Why limit yourself to the tried and true? Westerns, Sci-Fi, Action/Adventure, Romantic Comedies—all successful and effective genres for reaching a broad Audience. For the true artist looking to expand their creativity, these categories of narrative only begin to speak of the enormous potential for story.
In our last article, Creating a Story from Scratch for Nanowrimo, we set about constructing a Western unlike any other Western before. Using our Narrative First Western Genre Gist Collection—exclusive to Narrative First Members—we spun Dramatica’s model and identified story elements that told of major occult influences. In less than a couple of hours, we molded the framework for a powerful and meaningful narrative that could sustain us throughout the month of November.
This week, we want to amplify our potential for creativity by infusing one genre within another. In the spirit of one of my writing partner’s favorite proclamations: we want to find the peanut butter to our chocolate. High-concept narratives depend on this approach:
High level of uniqueness: Whereas originality is about approach and fresh perspective, uniqueness is about being one-of-a-kind, first time, and incomparable. Being original can also involve uniqueness, but being unique transcends even originality. Sometimes this is achieved in the content or in the execution of a work.
In the spirit of finding peanut butter to chocolate and of Nanowrimo, we continue our exploration of Brainstorming with Dramatica by diving into creating a brand new genre: the Teen Sex Fantasy Genre.
For those unfamiliar with “gists” and their use within the Dramatica theory of story, consider how difficult it can be to come up with a Main Character when presented with these story points:
We answer a bunch of questions in Dramatica and this is what the app tells us our Main Character is all about? He’s got a fixed attitude, he’s impulsive and he has a problem of process? What does that even mean?
Now let’s look at the same Main Character, only this time we will turn on Dramatica’s powerful Gist feature:
Suddenly, this character makes more sense. Thirteen year old Robb fears crowds, is concerned with being rash about something (let’s make it food selection for this week’s grocery shopping), and hates an overly complicated process. The last one still seems a bit odd, but we can imagine a character who needs to learn how to go through the motions but is so impatient and hasty that he often makes the wrong decision.
For someone who is very picky and selective about what they eat, being impatient and impulsive presents a significant source of conflict to overcome. Thanks to the Gists, we now understand Process as a Problem.
Dramatica’s Gists bridge the gap between storyform and storytelling. For years, critics and superficial writers knock Dramatica because of its “obtuse” terminology. Prerequisites, Non-accurate, Process, Preconditions, Dividends, and Costs—these sound more like what you would find on a Yearly TPS Report, not what you find at the heart of every complete narrative.
The Gists help writers transition between structure and story.
The storyform contains the narrative code of the story. Robb still sits in a Domain of Fixed Attitude, a Concern of Impulsive Responses, and a Problem of Process. But with Dramatica’s Gist feature, we now have a better idea of what those three story points are all about.
Several years ago, Danny McBride and his team of amazing comics created a movie that combined raunchy sex comedy with the sword-and-sorcerers genre popular in the mid-80s. Entitled Your Highness, the film bombed—an unfortunate result of its tired and broken narrative.
Key to the film’s failure was its lack of a proper Influence Character and corresponding Relationship Story Throughline. Natalie Portman’s character Isabel—the only potential influence on Danny McBride’s Main Character Prince Thadeous—doesn’t arrive until a full hour into the film. And when she does, her worldview and unique perspective fails to properly match up against Thadeous’ issues. This lack of cohesion within the narrative dynamics forces a lack of interest in the final outcome.
What if instead, the filmmakers had access to our Narrative First Teen Sex and Fantasy Genre Gist Collections, installed them into Dramatica, and randomly spun the model? They might have discovered a story that not only satisfies their intended Audience but also delivers a meaningful and cohesive narrative.
First, we would set the Story Engine to reflect a typical arrangement of Story Dynamics for this kind of film:
A Steadfast Main Character Resolve ensures that the stoner “bro” at the center of it all doesn’t have to do too much emotional growth; immature minds typically prefer to be the ones to sit back and watch everyone else develop. The Linear Problem-Solving Style, Do-er Approach, and Story Limit of Timelock only reinforce the frat-boy mindset of the narrative. Setting the Driver to Action, the Outcome & Judgment to Success/Good and the Overall Story Throughline to an Activity strengthens the story’s marketability by keeping it well within a studio executive’s expectations.
The only thing left to do would be to venture over to Dramatica’s Brainstorming feature and spin the model…
Looking over the first storyform Dramatica offered us, the story seems scattered and all over the place…
…until we start fleshing out the individual story points.
Thadeous, no longer a prince, is stuck running his father’s tavern for the weekend. Obsessed with staying current with the cool kids in the village to the point of being creepy (he’s 43), he kicks anyone out who even remotely drags down the reputation of the place or looks like trouble. In short, he is the kind of person who would rather be safe than sorry—even if it means kicking out older patrons he knows could hook him up with drugs or a date with an older woman—just so that he can look cool in front of the other kids.
