Subtxt: Not Just for Screenplays

Clarifying the versatile intent of a powerful narrative tool

There's a common misconception that Subtxt is solely a tool for screenwriters. While often the words of someone yet to think deeply about narrative structure, this misguided assumption leads many to question the framework’s value. As the creator of Subtxt, I find myself often correcting this narrow view. While my background includes screenwriting, I don't confine myself to this singular identity--nor do many of Subtxt’s users. My vision for Subtxt has always been grander and more inclusive, and I always relish the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions.

One such mistake occurred recently in a Reddit thread titled How do I get the most out of Subtxt:

Subtxt is the product of the ancient "writing books is like writing movies" philosophy, which has been a favorite of bad self-help writing guides for decades. Which is understandable, since Jim Hull (the guy behind it) is a screenwriter.

First off, I’m not a screenwriter. While I have been paid to professionally write screenplays, I do not consider myself one in the traditional sense.

Secondly, the narrative framework underlying Subtxt is medium-agnostic--meaning it works for novels, plays, short stories, television shows, and documentaries just as much as it does for film. Sébastien de Castell is a popular novelist who uses Subtxt to help outline some of his books.

Subtxt is a framework for narrative, not a framework for screenplays.

I've given it a try and found it very much to be just a fancy frontend for a very simplistic view on story.

While I’m completely flattered (and quite surprised) that they called my design “fancy”, I have yet to find one writer who found the framework to be “simplistic”. In fact, one of the core complaints about Subtxt (and about its predecessor Dramatica) is that it is overly complex and too difficult to use.

Advice I occasionally give about advice literature is "if the author gets into Star Wars, run away" because this often boils down to "write Star Wars with the labels peeled off" and a lazy Hero's Journey fill-in-the-blanks exercise.

Now, I totally agree with this sentiment. 😄 This idea that everything relates back to Star Wars is why I focus on other stories when explaining Archetypal Characters. In the AI-Powered Storytelling cohorts I use Contact, and in my latest series of articles on the Archetypal Characters I refer to Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse and Aliens.

As far as “lazy” Hero’s Journey fill-in-the-blanks exercise, I refer everyone to an article I wrote over ten years ago how Not Everything is a Hero’s Journey. I would also highly recommend Forget the Cat, Save Yourself!

Subtxt, in my experience, is just that, packaged and marketed neatly.

Again, wow. Thanks! 😊

Add to that the fact that their AI is not really very sophisticated (they've been around since before instruct-type models like GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 were a thing and I'm not sure they improved their implementation at all since then), which seems to be the issue you've been running into, and I would not really recommend using them.

This part, however, is offensive. 😆

For starters, “instruct-type” models reached end-of-life the first week of January 2024. While Subtxt began using these models in April of 2022 (text-davinci-002 and text-davinci-003), I phased them out in January of 2023! Subtxt and Subtxt Muse have been running on a mixture of GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 since then, with a preference mostly for the Chat Completions API.

GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 are not “instruct-type” models.

As of right now, I think the best outlining tool you can use are probably the core tools (ChatGPT and Claude) themselves. With custom agents being introduced to ChatGPT, a lot of apps that are just AI frontends are basically redundant.

This is a popular go-to: the “it’s just a wrapper for ChatGPT.” My work on Subtxt was recently slandered on the Discuss Dramatica forums with the same defective reasoning. But, as I mention in the linked article, attempts to use ChatGPT in the same way you would use Muse always fall short and completely miss the mark.

In addition, the first thing I do every morning is go over evaluations and analysis of response both in Muse and Subtxt. With a combination of AI-assisted evals and RLHF (real-life human feedback), Subtxt is constantly improved and fine-tuned each and every day.

My intention is to make Subtxt the very best application when it comes to building a complete and meaningful story. And while it’s still not there as far as I’m concerned, it’s getting better and better every day.

Sudo[write] has a bit of an advantage because they use several models and are generally very responsive to new developments and feedback, but I don't think there's really any serious competitor that has tried to do outlines properly.

When you model generic subjective-oriented paradigms of narrative you’ll always end up with an incomplete and unfinished story. Subtxt specifically orients itself with an objective-oriented paradigm of narrative. This is part of the reason why many find it frustrating--because the app is purposefully asking the writer to step outside of themselves. Some writers are up to the task, others are not.

In that same thread, another writer asks:

OK so this explains a bit. I appreciate the response. It also explains how truby's story elements were incorporated in one of its outlining templates - Truby is pretty much JUST a screenwriter.. now I've taken a few seminars from him but there's limitations to applying that or "Save the Cat" directly to a novel. A novel can go off in wonderful diversions and be a complete story (usually is several) and isn't a tight 120 pages.

The Truby “sequencing” template that is offered in Subtxt is not an “outlining template.” Any of the so-called outline-paradigms that you find throughout the world (Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat!, The Nutshell, Story Circle, Ruby, etc.) are templates for storytelling, NOT structure. This is most apparent when the authors of these paradigms always have to bend their templates to fit stories in the world (i.e., events will be out of sequence with their template). Story structure is ordered chaos, and any alteration of that order is not structural.

The Plotting Templates offered in Subtxt are only there to afford writers an opportunity to organize the story they’ve created in Subtxt into something either they recognize, or for delivery to other readers (e.g. agents or book editors) who specifically ask for these points-of-view. With Subtxt, you can readily transform your story from one storytelling-sequence paradigm to another with the tap of a button because in the end--they’re ultimately meaningless.

The notion that a novel “can go off in wonderful diversions” is a reflection of the medium’s preference for several Storyforms within a single work. Subtxt recognizes this reality of narrative and makes affordances for it within the program (you can attach several different Storyforms to a single story). That said, going off in “wonderful diversions” is not relegated to simply novels; there are many films that feature several Storyforms (The Empire Strikes Back, As Good As It Gets, and Jerry Maguire are a few examples).

Narrative structure is medium agnostic. 📚🎬🎭

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