Making Meaning Out of the Meaningless

A story with purpose gives the Audience something more

Season 3 Episode 62

If you want to make meaning out of the meaningless, if you want to ensure that you don't write a pointless story, a Dramatica storyform ensures that what you have to say promises purpose and a reason for the audience to listen. With that in mind, we take a look at the differences between The Disaster Artist and Darkest Hour. Guess which one contains a solid narrative?

In addition, we explain why The Accountant seems so jam-packed with story and answer questions about the separation between the Influence Character perspective and the Relationship Story perspective.

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Show Notes & Links

The Accountant

Hello everyone. Welcome back to another week of story structure and story analysis. Hope you had a good one. I managed to watch the accountant this last week as last night was the dramatic users group for the accountant every month every second Tuesday of every month for the last 20 years and hopefully 20 years on down the road we get together and we go over a film. And each month is a different genre last night was Ben Affleck Thriller called the accountant which is a specific genre the Ben Affleck Thriller the Ben F flick autism Thriller, and I'm about to spoil the entire thing for you because what it's about.

About uh, this accountant who has autism who can't relate to anyone who does illegal activities for the mob and for other bad people across the world who is brought in to check the books for a company that is cooking the books so that they can pump and dump the stock and the problem is Anna Kendrick discovered that there was an error in it. And so the CFO and the sister of the guy who runs the place are trying to find out where the error is and really it's because the guy running the place is trying to make money off of it and he hires Ben Affleck's brother to kill everybody else and then there's also uh, there's a treasury agent who's trying to find out where the money is or who this person mystery person is and her boss says she has a month to do it because he's retiring in seven months and then there's a guy at the end who notices that that computer is really. Water-cooled which means it can hack into the--

there's a lot of story in the accountant. I wanted to call it The Convultant because there's so much story that they actually have people just saying lines to explain story points. The interesting part about that is I found out last night why there is so much story and that's because there are actually two story forms within the single film.

A lot of times I get asked,"Is it bad that I have two story forms? Is it going to be confusing for the audience?" Well, if you tried to stuff them into two hours becomes very convoluted where you have to explain everything because there's just not enough time for nuance.

There's not enough time for for moments to breathe because you have to explain the entire story. If it's across an entire series or a book series or episodes like that stuff is totally okay because you have enough time to explore everything and I always give the example of Game of Thrones where you have several different story forms that start and end with in single seasons and then across different seasons. That's great. That's totally fine.

It's not the story that determines the story form, which would be a theme that I get into later when I bring back up that a sunrise is not a Timespace. It's that the story form dictates the story. So it's what you want to say. So you have different people dealing with different issues. You're going to have different story forms.

When I originally saw the accountant, I assume that Medina--who is the treasury agent-- and her boss JK Simmons were acting as protagonists in the Objective Story that to me seemed really clear like they were after him Ben Affleck would have been the main character antagonist because he's trying to avoid it and everything works out the way it's supposed to but it's really obvious that there is an actual emotional argument going on between Medina and Simmons that is separate from the emotional argument going on between Ben Affleck and Perfect Teeth Anna Kendrick.

The one between Medina and Simmons is all about doing what's fair and finding out at the end, "You know what? It's okay to let in a little injustice. It's okay to deal with unsavory elements in order to secure the larger picture."

Whereas the argument between Kendrick and Ben Affleck is somebody who's suffering through disability where you have all this ability all this stuff and actually moving towards a place where you can emote or you can long for somebody else or to actually even be able to recognize that somebody has feelings. And getting over that disability that is that argument and it's a separate one.

Now. The neat thing is that their Objective Story concern and their goal is the same narrative story point. They're both Objective Story concerns of understanding. The specific encoding of them is slightly different: the JK Simmons one is understanding who the heck Ben Affleck is, the Ben Affleck one is understanding what happened with Living Robotics and who's behind all this stuff.

They're both tied into at the end and there are thematic issues and catalysts and Inhibitors in the first storyform, the main Ben Affleck storyfrom that is reflected in the JK Simmons storyform which is great because that ties them even closer together, but they are really functioning as two separate stories. That's why there is so much story going on within the actual film. Now the other interesting part about the film, which I also learned last night or I didn't realize when I first watched it, but now seems super obvious. Is even though there's so much story in this two-hour film, there's 30 minutes where it's all just one throughline from one story.

