Click on the image below to hear episode 2 in this rare recording of a weekend seminar by Dramatica Theory of Story co-creators Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley in the mid-1990’s just after Dramatica was made public for the first time.
The whole thing to keep in mind is that the passion and the structure of stories work in tandem, but not as partners. Like our own reason and emotion, sometimes they agree, sometimes they are at war, but mostly they hold to an uneasy truce built on a compromise that is unsatisfying to reason and unfulfilling to emotion.
Because they are not the same, reason and emotion can never fully line up. When they match in one place they must, by their very natures, differ somewhere else.
The real key is to become wise in the ways of giving each its due and knowing where to do it. Where is it more important that things make sense? Where is it more important to let feelings run like the wind?
If you would like a general rule of thumb that will get you most of the way there, it is this: Let reason rule the plot and passion rule the characters. You plot is the most logical part of your story and your characters the most human. So let you plot always make sense and your character always ring true.
In this episode of my 113 part course on story structure from 1999, I discuss the difference between a “tale” and a “story,” beginning with the notion that “a tale is a statement and a story is an argument.
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Before you write your first chapter, ponder your opening sentence, or jot down a single word, there’s one step you should always do first, no matter your genre or style.
First, the problem, then the solution:
When you first come up with a concept for a story your head begins to fill with ideas for it – the genre, setting, year or historic era, a concept for a main character or an intriguing subordinate one, a few twists for the plot, a few examples that illustrate your theme and/or support your message, and many, many more.
Before long, you have hundreds of notions running around in your head bumping into each other. You don’t want to forget any so you either keep revisiting them over and over again or you jot them down on napkins, sticky notes, or even index cards.
At the same time, you are trying to figure out how to make all these mosaic pieces fit together into the single image of your story, and that just adds to the chaos going on in your creative mind.
You might as well admit it – it’s a mess in there. And the problem is that there is so much going on you don’t have room to stand back and see the big picture much less space to come up with new ideas either. This leads to gridlock, anxiety, and frustration, all of which are the breeding ground for writer’s block.
That’s no way to start the story development process. It might even stall you out before you really get started.
So here’s the solution:
The moment you decide you have enough ideas that you’d like to develop them into a story, sit yourself down and do a “core dump” of everything you already have rattling around in your head.
Just start jotting it all down with no rhyme or reason – every character trait, storytelling trick, plot twist, genre element, dialog or style notion that you are juggling in your mind.
This isn’t the time to try an organize it or make sense of it or try to make it all work in concert. This is just the time to clear you mind by getting all the ideas into one place, safe and saved in a document.
There’s no limit to how long or short your list of ideas needs to be. You write them down until you run out of them. And there’s no rule about how to format them – it can’ be in a list, a series of sentences, or even short descriptive paragraphs that really capture the flavor of what you have in mind.
The magic happens when you are finally done and the myriad of creative notions you’ve been entertaining are all in front of you in one place. Then, you can finally clear your mind, stand back, and see the big picture.
Just in looking them over you might see connections among the concept that never came to mind before because you’d never been able to directly bring two ideas together in the ongoing stream.
And you also will be able to see where you have lots of development and where it is thin or even missing. For example, you may find you have a really well delineated plot but only a couple of characters and no message.
It will be different every time you do this for every story you write. But once your mind is clear and you can get that overview and also start playing one idea against others, you’ll find that from that point forward your story development takes off like a rocket.
This method is SO important that we made it the first of more than 200 steps in our StoryWeaver Story Development Software. You can try it risk-free for 90 days on our web site at Storymind.com where you will also find hundreds of original articles on writing, free writing classes in streaming video, and much more.
Click on the image below to hear episode 1 in this rare recording of a weekend seminar by Dramatica Theory of Story co-creators Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley in the mid-1990’s just after Dramatica was made public for the first time.
Posted inStory Structure|Comments Off on Secrets of Story Structure | Episode 1 – Introduction to Structure
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.
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!!!
One of the writers I coach 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. Another creative writer I have as a client 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 fragmented 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. I believe 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.
I’m thinking that your 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 set in the New York world of high-competition design.
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 advice I can muster about why this happens and what to do about it.
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.
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
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