Dramatica Unplugged | Episode 1 – The Story Mind

From my 113 part course on story structure recorded in 1999…
 

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Writing Prompt Level: Expert!

Here is a writing prompt picture I posted recently and the amazingly creative response by writer Bill Williams

Bill Williams –

This is actually pretty easy to explain.

*sips coffee*

The cats in the front are feline overlords. They were testing a new human control virus on the people in the so-called “party” (Humans got a fake invitation to a pseudo-party where the drinks were spiked with FeCV (Feline Control Virus)).

Anyway, the cats in the front of the photo are contorting themselves to see if they can get the humans to do the same thing; the humans, forced to attempt to comply, are trying their best even though it’s causing some of them great pain (clearly). The female in the back of the photo with her hand on her head has just come in and hasn’t had a drink yet. She is clearly astonished at what she sees. Of course the infected humans not dancing are controlled to pretend nothing unusual is happening …

*sips coffee, brushes intruding pet cat off the chair*

I saw this once before. I believe it was 1962, San Diego CA. There were no … HUMAN survivors. (No cats were found either, but we all know just how crafty the little bastards are.)

So far their experiments have not been successful – in fact I thought they had given up on it. The photo you have presented is clear evidence they haven’t stopped trying.

My coffee tastes funny … I wonder if – DAMN CAT! OK, that’s it, I’m going national with th-

I have been instructed to tell you it is a photoshopped collage of people and animals. Nothing usual in the slightest ever happened. Please disregard what were clearly insane ramblings.

Yes, Sammie, I’ll get your cat food right now, baby. On my way!!!

You can contact Bill Williams on his Facebook Page

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Smothered in an Avalanche of Ideas

One of my old story development clients recently wrote to me about getting drowned in a sea of ideas for his story, unable to organize his material, make choices, or more forward.

Here is the note I wrote him in response that might have some value for y’all:

I noticed in our previous work together that you often came up with multiple potential plot lines for your story, all equally good, but mutually exclusive. In other words, you have a lot of creativity and keep coming up with a fountain of ideas but they are incompatible with each other if they were placed in a single story and you have trouble choosing the ones that work together and rejecting the others.

You are not alone in this. My other top creative writer I had as a client (yes, you are one of my two most inventive minds that I provided help for) has the same problem as you. He created a whole universe – a wondrous fantasy world with the potential to be another Harry Potter success but this time in a fantasy land focusing on a young girl – so inventive, so imaginative. But, every time he came up with another great idea, it would shatter the storyline he was working on and break it into pieces like shattered glass. He couldn’t put the pieces back together again and so he came up with a whole new storyline in that world in which the shattered pieces could be sprinkled.

The sad thing was, each of his storylines was wonderful, but he rejected each because of new ideas he couldn’t fit into them. And I think that is the same problem you have. Basically, you are so durn creative that you pour out wonderful new ideas all the time. But because they are inspirations, they don’t necessarily fit into what you’ve already written.

Now for most writers who aren’t as inventive as you and my other client, selecting a single plot and a single story is the way to go, simply because they don’t have bushel baskets of other ideas about their story’s world. But for you and my other client, the answer is something else. And it is actually very simple. And, in fact, I’ve already given the secret to both of you, but neither of you has used it, and for the life of me I haven’t figured out why yet.

The answer is not to reject any of the wonderful ideas but to create a series of books, each of which opens a whole new aspect of what we learned in the previous book. In fact, each new book may completely change what we, the reader, thought was going on in the last book we read, because now a whole new perspective has been created that throws everything into a different context and creates a different meaning.

You just pick the story you want to tell first – make that choice – then pull together all the creative ideas that work around that storyline and put all the other ideas into a sack to be used in later books in the series. That way, no idea is ever rejected, it is just earmarked for down-the-line.

So, with my other creative client, we worked out a master story arc of five books, each of which revealed a different aspect of his story’s world until all his creative ideas were included. And that’s also what you and I did – working out multiple stories that would eventually be able to use all your different storylines and situations.

