Articles

Adapting Character Motivations to the Story Goal

The specific type of conflict defines the drive of a narrative

Beyond simple wants and needs, entire categories of character motivations exist deep within the thematic structure of a complete story. Unearthing these hidden groupings of characteristics requires an appreciation of drive and its place within human psychology. The Dramatica theory of story offers a compelling approach to developing this understanding.

All meaning is context. Shift your point-of-view, and you shift the appreciation of the object of your attention. In a story, we see this reflected in the various Throughlines. What looks to be a problem in the fixed external state of things to the Main Character appears as a problematic psychological process for the other characters. The meaning adapts to our perspective, making it possible for us to make sense of the unfolding events.

Objective Story Character Elements are another area where meaning shifts. One point-of-view finds us looking at this group of 64 Elements to see characteristics; another views them as motivating forces within a specific narrative. The former appears in the Characteristics window within the Dramatica Story Expert application. The latter rests in a complex set of story dynamics.

In all of your research, have you figured out how the Motivation/Evaluation/Methodology/Purpose characteristics are supposed to rearrange when it's not a Physics OS? Motivation as a category isn't supposed to be bottom left all the time, etc.

There are two answers to the question: one answers the inquiry, the other clarifies a misunderstanding within the question.

Re-arranging Characteristics by Class

When viewing the Objective Story Character Elements as Characteristics, the pattern of grouping remains consistent: Motivations in the bottom left, Methodologies in the bottom right, Evaluations in the top right, and Purposes in the top left.

Purpose

Evaluation

Motivation

Methodology

Open any story to find these broad categories consistent. Pursuit and Avoid stay Motivational Characteristics while Test and Trust remain Characteristics of Evaluation. The grouping of each set of 16 Elements persists regardless of point-of-view.

Note that the arrangement of these Characteristics does shift from story to story. An Objective Story in Physics finds Faith and Disbelief grouped with Conscience and Temptation. Those same two Elements in an Objective Story of Psychology pair up Pursuit and Avoid.

Physics:

Psychology:

While the assortment of Elements persists, the arrangement shifts to sync up with the Objective Story Domain. Characteristics are matters of objective appreciation. They adapt to the objective point-of-view, the perspective that rests in the Objective Story Throughline.

Accounting for Narrative

The Elements exist as Characteristics separate from narrative. When viewed within the context of a story, they shift and adapt to that story's particular set of narrative circumstances.

The impetus for all drive is Motivation. Open a Dramatica storyform in Subtext, and you find this drive listed as a set of narrative elements, grouped by Throughline. The following is the Storyform for The Lion King:

_The Lion King_ Storyform

The Problem of a Throughline is the motivating force of that part of a story. In the example above, a Problem of Avoid motivates the Objective Story Throughline and the Main Character Throughline. Scar stops Mufasa's reign, and Simba runs from his rightful place as king. The Motivation Elements of The Lion King fall in the bottom left quadrant of Physics, matching their location when seen as Characteristics (under Obtaining).

The following is the Storyform for Whiplash:

_Whiplash_ Storyform

In this film, a Problem of Cause motivates the Objective Story Throughline and the Influence Character Throughline. Both musicians and conductor force greatness upon each other at any cost. The Motivation Elements of Whiplash reside in the upper right quadrant of Psychology (under Being)—as opposed to their resting ground in the bottom left (Becoming).

This shift is meaningful, a seeming contradiction born from a diversion in context.

Understanding the Relationships of a Quad

A quad in Dramatica exists as a permutation of four base Elements: Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire (KTAD). Their arrangement within the quad manifests the highest amount of conflict: Thought sits across Knowledge and Desire counters Ability.

The set of Objective Character Elements as seen as Characteristics correspond to this base quad:

  • Desire is Motivation
  • Thought is Methodology
  • Ability is Evaluation
  • Knowledge is Purpose

The first is easy to grasp: our desires motivate us to action. The other three take time to understand but resolve when appreciating the story as an individual mind. The Methodology for working problems is thought. The ability of the mind to work through issues is an Evaluation, and the Purpose of the mind is knowing the scope and resolution of problems.

