Narrative First Thoughts on Story Narrative First Thoughts on Story en-us James R. Hull Copyright 2017 2017-05-23T23:20:56-07:00 <![CDATA[Problem-Solving and the Order of Acts Within a Story]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/problem-solving-and-the-order-of-acts-within-a-story http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/problem-solving-and-the-order-of-acts-within-a-story Malcom Solves Problems by Working the Balance of Things

Over the weekend, we removed the plastic wrap off FIVE of our premiere articles within our Vault:

The first three cover the Dramatica concept of the Main Character's Problem-Solving Style. For those new to the theory, the MC Problem-Solving Style (originally the Main Character's Mental Sex) sets the base-operating system for the story engine of a narrative. Linear problem-solvers seek solutions to problems by looking to cause and effect. Holistic problem-solvers seek solution to problems by looking to the relationships between things and shifting the balance to draw out change.

This difference requires Authors to make a choice as to how their Main Character functions as it explicitly sets the order of thematic material considered in each and every Act.

Why Act Order is More Important Than Time Spent explains why this order is infinitely more helpful (and useful) than the actual time spent within each Act. Think you need to "turn" the First Act after 25 pages in a screenplay and the Second after 75 or so? Think again: the actual substance of those Acts supersedes any of these considerations.

Finally, Thinking of Your Audience First takes an initial look at Dramatica's Audience Appreciations. We provide this article within the context of history. The more recent series of articles The Audience Appreciations of Story dive into these illusive concepts with far greater confidence and accuracy.

]]>
2017-05-22T14:43:00-07:00
<![CDATA[In Regards To The Inciting Incident]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/in-regards-to-the-inciting-incident http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/in-regards-to-the-inciting-incident Joe and Lee work things out

The "Inciting Incident" is a nebulous term and therefore insufficient in matters of story structure and analysis. Some see it as the event that starts the story while others see it as the "Call to Adventure". Even Hero's Journey advocates find it less than useful:

The Inciting Incident is a confusing term and, in general, not very helpful. Within the context of the Hero's Journey, it could represent a few points of action…Perhaps the Inciting Incident is useful in [infantile] three, four or five act structures, but amidst the complex Hero's Journey, it is less useful.

Ignoring the ridiculous comparison between the Hero's Journey and other "infantile" understandings of narrative structure, one witnesses a lack of agreement over the function an Inciting Incident actually performs.

The Call to Adventure

From a Dramatica point-of-view, the Call to Adventure is simply the moment where the Main Character and Overall Story Throughlines meet for the first time. R2D2's delivery of Ben's message in Star Wars weaves in Luke's constant need to find ways to test himself against the larger world's concern of finding someone skilled enough to help fight the evil Empire. The revelation that brother Joe listed Lee (Casey Affleck) as guardian to son Patrick in Manchester by the Sea pits the empty black hole of wanting anything within Lee against the bigger picture concern of a dying man's wishes.

This functions as a sufficient definition of Inciting Incident--if it weren't for the fact that these stories don't start with those moments.

The First Story Driver

Instead of relying on amorphous "Inciting" moments, the Dramatica theory of story looks to the initial creation of the central inequity within the Overall Story Throughline. Dramatica refers to this initial event--whether it be an Action or a Decision--as the first Story Driver. This moment marks the dividing line between the world at peace and the world embroiled in conflict--the world that needs a story to make meaning of the efforts to resolve that conflict.

Death Vader's illegal boarding of Princess Leia's ship is the initial Story Driver of Star Wars. Sure, the Rebels and Empire were at odds before the story began, but it was an equitable conflict--like the Cold War between the US and Russia. His blatant display of hubris upsets that tender balance and motivates everyone to search out a way to fight back.

Joe's diagnosis—shown out of temporal sequence within the movie—is the initial Story Driver of Manchester by the Sea. Lee's personal problems start sometime later, yet it is this dire set of circumstances that forces Joe, his wife, his attorney, and his friends to begin the process of making key decisions in the planning of Patrick's future.

