Narrative First Thoughts on Story Narrative First Thoughts on Story en-us James R. Hull Copyright 2017 2017-03-27T15:01:42-07:00 <![CDATA[The Reason For Certain Progressions Of Plot]]> Every story paradigm, it would seem, comes with a collection of caveats and footnotes: a select set of sequences may only work within a certain context, while a journey works for every context as long as you're willing to forgo consistent meaning. With the Dramatica theory of story, all that nonsense goes away.

Take for instance, this notion of Plot Progression in Dramatica:

I have two questions regarding placement of Problem Types on a grid and, especially, in the Signpost-Journey sequence. In the Dramatica Users Manual, the first appearance of Problem TYPES in the ACTIVITY Class are listed (clockwise): Understanding, Doing, Learning, Obtaining. After that, in every example I’ve seen--particularly with respect to Signposts--they are listed: Learning, Understanding, Doing, Obtaining or L-U-D-O. When establishing Signposts in the Activity class, will they always progress L-U-D-O? If so, will the Signposts in the Situation Class or Attitude Class progress in the same pattern (Present-Past-Progress-Future in Situation, Conscious-Memory-Preconscious-Subconscious in Attitude)?

Some stories progress from Learning to Understanding to Doing to Obtaining--but not all stories. Some start with the Understanding and then move to Learning, before finishing with Doing and Obtaining. And even then, some stories start with the Doing and Obtaining, before moving on to the Understanding and Learning.

It all depends on the narrative.

The All Important Dynamic Choices

This pattern you recognize is not arbitrary--it contains meaning. What you perceive is the differential between the Dramatica Table of Story Elements at rest and the Table of Story Elements after the application of the story's dynamics.

The Table of Story Elements at Rest

Those eight Essential Questions that adorn the top of and connected with your writer's intuition when you first heard about the theory? The answers to those questions determine how the model of the human mind winds up within a story.

Think of the Table of Story Elements like a giant, super amazing Rubik's cube with rubber bands wrapped around it. Tough to turn at first--and if you did--the cube would whip back into its normal state as soon as you let go. The answer to questions like the Main Character Resolve: Changed or Steadfast? and the Main Character's Problem-Solving Style: Linear or Holistic? Regulate which way to shift those cubes and how to rotate it in your hands.

A story begins with the Rubik's cube of story fully would up, ready to go. As the story unfolds, Act by Act, the cube begins to unravel until it returns back to its at rest state.

Independent Interdependence

The pattern mentioned above communicates only one-fourth of the Author's message to an audience. A story "cube" flows through four different complete Throughlines as it unravels.

Will one position in a Class always respond to another Class, in kind, with the same position? If the MC signpost is Past (top-left position on the grid) , will the IC always respond with Memory (also top-left position on the grid)?

Not always. Each of the Throughlines--Main Character, Influence Character, Relationship Story, and Overall Story--run through their own independent plot progression. Sometimes this will present an Influence Character dealing with Memories at the same time the Main Character deals with the Past, and sometimes it won't. Though seemingly arbitrary at times, the exact progression of events in each Throughline works together to provide a holistically cohesive message to the Audience.

Every complete story functions the same way--it's the order of those functions that changes from story to story.

Thankfully you don’t need to know how to do all this by yourself--Dramatica exists to service this exact issue. You supply the answers to those questions and the application winds the model up for you. From there, you simply travel the bands down back to a state of rest.

<![CDATA[Dramatica Storyforms for Arrival and The Yellow Birds]]> We just uploaded the Dramatica storyforms for Arrival and The Yellow Birds to our Storyforms section here at Narrative First--and boy oh boy, were we delightfully surprised.

The storyform we published for our initial analysis of Arrival called for an Influence Character Unique Ability of Prediction and an Influence Character Critical Flaw of Suspicion. If there were ever two more descriptive words of the Alien Heptapods influence over the actual story of Arrival, those two would be them.

The Influence Character Throughline for *Arrival*

The Influence Character Unique Ability is the one thing that makes the Influence Character able to uniquely challenge and impact the Main Character to change his or her way of approaching problems. Unbridled by time, the Aliens come from the future and are uniquely able to predict the future for Louise...Prediction, therefore, is a wonderful indicator of this ability.

