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A Concept of Story You Should Know

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Latest Thoughts on Story

7 hours ago

In Long Beach today for an Abraham Hicks Vortex of Attraction workshop I heard something that sounded quite familiar.

For those who don't know,1 Esther Hicks is an inspirational writer along the lines of a Wayne Dyer and a proponent of the Law of Attraction. Tapping into "infinite intelligence" she offers advice and recommendations for people seeking to attract more of what they want in their life and repelling that which they don't.

Regardless of whether or not you buy into where her intelligence comes from, listening to her lecture is an inspiring experience--particularly for writers and artists. I was invited as a plus one, but was pleasantly surprised at the amount of useful information she gave for those looking to build momentum in their lives...

...especially the advice she gave to an amateur writer asking for suggestions on how to write her book on raising children. The writer knew she wanted to communicate all that she had learned through her experiences with her children but wasn't sure where to start.

Esther recommended she structure each chapter of her book in four stages:

  1. Write about your situation
  2. Write about your response
  3. Write about the action you took
  4. Meditation

Sound familiar?

Now it wasn't clear whether or not the fourth step was a personal meditation on the words written or a fourth and final section elaborating on a suggested meditation for the reader, but the pattern is clear:

Esther described the four base elements of every Dramatica quad.

  1. Situation
  2. Fixed Attitude
  3. Activity
  4. Psychology

The fourth--as with every fourth element in a Dramatica quad--doesn't quite fit in, yet seemingly is the perfect missing piece. In Dramatica, Psychology differs from Fixed Attitude in that it looks at HOW we think rather than WHAT we think. In other words, precisely what meditation seeks to modify.

For those requiring a visual representation, here is the top (and theoretically, extreme bottom) level of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements:

The Dramatica Narrative Quad

Traces of dramatic or narrative structure in real life interest me. Finding evidence here compels me to think more into the event. Esther is someone deeply in tune with her own intuition--and her own intuition listed out the four elements of a narrative quad.

You could feel the level of understanding rise when she mentioned that fourth and final piece--as if completing the quad completed the understanding within each and every one of the storyminds gathered there.

  1. I just learned about her in the past couple of months. ↩︎

1 day ago

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

Earlier this month, George Lucas & Co. announced that his vision of a museum dedicated to story would break ground this year in Los Angeles.

That's right...story!

As someone who lives and works thirty minutes from the proposed location, I am beyond excited. A cultural center revolving around the importance of storytelling?? Successfully starting a full-time business around my life's greatest passion was one thing, but having access to every facet of that same passion in one place? My head reels from the possibilities.

Imagine a corner of this center devoted to our favorite theory of story based on human psychology!

The museum, ten years in the making, sounds absolutely incredible:

There will be two screening rooms. Our sense is there will be a cinematheque, so films will be shown every day and that will be a part of the function of the building. There will be artists in residence, a library for research — obviously a great resource for college students, PhD students, high school students. And there will be educational facilities and classrooms that will be used in the furtherance of whatever we might be teaching at that time. Maybe we do a series on digital art, maybe a series on comic art. There’s all sorts of ways this could play out.

Perhaps Narrative First and yours truly will give a lecture there someday...

4 days ago

The only thing that matters more to us more than a great story is publishing an accurate analysis of a great story. Here at Narrative First we would rather be told we were wrong than continue to provide a false and potentially misguided account of the narrative structure behind a work.

Our analysis of Guardians of the Galaxy always remained troublesome.

Gamora's Throughline peters out and dies leaving little explanation why Quill actually changed his point-of-view...To further weaken the film's structure, the Relationship Throughline between Quill and Gamora occupies but one scene over the span of 122 minutes--hardly the stuff of a well-developed thoroughly realized narrative.

The film was a huge and massive success and to suggest that perhaps there was something broken or deficient about the structure proved difficult to back up. We took umbrage with the apparent lack of a consistent and impactful Influence Character Throughline and felt the lack of a true Relationship Story Throughline--but that didn't seem to bother the rest of the world. Our dual ratings of Structure and Entertainment furthered the confusion for those who felt the film functioned appropriately on all levels.

Enter novelist Sebastien de Castell, writer of the popular Traitor's Blade series and his counter-argument for why Guardians of the Galaxy proved so successful:

The main structural criticism you cite with the film is the weak IC and RS throughlines because the only relationship that seems to be going on between Peter and another character is with Gamora—a sort of unfulfilled romance that is, at best, weak sauce. I agree completely. However when I ask myself what relationship in at the heart of the story, it’s the relationship of the team - not something between two individuals. Each of three characters—Gamora, Drax, and Rocket—represent the IC and are trying to force Peter to stop trying to make them into a team.

Despite how Peter starts the story—pretending to be a lone wolf out for himself, he’s actually desperate to have a family again because he’s never gotten over the death of his mother. That’s why the moment he connects with the other characters (in the prison complex), he immediately tries to get them to work as a team—first to save Gamora, then to escape the prison itself.

Throughout the movie, Gamora (“You’re too self-centered to care about others, Peter”), Rocket (“Everyone’s out for themselves”), and Drax (“I don’t care about anything except avenging my dead family”) handoff the role of IC as they push back against Peter’s steadfast desire to believe they can be a team together and do something good for the galaxy. Sometimes they do it with statements, sometimes with actions (Rocket and Drax getting into a drunken fight.)

The one person who starts to have faith in Peter’s position is Groot. When Groot sacrifices himself to save the others as the ship is crashing, he’s presaging the climactic moment during which all four throughlines converge: Peter grabs the gem out of the air, knowing it means death for him, but Gamora, Drax and Rocket complete the IC throughline when they change to Peter’s way of thinking. All three take Peter’s hand—that’s the act that signals both their acceptance of his approach and the coming together of the team.

