explore a possible solution or to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of alternative solutions? In fact, you must develop all of these points of view for a story to be complete.”


There's this old saw that lawyers love an eyewitness to a crime because what the witness saw can easily be disputed and picked apart for discrepancies. When you interact with others in daily life, you do so from different points of view—from faraway news to business matters to personal issues. In the classic Japanese 1950 period film drama, Rashomon, each eyewitness to a rape had a different story to tell. What truly happened may remain a mystery.

Perspective is why DSE has four different basic throughlines that must be explored in detail. A story unfolds to present all sides of the issue, which constitutes the mind, body, and spirit of the story mind—which contains all the elements fo the story.

•Third person perspective (“They”)
•First person perspective (“I”)
•Second person perspective (“You”)
•First person plural perspective (“We”)

Each of these four perspectives (throughlines) presents the audience with a specific context in which problems can be identified, explored, and resolved. These perspectives when taken and woven together in a Dramatica story represent all the ways in which we experience everyday life—and even fantasy worlds must conform to their realities and storytelling rules.

When we connect these perspectives in stories, they organically evolve as four “story lines” that extend from the beginning to the end of the story. Dramatica Story Expert defines these story threads as Throughlines. Each throughline has a distinctive name and unique purpose. After working and exploring your narrative with DSE for a time, it becomes apparent that the new theory of story is profound in its insights, and conclusions.


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In a Dramatica story, there are four throughlines representing four different viewpoints (from a distance to being on the fornt lines) on the story being told. These are:

OVERALL STORY THROUGHLINE—shows the broadest view of the story, involving activities that include all of the characters in the plot and shared story goal.

MAIN CHARACTER THROUGHLINE—shows the Main Character’s personal journey and growth, involving that character’s activities outside of any relationships with other characters. Seeing the story through the Main Character’s eyes, the audience not only observes, but experiences the story from that character’s point of view.

NOTE: Dramatica Story Expert makes a distinction between the main character and the protagonist who is most often the hero or heroine seeking the goal. While these archetypal roles are often included as traits within the same character, two separate characters can also represent each of them.

For example, in the novel (and film) To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the young girl, Scout, is the main character (we see the story through her eyes) while her father, Atticus Finch, the attorney who takes on racism (the story goal) in the deep south is the straight up protagonist fighting the good fight. Why is this significant? Knowing this important role distinction is helpful in creating a more clearly defined human (or relatable) cast of players who, according to DSE, populate a good old Grand Argument Story.

As a side note, the anecdote goes that Harper Lee feeling unsure and frustrated with her novel To Kill A Mockingbird threw the manuscript, which would one day win the Pulitzer Prize, out the window. There’s a lesson in there somewhere. Writers take heart.

RELATIONSHIP THROUGHLINE—shows the passionate struggle between the Main Character and Influence Character, in the course of which one will change the other’s basic nature while remaining steadfast in their convictions.

INFLUENCE CHARACTER THROUGHLINE—shows the Influence Character’s personal journey and growth, involving that character’s activities outside of any relationships with other characters.

The way these four throughlines interact, and the way you as the writer weave them throughout your story, give your story meaning and structure. You’ll learn more about these throughlines, and the thematic issues they deal with, as you progress through the comprehensive StoryGuide (Q&A module).


If you’re going to employ DSE in your dramatic writing, then it’s worth our time delving into the Grand Argument Story a bit further.

DSE establishes specific criteria for what makes a Grand Argument Story, which is the soul center of this distinctive theory of story. If a work doesn’t conform to the Grand Argument Story, then it’s simply a different approach. The only issue is this: does the DSE story or non-DSE-story work or not? You will make the call on that scenario. So, if you see the dramatic strength, effect, and value of DSE’s Grand Argument Story, you won’t get caught up in chasing red herrings or mired in semantic politics.