The Influence Character Critical Flaw is the one thing that weakens or lessens the impact the Influence Character has over the Main Character. Clearly, their silence and enigmatic ways make the Aliens suspicious of nefarious and underhanded schemes...Suspicion, therefore, makes sense as the kind of thing that would dampen their ability to inspire Louise to change her way of thinking.

When we set out to do an analysis of a film, we often find ourselves away from our computer--at least, one with Dramatica Story Expert installed. We wrote our analysis of Arrival during a story meeting and finished it up afterwards in a nearby coffee shop. Finding out after the fact that the selections we made implied these two very important story points only confirms that the choices we made were accurate.

This is the best part about a holistic approach to story structure--error checking inherent to the system. If one part of the understanding fails, the entire thing falls apart. If, on the other hand, all the parts "sing" then you know you found the most accurate definition of the story's dynamics.

Note that the Downloadable Storyforms section of Narrative First is a Members Only feature--a service provided for those patrons of our work into story structure & story analysis. If you're interested in learning more about how you can become a member, please visit the Narrative First Membership page.

<![CDATA[Finding The Protagonist And Antagonist Of Your Story]]> Dramatica co-creator Melanie Anne Phillips prepends a forward to one of her many insightful articles in this post on Protagonist v Antagonist | Dramaticapedia:

Now in reading this through today, I realize that doesn’t sound much like the way most writers go about creating their characters.  In fact, the usual approach is to start with a protagonist and antagonist in mind, then populate the story with supporting characters to fill out the conflicts and the logistics of the battle over the goal.

This is, in fact, the approach I instinctively take and the one I follow when working with other writers. To me, the Protagonist and Antagonist of a story stand out as the most easily identifiable character in a story. One is for the Story Goal; the other works to prevent it.

Of course, identifying the Goal of a story is not always easy and different techniques exist to navigate this process. But Melanie explains it in a way that is both simple and complex at the same time:

In our own minds, we survey our environment and consider whether or not we could improve things by taking action to change them. The struggle between the Protagonist and Antagonist represents this inner argument: is it better to leave things the way they are or to try and rearrange them?

The Protagonist represents Initiative; the Antagonist Reticence. Follow that and your story finds purpose.

<![CDATA[A Story Consultant, Coming Soon]]> Disney's animated television show Tangled: The Series premieres in three weeks! On March 24, 2017 you'll finally be able to see the further adventures of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider as they deal with a strange new force invading their kingdom.

While the character design looks appealing and the voice talent top-notch, the real reason why you want to tune in is because of the storyform. Who cares about rolling landscapes and engaging animation when you can focus in on all the complex thematic issues tumbling around in this show.

Story Consultant Credit for *Tangled: The Series*

And it's not only this first episode, but several years worth of episodes!

Holding It All Together

Hinted at before, Narrative First acted as Story Consultant for the series. In the article Outlining a Television Series With Dramatica , we described the process of using this fascinating and insightful theory of story to outline the events of a series:

you create one master Storyform for the "Mythology" of your series, and then individual Storyforms for the "Monster" episodes. Anytime you want a certain context to feel complete, you should create a storyform. If you want each season finale of your series to have the same kind of impact the finales of Game of Thrones have had, you should even go so far as to create a single storyform for each season.

Tune in to this week's podcast for a more detailed explanation as to how the storyform played a role in developing this show.

What is a storyform again?

The Dramatica storyform is a collection of seventy-five different storypoints that work in tandem to create a holistic image of a story's deep underlying meaning. When a narrative shows signs of "holes" or underdeveloped characters, chances are the storyform is broken--or missing key parts. Working as an analogy to the mind's problem-solving process, the Dramatica storyform codifies the Author's message and gives purpose to their work.

A Place to Begin

The best part about this process is that it still allows the individual writers to breathe to life their own unique take on the story. The storyform is rigid yet flexible enough to allow the artist to branch off and follow his or her own muse. Anytime they get too far off track, the storyform gently reminds and corrals the narrative back into place.

