The Origin of Archetypes

Another excerpt from our book, Archetypes – Characters, Narrative and Mind –

If archetypes represent basic human qualities, each assigned to a different character, then how would such a convention of story structure come to be? The answer lies in the manner in which people organize themselves in the real world, which fiction hopes to document and seeks to understand.

When we attempt to solve a problem as individuals, we bring all of our mental tools to bear on the issue. Each provides is a different take on the problem, calling a different kind of evaluation into play. In this way, we look for a solution from every angle we have and thereby understand the situation as fully as we are able.

When we gather in groups to solve a problem of common concern, we begin as a collection of individuals, each trying to explore the issue from all sides, as we do on our own. In short order, however, we begin to specialize, each focusing on a different approach to the problem that represents just one of our basic human qualities.

For example, one person will become the voice of Reason for the group, while another will become the group’s Skeptic. In this way, the group as a whole is able to gain a deeper understanding of the issue because each specialist is able to devote full attention to just one aspect of the problem.

Thousands of generations of storytellers sought to discern the manner in which people interrelate and the roles they adopt. They observed the self-organization into the same specialties so often that the roles became codified in the conventions of story structure as the archetypes we know today.

And so, without anyone ever intentionally trying and without anyone ever realizing, the archetypal characters of fiction turn out to be perhaps the most accurate representation of the essential processes of problem solving we all possess, made manifest in an externalized representation of our own minds.

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An Unpleasant Customer – Think Twice, Post Once

Email correspondence with a less than pleasant potential purchaser:

Customer:

Hello,

I recently came across your site as I am needing to purchase Move Magic Screenwriting 6. I see that you beat other authorized online pricing. I almost purchased one on this site: screenplay.com
when I decided to do some comparison shopping. I see that yours is more expensive, but if you are truly able to beat that price, I will purchase from you instead. I would love to purchase this weekend to start a class Sunday night if possible and would appreciate a quick response. Thanks!

Maryann

Me:

Hi, Maryann

Unfortunately, the 4th of July Sale ended yesterday on July 7th. You can see that is the end date on the screenplay.com web sit. They are the manufacturers and our reseller price depends on when they lower it for a sale. So prices went up today to us as well, so we can’t beat the expired sale price.

Melanie
Storymind

Customer:

I emailed you yesterday [Saturday]when that price was still active.

Me:

The price wasn’t active yesterday [Saturday].  The sale ended on Friday.  The manufacturer just hadn’t taken the advertisement down yet, but the ad does state the end date of July 7.

Customer:

Oh interesting. I didn’t realize they could falsly advertise a different price than they would process at checkout. (I got all the way through the checkout process last night except to confirm it with that listed price)

Is ok though, I can let our group know to be aware of this in the future.

Turns out we are going to be able to get the program for $90 anyway, so it all worked out in the end!

Thanks anyway.

Me:

Hi, Maryann.  I’m very glad you were able to get a good price!  Actually, please don’t let your disappointment at being able to take advantage of the sale make you think the manufacturer was falsely advertising.  We, for one thing, do not put the products on sale at all – always the same price – though we will beat other prices that are currently valid by the manufacturer or any other licensed reseller.

And as for the manufacturer – I went to college with these guys and they are honest as the day is long.  All that happened was that they put up a notice of a sale that specified that the end date was July 7 right in the text in a prominent place.  And since the sale ended Friday night and they aren’t open on the weekend, they just didn’t get around to taking down the notice – probably just an oversight, but they never falsely advertised.

So, with your comment, “Oh interesting.  I didn’t realize they could falsly advertise a different price…” as you see they didn’t advertise a different price.  I’m sorry you didn’t see the end date when you went to order.

Still, accusing my good life-long friends of falsely advertising does offend me, and I’m very sorry you felt the need to sling accusations.  Though I am still glad you found good price.

Melanie

Storymind

— Now normally I just accept the abuse some customers feel they need to dump on me, as if I wasn’t a real person and as if their disappointment, justified or not, is a valid reason for shedding their own unhappiness onto someone else and making them miserable.  Just the price of doing business I figure.

But THIS day, I’m sitting here watching a beautiful PBS documentary on the Pacific ocean, enjoying a Sunday dinner  of pot roast, potatoes, and of shallots and carrots we grew in our own garden.  I served it up on the very plates my beloved grandmother used to serve the very same meal for Sunday dinner hundreds of times in my life – very special.

And I am doing a little customer service on the computer to help any wayward purchasers, even though I’m technically closed for the weekend.  And this one person stomps into the middle of that with accusations against my friends and just a generally bad attitude.