A Grand Argument Story to be Grand must present an argument that’s a conceptually and synergistically complete story where both the emotional and logical elements are more than the sum of their parts. The argument must be complete, covering all the ways the human mind might consider a problem and showing that only one approach is right to solving it. There are no plot holes in a Grand Argument Story.

Many qualities establish whether a story is a Grand Argument or not. These qualities are deftly interwoven within the story's Structure, Dynamics, Character, Theme, Plot, and Genre.


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DSE’s approach and definition of story exclude any number of creative and literary works, even classics—but not out of being stories, only that they are not Grand Argument Stories, which aren’t superior to any other kind; a Grand Argument Story is simply a specific kind that works by addressing the various issues that make up the story.

Remember that you must prove Dramatica’s new theory of story to your own self, and when you do, the significance of DSE will become apparent.


Before you can begin working with DSE in earnest, you must first develop a preliminary storyform, which is the essential basis for how your story is told: for example, chronologically from beginning to end, end first, or using flashbacks. Is the outcome at the end of your story good or bad? Storyforming feels natural to a plotter, as it involves the organic process of thinking about a story before any writing begins.


The object of storyforming in DSE is to find a single storyform that best incorporates the structural, thematic, and dynamic elements of your story. Choosing from a list of multiple-choice topics eventually identifies your “one” storyform.

Some topics have only two or three possible selections, others over sixty. Making choices in one topic will impact on other topics. Everything is connected. Sometimes the connections are apparent, other times obscure. No matter which topics you pick first and which options, going through the complete storyforming process will eventually lead you to that single storyform that best embodies the meaning and feeling of your story. You will be so pleased with your first major DSE accomplishment.


By utilizing DSE’s approach to story forming and storytelling, you will develop the dramatic framework that incorporates the structural and thematic elements of your story. This "deep structure" is a storyform. Working with DSE to determine the most suitable storyform takes your single idea and expands it into a cohesive story, rich with meaning that the audience will remember for some time.

Dramatica contains 32,768 potential storyforms. You could use any storyform as the basis for telling your story, though each would have a different affect on the way an audience experiences that story—owed to its particular themes and the order in which they are revealed. Is there a good or bad outcome at the end? Does the main character change or remain steadfast throughout his journey? The sequence of events is important, too. Each completed storyform contains the entire set of story elements needed to create a Grand Argument Story.

Each storyform could be used as the structure for your story, and each would naturally emphasize things differently—as ten different directors given the same script would create ten different films.


As you go through the StoryGuide, your mission is to make choices that will get you down to a single storyform--the one that best expresses your story in the way you intend an audience to experience it.  As some of the concepts in Dramatica will be new to you, you may not hit upon that ideal storyform the first time through. In fact, it’s quite unlikely. For that reason, DSE suggests that you save your first storyform, then go through the StoryGuide path again and create another. DSE encourages writers to explore new ways of seeing.

If there’s an item you weren’t sure of on the first try, choose its opposite this time through. Going through the Storyforming part of the StoryGuide path three times and experimenting will give you three slightly different storyforms for comparison. DSE makes it clear that you should only experiment in this way before illustrating any of the questions in the Illustrating and Storyweaving sections—and you'll avoid locking yourself into writing a story before you’re sure it’s the one you want to inhabit yourself.

NOTE: The number of potential storyforms isn’t the number of stories, which have been or can be told. The variety of storyforms that can be dramatized is limited only by a writer’s creativity. There’s no limit to the number of stories that can evolve from one storyform, much less from all 32,768 storyform combinations.


Dramatica Story Expert will lead you through the step-by-step process of conceptualizing a story and turning it into a finished work with impact.

The StoryGuide module employs the Dramatica Query System (DQS) for tackling storyforming in a Q&A model. Approaching storyforming in a holistic manner, the Story Engine module is a big digital bulletin board that works behind the scenes to ensure that your selections are consistent with the various story related priorities that you have established.

Choices made first have top priority, the second choice made has second priority, and so forth. Using this approach the story engine guides (and is guided by) your efforts to establish the optimum storyform for the story you have in mind. Are you open to new ways of telling your story?