Diagnosing the Start of a Story

As you can see, knowing the identity of the Inciting Incident does little for an Author. While masquerading as the beginning of a story, this mixed-up charlatan confuses issues and mixes perspective in its attempt make things easier. Authors need to understand the difference between conflict as seen from the Main Character point-of-view and conflict as seen from the objective Overall Story point-of-view. A term like Inciting Incident blends the two, leading to all kinds of subjective misinterpretations of conflict.

The Main Character Throughline naturally collides with the Overall Story Throughline at some point within a narrative. Knowing when it does, or the nature of it, matters little to the actual meaning of a story.

]]>
2017-05-17T07:53:00-07:00
<![CDATA[Main Character And Perspective]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/main-character-and-perspective http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/main-character-and-perspective Recently, I received an email questioning our narrative analysis of Arrival. The writer took issue with my assignment of Be-er to Louise's Main Character Approach, thinking the story featured more instances of her solving problems externally, rather than internally. In fact, this writer listed over 40 different examples to back up his claim.

Unfortunately, each and every one of them described Louise's function as Protagonist in the Overall Story, not the Main Character Throughline.

Main Characters, Protagonists and Perspective

When a single player represents both the Overall Story function of the Protagonist and the first-person perspective of the Main Character, it can be difficult determining what portion of the storyform a certain event holds.

Seeing the Main Character Throughline as a perspective, not a storyline, makes the process easier.

The easiest way to find the part of the story that applies to the Main Character Throughline, and therefore a clue to the Main Character Approach story point, is to look to that personal baggage that the Main Character would take with them into any story—not just this one. Find something unique to the Main Character and the Main Character only, and you'll find this personal baggage.

If you look at Louise and the totality of Arrival, you’ll see that the biggest personal issue for her is the loss of her daughter. She is the only player, the only point-of-view really, that suffers through that loss—and it is those memories of her daughter, those painful memories, that connect us the Audience to the narrative. The Author specifically places within her point-of-view in order to experience a unique understanding of time.

A completed story intertwines the various elements and perspectives into one “piece”, so it can be difficult at times to parse out the different contexts for the Four Throughlines. If you can look to those elements of story that are unique to the Main Character and unique regardless of external “plot” or Overall Story, then you will find the path to the Main Character Throughline.

A Greater Perspective

Realizing that not every Main Character is a Protagonist broadens a writer's mind towards a more comprehensive understanding of narrative; seeing the Main Character as a perspective, not a character, opens up even greater channels and opportunities for storytelling.

Arrival is challenging to analyze because Louise is both Main Character and Protagonist. She not only suffers through the loss of her daughter but also drives the plot forward from Act to Act. Separating her function as the one pursuing and considering a successful resolution for all from her emotional point-of-view ensures an accurate assesment of its central narrative dynamics.

]]>
2017-05-09T11:37:00-07:00
<![CDATA[Men Calculate Narrative Differently From Women]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/men-calculate-narrative-differently-from-women http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/men-calculate-narrative-differently-from-women

In the end, there are two alien species living on the planet, each in possession of the secret the other seeks, but that they do not know they have and could not communicate if they did.

Melanie takes time out to blow us all away with a greater understanding of the difference between the way the two sexes think in order to better appreciate how Dramatica predicts elements of narrative:

Not to be cryptic, but perhaps the answer you seek cannot be found from the wisest man because the answer is just beyond what men can see. It is also just beyond what women can see, but then it is a different answer. What men seek is the special knowledge that women possess and women seek the special knowledge that men possess.

Personally, I wholeheartedly agree with her dislike of the terminology switch from Mental Sex (Male or Female) to Problem-Solving Style (Linear or Holistic), and hope it switches back in succeeding versions.

]]>
2017-05-07T22:24:00-07:00
<![CDATA[The Source of a Main Character's Problem]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/the-source-of-a-main-characters-problem http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/the-source-of-a-main-characters-problem Back from the Vault, part three in our four part series on Main Character and Meaning: How Main Characters Approach Problems. Beyond showcasing my turning of the phrase "Main Characters have a myriad of approaches", the article introduces the concept that where the Main Character prefers to solve problems indicates the kind of conflict he or she experiences in the story.