But, to my surprise, neither of you actually got past that point. I don’t know if the desire to “get it all in one book” is too strong to consider a series or if, perhaps, the idea of the potential tedium of a whole series which requires sticking with a particular story world for a long time is a motivation killer.

In the case of my other client, as soon as he saw he had so many ideas it would take several books to express them all, he dumped his whole story world of fantasy and started a whole new story about the designer handbag industry in New York. I imagine he just can’t bring himself to do the work necessary to forge even one story into a book because once it becomes work, it becomes drudgery. And at that point, unlike other less-creative writers, he goes chasing after the next wonderful idea without ever finishing any of them.

This is the curse of the overly creative mind. It has nothing to do with talent or manner of expression or intelligence. It is just that in some folks the Muse is ramped up so high that the new ideas drown their ability to complete – they are constantly drawn to the next truly wonderful idea and cannot help but lose interest in the idea they ostensibly are supposed to be working on. Once it becomes work, the new ideas are far more interesting because, beneath it all, there is more to being a writer than being creative. It also requires an innate ability of self-discipline – to nail oneself to a chair and write, day in and day out and even when it is deadly boring, unpleasant, unsatisfying, and mind-numbing. That’s how books get written, whereas overly creative minds with equal ability in word play will get nowhere because there is too much to lure them from the drudgery.

That’s the best understanding I can muster about why this happens.

One other answer I suggested to my other client was to write his work as a series of short stories. Don’t go for a book-length plot, even if you are aware of every step in that plot. Just write a series of short episodes, each informed by the overall plot line, but each as a stand-alone that doesn’t require the others to be read and enjoyed. In this manner you can muster enough self-discipline to complete something in short form before being dragged away, and eventually can bundle all those short tales in your story world into a single book or series of books.

Other than that, however, unless you can bring yourself to pick one storyline and put in the focus to stick with it until it is done, putting all new ideas into a sack for later, I imagine you’ll continue to be frustrated.

So you really have a choice to keep on going as you are or to create a series of books for all your ideas and new ideas but stick with the first one to get it done, or to go to the short story method and then bundle them into books when you reach a “critical mass.”

Someone once said, “I hate writing; I love to have written.” The choice is really up to you.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Children at the Border – Narrative in the Real World

Here is how you use narrative in the real world:

My conversation today with someone defending taking children away from their parents at the border…

(I’m a grandparent, and this cannot stand!)

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Children at the Border – There’s a Narrative Here…

I’m sorry. I just heard the audio clip of the children taken from their parents by the border patrol – crying in fear for their father. And I thought about my 18 month old grandson who is about the same age. I saw him yesterday on Father’s Day, and I cried and still am as I think about that little soul bodily ripped form this father’s arms – how would I feel? Would I just sit and nod and say, well, they shouldn’t have crossed the border then? Hell no. FUCK TRUMP and all the stands for! I’ve had it!!!! Republicans – don’t let this Nazi take children from their parents. You Republicans are good people who love your families and I cannot understand why you do not stand up in outrage and demand that the lunatic in the Oval office reverse this policy, which is not law, just a directive from the administration. Because they want it that way. And those who remain silent are actually shouting loud and clear that they want it too. The tears have stopped not, but my anger will not until this policy is reversed and the madman behind it is removed.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Owner, Storymind
Co-creator, Dramatica

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Narrative in the Real World – The North Korean Summit

Trump and Kim Jong Un. Let’s consider the narrative behind the summit. In a movie, it is easy to see when a character does not ring true – when he or she acts in a way contrary to human psychology – in a way that is in conflict with the known facts of the narrative.

Either the character is not properly created by the author or there is more to the narrative than we are currently been shown.

Short version – Trump’s (and Kim’s) behavior regarding the summit is in conflict with their characters. In the real world, characters are not poorly drawn – they are who they are. And discrepancies are indicators that there is more to the narrative that we are seeing.

