How to Use a Storyform for Developing a New Story

Overcoming self-inflicted writer’s block

One of the hardest things for any author to do is to think of story from an objective point-of-view. So much of what they have been taught over the years and truthfully--the whole reason they’re an author in the first place--is to fully engage in their personal and very subjective point-of-view. They write to express themselves, and therefore will avoid anything that comes close to unearthing what drives them to write in the first place.

On the Building Subtxt YouTube channel, a recent subscriber asked a great question in regard to a video on Storyforming Forrest Gump:

How does [a Storyform] help me write a story like Forrest Gump but with different people, different genre, different time, setting, etc?

What followed was a lively discussion that shifted from education to projection to eventual disengagement--all because of the inability to step outside oneself and question preconceptions of narrative.


(My answer to the above question...)

You can think of it as analogous to "how would Romeo and Juliet" help me write "West Side Story". The Storyform is a blueprint of the underlying narrative thematics. Storytelling is what differentiates Romeo and Juliet from West Side Story, when at their core: they share the same Storyform.

One aspect of the Storyform for Forrest Gump is the idea that the main emotional challenge to the Main Character (personified through Jenny and Lt. Dan)--find themselves in a state of constant challenging at the beginning of the narrative. The growth of their emotional arc finds them both moving out of this challenging state into one of trust.

Therefore, one way you could use the Storyform of Forrest Gump to write a different story with different people, time, etc. is to develop the same kind of emotional arc with the challenging characters in your story.

Subtxt helps automate this process: you plug in the different scenarios, people, etc., choose the Forrest Gump Storyform, and then ask the Narrative Agents to do the heavy lifting.

You still need to go over their work, and then, of course, write the final story, but they can save you a ton of time developing your story.

I have NEVER heard or considered this as a Trust story. Yes, Jenny & Lt Dan have arcs while Forrest does not, but their arc is to let go of their false belief in destinies. Lt Dan lets go of his destiny of death & embraces life. Jenny lets go of her destiny of misery and embraces happiness.

I would say that is a fair interpretation of what goes on in the story. They both let go of their self-inflicted destinies for something much more positive. These destinies, though, are what we would call Subject Matter in Subtxt, i.e., what the story is about--not how it works.

With a Storyform, we want to identify the motivating forces, or Elements, that drive conflict. Singling out the Condition for conflict of a particular Throughline (in this case, Lt. Dan and Jenny), makes it possible for one to then assess the new direction taken at the end of the narrative as that new path will naturally balance out the original path.

With Forrest Gump we see that driving force behind the assumed destinies to be an Element of Test. Lt. Dan's reason behind his imagined destiny is the lineage of being tested on the battlefield. Forrest takes that from him, pushing Lt. Dan into despair. It's only once he Trusts--and let's go (signified by his backstroke into the sunset) that we know he has taken a new path.

Trust is the natural balance to Test. Two sides of the same coin as it were. The natural balance to a false belief (Faith) is Disbelief. It would be difficult to see Lt. Dan in a state of skepticism and disbelief at the end of the film.

The same arc happens through Jenny. Her abusive upbringing has driven her to Test--and challenge--anyone who shows love to her. It's why she runs away to San Francisco and why she stands precariously on the ledge. It's only once she Trusts Forrest to take care of their child that we know she has moved on.

The Storyform is a holistic schematic of interrelated Storypoints and Storybeats. The interesting thing about Forrest Gump is that when you set the arc of these characters to Test to Trust, the natural source of motivation for Forrest ends up being Presumption. This is identified as everyone presumes Forrest "stupid", and it is precisely his "beginner's mind" (a lack of presumption) that sees him through every step of the way.

We would agree that Forrest Gump is not a "trust" story. In fact, we would take care to make sure no narrative is ever collapsed into a single identifying concept like this, as it is often an indication of Subject Matter over Storyform.


Here, the conversation begins to divert from learning how to use a Storyform to build a new story into one where the subscriber begins to project their own subjective experiences into the discussion.

I think we can go farther than that & say that the core human value being argued is Trust.

Forrest is VERY trusting which, given the common nature of lies & distrust in society, solicits the natural presumption of him as stupid. "If u trust, you're stupid." But Forrest's reply argues differently, "Stupid is as stupid does".

Jenny was "smart but stupid". Jenny's dad betrayed her intrinsic child trust. Thus she kept trusting the wrong people & soughy escape from herself, even while knowing intellectually she could trust Forrest to not hurt her. But Jenny's stupidity was in SEEKING to be hurt & betrayed. Sadly, I've met those girls whose violent father gave her a skewed view of masculinity & made goodness anathema to her.

Lt Dan was smart when he saw the alignment of his action & believed destiny. Once that destiny was altered, he acted stupid not knowing what to trust in. He was angry at Forrest for showing his mistaken trust in destiny. All post-Vietnam interactions between Forrest & Dan were about Dan learning to trust God, not fate. As Forrest said as Lt Dan swam away, "he made his peace w God".

Test implies that they WANT to trust and are acting in good faith like a Gideon Fleece. Trust was what they needed, not wanted. Trust is the foundation of life. Once Jenny & Dan disconnected from trust, they floated like that feather driven as the winds of selfish emotion drove them ... into self-destruction. Forrest might have claimed a disbelief in destiny, but his trust in Mama & God anchored him to make wiser decisions while Jenny & Dan were able to anchor in Forrest before they found an independent anchorage.

Again, I don't necessarily disagree with what you are saying--only the specificity and detail to which you are interpreting a narrative construct.

You're speaking in aphorisms, which are—by definition—subjective, and therefore prone to subjective biases. "Trust is the foundation of life" is a subjective truth so generalized that the only way it maintains its truthiness is by assuming that it is correct in all cases. It is not. There are times in life when trust is the antithesis of life.