Make sure you mark the show down on your calendar. Rest assured, if you do forget, we will definitely be reminding you the closer we get to the date.

<![CDATA[The Best Picture Of 2016 Doesn't Have A Story]]> At least, not a storyform.

As detailed in our Dramatica analysis of Moonlight , the film lacks the necessary components to make a convincing argument. However, as the events of last night would seem to affirm, "Truth" reveals itself in many different ways.

Creating our own prison

To say there is "no story"--on this site, and in story meetings and lunch with fellow writers--means there is a sense that something is missing; some greater truth.

The Dramatica theory of story is the first understanding of narrative to delineate and make concrete this greater truth. For hundreds and hundreds and thousands of years, writers have used elements of character, plot, theme, and genre as analogies towards a single human mind trying to resolve a problem. Many didn't realize they were doing it; they simply wrote what they thought was a great story--one that made sense and felt right.

That greater truth or message they hoped to communicate found itself material in the storyform. Balancing out thematic issues and plot concerns with elements of character that in service of a singular purpose, the storyform makes telepathy between writer and reader a reality. The stronger the storyform, the greater the capability of effectively transmitting that message.

Other truths exist.

As Moonlight so eloquently shows, the lack of a complete narrative invites greater acceptance and more opportunities for Audience empathy. With several Throughlines missing or incomplete, the viewer fills in the blanks and takes ownership of the story.

Consider Thelma and Louise. We learn nothing of what happened to Louise in Texas; only that it is enough to motivate her to engage in dangerous and violent action. Without that knowledge each and every audience member supplies his or her own experience and by doing so, becomes a part of the narrative.

Moonlight won not only because it was a fantastic and moving work of art, but also because it invited the audience to bring their own individual understanding to the table. We fill in the blanks and see our own truth worked out across the screen.

Every mind craves meaning. If we can somehow reaffirm our own experience, our personal truths become universal. We celebrate the work as Best Picture, but really it is the Best Picture of ourselves.

<![CDATA[Beginning To Learn The Dramatica Theory Of Story]]> Dramatica tends to confuse writers new to the theory's concepts. While many connect to it in ways they never did with other paradigms, certain story points require further explanation. Witness this email from a writer who recently discovered this wonderfully complex theory of narrative:

Hi, Jim. I'm all new to Dramatica and writing stuff and I have a very basic question about Main Characters. If the MC perspective is to be the audience experience of the story, how to tell facts that the MC doesn't have seen ? How to show these facts to the audience? Sorry if it is a too stupid question, but as I said I am a newbie to writing and to Dramatica.

When it comes to Dramatica there is no such thing as a stupid question, especially in the beginning. The question you ask is a common one, but easily explained. In a complete story there are four perspectives:

You need all four to accurately depict the conflict in a story, otherwise your Audience will think you're putting one over on them. It's like focusing on only one side of the story, and not giving the other side a chance to voice their concerns.

So in answer to your question you absolutely have to show the Audience information the Main Character isn't personally privy to so that they can see for themselves the difference between what the Main Character sees and what everyone else sees in the Overall Story. You don't simply lock yourself away within the Main Character; if you do, you end up making it impossible to accurately depict that Overall--or objective--perspective on things. Moonlight gets away with this, but that's because it's Moonlight. Not many stories can claim that much artistry.

That differential contains the key to greater understanding of the problems in our lives. It is the reason why we love stories so much. In our own lives we can't simultaneously be within ourselves and without ourselves; but stories can. And that's why we keep going back to them over and over again.

So absolutely, show all the things your Main Character doesn't know about. And then show some things only the Main Character knows. Your Audience will love you for it...especially if both sides are connected thematically through a strong storyform.

<![CDATA[The Meaning We All Look For]]> Now that "alternate facts" are a thing, conversation surrounding narratives and the implications of their construction has begun to rise. Just this week Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator of Dramatica and a brilliant narratologist, posted her thoughts on Trump's nomination for Education secretary. And now Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver, posts his thoughts on our need for narrative.

That moment when the facts slot into a narrative eventually comes for everyone. It has to; we’re human and what we want is meaning.

