About Your Story’s Title

By Melanie Anne Phillips

What’s in a name?  Having at least a working title will help you start your story, even if you ultimately change the title.

The title of your story may or may not have dramatic significance.  In some cases, the meaning of the title may become apparent only during the course or even at the end of a story.  There have even been stories in which the final understanding of the message is only achieved when the title becomes the last piece in the puzzle.

Consider the value of these example titles such as The Verdict (which refers to the story’s climax), Alien (which refers to the subject matter), and The Silence of the Lambs (which refers to the Main Character’s personal problems).

Whether or not a title plays into the story itself, it will always frame the first impression it has on your readers or audience.  To illustrate this, imagine all the other titles the original Star Wars movie might have had.  In actuality, Star Wars was originally titled The Adventures of the Starkiller, then Episode One of the Star WarsAdventures of Luke Starkiller, and even The Journal Of The Whills.  Now, of course, it has been renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  Clearly, you can immediately feel the impact a change in title has on the reader/audience first impression of your story.

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The Four Stages of Story Development

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Authors differ in many ways in how they approach the creation of a story, yet there are four stages in the process through which each author must travel:

1.  Inspiration

2.  Development

3.  Exposition

4.  Storytelling

In the Inspiration stage, you come up with your basic ideas for your Plot, Characters, Theme, and Genre.

In Development, you flesh-out these ideas, adding details and making all the bits and pieces work together in harmony.

In Exposition you determine how to reveal your narrative to your readers or audience over time, story point by story point.

In Storytelling you establish your style, pacing, and voice.

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The Story Mind (Part 10) – The Four Throughlines

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

The structure of a story, then, is the psychology of a single mind made tangible. For the story to be sound and ring true, the psychology must be complete and valid.

But to make a complete argument, it is not enough to simply reproduce the Story Mind structure. We must go beyond that and move into a larger realm that involves the audience.

In a nutshell, the audience will not be satisfied until they see the Story Mind presented to them from four different points of view – the Objective Story, the Main Character, the Obstacle (or Influence) character, and the Subjective Story. Simply put, imagine the goings on in a story as a battle. We can watch that battle from up on a hill overlooking the field, as a General might. This is what we call the Objective view of the story, since it is seeing the story from the outside in. Though from this perspective we care about what happens, it is not as if it is happening to us. Rather, we are simply watching it happen to others. Because we see the big picture, we can tell if a soldier is headed into an ambush, or how he might best achieve his goals. We can evaluate decisions made on the field as being good or bad in the grand scheme of things.

The Objective view is the same perspective we have in real life when we see others trying to deal with their problems. It is easy for us to think we see the best course, not being involved ourselves, and we often offer advice and comments like, “Why don’t you just…” or “How could you possibly have….”

Of course, this ignores how that person might feel, and dismisses any attachments or emotional needs they may have. Because we have no vested interest in the outcome, we can consider the situation dispassionately. After all, we don’t have to wake up in the morning having to deal with the consequences of their actions.

But if we zoom down onto the field and stand in the boots of one of the soldiers, we get a completely different point of view – the Main Character perspective. From here we experience the most passionate appreciation of the battle, rocked by the concussion of dramatic explosions all around us, stumbling across the field without that objective overview, just trying to do our job and survive the clash.

The Main Character view represents our own sense of self – the Story Mind’s self awareness. It is the view from the inside looking out. Though we can clearly see the situation surrounding others, that is a perspective we cannot get of ourselves. Rather, we must try to deduce the “big picture” based on the little personal glimpses of it we get while we grapple with our problems.

For an audience to feel that all the angles of the story’s problems have been explored, both of these real life points of view must be included in the structure. And yet, even they are not sufficient: there are two more perspectives required as well.

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The Story Mind (Part 9) – The Story Mind Revisited

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

So what, exactly, is the Story Mind made of? Dramatica says that “Every complete story is an analogy to a single mind trying to deal with an inequity.” Now that’s very scientific, but what does it really mean? It means that characters, theme, plot and genre are not just people with value standards doing things in an overall setting – rather, character, theme, plot and genre are different families of thought that go on in our own minds, mad tangible, incarnate as character, thematic arguments and plot points.