So that's why the other three quarters of it are so jam-packed that you have just set up and reveals of why people are connected to who. There's no time for anything else.

As I was watching at the night before about 30 minutes before the film ends. I decided it was a good time to stop and I could pick it up the next day before class and be able to check it out. I just felt as a really natural break. The reason why it was such a natural break for me was because the subjective or the relationship part of the main story form was over. All that was left was Objective Story. There's a little tiny bit of influence character and relationship story line, but for the most part it ended when he said goodbye to Anna Kendrick and that just felt like oh, okay. That's the end and now I know there's just going to be a lot of shooting a lot of fighting and that's exactly what happened until eventually he gets to the end and shoots the bad guy in the head.

Like I said, I was going to ruin the whole thing for you. And then of course we wrap up the second storyform, which is another couple minutes devoted to that.

The reason why it feels so disconnected at the end where it was so easy for me to turn away is because elements of the influence character and relationships through line were not woven throughout that entire last 30 minute sequence and it reminded me of You've Got Mail. It's like the flip side.

you have the Objective Story ends about 45 minutes before the end of the film and then you just have 45 minutes where the relationship story throughline and you're just waiting for the two of them to get together. You just watch it, you know, okay. I know you guys are getting together. Let's get together. Okay? Okay, there's no other logistical counterbalance to that. So you just know instinctively, I cannot wait for this to be over you guys, please just get together and it's a foregone conclusion. There's no excitement to it. There's no unknowing. There's no anticipation except I need I'm anticipating the end of this.

The same thing happens with the accountant only this time you removed all the emotion from it and now it's just strictly logical. It's like, okay. I know you're gonna kill this guy. You're gonna kill this guy. How exactly are you going to end up killing the bad guy because I already know how it's going to end.

I've already seen the first three quarters. So the storyform is already locked in my head. It can only end one way now, let's just see how does it end, but there's nothing there to work against it or to create any kind of interest. All this to say if you're writing your own film or your own story and your concern that the last segment is a foregone conclusion. It's often because you don't have those different through lines woven into the tapestry of what it is that you are saying or what you're telling. If you can continue to weave all those different elements in all those thematic concerns, it creates much more interest and brings a lot more life to the narrative.

it's not a foregone conclusion as to how everything's going to turn out. You know where it's going to end up, you know, the direction that it's supposed to go in but you're not just waiting for that specific last tumbler to fall into place.

So if you haven't seen the account yet, I would strongly suggest you do if for no other reason than for the educational aspects of it. It's 51%. Ben Affleck does a great job of portraying an autistic person. it's very touching a lot of the moments where he deals with that stuff.

But when you do watch it try and pick up on the two separate story forms be aware of what it's like to force two story forms into a two-hour film. And also see where you check out emotionally where your awareness completely checks out about 30 minutes before the end of the film. And then just when you're doing your own stories, just be careful to avoid making the same mistakes.

Unless of course, you're completely okay with that.

So I will leave a link to the podcast of last night's class and then the video analysis of the film which is basically just a video cast of the same thing. I will also leave a link in the show notes.

Weekly Subtxt Updates

Next up on the docket would be the weekly updates

The storyform for The Shape of Water and for Coco are uploaded and of course The Disaster Artist which will all be getting into in a little while. Of course, the story behind the shape of water is interesting in that the first time I watched through it. I didn't really think there's a story form but on subsequent viewings. It was very clear.

The big update to the atomizer are the element models are now complete. Let's say for instance last night. I wanted to see Evidence, an Evidence of issue. Instead of looking to the chart and holding up the big chart. I simply clicked into Evidence and I got to see the family of elements that were underneath it which are desirability self-aware and aware and got to see how they were arranged and also saw that evidence was part of the family of Truth falsehood and suspicion under memory.

