The romanticism of ancient philosophy often leads many a writer astray. The assumption of accuracy in centuries-old concepts blinds one to present realities and modern understandings of consciousness. Do we still adhere to Ptolemy’s Earth-centered Universe? Of course, not. And neither should we cling to the reductive nature of the Hegelian Dialectic.
Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis.
Mention these three words together, and you unlock the accursed genie that is the Hegelian Dialectic. Rising from the mystic ashes of ancient philosophy, the Hegelian promises riches beyond comprehension for those who follow his three-step process towards resolving conflict.
You only have to turn a blind eye to how the other half lives.
Hegelian Dialectic—which, interestingly enough, didn’t even come from Hegel himself—is a Linear process of solving problems. A truth, or problem, is introduced. An alternate truth, or Antithesis, enters the scene to maximize conflict. And then the resulting solution, or Synthesis, finds a third truth that takes the best of both to resolve the original problem.
Classic Linear, cause and effect problem-solving.
The Holistic mind takes a different approach. Seeing inequities instead of problems, and equities instead of solutions, the Holistic deals in the consistent application of balance.
Watch, as the vaulted genie-us of the Hegelian dissipates into the ether.
My series on The Holistic Premise addresses that train of thought wherein the wheels never stop turning. The Linear believes in the Solution—the resolution that permits one to move on, knowing the problem to be “solved.” The Holistic realizes problems themselves are manufactured within the mind and that nothing is ever solved, it’s only balanced for the time being.
I read your article about holistic premises and watched your writer’s room session, and it made me think about the Hegellian notion of the Dialectic and whether that might apply to Dramatica from the holistic standpoint – that we have thesis (problem), antithesis (solution), and that what you’re calling balance (which to me sort of implies just sticking them on a linear scale and going halfway between) might be thought of as synthesis – finding a way to forge a new perspective from the two?
This would be a Linear interpretation of balance—that there is a scale that exists between the two and once the perfect balance point is found (a synthesis), then all potential is resolved, and a solution has been found.
The Holistic knows there is never a real synthesis, but rather a constant cycle of growth and rebirth, continuous attention applied to balancing out inequities that are never truly solved.
I’d argue that they are solved but that every new balance (the synthesis that becomes the next thesis) creates the necessary preconditions for its own antithesis.
The Linear mind needs to argue that problems are solved because it can’t function without the recognition of problem and solution.
This is, in part, where “mansplaining” comes from: the Linear-minded person interrupts the Holistic because it believes that what the Holistic is seeing is somehow inaccurate or insufficient, when what they’re seeing is, in fact, what they’re actually seeing.
The Linear mind sees problems that are solved; the Holistic sees inequities that are met with equities. Neither is more right than the other, but indicative of a baseline for appreciating conflict.
The structure of a story must know the baseline of the mind of the story because it affects the order of concerns in a narrative. If you see everything as a problem that needs to be fixed, you’re going to go about solving that in a completely different way than someone who sees everything as an imbalance requiring balance.
I hear you about the scale being a Linear interpretation of balance. However you wouldn’t think of a Hegellian synthesis as being finding a point on that scale.
And neither would the Holistic in the process of resolving an inequity—as that point on the scale doesn’t exist for the mind that thinks that way. There are no points to the Holistic account, only waves.
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 (antithesis = 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).
So rebellion is the linear response to control, but independence is the synthesis that emerges from the clash of those two forces.
A synthesis is still a Linear-minded approach to solving a conflict. Both perspectives are evaluated separately for rightness—if one is right, or more right, than the other than that perspective is the solution. If neither is correct, then balance is the solution. If balance doesn’t work, then neither can exist.
Every thought process is an if…then statement—a primary function found in any programming language (even the most basic of programming language, BASIC).
It’s neither the Linear Dramatica move from one to the other nor finding a balance point on that scale, but rather the solution which removes the existence of the conflict (and in doing so, introduces a new thesis which will one day meet its antithesis as the cycles of growth and conflict continue – as you state below.)
Linear in Dramatica refers to the process that sees conflict as a problem to be solved. Moving from Problem to Solution is Linear. Finding a balance point on a scale is Linear. Finding a Solution that removes the existence of conflict is Linear.
The Holistic can never remove the existence of conflict because inequity always exists. It’s merely a matter of how much or how little.
The Matrix, which is structured with this Holistic approach to conflict, doesn’t serve up an account of synthesis—Neo hasn’t become one with his doubts and his beliefs. But he has become one with the overall balance between the two and can literally shape his world accordingly.
