Category Archives: Dramatica

Dramatica is a theory of narrative structure that became the basis for Dramatica story development software. This category covers all things Dramatica from the practical to the science behind it.

Browse through the articles or use the search box at the top of the page to find just what you are looking for, and may the Muse be with you!

Story Structure Seen As War

Imagine a story’s structure as a war and the Main Character as a soldier making his way across the field of battle.  In your mind’s eye, you likely see they whole scene spread out in front of you, as if you were a general on a hill watching the conflict unfold.

That all-seeing “God’s eye view” is a perspective not available to the Main Character, but only the author and audience (as he chooses to reveal it, here and there, casting light on that dark understanding of what is really going on or keeping the readers in the dark.

But there is a second point of view implied in this war of words – that of the Main Character himself.  The Main Character has no idea what lies over the next hill, or what troubles may be lurking in the bushes.  Like all of us, he must rely on our experience in trying to make it through alive.

The view through the eyes of the Main Character puts your readers in his shoes, experiencing the pressures first hand, feeling the power of the moment.  In a sense, this most perspective connects the Main Character’s tribulations (both logistic and emotional) to those we all grapple with in real life.  It draws us in, makes us personally involved, and also causes us to see the message or moral of the story as being applicable to our own journey.

Many authors establish both the overall story and the Main Character’s glimpse of it and stop there, believing they have covered all the angles.  After all, the Main Character can’t see the big picture and that overview can’t portray the immediacy of the struggle on the ground.  All bases covered, right?

In fact, no.  Suddenly, through the smoke of dramatic explosions the Main Character spies a murky figure standing right in his path. In this fog of war, he cannot tell if this other soldier is a friend or foe. Either way, he is blocking the road.

As the Main Character approaches, this other soldier starts waving his arms and shouts, “Change course – get off this road!” Convinced he is on the best path, the Main Character yells back, “Get out of my way!” Again the figure shouts, “Change course!” Again the Main Character replies, “Let me pass!”

The Main Character has no way of knowing if his opposite is a comrade trying to prevent him from walking into a mine field or an enemy fifth column combatant trying to lure him into an ambush. But if he stops on the road, he remains exposed with danger all around.  And so, he continues on, following the plan that still seems best to him.

Eventually, the two soldiers converge, and when they do it becomes a moment of truth in which one will win out. Either the Main Character will alter course or his steadfastness will cause the other soldier to step aside.

This other soldier is called the Influence character, and though you may not have heard of him, this other soldier is essential to describing the pressures that bring the Main Character to a point of decision.

In our own minds we are often confronted by issues that question our approach, attitude, or the value of our hard-gained experience. But we don’t simply adopt a new point of view when our old methods have served us so well for so long. Rather, we consider how things might go if we adopted this new system of thinking right up to the moment we have to make a choice.

It is a long hard thing within us to reach a point of change, and so too is it a difficult feat for the Main Character. In fact, it takes the whole story to reach that point of climax where the Main Character must choose to stay on course or to step off into the darkness, hoping they’ve made the right choice – the classic “Leap of Faith.”

This other character provides a third perspective to a story’s structure – that of an opposing belief system that the Main Character is pressured to consider.  What would the original Star Wars have been without Obi Wan Kenobi continually urging Luke to “Trust the force?”  How about A Christmas Carol without Marley’s ghost, as well as the ghosts of Past, Present, and Future?

Without an Influence character, there is no reason for the Main Character to question his beliefs.   But just having an opposing perspective isn’t all that an Influence Character brings to a story.

A convincing theme or message is not built just by establishing an alternative world view to that of the Main Character.  That would come off as simply moralizing since it presents the two sides as cut and dried, in black and white.  Few life-changing decisions in life are as simple as that.

Rather, the two views must also be played against each other in many scenarios so the Main Character (who represents us all) can begin to connect the dots and ultimately choose the tried and true approach that isn’t working or the new approach that has never been tried.  In other words, at the moment of conflict, both courses are evenly balanced which is why, no matter which side the Main Character comes down on, it is a leap of faith.