When I was working as a consultant on narrative structure for the CIA and the NSA, we created a few “What if” scenarios regarding Kim Jong Un, the United States, China, South Korea, and other players in that theater.

Suffice it to say that not only are the international politics among the nations extremely complicated, but the internal politics within the DPRK are far more complicated including powerful regional warlords who are courted directly by China, a class of merchants who support Kim as long as their coffers are filled, a central military structure whose allegiance is capricious, and the equivalent of the Russian oligarchs who control significant wealth and live in luxury while the people (who are successfully indoctrinated into a cult of personality toward Kim) live largely in poverty.

Against this background, and following Trump’s tweet war with Kim over the last year, i.e. “Little Rocket Man” vs. “We will destroy you,” these two leaders came together in a friendly, mutually supportive summit and, according to Trump, agreed to complete denuclearization of North Korea and an end of sanctions, full diplomatic recognition, an end to joint war games, and even a removal of troops by the United States.

By meeting with Kim, one on one as equals, Trump has already given equal status to Kim as the legitimate leader of the DPRK.

Add to this that Trump, positioning himself as peacemaker, has been antagonistic to our allies, and excessively supportive and effusive in his praise and/or unwilling to speak out against strong men and dictators such as Putin, Assad and Xi Jinping.

Now further consider that Trump always acts in his own best interest and has never been known to embrace service to others, altruism, or a keen desire for world peace. Further, while in office so far, he and his family have profited greatly from political decisions made, and allegations such as pay for play with Qatar abound.

If he were a fictional character, Trump might be described as narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, power-hungry, greedy, unbeholding to any code or ethos, crude, rude, bullying, opportunistic, mercurial, capricious, and sly. If one adds the trait, ruthless, these traits describe Kim Jong Un as well.

Those qualities do not support Trump’s nor Kim’s apparent actions in the narrative we are being presented. They do not ring true. So we must ask ourselves, what is the real narrative that we are not seeing – a narrative that is actually consistent with the nature of the characters, Kim and Trump.

While multiple narratives may explain his actions (and in fact, multiple narrative may actually be in play simultaneously, each with its own goals), the one certainty we have is that the presented narrative is not the actual narrative.

Here is an alternative narrative in which both the characters, Kim and Trump, do ring true – a narrative in which their actions make sense based on their actual natures.

In this proposed narrative, we do have several known facts:

1. Kim’s nuclear capability is the only saber he has to rattle.

2. Kim has used disarmament before as a bargaining chip, only to go back on his word when he received what he was after.

3. Kim is the head of a cult of personality not unlike that of the Egyptian Pharaohs, and will never give that up.

4. Kim is not concerned with the well-being of his people.

5. Kim will even kill relatives and hundreds more in political purges in order to maintain power.

6. Kim’s position is atop an unstable coalition of economic and military leaders, all of whom are playing at their own narratives of amassing additional wealth and power. He keeps them in check through fear and by showing is remains powerful against the United States. In our work for the intelligence community, we determined Kim increases his power when he rattles his saber, and he increases the wealth of his supporters when he makes temporary concessions. By alternating between making and then breaking agreements and between war talk and peace talk, Kim satisfies his base and secures his position.

On the Trump side:

1. Republicans are in danger of losing control of at least one house of congress in the upcoming November elections, which would inhibit Trump in his power and money gathering efforts. A diplomatic win might keep both houses in Republican hands.

2. If the Republicans lose complete control, the Russian investigation becomes far more dangerous to Trump.

3. Trump has made a concerted effort to undo everything Barack Obama achieved and/or to better him. Obama struck the Iran deal, Trump wants to end it. Obama did not reach an agreement with North Korea, Trump wants to accomplish that.

4. Trump began running for reelection with an official committee and campaign rallies almost immediately after taking the oath of office. An apparent diplomatic win might very well tip the balance in 2020 to ensure his reelection.

