So, it's that time again.
Inspired by a text from Dramatica Story Expert Mike Wollaeger and the work I'm doing writing a family holiday feature, I recently revisited the storyform for Home Alone.
We analyzed the film as a collective group two years ago. Throughout several hundred posts, we eventually came to classify conflict in the Overall Story Throughline in the Mind Domain. In other words, we defined Home Alone as a story about prejudice—not a kid left by himself to defend his home over the holidays.
Story experts? Not quite.
The Growth of a Theory
So much is different with the Dramatica theory of story than where it was only a year ago. The Genre/Subgenre concept featured in Subtext earlier this Spring identified close to one-hundred separate "Personalities" of story. The Relationship Story Throughline is now about a relationship—any relationship—regardless of whether or not it includes both Main and Influence Character.
Both advancements impact the initial analysis of this film.
The Personality of Story Structure
Home Alone's personality is Holiday Comedy. Put that into Subtext, and you find the Simpson's Christmas Special and The Santa Clause alongside Home Alone.
Neither finds the Overall Story Throughline in Mind. Neither features a Main Character Approach of Be-er.
In fact, if you asked me off the top of my head the storyform for an idea like Home Alone, I would quickly respond with the Overall Story in Universe and the Main Character in Physics—from a Genre context. This is where one finds the personality of the story structure. "Home alone" screams Universe, and Kevin slapping his face and learning to shop for himself begs for a Main Character Concern of Learning.
This approach of looking to the personality first when defining structure is essential. Genre is not talked about much when it comes to analysis and Dramatica, and it should—the Domains literally set the stage for everything else that follows.
Using the Right Lens
So much of what we identify as problematic is at the base level of character. Motivational elements like Pursuit and Avoid, Faith, and Disbelief—these forces drive a narrative from the ground up.
But if you look closer at that bottom level, you will find fixed attitude-like elements in every domain: even the external ones like Universe.
And this was the source of our first misattribution error.
Scope and resolution are of the utmost importance when looking to identify the source of imbalance in a narrative. Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire exist at every level. The question is: what exactly are you looking for when you look to what is problematic? Are you looking at the overall personality of the piece? Or are you seeing something much more granular?
Nasty fixed attitudes like those found in Home Alone could be classified under the Mind Domain—if you're looking at Genre. Doubt or Twelve Angry Men possess that kind of structural identity. Likewise, an issue of Appraisal could easily be indicative of a problematic point-of-view—as could an issue of Analysis, which exists under the Physics Domain.
Read the definition of Analysis, Appraisal, or even Evaluation, and you would be hard-pressed to find a difference—unless you knew what you were looking for.
I've seen this come up numerous times in my work with hundreds of writers over the past four years. They ratchet it on one particular element or understanding, without taking into account the entire storyform and all its Storypoints.
More importantly, they don't take into account what all those Storypoints mean when placed together within the singular context of the story.
And I've seen it in myself as well.
That initial analysis led many astray when it came to understanding Dramatica—and getting it right is my sole purpose with both Narrative First and Subtext.
All is not lost.
We were just focused on the particulars, rather than the Storymind as a whole.
Seeing the Right Source of Conflict
All the examples stated in the original analysis for why we thought the story was in the Mind Domain could just be as quickly defined as an Overall Story Problem of Evaluation—
—as seen within the Domain of Universe under an Issue of Attempt.
Calling Kevin out, mean and hurtful judgments, underestimating a child—those work better as instances of character motivation, not overall personality. Holiday Comedies are almost always about someone out of place with the seasonal spirit. Home Alone is no exception.
Our initial analysis found the Overall Story in Mind and the Main Character in Psychology. That's Hamlet territory. That's Amadeus and A Separation and When Marnie Was There. Not Home Alone.
Genre and Subgenre and Personality needs to be a part of the conversation during any analysis because sometimes we can get caught up seeing the forest for the trees. Yes, fixed attitudes could be driving conflict in a story—but is that really a Genre-level concern? Or is it something more fundamental to the drive of the story?