So a story is as if an author took the mechanism of our minds, made it tangible and put it out there for us to look at so we could examine the problem solving process. Rather than having to be involved in it subjectively, we are told by the author that he or she has the benefit of insight or experience, and that even though it may feel one way to us on the inside, there is a more objective understanding of how we should proceed.

In fact, the Main Character represents the reader/audience position in the story. It represents our own position in our own heads. We know who we are at any given time. In regard to any given issue, we know where we stand.

In essence then, the Story Mind concepts says, “Think of a story as if it were a person.” There’s only one Main Character in a story because there’s only one “I” in our own minds. Further, we all have the same emotion and logical considerations, and each of these must appear as characters in a story for it to feel complete as well. If any parts are missing, the story’s argument will feel incomplete.

Dramatica also says that this Story Mind system came into being as a natural by- product of the process of communication. If you want to state that the approach you are promoting in your story is either the best or worst of all that might be tried, that you have to actually show all the other approaches that might reasonably be taken and illustrate why they aren’t as powerful as yours.

When you create a story argument that has no holes, then you have included all the ways a human mind might consider to solve a problem. In effect, you have created a model of the mind’s problem solving process – a Story Mind.
No one set out to build this model directly. But through centuries of trial and error in storytelling, conventions were developed that worked because they built an analogy to the psychology of the mind.

With this in mind, every once in a while, stand back from your story and think of it as a single person. It is so easy for an author to get so lost in the details of making all the parts work that he or she loses sight of the big picture – the overall impact of the story as a whole.

By taking time to examine whether your story has a sound psychology that makes it feel like a functional person and that the personality of the story itself is both human and interesting as well, you’ll create a consistency that can’t be achieved simply by looking at the structural elements through a microscope.

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The Story Mind (Part 8) – Writing Remakes

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

What happens if you mess up and just alter part of a structure without considering the structure-wide impact that change may have? Here’s an example….

Consider the Bill Murray film, “Scrooged:” (a remake of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”) as opposed to “Scrooge” (the 1951 version of the story starring Alistair Simm).

In the Simm version, Scrooge goes about business in the usual English fashion, but lacks generosity. That is illustrated by his refusal to donate to charity, his lack of consideration for Bob Cratchett’s family’s plight, and statements about the poor such as, “If they would rather die, then they should do so and decrease the surplus population.”

Though some of this continues to exist in the Murray vehicle, the writers clearly wanted to me his character even more of a villain. So, they spent far more time focusing on how mean Murray’s character is, rather than staying centered on his lack of generosity.

In the Simm movie, Scrooge, the ghost bombard him with visions of those he hurt because he might have helped yet did not. Even in the first act, Marley’s ghost laments that he and his ilk are doomed to wander the earth, witnessing those who need help but being unable to intercede.

In the Murray picture, the ghosts make more or less the same argument – there are those who are suffering because you will not help. Yet, that isn’t his problem in this version. His problem is that he is mean-spirited.

In the Simm story (as in Dickens’ original), the Ghost of Christmas Present confronts him with two waifs named Ignorance (lack of education) and Want (lack of what is needed). This drives how the point that it is a lack of action from which Scrooge suffers.

The same arguments are made to Bill Murray’s character. But when he finally changes, it seems a bit hollow. It feels somewhat unmotivated and trite.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the film. But wouldn’t it have been far more satisfying at an emotional level if the argument had matched the problem that needed to be resolved.

If the writers of “Scrooged” had wanted to update the story by making the lead character more proactively villainous, then they should have changed the arguments made by the ghosts as well. Instead of showing Ignorance and Want, they might have shown Defeat and Suffering. These would be the children of the Murray-Scrooge character’s actions – victims of his mean-spiritedness, and a truth with which he could not quibble.

As you can see, structure and storytelling are intimately acquainted, yet are two different creatures. Storytelling can be altered at (as George W. Bush said) “The whim of a hat.” But structure cannot be made mincemeat, willy nilly. No sir! Structure must remain balanced, in symmetry, and if one aspect is changed, then care must be given to ensure that all other affected parts of the structure (directly or indirectly) must be appropriately adjusted as well.

