Story Structure for Professional Writers

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The Relationship Behind Every Great Story

Understand what must be done for the relationship to succeed and you will find the source of conflict between them.

Protagonists fight for the central Goal of a story. Antagonists prevent it. Amidst this epic struggle a relationship develops between two principal characters, a relationship that reflects and balances out the more obvious fight between good guy and bad guy. To maintain this parity between big picture and bonding, Authors may find the idea of a Relationship Story Goal helpful.

Love stories present a challenge to writers. Buddy films like Toy Story or 48 Hours, father/son films like How to Train your Dragon or October Sky, and mentor films like The Matrix or Kung Fu Panda inherently provide rich conflict because of the nature of the relationship between the two principal characters. Bringing meaningful conflict to a romantic relationship, one where both find themselves enamored of the other, requires greater investigation. Key starting point? Find what it is that must be done for the relationship to succeed and you'll find a source for conflict.

The Source of Trouble

Four Throughlines, four Problems. Overall Story, Main Character, Influence Character and Relationship Story. Each represents a different perspective on a story's central inequity. By showing an Audience member that what they thought was the problem actually looks like something completely different from another point-of-view, a writer can insure that what they want to say comes across without reticence. The story functions as a whole and complete argument.

The Problems in each Throughline well up from the base of a story and create what are known as Concerns. Luke constantly tests himself in Star Wars generating a Concern for himself that his life isn't progressing fast enough. The oppressive control by the Nazis in Casablanca fashions a Concern of obtaining Letters of Transit. Nemo's headstrong refusal to see his disability as a hindrance in Finding Nemo begets a Concern of how he'll be able to survive without his dad around. In each of these examples both Problem and Concern function as Static Story Points, meaning they persist from beginning to end.

Positioning Towards the Goal

Alleviating these Concerns becomes the primary focus of each Throughline. The energy directed towards their completion can make them appear as individual Goals. Nemo wanting a future he can call his own, Luke wanting to constantly move on to the next step in his own personal "evolution"--these Concerns give each Throughline a point to aim for. Point of fact, the Concern for everyone in the story (the Overall Story Concern) serves as the actual Story Goal within the Dramatica storyform. Take a look at any storyform found in the Analysis section of the Dramatica website and you'll find that Overall Story Concern shares the same apprecation as the Overall Story Goal. In Casablanca Nazi control leads to everyone wanting Ugarte's Letters of Transit (Story Goal: Obtaining) but that authority also results in Renault bargaining for sexual favors and requiring that he always win at Rick's--a general Concern for everyone (Overall Story Concern: Obtaining).

While Dramatica doesn't call for a Main Character Goal or an Influence Character Goal, their individual Concerns come closest. This is because the Type level of the Dramatica Table of Story Elements--the level at which the Concerns rest--approximate what most think of as "plot". Obtaining, the Future, Changing One's Nature and Understanding all sound like plot-level story devices.

Our Greatest Concern

When it comes to the Relationship Story Throughline, the Concern between the two gives pause. Is it one's concern about the other? Is it something they wish they always argue about? No and no. The Relationship Story Concern functions exactly as the Concerns in the other Throughlines in that it marks a point for aspiration. It differs from the other Throughlines because instead of providing focus for an individual or group of individuals, the focus remains on the relationship. Yet like the other throughlines, this focus can be seen as a Goal.

Terry Malloy and Edie Doyle from On the Waterfront have to get their heads around how they're going to fit together when they're two completely different people. The film her shares the same dynamic between two completely different people (one human, one computer), yet their struggle lies in their lack of understanding of one another. The couples in both films have to figure out how they're going to make it work, but both require a diiferent endpoint. Both generate a different Concern.

Terry's capacity for illegal activity creates a Concern in their relationship over conceptualizing how to make it all work out. They're so different they can't wrap their heads around it. The self-obsessiveness between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) begets a Concern of misunderstanding of intention and purpose to their relationship. This is what their individual Concerns look like from the outside. Dive into either story and ask the individual characters whether they felt these Concerns and the answer would most likely be no.

Becoming Familiar with a New Perspective

The Dramatica storyform presents an objectified view of the Author's argument. It is not subject matter nor does it provide points of reference for dialogue. The Relationship Story Concern looks to us--from the outside as Authors and Audience--as the kind of thing needed to bring the two together. To bring peace and equity in their relationship. Looking at this story point from a more objective view alleviates the confusion that comes when we try to get into the minds of our characters and figure out what they personally are concerned with.

The struggle most writers encounter with Dramatica is detatchment from their own work. The fun part of writing, the reason most are writers in the first place, lies in entering into the story and becoming these differenct characters and living their different lives. Stepping back seems alien and cold and completely unintuitive--and they're right. Objectivism provides no shelter for intuition.

But in order for a story to make sense, in order for it to exist without holes and without admonition, a tool like Dramatica becomes ultimately necessary. We can't see our blind spots. It's original slugline--The Ultimate Writing Partner"--fits best as it describes the relationship between the program and Author. It's like that one friend who you loathe sending your work to because you know they're going to find exactly what's wrong with it. Dramatica works the same, providing an objective view of your story.

The Goal of Every Relationship

Every potential bond seeks a merging of two. Like the union that develops in a story between the two principal characters, Authors must find hallowed ground for both subjective and objective, for both their intuition and an objectified view like Dramatica. When it comes to the Relationship Story Concern between two lovers, focus not on what the characters themselves would be concerned with, but rather ask what is needed for this romance to work out, from an objective standpoint? This Goal is not a goal for the characters, but rather a goal--or mark--for the Author to hit. Strike this balance and you'll find yourself well on the way towards mastering narrative.

Concepts covered: The Relationship Behind Every Great Story & The Relationship Behind Every Great Story.

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