And the great thing about that is once you get really into Dramatica and you know how all the elements are connected. knew that his issue in that film last night was evidence and the reason being that his issue was the way people are feeling it's not evident to him. And if you know anybody who has autism one of the primary indicators is that they can't read people's Expressions. They don't know what people are actually feeling and that's why throughout the film he's got. A little poster chart with different faces happy sad and that's a real personal issue for him evidence and looking underneath there. You had desire ability self-aware and aware and knowing that he was the changed character you could easily flip into the different through lines, you know, the different domains in the atomizer just by clicking one of the elements and setting that as his problem.

with the four elements of ability desire self-aware and aware under evidence. I quickly clicked ability and then it gave me a list of the four different domains in which ability is found and then it gave a list of the four different groupings of character elements that exist in each domain.

The same 64 elements appear under each domain under Universe physics psychology and mind they're just arranged differently. So when I clicked into a bility, then it brought up the ability desire knowledge and thought quad that's under Instinct and physics okay, so the Objective Story is in instinct. Because his problem, you know, the changed character shares the same problem if his problem is ability, then that would be the problem there and then cross-reference thought and knowledge. So the steadfast character shares the same Focus and response thought and knowledge.

And so I clicked thought and that brought me over to the universe where Anna Kendrick and her perfect teeth are and I saw that that would make her problem Order which is great because her whole life she's just been the straight and narrow. She's just doing it by the book that felt great and that's how I knew. Oh, that's what the story form is.

I've constructed the atomizer to be able to support that you have to understand that the change character shares the same problem in solution as the Objective Story and the steadfast character shares the same focus and Direction and perhaps I'll find ways to indicate that to make it easier for you to jump over from from one to the other but for right now, it's just a really quick thing where you can bounce between the different elements and quickly see what it is that you're looking for.

with each entry you also have all the example Gists and I also went in and created Gists for the different Dynamics. So there are random gists and I'll be adding to that for the start and stop Dynamics for the change and steadfast Dynamics action and decision option lock time lock all the different Dynamics they now have Gists so when you go to a story Point main character resolve of changed you're given a list of random examples of those story points in action so that you can apply them to your own story and better understand how that Storypoint works in a complete narrative.

In addition. I have a follow-up question to last week's relationship story through line podcast. And the question he asked: the influence character through-line indirectly seems to describe not only what the impact on the main character is, but also how it impacts the relationship story. It's really important when you're writing a story to break out the difference between the influence character and the relationship Story. The relationship story is a separate entity. It seems really easy to blend the influence character in relationship story. And that's usually a result of lazy storytelling because just naturally instinctively oh, we just blend the two if I have a relationship with you. My relationship is all about your influence on me. And that's you're just not even considering the relationship as a separate thing. He goes on to say when a father impacts his son to make up his mind about what he wants because the father wants to force the son to go to his alma mater. It automatically indicates that a problem of control drives them apart. So when you come to the relationship story through line and you want to illustrate the relationship story problem of control you kind of feel as if you have done that already.

and then he asked I would enjoy hearing more about the borderline issue between relationship story and influence character. That's hard for me because I don't see the borderline there. If the father is all about control. It's not about his specific impact of control on the main character, it's that the approach of being overly controlling has an influence on the main characters way of doing things and then in the relationship story, it's the father-son dynamic where there's this feeling of things are being regulated or if the two of them are trying to see who can be in charge. That one's actually probably better. There's like a battle for control there. That is a separate thing then. Somebody who either finds success. I'm not sure if the influence characters on the right path or not. Somebody who find Success Through control and how that differs from what the main character is going through again. I'd have to see all the different elements how they all line up but they're very different very separate things because with the influence character you're seeing how an approach solves problems and with the relationship story you're seeing how a specific element drives people apart or pulls them together.

and finally as follow-up to the why Sunrise is not the same as 6:13 a.m. I talked to Chris Huntley about it. I just didn't understand why this had become such a Monumental thing and when I would go to try and describe it, I would get feedback lots of physics. Lots of real-world stuff and Chris very simply explained it that everybody's thinking about it backwards, which is totally totally true and maybe even I'm guilty that to trying to explain it.