NOTE: DSE consistently prompts you to go deeper. Remember that often your first responses in Q&A, especially in the more detailed areas of the StoryGuide might be superficial and misleading. You’ll have the opportunity to revisit and revise your initial impressions along the way in the process.


Now that you have a basic idea of some of the conventions (there are many more to explore on your own) used by DSE, it’s an appropriate time to look at the interface.

Dramatica Story Expert has 13 icons (modules) on the top bar, giving you access to the most commonly used tools in the program. Each icon provides a unique function to help you develop and organize your story. For example, you cast your players, describe the story from different points of view to arrive at one Storyform by answering a series of preliminary multiple-choice questions in the StoryGuide module, and arrange player characteristics.

Here’s brief description (with some of my comments) of each module from DSE’s help guide, which is comprehensive, and conveniently includes the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story, which I had suggested that you read (or at least skim among the topics to get a sense of the theory and terminology) before plunging headlong into the software. If you do dive in, DSE does offer several help notes, usage, and stories examples (explaining how a particular element was used in a popular film or novel) to guide you along the way in the StoryGuide area.


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(New) Getting Started Screen
Start off right with Dramatica Story Expert’s Getting Started window. Create new projects, open previous project or example files, or conveniently explore the many forms of help available to new users.

(New) Overview Icon
The Overview icon brings you to the Project Overview window. This window shows you general information about various key elements in your document: the four throughlines, log line, story synopsis, etc. It is also the default window when you open or create a new document.

(Enhanced) Story Info Icon
The Story Info icon brings you to the general information window. This window shows you project information about the document, such as author’s name, source material, setting, a brief synopsis of the overall story throughline and the relationship throughline between the main character and the impact character.

(Enhanced) StoryGuide Icon
The StoryGuide leads you step-by-step through the creation of your story. It offers several different approaches to creating your story. The StoryGuide is an ideal place to start fleshing out your ideas. New users begin on level one, and move on from there. Here is where you establish one storyform.

The StoryGuide’s updated look and feel has been improved with new features, including three new topic lists based on the book, Dramatica for Screenwriters by Armando Saldana Mora.

(Enhanced) Players Icon
Delve into each characters background, habits, and other details in the player information windows. Add new players and edit or remove existing players to create the right balance of players for your story.

The Players icon brings you to a window where you create your story’s characters, as well as describe their attributes, their relationship to one another, histories, likes and dislikes, etc. Are they complex characters and why?

Casting Icon
The Casting icon brings you to the Casting window. Casting lets you easily assign pictures to your characters; this virtual casting couch feature helps you visualize your characters by casting them from your choice of over 750 player pictures or import your own pictures. If you need assistance with names, DSE helps you name your characters from a database of over 10,000 unique names.

(Enhanced) Characteristics Icon
The Characteristics icon brings up the Assign Characteristics window. Here you begin to develop your characters and their relationships with one another by deciding what is driving them, and much more; you achieve this depth into your players by working with four quads (motivation, purpose, methodology, and evaluation) that assist you in developing your characters’ identities and psychologies.

In this window, you can begin to develop your characters and their relationships to each other. Do this by deciding what is driving them in your story. The Character Element Grid of items in the center represents all the possible characteristics (or elements) for your story. For example, does one character support or hinder another?

NOTE: When you add or delete a characteristic (feeling, hinder, control, etc.) in the Characteristics module, the change is also reflected in the characteristics pane of that character in the Players module.

Story Engine Icon
The Story Engine icon takes you to the Story Engine, the structural heart of your story. The Story Engine allows you to tweak your story choices and explore “what if?” scenarios. Considered an advanced Dramatica tool, the Story Engine lets you see how changing a single item ripples throughout your story and affects the other parts.

(New) Master Story Engine
One of Dramatica Story Expert’s more advanced features is the new Master Story Engine option. The master story engine gives you fifty-six story points with which to control the story’s underlying storyform.