If they prefer to solve problems externally as a Do-er, their personal problems will center on problematic situations or activities. If they prefer to solve problems internally as a Be-er, their personal problems will revolve around manners of thinking and fixed attitudes.

]]>
2017-05-05T10:53:00-07:00
<![CDATA[Establishing A Difference Between Plot And Exposition]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/establishing-a-difference-between-plot-and-exposition http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/establishing-a-difference-between-plot-and-exposition Melanie posits an excellent distinction between the internal order of events within a narrative, and the external revelation of those events:

Plot, then, is really that internal progression of events, while the reader/audience order is more precisely referred to as Exposition.

The timing on this post couldn't be better. In an effort to better serve the writers and producers we work with, we've been fast at work developing a tool that can easily bridge the gap between these two views...

...all the way down to the Scene level view.

For an author, it is important to separate the two. Otherwise it is too easy to overlook a missing step in the logical progression of the story because the steps were put out of order in Exposition.

The response to this new way of working with Dramatica has been overwhelmingly positive and we can't wait to share it with you.

Using this system, you will ensure that everything that happens in your story is not only interestingly revealed, but also makes an unbroken chain of sense.

Without a doubt, this corresponds with our own internal data. Help the writer develop his or her plot so that it makes sense, then guide them to expose that plot through an emotionally meaningful experience.

]]>
2017-05-02T22:02:00-07:00
<![CDATA[Being Rushed Or Being Pressured In A Story]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/being-rushed-or-being-pressured-in-a-story http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/05/being-rushed-or-being-pressured-in-a-story Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator of the Dramatica theory of story, offers a new way to look at the Story Limit:

In a time lock story, you are rushed. In an option lock story you are pressured (because the undesired situation remains an irritant until you finally find a solution).

With only 10 days to go before his wedding, Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) feels rushed to hook up in Sideways. With only so many people to turn to, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) feels pressured to honor his brother's wishes in Manchester by the Sea.

Everyone loves subjective perspectives on Dramatica's cold and objective storypoints. The popularity of our series of articles Plotting Your Story with Dramatica speaks to this wave of interest.

Melanie's latest take on the Story Limit adds to this recent trend in making Dramatica more palatable to the everyday writer. More importantly, her latest post offers new understandings of a fascinating and groundbreaking theory of narrative.

]]>
2017-05-02T21:35:00-07:00
<![CDATA[The Storyform Works As A Whole]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/04/the-storyform-works-as-a-whole http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/04/the-storyform-works-as-a-whole Whether working with comedians, actors, writers, producers, directors, and everyone else in-between one thing stands out: they all love to second-guess their storyform. They begin with a purpose in mind, but then struggle to force-fit that vision into a narrative that Audiences everywhere embrace. The problem lies in our own ability to deceive ourselves.

The Death Knell of the Student Film

I experienced the same self-doubt during my tenure at the California Institute of the Arts. During the first semester, students would kill themselves developing a solid story for their student films. We would work the story over and over again until it rang true for them and for others in the class. And they would finish the semester confident that they created something meaningful and important to them.

But then they would leave for Christmas Break.

With the excitement of continually problem-solving the structure of their story far behind them, they would return pumped up about starting a new film. Why work to complete a fully developed story when you can start over fresh and face new narrative challenges?

The exact same thing happens daily here at Narrative First.

A Form for Your Story

The Dramatica theory of story helps writers and producers tell the story they want to tell. By carefully answering key dynamic questions revolving around the central character of the narrative and the plot dynamics of the story itself, Dramatica returns a carefully balanced amalgamation of story points. Follow these points and Author's Intent becomes a reality.

Once writers submit their original material for our consultation, we spend a considerable amount of time zeroing in on the exact set of character and plot dynamics needed to accurately portray their story. In addition we help quadrangulate the various thematic issues and concerns involved in the Four Throughlines of their story. Writers enjoy the process and often sign off excited to start writing.