I always thought what was going on with the Matrix was:
Thesis: We are waiting for “The One” Antithesis: Neo isn’t actually “The One” (when he meets the nice old lady in her house or whatever and she says he’s not the one) Synthesis: Neo wasn’t The One until he became The One.
So both thesis and antithesis were wrong until Neo changed and made both of them true.
Another way to look at the narrative conflict within The Matrix, one that is closer to the foundational structure of the film, is to see it as a juggling back and forth between Faith and Disbelief.
The Oracle wasn’t wrong. She was only confirming what Neo already disbelieved. And Morpheus wasn’t wrong either. His belief that Neo was the One was right. Both positions are self-evident as appropriate throughout the film. And we experience the movie as a mind that seeks balance in all and sees all would when facing a similar inequity.
My previous article The Holistic Experience of Watching The Matrix shares an account of what it feels like when you take everything in at once. No judgments. No evaluations. No problems and no solutions. Only the flow of allowing one position in after the other and then back again.
You know that feeling of frustration you sometimes get when someone close to you won’t just do what they should to solve the problems in their lives?
That’s often someone comfortable with Holistic problem-solving—a method of problem-solving that doesn’t recognize the problem, nor the potential solution.
The “solution” for the story inequity is about synthesizing the two opposing forces into a new perspective rather than either picking one or the other or merely compromising between them.
The balance of inequities for the Holistic mind is also not a compromise. Holistic thinkers do not compromise. They don’t give this for that, and any suggestion that services rendered are an exchange for goods offends as it suggests some obligation supplants the growth of the relationship.
The Holistic is never at ease with forcing two into one, only at ease with a shift in direction that increases the flow of communication.
To the Holistic mind, there is no real Solution that solves it all—only an Intention. Neo doesn’t believe at the end, he is only “beginning to believe.” This Intention to balance out his disbelief with a personal truth sets the mind in a different direction—opening it up to receive whatever various sort of inequities that suggest an alternate path.
In a Changed Resolve/Holistic Minded story, the Main Character intends to balance out the inequity of their Throughline with an equitable element. That’s why in future versions of the theory, you’re likely to see Problem and Solution within Holistic stories adjusted to reflect their real purpose: Inequity and Intention.
The Dramatica theory of story is a holistic appreciation of narrative structure—which is to say that the relationship between Storypoints is as equally important as the structural concerns themselves. The theory develops in the way that all dynamic relationships do, by shifting back and forth, appreciating the lack of a specific solution.
Like the genie who emerged to grant untold fortune, the writer tied to the Hegelian Dialectic is trapped—trapped in the bottle of cause and effect and Linear methods of problem-solving, unable to see the totality of the world around them. Rich, but rich with an even higher cost. Whereas those swayed by the Siren Song of a centuries-old philosophy shackle themselves to ancient knowledge as if truth, the writer familiar with Dramatica appreciates the need for further thought, and if needed—a change in direction.
Synthesis sounds good. It reminds us that we’re better together, that 1+1=3, and that a win-win situation is always better than a no-win situation. Reaching a synthesis draws us in because it feels like the very best way to resolve conflict.
Problem is— it’s not the only way.
As demonstrated in the previous article, The Curse of the Hegelian Dialectic, the Linear-minded approach to resolving conflict fails to capture the totality of everyone’s experience. The Hegelian Dialectic concept of thesis-antithesis-synthesis works—but only if one accepts the presence of a problem and a solution, and a cause and effect process for dealing with those problems.
The Holistic mind understands problem and solution and can appreciate cause and effect—but its baseline of operation runs on tides and waves, allowance and direction. It sees inequity where one sees a problem and equity where another sees a solution.
Thesis-anti-thesis-synthesis appears in a Linear mindset and context:
In the obedience example [from the previous article]…
Thesis: children must be obedient to their parents for their own good
Anti-Thesis: ongoing Obedience is oppressive
These two are fundamentally incompatible notions and thus clash until …
Synthesis: We stop being children and thus no longer require the Obedience.
This example of Obedience is cause and effect reasoning. Both thesis and anti-thesis cause problems: if we continue to allow them to persist, then the effect will be higher and greater conflict. Therefore, the answer (solution) is to stop being children, and we will no longer require Obedience.
The Holistic is never at ease with forcing two into one, only at ease with a shift in direction that increases the flow of communication.
I agree – synthesis isn’t forcing two into one. It’s not, “fine, let’s have hot dogs and pizza”. It’s more like, “it’s time we stopped having dinner together” or “both our choices are actually bad for us, so it’s time we started eating salads”
The result is still a solution.