It is that repeated questioning of the Main Character’s closely held beliefs that comprises the fourth perspective of our story when seen as a war – the personal story between the Main Character and the Influence Character in which the author’s message is argued.

This fourth point of view elevates a structure from being a simple tale that states “here is how it is,” to a fully developed story that makes the case for “here’s why it is as it is.”  Such stories feel far more complete, even though they may still work well-enough to be successful without it.

For example, in the movie, A Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack Skellington, King of Halloween Town, is dissatisfied with his lot in life and decides to take over Christmas by kidnapping Santa Claus.

The kidnapping and all that follows in the plot is that Overall perspective of the general on the hill.

Jack is the Main Character, trying to improve his life through altering his situation, embodying perspective number two.

Jack’s girlfriend, Sally, is the Influence Character, providing the third perspective: an alternative belief system.  As Wikipedia puts it: “Sally is the only one to have doubts about Jack’s Christmas plan.”  Essentially, he tell Jack that Halloween and Christmas should not be mixed and he should be satisfied with who he is.

But that fourth perspective is missing – the thematic argument between those two conflicting points of view that would have provided a strong and organic message to the story.  Sally states her opposition, but she and Jack never pit one way of looking at the world against the other, not through discussions, nor argument, nor even through a series of scenes illustrating the value of one over the other.

Think back to A Christmas Carol.  How many times is Scrooge’s world view contrasted against that of the ghosts in a whole series of scenarios?  But in Nightmare, the opposing world view is stated but never argued, leaving the story, though incredibly inventive and exciting, somehow less satisfying in a way the audience can’t quite identify.

All four of these perspectives are needed for a story structure to be as powerful as it can be.  In developing your own stories, consider our analogy of story structure as war to ensure that each of them is present, and your story will be far stronger for it.

Melanie Anne Phillips

This article is drawn from concepts in our

Dramatica Story Structure Software

 

What is Dramatica?

What is Dramatica?

Dramatica is a theory of story that offers both writers and critics a clear view of what story structure is and how it works. Dramatica is also the inspiration behind the line of story development software products that bear its name.

The central concept of the Dramatica theory is a notion called the “Story Mind.” In a nutshell, this simply means that every story has a mind of its own – its own personality; its own psychology. A story’s personality is developed by an author’s style and subject matter; its psychology is determined by the underlying dramatic structure.

The Story Mind

The Story Mind is at the heart of Dramatica, and everything else about the theory grows out of that. If you don’t buy into it, at least a little, then you’re not going to find much use for the rest of this book. So let’s take look into the Story Mind right off the bat to see if it is worth your while to keep reading…

Simply put, the Story Mind means that we can think of a story as if it were a person. The storytelling style and the subject matter determine the story’s personality, and the underlying dramatic structure determines its psychology.

Now the personality of a story is a touchy-feely thing, while the psychology is a nuts-and-bolts mechanical thing. Let’s consider the personality part first, and then turn our attention to the psychology.

Like anyone you meet, a story has a personality. And what makes up a personality? Well, everything from the subject matter a person talks about to their attitude toward life. Similarly, a story might be about the Old West or Outer Space, and its attitude could be somber, sneaky, lively, hilarious, or any combination of other human qualities.

Is this a useful perspective? Can be. Many writers get so wrapped up in the details of a story that they lose track of the overview. For example, you might spend all kinds of time working out the specifics of each character’s personality yet have your story take a direction that is completely out of character for its personality. But if you step back every once and a while and think of the story as a single person, you can really get a sense of whether or not it is acting in character.

Imagine that you have invited your story to dinner. You have a pleasant conversation with it over the meal. Of course, it is more like a monologue because your story does all the talking – just as it will to your audience or reader.

Your story is a practical joker, or a civil war buff (genre), and it talks about what interests it. It tells you a story about a problem with some endeavor (plot) in which it was engaged. It discusses the moral issues (theme) involved and its point of view on them. It even divulges the conflicting drives (characters) that motivated it while it tried to resolve the difficulties.