But then inevitably return, just like those CalArts students, with new ideas or new directions to take their story. Once writers find themselves exposed to the power of Dramatica, they begin to develop a tendency to continue to work and rework the storyform and that's because it's much easier to do that than to move forward and encode the various story points.

In addition, one tends to look the other way and ignore other aspects of the storyform that don't quite fit with their current new idea because they focus in one or two key story points that they would like to see different.

Working Together as a Whole

The current Dramatica storyform model contains over seventy-five holistically integrated story points. This integration, by definition, requires that all these points work together as a whole. A writer can't focus on one little bit of the storyform—they need to step back and see it in its entirety.

As the consultant on the project, I have the luxury of only recently coming to the story in question. Unlike the writer who knows their story forwards and backwards and forwards again, I come to the story free of prejudice. I see what is there and can comment and guide a writer to the exact storyform for the story they want to tell. What I can't do is continually bend and warp the storyform the way the Author can, because I'm not actually in their mind.

And unfortunately for the Author, neither is the Audience.

Writers convince themselves a storyform works the same way a character convinces themselves that they don't have a Problem. They subconsciously turn away from the reality of what drives them in order to focus on the apparent symptom of the problems in their story and respond by continually trying to change it. This justification process—the very opposite of actual problem-solving—forms the basis for what many refer to as writer's block.

Thankfully, writers familiar with Dramatica understand this process whereby a character fools themselves into taking one approach because they don't fully realize the true source of the conflict in their lives. By better understanding how this justification works within a story, Authors can flip the script in their own lives and return to the process of solving that problem of the unwritten story.

If you would like to learn more, or have us take a look at your story and help you develop it into a solid and workable bit of narrative please contact us or sign up for popular Dramatica Mentorship Program®. Over 30 writers, producers, and directors signed up over the past year. Add your name to the list and start seeing your story the way your Audience does--not the way it is in your head.

]]>
2017-04-22T19:07:00-07:00
<![CDATA[Online Group Analysis of Field of Dreams]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/04/online-group-analysis-of-field-of-dreams http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/04/online-group-analysis-of-field-of-dreams This week's Throughline Thursdays examines the different kinds of conflict found in Peter Weir's 1989 baseball fantasy, Field of Dreams.

Moonlight Graham

Way back when, Google+ was a thing and we here at Narrative First thought it a good idea to relocate all of Dramatica's online discussion to the Dramatica Users Google+ Community. Short-lived as it was, the uptick in participation prompted many interesting conversations—one of them an in-depth analysis of Field of Dreams.

Structured like the Dramatica Users Group meetings, the analysis began with a determination of the Four Throughlines, then moved on to the Character and Plot Dynamics, and finally concluded with a deep dive into Concerns, Issues, and Problems of each individual Throughline.

Eventually the analysis will be ported over to the Discuss Dramatica forums, but until then you can read the entire Online Analysis of Field of Dreams here.

]]>
2017-04-07T11:29:00-07:00
<![CDATA[An Argument For Purpose And Meaning]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/04/an-argument-for-purpose-and-meaning http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/04/an-argument-for-purpose-and-meaning This week we add a montage of Successful Arguments to our post from the vault, A Story Is an Argument. In the short 2-minute clip, key scenes from complete and effective stories showcase their narrative's respective true purpose.

Every great story seeks to provide some greater meaning, some essential argument as to the best approach for solving the problems we face in our lives. The Dramatica storyform codifies that argument by pinpointing the key strategic touchpoints that exist between Author and Audience; the holistic holograph of intention shuttling along the carrier wave of those 75 story points.

*The Shawshank Redemption*--an argument for hope

The Shawshank Redemption argues for hope. Fight Club argues for anarchy and mutual self-destruction. Pinocchio argues for following one's conscience. And The Sixth Sense argues for greater personal vision.

The purpose of story lies in a portion of our minds that craves something more than Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre—the portion that craves a reason behind Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre.

