Working late tonight on the opening for my new book on narrative. Here’s the text, then back to bed;
Narrative isn’t anything mysterious. It is, simply, a description of our attempt to solve a particular problem. At the end of the narrative, the author passes judgment on our efforts, declaring that we chose a wise path or a poor one.
Because our problem-solving process relies on a standard set of considerations, the same story points appear again and again in different narratives. Because each problem is unique, these story points come into play in different orders and at different points in the process.
For a story about a given problem to ring true, the narrative must include all the story points we would use in real life problem solving, explored in the order we would bring them to bear.
For a story to ignite our passion, the author must clothe the narrative in the trappings of storytelling style.
In a sense every narrative is a genome comprised of the same components, arranged to create a viable entity. This structure give the story its identity and storytelling provides its personality.
This book identifies the elements of narrative structure and describes how they are derived from and can also be applied to our own human nature.
Story structure is built on fours, not on twos. Though it may seem like conflict is created between two opposing forces, there are two other forces at play as well.
Consider a dramatic circuit consisting of four elements: Potential, Resistance, Current, and Power – just like an electrical circuit.
Every scene has all four elements and if one is missing, the circuit is incomplete and the story won’t flow.
But there’s more to it than that. These four elements have a relationship that we see in many areas of life.
Here are some other sets of four that create the same kind of internal mechanism:
Earth, Water, Wind, Fire
Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb
Red, Blue, Green, Brightness
Universe, Physics, Mind, Psychology
Mass, Energy, Space, Time
Characters, Plot, Theme, Genre
Motivation, Method, Evaluation, Purpose
As you can see, each group of four has a very similar feel. And the last item in each set seems a little out of place compared to the other three.
There’s an important psychological reason for that, but it would require going way too deep for this post. For now, just know that stories reflect how we think, and we think in four dimensions because we perceive four dimensions. So, it is no surprise that story structure is also based on fours, because that is the way we fully explore a topic in fiction or in life.
Story Structure | Where Does Story Structure Come From?
In previous installments of this series, we’ve determined that stories do, in fact have structure. And, we explored how each story’s structure is something of a map that shows us how to go about solving a particular kind of problem or how to improve something our lives. This could be by achieving a goal, learning how to cope, learning a new way of looking at life, etc.
But that’s all pretty nebulous. So, if stories have structure, it has to be something more tangible. And yet, it also has to be flexible enough to account for all the different kinds of stories that have been told.
That’s a pretty tall order! And yet, here we are: with an innate sense that some sort of structure does exist, yet a frustrating inability to see it clearly, though we can almost make it out, moving around in the dark waters beneath our subject matter and storytelling style.
In this installment, we’re going to strip all that away and take a good look at the beast. And to do that, we’re going to explore where story structure comes from in the first place.
Story structure begins with us. Not surprising since stories are about people, after all. But more specifically, story structure begins with how each of us, as individuals, go about solving problems and trying to improve our lives.
When confronted by something we’d like to change or something new we’d like to attain, we look at from all sides: with our logic, how we feel about, or with a skeptical eye, for example.
We consider the issue through each of these perspectives (or filters) and see how things look. Do any of these suggest a course of action? Which ones look promising, and which ones set up a red flag: “Best to not do anything at all!”
Then, our mind takes over and collates all those assessments, “This feels right, but it makes not sense at all,” or, “I know it’s the right thing to do, but I just can’t tolerate it.”
At some point, we’ve thought about it enough, and we determine our plan for what we’re going to do and/or how we are going to respond.
That’s pretty much how problem solving works for you (at a greatly simplified level) and for your main character too!
Story structure for your main character (excluding the rest of the story) boils down to this: It shows the timeline of how your main character examines the central issue at the heart of their personal journey and then makes a decision about the best path to take.
But what about the rest of the story? What about all those other characters beside the main character – the ones who are in all kinds of relationships struggling with each other over the goal at the center of the plot? Where does that story structure come from?
Actually, the same place – just bigger.
Here’s how it works…
When people get together around a common issue (like a goal or a cause), after a while that group begins to self-organize. One person will emerge as the Voice Of Reason for the group, another as Passionate Heart, and yet another as the Resident Skeptic.
You see, when we work together to resolve something of common interest, we still use the same tools and perspectives we do as individuals. The difference is, that for ourselves we do all of those jobs like general practitioners because there’s just us to do them.
But in a group, if each individual tried to do all the jobs, it would be a mess! Everyone would be overlapping their effort, and since each one would be doing many jobs, they couldn’t devote all their time to any one job.
So socially, we understand that intuitively. And that’s why in a group, people begin to specialize. One looks at the issue solely through the eyes of Reason. Another is the Skeptic who questions everything. Both are essential perspectives to take, but by specializing, each one can devote all their time to a single perspective and go for a deep dive. They can work their way down into the details that no one person could do if they were trying to do a lot of other jobs too.
In this way, by specializing, the group can see deeper into every issue it encounters, and that serves every member of the group.
But here’s the cool thing… Because all those jobs in the group are the same ones we use as individuals, the structure of the group is nearly identical to the structure we use in our own minds. In a sense, it becomes a map of our own minds’ problem solving processes, but something external to ourselves – visible in the way the group is organized. In short, we can see the workings of our own minds in the workings of any organized group. Whoa…
Just as the structure of the main character is based on the structure of our own internal problem solving processes, the structure of the overall story is based on the structure of how a group goes about solving problems.
So you have two identical maps of the problem solving process in a story: 1. The individual trying to work out what’s best for him or her. 2. The group trying to figure what’s best for it (and all its members).
But here’s the clincher:
What’s best for an individual is not always what’s best for the group he belongs in. In other words, the needs of the one are often in conflict with the needs of the many. And the truth of the matter is, all dramatic tension is created by that conflict between what the individual wants to achieve for himself or herself and what their group’s agenda demands of them as a member of the group. Again, whoa.
Think about that. Story structure is like a wheel within a wheel. The individual is struggling to navigate their life to resolve their issues, all the why trying to negotiate their participation the the group effort.
Kinda feels like everything from A Christmas Carol to Hamlet and touches on genres from Romance to Action to Buddy Stories, Comedies, Westerns, Spy Thrillers, you name it.
And that is why story structure was so hard to see: Since stories unfold over time, everyone was looking for a timeline kind of structure. But the truth is, stories are only timelines from the perspective of the reader or audience, because that is how they are exposed to it.
From an author’s point of view, the story is a done deal. They see it complete – beginning, middle, and end all at once. An author stands outside of time and works out his or her structure as if it were a framework for the story – scaffolding that supports their message or intent.
A tweak here, and adjustment there, and the dramatic forces that represent the kinds of things we encounter in everyday life are fine-tuned to provide just the point of view the author wants the reader or audience to arrive at, once the storytelling is over and they look back at everything they experienced to understand what it meant.
Well that’s quite a journey we’ve taken here ourselves. But it led to a new way of looking at story structure that brings brings it into greater focus by seeing where it came from in the first place.