Aligning this understanding of Elements as Characteristics within a story like The Lion King is easy: a 1:1 relationship exists between Characteristics and narrative drive. The Motivation Characteristics function as Motivation Elements in the story; the Evaluation Characteristics perform as Evaluations, etc. For stories like Whiplash, where the motivating forces reside in a location separate from the base Desire (Motivation), one looks to the relationships within KTAD for the proper arrangement.

Appreciating the Potential of Drive

These classifications of Elements as Characteristics match their Narrative classification when the primary Motivation Element rests in Desire: Motivation in the bottom left, Methodology in the bottom right, Evaluation in the upper right, and Purpose in the top left.

Purpose

Knowledge

Evaluation

Ability

Motivation

Desire

Methodology

Thought

This classification of Elements as narrative drive works for films like The Lion King, where the primary source of conflict (the Problem Element) resides in the base Desire position. Stories with an Objective Story Concern of Future (Boyz n the Hood), Obtaining (Jaws), Becoming (Pretty Woman), or Subconscious (The Wizard of Oz) align with this arrangement of Motivation, Methodology, Evaluation, and Purpose.

When the Problem Element shifts, as it does with a story like Whiplash, the arrangement of Elements adapts to a different modulation of conflict.

Before diving into specific relationships, one must appreciate the operating system of the mind. The boot record of psychology defines a bias towards Linearity (cause and effect) or Holism (balance and relationships). This setting filters initial observation, coloring it with an unseen understanding and presents the results as reality to the Conscious mind.

The path of the mind—where we see Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome—is predetermined and unalterable. This hardwired aspect of the mind, known as the Preconscious in Dramatica, means the Linear Mindset sees a different reality than the Holistic Mindset.

This initial exploration of Contextual Elements focuses on the Linear mind. For reasons related to empathy, Linearity is the easiest to grasp for both sets of minds.

A Linear Appreciation of Motivation

Several relationships exist within a Dramatica quad. In addition to signaling every Element's substance (KTAD), Dramatica accounts for the Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome of narrative flow through a quad (PRCO). This context only appears in stories, as the model at rest lacks any significant potential.

Motivation, Methodology, Evaluation, and Purpose are another way of understanding PRCO. Motivation represents the Potential for conflict in a story. Methodologies operate as the various Resistances to that initial potential. Evaluations encapsulate the Current, or running appraisal, of the mind as it resolves conflict. And Purpose reflects the Outcome of all endeavors.

Purpose

Outcome (K)

Evaluation

Current (A)

Motivation

Potential (D)

Methodology

Resistance (T)

This understanding of narrative drive works because of its application to KTAD. When a Problem of Desire motivates the mind, Thought acts as the Resistance to that Potential. The first obstacle towards achieving our greatest desires are our thoughts—overthinking Does she? or Will he? hinders us from taking decisive action. Our methodology for encountering motivation increases pressure through resistance.

Ability functions as the Current (or Conflict) of Thought meeting Desire. Overthinking our dreams was a start; the real struggle lies in our ability to make them a reality. This moment is where we evaluate the legitimacy of sticking it out—Do we have what it takes?

The Outcome, or Purpose, of a mind motivated by a Problem of Desire, is Knowledge. The Linear mind cannot define, nor parse, individual desires. Emotions are a blob. Getting to a place of knowing is the purpose of the problem-solving process. Knowledge is the end goal. She doesn't love me or I knew he cared about me resolves that initial longing.

Think of The Lion King as a single human mind working on problem-solving an inequity, and these Contextual Elements make sense. Motivated by an imbalance of desires, the mind of the story works to overcome the resistance of thought. This combination explodes into an abundance of conflicting abilities that results in a final knowing. The characters act as vessels transporting the aspects of this mind to the Audience.

Realizing a Shift in Motivation

With a story like Whiplash, the set of Motivation Elements moves from the Desire position into the Ability quadrant. Cause and Effect are Problems of relative ability and showcase the spatial relationship between if and then.

When motivated by Ability, the mind faces Resistance in terms of Knowledge. What am I am able to do? is an imbalance of ability tapping on knowledge for an answer—Potential and Resistance. Our Methodology for facing a Motivation of capacity is what we hold to be true. When the two conflict and conspire, the battle plays out across Desire. Willpower, strength, and courage measure our ability to stick it through when talent fails or when we know our best falls short.