By forcing two into one, I refer to the Linear concept that a third truth somehow solves two opposing truths. To the Holistic, no solution ever works because those truths still exist. They can never be proven wrong because, remember, the holistic sees the totality of everything all at once. In that snapshot appreciation of duality, all points-of-view maintain their truthiness—throughout the narrative, from beginning to end. Therefore, all one can do is balance the flow of those truths.
There is no solution.
The Matrix is a perfect example of the Holistic approach to resolving inequity. Personal truths are held up against natural skepticism from beginning to end, with no solution that saves the day. Only an intention. A beginning to believe.
Again, this is different from the interpretation I always took from the Matrix, but I’m open to the possibility that I just never really understood the movie properly. I will say that seems a little out of step with the movie itself, which is so often positing pretty strong philosophical perspectives about reality vs non-reality.
There is a difference between what characters talk about and what is driving narrative conflict.
There is a difference between Theme and Subject Matter.
As characters within a story, we could be talking about the indignities of border control and internment camps. But what drives our conversation is an argument between certainty and potentiality. I’m confident that illegal immigrants lead to higher instances of crime, while you see the potential of hostile hospitality to create even greater evil.
Many would assume Safety or Compassion to be the Theme of such a conflict, but they’re not. Safety and Compassion are simply the topics of Thematic consideration. It’s what you want to say about Safety or Compassion that determines Theme.
When discussing these topics, we could just be arguing about certainty or potentiality. Or we could be exploring the difference between cause and effect. I want to stamp out the roots of terrorism, while you focus on the impact of people fleeing third-world countries. Or we could even be arguing a motivation door logic vs. a motivation for feeling. If we let everyone in, then we’re vulnerable—versus the strength of vulnerability that comes from caring for everyone.
Regardless of the specifics, those Elements drive the narrative and determine the order of thematic concerns within a story. Certainty and Potentially are Theme. Safety and Compassion are Subject Matter.
The characters in The Matrix spend an excessive amount of time talking about reality vs. non-reality, but what are the Authors saying about those conversations?
That’s where you’ll find the necessary information to structure a story.
Are the Authors saying what you’re seeing can never fully align with the objective reality of things? Or are they saying perception and reality are simply a matter of juggling your disbelief with a little faith?
Are they arguing that you need to begin to believe?
Both synthesis and subject matter play into the development of a dramatic argument. The former requires Authors to dig deep into their creative intentions and unearth the real purpose of their writing. Is it to explore this area of human experience, or is there something you want to say about this particular part of life?
With the latter, writers must question the appropriateness of synthesis given the context of their work. Are you drafting a process that sees problems in need of a solution? Or are you writing about the experience of addressing inequities in our lives?
If you answered yes to the last question, know there is a way to structure your story that honors that intent. One that doesn’t force you to undertake the linear process of reaching a synthesis.
You don’t need to compromise your understanding of the world.
A Linear mindset finds solutions to problems. It develops hydro-electric power, discovers a cure for polio, and finds a safer spot to land the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. Our human experience requires solutions to problems if we are to endure for the next thousand years.
But our survival also relies on the understanding that problems are simply made up in the mind. They’re not any more real than our most fantastic dreams. What we perceive as problems are simple imbalances or inequities. We label them a problem when we think they can be fixed.
Sometimes that imbalance, or inequity, is just what it is—an imbalance—and no amount of solving will ever absolve us of its impact.
We need solutions to survive.
We need an appreciation of inequities to thrive.
This series on The Hegelian Chronicles examines the long-term impact of the Hegelian Dialectic on narrative structure. The myopic stance incurred by this centuries-old philosophy leads many astray. Writers inherently drawn to more holistic thought must force-fit their understanding of the world into one much more Linear in nature.
The Holistic thinker knows there is another way to approach holism that isn’t merely an appreciation of holism through “synthesis.”
What’s an appreciation of holistic [thinking] vs. an approach of holistic [thinking]?
The Hegelian might think, or appreciate, their synthesis holistic in nature—but their approach is always decidedly logical.
To the Linear mind, Holistic problem-solving is not even a real thing. It sounds like excuses or laziness or nonsense because it’s not addressing the problem directly. Holistic problem-solving is easily discounted because it’s literally not logical.
In the Dramatica theory of story, this disregard of experience finds evidence in the Audience Appreciation of Reach:
This is the source of the dismissive phrase “chick-flick.” Linear thinkers avoid these kinds of stories because the characters within them don’t think as they do. They don’t make any sense.