]]>
2017-04-05T17:51:00-07:00
<![CDATA[Why Woody is a Steadfast Main Character]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/why-woody-is-a-steadfast-main-character http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/why-woody-is-a-steadfast-main-character Back in the vault, Part Two in our series on Main Character and Meaning from waaaayy back in 2010: Development of Character Arc. Short and sweet, the best part was adding this shot of Lester from American Beauty to the article:

Lester Burnham from *American Beauty*

Interesting to look back and see our error in thinking Woody a Changed Main Character in the first Toy Story. The original version of Dramatica shipped with a complete storyform for the movie that destroyed dreams of would-be hand-drawn animators--a storyform with something rare and unheard of in Dramatica canon: the exception.

In that storyform—and the one that ships with the current version—a caveat appears, explaining why the original analysis set Woody as the Changed character and Buzz the Steadfast character.

An exception unlike any other in Dramatica

The one thing that always impressed me about Dramatica was the complete lack of caveats and exceptions in the explanation of the theory. Every screenwriting book and story guru I visited in the early to mid-90s arrived with tons of footnotes and and exceptions and explanations why, in this film, their particular point-of-view needed adjusting.

Dramatica never needed caveats. It was, and continues to be, what it was—take it or leave it. Some stories feature Stop characters, some feature Start characters. End of line.

I updated the original article to include a reference and link to our updated, more accurate analysis of the film: The Toy Story Dilemma.

]]>
2017-03-31T10:31:00-07:00
<![CDATA[Positive Impact]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/positive-impact http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/positive-impact Occasionally, we get letters:

I can't thank you enough for this site. I truly, from the bottom of my heart cannot. I've been struggling against a number of instructors recently. They kept pushing and pushing, indicating that I was failing to grasp how to create a compelling protagonist because my main character 'does not change', while the rest of the characters around her do.

Every Main Character grows, not every Main Character changes. From our article What Character Arc Really Means:

Sometimes a person can grow by maintaining their position, shoring up their resolve against whatever is thrown at them.

Dramatica refers to this as the Steadfast Main Character.

The letter continues:

I had at once the sense of: am I truly not grasping a concept which all screenwriters must master... or are they applying concepts that are not necessary to my story?

No and yes. In that order.

Really grateful to experience this kind of impact tonight.

]]>
2017-03-29T21:17:00-07:00
<![CDATA[The Reason For Certain Progressions Of Plot]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/the-reason-for-certain-progressions-of-plot http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/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 Dramatica.com 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.

]]>
2017-03-27T14:54:00-07:00
<![CDATA[Dramatica Storyforms for Arrival and The Yellow Birds]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/dramatica-storyforms-for-arrival-and-the-yellow-birds http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/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.

]]>
2017-03-07T16:40:00-08:00
<![CDATA[Finding The Protagonist And Antagonist Of Your Story]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/finding-the-protagonist-and-antagonist-of-your-story http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/03/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.

]]>
2017-03-05T11:27:00-08:00
<![CDATA[A Story Consultant, Coming Soon]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/a-story-consultant-coming-soon http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/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.

]]>
2017-02-28T15:36:00-08:00
<![CDATA[The Best Picture Of 2016 Doesn't Have A Story]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/the-best-picture-of-2016-doesnt-have-a-story http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/the-best-picture-of-2016-doesnt-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.

]]>
2017-02-27T14:30:00-08:00
<![CDATA[Beginning To Learn The Dramatica Theory Of Story]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/beginning-to-learn-the-dramatica-theory-of-story http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/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.

]]>
2017-02-11T23:48:00-08:00
<![CDATA[The Meaning We All Look For]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/the-meaning-we-all-look-for http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/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.

]]>
2017-02-10T08:03:00-08:00
<![CDATA[Stranger Things: The Reverse E.T.]]> http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/stranger-things-the-reverse-et http://narrativefirst.com/blog/2017/02/stranger-things-the-reverse-et 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. ↩︎

]]>
2017-02-08T21:44:00-08:00