Discovering Meaningful Character Arcs Before Writing a Single Word

A revolutionary approach to storytelling with the transformative power of Subtxt's Narrative Agents

Hey there, storytelling enthusiasts! If you're a fan of diving deep into the intricacies of narrative structures and character arcs, you've come to the right place. Today, let's talk about a feature in Subtxt that's not exactly new but has recently been given a facelift—say hello to the updated "Build from Storyform."

So, What's New?

You might be thinking, "Isn't 'Build from Storyform' an old feature?" You're not wrong! But with the incorporation of newly updated Narrative Agents, the interface and functionalities have been revamped to make your storytelling journey even more exciting. Let's delve into what makes this feature a game-changer for writers and story analysts alike.

The Experiment: From Idea to Complete Story

So I went to ChatGPT, got five random story ideas, and picked one that piqued my interest.

Four Random Small-budget Action Movie Ideas

I decided to go with #1:

When a former hacker discovers that his isolated mountain cabin is the target of a high-stakes heist, he must rely on his old skills to outwit the intruders and protect a secret that could change the world.

Your basic Liam Neeson run-of-the-mill story idea (the best Chat could come up with, natch). So, to give this idea a little juice, I decided to test this idea using two different narrative structures: Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan and Logan. Why? Well, both are action films I adore, and they have distinct narrative structures.

Step 1: Generate Complete Story Synopsis

To begin, I went to the Storyform page for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and tapped the 'Build a Story' button in the upper right.

With the "Build from Storyform" page opened from that, I went ahead plugged the idea into Subtxt, tapped "Generate a Complete Story" and then let the Narrative Agents do their magic.

They extracted the Four Throughlines and mashed them into a Complete Story Synopsis.

From that one basic Story Idea, Subtxt's Narrative Agents created a title ("Hacker's Haven"), a plot that pretty much matched up with the idea (most loglines are just the OS Throughline anyways), and then invented the two primary characters:

  • Ethan Black, a former hacker, and Main Character
  • Liam O'Connor, ruthless and cunning thief, and Obstacle Character

As well as a workable relationship between the two of them:

Hacker's Haven

Ethan Black, a former hacker, has found peace and solace in his isolated mountain cabin, far away from his past life. However, his peaceful existence is shattered when his cabin becomes the target of a high-stakes heist. The thieves, led by the ruthless and cunning Liam O'Connor, are after a world-changing secret that Ethan has been hiding. As Ethan tries to outsmart the intruders using his old hacking skills, he is forced to confront his past and the personal baggage that comes with it. This internal conflict between his desire for peace and the necessity to return to his old ways adds depth to his character and drives the plot forward.

Liam's relentless pursuit of the secret forces Ethan to face his past and grow as a character. As the tension between them escalates, their relationship becomes the heart of the story. It's a cat-and-mouse game filled with conflict and tension, as Ethan uses his hacking skills to outwit Liam. However, as they continue to clash, a reluctant respect begins to form between them, adding a layer of emotional depth to the story.

As the heist unfolds, Ethan must use all his old hacking skills to protect the secret and his cabin. The plot thickens as he uncovers the true motives behind the heist and realizes that his past is not as far behind him as he thought. With the help of his skills and the unexpected allies he gains along the way, Ethan must navigate through a series of thrilling and suspenseful events to protect what he holds dear.

In the end, Ethan's struggle with his past and his tense relationship with Liam lead to a satisfying and unexpected conclusion. Through this high-stakes heist, Ethan not only protects his secret but also learns to confront his past and embrace his true self. The story is a thrilling and emotional journey of a former hacker's redemption and growth, filled with twists and turns that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end.

Even this first step from Subtxt's Agents is a giant leap forward when it comes to automating intelligent storytelling, but we're just getting started...

Step 2: Generate Plot & Players

Next, I clicked "Generate Plot & Players," which focuses on the Objective Story Throughline. Using the narrative structure of driving forces behind Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the Agents identified the start of the plot, the goal, and the resolution event.