As you make specific story point choices, DSE’s interactive story engine shows the effect on the remaining story points. By identifying the parts of the story you know best first, the story engine automatically identifies the implied items that support your choices. You will soon feel that DSE has an uncanny comprehension about your underlying story dramatics.

Theme Browser Icon
The Theme Browser icon brings you to the Theme Browser, which displays a 3-Dimensional view of your story’s dramatic elements, giving a bird’s-eye look at how they interconnect. Recommended for Advanced users only—and DSE is not kidding.

(New) Gists
Building on Dramatica Pro’s outstanding question and answer system, Dramatica Story Expert lets you customize Dramatica’s terminology with “gists,” short descriptive phrases, so that questions conform to your writing style and the story’s subject matter. Gists (the essence of a thing) are a great new feature that helps you personalize Q&A in the StoryGuide section.

The advantage of gists is that they sound more concrete, more story-like, than the generalized labels traditionally associated with Dramatica's structural items. Another advantage is that selecting a gist automatically chooses the structural item with which it is associated.

Gist Specific
For example: the query is more effective when it includes a specific instead of a general key term. If the DSE question is how does ‘activity’ relate to everybody’s troubles in the story, you could replace ‘activity’ with your gist of ‘destroying the environment’, as this phrase represents what activity is specifically taking place in your story. See the difference?

You can select suitable gists (some categories have hundreds, so be patient and diligent) from those that ship with DSE, or write your own gists to better suit your needs as necessary. You can also remove gists from the various related domains that set the background and motives in your story, such as: manipulation, activity, situation, thought, and fixed attitude—terms that will make sense as you work with DSE.

(New) Gist Manager Icon
The Gist Manager controls the management and storage of the gist databases, otherwise known as “Gist Collections.” This is also a convenient place for creating your own personal gists and gist collections.

Story Points Icon
The Story Points window offers another view of your story, a table of your story’s dramatic elements and the illustrations you have written to illustrate them. You may also write or edit your illustrations in the Story Points window.

Reports Icon
The Reports Icon brings you to the Reports window where you view or print detailed reports on your story’s structure, characters, theme, plot, genre, and Illustrations. These reports can also be exported for use in Movie Magic Screenwriter or as chapters and scenes of your novel in your favorite word processing program.

(Enhanced) Progression Icon
The Progression icon brings you to the plot progression view, which gives you a linear display of your story’s 4 throughlines from beginning to end of the story. Each throughline consists of 4 Signposts--indicating where the story stands at certain points—and 3 Journeys—the acts between the signposts.

Brainstorming Icon
Have fun as Brainstorming puts a fresh spin on your story. Based on your story choices so far, Spin-the-Model randomly fills in the rest to give you a storyform you might not have considered. The Character Generator creates new characters with as much random-ness as you allow (gender, complex, archetypal, etc.).

Help Icon
Dramatica has an extensive Online Help system, complete with the User’s Manual and the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story.


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One of the advantages I found is that I can use DSE to suit me in a give and take association. I don’t have to slavishly conform to every premise, although I mostly agreed with DSE’s approach and solutions.

As I had already written over two hundred pages of my novel, my interaction with DSE went like this: I immediately incorporate in my writing whatever information I’ve gleaned from my work with DSE. For example, as I’m typing a response to a DSE query, when I discover an insight into a character, motivation, relationship dynamic, or the plot, which is always exciting, I take that information on the fly and weave the dramatics into my story already in the works in my word processor app. This method invariably leads to another bright idea that surfaces organically without having a contrived or canned feel to it, which an audience will notice. You’ll find the groove and workflow that works best for you.

When I arrived at the beginning in the Storyweaving path, DSE brought up the possible desirability of a prologue. As I thought about it, I realized the dramatic merit of having a prologue in my novel to set the stage. It was easier to compose the prologue after having written quite a bit about the story. I’ll also have to write an epilogue for balance.