Isabel operates from a similar place of needing validation from others with her obsession for the King’s daughters.1 While everyone mocks and disregards the airheaded ramblings of the King’s spoiled princesses, Isabel gives them the respect they deserve—even to the point of getting into a physical altercation with Thadeous when he refuses to let them into his tavern. If they’re hot, and they’re rich, and they’re single and available for marriage, they’re worth everyone’s attention and worth fighting for.
And this attitude gets Isabel to heaps and heaps of trouble:
We know she starts out the story deathly afraid of sorority girls, even though they’re more conscientious and thoughtful when compared to the King’s daughters. Her defense of them leads her to completely ignore the diaphragm found in their chambers (indicating that the King’s daughters do not share Isabel’s sexual preference), and finds her embarassed when the daughters completely forget their planned playdate with Isabel the day she was to babysit their nephew.
Crushed, and influenced heavily by Thadeous and his better safe than sorry angle, Isabel changes her worldview by conjecturing that the princesses are perverts and don’t want their daddy to know how sexually active they are. She would have seen it earlier if she hadn’t been so caught up in all the glitz and glamour of the rich and beautiful, but now she sees them for who they truly are.
And gets high to forget about them (with Thadeous of course).
Isabel gets to that character defining moment because of her relationship with Thadeous—the classic mentor/mentee relationship. Luke and Yoda. Neo and Morpheus. Isabel and Thadeous.
Thadeous teaches and manipulates Isabel to become a troublesome nuisance to the local magistrate. How else to make sure that he remains distracted enough to overlook the seedy but ever-so-popular activities at Thadeous’ place? Inspired by the coolest Triple A halfling ever to walk these lands, both Thadeous and Isabel find common ground over their idle and lackadaisacal ways. Neither is willing to lift a finger for the other; their hipster laziness pulling them together and driving their relationship forward. In the end, they’ll come together when they start looking out for each other and covering each other’s back.
And then finally we have the central plot line of the entire film, a story about:
As Protagonist, Thadeous will be driven to find out who the condom he found in his tavern belongs to. Was it a cool kid? A degenerate halfling thief? Or maybe even Isabel herself? The truth is it belonged to the King’s daughter—or at least her boyfriend, who refused to get her pregnant because he didn’t want to have children with her.
The king’s daughter wants to marry her boyfriend and if her father were ever to find out what her boyfriend did, it would be lights out for him. Isabel, smitten by the princess, promises to make sure no one ever finds out—and this puts her in direct conflict with the very loud and obnoxious Thadeous.
Along the way they will have to come to understand the limitations the princesses’ boyfriend put on their relationship, while outdoing a peeping giant by skillfully planning ways to work during his sleep schedule.
And, of course, the disturbing and well-known sordid past of the Count’s horse only makes it more certain that the King will eventually find out what happened with his daughter. After all, her boyfriend is the Count’s son, and if he was willing to wear a condom with his father’s horse, there’s no telling what he would do with the king’s beautiful princess…
OK. So the story went a bit off the rails there at the end…! Yet, regardless of how troubling that Forewarning story point turned out be, the story as a whole held together.
This is the same experience found in the yearly Dramatica Users Group meetings held in December. Instead of analyzing a film, we spend the night brainstorming story points based on a random storyform. Like the example above, what starts out seemingly disjointed and disconnected, ends up coming together in a way that almost feels like magic.
Now, you may not feel like a sex and sorcery film about finding the owner of a condom would find a large enough Audience, but if you were to continue to flesh out this storyform the end result would be a complete and meaningful narrative. Thadeous finds the owner of that condom because Isabel finally gave up her obsession for the princesses long enough to hypothesize that they didn’t want their daddy to know they were straight. That solution cuts quick to the chase and right through to Isabel’s character flaw and works exceedingly well with the main plot line because all these story points balance each other out. Her conjecturing led to finding out who owned the condom. And that conjecturing came about because of Thadeous’ success with playing it safe than sorry…(just like the Count’s son…)
By combining the genre of Teen Sex with Fantasy, we came up with a story unlike any other on planet Earth. We have a stoner stuck in his dad’s Tavern for the weekend, intent on learning the identity of a condom’s owner. The mentorship he strikes up with the local tomboy teaches them both the importance of looking out for each other when dealing with people in positions of power and authority. And finally, we show that a healthy dose of paranoid speculation (amplified by certain drug use) can keep us all from looking like fools.
Insane, but insanely effective in terms of story structure and meaningful narrative. Now all it needs a heaping serving of comedic storytelling on top to make it an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Teen Sex & Fantasy only begin to scratch the surface. With the Narrative First Genre Gist Collections, Authors can combine all sort of different and disparate Genres to challenge and inspire themselves to write something wholly brand new. Nanowrimo is about writing that story that didn’t exist in October. Now write that story in a genre no one expects.
Guess Isabel is a Lesbian. Again, playing to the intended Audience. ↩︎