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The Story Mind (Part 7) – Story Structure vs. Storytelling

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

By now, you’re likely pretty familiar with the concept that every story has a mind of its own – a psychology (the structure) and a personality (the storytelling). But, if you are like many authors, knowing that and being able to identify the difference in a finished story may be something of a problem.

Until you can almost intuitively see the difference between story structure and storytelling in a completed story, you stand little chance of being able to employ that knowledge in creating your own stories.

So, in the seminar I teach on Dramatica Theory, our interns came up with a video we show in class that illustrates the point quite clearly. The short segment compares two films that have almost identical structure – “Cyrano de Bergerac” (Jose Ferrer, 1950) and an updated remake of the story, “Roxanne” (Steve Martin, 1990).

In Roxanne, the names have been slightly altered (Chris for Christian and Charley for Cyrano), the wardrobe is contemporary, the setting is in a modern city and the language is plain old American English.

Still, for all these differences, the underlying structure remains the same – the Cyrano character is in love with a girl, believes he is undesirable so does not approach her, but when he learns of another’s love for her he helps the fellow by writing flowery love sonnets to express his own love, thereby satisfying partially his need to share his soul with her. Ultimately, the ruse is discovered, the other suitor rejected, and the girl realizes that Cyrano (Charley) is the one she truly loves.

There is, however, one major structural difference between the two. In the original Cyrano, it is the title character’s suggestion that he write the letters for Christian in order to impress the girl. In Roxanne, it is Chris’ suggestion that Charley (the Cyrano character) write the letters.

As a result, the person who is responsible for all the troubles that follow has changed. Therefore, in the original movie Cyrano does not get the girl and in fact is mortally wounded. But in Roxanne, since it was not he idea to perpetrate the deception, Charley does get the girl and lives to enjoy her love.

When you make a change in one part of a structure, it will almost certainly require changing at least one other aspect of the structure to keep things in balance. The writers of Roxanne intuitively knew this, though they were likely

simply trying to create a film with a happy ending, and yet, they didn’t just change that part. They went right back to the beginning and gave the onus of hatching the plan to Chris rather than Charley.

Writerly instincts or intentional structural design, I do not know. But, in your stories, the more you are able to perceive what will have a structural impact and what is simply a storytelling choice, the more you will be able to ensure that your stories’ structures are sound.

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The Dangers to Writers from Convenience

“Dramatica doesn’t make writing easier; it makes it harder.”

That was opening comment we made in a video interview by the BBC that was intended to show how Hollywood writers were ruining drama by relying more and more on computerized story development aids.

The chief software architect for Dramatica, Stephen Greenfield, just published an “editor’s pick” comment on a New York Times article about the dangers of convenience, further elaborating on how convenience works against the writing process.

The following link goes to the NYT article with his comment featured in the upper right:

Read the New York Times article and comment

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The Story Mind (Part 6) – Audience Reach

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

Who is your audience? And for that matter, does a single story structure affect all audience members equally? Let’s find out….

In Dramatica, there are some story points that deal directly with the structure and others that pertain to the collective impact of a number of story points. Audience Reach is one of these combined dramatics. It is also called an Audience Story

Point because it is concerned with the kind of reach the story has into the audience.

Specifically, it describes whether your readers/audience will empathize or sympathize with your Main Character. Empathy is when your readers/audience identify with your Main Character. Sympathy is when they care about your main character but feel more as if they are standing right behind the character, rather than in its shoes.

When audience members empathize, they suspend their disbelief and emotionally occupy the Main Character’s position in the story. When audience members sympathize, it seems to them as if the emotional maelstrom of the story revolves around the Main Character, making him or her the Central character of the story.

Audience Reach is determined by the effects of two story points: Story Limit and Main Character Mental Sex. Limit describes the story dynamics that force the story to a conclusion. Mental Sex describes whether your Main Character thinks like a man or a woman.

Story Limit has two variations – Time Lock and Option Lock. Time Lock stories are like the motion picture “48 Hours” in which a police detective has exactly two days before he has to return to jail a convict who is the key to solving another crime. When the time is up, the story reaches its conclusion.

Option Lock stories are similar to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in which a transformed prince must make someone love him before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose or he will remain a beast forever. When the last petal falls, the conclusion is reached.