In other installments in this series we’ll talk about the specific dramatic elements and components that make up structure, and how you can use them together to create just the impact you want to have.
This entire series is drawn from our book on the subject that we published way back in 1991, Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story. Just click on the link to read it for free in a downloadable PDF.
Dramatica is a theory of story that offers both writers and critics a clear view of what story structure is and how it works. Dramatica is also the inspiration behind the line of story development software products that bear its name.
The central concept of the Dramatica theory is a notion called the “Story Mind.” In a nutshell, this simply means that every story has a mind of its own – its own personality; its own psychology. A story’s personality is developed by an author’s style and subject matter; its psychology is determined by the underlying dramatic structure.
The Story Mind
The Story Mind is at the heart of Dramatica, and everything else about the theory grows out of that. If you don’t buy into it, at least a little, then you’re not going to find much use for the rest of this book. So let’s take look into the Story Mind right off the bat to see if it is worth your while to keep reading…
Simply put, the Story Mind means that we can think of a story as if it were a person. The storytelling style and the subject matter determine the story’s personality, and the underlying dramatic structure determines its psychology.
Now the personality of a story is a touchy-feely thing, while the psychology is a nuts-and-bolts mechanical thing. Let’s consider the personality part first, and then turn our attention to the psychology.
Like anyone you meet, a story has a personality. And what makes up a personality? Well, everything from the subject matter a person talks about to their attitude toward life. Similarly, a story might be about the Old West or Outer Space, and its attitude could be somber, sneaky, lively, hilarious, or any combination of other human qualities.
Is this a useful perspective? Can be. Many writers get so wrapped up in the details of a story that they lose track of the overview. For example, you might spend all kinds of time working out the specifics of each character’s personality yet have your story take a direction that is completely out of character for its personality. But if you step back every once and a while and think of the story as a single person, you can really get a sense of whether or not it is acting in character.
Imagine that you have invited your story to dinner. You have a pleasant conversation with it over the meal. Of course, it is more like a monologue because your story does all the talking – just as it will to your audience or reader.
Your story is a practical joker, or a civil war buff (genre), and it talks about what interests it. It tells you a story about a problem with some endeavor (plot) in which it was engaged. It discusses the moral issues (theme) involved and its point of view on them. It even divulges the conflicting drives (characters) that motivated it while it tried to resolve the difficulties.
You want to ask yourself if it’s story makes sense. If not, you need to work on the logic of your story. Does it feel right, as if the Story Mind is telling you everything, or does it seem like it is holding something back? If so, your story has holes that need filling. And does your story hold your interest for two hours or more while it delivers it’s monologue? If not, it’s going to bore it’s captive audience in the theater, or the reader of its report (your book), and you need to send it back to finishing school for another draft.
Again, authors get so wrapped up in the details that they lose the big picture. But by thinking of your story as a person, you can get a sense of the overall attraction, believability, and humanity of your story before you foist it off on an unsuspecting public.
There’s much more we’ll have to say about the personality of the Story Mind and how to leverage it to your advantage. But, our purpose right now is just to see if Dramatica might be of use to you. So, let’s examine the other side of the Story Mind concept – the story’s psychology as represented in its structure.
The Dramatica theory is primarily concerned with the structure of a story. Everything in that structure represents an aspect of the human mind, almost as if the processes of the mind had been made tangible and projected out externally for the audience to observe.
Do you remember the model kit of the “Visible Man?” It was a 12″ human figure made out of clear plastic so you could see the skeleton and all the organs on the inside. Well that is how the Story Mind works. it takes the processes of the human mind, and turns them into characters, plot, theme, and genre, so we can study them in detail. In this way, an author can provide understanding to an audience of the best way to deal with problems. And, of course, all of this is wrapped up and disguised in the particular subject matter, style, and techniques of the storyteller.
Now this makes it sound as if the real meat of a story, the real people, places, events, and topics, are just window dressing to distract the audience from the serious business of the structure. But that’s not what we’re saying here. In fact, structure and storytelling work side by side, hand in hand, to create an audience/reader experience that transcends the power of either by itself.
Therefore, structure and storytelling are neither completely dependent upon each other, nor are they wholly independent. One structure might be told in a myriad of ways, like West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. Similarly, any given group of characters dealing with a particular realm of subject matter might be wrapped around any number of different structures, like weekly television series.
But let’s get back to the nature of the structure itself and to the elements that make up the Story Mind. If characters, plot, theme, and genre represent aspects of the human mind made tangible, what are they?
Characters represent the conflicting drives of our own minds. For example, in our own minds, our reason and our emotions are often at war with one another. Sometimes what makes the most sense doesn’t feel right at all. And conversely, what feels so right might not make any sense at all. Then again, there are times when both agree and what makes the most sense also feels right on.
Reason and Emotion then, become two archetypal characters in the Story Mind that illustrate that inner conflict that rages within ourselves. And in the structure of stories, just as in our minds, sometimes these two basic attributes conflict, and other times they concur.
Theme, on the other hand, illustrates our troubled value standards. We are all plagued with uncertainties regarding the right attitude to take, the best qualities to emulate, and whether our principles should remain fixed and constant or should bend in context to particular circumstances.
Plot compares the relative value of the methods we might employ within our minds in our attempt to press on through these conflicting points of view on the way toward a mental consensus.
And genre explores the overall attitude of the Story Mind – the points of view we take as we watch the parade of our own thoughts unfold, and the psychological foundation upon which our personality is built.
Archetypes are the spine of any story, whether you use them in a monolithic manner or sculpt them into more complex variations. Understanding archetypes will help you to ensure your structure is human and complete.
In part 1 of this series we defined what archetypes are. In part 2, we discovered where archetypes come from and why they showed up in story structure. Here in part 3, we’ll define a specific cast of archetypal characters and outline how to employ them to strengthen your story.
How many archetypes are there? I have my own answer to that question but to see what else is out there I did a quick search and found scores of lists of archetypes, each with its own collection. One of them promised (and actually provided) more than three hundred different archetypes!
In looking through that group, I discovered something interesting: There was no consistency to what they considered to be an archetype. Some were defined by their profession, such as “Chef.” Now, I suppose if I really twisted my head around, I could see a “Chef” archetype as being a character who goes through life with recipes, trying to bring things together into a finished whatever, though it seems a bit of a stretch.
Another archetype was “Builder,” but how is that much different from a Chef? The Builder probably has plans (a recipe) that he uses in life to try and make things (like a meal, or a perfect marriage or, again, whatever).
And then there were archetypes put forth by Jung: the Mother, the Trickster, and the Hero, for example. The Mother is a relationship by birth, the Trickster is defined by what he (or she) tries to do to others, and the Hero is a Hero because of his stout heart, I imagine, or perhaps because of heroic acts. You can see these kinds of folks in real life, but what is the consistency that defines them or the underlying concept that binds them all together?