5. A summit with Kim garners the world’s spotlight and baths both leaders in praise and adoration of their followers. In his post-summit news conference, Trump clearly bathed in the glory of the moment. Further, Obama received a Nobel (before he had accomplished anything, used by the Nobel committee as a political tool to “obligate” Obama to follow through) so Trump wants one too.

6. If Trump’s goal is to create a cult of personality and eventually have presidential term limits rescinded, as Putin did, so he might be endlessly reelected, the summit, even if the deal later falls through, the aura of being a peacemaker will remain and add to the passion of Trump’s followers.

Taken collectively, the natures of the characters of Trump and Kim suggest another narrative that is actually consistent with their personalities.

Kim gets recognition as an equal and legitimate player on the world stage, but does not have to live up to the agreement. His benefits cannot be called back, even if he does not follow through. And so his stature and security increases with his dangerous base, and when he pulls out of the agreement, he will regain the favor of his own hard-liners as well.

Trump gets world acclaim, strengthens his base, maintains control of congress and adds to his bid for reelection, allowing him to keep making money for political favors and to pave the way, ultimately, to becoming president for life, regardless of whether the agreement falls through or not.

Further, ending joint war games with South Korea (without having previously discussed this with them) helps pull America back from a position of power in the world, serving both China and Putin with whom Trump already has some very suspicious economic obligatory relationships.

It this the actual narrative? Perhaps not. But unlike the publicly offered narrative of seeking peace through altruism, this narrative at least is not in conflict with the natures of the character involved.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

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Narrative and Politics: Pardon Me, Mr. Trump

Rather than getting caught up in whether or not Trump has the power to pardon even himself, step back and see the larger narrative.

In the past controversial pardons would sometimes inflame the public, and when newly minted President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon as his first official act, the tide of controversy rose quite high. Still and all, under normal circumstances no one cares much about the President’s pardon power other than those being pardoned.

So stepping back, look at how much information is pouring out the the Trump administration this week about pardoning power, both in his tweets and through his spokespeople and surrogates.

As a narrative scientist, I ask myself why would an administration go into a full-bore public service campaign to inform the public about a presidential power of such little historic significance?

Of course, the answer is that Trump is guilty and he is trying to send a message to all those who can prove his guilt by testifying against him in exchange for a plea deal.

Why would Trump and company spend all this time talking about pardons otherwise? Why not talk about dog shelters or the honey bees or new uniforms for the military, much less truly important issues that are of real and imperative concern?

In short – pardon power is an obscure, uninspiring, and generally unimportant presidential power in the grand scheme of things. And of all the obscure, uninspiring, and generally unimportant powers to pick to speak about, why THIS one, and more to the point, why NOW?

Look at the pardon last week of man who laundered campaign funds and was investigated, tried, and convicted by the same federal folks in New York who are currently after Michael Cohen.

This man never asked for a pardon – not once. He was surprised as anybody when he heard about it. He pleaded guilty. Trump made the pardon pro-actively because this fellow just happened to come to his attention and, ostensibly, in reviewing his case (with his copious free time), Trump determined that this man had been singled out for prosecution unfairly and based on a political agenda.

Does that ring true to you? If you saw that as the plot of a movie or a television show would you buy it? Of course not! It makes no sense as a narrative, and therefore it makes no sense in the real world either.

Clearly, the Trump team went out looking for someone to pardon – anyone who was prosecuted by the same branch who was also Republican and also pleaded guilty. If they found such a fellow, they could pardon him and send a big message to Michael Cohen to keep his mouth shut because Trump has him covered.

Now THAT narrative makes complete and total sense. It rings true. You’d buy that in a movie or on TV in a heartbeat.

Narratives are like Occam’s Razor – the simplest explanation is (most often) the correct one. Unlike physics, narratives are driven by the nature of human beings. So if a narrative comes across as false, it is because we know that the motivations suggested do not match how real people act and react – how they are driven and in what directions.