Pretty basic Action Thriller material stuff:

Ethan Black, leading a peaceful life, suddenly finds himself in danger when Liam O'Connor, a dangerous intruder, arrives seeking a world-changing secret Ethan has been hiding. Forced to use his hacking skills, Ethan outsmarts the intruders and protects the secret. However, when his cabin becomes the target of a high-stakes heist, Ethan realizes he can't face the intruders alone.

Desperate to safeguard the secret, he reaches out to someone he can trust, such as a former ally or fellow hacker. By enlisting their help, Ethan hopes to gain the support and resources needed to outsmart the intruders.

After several failed attempts, Ethan finally contacts his former hacker partner, Mia, and convinces her to join forces. Together, they devise a plan to outsmart the intruders and protect the secret. Their unending determination leads to their success in thwarting the heist and safeguarding the world-changing secret.

Good guy has something bad guy wants. Good guy prevents bad guy from getting it, until he finally has to reach out and purposefully seek outside help, which leads to the good guys eventually winning.

And even if we ran the same Story Idea but with the Logan Storyform in mind, we would run into a similarly-realized plot outline:

Different title this time ("Cabin Code"):

Cabin Code

Ethan Black, a former hacker, has chosen a life of isolation in a secluded mountain cabin, trying to distance himself from his past. However, his peaceful existence is shattered when he discovers that his cabin is the target of a high-stakes heist. The intruders, led by the ruthless Liam O'Connor, are after a secret that Ethan possesses - a secret that could change the world. As tension and conflict arise, Ethan must use his old hacking skills and the resources available in his isolated cabin to outwit the intruders and protect his secret.

But the heist also forces Ethan to confront his past and rely on his old skills, causing an internal struggle as he tries to reconcile with his past and the fear of what might happen if his secret is revealed. Liam's relentless pursuit and ruthless tactics act as a catalyst, provoking Ethan to step out of his comfort zone and fight back.

As the cat-and-mouse game between Ethan and Liam intensifies, a grudging respect and understanding develop between the two. However, their opposing goals - Ethan's desperate attempts to protect his secret and Liam's relentless pursuit to uncover it - continue to drive the conflict in their relationship.

Will Ethan be able to outsmart Liam and protect his secret, or will his past catch up to him in the isolated mountain cabin?

But same bad guy (Liam), and same general plot where Ethan fights off the bad guys and wins, with the added introduction of the FBI:

The story begins with Ethan Black, a former hacker, receiving a mysterious message warning him of a heist targeting his secluded mountain cabin. Realizing that the intruders are after a secret he possesses, Ethan must rely on his hacking skills and the resources in his cabin to outsmart them.

Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating the heist and suspects Ethan's involvement. Determined to protect his secret and avoid capture, Ethan goes to great lengths to evade both the intruders and the FBI.

As the intruders close in, Ethan becomes increasingly resourceful, setting traps and using diversion tactics to stay ahead. In a climactic confrontation, Ethan faces off against the leader of the intruders and manages to overpower him, securing the secret and ensuring his victory.

All of this is to be expected as, at this level, the Four Throughlines and general Plot are so general, that it can be hard to discern a tangible difference between them outside of the random results from a large-language model.

Which is why the next step is so eye-opening.

Step 3: Generate Character Arcs

This is where things get spicy!

When I return to the Star Trek II version of the story and click the next step in the process, "Generate Character Arcs," Subtxt's Narrative Agents begin to dive deep into the narrative structure to find and identify the unique relationship between Character and Plot in this story.

In the Star Trek II story, the Main Character evolves from avoiding death to actively pursuing revenge (think how James T. Kirk evolves from the Kobyashi Maru to the lives of the many outweigh the lives of the few, or the one). And so should Ethan in his Main Character Throughline:

Ethan Black's emotional arc is one of avoidance and fear, stemming from his past as a hacker. He has built his entire life around avoiding uncomfortable situations and difficult emotions, leading to a lack of emotional intimacy in his relationships, a stagnant professional life, and a sense of emptiness within himself. However, when faced with a high-stakes heist that forces him to confront his past and rely on his old hacking skills, Ethan's avoidance tactics are no longer effective. He is forced to confront his fears and insecurities, and this begins his emotional journey.

