It’s no surprise that the leading narrative paradigm for most male Authors is the Hegelian Dialectic. Saddled with an operating system that prefers switches to dials, these proponents of thesis-antithesis-synthesis adore rational, linear thinking.
The other half of the world wonders what’s the big deal?
The Premise of a Story
Subtext, my practical application of the Dramatica theory of story, provides an insightful Narrative Premise feature. Once labeled the Narrative Argument, this tool rolls up the seventy-plus Storypoints of a Dramatica storyform into one thematic argument.
For instance, the Premise for The Shawshank Redemption reads:
You can look forward to having a better life when you give up supporting the system.
Sounds pretty much like the experience of Red’s growth in that awful place. Plus, it’s a lot easier to read than this:
Although it means the same exact thing.
The above is the Story Engine Settings report from the latest version of the Dramatica Story Expert application. And while it’s certainly more detailed than the Premise, that high level of resolution comes with a price: your sanity.
The Premise feature in Subtext basically wraps up my two-and-a-half decades of narrative study into a small package that saves you both time and frustration. I developed a system that programmatically interprets the Dramatica storyform into something more relatable.
And I’m continually developing it—improving the feature to sync with greater understandings.
Only there was one slight issue with the original incarnation: my personal bias for linearity.
Linear thinkers assume everyone thinks like them. Why not? To think otherwise is to think irrationally.
This assumption leads linear thinkers to discount other ways of processing information. Some do it consciously, most do it preconsciously—before they even start to think about it, their mind has already blinded them to an alternate viewpoint.
And that’s what I did with the original version of the Premise feature. I coded all the narrative arguments with a linear bias. Give up this one thing and you solve your problems.
You can see this in the above example of Shawshank: give up the Problem of supporting the system, and you can enjoy the reward of a better future.
Unfortunately for me and most of my 2019, half the population thinks differently. This group sees waves where the linear mind sees particles, and they see balance where the linear sees a separation. And while balancing inequities can seem irrational at times, to the holistic, the simplicity of deduction and certainty seems plain ignorant.
In other words, I needed to refactor a significant portion of the code.
Someone who thinks in terms of waves and forces of waves organizes thought differently than one who sees switches and buttons. Narrative structure is organized thoughts. Imposing a linear bias—hardwiring it into the base functions—forces those who think in waves to recategorize their thoughts. Linearity forced them to write differently than their true selves.
And that just isn’t right.
The Holistic Measure
To the holistic mind, balance is everything. A simple Problem and Solution approach doesn’t work for them.
And it didn’t work for Subtext.
The first problem was that there was no apparent difference between a Linear Problem-Solving story and a Holistic one within the Premise feature.
The Premise for Home Alone:
Give up listening to criticism, and you can put your house in order.
Seemed right at home with the Premise for her:
Give up your self-absorption, and you can figure out where you fit in.
Yet, these two films couldn’t be more different in thematic essence. Home Alone functions on strict linearity. her operates on a subtler dynamic of holistic allowance.
The second problem was one of connection.
I can’t tell you how many people wrote to me to say they had difficulty finding a Premise in Subtext that felt right to them—with the original version.
I can’t tell you how many people wrote to tell me otherwise once I worked in an option for holistic thinking.
I’ve been taking a deep dive into catching up on the latest Writer’s Room videos and Articles/Series. WOW! This feels like Narrative First and Subtext have taken the understanding of the Storymind to a new level of thinking, particularly around the holistic thinking. Managing to incorporate these ideas into Subtext is truly inspirational in and of itself! Kudos!
Finding Balance in Narrative Structure
This year’s series of articles The Holistic Premise documents Subtext’s journey from linear bias to balance. It took a long time to figure these out. I spent countless hours of focused concentration, digging out the essence of what it means to think this way. It was, at times, quite painful.
Thankfully, I had the input of two people much more at home with this kind of thinking: Summer de la Fuente, and Jil Hardin. Summer is always there to point out another way of thinking—she was the one who enlightened me as to the holistic structure of Patterson. Jil is the mastermind behind The Holistic Experience of Watching the Matrix. Without both of their input—and the contribution of others within the Writers Room—Subtext would still be stuck in the dark ages.
For instance, the new Premise for her elegantly captures the essence of the film:
Your reluctance to address the overwhelming nature of experiencing difficult circumstances allows your intention of being self-absorbed to elevate you into a higher state of emotion.
Granted, that’s quite a lot to take in compared to the original. But do you see how that one sentence encapsulates the entirety of her’s theme?
Yes, the sentence is more complicated. It has to be! Describing waves and forces of waves requires an abundance of verbal imagery to relate the balance of forces.
Have you ever asked a holistic thinker how their day went, only to spend the next seventeen minutes hearing the details of every interaction?
That’s what life is like for a holistic.
And they deserve a narrative structure tuned to their way of organizing thoughts.
Opening Up Further Development
Ask a linear-minded person the same question about their day, and the response you receive is “Good.” Or, “The same.” To a holistic, no day is ever the same. To a linear mind, there exists comfort in the routine.
And that explains how my bias eased its way into Subtext. Coding lose this, and you get this is much more comfortable than setting up cases for allowances and resistances and uncertainties.
Of course, that was only the beginning. Once I realized there was another area where the Premise fell short, I went back to my code editor and made Subtext even better.