To many, the writing process is magical and reserved for a chosen few. Beholden to a muse, you expect inspiration—and quit when your cry for help goes unnoticed. This adolescent fantasy of what it means to be a writer deludes the mind with images of a spiritual savior.
Your spirit does not need a savior.
The simple act of wanting to write a story is enough.
In several of your recent Narrative First articles, you've talked about how premise is everything, and I totally agree with everything you're saying. BUT I was wondering if you've considered how the writer's process fits in with this.
That’s what I do every day. 😃
The purpose of this series of articles on the Hegelian Dialectic was not to merely break the chains of ancient philosophy—it was an invitation towards realizing your highest potential.
So much of the research into a narrative structure is reductionist. The Hero's Journey and Save the Cat! gain popularity at the expense of accuracy. The author finds a paradigm that works for most stories, then repeats ad nauseam.
When I suggest that if you don’t know what your story means, then you don’t need narrative structure, I’m shining a light on the relationship between structure and intent. Both form and purpose are the same. And if you don’t have one—you don’t have the other.
I agree, but personally I feel like I can have a Premise in mind without knowing it. When I write, it is not "me" that knows the Premise, but rather my subconscious. In fact a large part of why I write is to uncover that hidden premise. My subconscious gives me a story idea, all wrapped up in layers of subject matter -- settings, characters, conflicts, "values" -- and the process of writing is the process of finding the meaning buried inside all that.
Is your subconscious giving you Subject Matter, or is it giving you a Premise?
Because they’re not the same thing.
The exploration process you describe is an exercise in futility and frustration. If your subconscious already knows the Premise, then there is nothing left for you to discover.
Of course, one can always reverse-engineer from the outcome and say “since the solution turned out to be faith then the problem must have been disbelief”, but that doesn’t usefully describe the underlying conflicts I’m often dealing with.
Who says that the solution of Faith wasn’t part of your intention from the very beginning? Try not to think so linearly and seeing the act of writing as a process of reverse-engineering or unlocking mysteries. Instead, witness the creation of a story for what it is—a manifestation of what is already there.
The subconscious is not some separate part of your being that keeps hidden treasures locked away—it’s an integral part of who you are and what drives you to write a story. You may not be fully aware of the particulars of your story’s Premise, but some part of you knows all of it.
Might as well start learning to project that intention into reality, rather than speculate on something already decided.
Waiting Outside the Citadel
There is this thought that writing is somehow a magical process reserved for a small handful of the initiate. Writer and executive producer David Milch likened it to waiting patiently outside the citadel walls, waiting for the drawbridge to lower—hoping against hope that someone will deem you worthy enough to enter.
You can see this elitism in professional writers who bemoan narrative structure as if the plague; they protect their interests by maintaining the perception that genuinely excellent writing is ethereal. Something only people like them can do. Ironic, considering Milch, both denounce and reinforce his wall with interviews lambasting an order to story and a structure to the way we think.
Knowing Your Truth
The Dramatica theory of story makes your subconscious tangible. What you previously thought indiscernible and fantastic is unspoken intention without knowing.
Dramatica allows you to speak your truth.
Dramatica and Subtext are fantastic tools for helping me do that. But I don't like to get too ahead of myself with them, because it's my subconscious that really understands everything.
If your subconscious already understands everything, then how can you possibly get ahead of yourself?
You’re already there.
Start thinking more like Amy Adams’ character in Arrival, and become your subconscious’ advocate. See that there is nothing to figure out. Value your “instincts” when it comes to deciding on a Premise from the outset.
Like I might be able to figure out that Logic is my Crucial Element, and see some examples of why, but it's not until I write 3/4 or all of the first draft that I realize the story is saying "sometimes the completely irrational answer, the thing that makes no sense at all, is exactly what you need."
This approach would be the plight of the unproven.
You’re an unknown entity seeking validation for your subconscious. You want proof that what you’re writing about is real. Confirmation that your story makes sense and holds together.
You mold your subconscious into a Premise, or storyform, the moment you start organizing your Truth. The second you begin to define the edges of scenes, you spark a chain-reaction that many refer to as manifestation.
And a manifest requires no evidence.
Your intent is valid.
And worthy of putting into words.
The Write Path
Let’s say you sit down with Subtext, project your subconscious into a Premise, and then begin writing.
Are you wrong to do so?
What if you get halfway through and realize your subconscious intended a different Premise—are you again wrong in writing those scenes?
Your subconscious is never wrong.
Your intended Premise is never wrong.
You can’t mess up who you indeed are. And who you are is both conscious and subconscious.
So for me it's kind of a balancing act where I use Dramatica & Subtext to see where I'm going, so I can offer suggestions and course correct when necessary. But my subconscious / right brain needs to stay in the driver's seat, come up with the illustrations and plot, because it does a way better job than I can.
While this sounds very romantic, this approach weighs you down and holds you back from growing as a writer. You don’t trust yourself, or know yourself enough, to think something else needs to make decisions. You place your faith in a fantasy driver because you lack the confidence to take the wheel yourself.
Writers love this idea of the subconscious captain. When things get complicated and thinking bogs down, blame the subconscious for not being there and take the day off. Why take responsibility for working through the inconsistent and incompatible aspects of your story? It’s your subconscious keeping the answer hidden from you, right?
Dramatica allows us to tuck away the superstitions of the past safely. Does it make writing less sexy? Absolutely. But does the theory also unlock aspects of our consciousness that we never understood before?
Which would you rather entertain? The allure of delusion, or the greater awareness of potential?
Writing your story is not an act of courage. Nor is it a process of breaking through fears.
Writing your story is merely a closing of the door. Closing the door on outdated and gender-biased philosophies. Closing the door on the fantasy of the inner child and the romanticism of the unknown subconscious. Closing the door on make-believe walls and imaginary gatekeepers.
Write your story confident in your intent.
Write your story.
But first, close this window.