The farther I read through this extensive list, the more confusing it became trying to understand what made an archetype an archetype – be they con man, coward, or crone. And worse, it gave me no idea how a Coward might interact with a Chef, or a Trickster with a Crone.
Honestly, it’s kind of a mess out there in archetype-land. And that’s what my partner Chris and I discovered some thirty years ago when we first began work on what was to become our own theory of story structure, including our own list of archetypes.
If you’ve read in the first two articles in this series, you know that we came to believe that archetypes – true archetypes – represent the most fundamental human attributes that we all share such as Reason, Emotion, Skepticism, and Faith.
When we are trying to understand what’s happening in our lives and chart a course forward, we bring all of these attributes to bear on the problem so we can see the issues from all angles by using all the mental tools we have to make the best decisions.
That’s how we do it as individuals. However, when we gather together in groups such as a team or a company or even a family, and we agree to work toward a common cause or purpose, the group automatically self-organizes so that one person emerges as the voice of Reason for the group at large, and other becomes the resident Skeptic. Least ways, that’s our theory.
In other words, we each take on roles representing one of the fundamental approaches we take to solving problems for ourselves. And in this way, the group benefits from having a number of specialists on the job, rather than a collection of general practitioners, all trying to do the same thing. It is kind of a natural progression of social evolution when humans bond together.
So, in stories (which try to represent the human issues of real life), every character uses all these traits to solve their personal problems in the tale, but take on the role of representing just one of these traits when working with the group. And those roles ultimately became embedded in the conventions of story structure as archetypes.
Now our theory of story structure is a lot more detailed and complex than that, but you get the idea. And based on that idea, here is our list of archetypes associated with the human qualities they represent.
There are four primary or Driver archetypes and four secondary or Back Seat Driver archetypes that influence the primary ones. First I’ll list them by the human attributes they represent, and then I’ll list them again with their archetypal names as they appear in story structure.
Initiative / Reticence
Intellect / Passion
Conscience / Temptation
Confidence / Doubt
As you can see by the primary attributes listed, the driver archetypes directly try to grapple with the problem whereas the passenger archetypes think about consequences and put the problem in context. It is just the way the human mind works when it fashions narratives to get a grip on the situation.
Now here are those same attributes again with their archetypal names.
Initiative (Protagonist) / Reticence (Antagonist)
Intellect (Reason) / Passion (Emotion)
Conscience (Guardian) / Temptation (Contagonist)
Confidence (Sidekick) / Doubt (Skeptic)
Let’s take the archetypes one by one just to get a sense of how each human attribute shows up in a story.
First up, the Protagonist. The Protagonist is the character that keeps on plugging away at the goal, no matter what. That’s the human quality of Initiative – the motivation to affect change, get up and go, make something happen, shake things up, and so on.
Next, the Antagonist. The Antagonist is the character that wants to prevent the goal from being accomplished, no matter what. That’s the human quality of Reticence (reticence to change) – the motivation to keep things as they are, put them back the way they were, quash the fires of rebellion, and so on.
Side note: In James Bond films, it is the villain who takes the first strike and Bond who thwarts him, so from an archetypal standpoint, the villain is the Protagonist and Bond is the Antagonist, just by the human attributes they represent in structure. Just think about that for a moment. It is one reason why Bond seems like a different kind of hero. There’s a lot more about this kind of thing in our theory, but its a bit off-the-point for now, so lets look at the next pair of archetypes.
The Reason archetype is the character who tries to solve every issue by figuring it out. They apply logic to the matter, and if it doesn’t make sense, they are against it (rather ignoring the humanity of the situation).
The Emotion archetype is the character who wants everyone to follow their heart – be yourself, if it feels right do it (as we used to say in the 60’s). Of course, now I’m actually in my 60’s but that’s another story….
Now before we move on to the passengers, consider how these archetypes always travel in pairs. Protagonist / Antagonist and Reason / Emotion. Every archetype has a counter part, and the conflict between the characters in each pair mirrors the conflicts in our own minds as we duke it out between two different ways of deciding what to do so we can have confidence in the last one standing as the approach to take.
In other words, our initiative is weight or pitted against our reticence – should we do something or let sleeping dogs lie? Which is better? Well, that all depends on the situation, and that’s what stories are all about: The author is telling us that in this particular situation, it is better to take initiative, or that it is better to try and maintain the status quo. But the primary decision we have in the world is to act or not to act, and that’s why Protagonist and Antagonist have at each other as the problem-solving effort of the story progresses – to provide evidence for the author’s message about which is the better approach in this specific case that the story explores.
It is the same with Reason and Emotion. But it is also different in a big way. Initiative and Reticence are diametrically opposed. Intellect and Passion can be opposed, but don’t have to be. Sometimes they can actually agree. Sometimes what makes the most sense also feels the best. Sometimes what makes sense feels so-so. And sometimes it feels like a horrible thing to do. Both Reason and Emotion might also agree that something is rotten – it doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t feel right either.
As you can see, with these two pairs of archetypes we’ve discovered two different kinds of character relationships. And when you build a story around each of these characters, you’ll see all of these pop up as it unfolds.
Now, let’s take a look at the passengers to get a better grip on those archetypes…
The Guardian looks out for consequences as in, “Where’s this all going to lead to?” or “Fine, but what price might we have to pay later.” These are the functions of the human quality of conscience.
When you think about it, if you strip away all the moral associations, Conscience is really about thinking about the ramifications and Temptation is going for the immediate benefit (we’ll get around the consequences later.. somehow….)
And so, Guardian and Contagonist are partly about the long term gain vs. the short term gain. You see folks who lean more to one or the other in real life, but we all have both of those two traits – even a sociopath weighs the immediate benefit vs. the eventual risk.
And finally we have the Sidekick and the Skeptic. In stories, think of the Sidekick as the faithful supporter and the Skeptic as the doubting opposer. These two archetypes are rather like cheerleaders – one representing our confidence in finding a solution and the other representing self-doubt.
Of course in stories, the overall plot is about the group, so these attributes show up like they do in real-life organizations: Confidence says, “Go team! I know we can do it!” where Doubt is more like Eeyore or the Cowardly Lion, “I think we’d better give up on this because we haven’t got a chance.”
Now I could go on and on about these archetypes and, in fact, I actually have! Here’s a link to a free online version of the book we wrote about our theory of story structure.
You might also be interested in the software we created based on the theory. You can try it risk-free for 90 days! Check it out…
Though this concludes our brief introduction to archetypes, in future articles, we’ll break the archetypes into smaller dramatic elements and show how you can rearrange those to create more complex and deeper characters that will fulfill all necessary structural roles.
In this article I’m going to talk about how the Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure uses the term “ability” as an element of dramatics, and how it applies not only to story narratives and characters but to real people, real life and psychology as well.
If you look in Dramatica’s “Periodic Table of Story Elements” chart (you can download a free PDF of the chart at http://storymind.com/free-downloads/ddomain.pdf ) you’ll find the “ability” in one of the little squares. Look in the “Physics” class in the upper left-hand corner. You’ll find it in a “quad” of four items, “Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire”.
