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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The Creativity Two-Step

The concept behind this method of finding inspiration is quite simple, really: It is easier to come up with many ideas than it is to come up with one idea.

Now that may sound counter-intuitive, but consider this… When you are working on a particular story and you run into a specific structural problem, you are looking for a creative inspiration in a very narrow area. But creativity isn’t something you can control like a power tool or channel onto a task. Rather, it is random, and applies itself to whatever it wants.

Yet creative inspiration is always running at full tilt within us, coming up with new ideas, thinking new thoughts – just not the thoughts we are looking for. So if we sit and wait for the Muse to shine its light on the exact structural problem we’re stuck on, it might be days before lightning strikes that very spot.

Fortunately, we can trick Creativity into working on our problem by making it think it is being random. As an example, consider this log line for a story: A Marshall in an Old West border town struggles with a cutthroat gang that is bleeding the town dry.

Step One: Asking Questions

Now if you had the assignment to sit down and turn this into a full-blown, interesting, one-of-a-kind story, you might be a bit stuck for what to do next. So, try this. First ask some questions:

1. How old is the Marshall?

2. How much experience does he have?

3. Is he a good shot?

4. How many men has he killed (if any)

5. How many people are in the gang?

6. Does it have a single leader?

7. Is the gang tight-knit?

8. What are they taking from the town?

9. How long have they been doing this?

You could probably go on and on and easily come up with a hundred questions based on that single log line. It might not seem at first that this will help you expand your story, but look at what’s really happened. You have tricked your Muse into coming up with a detailed list of what needs to be developed! And it didn’t even hurt. In fact, it was actually fun.

Step Two: Answering Questions

But that’s just the first step. Next, take each of these questions and come up with as many different answers as you can think of. Let your Muse run wild through your mind. You’ll probably find you get some ordinary answers and some really outlandish ones, but you’ll absolutely get a load of them!

  a) How old is the Marshall?

a. 28

b. 56

c. 86

d. 17

e. 07

f. 35

Some of these potential ages are ridiculous – or are they? Every ordinary story based on such a log line would have the Marshall be 28 or 35. Just another dull story, grinding through the mill.

Step One Revisited

But what if your Marshall was 86 or 7 years old? Let’s switch back to Step One and ask some questions about his age.

For example:

c. 86

1. How would an 86 year old become a Marshall?

2. Can he still see okay?

3. What physical maladies plague him?

4. Is he married?

5. What kind of gun does he use?

6. Does he have the respect of the town?

And on and on…

Return to Step Two

As you might expect, now we switch back to Step Two again and answer each question as many different ways as you can.

Example:

5. What kind of gun does he use?

a) He uses an ancient musket, can barely lift it, but is a crack shot and miraculously hits whatever he aims at.

b) He uses an ancient musket and can’t hit the broad side of a barn. But somehow, his oddball shots ricochet off so many things, he gets the job done anyway, just not as he planned.

c) He uses a Gattling gun attached to his walker.

d) He doesn’t use a gun at all. In 63 years with the Texas Rangers, he never needed one and doesn’t need one now.

e) He uses a sawed off shotgun, but needs his deputy to pull the trigger for him as he aims.

f) He uses a whip.

g) He uses a knife, but can’t throw it past 5 feet anymore.

And on and on again…

Methinks you begin to get the idea. First you ask questions, which trick the Muse into finding fault with your work – an easy thing to do that your Creative Spirit already does on its own – often to your dismay.

Next, you turn the Muse loose to come up with as many answers for each question as you possibly can.

Then, you switch back to question mode and ask as many as you can about each of your answers.

And then you come up with as many answers as possible for those questions.

You can carry this process out for as many generations as you like, but the bulk of story material you develop will grow so quickly, you’ll likely not want to go much further than we went in our example.

Imagine, if you just asked 10 questions about the original log line and responded to each of them with 10 potential answers, you’d have 100 story points to consider.

Then, if you went as far as we just did for each one, you’d ask 10 questions of each answer and end up with 1,000 potential story points. And the final step of 10 answers for each of these would yield 10,000 story points!

Now in the real world, you probably won’t bother answering each question – just those that intrigue you. And, you won’t trouble yourself to ask questions about every answer – just the ones that suggest they have more development to offer and seem to lead in a direction you might like to go with your story.

The key point is that rather than staring at a blank page trying to find that one structural solution that will fill a gap or connect two points, use the Creativity Two-Step to trick your Muse into spewing out the wealth of ideas it naturally wants to provide.

Melanie Anne Phillips

 

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How “StoryWeaver” Came To Be

When Chris Huntley and I created the Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure back in the early 90’s, we originally envisioned it as the end-all of story models – the one single paradigm that explained it all. In fact, it was – but only in regard to the mechanics of stories.

Although Dramatica proved amazingly popular, and the Dramatica software we designed (along with Steve Greenfield) became the best selling story structure tool ever created, I began to feel there was something missing.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) its power, depth, and accuracy Dramatica required a huge learning curve. What’s more, though writers could intuitively tune in to its truth and vision it somehow left the user cold in a passionate or creative sense.

To compensate for these issues, we eventually carried the software through three complete major versions, each seeking to make the story development process more involving and accessible. After considering the last of these efforts, I came to realize that there was only so far you could go in an attempt to turn a logical model of story structure into a warm fuzzy teddy bear of inspiration.