The Problem-solving Style Appreciation of narrative structure (Linear or Holistic) is a blind spot for Linear thinkers. This lack of self-awareness explains why you’ll find most of them advocating the Hegelian Dialectic approach to synthesis. It’s an approach that makes sense to them and appears to be holistic in nature.
Its solution may be holistic, but the way it was arrived at is not.
This is why the Dramatica theory of story stands out from every other appreciation of narrative structure. Dramatica is a theory of how the mind works, not a formula or form for conflict resolution.
Appreciating this difference in resolving inequities requires an understanding of the difference between the Holistic approach and a holistic approach.
To a linear thinker on the Allied side, WWII was a conflict between good (Allies) and evil (Axis). To the Axis it was a conflict between systemic oppression (people keep forcing us down, preventing us from achieving our own greatness) and self-determination (we are justified in doing whatever it takes to achieve our destiny).
WWII was the linear clash of those two perspectives. Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement wasn’t a holistic approach. It was still based on the notion that those two perspectives existed on a linear scale. The holistic approach was the Marshall Plan (we’ll keep having the same war over and over unless we actually financially step up to ensure Germany and Japan are viable states).
The Marshall Plan, while holistic in nature, was the result of Linear cause-and-effect reasoning. The effect of Chamberlain’s policy compels us to find a different approach that won’t cause that to happen again. The Marshall Plan was a solution to the problem of Chamberlain’s policy.
The solution was holistic. The method, or approach, to that solution, was Linear.
Contrast this with Japan’s approach to conflict during the same period. The Linear mindset would have you believe that the reasons for the attack on Pearl Harbor were limited resources and a strike-first policy. This assumes that the people of Japan were driven by a cause and effect methodology.
In fact, the culture in Japan at that time was predominantly holistic in nature. Siding with Germany, manipulating sentiment against the Chinese, and yes, attacking Pearl Harbor were all the actions of a people who only saw inequities—not problems. Their efforts were intentions of balance (or imbalance), not solutions of conquest.
There is no solution at the root level of the Holistic because there is no such thing as a problem—only inequities that are met with equities (Intentions). Sample any of the Holistic-minded narrative structures on Subtext, and you’ll find a collection of films and novels that emphasize self-actualization overreaching goals.
For the self to thrive, one must appreciate the inequity for what it is: something that can’t be fixed. The balancing of the inequity isn’t a solution, it’s a shift in direction that opens us up to even higher intentions.
Seen holistically, the synthesis examples of Obedience and WWII are only temporary fixes. Their solutions are fleeting because those inequities always exist, waiting to rise back up to the surface.
When the Apollo 11 Lunar Module left the Moon behind, it first needed to dock with the Command Module orbiting high above. This was a problem that needed a solution. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong could not return home safely without cause-and-effect Linear thinking and precise calculations.
They succeeded. Miraculously, this tiny two-person vehicle rendezvoused with another spacecraft 239,000 miles away from planet Earth.
Right before they flipped the switch to ignite the rocket on the Moon, tensions were high. No one knew for sure whether their calculations were correct, or if the Eagle Lander would simply explode on the surface.
Houston gave the go-ahead signal and waited.
Buzz responded, “Roger Houston, we’re number one on the runway.”
A response of jocular equity seeking to level out the inequity of unpredictability. A little humor to dispel the tension, moments before they began their miraculous return back to Earth.
With Linear thinking, we survive. With Holistic thinking, we thrive.
With both, we triumph over the impossible and transform the way we live our lives.
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.
Main Character Problem, Main Character Throughline, and Influence Character Throughline
When it comes to the structure of a functioning narrative, it should come as no surprise that we know more today than we did in the 1800s. Yes, photography and the steam engine were once modern miracles, but that was then. Today—and much to the chagrin of steampunks everywhere—we don’t continue to uphold the days of old.
Today, we possess supercomputers in our pockets that access the world’s store of knowledge, measuring their speed in milliseconds.
Why on Earth then, do we continue to hold up ancient philosophies like the Hegelian Dialectic as if its age somehow makes up for its gross inaccuracies?
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, losing the unnecessary or non-essential components of the Thesis in exchange for all the good of the Anti-thesis, and together “resolves” the conflict with this new Synthesis.
The correlation is functional but not entirely accurate. While it is true that one of the principal characters eventually adopts the other’s point-of-view, this adoption is not the wholesale trading of one for the other.
There is a “synthesis” in the act of adopting a new perspective.