You want to ask yourself if it’s story makes sense. If not, you need to work on the logic of your story. Does it feel right, as if the Story Mind is telling you everything, or does it seem like it is holding something back? If so, your story has holes that need filling. And does your story hold your interest for two hours or more while it delivers it’s monologue? If not, it’s going to bore it’s captive audience in the theater, or the reader of its report (your book), and you need to send it back to finishing school for another draft.

Again, authors get so wrapped up in the details that they lose the big picture. But by thinking of your story as a person, you can get a sense of the overall attraction, believability, and humanity of your story before you foist it off on an unsuspecting public.

There’s much more we’ll have to say about the personality of the Story Mind and how to leverage it to your advantage. But, our purpose right now is just to see if Dramatica might be of use to you. So, let’s examine the other side of the Story Mind concept – the story’s psychology as represented in its structure.

The Dramatica theory is primarily concerned with the structure of a story. Everything in that structure represents an aspect of the human mind, almost as if the processes of the mind had been made tangible and projected out externally for the audience to observe.

Do you remember the model kit of the “Visible Man?” It was a 12″ human figure made out of clear plastic so you could see the skeleton and all the organs on the inside. Well that is how the Story Mind works. it takes the processes of the human mind, and turns them into characters, plot, theme, and genre, so we can study them in detail. In this way, an author can provide understanding to an audience of the best way to deal with problems. And, of course, all of this is wrapped up and disguised in the particular subject matter, style, and techniques of the storyteller.

Now this makes it sound as if the real meat of a story, the real people, places, events, and topics, are just window dressing to distract the audience from the serious business of the structure. But that’s not what we’re saying here. In fact, structure and storytelling work side by side, hand in hand, to create an audience/reader experience that transcends the power of either by itself.

Therefore, structure and storytelling are neither completely dependent upon each other, nor are they wholly independent. One structure might be told in a myriad of ways, like West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. Similarly, any given group of characters dealing with a particular realm of subject matter might be wrapped around any number of different structures, like weekly television series.

But let’s get back to the nature of the structure itself and to the elements that make up the Story Mind. If characters, plot, theme, and genre represent aspects of the human mind made tangible, what are they?

Characters represent the conflicting drives of our own minds. For example, in our own minds, our reason and our emotions are often at war with one another. Sometimes what makes the most sense doesn’t feel right at all. And conversely, what feels so right might not make any sense at all. Then again, there are times when both agree and what makes the most sense also feels right on.

Reason and Emotion then, become two archetypal characters in the Story Mind that illustrate that inner conflict that rages within ourselves. And in the structure of stories, just as in our minds, sometimes these two basic attributes conflict, and other times they concur.

Theme, on the other hand, illustrates our troubled value standards. We are all plagued with uncertainties regarding the right attitude to take, the best qualities to emulate, and whether our principles should remain fixed and constant or should bend in context to particular circumstances.

Plot compares the relative value of the methods we might employ within our minds in our attempt to press on through these conflicting points of view on the way toward a mental consensus.

And genre explores the overall attitude of the Story Mind – the points of view we take as we watch the parade of our own thoughts unfold, and the psychological foundation upon which our personality is built.

Melanie Anne Phillips

This article is drawn from the author’s
Dramatica Story Structure Software

Try it risk-free for 90 days and write
your novel or screenplay step by step

 Click for details and free bonus….

What Is Truth? (The Character’s Dilemma)

Characters reflect real people in a purified or idealized state.  And so, we can see in them qualities and traits that are hard to see within ourselves.  One of the most difficult challenges we face every day are exemplified by characters in virtually every story – the inability to confidently understand “what is truth?”

In this article, excerpted from the Dramatica Narrative Theory Book I wrote with Chris Huntley, the elusive and changing nature of truth is explored for the benefit of your characters and yourself.

What Is Truth?

We cannot move to resolve a problem until we recognize the problem. Even if we feel the inequity, until we can pinpoint it or understand what creates it, we can neither arrive at an appropriate response or act to nip it at its source.

