Finding a solution to a problem assumes the presence of a problem. While this approach works great for Moonshots and the building of bridges, its reliance on cause-and-effect reasoning blinds one to a reality bereft of problems. The assumption of problems in the presence of conflict forces the search for a solution that may never present itself.
This series of articles entitled The Hegelian Chronicles seeks to explain the mechanism of thought behind the much-vaunted approach to story structure that is the Hegelian Dialectic. Seeing this simplified process of conflict through the eyes of the Dramatica theory of story makes evident the deficiencies present with the Hegelian methodology.
It’s interesting because it means the Dramatica model doesn’t really account for a dialectical notion of conflict in thesis/anti-thesis/synthesis but either finds a linear choice between thesis and anti-thesis (problem -> solution) or simply failure of the story goal, with the alternative being answering inequity with intentions.
Within the context of the Dramatica theory of story, the thesis is not the problem, and anti-thesis is not the solution. Instead, the process of thesis/anti-thesis/synthesis is a Linear-minded approach to conflict resolution. This Illusion of Fixing Problems unthinkingly marks “synthesis” as its solution.
Dramatica accounts for the dialectical notion of conflict with its appreciation of the Linear mind’s problem-solving process. The theory moves beyond this initial understanding by recognizing the Holistic’s preference for inequity resolution over problem-solving This dynamic of narrative—a Linear or Holistic approach to resolving conflict—determines the structure and order of events in a story.
The Hegelian Dialectic is a logical approach towards conflict resolution through cause and effect. Stories written with this approach in mind always set the Problem-solving Style of the narrative to Linear.
Logic is literally in the DNA of the Hegelian Dialectic.
The problem is that this approach always thinks there is a problem in need of a solution.
The Holistic understands otherwise.
With the Hegelian Dialectic, there is a problem (thesis), something that contradicts or negates that problem (anti-thesis), and a solution (synthesis) that results from the conflict between the two. However, the process itself is wildly open to interpretation—Hegel himself didn’t even use the formula attributed to him. Instead of problem and solution, think of thesis and anti-thesis as placeholders for the Main Character and Influence Character perspectives.
The Main Character maintains a perspective (Thesis) and the Influence Character counters with the “negation” of that perspective (Anti-thesis). One gives way to the other and loses the unnecessary, or non-essential, components of the Thesis. The remainder mixes with all the good of the Anti-thesis. The product of this interaction then “resolves” the conflict under the banner of Synthesis.
The process appears holistic in that it accounts for all sides. After all, it ends in a holistic “synthesis.” This outcome is mere Subject Matter—the topic of the Hegelian process, not the process itself.
When Dramatica speaks of Linear or Holistic, it is specifically referring to the process the mind employs when it meets an inequity. One, fueled by serotonin, proceeds in a sequence of steps in search of a solution. The other, guided by dopamine, adjusts the relative impact of concerns in allowance of an outcome.
The label “Problem-solving Style” is a bit of a misnomer, as the Holistic mind operates outside of problems and solution. The original terminology for this concept was Mental Sex: Male or Female. Far more accurate in its assignation of the central operating system of the mind, Mental Sex determines the order of concerns when we process conflict.
A Linear, or Male, mind operates in steps. Thesis. Anti-thesis. Synthesis. One, Two, Three. Problem and Solution.
A Holistic, or Female, mind seeks balance first. Inequities and Intentions. Numbers. Imbalance and Allowance.
Hegel, Kant, Fichte, etc. advocate their three-step process as a means of prescribing a logical method for overcoming conflict. A series of steps in search of a solution. The Linear-mind overcomes inequity; the Holistic-mind manages it.
Keeping the good parts of the thesis while overcoming its limitations through the anti-thesis is a step-by-step process of contradiction. It presupposes a linear progression from the less sophisticated thesis to the more evolved synthesis.
But it’s still Linear.
That does a lot to explain why so many of my own books don’t fit comfortably into a Dramatica storyform – the final equation of those books is often success but neither through shifting between the available Dramatica opposition elements (e.g. faith vs. disbelief, proven vs. unproven … etc) nor as what you describe as a holistic approach.
The Dramatica storyform offers a series of Storypoints that connect you the Author directly with your Audience. It’s where both writer and reader observe the same thing from two different points-of-view.
The Veil Between Author and Audience is the storyform—tiny holes in the black construction paper of communication where the message shines through.
In other words, if you’re an Author and you have an Audience—you’re going to have a Dramatica storyform. The question is: How well-formed is it?
The “final equation” of your books is Subject Matter, i.e., what you’re talking about in terms of a solution—not the specific method or Element that brought about that solution.
Take, for instance, your earlier example of maturation and Obedience:
A classic example is the notion of early childhood, where doing everything your parents say is the necessary normal state (the thesis = Obedience). You become a teenager and begin to resent the oppressive nature of parental control and so rebel against everything they say (anti-thesis = rebellion). It’s only in becoming an when you reconcile the two oppositions – not through balancing “some” passive acceptance with “some” automatic rebellion, but through the realization that you require true independence which neither involves Obedience nor rebellion (synthesis = independence).
Obedience to Rebellion to Independence.
One thing we know for sure, right off the bat with this example, is that it illustrates a Linear-minded Problem-solving Style story. Not just in the sequencing, but in terms of responses to inequity as well. If this doesn’t work, then this will. When that doesn’t work, later I’ll try this. If I want peace, then I need to recognize I need independence. Once I do that, I resolve my problems from childhood.
Classic thesis-antithesis-synthesis thinking: Problem to Solution. Cause and Effect. Logic.
If Dramatica is a model of the mind’s problem-solving process, then where would we find Obedience within that model? Or Rebellion or Independence?
One mind’s version of Obedience is another’s source of Independence. Those topics describe sources of Subject Matter, not conflict. Context is everything—which is why we developed the need for Throughlines in our storytelling. Assigning perspectives to the source of conflict gives us the grounding we need to understand the context of what we are looking at within a narrative.
To some, Obedience is a solution. To others, it’s a problem. And to many others, often not represented in discussions of narrative structure, Obedience is merely an issue to be addressed—not solved.
Setting the context of your story grants the Audience insight into your particular point-of-view.
There is no meaning without context.
No meaning exists without knowing what kind of Obedience, or what type of Obedience you seek to explore.
No meaning persists without knowing what specific issue and core motivation drive that particular instance of Obedience.
You need to give your Audience that one single mind to inhabit—the Storymind that is your story. If not, your readers will misinterpret your intentions by shifting the context to suit their individual needs.
Instead of synthesis, seek out context. Instead of thesis and anti-thesis, unearth the source of conflict in your narrative.
But above all, understand the operating system of your story’s mind.
Is your story solving problems in a Male Linear cause-and-effect manner? Is it working in steps from Thesis to Anti-thesis to Synthesis?
Or is Synthesis there from the beginning? Is it possible that the story isn’t seeking a solution to resolve conflict because it doesn’t even recognize the presence of a “problem”?
Consider a film like The Farewell from Lulu Wang. Is there a solution needed to fix Billie’s problems, a synthesis that solves thesis or anti-thesis? Or is the story more about what personal sacrifices are worth addressing in allowance of an outcome?
Is it really about finding the balance to meet the imbalance of life?
Perhaps, the only real problem is the assumption that conflict is something that needs a solution.
Perhaps the real problem is applying a centuries-old philosophy to a complex process that requires a more modern understanding of narrative dynamics.
Perhaps it’s time to emerge from the cave and shed the limiting blinders of the Hegelian Dialectic.