NOTE: DSE ships with a variety of popular example stories that fit into the Grand Argument model. The Star Wars example defines how George Lucas incorporated his archetypal characters to produce a memorable story and film that appealed to wide ranging audience. The example of the movie, Witness, seems to be the most fleshed out with details, and a good place to start for an overall reference example.


I found the Characteristics Module particularly challenging and rewarding. Through the selections and pairings I made in the four quads of motivation, purpose, methodology, and evaluation, I was immediately able to appreciate how characters interacted in different areas of their psychology, and with each other. Did the character conflict with another character? Did the character amplify another? Did a character contrast, or be dependent on another? Relationships and connections (human and otherwise) make for a memorable story.

To assign one of the various characteristics, you drop the player’s picture onto that characteristic square. For example, let’s say you’re looking to assign the characteristic of Pursuit in the Motivation quad section. Your protagonist has this trait, but what if the antagonist or other character possesses this attribute to some degree as well? You see the problem.

Besides the brief description of each characteristic that DSE provides, it would help if this was expanded to include an example from popular novels and films.

If more than one character possessed the Pursuit trait, I deferred to the character that had the most impact with that characteristic, which is not as simple as it might sound. Making such subtle decisions helps create complex characters that come alive off the page or on screen. When I did achieve a harmony of players and their characteristics in one of the quad sections, it felt as if I had won the jackpot from one of those old-fashioned one-arm bandits in Vegas.


Until now, we’ve focused mostly on storyforming, which is the process of creating a story’s dramatic skeleton, or structure. To complete your work, you’ll also need to create the narrative. DSE makes a distinction between two different phases of story creation: storyforming and Illustrating.

Storyform: As noted earlier, storyforming is finding the best way to tell your story.

Illustrating (StoryGuide module) is the process of fleshing out that skeleton. Here, you illustrate your storyform choices with specific examples: description, dialogue, events, etc. that will become portions of your full treatment and finished story.

Storyweaving—here (StoryGuide module) is your opportunity to further develop your Illustrating examples and descriptions into more detailed exposition. Storyweaving is the process writers think of as writing. From here, you can then construct scenes that flow into a narrative treatment of your story (Scenes for a screenplay or stage play, Chapters or Scenes for a novel).


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In the Storyweaving path, you’ll create a suitable number of scenes (or chapters, acts, sequences, etc.) for your story. Then, you’ll drop your story decisions and examples into those scenes, weaving your story, as you go, and revisiting prior scenes with new information when good ideas strike.

In the Scene Creation phase of storyweaving, you can also incorporate your story’s Signposts (indicators of where the characters stand at certain key points) and Journeys (dramatic acts between signposts) into a linear time line for your story. While doing so, you assign each of Dramatica’s story elements to one or more scenes, ensuring that they are represented throughout the story. I call the interweaving of scenes and signposts parallel construction.

NOTE: Signposts and journeys are elements of Plot Progression. DSE also prompts you to consider how and when a character is introduced, and his or her dismissal, or outcome in the story. Your audience wants to know how the character's actions and motivations worked out in the end. Did the heroine accomplish her goal? Did the villain get his due?


DSE takes you on journey where on the way you structurally breathe life into your characters while developing a sound plot through a progressive series of questions (which are then based on your earlier decisions and responses) that lead you deeper into your story.

StoryGuide’s result is a complete narrative treatment of your story, a first draft, which is a significant accomplishment. The final step is to export this treatment to one of two places. In Screenwriter by the Write Brothers, you can choose between a formatted screenplay or a novel manuscript (a new format, unique to Screenwriter). The text can also be imported by your word processor as a new document. Either way, your story’s primed to be reworked, expanded, edited, and rewritten into a solidly-structured treatment, or into a more comprehensive first draft.


Print a Storyweaving Overview Report to see how you’ve tied all the elements of your story together, scene by scene. For a plain plot synopsis of your chapters and scenes, print the Story Treatment Report.