At first, Ethan is resistant to facing his past and relies on his old habits of avoidance. He is filled with fear and anxiety, constantly worrying about what might happen if his secret is revealed to the world. This fear causes him to push away those closest to him, further damaging his relationships.

As the story progresses, Ethan is forced to confront his past and use his hacking skills once again. This brings up a lot of difficult emotions for him, but he begins to realize that avoiding them will not make them go away. He starts to open up to those around him, sharing his fears and insecurities, and begins to repair the damage in his relationships.

Through this process, Ethan also starts to take risks and pursue new opportunities, both in his personal and professional life. He realizes that avoiding challenges and growth opportunities only leads to a stagnant and unfulfilling life. He begins to embrace a new approach of pursuit, actively chasing after what he has been avoiding.

In the end, Ethan's emotional arc comes full circle as he abandons his avoidance and embraces a new mindset. He confronts his fears and insecurities head-on, finding a sense of purpose and determination in his pursuit.

Perfect! Ethan moves from avoiding his past (and all the hacking and fall-out from his actions in the past) to eventually pursuing those risks both in his personal and professional life.

And just like that, we have an emotional resonance with our story that 9 out of 10 current Action Thrillers simply don't bother to put into their screenplays.

So, how does that same emotional underpinning play out in the other version of the story?

Instant Appreciation of the Whole Thing

Running the same requests of the Narrative Agents with the Logan Storyform we find an arc that shifts from a motivation of Ending to a new motivation of Unending:

As with Logan himself, Ethan would need to shift from initially wanting to end it all, to eventually realizing that life's conflicts are ceaseless and worth engaging in:

Ethan Black's emotional arc begins with a strong desire for closure and resolution in all aspects of his life. This drive is fueled by his past as a renowned hacker, where he was constantly seeking to bring things to an end. However, this motivation creates conflict in his personal life, as he rushes through important processes and overlooks crucial details. He also struggles with feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness when he cannot quickly resolve a situation.

As the story progresses, Ethan is forced to confront his past and old skills when faced with a sudden heist. This creates an internal conflict between his desire for peace and the necessity to return to his old ways. He begins to question his need for closure and realizes that it may be causing more harm than good.

As Ethan fights against the intruders, he starts to see the value in the journey rather than just the end result. He learns to let go of his need for finality and embraces the idea of unending something. This new approach allows him to find peace and contentment in the process, rather than solely focusing on the end result. He also learns to appreciate the growth and experiences that come from embracing the ever-evolving nature of life.

In the end, Ethan's emotional arc resolves his personal angst as he abandons his problematic motivation and finds a new sense of peace and fulfillment. He no longer feels the need to constantly seek closure and instead learns to appreciate the beauty of the journey.

Looks like we have an emotionally resonant character arc just as meaningful as the previous one...but coming from a completely different direction.

The only question now is, which one to choose?

What Have We Learned?

The Subtxt Narrative Agent process not only makes story-building faster but also enriches the understanding of character arcs within different narrative structures. Ethan could either evolve like Captain Kirk and actively pursue death, or like Logan, embrace life's ongoing challenges without always looking for closure.

And hey, if none of these resonate we can always choose another Storyform...

The Real Power of Subtxt's Narrative Agents

In a nutshell, this feature is a godsend for storytellers, screenwriters, and anyone in between. Imagine being able to map out your story's core emotional arcs before even jotting down a single word! You not only save yourself from future headaches but also learn more about the core structures that make stories captivating.

So, what's it going to be? Are you ready to revolutionize how you develop your next narrative? 😊

Download the FREE e-book Never Trust a Hero

Don't miss out on the latest in narrative theory and storytelling with artificial intelligence. Subscribe to the Narrative First newsletter below and receive a link to download the 20-page e-book, Never Trust a Hero.