Main Character Mental Sex also has two variations – Male and Female. Mental Sex does not refer to the physical gender of the Main Character but only to its mental gender. (Because none of us truly know how the opposite sex thinks, authors often can’t help but write all of their characters as thinking in their own sex, regardless of the character’s physical gender.)

Examples can be seen in the motion picture “Aliens” in which the Main Character (Ripley) was actually written for a man and changed only the character’s dialog when the role was cast with Sigourney Weaver. Alternatively, in the movie “The Hunt for Red October”, Jack Ryan is a female mental sex Main Character as he solves problems intuitively and emotionally, rather than by observation and logic. As one might expect, male and female readers/audience members empathize or sympathize with a Main Character for different reasons.

For men, they will empathize with Male Mental Sex Main Characters and sympathize with Female Mental Sex Main Characters, regardless of which limit is

invoked – time lock or option lock. Conversely, women will empathize in an option lock but only sympathize in a time lock, regardless of what mental sex the Main Character possesses.

Why the difference? Well, the reasons are in the physiology of the brain, and too deep to go into here. If you are really interested, you’ll find a complete description of what causes the mental differences between mean and women later in this program in a lesson devoted specifically to mental sex.

Still, for a quick visual, imagine a plain old clock face. Imagine that men’s minds sit at noon, and women at 9 o’clock. Thinking clockwise, men see women as being three quarters of an hour away. Women see men as only being one quarter of an hour away. This serves to illustrate that the sexes really aren’t opposite, but are more accurately sideways to each other.

When men and women converse, they are often speaking apples and oranges and are not really in conflict or disagreement. They simply don’t have a means of seeing things the way the other sex does. So, it is not surprising that men’s empathies might be drawn to those who think like them (also at noon on the clock) while women (seeing men as just one quarter hour away) would be more affected by the situation in which the main character finds itself. For women, and option lock is more like the way they think – trying to balance all the elements at once, just as in their own lives. But time locks (to women) are just deadlines and seem imposed from the outside rather than open to some degree of control.

Okay, let’s put that behind and see what we can do with this information.

If you want to create a story in which both men and women empathize with the Main Character, then you will want to limit your story with an option lock but employ a Male Mental Sex Main Character. On the other hand, if you want to explore a despicable Main Character, you may not want to disturb your readers/audience by making them empathize with such a cad. In such a case, you can ensure your readers/audience will only sympathize by writing a Female Mental Sex Main Character in a time lock story. The danger is that since nobody empathizes, nobody really gets into the story and it doesn’t sell very well.

Naturally, the other two combinations can also exist – Men Empathize (Male Mental Sex) and women Sympathize (Time Lock) or Women Empathize (Option Lock) and men only sympathize (Female Mental Sex).

You can predict whether a book or movie will attract more men or women, just by seeing who empathizes. Hollywood tends to favor Male Mental Sex / Option Lock stories most often. This has the entire audience empathizing, and therefore (since far more mixed mental sex couples go to movies that single individuals or same mental sex couples) it ensures the largest percentage of the audience is personally involved in the movie, thereby increasing its box office (all artistic merit aside).

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The Story Mind (Part 5) – The Grand Argument Story

Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica

Over the years a number of my students have asked how the Dramatica chart can possibly describe the fullness of the human experience, especially since we, as a species, seem to have an unlimited supply of issues?

The quick answer is that even in chemistry there are a limited number of elements yet they combine to create the vast variety of materials in our world. Similarly, we only have a limited number of kinds of issues; they just manifest themselves in different combinations.

But there’s an even better (or at least a more technical) explanation how the vast panorama of our hearts and minds can be captured in a chart of finite size. Bear with me on this, and fasten your mental seat belts….

It is a well-known psychological fact that short-term memory can hold seven items (+ or – 2). We have seven days in a week, seven is considered a magic or lucky number, phone numbers are seven digits (minus the area code).

Why is seven so important? And more important still, what does this have to do with story and the size of the Dramatica Chart? As described above, the Dramatica Chart is built from eight items – the four external dimensions and the four internal ones. And that’s about as big a thought as the mind can hold at one time.

