Introducing the Story Mind (Revisited)

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Here’s a flashback video from 1999 – the very first comprehensive video recorded explanation about the Dramatica theory!  Check out my retrospective notes below the video.

Okay, here’s what this looks like to me seventeen years later…

Aside from the early tech, the content, while accurate, is so scientifically logical – not at all an inspiring piece for a writer.  Nor is it particularly useful.  I mean, cool concept and all – the structure of a story is a model of the mind – but what do you do with that?

Well, over the years, we’ve learned many better ways to explain these concepts and always with an eye toward practical application.  Here’s how we look at this same concept nowadays:

What the heck is story structure anyway?  Where did it come from?  The answer is actually pretty simple.  Story structure is our best attempt to understand ourselves and our relationships with others.  That’s it.  Period.

We create scores of narratives every day in real life when we try to figure out what someone intended or what’s behind his or her behavior, and how we might best respond to it.

Fictional stories are just case studies in which a single human trait, such as in A Christmas Carol regarding Scrooge’s lack of generosity, is explored with the purpose of an author telling an audience, “I’ve had some life experience and I have discovered that under these conditions, this is the best way to respond.”

We don’t have time in our lives to learn first-hand all the useful approaches we might take to minimize our emotional pain and/or maximize our happiness.  So, just like when we get together  to solve a physics problem or work out a strategy for our sports team or our sales team, or even just how to raise our children, mend fences or tell our mate there’s something that’s bothering us about our relationship – we create a narrative: a map of where we think everyone is coming from, how we expect them to behave, and the course of action we can take to best alter the situation to what we want it to be.

It turns out that when we capture that message, based on life experience, in a narrative, our own mind is reflected in every character and every action.  Story structure really isn’t about other people – it is about how we see other people and how we interpret what they do.

And so, the thought processes we use to try and understand, to project, and to alter the course of events and the course of our emotional lives with others are the forces that drive every story, under the hood of all that subject matter that makes it real and tangible and something with which we can identify.

Now keep in mind, this little video clip is the first of 113 parts of the program.  And each one adds another element to a complete picture of story structure.  Each concept may not be directly practical, but it will open your eyes to what’s really going on in stories.

Still, after all these years, my best advice is to learn as much as you can about structure and then forget it all and write.  If you learn it, it will always be there in your subconscious, guiding your Muse without confining her.  But if you focus on the structure while you write, you’re just going to give yourself writer’s block.  But if you never learn it in the first place, your writing will have no guide, and will likely meander all over and work against itself, against your message, against your impact with an audience or reader.

Learn it, forget it, and write better stories.

Melanie

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