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The Role of the Goal in a Holistic Story

The sophistication of holism lies in the eyes of the beholder

Many writers understand the purpose of a Goal. It offers their characters a shared sense of purpose and gives the Author something to work towards while developing a story. What is it about those stories where a common Goal feels forced and unnatural?

More often than not, those stories are Holistically structured—meaning they dial back the importance of reaching a Goal.

I don't know if you remember anything about the storyform we worked on before premises and Subtext were around, but that Holistic storyform w/ a Story Goal of Being's premise (Address resistance to Knowledge by balancing your Process with your Results.) doesn't sound right for what I'm trying to say (that it's less painful to act in spite of fear than to give in and miss out on things by avoiding)

Recognizing that it "doesn't sound right" is a good indication that your storyform is no longer accurate.

At least, no longer accurate for your present state of mind.

Previous understandings of the theory—and versions of Subtext—often misinterpreted the Holistic narrative. Whether referring to Mindset as the “Problem-Solving Style” or Balance as Solution, the first two decades of Dramatica imposed a Linear bias on narrative structure.[1]

The fact that you don’t connect with the Premise presented in Subtext is a great indication that you’re writing to the wrong narrative.

Writing Something Not Yourself

The Premise you see rings false for any number of reasons. It could be an indicator that you never had the right storyform in the first place. Or it could be that you have grown, and what you want to say with your story is quite different.

Or it could be that you’re trying to write a Holistic structure when really, your story is as Linear as they come.

Many Authors write in thanking me for developing the Holistic side of the Dramatica theory. They read Subtext’s interpretation of their story’s Premise, and they feel a sense of relief that someone—even if it’s an application—finally understood their writer’s intuition. They feel recognized. Their emotional response offers me validation that the Holistic Premise connects with those given towards that mindset.

In other words—if you’re not connecting, your story is not Holistic.

The Straightforward Approach

Since introducing this concept of the Holistic Premise, I’ve noticed many rush to it blindly. They read my series on The Holistic Premise, or my take down of the Hegelian Dialectic, and they assume some sort of inferiority with the Linear Mindset.

Not true.

There’s nothing wrong with getting straight to the point. In fact, for many people, it’s preferable to the point of being an absolute requirement.

Yes, The Matrix is delightfully sophisticated with its premise of “Address your doing right by others by balancing your self-doubt with your personal truth.” But there are many more fans of the Sci-Fi Action Genre who prefer the kind of straightforward truths found in The Terminator or Looper.

While severe, you can stop a killer when you get out of your way and give up being hunted.

This premise for The Terminator, while a bit more complicated with its indication of severity, is clear: give up being pursued, and you can stop a killing machine.

Looper is even more straightforward:

Give up being pursued, and you can stop someone from stealing.

Do you see the trend here?

The Linear mind loves cause and effect. And there’s no more significant cause and effect relationship than giving up the pursuit and stopping something.

This:

that it's less painful to act in spite of fear than to give in and miss out on things by avoiding

Sounds very Linear.

You might think it Holistic with the introduction of modifiers like “less” and “in spite of,” but you’re still writing what is essentially an if...then statement.

Give up avoiding, and you can temper your fears.

That’s about as Linear a Premise as they come.

The Holistic approach is not wishy-washy or cautious. The Intention behind the balancing of issues is every bit as purposeful as the accomplishment of Goal and solution.

The difference lies in the meaning of their purposes.

The Goal of Alignment

Connecting with your story’s Premise is not an act of mental gymnastics. When it’s right, it’s right—and you won’t feel the need to twist and turn, and somersault through definitions to make it work.

I can see Being as a Goal representing a better way of life, but Knowledge puzzles me unless... can "resistance to 'seeking the unknown'" include doing new, unknown things, thus gaining knowledge in the form of experiences?

What you describe is a Linear interpretation of a Holistic Premise. Another indication that you’re not writing a Holistic story.

The “better way of life” is the entirety of the story’s message—not a Goal to be reached. When all truths remain true (as in the Holistic mind), the only “goal” is self-alignment with the vibrations of the outside world.

You wouldn’t think, “How can seeking the unknown lead to a better life?” That’s the Linear step-by-step way of seeing things. There is no finish line of “living a better life,” only a greater alignment of self through the balancing of issues.

The Holistic Method

Let’s say you don’t connect with the Linear interpretation of your Premise (though, you really should—it’s clear that is the story you want to tell). How can you interpret the Holistic Premise with more accuracy?

Your Premise, broken down into its base narrative Elements, reads:

Address KNOWLEDGE by balancing your PROCESS with your RESULTS.

Note the lack of emphasis on achieving a Goal. The same storyform presented in a Linear Mindset would read:

Give up PROCESS and you can BE.

The Linear identifies Process as a Problem. It then creates a cause and effect relationship between the removal of that Problem and the achievement of Being. Remove that Problem, and you can reach that Goal.

The Holistic does not seek the achievement of a Goal because it never identified a problem in the first place. Instead, Process appears as an inequity. This imbalance brings up all kinds of issues surrounding Knowledge. Who am I? What am I doing? What do I know is right?

The introduction of Results brings balance to that original inequity and addresses those issues of Knowledge.

In a Holistic story, the Goal indicates Intention—not a finish line. And not just the Intention of individual characters, but rather the Intention of the Storymind itself. Neo makes a phone call indicating his newfound sense of direction, but really—that call is the story verbalizing its purpose.

Remember, a complete story functions as an analogy of a single human mind resolving an inequity. The Premise then becomes an indication of that mind’s purpose.

In your story, Knowledge is not a stepping stone on the way towards the Goal of Being. Instead, see it as an indication of a flare-up within your story’s mind. Process and Result work as balancing agents addressing that mind’s awareness of inequity.

The Goal is your purpose as Author in writing the story.

A Message for the Masses

Epictetus writes about this balance between Process and Results in his Discourses (4.8.35b):

“First practice not letting people know who you are—keep your philosophy to yourself for a bit. In just the manner that fruit is produced—the seed buried for a season, hidden, growing gradually so it may come to full maturity. But if the grain sprouts before the stalk is fully developed, it will never ripen…That is the kind of plant you are, displaying fruit too soon, and the winter will kill you.”

Sound familiar?

Address KNOWLEDGE by balancing your PROCESS with your RESULTS.

Not only did Epictetus address the temperance of focusing too much on results with the process of maturing gradually, but he also did it within the context of letting people Know who you are. Textbook Dramatica—2000 years before the introduction of the theory.

If what you truly want to say is that it’s less painful to act despite fear than to give in and miss out on things, then what you’re saying is to balance out the scary and challenging journey (Process) with the benefits at the end (Results).

And if you connect with that—then your story is Holistic.

Forcing your Premise into something it is not is a recipe for disaster. The process should be as effortless as dreaming—after all, it’s merely your subconscious brought to light.

Sometimes you’ll write a Holistic story. Other times, you’ll default to Linear.

Write to fulfill your artist’s intuition, not to impress anyone with supposed sophistication.


  1. Funny, when you consider that the concept of Holistic thinking has been there in Dramatica from the very beginning. ↩︎

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