It is moment like these that make we want to retire from selling products at all and just do it all through Amazon or just focus on my story consultation services.

But I suppose my main reason for posting this is to remind us all (me included) that even a casual snarky comment, in person, in email, or in a post on social media and throw a little bitterness into a beautiful moment, or worse, be the straw that broke the camel’s back for someone just barely managing to cope with a bad day.

To paraphrase a famous quote: “Think twice, post once.”

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Characters: Lost In Their Own Spotlight

True of people; true of characters:

When hit with great personal grief, how many of us stop to think about how all those around us are coping – especially those whose approach to life is to keep it all inside?

By nature, we all stand at the apex of our perception, with all roads leading to ourselves. We look out from the center of our circle and think ourselves compassionate because we consider and feel for all that falls within it. We put ourselves in their shoes, but only to see how our circle looks from their point of view. But how often do we consider that others within our realm have circles of their own that extend beyond the borders of our own domain with other issues we simply do not see?

And just as true, those who care about us do not see the totality of what weighs upon us, but only that part of our lives that falls within their horizons as well. And so, when we hurt, when we feel wronged by life or by others, it is easily possible that those we care most about are not given the attention and compassion they need and deserve.

We try to be objective and determine that, in this case, the loss is closest to us, most painful to us, and though our friends and family may feel the loss as well, we are at ground zero. And this may be true. But what of the additional losses they face that fall outside our personal spotlight?

We may have the greatest sense of loss for this particular person or event, but they may have three times the number of losses occurring at the same time. And while this particular one is not as great for them, collectively they suffer even more and, perhaps, another loss that we cannot (or at least naturally do not) see is even greater than ours, in addition to many others as well that they are suffering that never enter our minds.

What is most unpleasant and difficult is when we ourselves are the cause or source of a loss for others that we did not originally perceive. The hardest thing to do is see oneself as the villain. The hardest position to reevaluate is the one on which you stand.

What if we, driven by grief, pull back from those we love so that they suffer not only the source of loss that pains us, but the loss of our love as well, albeit for a short but crucial time? And more – what if we, though a change in attitude, outlook, lifestyle or presentation have, in the name of growth and being true to one’s inner self, become a different person from their point of view, leaving them to morn the friend or mate or parent that was?

This we simply cannot see at the time. We make our choices to soothe the inner beast, to calm the seething cauldron of our angst. Yet in so doing, we may enrage the beast within other, fuel their own internal conflagration and, in the end, do far more harm to one or many of those for whom we care the most than the good we have struggled so hard to do for ourselves.

Age brings perspective and, with it, a greater sense of context. The young cannot be expected to rise to an an elevated grasp of life’s interconnections before they have travelled them one by one. And so, for those of use blessed with enough time on the planet to have the opportunity to stand beside ourselves and see behind the invisible walls that previously bound us, perhaps we can rise a little further, to appreciate not only how our losses may affect others, but how we may both contribute to or even be the cause of loss we have not previously seen.

What we do next, now graced with that extended panorama, determines who we are to ultimately be in this one life.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Learn more about character psychology

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How to Beat Writer’s Block

Ever find yourself in a creative log jam? Try the following technique excerpted from the StoryWeaver story development software to help regain your inspiration:

1. Inspiration

Inspiration can come from many sources: a conversation overheard at a coffee shop, a newspaper article, or a personal experience to name a few. And, inspiration can also take many forms: a snippet of dialogue, a bit of action, a clever concept, and so on. One thing most inspiration has in common is that it is not a story, just the beginnings of a story. To develop a complete story, you’ll need a cast of characters, a detailed plot, a thematic argument, and the trappings of genre.

But how do you come up with the extra pieces you need?

In the questions that follow StoryWeaver will help inspire you, even if you can’t come up with an idea to save your life! If you don’t yet know what your story is going to be about, StoryWeaver will help you find out. And if you do have something already worked out, these questions will help you fill in the details.

2. What do you have to start with?

If you already have an idea of what your story is about, describe it briefly in your word processor. Don’t go into great detail at this time, just the key concepts, people, and events. If you don’t yet have a story idea, advance to the next question and StoryWeaver will help you come up with one.

3. Nonsense!

If you are stuck for ideas, it’s probably because you are trying to force yourself to be creative – a situation often referred to as “Writer’s Block.” Fortunately, there is a trick you can use to break through Writer’s Block and get your creativity flowing again! First, write down three nonsense words. Don’t stop to think it over, just jot down the first words that come to mind, as in a word-association test.