If we had to evaluate each inequity that we encounter with an absolutely open mind, we could not learn from experience. Even if we had seen the same thing one hundred times before, we would not look to our memories to see what had turned out to be the source or what appropriate measures had been employed. We would be forced to consider every little friction that rubbed us the wrong way as if we have never encountered it. Certainly, this is another form of inefficiency, as “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In such a scenario, we would not learn from our mistakes, much less our successes. But is that inefficiency? What if we encounter an exception to the rules we have come to live by? If we rely completely on our life experience, when we encounter a new context in life, our whole paradigm may be inappropriate.

You Idiom!

We all know the truisms, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” “guilt by association,” “one bad apple spoils the bunch,” “the only good (fill in the blank) is a dead (fill in the blank).” In each of these cases we assume a different kind of causal relationship than is generally scrutinized in our culture. Each of these phrases asserts that when you see one thing, another thing will either be there also, or will certainly follow. Why do we make these assumptions? Because, in context, they are often true. But as soon as we apply them out of context they are just as likely false.

Associations in Space and Time

When we see something occur enough times without exception, our mind accepts it as an absolute. After all, we have never seen it fail! This is like saying that every time you put a piece of paper on hot metal it will burn. Fine, but not in a vacuum! You need oxygen as well to create the reaction you anticipate.

In fact, every time we believe THIS leads to THAT or whenever we see THIS, THAT will also be present, we are making assumptions with a flagrant disregard for context. And that is where characters get into trouble. A character makes associations in their backstory. Because of the context in which they gather their experiences, these associations always hold true. But then the situation (context) changes, or they move into new areas in their lives. Suddenly some of these assumptions are absolutely untrue!

Hold on to Your Givens!

Why doesn’t a character (or person) simply give up the old view for the new? There are two reasons why one will hold on to an outmoded, inappropriate understanding of the relationships between things. We’ll outline them one at a time.

First, there is the notion of how many times a character has seen things go one way, compared to the number of times they’ve gone another. If a character builds up years of experience with something being true and then encounters one time it is not true, they will tend to treat that single false time as an exception to the rule. It would take as many false responses as there had been true ones to counter the balance.

Context is a Sneaky Thing

Context is in a constant state of flux. If something has always proven true in all contexts up to this point then one is not conscious of entering a whole new context. Rather, as we move in and out of contexts, a truism that was ALWAYS true may become mostly true, sometimes true, or no longer true at all. It may have an increasing or decreasing frequency of proving true or may tend toward being false for a while, only to tend toward being true again later.

The important thing for your characters is to recognize that they (like us) are just trying to discover what the truth is so they can make the best possible choices for themselves.  It is the difference in personal experience that leads to all dramatic (and real world) conflict.

To make your characters more human and to provide them with valid reasons for their actions and perspectives, you need to tell your readers or audience not where each character is coming from, but how they got to that belief system to begin with.

*******

Let me now add a short addendum to this excerpt from the Dramatica Book….

Truth is a process, not a conclusion.  If you have ever dipped into Zen, you realize that you cannot fully understand what something is unless you become it, and yet if you do, you lose the awareness of what it is as seen from the outside.

Capital “T” truth is perpetually elusive, as described in the saying, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao.”  Or, in less cryptic terms, if you define something, you have missed the point because nothing stands alone from the rest of the universe and cannot be fully defined apart from it.

The key to open-mindedness and problem solving is to decalcify your mind, to make it limber enough to perceive and explore alternative points of view without immediately abandoning the point of view you currently hold.

That is the nature of stories – when a main character’s belief system is challenged by an influence character who represents an alternative truth.  The entire passionate “heart line” of a story exists to examine the relative value of each perspective, and the message of a story is the author’s statement that, based on the author’s own experience or special knowledge, in this particular instance, one view is better than the other for solving this particular problem.

There is no right or wrong inherently.  It all depends upon the context, which is never constant.  The philosopher David Hume believed that truth was transient: as long as something worked, it was true, and when it failed to work it was no longer true.

