Blog Post

A New Look at Story Structure

Jan 9th, 2021

Your first look at improvements coming to Subtext in 2021.

This first video covers the all-new redesigned Storyforms--designed to make understanding the deep narrative of a story both intuitive and easy for even the greenest of writers.

Full Transcript of Video

A New Look at Story Structure

[00:00:00]Hello, everyone. Wanted to give you an update as to what I've been working on the past couple of weeks and what you can expect from Subtext in 2021. I'm going to be making some big changes this year. Based on my work, building out the premise builder, which should be available. Relatively soon. I found that there is a much easier way to understand the storyform of a complete story.

Here you can see in the premise builder, you simply enter a major character element. You rearrange the Throughlines here, get them to where you want them. And then you build a premise. It's that simple. And the premise is really a combination of a character element and a plot element.

And I really liked how simple it was to go through and answer these questions, to be able to get to a complete [00:01:00] story. And I wanted to start to give examples, for you to understand where these questions are coming from and how you can then apply them to understanding your own story.

And so what I did is I took four stories that I'm relatively familiar with and I redesigned the way that they look in the storyforms.

If you come to the storyforms here and you see all the different ones that we have, you can see Kajillio aire . it's one of the films that I'd seen over the break that I thought was really great. And you'll see up here at the top you have the premise, which is nice. You have some characters. You get to see how the Throughlines relate to one another. And then things start to get a little complicated. You have an objective premise, subjective premise, and instantly. If you don't know what any of these things are, you're going to go somewhere else. And then I make things worse here with the premise appreciations. And then of course we get into the Dramatica [00:02:00] terminology.

Now for those of you familiar with Dramatica, this is great. It's a really fun, beautiful way to look at a storyform. But if you don't know what a problem of process is or a benchmark of conceiving, then you're left without really knowing what it is you're supposed to do with all this information. And just seems like a whole lot of nonsense. My thought had been that it would inspire you to learn more about the theory, but really most people just want to get to a basic structure that they can actually start to write from.

So, like I said, I decided to come up with a much easier and clearer way of displaying a storyform.

So one of the first ones that I did was Moulin Rouge, which I'm pretty familiar with. Now, right off the bat, if you're familiar with what are known as holistic premises in Subtext you'll notice this is quite different.

I'm working really hard to make these clear and simple and [00:03:00] alot shorter than they used to be. This one here, you'll see, there's no more, "states of vibration," you can see being free, puts you in a bad state, distorting your relationships with being overly possessive. And that's easy enough to get: if you're just overly free you could eventually get into a bad state where you end up distorting the relationships that you're with because you don't want them to be too free so you want to be overly controlling and that's a lot of what runs underneath Moulin Rouge.

And then what I did is I took the arrangement from the premise builder, and I just put it right up here, right at the top. And you'll notice character and plot. Because really that's what we're talking about here, a subjective element is really just talking about the main character element, and the objective element is really just talking about the plot element. So why not just make them simple and clear: two terms that people are already very familiar with.

And then over here, I have the arrangement of Throughlines. And then of course I have those same [00:04:00] questions that are in the premise builder. And the idea is that you would come in here and actually watch the film. So you just pick a film that you like, or you want to learn more about, you see how the Throughlines are arranged. You look at the main character and the main plot element.

And then you look through here at these questions, see the answers, and then you go and you watch this, you had the experience of it, and that's how you can essentially teach yourself Dramatica theory without having to spend decades and decades of learning all the intricacies. Really, if you just know this stuff, then you're going to be 90% ahead of the game of everybody else, and you'll be a lot happier with the end result and you won't feel so stifled by all this crazy terminology.

Now, the next thing that I'm really, really excited about is something that I've wanted to do for quite some time. And this is a visual representation of character arcs as seen through the Dramatica theory of story.

So here you have the Main Character and the Influence Character, and you could see right away [00:05:00] who the Steadfast character is and who the Changed character is. The Steadfast character will have a very consistent color scheme and the Changed character will have a 180 shift here.

And then I also went ahead and added in the essential character elements that are part of their Throughlines that you can see how a Steadfast character does actually change even though remaining steadfast in their resolve. He changes by growing into his feelings his feelings are getting depressed. So here you can see at the beginning, he's full of feeling full of passion. And by the end, he's very sad because she has passed. He's got that steadfast resolve. He's still driven by feelings. He hasn't turned into a completely rational person but this is a great way to understand how that character changes the way that most people understand change, even though their resolve is steadfast.

And here with Satine, you can see a very clear Changed resolve. Where in the beginning, she's all about [00:06:00] temptation. And I've added an illustration from the Subtext database . Her version of temptation is luring in a particular group. And then she ends up acting on her conscience at the end, when she sings the lover's song.

So this is something that really, really excited about. I'll show you any other examples as well. And of course this will be something that'll be coming to your own stories later on this year.