4. Meaning

Now, imagine that all of your nonsense words are part of the same phrase. How many different stories can you think of that incorporate that phrase? Briefly describe each story idea.

Background:

We all try to find meaning in what we see. That is why we identify pictures in inkblots, see faces in wood grain, and animal shapes in clouds. So even when no meaning is intended, our minds can’t help but impose it. By picking words at random, stringing them together and then looking for meaning, we move our minds out of creative block and into analysis mode. In other words, we temporarily shift from creation to interpretation. In so doing, our subconscious automatically creates alternative meanings that fit what we see. Use the Reference button to look at the meanings you just described and what you originally said your story was about (if you answered that question).

5. Combining Meanings

Now, try to incorporate into a single story idea as much as you find interesting from all the different story ideas and your original idea combined.

Background:

Of course, some of the meanings you came up with may be completely ridiculous and not useful at all. And, there may be no way to work them all in, yet several ways to include some of your inspirations. If you have several ways to combine these various ideas, list them all. But if you can’t think of any way to bring these ideas together, don’t worry!

The purpose of this exercise is break free of Writer’s Block, and the very process of shifting out of forced creative mode and into analysis mode usually does the trick. So, even if none of the nonsense interpretations are usable in and of themselves, when you return to your original ideas, you’ll probably find whole new inspirations easily come to mind. Whenever you find yourself stuck, return to this method and (more times than not) the ideas will flow again.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Learn more about Creative Writing

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Story Structure with the Muse in Mind

Story Structure can be a straight-jacket for your Muse. On the one hand, structure is necessary for a story to have a point or even just to make sense!  But on the other hand, structure tends to channel ideas down predictable paths and to rob a story of serendipity.

In my twenty-five years as a teacher of creative writing and story structure, I’ve developed a number of techniques to help you find your perfect balance between the rigors of structure and the free-wheeling flow of inspiration.

Here’s the short list:

Structure Hobbles the Muse

The Muse explodes outward into a world of passion and possibilities. As a teacher of creative writing for twenty-five years, my experiences with many types of writers tell me that one should never consider structure at … Continue reading

Let your Muse run wild

Let your Muse run wild The easiest way to give yourself writer’s block is to bridle your Muse by trying to come up with ideas. Your Muse is always coming up with ideas – just not the ones you want. … Continue reading

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Narrative Dynamics 4 – The Interface Conundrum

Unlike my usual articles, this piece is not intended to document an existing part of the Dramatica theory nor to reveal a part newly developed.  Rather, I will be sharing my speculations on a life-long thought problem of mine and, toward the end, provide a new way of looking at some old issues.

The subject of this line of inquiry is that “magic moment” when one binary state changes into another.  To illustrate, consider a light switch.  We can tell when it is on and when it is off.  We can recognize when it has changed state from one to the other.  But what happens at that moment between the two when it is neither on nor off, or perhaps both?

This is really a restating of the uncertainty principal or even of Zeno’s Paradox or Schrodinger’s Cat, for that matter.  It touches on the potential for faster than light travel, black holes, and synchronicity.  But for me, personally, it is at the heart of the issue that has driven me since childhood with a specific curiosity that led to the development of Dramatica and still propels me today into my ongoing work on narrative dynamics.

For me, the quest began at age four or five – sometime before kindergarten – while I was on my swing set in the backyard of our home in Burbank.  This would be, perhaps, 1957 or early 1958.

I remember the moment as if it were yesterday, for it has motivated (plagued) me since it occurred.  It was a seamlessly gray overcast, that day, and as I was swinging I wondered if I could get high enough so that my entire field of vision was filled by nothing but that flat gray sky – no trees, no birds, not the neighbor’s houses nor the edges of my swing or its suspending chains.

So, I set about rocking myself higher and higher to the point I became fearful the whole contraption would collapse upon me, assuming I didn’t just fly off into space from the force.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and finally (fortunately) I rose high enough at the apex of the arc and for just one glorious instant I achieved my seamless gray experience.  As the swing set was by that time wobbling menacingly, I quickly brought myself back to rest.

And I sat there for a bit when a question arose in my young mind: If nothing existed at all, would it look black because there was no light or gray because there also no dark?  This is, of course, just another version of “if a tree falls in the forest,” but I had never heard that one, so this was news to me.

I pondered the question for a long time (for a child with a short attention span), thinking about it from both sides.  And then I had the thought that has haunted me and pretty much cast the cut of my jib for the remainder of my days (so far).  This unbidden query rose into my conscious mind: “Why can’t I figure out which it would be?”

Now that’s an awful thing for the universe to do to such an innocent kid –  a carefree (until then) child who might have just breezed through live with a 9 to 5 and weekends to play.  But once that thought was there, it would not leave.