As an illustration, try this thought experiment. Picture a piece of twine. Easy to do. Now, picture that twine twisted along its length like a candy-cane. Again, pretty easy. Next, imagine that twisted twine again twisted into a spiral shape like a slinky. In your mind’s eye, you can probably still see the twists on the twine itself, even while you are also seeing the length of twine wrapped into that spiral shape.

Now, take that slinky-line twine, and spiral the spiral. You know, like you used to do as a kid. You take a slinky, stretch it out, then wrap it around your leg in a spiral. At this point, though it take a bit of work, you can probably still see the candy-cane twists along the body of the twine, even while simultaneously observing the slinky shape of the overall length of the twine and the bigger spiral as it wraps around your leg.

Finally, remove your leg from the center of the largest spirals and assume the twine holds its shape. Try to go one more level and twist the spiraled spiral into a larger spiral, even while maintaining the candy cane twists on the twine itself.

If you are like most people, you’ve reached your limit. You can focus on any part of this construct and see it clearly, as well as the twists one level larger and one level smaller. But to try and picture a three dimensional object that is twisting at four different levels – well that’s seven things to consider and is the limit of short- term memory.

Go any larger and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who could see the smallest twist all the way to the largest at the same time. Theoretically, it is not possible for a mind that exists in a three dimensional brain to go that far.

Why? Well, we have four dimensions in the external world and four dimensions in the inner world. (They really all exist in our minds, but we have four kinds of external measurements we can take to see how things are – Mass, Energy, Space, and Time – and four internal measurements available – Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire.

This gives us eight places to look. But, at any given moment, our mind – the seat of our consciousness – has to be somewhere. So, our “self” sits on one of these areas to look at the other seven. That gives us one place to be and seven slots we can fill with information. And that is why our short-term memory is just seven items.

Getting back to the Dramatica Chart, because it provides all eight dimensions, it can produce with it as much detail as we can hold in our minds at one time without losing track of the big picture.

Recall our discussion of how a story structure needed to include all the ways the audience might consider to solve the story’s problem in order to prove to their satisfaction that the author’s purported solution is the best of the worst. What is to keep the audience from coming up with an infinite number of alternatives? Simply, for any given problem, the capacity of the audience mind is limited by the same seven dimensions (plus one to stand on) factor. If you satisfy all the potential solutions within those eight dimensions, you satisfy the audience because anything larger or small that goes beyond that scope would seem unreasonable or not pertinent.

In Dramatica Theory we call this limit, the Size of Mind Constant. And, we call any story that covers all the reasonable ways in which a given problem might be solved a Grand Argument Story.

Author’s arguments may be insufficient or may be overstated, but a Grand Argument story is one in which the argument is just big enough and no bigger than necessary to cover all reasonable alternatives as defined by the size of mind constant.

And that limit? Well, that’s what determines that the Dramatica Chart is four towers, each with four levels.

So leaving theory behind (for quite a while we hope) all you need to do as an author is explore your story’s problem to full extent of the Dramatica Chart and your argument will be exactly the right size to convince any audience.

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Introducing the Story Mind

Watch the entire 113 part  series free on our web site…

Transcript of the soundtrack from this video:

Dramatica Unplugged

Class One: Introduction

1.1 Introducing the Story Mind

Let’s look at the central concept in Dramatica: the Story Mind. It’s what makes Dramatica unique. Dramatica says that every complete story is an analogy to a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity.

That’s quite a mouthful, but what it really means is that every complete story is a model of the mind’s problem solving process. In fact, it says that all the elements of the story are actually elements of a single human mind –  not the author’s mind, not the audience’s mind but a mind created symbolically in the process of communicating across a medium to reach an audience. It is a mind for the audience to look at, understand and then occupy. That’s the story’s structure itself.

Characters, plot, theme and genre, are not just a bunch of people doing things with value standards in an overall setting. Rather, characters, plot, theme and genre are different families of thought that go on in a Story Mind, in fact that go on in our own minds, made tangible, made incarnate, so that the audience might look into the mechanisms of their own minds – see them from the outside looking in – and thereby get a better understanding of the problem solving process, so when a particular kind of problem comes up in their lives, they’ll have a better idea how to deal with it.

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