For years I have written about why we love stories and how the Dramatica storyform stands alone as the best appreciation of that meaning. The Magic of the Storyform and The Mechanism of Story at Work focus on this idea of a story as an analogy to the human mind trying to solve a problem.

With so many looking to story and how it affects every corner of our lives, it's only a matter of time before Dramatica becomes a household name.

<![CDATA[Stranger Things: The Reverse E.T.]]> Mike and Eleven from *Stranger Things*

I recently finished watching the great Netflix television series Stranger Things last night. I absolutely loved every frame of this show; a sentiment reinforced by my desire to start over with Episode One and binge-watch the entire thing all over again. As with the novel All the Light We Cannot See and the foreign film The Lives of Others, Stranger Things connects with a sophistication that places it in the hallowed Hall of the Heroes.1

What isn't timeless are the countless 80s references and scenes inspired by 80s movies. The bond between Stranger Things and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial exists as most prominent: pre-teen kids shelter someone—or something—wanted by a mysterious government agency. Funny than, that I should complete the series on the heels of our deep Dramatica thematic analysis of E.T. last week.

The Drive to Pursue, the Drive to Avoid

E.T ends in success because the kids help the little alien escape our planet. Stranger Things ends in success because the kids stand up and pursue the monsters behind the Upside Down (both super-dimensionally and dimensionally).

In Dramatica we see the Overall Story Problem of E.T.the inflection point of conflict that motivates each and every scene--as being Pursuit. Keys and the Government pursue E.T. and E.T. pursues a path towards phoning home. Without this drive to pursue there would be no conflict in the movie.

The dynamic opposite to Pursuit is Avoidance. When one identifies the Problem of a Throughline, one simultaneously calls out the Solution of that Throughline. The conflict in E.T finds motivation in Pursuit, yet discovers resolution in Avoidance (running away from or escaping).

The flow from Problem to Solution in the Overall Story Throughline for the first season of Stranger Things moves in the opposite direction. The Government tries to prevent anyone from finding out about 11 or the tear in the space-time continuum while the boys do everything they can to keep anyone from finding out about 11. Without this drive on both sides to prevent and avoid there would be no conflict in the series.

In the next to last episode of the series, the boys find themselves pedalling for safety as members of an unidentified Government Agency chase after them. The scene bears a striking resemblance to the climactic scene in E.T., one so strong that a prediction as to the eventual outcome of that scene seems inevitable: 11 will lift the boys and their bikes into the air.

But she doesn't.

The reason she does the exact opposite thing E.T. did lies in this difference between Overall Story Problems. Mike and the others need Pursuit to resove their conflict—they need someone to stand up and fight against these "bad men." Elliott and his friends need Avoidance—they need someone to lift them up in the air to the accompaniment of one of John William's greatest scores of all time.

Confidence in the Conflict

I love Stranger Things. And I love E.T. The thing with the former is that it brings back all of my love for film and why I dedicated my whole life to great stories. Because they matter. In fact, I recently tweeted about the show:

I love Stranger Things so much. It makes me want to read Stephen King novels, ride a bike, and play D&D.

The key to writing a great, compelling story that outlasts you and everyone else who works with you is finding the conflict that really lies at the heart of your narrative. Like the difference between Luke and Neo, stark differences exist between the Overall Stories of supposedly similar stories. Superficially Stranger Things seems like an updated homage to E.T., but deep down underneath it all the truth reads stranger than fiction.

You just need to start thinking like the flea, instead of the acrobat.

  1. Yes, that's a Dungeons & Dragons reference. ↩︎

<![CDATA[Dramatica Users Group Analysis Of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial]]> The complete Dramatica analysis of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial is now online and ready for your perusal:

The analysis of *E.T.*

The above photo shows our board from the class and our determination of various story points. The eight initial Dynamic Story Points set the frame of reference and inflection points for the forces applied to the narrative model of the Storymind. Though each appears to be a binary choice, the combination of all eight combine to create a complex web of mechanics that set the story in motion.

Key Takeaways from the Analysis

Unlike most bonded pairs at the center of a narrative, the connection between Elliott and E.T. is a growing relationship not a troublesome one. With that in mind, the Relationship Story Problem of Conscience both drives and gives life to their relationship. Doing the right thing brings them closer together and motivates the development of their Throughline.