When the Pieces Fall into Place
Balancing Genre with this distinct narrative Element of Evaluation, we find Influence Character Old Man Marley in Conceiving. With Deficiency as an Issue. And Reduction as his Source of Drive.
What better way to describe an enigma now defined as a scary story—rather than a father estranged from his son? What better way to influence a child who focuses on the lack of what is there than an example of someone who suffers from the same?
The most important revelation of this new take, however, is the relationship between mother and the son—the real heart of Home Alone.
Getting to the Heart of a Story
With the previous assumption that the Relationship Story Throughline was always the "emotional battleground" between Main and Influence Character, we were forced to find some way to shoehorn a "neighbors" relationship between Kevin and Marley into the narrative structure.
Now, with the Relationship focused more accurately on the development and growth of an intimate bond between two, we quickly see the exploration of an inequitable bond in the mother/son relationship.
We see stubbornness in Mind. We see inconsiderate words in terms of Conscious. And we see Doubt in light of their bond ever heading in the right direction.
More importantly, we see Problem and Solution in the actual dialogue of the film:
I hope that you don't mean that. You'd feel pretty sad if you woke up tomorrow morning and you didn't have a family." "No I wouldn't" answers Kevin. "Then say it again. Maybe it will happen."
That's a Problem of Probability. Mother and son don't see eye-to-eye on what is most likely to happen.
Kevin is in his parent's bed under the red covers with his green robe lying across the bed. He awakes and sees that it is snowing. It's Christmas morning. "Mom!" shouts Kevin. Kevin runs down stairs calling for his mother, but she's not there. He is alone in the big empty house, and he is disappointed. He opens the front door and looks outside at the snow. He closes the door and goes back inside of the house.
That's a Solution of Possibility in the relationship.
And it's solidified when Mom impossibly shows up a few minutes later.
Major Plot Points and Context
Another thing not quite in sync with this new understanding is the Story Driver of Home Alone. Commonly referred to as the major Plot Points of a story, the Story Drivers signal a shift in concern to the Audience. Whether Actions driving decisions, or Decisions leading actions, these dynamic events mark new territory within a narrative.
Story Drivers and the Overall Story Throughline are tied together. When you switch the context from an internal fixed Domain (Mind) to an external fixed Domain (Universe), the context for why the Signposts move from one concern to another switches as well. What worked in one context, no longer holds up under the new.
In addition, the Story Drivers drive the order of concerns within a narrative. A story driven by Actions will naturally follow a different path than that same story driven by Decisions.
With the Overall Story Throughline now in Universe, the Act order for the Relationship Story Throughline plays out like this when driven by Decisions:
Doesn’t quite feel right for the growth of the maternal relationship in Home Alone.
That same story now driven by Actions instead of Decisions:
From we can’t stand each other (Conscious) to we love each other dearly (Subconscious), the Story Driver of Action simply makes more sense for Home Alone.
An Accurate Understanding of Narrative
As mentioned in my recent post about the living and breathing nature of what we do here is our own ability to Re-evaluate as story experts. Like Kevin, when we see things in a different light and are willing to re-appraise, we Learn differently.
That's why I suggest shifting to this new storyform, and recommend that both Genre and Subgenre become an essential part of any future analysis.
The new official storyform for Home Alone corrects these original mistakes.
Special Note: In the post above, I acted as if the Relationship Story Problem of Probability and the Relationship Story Solution of Possibility were absolute confirmation that this new storyform was the real storyform.
Making the changes into Subtext, I discovered that the old storyform contained the same exact Problem and Solution for the Relationship Story Throughline.
Interesting that, intuitively, we felt those were the correct Elements in the initial analysis—we just assigned them to the wrong relationship. And even more strange that altering the classification of the Domains kept the same Elements.
Regardless, the more we understand what is going on, the more accurately we can assign these storyforms and apply the Dramatica theory of story.
This isn't dogma—we're not stuck in some dramatic Mind fixed attitude. We're on a fun adventure of discovery and enlightenment. We're learning how to approach narrative in a way that has never been done before throughout all of human history.
And that's pretty damn exciting.