Many recognize the similarities in the structure of different narratives. While many point to a familiar sequence of beats seemingly inherited from one generation to the next, the reality is the similarity lies in a like-minded purpose. With shared intent comes a shared structural foundation.
What do Jamie Foxx and Marlin have in common?
The Belly of Nonsense
When speaking of similar story structures, we refer to the underlying storyform of the respective narratives, not some heroic journey steeped in the cultural mythos. Refusing the call to grab the sword from the belly of the beast to return with the transformative elixir is not story structure.
It's seeing the Virgin Mary in a potato chip.
Luke doesn't possess a problem with faith, and Neo doesn't maintain an issue with trust. While sounding reasonably similar, Faith and Trust inject different motivations into a narrative. Dramatica defines Faith as accepting something as certain without proof, Trust as an acceptance of knowledge as proven without first trusting its validity. One looks to certainty without proof, the other to experience without checking validity. Splitting narrative hairs to be sure, but when trimming a story of the useless and contradictory fat and fluff competency demands accuracy.
The Difference Between Neo and Luke Skywalker is the storyform.
The Storyform and Purpose
The storyform of a narrative is a specific collection of seventy-five story points that function as a carrier wave, transmitting Author's Intent to an Audience. The story points relate holistically, the nature and meaning of implied story points every bit as important as though specific points set forth by the Author.
Occasionally, completely different stories share the same storyform. *Romeo and Juliet *and West Side Story exist as one example of shared intent. Aside from the six-week time limit introduced in the more modern telling of dueling families, the core thematic structure rings familiar.
Same with Collateral and Finding Nemo. Marlin and Jamie Foxx's character Max struggle with the same problem of Avoidance: Marlin is driven to prevent his son from suffering the same fate as his brother and sisters; Max is motivated to avoid following any of his dreams.
Regardless of genre or medium, if individual Authors seek to argue a similar approach to the same exact inequity, the structure of those arguments line up from beginning to end.
The Dramatica theory of story is the first paradigm, or understanding, of story structure that codifies and defines this storyform. Every complete story is an analogy to a single human mind trying to resolve an inequity. The storyform argues an individual approach towards resolving a single inequity. Sometimes it presents this argument through tragedy (Se7en or Hamlet), other times the storyform uses triumph to make its point (Moonlight or Kingsman: The Secret Service).
Overall Story Throughline
In Aliens the desire to exist and to thrive motivates conflict in every scene. Blade Runner: 2049 shares the same exact motivating force. That inherent survival instinct—whether inherited or programmed—serves as the basis for conflict in both films. The aliens protect their Queen, the replicants rise to fulfill their original programming and claim their rights as something other than slaves. Aliens vs. Space Marines, Humans vs. Replicants—groups on both sides conflict over Desire.
- OS Throughline: Physics
- OS Concern: Understanding
- OS Issue: Instinct
- OS Problem: Desire
- OS Solution: Ability
In a narrative where the Main Character adopts the competing paradigm presented by the Influence Character, the Problem elements of both the Overall Story Throughline and the Main Character Throughline rest on the same element.
Both Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and K (Ryan Gosling) change their Resolve to address the story’s central inequity.
Main Character Throughline
Ripley awakens to find she outlives her daughter. Frozen in the darkness of space for decades, the mother returns home to find her loved one buried and passed on. Absent from the Original Version, the Director’s Cut of Aliens presents critical insights into this personal throughline and explains the pain she feels for a wish that can never find fulfillment and love that cannot find a recipient.
- MC Throughline: Universe
- MC Concern: Past
- MC Issue: Interdiction
- MC Problem: Desire
- MC Solution: Ability
In Blade Runner: 2049 K shares a similar motivation with his overwhelming desire to be loved. Ripley’s willingness to give motherly love harmonizes with K’s hope for that maternal bond.
Many look to the “wants and needs” of a character to express the driving force of a narrative. Here, both narratives explicitly focus on the problems of wanting or lacking. Neo struggles with a Problem of Disbelief; Luke with a Problem of Testing. These elements motivate their “wants and needs,” but they don’t explicitly tell of a problem with wanting something.
K and Ripley do.
A functioning narrative presents an opportunity to see what an inequity looks like both from within, and without the problem. We can’t simultaneously be in our heads and outside of ourselves—stories give us that experience.
Resolving Both Overall and Main Stories
The solution to a problem of Desire is Ability.
Many understand how Faith resolves Disbelief and how Trust concludes Testing. Comprehending how Ability resolves Desire requires a further exploration.