As Uncontrolled as their relationship proves to be--particularly when it comes to leaving E.T. at home while Elliot dissects frogs at school--the two find the means to bring it all under Control (Relationship Story Symptom & Relationship Story Response).

All of story exists in the differential between the internal and the external. You can either accept the Situation as presented to you the way E.T. does OR you can rally against it like Elliott and focus inward, allowing your Attitude to bring trouble and conflict to your personal Throughline.

E.T.'s Domain lies in a problematic Situation, Elliott's in a problematic Fixed Attitude. Elliott's preoccupation with his dad's absense and the separation anxiety he feels works in sharp contrast to the same separation anxiety E.T. feels. One sets out to resolve it externally, the other internally.

Elliott eventually learns to accept the Situation and let go, thereby adopting E.T.'s approach and satisfying the Main Character Resolve story point of Change. By showing how the adoption of one approach over the other results in success, the Author makes the argument as to the best way to go about resolving problems.

Believe it or not, this is why E.T. persists as one of the most beloved films of all time. The narrative makes a compelling emotional argument that we all relate to and understand.

<![CDATA[The Ultimate Collection of Protagonists Who Act as Influence Characters]]> In Dramatica, the Protagonist is defined as the character who drives the story towards resolution. When this character is not the the Main Character, they often are the Influence Character (the one challenging the Main Character to reconsider their justifications).

This question popped up on Discuss Dramatica this week and I thought it would be great to keep a list of all of them in one place. So here we go:

Influence Character as Protagonist Movies

  • Inside Man with Denzel Washington
  • Terminator Reese is Pro, Sarah is MC
  • The Lives of Others (the writer is the IC/Protagonist)
  • The Yellow Birds - a great film I just saw at Sundance based on the book and starring young Han Solo as new recruit in Iraq. Very Platoon like (mom, CID officer are co-protagonists)
  • Come to think of it, Platoon is probably the same - (Barnes/Tom Berenger is IC/Protagonist)
  • The Bucket List (Freeman is IC Pro)
  • Brokeback Mountain (Jack is IC Pro)
  • Casablanca is almost IC Pro (depending on how you see Ilsa & Laszlo's combined influence on Rick)
  • Eastern Promises pretty sure Viggo is IC Pro
  • Election Witherspoon is IC Pro
  • The Fugitive - Tommy Lee Jones is IC Pro (though you can also see he & Harrison as co-Pros)
  • How to Train Your Dragon - Stock is IC Pro
  • Sideways Jack is IC Pro
  • Mad Max: Fury Road Furiosa is IC Pro
  • The Shawshank Redemption Andy is IC Pro
  • The Great Gatsby Gatsby is IC Pro
  • The Insider Bergman is IC Pro
  • Fight Club Tyler is IC Pro (though...)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Rey is IC Pro (MC in series no doubt)
  • Witness John is IC Pro
  • The Princess Bride - Westley is IC Pro
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - E.T. is IC Pro

If you can think of any others, please drop us a line on our contact page.

<![CDATA[Narrative First Gets a Power Up]]> In case you haven't noticed, Narrative First is now super blazingly-fast! We finally updated our servers to the latest and greatest and love how fast everything is now. No more need to cache anything. What you see is live and fresh!

Thanks to Arcustech, makers of fine fast servers.

<![CDATA[The Long Awaited Deep Analysis Of The Princess Bride]]> Inigo Montoya in *The Princess Bride*

Inconceivable! that an analysis of William Goldman and Rob Reiner's masterpiece The Princess Bride lingered for so long. How many of us watched the film on VHS over and over again memorizing every line? Writers familiar with Dramatica know that compulsory repeated viewings indicate a strong narrative structure. Wouldn't this suggest The Princess Bride as a strong candidate for analysis?