Suddenly taking a great interest in pardon power just because, while simultaneously pardoning someone arbitrarily who didn’t even request a pardon simply isn’t a believable narrative.

But hyping up pardon power to prevent folks from testifying and then making an example pardon of a hand-picked obscure felon who was convicted by the same mechanism in the same place as the key potential witness against Trump – well that is as believable a narrative as you can get.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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What’s In Your Story’s Mind?

As with people, your story’s mind has different aspects. These are represented in your Genre, Theme, Plot, and Characters. Genre is the overall personality of the Story Mind. Theme represents its troubled value standards. Plot describes the methods the Story Mind uses as it tries to work out its problems. Characters are the conflicting drives of the Story Mind.

Genre

To an audience, every story has a distinct personality, as if it were a person rather than a work of fiction. When we first encounter a person or a story, we tend to classify it in broad categories. For stories, we call the category into which we place its overall personality its Genre.

These categories reflect whatever attributes strike us as the most notable. With people this might be their profession, interests, attitudes, style, or manner of expression, for example. With stories this might be their setting, subject matter, point of view, atmosphere, or storytelling.

We might initially classify someone as a star-crossed lover, a cowboy, or a practical joker who likes to scare people. Similarly, we might categorize a story as a Romance, a Western, or a Horror story.

As with the people we meet, some stories are memorable and others we forget as soon as they are gone. Some are the life of the party, but get stale rather quickly. Some initially strike us as dull, but become familiar to the point we look forward to seeing them again. This is all due to what someone has to say and how they go about saying it.

The more time we spend with specific stories or people the less we see them as generalized types and the more we see the traits that define them as individuals. So, although we might initially label a story as a particular Genre, we ultimately come to find that every story has its own unique personality that sets it apart from all others in that Genre, in at least a few notable respects.

Theme

Everyone has value standards, and the Story Mind has them as well. Some people are pig-headed and see issues as cut and dried. Others are wishy-washy and flip-flop on the issues. The most sophisticated people and stories see the pros and cons of both sides of a moral argument and present their conclusions in shades of gray, rather than in simple black & white. All these outlooks can be reflected in the Story Mind.

No matter what approach or which specific value is explored, the key structural point about value standards is that they are all comprised of two parts: the issues and one’s attitude toward them. It is not enough to only have a subject (abortion, gay rights, or greed) for that says nothing about whether they are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Similarly, attitudes (I hate, I believe in, or I don’t approve of) are meaningless until they are applied to something.

An attitude is essentially a point of view. The issue is the object under observation. When an author determines what he wants to look at it and from where he wants it to be seen, he creates perspective. It is this perspective that comprises a large part of the story’s message.

Still, simply stating one’s attitudes toward the issues does little to convince someone else to see things the same way. Unless the author’s message is preaching to the audience’s choir, he’s going to need to convince them to share his attitude. To do this, he will need to make a thematic argument over the course of the story which will slowly dislodge the audience from their previously held beliefs and reposition them so that they adopt the author’s beliefs by the time the story is over.

Plot

Novice authors often assume the order in which events transpire in a story is the order in which they are revealed to the audience, but these are not necessarily the same. Through exposition, an author unfolds the story, dropping bits and pieces that the audience rearranges until the true meaning of the story becomes clear. This technique involves the audience as an active participant in the story rather than simply being a passive observer. It also reflects the way people go about solving their own problems.

When people try to work out ways of dealing with their problems they tend to identify and organize the pieces before they assemble them into a plan of action. So, they often jump around the timeline, filling in the different steps in their plan out of sequence as they gather additional information and draw new conclusions.

In the Story Mind, both of these attributes are represented as well. We refer to the internal logic of the story – the order in which the events in the problem solving approach actually occurred – as the Plot. The order in which the Story Mind deals with the events as it develops its problem solving plan is called Storyweaving.