And so, the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article, “What is truth?” can only be “truth is our best understanding of the moment.”

For a tangential topic, you may with to read my article, “The False Narrative,” in which I explore how to recognize, dismantle and/or create false narratives in fiction and in the real world.

And finally, you may wish to support this poor philosopher and teacher of narrative by trying our Dramatica Story Structuring Software risk-free for 90 days, or my StoryWeaver Step By Step Story Development Software, also risk-free.

Melanie Anne Phillips

What Is Dramatica?

What is Dramatica?

Dramatica is a theory of story that offers both writers and critics a clear view of what story structure is and how it works. Dramatica is also the inspiration behind the line of story development software products that bear its name.

The central concept of the Dramatica theory is a notion called the “Story Mind.” In a nutshell, this simply means that every story has a mind of its own – its own personality; its own psychology. A story’s personality is developed by an author’s style and subject matter; its psychology is determined by the underlying dramatic structure.

The Story Mind

The Story Mind is at the heart of Dramatica, and everything else about the theory grows out of that. If you don’t buy into it, at least a little, then you’re not going to find much use for the rest of this book. So let’s take look into the Story Mind right off the bat to see if it is worth your while to keep reading…

Simply put, the Story Mind means that we can think of a story as if it were a person. The storytelling style and the subject matter determine the story’s personality, and the underlying dramatic structure determines its psychology.

Now the personality of a story is a touchy-feely thing, while the psychology is a nuts-and-bolts mechanical thing. Let’s consider the personality part first, and then turn our attention to the psychology.

Like anyone you meet, a story has a personality. And what makes up a personality? Well, everything from the subject matter a person talks about to their attitude toward life. Similarly, a story might be about the Old West or Outer Space, and its attitude could be somber, sneaky, lively, hilarious, or any combination of other human qualities.

Is this a useful perspective? Can be. Many writers get so wrapped up in the details of a story that they lose track of the overview. For example, you might spend all kinds of time working out the specifics of each character’s personality yet have your story take a direction that is completely out of character for its personality. But if you step back every once and a while and think of the story as a single person, you can really get a sense of whether or not it is acting in character.

Imagine that you have invited your story to dinner. You have a pleasant conversation with it over the meal. Of course, it is more like a monologue because your story does all the talking – just as it will to your audience or reader.

Your story is a practical joker, or a civil war buff (genre), and it talks about what interests it. It tells you a story about a problem with some endeavor (plot) in which it was engaged. It discusses the moral issues (theme) involved and its point of view on them. It even divulges the conflicting drives (characters) that motivated it while it tried to resolve the difficulties.

You want to ask yourself if it’s story makes sense. If not, you need to work on the logic of your story. Does it feel right, as if the Story Mind is telling you everything, or does it seem like it is holding something back? If so, your story has holes that need filling. And does your story hold your interest for two hours or more while it delivers it’s monologue? If not, it’s going to bore it’s captive audience in the theater, or the reader of its report (your book), and you need to send it back to finishing school for another draft.

Again, authors get so wrapped up in the details that they lose the big picture. But by thinking of your story as a person, you can get a sense of the overall attraction, believability, and humanity of your story before you foist it off on an unsuspecting public.

There’s much more we’ll have to say about the personality of the Story Mind and how to leverage it to your advantage. But, our purpose right now is just to see if Dramatica might be of use to you. So, let’s examine the other side of the Story Mind concept – the story’s psychology as represented in its structure.

The Dramatica theory is primarily concerned with the structure of a story. Everything in that structure represents an aspect of the human mind, almost as if the processes of the mind had been made tangible and projected out externally for the audience to observe.

Do you remember the model kit of the “Visible Man?” It was a 12″ human figure made out of clear plastic so you could see the skeleton and all the organs on the inside. Well that is how the Story Mind works. it takes the processes of the human mind, and turns them into characters, plot, theme, and genre, so we can study them in detail. In this way, an author can provide understanding to an audience of the best way to deal with problems. And, of course, all of this is wrapped up and disguised in the particular subject matter, style, and techniques of the storyteller.