Writer and eventual Dramatica Story Expert Mike Lucas thought so. Mike felt he had the requisite experience needed to analyze the film and had advice for those looking to do the same:

  1. Watch it 10-15 times as a kid.
  2. Have your sisters watch it EVERY SINGLE DAY for an entire summer, until the VHS tape dies. While you are in earshot, absorbing the narrative subconsciously.
  3. Wait 20 years or so to let it really gel.
  4. Now the story is so much a part of you, you can determine its storyform with ease!

Mike might be onto something...he completed this official Dramatica analysis of The Princess Bride in one week! Typically, I afford students in the Dramatica Mentorship Program at least two months to finish the first pass of a comprehensive analysis--I couldn't believe my eyes when Mike contacted me a week later with this full analysis.

We're not just talking your basic storyform here--Mike went through and defined elaborate examples for each and every story point. A truly remarkable effort.

Comedy Wrapped Up in the Encoding

The most compelling takeaway, from a Dramatica point of view, is how many of the story points ended up woven into the narrative and how many of them were encoded in a funny or sarcastic way. It's almost as if Goldman and Reiner had a copy of Dramatica before it was released to the public.

"Inconceivable!? Funny you should say that: turns out inconceivable, or Conceiving, is the Overall Story Concern:

  • The point of Humperdink’s plot is to get the people of Florin to conceive that Guilder is their enemy.
  • The grandfather wants the boy to conceive of the romantic “kissing” parts of the story as worth reading.
  • Inigo’s plan for vengeance is to ensure Count Rugen (aka the Six-Fingered Man) gets the idea that he was wrong to kill his father.
  • Vizzini encounters conflict in the area of thinking things are “Inconceivable!”: INIGO: You keep using that word—I do not think it means what you think it means.

Even the Overall Story Problem, often hard to find one or two examples of, pops up everywhere:

In the overall story of The Princess Bride, problems occur when people evaluate their situation or circumstances. Usually it’s because their evaluations are wrong, but sometimes even accurate evaluations cause trouble.

  • The boy evaluates the book based on its title and romance moments, thinking he won’t like it. Even after he starts liking it, he still holds onto his evaluation about the “kissing” being lame, until the end.
  • The people of Florin rate Prince Humperdink too highly because of the radiant beauty and goodness of his princess bride, allowing that to colour their assessment of him.
  • Vizzini constantly analyses the man in black’s pursuit poorly. First he’s just a fisherman in eel infested waters, then he will be stopped by the Cliffs of Insanity, then he will be thrown off with the rope, then he will be stopped by his fighters, then he will not stand a chance in the duel of wits ...
  • Buttercup assesses Westley’s chances of surviving as poor, and evaluates (poorly) that he will stand a better chance if she makes a deal and surrenders.
  • The Machine is used to evaluate how much pain people can stand. Westley makes a poor evaluation that he can withstand it.
  • Westley’s accurate examination / analysis of Count Rugen’s hand gets him hit over the head.
  • Humperdink’s excellent tracking (a type of evaluation) causes trouble for Buttercup and Westley
  • Humperdink’s correct assessment that Westley cannot move appears to spell the end for the rescue attempt….

Reiner and Goldman may have had some super secret access to Dramatica, could just be that great writers intuitively understand the idea of a story being an analogy to a single human mind trying to solve a problem.

Note too how Lucas managed to find evidence of the storyform in both the inner story of the Princess Bride and in the outer story with the interaction between the Kid and the Grandfather. This is probably a no-brainer to most, yet the idea that both the Kid and Buttercup share the same Main Character Problem and that both the Grandfather and Westley share the same Influence Character Problem...well, it's pretty inconceivable!

Mike's analysis can be found on the official Dramatica analysis of The Princess Bride page.

<![CDATA[A Deliberate Approach To Learning Dramatica]]> James Clear's recent article The Beginners Guide to Deliberate Practice started me thinking about what a practice session for Dramatica might be like. Reading about Ben Hogan's golf game and Benjamin Franklin's writing exercises made me want to find something similar for developing our writer's intuition.

He offers some clues:

Mindless activity is the enemy of deliberate practice. The danger of practicing the same thing again and again is that progress becomes assumed. Too often, we assume we are getting better simply because we are gaining experience. In reality, we are merely reinforcing our current habits—not improving them.

But still, how do you practice something you only turn to once in awhile or at the beginning of a project?