Methodology

Resistance (K)

Motivation

Potential (A)

Evaluation

Current (D)

Purpose

Outcome (T)

The Outcome of this work is Thought. The Purpose of the Linear mind faced with a lack of ability is to "think different." The one thing keeping us from increased capacity is Knowledge. And the only way for a Linear mind to break Knowledge is through concentrated Thought.

In Whiplash, the characters face an imbalance of capacity (Motivation). This lack meets an overabundance of what is held to be true (Methodology). The two conspire across a force of wills (Evaluation) and end up with new considerations (Outcome).

The Lack of Symmetry

Comparing the two previous examples, one assumes the path through the quad to be one of two circles: clockwise or counterclockwise. The Dramatica theory of story is asymmetrical. Bias needs to be hidden for any model of the mind to be near accurate. If you find symmetry in your understandings of Dramatica, know you are in the wrong path.

The paths appear as circles above because they start in either Desire or Ability. These two areas function differently than Knowledge or Thought. Given K's bias in the current model (Knowledge in the upper left), Desire and Ability blend and lose shape, whereas Knowledge and Thought appear distinct (I either know it, or I'm thinking about it).

The two remaining paths differ in terms of Potential and Resistance, yet sync during Conflict and Outcome. The first divides itself by the second, while the third and fourth consort. Thought separates Knowledge, or Knowledge penetrates Thought. Both play out against Desire and culminate in Ability.

The best way to appreciate these relationships is through abstraction. Taking the Domain of Universe over specific film examples grants us the ability to see the truth, without falling victim to confirmation bias.

Past

Knowledge

Progress

Ability

Future

Desire

Present

Thought

In the Domain of Universe, Knowledge is Past, Thought is Present, Desire is Future, and Ability is Progress.

Setting the Potential for conflict in the Past drums up Resistance in the Present. Past injustices maintain inertia when allowances are made piecemeal and current. A Methodology of smoothing bumps in the present moment does little to address bubbling Motivations underneath the surface. The Present resists the Past.

Motivation

Potential (K)

Purpose

Outcome (A)

Evaluation

Current (D)

Methodology

Resistance (T)

Shift the Potential for conflict into the Present, and the Resistance exchanges places for the Past. What brings us into conflict now is an inability to let go of what was—a Motivation to change the Present stalls when met with Methodologies of the Past.

Methodology

Resistance (K)

Purpose

Outcome (A)

Evaluation

Current (D)

Motivation

Potential (T)

Whether finding genesis in the Past or Present, conflict plays out in the Future with an eye on Progress as the outcome. The purpose of this fight is evolution—a constant growth recognized (and idealized) throughout the entire process. The cohort in this glorification of Progress is what will be. We Evaluate the relative value of change with an eye on the Future. Sacrifice and loss in service of future generations appear as the necessary Current of this drama.

This abstraction allows us to see the shifting context of Elements within a narrative. Their relationships appear correct when applied to specific examples.

Inception is a film Motivated by problems of Knowledge. Many of Nolan's films deal with the imbalance between perception and reality, and this film is no different. This Potential for conflict meets resistance in contemplative Methodologies (Thoughts). The story Evaluates the Current of conflict through competing Desires, with the Purpose of increasing one's Ability (in this case, facilitating business transactions and returning home).

A Few Good Men is a film Motivated by problems of Thought. The Methodologies providing resistance in this narrative lie in what everyone holds to be true (Knowledge). Fear and ego (Desires) form the battleground of Evaluations, with the Purpose of hampering one's Ability to maintain deficient idealizations (the General is no longer able to influence his men unduly).

Accommodating Another Point-of-view

Ford v. Ferrari is another film Motivated by Elements grouped in the area of Thought. In contrast to A Few Good Men, seeing the Methodologies of this narrative in Knowledge and Evaluations in Desire rings untrue. Ford v. Ferrari is a Holistic Mindset story, A Few Good Men is Linear.

Understanding the Holistic mind's classification of Elements requires further study.