With a Storyform, we want to account for all points-of-view while remaining objective about what is being argued. A Storyform is both objective and subjective, and the dissonance between the two is what audiences recognize as truth.

The statement, "Trust is what they needed, not wanted" only confirms my original argument regarding the shift from Test to Trust within the narrative of Forrest Gump as seen through Lt. Dan and Jenny. Many conflate notions of "want vs. need" with narrative structure, but again these are subjective notions, as if the characters are real people and that a narrative is always about a real person confusing their needs with their wants.

This is also a generalization prone to subjective bias inaccuracies.

The closest approximation of the generalized terms of "want vs. need" within the context of a Storyform is the difference between a Throughline's Problem (what drives the Throughline), and the Throughline's Solution (what resolves the Throughline). Forrest Gump is sightly different in that it focuses less on Problem/Solution and more on Condition/Revisions (new directions), but for the purposes of this conversation they can be seen as equivalent.

So when you say "Trust is what the needed, not wanted" you are, in effect, agreeing with me by saying Trust is the Solution of the Throughline. To be clear, the Problem in Lt. Dan and Jenny's Throughline is a motivation towards Test, the Solution is Trust. They move from Testing to Trusting. The story is not about one or the other, but rather the process of growth from one to the other.

When you redefine common terms beyond the scope of common usage that you need to keep referring to your own self-written dictionary, it becomes impossible to have a conversation.

“Trust but verify" is a test. Trust is an acceptance of actions, words, promises, etc. Even if you verify them, they are accepted first before their veracity is called into question if the verification fails.

The OPPOSITE of trust (distrust) is to reject. If I distrust you, I will reject your claim or offer until I'm "forced" to accept it. This is often the 1st step in the Hero's Journey. The protagonist rejects the Call until x happens which forces his hand and makes refusing it impossible or much more appealing than it used to be.

I contend that "trust is the foundation of life" IS true in all cases. While healthy skepticism is valuable, a life built on distrust ends in mental illness and death. Even something as simple as eating cannot happen without trust. A life of distrust would reject all food given since it could be poisoned or otherwise harmful.

You're trying to use "test" as the opposite of trust, but testing requires trusting the results of the test. Testing requires trusting the parameters of the test. Every successful test builds trust. Far from being "objective", your use of test opposed to trust is circular reasoning since testing requires trust.

You're trying to split the baby between fictional characters and real people. I've dated and been rejected by a real life Jenny with a comparable life history and messed up mentality. My current wife had a traumatic event in her past that took us 25 years to resolve.

Characters are representational of reality. When we tell stories of our own life, we pick and choose which moments to relate to form the given narrative we're trying to tell. The TV news folks are becoming blatant in its narrative spin as they pick and choose which stories to cover or ignore and which testimony to amplify or silence.

Many stories have both an external conflict according to what they say that they want, and also an internal conflict according to what they really need. The disconnect between want and need is what causes the internal conflict. Once they come into harmony internally, the solution to the external problem becomes both more obvious and acceptable.

We use this of fictional characters because it is true of people as well. Much of the drama in our lives (external conflict) is caused by our internal conflict. Psychology and literature has a revolving door relationship.

The throughline IS Trust, but the movement is from Rejection to Acceptance. This is in keeping with the Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) which we have observed people go through in response to a sudden, traumatic change. Death is the most obvious of those grief moments, but regardless of who dies in Forrest's life, he's never thrown into a tailspin.

The problem with common usage is that it is decidedly subjective, which means that one's definition of Trust will differ from another's definition. So I would agree that the inability to agree upon definitions of terms will have us going around in circles.

I appreciate your reference to the Kubler-Ross model and to the Hero's Journey, but that isn't what this channel is about. Both of those are but a small slice of the narrative pie; and both present an incomplete and inaccurate picture of all that happens within a story.

If you're interested in learning more about the objective-first approach found in Subtxt I'm more than happy to continue, but it would require you to be actively interested in learning what these are, and what you could possibly gain from such an understanding.

I would invite you to read through Narrative First here:

The Basics on Narrative First

or perhaps join our community of writers on Discord. Many have had and poised the same questions you have in this thread, and would be more than happy to help you understand our unique and effective approach to narrative.


My initial question was how to write a Forrest Gump like story using it as a template. Instead, you reference obscure films from before I was born and twist the definitions of words. If that's the prime example of "narrative first", I'll pass. It's seems to be a framework for argumentation, not actual creative construction.

Your assessment is wrong.

Subtxt has been used in the creative construction of Canada's entry for the Oscars in 2023 (“Eternal Spring”), the #3 entry for the Blacklist 2020 ("Neither Confirm, Nor Deny"), the "Tangled" series on Disney+, a significant portion of an upcoming animated feature from Warner Bros., several novels from Sebastien de Castell, and even an audio podcast series from Avatar: The Last Airbender co-creator Michael DiMartino ("Sundown: A Time Capsule Society Mystery").

In response to the above, the subscriber simply replied “Never heard of any of that.” That comment, in addition to references about films “before I was born” as not being relevant to the conversation signified a complete reluctance to fully involve oneself in the learning process.

Subtxt and Dramatica theory will always be difficult for writers to understand and work through as they force the author to contend with themselves and their own incomplete picture of the world. The frustration authors feel and experience is an important step in moving beyond beliefs and prejudices of narrative.

The only remaining question is: will they continue to develop past this Midpoint, or will they be overwhelmed by their own resistance and remained mired in the dead-end of their own personal story.

Writer’s block is not just reserved for fiction.

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