Now this makes it sound as if the real meat of a story, the real people, places, events, and topics, are just window dressing to distract the audience from the serious business of the structure. But that’s not what we’re saying here. In fact, structure and storytelling work side by side, hand in hand, to create an audience/reader experience that transcends the power of either by itself.

Therefore, structure and storytelling are neither completely dependent upon each other, nor are they wholly independent. One structure might be told in a myriad of ways, like West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. Similarly, any given group of characters dealing with a particular realm of subject matter might be wrapped around any number of different structures, like weekly television series.

But let’s get back to the nature of the structure itself and to the elements that make up the Story Mind. If characters, plot, theme, and genre represent aspects of the human mind made tangible, what are they?

Characters represent the conflicting drives of our own minds. For example, in our own minds, our reason and our emotions are often at war with one another. Sometimes what makes the most sense doesn’t feel right at all. And conversely, what feels so right might not make any sense at all. Then again, there are times when both agree and what makes the most sense also feels right on.

Reason and Emotion then, become two archetypal characters in the Story Mind that illustrate that inner conflict that rages within ourselves. And in the structure of stories, just as in our minds, sometimes these two basic attributes conflict, and other times they concur.

Theme, on the other hand, illustrates our troubled value standards. We are all plagued with uncertainties regarding the right attitude to take, the best qualities to emulate, and whether our principles should remain fixed and constant or should bend in context to particular circumstances.

Plot compares the relative value of the methods we might employ within our minds in our attempt to press on through these conflicting points of view on the way toward a mental consensus.

And genre explores the overall attitude of the Story Mind – the points of view we take as we watch the parade of our own thoughts unfold, and the psychological foundation upon which our personality is built.

Melanie Anne Phillips

This article is drawn from the author’s
Dramatica Story Structure Software

Try it risk-free for 90 days and write
your novel or screenplay step by step

 Click for details and free bonus….

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

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

 

Choosing Your Main Character’s Resolve

The Main Character represents the audience’s position in the story. Therefore, whether he or she changes or not has a huge impact on the audience’s story experience and the message you are sending to it.

Some Main Characters grow to the point of changing their nature or attitude regarding a central personal issue like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Others grow in their resolve, holding onto their nature or attitude against all obstacles like Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.

Change can be good if the character is on the wrong track to begin with. It can also be bad if the character was on the right track. Similarly, remaining Steadfast is good if the character is on the right track, but bad if he is misguided or mistaken.

Think about the message you want to send to your audience, and whether the Main Character’s path should represent the proper or improper way of dealing with the story’s central issue. Then select a changing or steadfast Main Character accordingly.

Excerpted from our Dramatica Story Structure Software

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Finding Your Story’s Core

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Every story has a core – that concept at the center that pulls all of the story elements into a cohesive whole, establishes meaning and message, and provides the story with an overall identity.

There are four fundamental kinds of cores, though each has endless variations.

1. Universe stories that are all about a fixed situation people must grapple with, such as being stuck in an overturned ocean liner, locked in a high-rise building with terrorists, being handcuffed to a murder, being the only member of a group with a particular gender or race, having a physical deformity.

2. Mind Stories that are all about fixed mind sets such as exploring or overcoming prejudice, belief in something that defies all evidence to the contrary, an unreasonable fear, a determination to accomplish something even if the reason for doing it has vanished.

3. Physics stories that are all about activities such as a trek through the jungle to obtain a lost treasure, the attempt to build the first self-aware artificial intelligence, a race across a continent in the 1800s, the effort to find a cure for a virulent new disease.

4. Psychology stores that are all the the thinking process, such as trying to come to terms with personal loss, grappling with issues of faith, overcoming addiction, growing to become a true leader.

Which of these four kinds of cores best describes what you want your story to be about and how you want it to feel?

By picking a core, you will have a central defining vision for your story that will keep it on track during development, and your completed story will come across with a powerful unified impact on your readers or audience.

The “Core” concept is part of the Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure

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