If an author blends these two aspects together, it is very easy miss holes in the internal logic because they are glossed over by smooth exposition. By separating them, an author gains complete control of the progression of the story as well as the audience’s progressive experience

Characters

If Characters represent the conflicting drives in our own minds yet they each have a personal point of view, where is out sense of self represented in the Story Mind? After all, every real person has a unique point of view that defines his or her own self-awareness.

In fact, there is one special character in a story that represents the Story Mind’s identity. This character, the Main Character, functions as the audience position in the story. He, she or it is the eye of the story – the story’s ego.

In an earlier tip I described how we might look at characters by their dramatic function, as seen from the perspective of a General on a hill. But what if we zoomed down and stood in the shoes of just one of those characters, we would have a much more personal view of the story from the inside looking out.

But which character should be our Main Character? Most often authors select the Protagonist to represent the audience position in the story. This creates the stereotypical Hero who both drives the plot forward and also provides the personal view of the audience. There is nothing wrong with this arrangement but it limits the audience to always experiencing what the quarterback feels, never the linemen or the water boy.

In real life we are more often one of the supporting characters in an endeavor than we are the leader of the effort. If you have always made your Protagonist the Main Character, you have been limiting your possibilities.

Melanie Anne Phillips

The Story Mind concept is at the heart of our
Dramatica Story Structuring Software

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Why a “Story Mind?”

The Story Mind concept is a way of visualizing story structure that sees every story as having a mind of its own and the characters within it as facets of that overall mind.  So, one character represents the Intellect of the Story Mind and another functions as its Skepticism, for example.

Of course, this is just at a structural level – the mechanics of the story.  Naturally, characters also have to be real people in their own right so the readers or audience can identify with them.

But, structurally, the archetypes we see in stories are very like the basic mental attributes we all possess, made tangible as avatars of the Story Mind’s thought processes.

Well, that’s a pretty radical concept.  So before asking any writer to invest his or her time in a concept as different as the Story Mind, it is only fair to provide an explanation of why such a thing should exist. To do this, let us look briefly into the nature of communication between an author and an audience and see if there is supporting evidence to suggest that character archetypes are facets of a greater Story Mind.

When an author tells a tale, he simply describes a series of events that both makes sense and feels right. As long as there are no breaks in the logic and no mis-steps in the emotional progression, the structure of the tale is sound.

Now, from a structural standpoint, it really doesn’t matter what the tale is about, who the characters are, or how it turns out. The tale is just a truthful or fictional journey that starts in one situation, travels a straight or twisting path, and ends in another situation.

The meaning of a tale amounts to a statement that if you start from “here,” and take “this” path, you’ll end up “here.” The message of a tale is that a particular path is a good or bad one, depending on whether the ending point is better or worse than the point of departure.

This structure is easily seen in the vast majority of familiar fairy “tales.” Tales have been used since the first storytellers practiced their craft. In fact, many of the best selling novels and most popular motion pictures of our own time are simple tales, expertly told.

In a structural sense, tales have power in that they can encourage or discourage audience members from taking particular actions in real life. The drawback of a tale is that it speaks only in regard to that specific path.

But in fact, there are many paths that might be taken from a given point of departure. Suppose an author wants to address those as well, to cover all the alternatives. What if the author wants to say that rather than being just a good or bad path, a particular course of action the best or worst path of all that might have been taken?

Now the author is no longer making a simple statement, but a “blanket” statement. Such a blanket statement provides no “proof” that the path in question is the best or worst, it simply says so. Of course, an audience is not likely to be moved to accept such a bold claim, regardless of how well the tale is told.

In the early days of storytelling, an author related the tale to his audience in person. Should he aspire to wield more power over his audience and elevate his tale to become a blanket statement, the audience would no doubt cry, “Foul!” and demand that he prove it. Someone in the audience might bring up an alternative path that hadn’t been included in the tale.

The author might then counter that rebuttal to his blanket statement by describing how the path proposed by the audience was either not as good or better (depending on his desired message) than the path he did include.

One by one, he could disperse any challenges to his tale until he either exhausted the opposition or was overcome by an alternative he couldn’t dismiss.