It's not trying to figure out whether or not a sunrise is a time lock. Or whether or not you know, if it's the same thing as 6:13 a.m. Because it's a story it's not the real world. The real world is something completely different. It's more about what is the story you're trying to tell if you're looking to the position of the sun in the sky then you're looking to an option lock to kind of limit that down. Then the sunrise is an option lock if you're looking towards the time of 6:30 a.m. And you're going to constantly be looking at time as the marker for how you're getting closer and closer. That's the important part.

So it's not a matter of figuring out what the end is. It's more about what brings about your end. And then you set the limit that way I find that a very simple way of thinking about it. You're not trying to figure out whether or not something is a time lock or an option lock. It's what is it? What is your story is your story a time lock? Well, okay, then the indicators will be time ticking away. Is your Story Continuumed by options. Okay, then options will be the thing that limited way

Pulling Dramatica away from the Real World and I think that's an affectation of other interpretations of story where it's very much about what it's like in the real world and applying that to story. It's more about the story itself. It's not the experience of being in it. It's the ingredients. What is it that you're trying to make setting that and then giving the audience something to experience.

As always if you have any questions about any of this you can always write to me at narrativefirst.com/contact.

Meaning Out of the Meaningless

Lastly this week. We have the issue of making meaning out of the meaningless. When it comes to real life--and this is what I was just talkin about a second ago in order to make meaning out of it. You apply a story form to the real world events. You don't look to the real-world events to find the story form. Although that can help you determine what it is you want to say, but in the end when you're making this story you apply the story form to the subject matter.

It's always a matter of emplacing or manufacturing the story on top of what it is you are trying to tell.

When you look at a film like Darkest Hour, and you compare it against a film like The Disaster Artist both are accounts of real-world events. The first is about Winston Churchill and the days leading up to Britain's entry into World War 2 and then The Disaster Artist, the second one is about the friendship that develops between Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau as they created the epic cult flop film The Room.

One of them has a really great story to it in a very solid story form and actually applied a story form to the events. Whereas the other one simply told the events and forgot to encode a story into it and the result was just something that just happened. It turned out to be just a telling of the events with no real greater meaning to it.

There was an attempt to attach some greater meaning to it. But because the necessary pieces weren't firmly in place it gets lost and the film that I'm talkin about is Darkest Hour the main character through line in that film is super super clear and that might have attributed to the success of Gary oldman's performance. Because he is very clearly has a main character problem of non accurate. He's completely vague about everything about his plans about what's going to happen very much in the non-accurate realm of things and by the end of the film he switches when he jumps out of his car and gets on the train and measures the barometer the temperature of the citizens of his country that he's leading. He gets an accurate assessment of it and therefore becomes accurate in terms of being good enough to be the Prime Minister and Chamberlain waves his little hanky and everybody's super happy.

The problem with that film is there wasn't a corresponding or alternate Viewpoint that was challenging him to bring him to that place. There were logistical challenges with Chamberlain and Halifax who were very much Dead Set against the kind of things he was doing but that was more in the Objective Story through line Realm. The influence character through line in the relationship story throughline there were two opportunities for characters to fulfill that role both King George and Churchill's wife Clementine and they occasionally had moments where they came into play and gave the corresponding influence character issue of value and the influence character through line of mind to correspond or to play against Churchill's main character issue of fact and main character through line of universe, but they were few and far between if you read any review of the film, you'll find that the story is criticized as being not all together there and I think it was 86% and Rotten tomatoes. And the reason for that is is this deficiency in the influence character and relationship story through lines that challenge there, you know Churchill had a reputation problem because of his past and that's why when it comes to facts the facts of what he's done and what he's actually looking at he kind of Skips over them and he's, you know, very inappropriate around other people especially to his assistant and the way to combat that is to give somebody who has a positive fixed attitude not necessarily that they're always positive and happy but that their fixed attitude is a positive approach to things and that they're always looking to what is most important which is the the common people is what they were getting at which is why it works so well when his wife challenges her at the beginning but the virtual heart of the story is completely missing throughout the rest of that narrative.