Then it occurred to me--I already did create a program of deliberate practice:

The second effective feedback system is coaching. One consistent finding across disciplines is that coaches are often essential for sustaining deliberate practice. In many cases, it is nearly impossible to both perform a task and measure your progress at the same time. Good coaches can track your progress, find small ways to improve, and hold you accountable to delivering your best effort each day.

With the Dramatica Mentorship Program, I coach writers in the deliberate practice of writing and rewriting story encoding for various story points. The centerpiece of this program are the Playground Exercises--tasks that force a writer past mindless writing and using Dramatica as storytelling into an area where they begin to see story points as sources of conflict. By holding each and every writer accountable to truly using Dramatica to its ultimate potential, we develop an instinct for maximizing scene potential.

Writers Who Avoid Conflict

Believe it or not, some writers steer clear of conflict in their pursuit of their craft. Justin Wills, one of our writers under the program, had this to say recently about the practice of the Playgrounds:

this is helpful. one of the issues I am starting to see in my writing is holding back and avoiding conflict, which stifles my creativity and limits my writing. It's like I'm trying to get the right answer and in doing so i keep everything small and on the surface. I can see how these exercises can help me break that "safe" pattern

So many writers think they're writing conflict when really they're only skimming the surface.

I wonder if it stems from people's basic desire in their own lives to avoid it.

A salient and thought-provoking point. Writing is often thought to be a form of self-therapy. Avoiding the identification and acceptance of conflict in one's own work often signals the same behavior in one's personal life.

I feel like if I can get past this it will open my writing way up

Definitely. After coaching writers for two years with these exercises I can tell you that every last student emerges free and clear of superficial and mindless writing.

A Chance to Develop Your Skills

The Dramatica Mentorship Program currently runs $650/month. Starting in February the price will increase to $750/month (and $425/month for the Basic plan). As our clientele grows so too do our operating costs. Those already in the program and previous students can expect their rates to stay the same.

Many writers new to Dramatica think they understand how it works. They see a Main Character Concern of The Future and think Yeah, my character is concerned about the way things will be. They see an Influence Character Problem of Ending and think Yes, that Character wants things to stop. Those same writers don't understand that these story points must be sources of conflict; concerns of the Future often lead characters to neglect present day responsibilities, problems of Ending often show up in terminating valuable projects long before they have had a chance to germinate.

A Dramatica "coach", or Mentor, can keep you on track and help you develop your own writer's intuition far beyond your limiting blind spots. They can make you aware of conflict-deficient scenes and offer tools and techniques designed to bring the very best out of you. In short, the Dramatica Mentorship Program provides a haven of deliberate practice for writers who wish to be deliberate with their craft.

<![CDATA[Read Narrative First On Apple News]]> Super exciting news...Narrative First is now available on Apple News! If you have an iOS device and always wondered what the heck you could possibly use that News app for--well now you know.

*Narrative First* on Apple News

We divided up the channel into four different sections:

  • Main is your everything feed. The place to catch up when you've been gone awhile.
  • Articles contain all the weekly long form posts covering everything from Dramatica theory to brainstorming techniques.
  • Thoughts round up all the short daily blog posts (like this one).
  • Analysis completes the quad by offering up reviews rated by both structural narrative and entertainment.

We use News as an easy-on-the-eyes alternative RSS reader.1 The typography is gentle and the transitions between articles makes it feel like you're reading a newspaper out of Harry Potter.

To read the Narrative First channel and add it to your favorites, open this link on your iOS device.

A *Narrative First* article in Apple News

  1. And Fiery Feeds for those times when we want to do some power reading. ↩︎

<![CDATA[Outlining Your Chapters Using The Dramatica Quad]]> 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. ↩︎

<![CDATA[A Museum Of Story Is The Greatest Idea Ever]]> 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...

<![CDATA[Another Look At Guardians Of The Galaxy]]> 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...

<![CDATA[Unearthing The Wound Of Your Main Character]]> 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.

<![CDATA[Create a Complete Story in Less than Two Hours]]> 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!

<![CDATA[Main Characters Who Are Changed Over Time]]> 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.