So began a personal eight-year journey on my part to connect with that other “touchy-feely” side of story development. What I wanted was simple – the passionate counterpart to Dramatica: a simple, easy to follow, step-by-step approach to story development that goosed the Muse and never required an author to deal directly with theory or to drop out of creative mode in order to make logistic choices. In short, I wanted to create a means by which writing would become fun, easy, powerful, and meaningful and still hold true to the structural insights of the Dramatica Theory.

The result was a whole new system of writing which I called “StoryWeaving.” StoryWeaving is just what it sounds like: the process of weaving together a story. Picture an author in front of a loom, drawing on threads of structure and passion, pulling them together into something that will ultimately be both moving and meaningful, that will capture human emotion and present it in a pattern that makes logical sense.

Authors work best not when they simply let themselves go in an aimless fashion, nor when they adhere to a strict framework of structural imperatives, but rather, they maximize the fruits of their talents when they are free to move through both worlds on a whim, drawing on such elements of structure and passion as play across their minds at any given moment.

Having devised a method of assisting authors in embracing this freedom, I designed the StoryWeaver software to transform the concept into a practical tool. Within the first year of its release, StoryWeaver came to outsell Dramatica on my online store by a margin of six to one, and outsold all other products that I carry combined!

Still, as simple and straightforward as StoryWeaver is to use, many authors craved additional details about various StoryWeaving concepts. To include that degree of depth in the software would bog down the process. So, I began a series of StoryWeaving Tips to elucidate on particular areas of interest, and to enhance the StoryWeaving path with small excursions onto creative side-streets.

This web site is a compilation of the complete collection of all of these creative writing tips to date, mixed in with tips for story structure as well.

I leave you to explore these new worlds on your own.

Melanie Anne Phillips

 

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Basic Tips for Beginning Writers

Here’s a short list of our best tips and articles for novice writers to help you find inspiration, get you started, and carry you to completion of your novel or screenplay.

Ten Essential Tips for Beginning Writers

Character Development Tricks!

Finding Your Creative Time

How to Find Inspiration

What Chases Your Characters

Write Your Novel Step By Step

Free Videos on Story Development

The Creativity Two-Step

A Novelist’s Bag of Tricks!

How to Grow a Sentence into a Story

Four Essential Plot Points

Creating Characters from Scratch

How to Create Great Characters

What Chases Your Characters?

Your Plot Step by Step

Requirements for your Story’s Goal

Top Story Development Software

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Write Your Novel Step By Step

Write Your Novel Step By Step!

Read the complete book free on our web site at http://storymind.com/page31.htm

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Free for Writers – All Online Courses, Videos, Articles, and Writing Tips!

NOW FREE for Writers! All our writing courses, videos, audio programs, articles, and writing tips are NOW FREE on the Storymind.com web site!

You’re welcome.

The Management

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You are only as good as your own talent. GET OVER IT!

You are only as good as your own talent. GET OVER IT!

You have a gift. Maybe it’s a grand one and maybe you wish you could exchange it. But you can’t. It’s your gift and it’s only as good as it is. Sure, you can learn technique and structure and vocabulary, but you can’t be any better than you have the capacity to be. So grow up, deal with it and write fiercely.

And if you do need a little help along the way, check out our StoryWeaver software at Storymind.com

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Narrative in the Real World: Anticipatory Targeting of Data Gathering Resources (Part 1)

From Melanie Anne Phillips, Owner of Storymind.com

Here’s the beginning of an article I wrote back a few years ago when I was a consultant for the CIA and the NSA on narrative psychology and its application for counter-terrorism. I eventually finished the article, but am cleaning out my hard drive and this initial draft is the first thing I found and figured it was still worth publishing as an insight into the process:

Anticipatory Targeting of Data Gathering Resources

By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator, Dramatica Theory

The Problem

The ability to assess a current situation and accurately predict its course is perhaps the paramount requirement for the security of an individual or a nation. To that end, we have developed ever more sophisticated systems for gathering and analyzing information to both understand the dangers of the present and to be prepared for emerging dangers in the future.

Current systems are largely based on a marriage of statistical databases and a variety of algorithms ranging from influence networks to hub theory to fluid dynamics and even models of the progression of infectious diseases. Increasingly, advancements in artificial intelligence have provided additional capability through the application of machine learning, group mind theory, and hierarchies of intelligent agents.

Despite these enhancements, our technology is rapidly approaching a limit as to how much more accurate and predictive it can become, regardless of further developments based on the same fundamental approaches. As a result, though our capacity to gather data has increased explosively, our ability to understand predictive patterns and employ them in a feedback loop to redirect our data gathering resources has lagged behind.

The problem behind this limitation is that there remains a missing piece in our analytic capacity: the ability to definitively model and predict the human element in terms of motivations and responses. While we can create algorithms to describe patterns of human movement and can assess individuals and organizations through psychological profiling, these approaches are largely built upon probability based on historic observation.
What is lacking is a unifying paradigm of human behavior based not on statistics, but on the underlying dynamics and interaction of mental processes, both cognitive and affective – essentially, a model of the mind itself.

Historically, attempts to model the mind have proven insufficient, but recently a much more functional system, which has been employed successfully in the field of narrative science for nearly twenty years, has emerged as a viable solution to the problem.
What follows is a description of this system and how it might be incorporated into to the existing framework of our data gathering resources.

The Solution

The Method

The Basis

The concepts in this article owe their roots to our Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure.  You can read our entire book explaining the theory here in PDF or on Amazon, and you may wish to demo our Dramatica narrative construction and analysis software based on our model of narrative psychology for use in fiction and the real world.

I’ll publish the complete article, if and when I find it as I plow through the archives…

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