Now if you contrast that with the Disaster Artist The Disaster Artist is almost too good. I've seen the room. I used to use it in my classes at Cal Arts to make fun of the hero's journey and save the cat because you can find the hero's journey and save the cat within the room and I was really looking forward to it, but it was almost so good that I didn't have I wasn't able to laugh at it as much as I could because there was so much heart to it. It told a really great narrative. What happened in and told about how this relationship crafted the meaning of what it was to go through making a disaster. It was very clear the main character through line where he was just all about his love of Hollywood and just wanting to be there and to just be free to do what everybody else. The line about how the worst day on a set is better than the very best day in a cubicle as somebody who's been on both sides. I could tell you that's 100% true.

And of course you challenge that with somebody who feels the same way about his art but is so obsessed with people being against him and seeing laughter as as a point of contention as if they're rejecting him and making fun of him. For him to grow into a place that it challenges the main character and the two of them into a relationship a meaningful friendship between the two of them. Like they're the feelings that they have for each other in between each other and which seems a little odd that one feels maybe perhaps a little too much for the other one. But that carrying that emotional sense of things propels them to go through this together to where he's actually there for him at the end the main characters there for Tommy at the end to help him see that the laughter that Tommy always used to think was so negative is actually a positive thing. And since he's taken it and embraced the love and support of the audience. They've had success with the film, it's actually turned a profit.

The reason why the Disaster Artist was nominated for best adapted screenplay in Darkest Hour wasn't was because of this solid story form because they actually made meaning out of the meaningless. They gave a reason for why things happen and gave a purpose to it by placing a purposeful intent on what it was that they were trying to say. They were trying to show can't always go around opposing everything the influence character problem is opposed of Tommy Wiseau, you need to embrace the support or look towards things more in a supporting light. If you want to have that praise and that critical acclaim, you can actually win that.

That's why it feels like a better story is being told because you're getting that full argument the completeness of the argument a solid story form. If you've ever heard us talk about it online or you see people in Dramatica circles talk about a solid story form. A solid story form is when there's enough information there. To be able to understand the argument that's being made and it gives the narrative the film it gives or the book or whatever story it is. It gives it meaning it gives it purpose. It's actually saying something

When you're missing enough of it that you're not quite sure where it's coming from. It becomes an exercise. It becomes an acting performance and that's why darkest hour he wins best actor because he's really good at yelling. You know, it's been a while since he's won. Actually, I don't think he's won before but the story itself is not celebrated. The actual narrative is shown to be deficient in the reason for that is the incomplete story form.

A Dramatica story form is your surest bet in gaining critical acclaim for your writing and that's because in order to make a Dramatica storyform work, you have to be really crystal clear about what it is you're trying to say you have to have purposeful intent behind your story.

The Dramatica story form is a writer's blueprint for meaning which means it tells you you figure out what it is. You want to say any time I work with anyone. I'm always asking. Well, what is it you want to say about this and then I help them find the actual elements that fit into that but once you understand the different elements and how they work and you understand what it is that you want to say what you want to communicate then you get that story form and then you put all your events you mold your events. Fit that story form to actually make that argument.

A solid Dramatica story form guarantees a solid story and critical acclaim. Whenever I look to see what film I'm going to watch this weekend and I go online or iTunes or whatever. I always look to Rotten Tomatoes because that's always the best indicator a usually of a great story and if it's 95% or more you have a solid story form in there.

The reason why it gets such critical Acclaim. It's not because of the lighting it's not because the acting it's not because of the cinematography. It's always because of the narrative it's always because there's some greater meaning some greater purpose to the things that are happening on screen. If you want to make meaning out of the meaningless, if you want to ensure that you don't write a pointless story a Dramatica story form ensures that what you have to say promises purpose and a reason for the audience to listen.

That's it for this week's podcast. If you'd like to learn more about the Dramatica story form and how it can give meaning to the story that you're writing, I invite you to visit narrativefirst.com and read the hundreds of Articles and analyses online that cover the theory and if you'd like to work with me directly, feel free to reach me at narrativefirst.com/contact. I hope you have a great week of writing and I'll see you next time.

Narrative First theme by Alex Hull. Hear more on his Soundcloud, Operation Solace.