And here we go with the act sequences. So now what I've done is I've taken the four signposts from each of the four throughlines and put them here in a nice four by four grid. So you can see them all at once. Which I think is a lot easier, I found I was scrolling, especially on my phone it would take me forever to scroll from each Throughline to figure out okay, what's the order of the main character. What are we doing here? And the influence character in the second act and, you know, how did they all line up?

Here, you get to see how they play out in sequence. And I added a little explanation here that [00:07:00] the reason these are in this order is because of these character arc elements here. These questions, the answers to these questions and the arrangement of these Throughlines and these two elements of character and plot.

That's why the sequences for the main character from conscious to memory to subconscious preconscious this is why that sequence is there. And that's it.

Now, obviously, if you are really heavily into the Dramatica theory of story, there will be a way that you'll be able to see this at the bottom. You're not going to lose all that information, but right now I just want to make this really, really simple so that, you know, it's almost like just two pages here. And you get everything that you could possibly need. It's beautiful to look at. It's informative and really just gets you to understand what it is that all this is about so that you can start building your own story when you go to use the premise builder, because I found. It's a very [00:08:00] intuitive way of building a story, as opposed to asking yourself a billion questions that we'll have you spinning in circles, trying to figure out what's going on.

So a couple of the other ones that I did. I actually checked out Harvey, which I don't think I'd ever seen before. So I went through.

And did that one as well. So his. For Mr. Dowd is finding reality unconvincing puts you in a good state, allowing you to push through resistance and address your commitment to someone again. Nice, simple, you get the arrangement of Throughlines. His character element is Disbelief. It's really the character element of the entire story, which is really about finding what everybody else thinks is so great it's just unconvincing and the major plot issue, which is about commitment. Being committed to people, committing someone, all that kind of different versions of commitment. You have all the different answers to the questions here, which I'll go over in another video.

And then of [00:09:00] course we have those character arcs. You can see Elwood growing from Oppose to even actually this would be even less opposed. So here he's very much a contrarion. And by the end, he just doesn't feel the need to argue, which is, again, it's a version of Oppose, but it's just a dwindled lack-full version of Oppose.

And then his sister, you know, in the beginning, she wants to prevent him from screwing up her marriage plans for her daughter. And, you know, he's obviously a little crazy, he's gonna mess things up. And by the end she's actually looking out for him. She actually runs into the doctor's office to keep him from getting that shot.

And again, here we have the act sequences, so you can see, he's in the very beginning, he's all about memory. Then he dives into the subconscious, then he has that really beautiful, reflective moment there out behind in the back alleyway where he's reflecting on everything. And then of course at the end. He's at that place where basically you just kind of [00:10:00] let things go, but he's not changed. He's just doesn't feel that need to argue anymore.

The other one I did was the more recent one, which I was really surprised because I wrote this huge article about Ford versus Ferrari. And I realized that I was wrong about certain narrative dynamics. And so it was really nice to be able to go back in and correct that and to get a premise that feels a lot more like the film.

Answering others puts you in a bad state, making it easier for demands to persist. So basically the more that Matt Damon's character Carroll Shelby, the more he answers other people's requests. All it does is just make it easier for those demands to get larger and larger. And of course, that's why things end up the way they do here.

You'll see, I did break with the Dramatica storyform that was in the users group. I still think the Objective Story is in Psychology. But I found that the Main Character, which I'll get into, I want to do [00:11:00] a lot more videos here. I'll talk in more detail about why, but for him.

His Throughline is in Mind. His character or the central character element of the whole film is all about Reaction, reacting to other people's requests. And of course the plot element is needs such as just answering demands. Have all the answers to the questions here and again, the character arcs, which is great. It was really interesting because even though this is backwards, LOL

He should be-- I'll have to fix that here--but essentially his Potentiality, he starts with having this stunted potential. He finds out that at the height of his career, he can't really race anymore. And so he has been driven by that missed Potentiality. And then of course, by the end, he's still in that place, he's taking a chance on someone.

Whereas the Christian Bale character, Ken Miles, he's starting with Induction where he's conjecturing about that perfect race. Right? The [00:12:00] perfect run around the track. And at the end, his Changed resolve, what he actually changes into is more of a deductive way of thinking, as opposed to thinking of all the possibilities of how great everything could be. It's more like, "You know what? You know, my friend was right. Yeah. I should probably slow down." And he draws the conclusion that the safest route, the best approach for everyone is to move into a more deductive philosophy.

And so here, you'll see again, the sequences. You can see how Matt Damon's character grows from the beginning to the end.

You know, at the very end he's in that Memory place where he's thinking about all the different things that he had gone through with his friend. Conscious is when he has that speech, where he singles out Ford as being somebody that he looks up to when it really should have been Miles.