But as soon as stories began to be recorded in media such as song ballads, epic poems, novels, stage plays, screenplays, teleplays, and so on, the author was no longer present to defend his blanket statements.

As a result, some authors opted to stick with simple tales of good and bad, but others pushed the blanket statement tale forward until the art form evolved into the “story.”

A story is a much more sophisticated form of communication than a tale, and is in fact a revolutionary leap forward in the ability of an author to make a point. Simply put, when creating a story, and author starts with a tale of good or bad, expands it to a blanket statement of best or worst, and then includes all the reasonable alternatives to the path he is promoting to preclude any counters to his message. In other words, while a tale is a statement, a story becomes an argument.

Now this puts a huge burden of proof on an author. Not only does he have to make his own point, but he has to prove (within reason) that all opposing points are less valid. Of course, this requires than an author anticipate any objections an audience might raise to his blanket statement. To do this, he must look at the situation described in his story and examine it from every angle anyone might happen to take in regard to that issue.

By incorporating all reasonable (and valid emotional) points of view regarding the story’s message in the structure of the story itself, the author has not only defended his argument, but has also included all the points of view the human mind would normally take in examining that central issue. In effect, the structure of the story now represents the whole range of considerations a person would make if fully exploring that issue.

In essence, the structure of the story as a whole now represents a map of the mind’s problem solving processes, and (without any intent on the part of the author) has become a Story Mind.

And so, the Story Mind concept is not really all that radical. It is simply a short hand way of describing that all sides of a story must be explored to satisfy an audience. And, and if this is done, the structure of the story takes on the nature of a single character.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Learn more about the Story Mind

 

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The “Story Mind” Concept

 

The Story Mind concept is a way of looking at a story as if all the characters were facets of a larger personality, the mind of the Story itself.

To illustrate, imagine that you stepped back from your story far enough that you could no longer identify your characters as individuals. Instead, like a general on a hill watching a battle, you could only see each character by his function:

There’s the guy leading the charge – that’s the Protagonist. His opponent is the Antagonist. There’s the strategist, working out the battle plan – he’s the Reason archetype. One soldier is shouting at the pathos and carnage – he’s the Emotion archetype.

The structure of stories deals with what makes sense in the big picture. But characters aren’t aware of that overview. Just like us, they can only see what is around them and try to make the best decisions based on that limited view. And so characters must also be real people as well, with real drives and real concerns.

Characters, therefore, really have two completely different jobs: They must act according to their own drives and desires and also play a part in the larger mosaic of the story as a whole. The trick is to create a story in which these two purposes work together, not against each other.

As individuals, each character must be fully developed as complete human beings. As cogs in the Great Machine, they must each fulfill a function. So, when we develop our characters we need to stand in their shoes, make them real people, and express ourselves passionately through each of their points of view. But when we develop our story’s structure, we must ensure that each character fulfills his, her, or its dramatic purpose in the story at large.

It is that larger purpose that we call the Story Mind. As previously described, the Story Mind is like a Super Character that generates the personality of the overall story itself, as if it were a single, thinking, feeling, person. So, in addition to being complete people, each of our characters also represents a different aspect or facet of a greater character, the Story Mind.

For example, the Reason archetype represents the use of our intellect. The Emotion archetype illustrates the impact of our feelings. Individually as complete characters, they each employ both Reason and Emotion in regard to their own personal issues. But when it comes to the central issue of the story – the message issue that is the essence of what the overall story is about – then one of these two Characters will attempt to deal with that issue solely from a position of Reason and the other solely from the position of Emotion.

This is why we, the audience, see characters simultaneously as real people and also by their dramatic functions, such as Protagonist and Antagonist. Regarding their own concerns, characters are well rounded. Regarding the overall concern of the story as a whole, they are single-minded. Collectively, they describe the conflicting motivations or drives of the Story Mind.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Learn more at Storymind.com

 

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