Called to task again for my teaching of linear and holistic thinking in regards to narrative theory, I decided to jot down some thoughts to hopefully clear up any confusion. The topic at hand is the problem-solving style of the Main Character, a concept of narrative science that the Dramatica theory of story seems essential for determining the order of Acts and the touchpoints between the different Throughlines.
When asked how I would categorize my own thinking, I answered that I have a tendency towards more linear thought. Note I said tendency. The problem-solving style of the mind rests in a sliding scale, analog in nature and not a digital switch where one is “more clear” than the other.
To figure out where you might fit in in the scale, you need to break the mind down into four different areas—memories, innermost desires, conscious considerations and impulsive responses. The only one that is hard wired from birth is the impulsive responses—you can think of them as being the operating system for your mind (Mac vs. PC) as it filters and colors your perception of the world. You can nullify the effects of that filter with drugs (as some in the transgender/transsexual community do) but you can’t change it. The others can and do change overtime as they’re more fluid. For the most part males are hard wired to have linear impulsive responses while females are hard wired for holistic impulsive responses, but this is not a hard and fast rule. There are exceptions as nature is not a computer program, but for me it’s pretty clear—my impulsive responses are linear.
When it comes to memories, this is where childhood experiences and your parents fall into place. My mom was predominantly linear and my dad was 200% holistic, so I grew up in a pretty balanced household. My mother had more influence over me, so again linearity wins.
Innermost desires hold your experience, your fears, your joy, your love and your anger. This one is always hard for me to figure out -it always comes across as a bit of a blind spot to me. If I had to guess I would say linear wins over in this area, but only by a little.
And finally there are the conscious considerations. Everyone can consciously choose to solve problems linearly or holistically, so it just comes down to whichever one you have a preference for. For me, it’s holistic problem-solving. This is where my dad’s influence comes in. The strength of his management consultant business has always been his ability to help clients solve problems holistically, and as a result I’ve tried to incorporate his success in my own work.
Final tally for me: 3/4 linear, 1/4 holistic and an unsurprising tendency towards linear problem-solving. I wish I was more holistic and who knows, perhaps over time my innermost desires can be moved in that direction. But for now, linearity has its hold over me.
As you can see, the problem-solving style of the mind can vary drastically for each individual. You may ask then, why determine one or the other for the Main Character of a story? Because the Main Character of a story is not a real person, he or she is a construct. Part of the purpose of story is to show the appropriate or best way to solve problems. Linear problem solving works one way, holistic problem solving works another. Changing the problem-solving style of the Main Character halfway through a story screws up the Act order and breaks the integrity of the problem-solving process.
The Main Character acts as our conduit into the conflict at hand. By setting the Main Character’s personal problem-solving style to one or the other, the Audience gets to experience the fallout of trying to solve a problem a certain way and determine how best to solve their own problems.