If you’re a DSE newbie, then this tactic recommended by the developers is a good starting point. Test-drive the program by creating a new story with DSE before attempting to fix your story’s problems. Initially, don’t try introducing yourself to DSE’s concepts while simultaneously struggling with your own story. After getting a sense of what DSE has to offer, then put your story through the program’s paces. Years ago, I followed this approach, and it made my current DSE experience easier to comprehend and appreciate. Also, for reference and clarity, experiment with the story examples included with DSE.

NOTE: DSE offers good tutorial videos (and much more) on these first steps, easily accessed from the Getting Started splash screen.


I thought how to best express this issue, which most will mull over, as a matter of considering DSE’s usefulness. Charles Dickens, for example, wrote his memorable novel Great Expectations without Dramatica Story Expert. Yes. But, what’s the point of again chasing those red herrings?

Let’s suppose for a moment that Great Expectations doesn’t conform to the Grand Argument Story requirements established by DSE. Then, Dickens’ novel simply represents another form of story. I feel that Dickens who was also a social critic (which directly influenced his writing and character development) would have embraced DSE as a tool (a silent trusted partner), saving him much rewriting time, and here’s why.


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Artists (not Luddites) will adopt anything that can improve their work and productivity in any way. Art and writing are hard work. When Leonardo da Vinci discovered the merits of long drying oil, he immediately made that medium his favorite over fast drying and difficult to work with tempera.

Ansel Adams who took iconic black and white photos of the American West didn’t have Adobe Photoshop, a computer or a digital camera, but I suspect he would have used them all to finesse his images. You get the picture. Writers have gone from pencils, pens, typewriters, and now to computers, all in the name of convenience and efficiency.

Have you ever typed a proper screenplay with all the extensive formatting rules for page numbering, dialog, scenes, shots, and so on? If so, you know that part of the writing process is drudgery. For example, if you used the Screenwriter app from Screenplay Systems that handles all the menial formatting and organizational work for you, there’s no doubt that you would embrace the new technology that lets you focus on the intuitive and creative end of writing.

Using DSE falls nicely into this mindset of using progressive tools that work.


DSE would benefit greatly from a global search feature, which is currently on the developer’s to do list. I would immediately make it a priority. Additionally, I would like control over text formatting: italics, curly quotes, and proper apostrophes. In this way, when I copy and paste from a DSE text field or export a report into a word processor, the formatting is persevered and accounted for. Who could remember which words had italics?

I would also like to have easier to work with expandable text field boxes not a scroll bar alongside a limited size field for areas that require lengthier exposition.


DSE is a great program, but it’s not without bugs that can strike at any moment. There is an option in preferences to prompt you in saving your work every so many minutes (ten minutes by default). I suggest at least every two minutes. As a habitual reflex, I hit command > save nearly every minute. The developers are aware of a number of bugs and are working to correct them with future updates.

NOTE: Also, make sure that you have a backup of your DSE files.


Going in, I wasn’t sure that DSE could help a panster like me who is not an inveterate note taker or pre-planner of my work. After a couple of months of working with DSE, I can report that the program has lived up to its marketing, as it helped me more fully develop my story and the motives of my characters. I may have eventually come to these or similar dramatic decisions on my own. DSE made them happen more quickly, saving me time while keeping me focused.

Dramatica Story Expert 5 is so well thought out and flexible that it serves both budding and established writers.

At this point, you should have a general idea of how the program works. Download a trial version of Dramatic Story Expert here and prove the merit of this unique program for writers of fiction to your own self. You will be glad that you did.

Visit for in-depth tutorials, videos, events, forums, analyses of work, plus much more.

Screenplay Systems, Inc.

Dramatic Story Expert: US$199.95
Compatible with Mac OS X 10.5.8 and higher, including Lion (OS X 10.7) & Mountain Lion & Mavericks (OS X 10.9)

NOTE: Dramatica Story Expert for Windows is currently in the pipeline.




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