Based on your description, the MC problem story point represents the Thesis, the IC problem story point represents the anti-thesis, but what I can’t envision is either of their solutions being the Synthesis since that’s always just a binary opposition of one of the problem story points. The Synthesis isn’t “MC and IC argued over approach and it turned out IC was right so therefore the MC flips over to solution” as Synthesis specifically doesn’t mean choosing one over the other. So I’m trying to imagine what story point in a Dramatica model would represent the Synthesis between the MC and IC’s drives.
The three-fold Hegelian Dialectic is a logical formula for arriving at a solution. Dramatica is a model of human psychology focusing on inequity resolution. The former presupposes linear reasoning will come at a solution that resolves conflict. The latter makes no such assumptions, yet allows for an interpretation of narrative that fits that particular methodology of resolution.
The Hegelian only tells half the story.
In the James Bond film Skyfall, Bond acts as a proxy for the old way of doing things—and he’s not doing them very well. Having been left for dead by the country he has sworn to protect, Bond returns only to find himself at odds with his environment. With his aim off, his psycho-analysis lacking, and his physicality barely holding on by his fingertips, Bond represents the passing of the old ways.
M also stands for the old way of doing things—and she’s not doing it very well either. She is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the old guard running because that’s the best way she knows how to protect Britain. Unfortunately for Bond as far as M is concerned, the value of an agent’s life ranks below her country and her mission in importance. If she happens to break a few eggs on her way to making the perfect omelet, that is Britain, so be it.
They both share a perspective on the Subject Matter of Duty.
Bond approaches this subject matter seated in a Universe point-of-view. Bond is physically insufficient to fulfill the obligations of his job as a secret agent, and it might be time to quit. That is the inequity and dilemma that motivates him throughout the story.
M approaches the same subject matter from a Mind point-of-view. Mother is calm when it comes to being asked to take early retirement. Quitting is not an option because Britain needs MI6 to persevere—regardless of any fallout, whether political or personnel in nature. That is the inequity driving her influence on Bond.
Universe and Mind. Thesis and anti-thesis.
Diving further down into detail, we see that they are not merely opposites. Bond’s Main Character Throughline Problem Element is Non-accurate—an evaluation of existing outside of tolerances. M’s Influence Character Problem Element is Unending—an assessment focusing on continuation.
The Synthesis of a Changed Resolve is not merely the Main Character Solution of Accurate, nor is it the Influence Character Drive of Unending. The eventual Synthesis is a broader appreciation of inequity resolution. The result is a greater understanding of what is an appropriate response to the same inequity in the future.
At the end of Skyfall, Bond Changes his Resolve and adopts M’s perspective—but he doesn’t simply flip a switch from Non-accurate to Unending. His Main Character Solution of Accurate (“Fit for duty, sir.”) is a synthesis of M’s Unending drive and a new-found appreciation for Accuracy.
Bond moves from Universe to Mind, but it’s not a complete 180 reversal. It’s more growth, or greater appreciation, of how to make sure that Non-accurate isn’t a Problem anymore—brought about by the influence of M’s Unending impact.
When discussing the Synthesis portion of the Hegelian Dialectic, early practitioners—and even more modern apostles—illustrate this concept of Main Character Resolve without genuinely understanding their actions. They know the solution to be something beyond what the Main Character or Influence Character fight for, but they’re not entirely aware of the nature of that final resolution.
The Dramatica theory of story accounts for the broader interpretation of conflict resolution afforded by the Hegelian Dialectic—but it doesn’t merely stop there. The theory’s model of the mind’s problem-solving process details the specific nature of that eventual Synthesis, allowing the Author to pinpoint the exact source of conflict in their story.
Most believe narrative structure to be an affectation of a story. Acts exist because a story naturally falls into that kind of arrangement. This presumption that stories “have structure” misses out on the real purpose of structure: communicating an Author’s Intent effectively to an Audience.
The previous article Skyfall: Finding the Synthesis in Dramatica established a possible correlation between Dramatica’s comprehensive understanding of narrative and the accursed Hegelian Dialectic. What Hegel & Friends saw as synthesis is evidence of inequity resolution.
It’s fascinating that you chose Skyfall for your example here because there’s a completely different (non-Dramatica) interpretation of that story in which the central theme is about old ways vs. new ways.
Within the context of the Dramatica theory of story, Theme is more than a juxtaposition of incompatible truisms. Yes, the discussion starts there. However, Dramatica’s version of this essential narrative concept moves further, providing greater detail and vastly more accuracy for writers wanting to improve their work.