I kept thinking about it, for days on end.  My first assessments were along the lines of, “Well it must be either black or gray.  Okay.  But why can’t I figure it out?”  You see it wasn’t the paradox itself that bothered me but the very concept of paradox – that my mind was not capable of discerning the answer, for I was sure there must be one.

In later years, I began to speculate whether God knew the answer to whether it would be black or gray.  Surely he must; He’s God, after all!  But if he does, then why did He make me in a limited sort of way, unable to see the truth of it.  And if that is the state of affairs, then how can I be sure of anything, for I’m not graced with the whole picture!  What good is it, then, to try and know anything, to try and find any meaning at all, for it is all based on a partial access to the capacity to understand the universe and therefore any conclusions are inherently suspect and likely to be overturned if we are given full access to reality when we die and go to heaven.  (Which was where my young mind took me at the time.)

Seeing the truth after death was my only hope, because if that was not the case, then I was by nature locked in a limited mind incapable of truly understanding the universe in which it existed.  Obviously, I paraphrase, but those exact lines of reasoning were coursing through my brain to me continual dissatisfaction.

So, being rather enamored of my own cognitive abilities at the time (a trait I’ve seen no reason to alter over the years), rather than imagining myself as a hero with super powers, I imagined myself as a hero with mental powers – the one individual in the history of the planet with the capacity to answer that blasted question: “Why is it that our minds are not capable of resolving paradoxical questions?”  Which later evolved into “What is the difference between observation and perception,” “How do logic and emotion affect one another,” “What is that magic moment between one binary state and another,” and, currently, “What are the physics of the interface between structure and dynamics?”

And so, you see, the same insidious line of inquiry vexes me yet today in my attempts to develop the dynamic side of the Dramatica theory and to describe how the two sides impact one another and work together – an analog of our reason and emotion, and the holy grail (as I see it) of both universe and mind and, quite naturally by extension, of the relationship between universe and mind.

Sorry.  I hadn’t intended to go into such a detailed back story, but my decades long frustration with this pesky query oft gets the better of me.

Having set the stage, let’s get down to the heart of the matter.  What can we know about this limit line or interface between structure and dynamics beyond which neither can venture yet which also connects them both so that they influence one other across that great divide?

peaks and troughs

Let’s visualize the interface.  Imagine one of those 3D computer images that shows a flat plane with peaks and troughs on it, like mountains and gravity wells – essentially round-topped cones like stalagmites and stalactites, above and below the plane.

Structure takes a horizontal cross section of the cones, as if a pane of glass were placed above or below the plane.

This cross section results in a flat image with a number of circles on it.  Each circle is seen as a separate object and its edges define its extent.  Taken together, the circles form a pattern, and it is that arrangement by which structure seeks understanding.

Dynamics takes a vertical cross section of the cones as if a pane of glass were placed perpendicular to the plane.

This cross section results in a flat image with linear wave forms on it.  Each curve is seen as a separate force with its line defining its frequency.  Taken together, the wave forms create harmonics, and it is that arrangement by which dynamics seeks understanding.

So on the structural side we have patterns made of particles and on the dynamic side we have patterns made of waves. Particle or wave, digital or analog, on or off, gray or black.  Between the two sides of any paradox is an interface that generates both and created by both.  Yet neither side can see the whole of it.

Just as if you look at a scene with one eye and then the other, you now have all the information you need to create 3D, but neither eye can see it alone.  In fact, only if both eyes are looking at the same moment at the same thing (space and time in synchronicity) can the  whole of the thing be appreciated.  But even then, it is only an approximation of the true three dimensional nature of what is being viewed, made up of a left and right slice merged together.

And herein lies the essence of the paradox of mind that has hung over my head for all of these years: structure gives us one partial view of a larger Truth and dynamics give us another.  Neither view is wrong; each is incomplete.

So what are we to do?  Or, more personally, how am I ever going to resolve this durn conundrum?  The answer is to create a model of the interface itself, incorporating both structure and dynamics not as a synthesis between alternative views but as full-bodied model of the true critter, inclusive but not limited to structure and dynamics.

Fine.  So how do we do that?

Well, you’ll just have to wait for “Narrative Dynamics – the Interface Solution,” coming soon….

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Learn more about Narrative Science

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Quick Tip: The Big Picture

Although it is important to work on the particulars of your story you can lose track of the big picture in doing so exclusively.

Step back from time to time to take in your story as a whole.  See it as the readers or audience will and appreciate it not just for how it works but for how it feels and what it means.

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