To begin with, a brief word about the Dramatica chart itself. The chart is sort of like a Rubik’s Cube. It holds all the elements which must appear in every complete story to avoid holes. Conceptually, you can twist it and turn it, just like a Rubik’s Cube, and when you do, it is like winding up a clock – you create dramatic potential.
How is this dramatic potential created? The chart represents all the categories of things we think about. Notice that the chart is nested, like wheels within wheels. That’s the way our mind’s work. And if we are to make a solid story structure with no holes, we have to make sure all ways of thinking about the story’s central problem or issues are covered.
So, the chart is really a model of the mind. When you twist it and turn it represents the kinds of stress (and experience) we encounter in everyday life. Sometimes things get wound up as tight as they can. And this is where a story always starts. Anything before that point is backstory, anything after it is story.
The story part is the process of unwinding that tension. So why does a story feel like tension is building, rather than lessening? This is because stories are about the forces that bring a person to change or, often, to a point of potential change.
As the story mind unwinds, it puts more and more pressure on the main character (who may be gradually changed by the process or may remain intransigent until he changes all at once). It’s kind of like the forces that create earthquakes. Tectonic plates push against each other driven by a background force (the mantle). That force is described by the wound up Dramatica chart of the story mind.
Sometimes, in geology, this force gradually raises or lowers land in the two adjacent plate. Other times it builds up pressure until things snap all at once in an earthquake. So too in psychology, people (characters) are sometimes slowly changed by the gradual application of pressure as the story mind clock is unwinding; other times that pressure applied by the clock mechanism just builds up until the character snaps in Leap Of Faith – that single “moment of truth” in which a character must decide either to change his ways or stick by his guns believing his current way is stronger than the pressure bought to bear – he believes he just has to outlast the forces against him.
Sometimes he’s right to change, sometimes he’s right to remain steadfast, and sometimes he’s wrong. But either way, in the end, the clock has unwound and the potential has been balanced.
Hey, what happened to “ability”? Okay, okay, I’m getting to that….
The chart (here we go again!) is filled with semantic terms – things like Hope and Physics and Learning and Ability. If you go down to the bottom of the chart in the PDF you’ll see a three-dimensional representation of how all these terms are stacked together. In the flat chart, they look like wheels within wheels. In the 3-D version, they look like levels.
These “levels” represent degrees of detail in the way the mind works. At the most broadstroke level (the top) there are just four items – Universe, Physics, Mind and Psychology. They are kind of like the Primary Colors of the mind – the Red, Blue, Green and Saturation (effectively the addition of something along the black/white gray scale).
Those for items in additive color theory are four categories describing what can create a continuous spectrum. In a spectrum is really kind of arbitrary where you draw the line between red and blue. Similarly, Universe, Mind, Physics and Psychology are specific primary considerations of the mind.
Universe is the external state of things – our situation or environment. Mind is the internal state – an attitude, fixation or bias. Physics looks at external activities – processes and mechanisms. Psychology looks at internal activities – manners of thinking in logic and feeling.
Beneath that top level of the chart are three other levels. Each one provides a greater degree of detail on how the mind looks at the world and at itself. It is kind of like adding “Scarlet” and “Cardinal” as subcategories to the overall concept of “Red”.
Now the top level of the Dramatica chart describe the structural aspects of “Genre” Genre is the most broad stroke way of looking at a story’s structure. The next level down has a bit more dramatic detail and describes the Plot of a story. The third level down maps out Theme, and the bottom level (the one with the most detail) explores the nature of a story’s Characters.
So there you have the chart from the top down, Genre, Plot, Theme and Characters. And as far as the mind goes, it represents the wheels within wheels and the spectrum of how we go about considering things. In fact, we move all around that chart when we try to solve a problem. But the order is not arbitrary. The mind has to go through certain “in-betweens” to get from one kind of consideration to another or from one emotion to another. You see this kind of thing in the stages of grief and even in Freud’s psycho-sexual stages of development.
All that being said now, we finally return to Ability – the actual topic of this article. You’ll find Ability, then, at the very bottom of the chart – in the Characters level – in the upper left hand corner of the Physics class. In this article I won’t go into why it is in Physics or why it is in the upper left, but rest assured I’ll get to that eventually in some article or other.
Let’s now consider “Ability” in its “quad” of four Character Elements. The others are Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire. I really don’t have space in this article to go into detail about them at this time, but suffice it to say that Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire are the internal equivalents of Universe, Mind, Physics and Psychology. They are the conceptual equivalents of Mass, Energy, Space and Time. (Chew on that for awhile!)
So the smallest elements are directly connect (conceptually) to the largest in the chart. This represents what we call the “size of mind constant” which is what determines the scope of an argument necessary to fill the minds of readers or an audience. In short, there is a maximum depth of detail one can perceive while still holding the “big picture” in one’s mind at the very same time.
Ability – right….
Ability is not what you can do. It is what you are “able” to do. What’s the difference? What you “can” do is essentially your ability limited by your desire. Ability describes the maximum potential that might be accomplished. But people are limited by what they should do, what they feel obligated to do, and what they want to do. If you take all that into consideration, what’s left is what a person actually “can” do.
In fact, if we start adding on limitations you move from Ability to Can and up to even higher levels of “justification” in which the essential qualities of our minds, “Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire” are held in check by extended considerations about the impact or ramifications of acting to our full potential.
One quad greater in justification you find “Can, Need, Want, and Should” in Dramatica’s story mind chart. Then it gets even more limited by Responsibility, Obligation, Commitment and Rationalization. Finally we end up “justifying” so much that we are no longer thinking about Ability (or Knowledge or Thought or Desire) but about our “Situation, Circumstance, Sense of Self and State of Being”. That’s about as far away as you can get from the basic elements of the human mind and is the starting point of where stories begin when they are fully wound up. (You’ll find all of these at the Variation Level in the “Psychology” class in the Dramatica chart, for they are the kinds of issues that most directly affect each of our own unique brands of our common human psychology.
A story begins when the Main Character is stuck up in that highest level of justification. Nobody gets there because they are stupid or mean. They get there because their unique life experience has brought them repeated exposures to what appear to be real connections between things like, “One bad apple spoils the bunch” or “Where there’s smoke , there’s fire.”
These connections, such things as – that one needs to adopt a certain attitude to succeed or that a certain kind of person is always lazy or dishonest – these things are not always universally true, but may have been universally true in the Main Character’s experience. Really, its how we all build up our personalities. We all share the same basic psychology but how it gets “wound up” by experience determines how we see the world. When we get wound up all the way, we’ve had enough experience to reach a conclusion that things are always “that way” and to stop considering the issue. And that is how everything from “winning drive” to “prejudice” is formed – not by ill intents or a dull mind buy by the fact that no two life experiences are the same.
The conclusions we come to, based on our justifications, free out minds to not have to reconsider every connection we see. If we had to, we’d become bogged down in endlessly reconsidering everything, and that just isn’t a good survival trait if you have to make a quick decision for fight or flight.