With Dramatica, Theme is meaning. And primary to the establishment of this meaning is the Premise or narrative argument.
As you point out, both Bond and M represent the old ways, which is why both are failing to contend with the new reality. One of the best illustrations of the anti-thesis in the story isn’t simply the villain Silva, but Q who says to Bond “I would hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of earl grey than you can in a year in the field.”…the underlying thematic conflict from this (again, non-Dramatica) interpretation isn’t between Bond and M.
That’s because that “non-Dramatica” interpretation is spinning its wheels over a surface-level understanding of the conflict. The iceberg goes much further down. The old way vs. new way “argument” is another case of conflating Subject Matter for meaning—mistaking topic for Theme.
Obedience, Duty, Honor, Love, and Keeping Up with the Times (old way vs. new way) is Subject Matter or storytelling. It’s the Topic of the story. What you want to say about Obedience, Duty, Honor, and Love are Theme.
While we find the emphasis on Theme at the Variation level, the entire Dramatica model is Theme. The Domains, Concerns, Issues, and Problems of a Storyform all work together to create the thematic argument (Premise) of the story.
The thing is, what you call “subject matter” (which in almost every case is what I would call theme) is the thing I care about as a writer. When we hit the point where the underlying source of conflict is “accurate vs. non-accurate” we’re at a level of abstraction that never shows up in the creative process for me. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, only that it exists whether I want to seek it out or not: you can’t write two people in conflict with each other without there being some underlying source of conflict. Saying “they’re not fighting about the old ways of being a spy vs. the new ways, it’s really about non-accurate vs. accurate” is not a thought that would ever help me create the story.
As you point out, this underlying conflict exists whether you focus on it or not, and you certainly can’t write conflict without some underlying source. The keyword here is underlying. The theme is not what the characters discuss, but rather, what motivates the quality of that discussion.
Great stories existed before the introduction of the Dramatica theory of story in 1994 (Lee, Shakespeare, etc.). Dramatica merely helps explain an essential part of why they’re so great—a part that you won’t find in any other discussions of narrative structure.
That part is what drives the engine of your story—the part that exists in your work, whether you seek it out or not.
Some writers get on the carousel of writing & rewriting at the writing stage. Others get on during the rewriting phase. Regardless of when you jump on, you’re going to come to a point where you’ll need to determine what is the underlying conflict. You might start at the very beginning of your creative process, or somewhere in the middle.
This jumping-on moment is the point at which issues of “Accurate and Non-accurate” start to matter. You can’t determine narrative structure at the Subject Matter level of concern of “old vs. new.” You need to know the specific inflection points of imbalance—like Accurate and Non-accurate—before you can begin building a story around them.
The alternative is fumbling around blindfolded—relying on talent and wit alone to see you through to the end.
You can’t reach structure through Subject Matter—you can only reach the structure, which is another way of saying order, through meaning.
Order is meaning—a slap followed by a scream carries a different meaning than a scream followed by a slap. The same Subject Matter (a slap and a scream) means something different depending upon the order in which they appear.
Meaning is only found within a context. If I hold my arm straight out and ask, Is my hand higher or lower than my feet? your answer would be “Higher.”
Unless, of course, I switched the context from an Earth-centric perspective to a point-of-view centered on the Sun. Now—you might not even be able to determine high or low—because, from that perspective, we’re spinning like a corkscrew through the galaxy.
Structure is order. And order is meaning. And meaning is context, and context is based on perspective or established points-of-view.
And now you know the purpose of Dramatica’s Four Throughlines. The reason why there is an Overall Story perspective. And a Main Character Throughline. And an Influence Character and Relationship Story point-of-view.
Now you know the real purpose of narrative structure.
The four perspectives found in Dramatica establish a context for understanding the meaning underlying the Subject Matter.
Therefore, Structure equals Throughlines.
Proper narrative structure is not synthesis—it’s perspective.
One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Is that an overall objective perspective? Then it’s part of the Overall Story Throughline perspective. Is it something more subjective, perhaps descriptive of the dynamic within a relationship? Then it belongs within the context of the Relationship Story Throughline perspective.
When it comes to meaning, context is everything—theme is pointless without a point-of-view. Old vs. new is meaningless until put into a specific context. Setting perspective by attaching Throughlines to Domains creates the context for your story.
By allowing the Audience to appreciate your context, you permit them to invest wholeheartedly into your Premise. Your readers will understand that you’re trying to say something meaningful and vital to them—and they will listen with open hearts and open minds.
Structure is not a result of story.
Story is a result of structure.