By doing so, they complete the RS, because there’s no question anymore that this is a team. Finally, in that same instant, the OS is completed (stone is destroyed, preventing Ronan from destroying Xandar) and Peter’s MC story completes because he’s finally got his new family (we even see him thinking back to his mom before she died.)

So my argument is that if we accept the ‘team’ itself as the IC, the whole structure actually does fit perfectly into the Dramatica storyform model and explains why the film isn’t just fun fluff but actually feels genuinely satisfying to the audience.

Besides finding an opportunity to use "presaging" in a sentence, Sebastien nails the thematic undertones of the film.

It will take another viewing of the film to nail down the exact storyform, but right off the bat it would seem that Peter's Avoidance is really a function of his Main Character Symptom rather than an actual Problem. This would signify an Overall Story Problem and Influence Character Problem(or collective Influence Character Problems) of Oppose and a corresponding Solution of Support--both story points that support Sebastien's wonderful explanation above.

Attitude would take over as the Overall Story Issue which sounds five-thousand times better, especially in a comedy action/adventure like Guardians.

As always, if you read something here you don't quite agree with or see differently please feel free to contact us. The right storyform is infinitely more important than our storyform...

1 week ago

Need to figure out how to create an effective and compelling backstory? Read Melanie's explanation on Justification:

We all share the same basic psychology but how it gets “wound up” by experience determines how we see the world. Eventually we reach a point where we’ve had enough experience to arrive at a conclusion that things are always “that way” and to stop considering the issue. And that is how everything from “winning drive” to “prejudice” is formed – not by ill intents or a dull mind but by the fact that no two life experiences are the same.

The "wound up" determines the "wound" of your Main Character. Their justifications protect while simultaneously defending them against further emotional injury. Until, that is, something or someone shows up to shake things up:

Stories begin at that moment – when the Main Character’s long-held subconscious belief system, world view, philosophy, or template for behavior comes into conflict with the world around him or her. And the story’s structure is all about how an Influence Character repeatedly brings this conflict to the surface in one context after another until there is so much evidence that the Main Character’s view is incorrect, that he or she must make a choice in a leap of faith: Do I stick with my long-held beliefs, even though they don’t seem to be solving the problem, or do I switch to a new point of view that seems to explain things, yet has never been tried?

Stay around to the end of Melanie's article on What Drives a Main Character to see why psychotherapy differs from narrative and why characters are never "real" people.

1 week ago

You can now download the Story Engine Settings reports for the 2016 Story Embroidery class.

For those unfamiliar, every December the Dramatica Users Group gets together to create a complete story completely from scratch. Chris Huntley, co-creator of the theory, spins a random storyform from the 32,768 possible and then, in round-robin style, everyone around the table takes a story point and illustrates it.

The only rule is that one must honor the ideas and concepts submitted by the others in the group.

The result is an often-hilarious, surprisingly coherent, fully functional narrative—all in the course of a couple hours.

If you would like to follow along, open up these two separate Story Engine Settings reports:

And watch the video below. Enjoy!

1 week ago

I love this analogy from Melanie concerning the difference between a Main Character who changes their Resolve (think Marlin in Finding Nemo or Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) in Captain Fantastic ) and a Main Character who has their Resolve changed over time (think Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) in Blue Jasmine or Elliot in E.T.):

Sometimes, in geology, this force gradually raises or lowers land in two adjacent plates. Other times it builds up pressure until things snap all at once in an earthquake. So too in story psychology, people are sometimes slowly changed by the gradual application of pressure as the main character’s justifications gradually unwind through experience. Other times the pressure applied structure just builds up until the character snaps in Leap Of Faith – that single “moment of truth” at the climax in which a character must decide either to change his ways (or outlook) or stick by his guns believing his current approach is stronger than the pressure bought to bear against him, believing he just has to outlast the forces against him to ultimately triumph.

Follow the link to The Tectonic Plates of Story Structure for a great visual as well.

1 week ago

Catching up on all things story after several weeks away, I found this gem from Melanie1

Narrative is not an artificial construct imposed on fiction nor on the real world, but it is a description of the ways of the mind beneath the level of subject matter. In a sense, narrative describes the operating system of the mind before a program is loaded.

So many of the writers I work with think of story as if it is something that actually happens to real-life characters. Story is an analogy to the way we think. Worrying about every character's "want" or "need" regardless of their connection to that analogous process deep within the structure reveals itself to be a tremendous waste of time.

This is why story structure was not previously decipherable – you can’t explain a nonlinear system with a linear paradigm.

Every single other story paradigm or collection of journey beats treats story as a linear process that starts in one place and transforms the character into a hero or cat-saver by the end. Dramatica takes a different approach in considering that all elements of a narrative work together in a holistic, non-linear fashion.

This isn't to say that something like the Hero's Journey or Save the Cat! isn't helpful for some; they simply don't define the totality of story.

In closing, suffice it to say that through narrative, we are able to look into the structure and dynamics of the group mind and see the structure and dynamics within ourselves. And, as a result, narrative holds the key to understanding why we think and feel as we do, and provides the methods and techniques that can solve both our external problems and internal inequities.

So really, meditation and self-awareness is the key! Look within for answers without.

  1. Yes, I realize pretty much everything linked here is from Melanie Anne Phillips, one of the co-creators of Dramatica, but hey--until other writers start blogging about their experience with this revolutionary theory you will be hearing a lot from her. ↩︎



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