So, we come to certain justification and build upon those with others until we have established a series of mental dependencies and assumptions that runs so deep we can’t see the bottom of it – the one bad brick that screwed up the foundation to begin with. And that’s why psychotherapy takes twenty years to reach the point a Main Character can reach in a two hour movie or a two hundred page book.
Now we see how Ability (and all the other Dramatica terms) fit into story and into psychology. Each is just another brick in the wall. And each can be at any level of the mind and at any level of justification. So, Ability might be the problem in one story (the character has too much or too little of it) or it might be the solution in another (by discovering an ability or coming to accept one lacks a certain ability the story’s problem – or at least the Main Character’s personal problem – can be solved). Ability might be the thematic topic of one story and the thematic counterpoint of another (more on this in other articles).
Ability might crop up in all kinds of ways, but the important thing to remember is that wherever you find it, however you use it, it represents the maximum potential, not necessarily the practical limit that can be actually applied.
Well, enough of this. To close things off, here’s the Dramatica Dictionary description of the world Ability that Chris and I worked out some twenty years ago, straight out of the Dramatica diction (available online at http://storymind.com/dramatica/dictionary/index.htm :
Ability • Most terms in Dramatica are used to mean only one thing. Thought, Knowledge, Ability, and Desire, however, have two uses each, serving both as Variations and Elements. This is a result of their role as central considerations in both Theme and Character
[Variation] • dyn.pr. Desire<–>Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • Ability describes the actual capacity to accomplish something. However, even the greatest Ability may need experience to become practical. Also, Ability may be hindered by limitations placed on a character and/or limitations imposed by the character upon himself. • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency
[Element] • dyn.pr. Desire<–>Ability • being suited to handle a task; the innate capacity to do or be • An aspect of the Ability element is an innate capacity to do or to be. This means that some Abilities pertain to what what can affect physically and also what one can rearrange mentally. The positive side of Ability is that things can be done or experienced that would otherwise be impossible. The negative side is that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done. And, just because one can be a certain way does not mean it is beneficial to self or others. In other words, sometimes Ability is more a curse than a blessing because it can lead to the exercise of capacities that may be negative • syn. talent, knack, capability, innate capacity, faculty, inherant proficiency
In my previous article, A Brief Introduction to Archetypes – Part 1, I defined what an archetype is, and what it is not. Here in Part 2, we’re going to expand on that understanding by revealing where archetypes come from and how they came to be in story structure.
Let us consider then the origin or archetypes…
Each of us has within us, regardless of age, gender, race, culture, or language, certain fundamental human attributes such as reason, passion, skepticism, belief, conscience, and temptation.
The qualities are not so much traits and processes our minds employ to try and understand our world and ourselves, to identify problems and seek solutions, and to chart a course forward to maximize the good in our lives and minimize the bad.
When we put a box around some aspect of our lives, such as our relationship to our spouse, our position at work, or our membership in a club or organization, we call it a narrative. That’s all narrative is, really, is to box in a part of our existence to understand it independently of the rest of our life experience.
Of course, these personal narratives are not really closed systems since what happens in one part of our lives certainly affects the others. But our lives as a whole are so complex that we need to parse them into smaller, more easily considered pieces And each of of these is a personal narrative.
And, as we are all aware, we don’t only create narratives about ourselves and the people in our lives, but we also build them around larger issues, such as whether or not we believe in Global Warming, why we believe that, and what (if anything) we think should be done about it. In short, every opinion we have is a narrative, large or small.
When we consider any of these personal narratives all of our human attributes come into play to try and choose the best path, e.g., reason, skepticism, and temptation.
But when we gather together in groups to explore a common issue or toward a common purpose, very quickly someone will emerge as the voice of reason for the group, another as the resident skeptic, and one other group member will represent the temptation to take the immediately expedient course (even if ill-advised in the long-term).
These roles that form within a group narrative are the basis of archetypes. It happens automatically as the group self-organizes. How this happens is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but should you care to dig deeper you may find the social dynamics behind it quite intriguing.
Now that we know how archetypes form, how did they get into story structure? Well, to answer that we really need to define story structure. Fortunately, the explanation isn’t all that complex.
To begin with, story structure isn’t artificial and it isn’t imposed on stories arbitrarily from the outside to cram dramatics into some sort of rigid form. On the contrary, story structure gradually emerged in stories as early storytellers sought to understand the human animal as individuals and also how they interacted together.
Imagine, then, that we all have these fundamental attributes we employ in our personal narratives and that the same attributes rise up as archetypes in our group narratives. These seminal storytellers would note that the problems we face every day occur when one of our personal narratives is in conflict with someone else’s and also that problems occur when our personal narrative is in conflict with our role in a group narrative.
Simply put – we conflict with others who have different agendas and we also feel pressure when our chosen course is in conflict with our part in the big machine.
Now, as storytellers began to note that the same human qualities (such as reason and skepticsm) kept cropping up in every story that felt complete, they began to include them in every story. So, a Reason archetype became a required character in every story, as did a Skeptic. The Protagonist and Antagonist showed up as well.
As more archetypes were identified, they embedded in the conventions of storytelling. Through trial and error, all the of these “primary colors” of the human heart and mind were noted, made their way into those conventions, and eventually solidified into what we know as story structure today.
It should be noted that story structure is flexible, rather like a Rubik’s cube. The building blocks are always the same but they can be arranged in a myriad of patterns, as long as they don’t violate the way people really interact. Just as a Rubik’s cube is always a cube, a story structure is always a narrative. That’s what gives it form.
Now the archetypes are just part of story structure. Plot elements such as goal, requirements, and consequences as well as sequential movements like acts, sequences, and beats, describe the different ways folks strive to move a narrative forward to the conclusion they seek. Thematic items, such as thematic issue, thematic conflict, and message look into our value standards and belief systems, pitting one against another to illustrate the best ways of dealing with different kinds of problems. And even genre has underlying human qualities represented in the structure which tend to provide perspective and context for the narrative, giving it richness and and overall organic feeling.
All of what leaves us where? Well, it leaves us with a general understanding of the origin of Archetypes and how they made their way into story structure.
And that is where we close in Part 2 of A Brief Introduction to Archetypes an anticipate Part 3 in which we will specifically list the archetypes, show how to employ them in your story, and then bust them apart into their component elements to illustrate how you can move beyond archetypes to create far more complex and human characters without violating the truth of structure.
Author’s Note: The concepts in this article are drawn from the Dramatica Theory of Narrative I co-created with my partner, Chris Huntley. All of this and much more made its way into our Dramatica Story Structure Software, which you can try risk-free for 90 days. Give it whirl!
Writers and narrative theorists often speak of Archetypes. When they do, Jung and Campbell and the Hero’s Journey quickly come to mind. And yet, if pressed, most writers would admit they don’t really have a solid grip on what an archetype is, where they come from, and how they can or should be used in a story.