And then of course the Preconscious is great because that's when he takes number two, Ford Jr., on the [00:13:00] ride. Really, really great set up here with the Throughlines. I'm really happy with how these play out. And then here, you can see the very first additional Illustrated Storypoint.

What I'm going to do is from time to time, I'm just going to keep adding more and more of these. And so this list will just get bigger and bigger for every Storyform.

So that you can see, well, what does it look like for, particularly for Carroll Shelby here, you know, with the main character in Mind? What is that like? So why is that Conscious? Why is that all about reflecting? I'll just go through and illustrate why, he begins the narrative with a very simple question about, "Who are you?"

And I'll get into it more in the analysis when I go through it. But it's really about the film from a personal point of view is trying to understand. You know, "Who are you? What are you all about? Are you willing to like, even ask that question? And it's the heart of the story that [00:14:00] he goes through.

And so I'm just going to go ahead and start illustrating all the different story points so that you can understand why this Storyform has been chosen.

I have a lot of familiarity with the Dramatica theory of story. I've been studying it for almost 30 years now. And I want to be able to share that information with everyone.

And I felt like the Storyform the way that it is now. It's just like, it's a cold hearted. There's nothing there. There's no explanation as to why all these different pieces are here. And so I'm really excited about being able to provide this in the coming year.

And then the other interesting one is a little known film called 45 Years. Now, this one's really interesting for the main fact that, it's a very rare film where you have a holistic premise where there's an actual deadline. The narrative is organized with time being the thing that changes space. So it's organized around time-space. [00:15:00] So here you can see, wanting to be wanted, puts you in a bad state, distorting your relationships with finding evidence to support an idea.

You can see this one's different too, in that the Objective Story, the plot, is in Mind, which is also a rare occurrence, especially in film. And the character element here is desire. And when she's all about wanting to be wanted, and you know, this is their 45th anniversary and she doesn't feel like he wants her quite as much as she would think he would.

And then the central plot element is Evidence. And it's all about finding this evidence to support the idea that she's not wanted as much as she wanted. And so it's kind of like when you have these two coming into conflict with each other and you just see them both in the same space where it's like, "I want to be wanted. And then I keep finding evidence to support the reason why he doesn't want me." It's like, Oh, okay. That's just going to put you [00:16:00] in a bad state. It's going to mess up your relationships.

And that's what I have here.

Here you can see the character arcs. These are back...too...the right order--where she has Speculation here at the beginning and Speculation at the end. So she's driven by wondering what might've been, she asks very innocent questions like, "Oh, I wonder what it would have been like if we had children, you know, what would have been like, why aren't there any pictures on the wall?"-- to--at the end, she is in a really bad state. Speculating, you know, almost thinking like, "I wonder what's waiting for me tomorrow?" The day after the anniversary.

And of course her husband is extremely self-absorbed in the beginning to the point of withdrawing, you know, within himself. And then at the end and you can barely read this, but he becomes more aware of what's going on around him. He becomes more aware of his wife of 45 years in a way that he probably hasn't in the last 40 years.

And again, [00:17:00] here we have the four different Throughlines. And what I'm also doing here, which you might've noticed is that when it is a story that is driven by character, where the structure of the story is driven by character, character reaches the top.

Main Character, then the Influence Character, then the Relationship Story. And then the plot. In a traditional, plot driven narrative, the plot will be on top and then the Main Character, Influence Character. So I'm going to reverse the order here, but here you can see main character because that's really the central key part of this kind of story is where the Main Character is coming from.

And here, I added that the concern of the Objective Story, of the plot, is Memory. Why is that Memory? And it's because the whole story is about their anniversary. So it's commemorating their 45 years together. And it's brought up that the whole reason for these anniversaries is to remind men of [00:18:00] the great thing that they have right in front of them. And unfortunately it doesn't quite go that way for the two of them. It's really centered around remembering, what was there, what was lost and what could have been, and what possibly could be right around the corner.

So that's it for the new Storyforms.

These are available now. And then if you want to, you can look at them online right away, 45 Years, Ford versus Ferrari. Harvey and Moulin Rouge. And I I'm starting out with character based structures first--on purpose. I'll be adding a lot more in the coming weeks. Now that I have all the essential tools set up it'll be a lot easier for me to add these. I had to switch some things around to make this easier to add in these illustrated story points.

And I'll be recording a lot more of these videos in the weeks to come filling out the Storyforming section here. I've actually already recorded one for Kajillionaire. Just have to put [00:19:00] it together. I'll do one for Ford versus Ferrari. I'll probably do all these stories that I'm going through, just because they're fresh in my mind that I'll be able to get them out there in that way this is a great resource for you to be able to learn how to improve the structures of your story.

And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to write to me anytime and I will answer them as best I can. Look forward to making these improvements to Subtext in 2021, it's going to be a great year. Lots of really exciting changes coming.

And I will talk to you soon.