So You Think You Can Plot: Dramatica vs. Plottr (Review)
Plotting software fills in the niche gap between writing software and editing software and allows you to iron out your novel before you begin writing even your rough draft. Dramatica and Plottr are the only two services I know of that allow for effective pre-writing plotting, so I’m going to review each and pit them against each other in a final comparison.
The story I’ll use is my recent NaNo story--drafted, yes, but completely unrefined and looking at a massive re-write later on. It’s a sci-fi utopian novel about 80,000 words long, and I’m looking for several key features in an editing software:
A flexible and coherent plot structure,
The allowance for different POV’s/subplots,
A smooth interface experience, and
The ability to scope out potential plot-holes or problems I haven’t seen yet.
Since I’ve been using Dramatica for almost ten years now and am far more accustomed to how it works, I’ll start with that.
Pulling open my Dramatica tab, I am reminded that visuals are not its strong suit. The graphics are about 25 years out of date--since Dramatica's parent company, The Write Brothers, hasn't changed it since the original release in the '90s.
Don't be afraid of it. Storytelling is still the same, and I've never encountered anything with the sheer wealth of what Dramatica has to offer:
Dramatica revolves around what it calls the “Storyform.” A Storyform is more than an outline--it’s a complete, thorough understanding of your book, involving characters, themes, and relationships between the different parts of your story. A Storyform can help you plan, but it can also help you edit and polish as you understand more about how your story works and the psychology of your central characters.
To get to that Storyform, I’ll answer a series of multiple-choice questions, starting with the character section. I could also have gone with the "Start Here" StoryGuide, but as a more experienced user, I'll cut to the chase.
Dramatica’s multiple-choice questions can be jarring when you’re first looking at them, but they become simpler as you progress and move further to a single Storyform. It’s also a good idea to go back and change your answers if the questions no longer have good or relevant answers since what you chose earlier will change what’s available later on. This is a part of finding a core balance in your story that will help continuity and give your writing a more resonant quality.
When I’m done with characters, I’ll move on to the theme.
After a few more minutes--I’ve spent most of an hour working on this so far, so we’ll note that Dramatica is a time consumer--I finally have my Storyform.
Now we can begin! That’s right, everything to this point is really just setup.
If you click around on Dramatica’s other icons, you’ll find a ton of different resources and ways to use your Storyform. Since we’re mostly concerned about plotting and outlining here, I’ll check out the outline.
It looks complex, but also thorough, as far as theme and subplots are concerned. That’s the deal with a lot of Dramatica. The system takes a long time to understand and navigate, but you’ll have access to anything you could want when you’re done.
You can also check out an overview of your story composed of your own answers to questions. It’s a good sheet to print out if you want everything in one place.
Dramatica isn’t merely a plotting or outlining software. The more you explore it, the more features you’ll find. A favorite of mine is a super detailed theme overview that blends easily with my characters and storyline. I'd never considered the role of, say, truth vs. falsehood in my story, but thinking about it does shed a new light on Clara's discovery of what destroyed the mysterious twelve settlements, and how that will change her attitude towards the AI Salvador for the rest of the story.
Again, I’ve been using Dramatica for almost ten years now and am experienced on the platform. But if my screenshots are scaring you away, Dramatica is not the only fish in the sea. Let’s take a look at our other option.
Dramatica is not a strictly “planning” software, but Plottr definitely is. Plottr is a simple outlining program that allows you to match your ideas up with popular outlining structures. It has many options to choose from, including Hero’s Journey, the Snowflake Method, and the classic three-act structure.
This is awesome if you have a favorite structure, but if you like to structure your stories from scratch, you’ll miss out on a lot of what Plottr has to offer.
Since my novel has a rough three-act feel to it, I decided to opt for the matching structure, here called the 8-point structure after the number of core events.
Plottr’s interface is incredibly easy to use and look at (a welcome relief after those hours of scalding my eyes on Dramatica), and it took only a couple of minutes for me to type out my information.
For having such a simple interface, Plotter did allow for more flexibility than I had expected. I was able to add a subplot, character profiles, and tags to help better identify and search scenes. There’s even a nice filter option if I want to trace the outline for a single character’s story or tag, as I found with side character Winner Chapel’s personal outline below.
Plottr’s definitely an easy choice if you want something simple and straightforward to help outline your story, but how does it stack up in the end?
Dramatica vs. Plottr
Plottr and Dramatica don’t entirely compete with each other, so you could easily get both and put them to good use. But early on, I established what I was really looking for in a plotting service, so let’s see which one adds up to our winning list.
A flexible and coherent plot structure.
When it comes to a good outline, Dramatica does have advanced flexibility--but I’ll have to give this point to Plottr because the resulting outline I got really was that much easier to work with. If I was starting writing this story and I just wanted to know which scene I was going to tackle next, Plottr would make the process significantly easier.
Allowance for different POV’s and subplots.
Dramatica’s Story Engine works out complexity and subplots that you might not have realized existed, but Plottr makes adding subplots easy.
I have to give points to both Dramatica and Plottr on this one because while the process on Plottr was easier, Dramatica gave me more to work with and really challenged me to think about my side characters and subplots so that I was able to craft more and better conflict. I learned nothing new about my story when I entered it in Plottr. I merely recycled old information.
However, Dramatica led me to realize that one of my side characters, Winner Chapel, is increasingly torn at the fact that duty and morality don’t always align. His own dilemma, different from my main character’s but bleeding into their relationship. He’s discontent. He tries to do the right thing, but he also tries to do his job--and those two are increasingly at odds.
I’d never really noticed or thought about Winner’s struggles like that, and that’s one reason why I love Dramatica. It points out the parts of your story you miss, and it allows you to fill in the gaps for a more complete novel.
A smooth interface and experience.
This one goes to Plottr, which has a smoothness almost unmatched in my experience. One note is that you do sacrifice many features which you can find in Dramatica if you want Plottr’s simplicity, but if you want a system that you can whip out and navigate in a few minutes, Plottr wins clear and simple.
The ability to scope out potential plotholes or unforeseen problems.
This is a point for Dramatica, and a critical one for me when I plan. The only frustration Plottr gave me when I tried it is that it only told me things I already knew. Yes, I like the templates and the simplicity--but it’s little different than looking the templates up online and sketching my ideas out by hand in my Rocketbook.
Dramatica forced me to think about my story in new ways and identify parts where my own planning had failed before.
We’re at three points for Plottr and two for Dramatica. In the end, if you want a basic outlining software to organize your thoughts, Plottr is arguably a better option. If you’re working through your ideas and seeking a better understanding of your story, you might want to check out Dramatica.
Which of these softwares helps you with plotting? Share your experiences below or join my Facebook group for further discussion.