So, here’s a little exploration into the nature and function of archetypes in narrative to give you something a little more definitive…
First of all, archetypes are structural characters. That means that a Protagonist is a Protagonist whether they are man, woman, creature, or humanized force of nature. And it doesn’t matter how old they are, what their goal is, or what personality traits they have.
If you strip away all those storytelling elements, Hamlet is the same as Homer Simpson as Protagonists.
So what is this dramatic function that defines a Protagonist and makes them all the same? By definition, a Protagonist is the character who will not stop trying to achieve the overall story goal until they succeed or die trying.
Okay, but that is very plot-oriented. What about stories that focus on a troubled character who has to grapple with all kinds of life issues and perhaps make a decision or take a leap of faith in order to resolve them?
Well, the character in story who dealing with an inner demon or has a point of view (like Scrooge) that really needs changing is called the Main Character. The Main Character in a story is the one you root for – it is the character you want to find peace and/or happiness. And all the emotional ups and downs along the way seem to revolve around them.
Often, a Main Character is the same person as the Protagonist. In this case, you have a Hero – the guy leading the effort to achieve the goal is also the guy who is grappling with an inner issue. And in the end, they will either succeed or not in the goal, and they will either resolve their personal issue or not.
The goal and the personal issue aren’t really tied together, so you can have four kinds of endings:
A Happy Ending in which the Hero succeeds and resolves his angst, as in Kingsman, Frozen, or Wizard of Oz.
A Tragic Endings in which the Hero fails to achieve the goal and does not resolve his angst as in Doctor Zhivago, Hamlet, or Brokeback Mountain.
A Personal Triumph in which the Hero fails to achieve the goal but manages to resolve his angst anyway as in Rocky, How to Train Your Dragon, or The Devil Wears Prada.
A Personal Tragedy in which the Hero succeeds in achieving the goal but does not resolve his angst as in Chinatown, Silence of the Lambs, or The Dark Knight.
Getting back to archetypes, we can see why a Hero isn’t a true archetype but more of a stereotype who is created by making the same person in a story both the Protagonist and the Main Character.
Of course, the Protagonist is not always the Main Character. Consider both the book and movie versions of To Kill A Mockingbird. In the story, it is Atticus, the righteous lawyer (played by Gregory Peck in the movie) who is the Protagonist. He has the goal of trying to get an acquittal for a black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl in a small southern town in the 1930s. He fails to do so, and after the conviction the man is killed trying to escape.
But Atticus is not the Main Character of To Kill A Mockingbird. The Main Character is Atticus’ young daughter Scout. We see the story through her eyes. And scout is the one with a personal issue to resolve: She believes that Boo Radley, the emotional challenged man who is kept in a basement down the street by his family, is a monster – a boogeyman who would kill children if he ever got hold of them.
Yet Scout has never seen Boo but has only bought into the rumors about him. In the course of the story, Boo secretly protects Scout and her brother from the wrath of the white girl’s father who seeks to harm them because of Atticus defending the black man.
In the end, Scout realizes that it is Boo who has always looked after them from the shadows. She had him all wrong, and she now smiles and accepts him for the caring man he really is.
And so, the message of To Kill A Mockingbird is that we (even innocent children) can be prejudiced whenever we prejudge someone based on hearsay and rumor, rather than by our own experience.
Imagine if Atticus were the Main Character instead. Then the reader/audience would come out of the story feeling all self-righteous by standing in Atticus’ shoes. Atticus never wavers in his belief in fair justice, so he has nothing to grapple with. But by making Scout the Main Character, the message strikes home to the reader/audience at an almost subconscious level – deep enough to possibly make us all reconsider our preconceptions about others.
As you can see, a Protagonist is an archetype defined simply by being the character who will never stop pursuing the story goal. And in this regard, Hamlet is no different than Homer Simpson.
The Main Character is not an archetype but a perspective – a character with whom the reader/audience can identify to provide a first person experience in regard to the story and an opportunity for the author to send a message about a particular outlook, such as with Scrooge.
At the end of part one of our introduction to archetypes we can sum up a few things:
An archetype is a structural character
An archetype is defined by their dramatic function, not their personality
A Main Character provides the first person position in a story to the reader/audience
A Main Character grapples with an inner issue.
A Hero is a stereotype in which the person who is the Protagonist is also the Main Character.
As the final thought for part one, any of the archetypes might be made the Main Character so, for example, we might see the story through the eyes of the Antagonist, rather than the Protagonist, and it would be the Antagonist who is also the person struggling with a personal issue. In this example, we have created one of the forms of an Anti-Hero.
Are there other kinds of Anti-Heroes? Yes! Who are they, and who are the other archetypes, and where do archetypes come from, and how can an author best put them to work?
These and many other questions will we answered in A Brief Introduction to Archetypes ~ Part 2 -coming soon….
Author’s note: Most of these concepts come from the Dramatica theory of narrative structure I developed along with my writing partner, Chris Huntley. They became the basis for our Dramatica Story Structuring Software. Click the link to try it risk-free.
Perhaps the most fundamental error made by authors, whether novice or experienced, is that all their characters, male and female, tend to reflect the gender of the author. This is hardly surprising, since recent research indicates that men and women use their brains in different ways. So how can an author overcome this gap to write characters of the opposite sex that are believable to all readers?
In this article, we’ll explore the nature of male and female minds and provide techniques for crafting characters that are true to their gender.
At first, it might seem that being male or female is an easily definable thing, and therefore easy to convey in one’s writing. But as we all know, the differences between the sexes have historically been a mysterious quality, easily felt, but in fact quite hard to define. This is because what makes a mind male or female is not just one thing, but also several.
First, let’s consider that gender has four principal components:
Anatomical sex describes the physicality of a character – male or female. Now, we all know that people actually fall in a range – more or less hairy, wider or narrower hips, deeper or higher voice, and so on. So although there is a fairly clear dividing line between male and female anatomically, secondary sexual characteristics actually create a range of physicality between the two. Intentionally choosing these attributes for your characters can make them far less stereotypical as men and women.
Sexual Preferences may be for the same sex, the opposite sex, both, or neither (or self). Although people usually define themselves as being straight, gay, bi, or celibate, this is also not a fixed quality. Statistics shows, for example, that 1/3 of all men have a homosexual encounter at least once in their lives.
Although it often stirs up controversy to say so, in truth most people have passing attractions to the same sex, be it a very pretty boy or a “butch” woman.
Consider the sexual preference of your characters not as a fixed choice of one thing or another, but as a fluid quality that may shift over time or in a particular exceptional context.
Gender Identity describes where one falls on the scale between masculine and feminine. This, of course, is also context dependent. For example, when one is in the woods, at home with one’s family, or being chewed out by the boss.
Gender Identity is not just how one feels or thinks of oneself, but also how one acts, how one uses one’s voice, and how one wishes to be treated. Often, a male character may have gentle feelings but cover them up by overly masculine mannerisms. Or, a female character may be “all-business” in the workplace out of necessity, but wishes someone would treat her with softness and kindness.
