Discovering The Origins of Narrative Structure

The Dramatica theory of story, twenty years before its time

Check this out.

Apparently, someone "discovered" the Dramatica theory of story over two decades before it was released (circa 1993/94). Termed the four-sides model, or communication square, this model states that:

every message has four facets, though not the same emphasis might be put on each. The four sides of the model are fact, self-revealing, relationship, and appeal.

Are you kidding me?!

That is Dramatica theory through and through.

  • Fact is the Objective Story Throughline
  • Self-Revealing is the Main Character Throughline
  • Relationship is the Relationship Story Throughline
  • Appeal is the Obstacle Character Throughline

What's even more incredible is this graphic explaining the process of sending a message from a "Sender" (author) to a "Receiver" (audience):

That "Message" in the middle IS the Storyform! 😳

In fact, the box itself perfectly encapsulates what I was trying to get across in the article, The Veil Between Author and Audience. The Message IS the Premise of the Storyform found in our application, Subtxt.

So while Friedemann Schulz von Thun, the originator of this model, stopped at merely describing the four perspectives found in a complete story, Subtxt pushes this thinking one step further into specifically explaining the precise events that transpire over time leading the message from sender to receiver.

The Factual Level

Most discussions of the four-sides model (a mainstay for almost all managers working in Germany) begin with the Factual level:

On the factual level the sender of the news gives data, facts and statements. It is the task of the sender to send this information clearly and understandably.

The Objective Story Throughline covers this side:

The Objective Story Line is a distinct act by act sequence of events that involves all of the Objective Throughline Story Points and none of the Subjective Throughline Story Points. It represents the dispassionate argument of the story, emphasizing events and relationships in a purely cause and effect way.

The Self-Revealing Aspect

The Self-Revealing aspect of the model focuses on a personal account relating to the sender (author):

In every news there is information about the sender. On the layer of the self-revealing or self-disclosure the sender reveals himself. This message consists of conscious intended self-expression as well as unintended self-revealing, which is not conscious to the sender (see also Johari window). Thus, every news becomes information about the personality of the sender.

This corresponds exactly with the Main Character Throughline:

Everything the Main Character does and represents that primarily relates to him alone, as opposed to specific relationships he has with other characters, can be said to be part of the Main Character Throughline...The Main Character Throughline describes in the broadest single term what the Main Character represents and the area in which the Main Character operates within the story.

The Relationship

I mean--The Relationship one is almost too good to be true:

What I think about you (you-statement) and how we get along (we-statement).The relationship layer expresses how the sender gets along with the receiver and what he thinks about him. Depending on how he talks to him (way of formulation, body language, intonation ...) he expresses esteem, respect, friendliness, disinterest, contempt or something else.

Funny how it needs to blend the You perpsective and We perspective into one in order to explain its point-of-view (a common mistake for those writing stories), but nevertheless--it still stands as a perfect representation of the all-important Relationship Story Throughine:

The passionate argument of a story is carried by the relationship between the story's Relationship Story Characters namely, the Main and Obstacle Characters. The examination of their internal states and the articulation of the story's passionate argument makes up the Relationship Story Throughline. This is not the view from within the shoes of either the Main or Obstacle Characters, but is rather like an Overall (Objective) view of their relationship. It is a view of their story together which always sees both of them.

Further development of Dramatica theory within Narrative First discovered that this need for the Relationship to rest solely within the Main Character and Obstacle Character (I and You) is NOT a steadfast rule, and that often times the relationship side of a story carries from one emotional bond to another.

The Appeal

At first, I felt as this model failed to see the You perspective of the argument within a complete story (the origin of the "You and I are both alike" scene), but then I read this:

Who states something, will also affect something. This appeal-message should make the receiver do something or leave something undone. The attempt to influence someone can be less or more open (advice) or hidden (manipulation).

Which basically sealed the deal--the precepts of Dramatica theory were discovered in 1971, not 1991.

The Obstacle Character is defined by its relationship to the Main Character...When we consider changing our outlook in regard to a particular issue, we entertain an alternative viewpoint which we examine thoroughly before either adopting or rejecting. The Obstacle Character represents that alternative point of view. In stories, as in our own minds, this alternative view is seen from where we are positioned currently.

Understanding the Process of Communication

The four-sides model came about the same way as Dramatica: by studying how the brain works when processing communication. And while the popularity of this model in European businesses only underscores its effectiveness, the idea that it came so close to describing the model of story now used by so many authors across the world--yet neither knew about the other--is absolutely astonishing.

Wonder what would happen if those managers started using narrative storytelling techniques in the real world...

(Note: My thanks to author Benjamin Marx for sending this my way) 🙂

Originally published 07-09-2021

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