Ripley longs to be a mother to her lost child. It’s once she gains the ability to fight for herself that she sheds this debilitating drive. “Get away from her, you Bitch!” rids her psyche of desire: I can’t do anything about what happened in the past, but I can do something. And what she does is engage in Ability.
This shift also brings a successful conclusion to the Overall Story Throughline. Her change of Resolve grants her the Ability to eject the Queen out of the ship, allowing her, Newt, and Bishop the ability to return home with a greater understanding of what happened on the colony outpost.
The same resolving dynamic manifests in Blade Runner: 2049.
Joi points to K and calls him “Joe,” resulting in a paradigm shift that begins his turn away from Desire. I can’t keep wanting and longing, but there is something I can do.
“Dying for the right cause, it’s the most human thing we can do.”
K sacrifices his wants and desires for the evolution of the collective. He chases Deckard down, chokes out Wallace’s replicant, and safely returns father to daughter—granting them the ability to meet face-to-face finally.
Different galaxies. Different constellations of characters. At the heart, both the Overall Story Throughlines and Main Character Throughlines of Aliens and Blade Runner: 2049 resonate with a similar exploration of thematic structure.
Influence Character Throughline
With an Overall Story Throughline and Main Character Throughline focused on external Problems of Desire, the nature of the implied story points demand further introspection:
- IC Throughline: Mind
- IC Concern: Memory
- IC Issue: Suspicion
- IC Problem: Perception
If Elvis’ rendition of Suspicious Minds in Blade Runner: 2049 wasn’t enough to inform you of the competing and alternate approach to resolving the inequity, the belief systems of Joi and Deckard should. Both Influence Characters challenge K with their focus on what they know to be true. Their perceptions reign supreme and their drive to alter perception—particularly on the part of Joi—force K to reconsider his point-of-view.
In Aliens, Newt’s illustration of a Problem of Perception steers down a different path. Emanating from the point-of-view of a scared and frightened child, abandoned by her parents at a young age, Newt knows they’re all going to die. The young girl finds herself so locked in her perception of reality, so challenged by the memories of her long lost loved ones, that she doesn’t suspect for one moment that someone can be there for her.
This perspective challenges and influences Ripley the same way Joi challenges K to give in to his ability. Whether looking at a positive application of Perception in Blade Runner: 2049 or a negative instance of Perception in Aliens, Influence Characters in both narratives obstruct their respective Main Characters from remaining in comfort by looking to an element of Perception. Completely different illustrations rising from the same touch point; both necessary to balance out the Problems in the Main Character and Overall Story Throughlines.
Relationship Story Throughline
Blade Runner: 2049 illustrates the Relationship Story Throughline needed to round out the narrative more fully than Aliens. As K and Joi attempt to integrate into each other’s lives, tension mounts as each adapts and changes themselves to fit within the other.
- RS Throughline: Psychology
- RS Concern: Conceptualizing
- RS Issue: State of Being
- RS Problem: Change
Aliens tells of a similar dynamic between mother and daughter but to a lesser extent. The Relationship in Blade Runner: 2049 turns to prostitution and technology to minimize friction between the two, while Aliens turns to conversations regarding dreams and nightmares. Adapting to this new mother/daughter dynamic defines the conflict between Ripley and Newt and resolves with an exclamation of Mommy! as Newt leaps into her arms.
An Approach That Works
Their shared storyforms broadcast the same conclusion: A move towards ability resolves an apparent inequity of desire, bringing success and fulfillment. With Aliens, this plays out objectively with Ripley’s stand aboard the mothership and their eventual ability to bring home an understanding of what happened with that lost colony. Subjectively, Ripley resolves the angst for her missed opportunity with a chance to dream of a new one.
Blade Runner: 2049 argues the same approach. Do what you can do, be the person others need you to be, and find success and fulfillment of those desires that held you back. Logistically, K makes it possible for Deckard to reunite with his daughter and for a greater understanding of her birth and the revolution to come. Emotionally, K rests comfortably knowing he is more human than human.
The storyform encodes the message behind the narrative. You can change the setting, change the cast, the period, even specific illustrations of every story point—but you can’t run away from the single approach argued by a particular storyform. Stories exist as models of the way we think and solve problems.
In some respects, a great story is more human than human.
Though that glass partition seems to tell of an inability to touch—a greater Understanding of their deep divide. Either way, it satisfies the Overall Story Solution of Ability. ↩︎