Actually, Gender Identity is made up of how one acts or wishes to act, and how one is treated or wishes to be treated. How many times have we seen a character who is forced by others to play a role that is in conflict with his or her internal gender self-image? Gender Identity is where a writer can explore the greatest nuance in creating non-stereotypical characters.
Finally, Mental Sex describes where one falls on the scale from practical, binary, linear, logistic, goal-oriented thinking to passionate, flexible, emotional, process-oriented thinking. In fact, every human being engages in ALL of these approaches to life, just at different times and in different ways.
Now, in creating characters, consider that each of the four categories we just explored is not a simple choice between one thing or another, but a sliding scale (like Anatomical Sex) or a conglomerate of individual traits (like Gender Identity). Then, visualize that wherever a character falls in any one of those four categories places absolutely no limits on where he or she may fall in the other categories.
For example, you might have a character extremely toward male anatomical sex, bi-sexual (but leaning toward a straight relationship at the moment), whose gender identity is rough and tumble (but yearns to be accepted for his secret sensitivity toward impressionistic paintings) who is practical all the time (except when it comes to sports cars). Any combination goes.
But when it comes to just Mental Sex by itself, there are four sub-categories within that area alone which tend to define the different personality types we encounter:
Every character always has a Conscious choice to focus on the components or processes at any given moment. In other words, in a given situation, at each level of Mental Sex does a character center on the way things are or the way things are going? At each level is the character more interested in getting his or her ducks in a row or in a pond?
Memory relies on our recollections to organize our considerations in a give situation toward components or processes. This can lead us to be more logistic or holistic by training, even if it is contrary to our conscious preference.
Subconscious is driven by the sum total of all our experiences, lumped together beneath the level of accessible memory. It provides the tendencies we have to be attracted or repelled from the situations and activities we encounter in life.
You might expect PRE-conscious to be in this list before Conscious, but there is a reason why it is here at the deepest level of our mental aspects. Preconscious is a filter that stands between us and what we perceive. It diminishes some things and enhances others. In the extreme, it make things disappear or appear to exist when in fact they do not.
Think of Rose Colored Glasses, prejudices, or matrixing where we see animals in the clouds or faces in the patterns of floorboards, and you’ll get a feel for how the preconscious works. Perhaps the best example is that after a time in a room we no longer hear the air conditioner or the refrigerator or the fish tank filers. In psychology this is called a selective filter, and it is due to habituation.
But in terms of mental sex, the preconscious is even more than that. There appears to be a difference in the wiring of the brains of men and women that is not due to experience but cast before birth. And that leads to a difference in perspective in which men and women do not necessarily see our world the same way inherently.
In brief, each of these “levels” or “attributes” of the mind can lean toward seeing the world in more logistic or holistic terms. And all four levels can be either one regardless of what the other three tend to be.
And so, people in the real world can be incredibly complex and in very subtle ways when it comes to the kinds of mental attributes we, as a society, tend to associate with one gender or the other.
Finally, beyond all of these considerations is the cultural indoctrination we all receive that leads us to respond within social expectations appropriately to the role associated with our anatomical sex. These roles are fairly rigid and include what is proper to wear, who speaks first, who opens the door or order the wine, who has to pretend to be inept where and skilled where else (regardless of real ability or lack there of in that area), the form of grammar one uses in constructing sentences, the words one is expected to use (“I’ll take a hamburger,” vs. “I’d like a salad”), and the demeanor allowable in social interaction with the same and the opposite sex, among many other qualities.
In the end, writing characters of the opposite sex requires a commitment to understand the difference between those qualities, which are inherent and which are learned, and to accept that we are all made of the same clay and merely sculpt it in different ways.
As you likely know, I am the co-creator of the Dramatica theory of narrative, the Storymind theory of narrative psychology, and of the Mental Relativity theory of what can best be called narrative physics, which deals with the underlying mathematics of the Dramatica model and how they apply to our perceptions of reality, even so far as to determining what we perceive to be the laws of the physical world.
What you may not know is that, though the original tenets and equations of Dramatica are still as valid today as they ever were, the extent of the theory has continued to grow as it has been applied to more and subjects and as more and more branches of the theory have been developed to a greater extent.
But today, something has happened for which there is no precedent: I have discovered a new part of the theory equal to all that has been previously documented and emanating side by side from the very top.
For those in the know, this new realm is the temporal equivalent of “one side multiplies and the other divides” from our first breakthrough regarding the equations of narrative.
With that concept framing the coming explanation, let us begin…
Originally, the “one side multiples and the other divides” came to me in a dream (yeah, right, but really). You can read all about it here: Dramatica – How We Did It
This new half of the theory also began with a dream. So sue me.
I had this dream about a university where I was going to be speaking about, what else, narrative theory. Before the talk, a professor in one of the classes asked me to help him with a problem: He couldn’t schedule his class because the students weren’t completing their projects on time. I thought for what seemed like about ten seconds in the dream and then gave him my advice: Use one time for the class and another for the projects.
I had no idea what this meant at the time any more than I did about “multiplies and divides” in the previous incident. But the dream then continued. Apparently, I had just finished the speaking presentation and afterward, the dean of the university called me to his office with a problem as well. He complained that he couldn’t schedule the university because the professors weren’t keeping their classes on time.
Again, I thought for about ten seconds and gave him this advice: Use one time for the university and another for the classes.
And then I woke up. And I realized this was the same kind of thing as my previous dream nearly 30 years ago. And again, as before, I had no idea what it meant.
So I thought about it, and then I thought some more. I was convinced this instance held the same potential as the first one – I just didn’t know what that was yet.
As before, then, I realized I need to back-burner process this until my subconscious was ready to divulge what it wanted my conscious mind to know. But the bummer is, I didn’t ask for this knowledge – didn’t want it – wanted to just drift off into the sunset having done my work on narrative theory. But no. Stupid subconscious!
So this went on for a few weeks with several concepts put forth by my conscious mind to explain what this meant, yet all of them falling short of really connecting with what this dream felt like it meant.
And then this morning, in the shower, the truth of the matter struck me. I had been thinking the past few days and old thought with a new spin. For some years I’ve realized that there is a pace at which I can work on projects, even those that I don’t like, that is comfortable and pleasant. And there is a pace at which the work is horrible and stressful.
Earlier this week, I told Teresa that I didn’t get out and hike or go to the movies any more because I have been putting off taking a shower until late in the day when I’m too tired to out and have fun. But, I have always hated taking a shower. I loathe it. I find it the most unpleasant thing one can do on a regular basis.
But today, I made a point to take a shower earlier than normal so we could get done some essential work before the weekend. And while in the shower, I realized that I was racing through the process because I hated it, but had never in my life taken a leisurely shower and luxuriated in it – because I HATE it – luxuriating in a shower? Non sequitur.
But what if, said my mind to me – what if the actual reason you hate showering is because you race through it. And what if you intentionally slowed down and took your time? So, unable to resist a practical experiment, I slowed down. I stood in the warm water, sensually applied the suds and – well, let’s not get grody about all this. “Grody” – ancient vernacular – look it up.
What I found was that I could actually enjoy a shower, if taken as a pleasant clip. And then the “one time for the big thing and one for the component smaller thing” came back to me. And I realized that message from my subconscious was all about fractal time. Yeah.. that’s right… fractal time.
But I had no idea what I meant by fractal time. So I walked around the concept in my head and this is what I saw. Dramatica theory and its offshoots and cousins are all about that point at which if you are looking at something macroscopic digitally – in other words, you can see the macroscopic components, then there is a point microscopically where the littler components are so small, you fail to see pieces because they all blend into a single unit or a single line: “one side multiples and the other divides”: one side is seen as homogeneous and the other as made of parts.
In Dramatica, the differential between those two magnifications is the essence of what defines the scope of a narrative. We call it “the size of mind constant.” It states that single narratives can be no larger than one in which when you look at the biggest part of the story argument you can’t look any larger without being able to hold the smallest parts of the message argument in your mind at the same time. Or conversely, when you look at the smallest parts of the argument, the narrative can be no bigger than one in which you can also see the components of the biggest parts of the argument at the same time.
Like boxcar covering a certain number of ties on a railroad track, our minds can see a certain span from the largest to the smallest in one single glance. We get around this limitation by moving the box car back and forth along the track. So, we move beyond the largest components of the argument and temporarily lose sight of the smaller pieces, consigning them to memory, then move down to the details again and beyond those smaller pieces into even smaller parts of the argument and lose track of the larger components.
Back and forth we go, from the macroscopic to the microscopic, pushing the limits of what we can see about the subject until we would see so much we’d lose track of what it all meant as it turns into a structure-less glob of perspectives.
A fractal dimension in narrative is defined by a human limitation as to the biggest argument you can make in which all parties can see all the parts without any blending into homogeny. We call such a narrative a Grand Argument Story because though you can tell smaller narratives, you can’t tell larger ones. (Though a story might contain more than one narrative, in which case each must fit within the size of mind constant, but they can all be considered as part of the entire work that explores that subject matter – just like in real life where we all juggle many narratives simultaneously and in succession as well.
Now that’s a spatial fractal. One definition of a fractal is “the spatial record of the results of the interaction of order and chaos.” But what is a temporal fractal? What would that be, I wondered, still in the shower…
Well the first thought was going back to the dream. My original interpretation had been that one time for the big and one for the smaller had this aspect I couldn’t quite parse but I could feel that I wasn’t being told the solution was magnitudes of time but qualities of time, natures of time – as if one kind of time for the big and another kind for the small.
So I starting thinking about what kinds of time there were. And then, up from the memory vaults, came a concept I’d put forth in 1996 or thereabouts when I was recording hours of audio speculating and extending Dramatica narrative theory into narrative psychology and narrative physics: Objective time vs. subjective time.
I those days I had first thought these two kinds of times mean one that was the same for everyone and another kind that was unique to the individual. You know, kinda like Einstein’s theory that the faster you go, the more time slows down for you compared to everyone else.
Of course, we really see that in the old example of the space ship going near the speed of light, but in reality, that subjective time is there always, in each of us because, after all, just by standing on a different part of the globe, we are traveling faster or slower – 1000 mph at the equator, 600 mph in the temperate zones, and near 0 mph at the poles (discounting our transit round the sun and our solar system through the galaxy and so on, ad infinitum.
But since the effects of speed on time increase logarithmicly or some such, you can’t really see them at the speeds we’re talking about here. Still, it is intriguing to consider that the person just a few feet away from you is aging at a different rate than you are because you are not rotating around the earth at the same speed.
After a few years, however, I abandoned the concept of objective and subjective time as interesting but not particularly useful (and too experiential), and instead shifted to thinking of time as being either constant or stretchy. Stretch time… I really liked the sound of that. It meant that time could be constant (within observable parameters) as we both watch the seconds go by on a clock, but could be changing for each of us, relative to one another, as we go pacing back and forth in a room opposite to each other (within measurable, or at least theoretical parameters), due to our changing speeds in rotation around the earth.
So one magnitude of time is observable (constant) and the other is beneath the level of our observation (stretchy). That replicates the relationship of macroscopic and microscopic narrative argument components that defines the fractal nature of narrative described above in relation to the Grand Argument Story. So THAT is what a temporal fractal is – a flow of time that appears to be constant (objective reality) and an actual flow that goes faster and slower for each individual compared to all the others (subjective reality).
Now isn’t it strange that in the case of time itself, what you can commonly observe appears to objective reality, and what you individually experience but cannot observe appears to be subjective reality, and yet, constant time is really based only on the common limits of our collective minds to perceive differences, so it is really subjective, and stretchy time is what is really going on with each of us, yet because it cannot be directly observed and is different for each individual, we see it as subjective time when it really is the objective truth. There’s enough just in that alone to create mobius loops of our philosophy and our science.
So the reality is that time is stretchy, but we perceive it as constant. That seems simple enough.
After a while, back in the 90s and early 2000s I can to call stretchy time relativistic time because is was both more accurate and also sounded more scientific.
While in the shower then, all this came flooding back to me and I then understood that the two kinds of time from my dream were constant time and relativistic time. One kind (such as a class) has to be constant when the other (individual projects) has to be seen as relativistic (each student proceeding at his own pace.
Of course you see, then, that for the constant to remain a constant even if some students’ projects would exceed the class time allotted, then to end at the appointed time, each project could only be completed if the amount of detail in the project were allowed to vary to enable a more swift completion. And this illustrated how time (deadlines) are related to space (detail) and how each affects the other.
So, my two kinds of time were actually part of the same quad that began with “one side multiples and the other divides.” That’s the spatial part of the narrative/psychology/physics of the model. The temporal side is “one side is absolute and the other is relative.” Together, they complete a quad one level up from the entire Dramatica model we have created so far. In other words, this opens up a second half of narrative consideration, equal in size to that of the original, but all about time.
Now the multiply/divide side gave us an equation that resulted in the development of four separate classes of stories/considerations – Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology. Universe is the fixed external state of things. Physics covers all the external processes. Mind is about fixed states of mind. Psychology covers internal processes (manners of thinking).
Taken collectively, these four classes describe all external or internal states or processes. Spatially speaking, you can’t think of anything that isn’t an external or internal state or process. Game over. Done.
But now with time as the second half of the multiply/divide quad, what would the four top-level classes of temporal narrative be?
Inception, Duration, Flow, and Fluctuation. In other words, when does it start, how long does it last, how fast is it going, how much does that vary?
The four classes of temporal narrative structure – the prime fractal dimension. There it is.
Of course, I’m sure those names will change and the understanding of what they mean and how they relate to one another in a quad arrangement will alter and grow. But for now, I am simply reporting a rather nice breakthrough in realizing there were two more components at the top to fill out the quad, and to suggest the four temporal classes that engenders.
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