What Is Dramatica?

What is Dramatica?

Dramatica is a theory of story that offers both writers and critics a clear view of what story structure is and how it works. Dramatica is also the inspiration behind the line of story development software products that bear its name.

The central concept of the Dramatica theory is a notion called the “Story Mind.” In a nutshell, this simply means that every story has a mind of its own – its own personality; its own psychology. A story’s personality is developed by an author’s style and subject matter; its psychology is determined by the underlying dramatic structure.

The Story Mind

The Story Mind is at the heart of Dramatica, and everything else about the theory grows out of that. If you don’t buy into it, at least a little, then you’re not going to find much use for the rest of this book. So let’s take look into the Story Mind right off the bat to see if it is worth your while to keep reading…

Simply put, the Story Mind means that we can think of a story as if it were a person. The storytelling style and the subject matter determine the story’s personality, and the underlying dramatic structure determines its psychology.

Now the personality of a story is a touchy-feely thing, while the psychology is a nuts-and-bolts mechanical thing. Let’s consider the personality part first, and then turn our attention to the psychology.

Like anyone you meet, a story has a personality. And what makes up a personality? Well, everything from the subject matter a person talks about to their attitude toward life. Similarly, a story might be about the Old West or Outer Space, and its attitude could be somber, sneaky, lively, hilarious, or any combination of other human qualities.

Is this a useful perspective? Can be. Many writers get so wrapped up in the details of a story that they lose track of the overview. For example, you might spend all kinds of time working out the specifics of each character’s personality yet have your story take a direction that is completely out of character for its personality. But if you step back every once and a while and think of the story as a single person, you can really get a sense of whether or not it is acting in character.

Imagine that you have invited your story to dinner. You have a pleasant conversation with it over the meal. Of course, it is more like a monologue because your story does all the talking – just as it will to your audience or reader.

Your story is a practical joker, or a civil war buff (genre), and it talks about what interests it. It tells you a story about a problem with some endeavor (plot) in which it was engaged. It discusses the moral issues (theme) involved and its point of view on them. It even divulges the conflicting drives (characters) that motivated it while it tried to resolve the difficulties.

You want to ask yourself if it’s story makes sense. If not, you need to work on the logic of your story. Does it feel right, as if the Story Mind is telling you everything, or does it seem like it is holding something back? If so, your story has holes that need filling. And does your story hold your interest for two hours or more while it delivers it’s monologue? If not, it’s going to bore it’s captive audience in the theater, or the reader of its report (your book), and you need to send it back to finishing school for another draft.

Again, authors get so wrapped up in the details that they lose the big picture. But by thinking of your story as a person, you can get a sense of the overall attraction, believability, and humanity of your story before you foist it off on an unsuspecting public.

There’s much more we’ll have to say about the personality of the Story Mind and how to leverage it to your advantage. But, our purpose right now is just to see if this book might be of use to you. So, let’s examine the other side of the Story Mind concept – the story’s psychology as represented in its structure.

The Dramatica theory is primarily concerned with the structure of a story. Everything in that structure represents an aspect of the human mind, almost as if the processes of the mind had been made tangible and projected out externally for the audience to observe.

Do you remember the model kit of the “Visible Man?” It was a 12″ human figure made out of clear plastic so you could see the skeleton and all the organs on the inside. Well that is how the Story Mind works. it takes the processes of the human mind, and turns them into characters, plot, theme, and genre, so we can study them in detail. In this way, an author can provide understanding to an audience of the best way to deal with problems. And, of course, all of this is wrapped up and disguised in the particular subject matter, style, and techniques of the storyteller.

Now this makes it sound as if the real meat of a story, the real people, places, events, and topics, are just window dressing to distract the audience from the serious business of the structure. But that’s not what we’re saying here. In fact, structure and storytelling work side by side, hand in hand, to create an audience/reader experience that transcends the power of either by itself.

Therefore, structure and storytelling are neither completely dependent upon each other, nor are they wholly independent. One structure might be told in a myriad of ways, like West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. Similarly, any given group of characters dealing with a particular realm of subject matter might be wrapped around any number of different structures, like weekly television series.

But let’s get back to the nature of the structure itself and to the elements that make up the Story Mind. If characters, plot, theme, and genre represent aspects of the human mind made tangible, what are they?

Characters represent the conflicting drives of our own minds. For example, in our own minds, our reason and our emotions are often at war with one another. Sometimes what makes the most sense doesn’t feel right at all. And conversely, what feels so right might not make any sense at all. Then again, there are times when both agree and what makes the most sense also feels right on.

Reason and Emotion then, become two archetypal characters in the Story Mind that illustrate that inner conflict that rages within ourselves. And in the structure of stories, just as in our minds, sometimes these two basic attributes conflict, and other times they concur.

Theme, on the other hand, illustrates our troubled value standards. We are all plagued with uncertainties regarding the right attitude to take, the best qualities to emulate, and whether our principles should remain fixed and constant or should bend in context to particular circumstances.

Plot compares the relative value of the methods we might employ within our minds in our attempt to press on through these conflicting points of view on the way toward a mental consensus.

And genre explores the overall attitude of the Story Mind – the points of view we take as we watch the parade of our own thoughts unfold, and the psychological foundation upon which our personality is built.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Throughlines and How to Use Them!

Some time ago I write an article that described the difference between the two basic forms of story structure with the following phrase:

You spin a tale, but you weave a story.

The common expression “spinning a yarn” conjures up the image of a craftsperson pulling together a fluffy pile into a single unbroken thread. An appropriate analogy for the process of telling a tale. A tale is a simple, linear progression – a series of events and emotional experiences that leads from point A to point B, makes sense along the way, and leaves no gaps.

A tale is, perhaps, the simplest form of storytelling structure. The keyword here is “structure.” Certainly, if one is not concerned with structure, one can still relate a conglomeration of intermingled scenarios, each with its own meaning and emotional impact. Many power works of this ilk are considered classics, especially as novels or experimental films.

Nonetheless, if one wants to make a point, you need to create a line that leads from one point to another. A tale, then, is a throughline, leading from the point of departure to the destination on a single path.

A story, on the other hand, is a more complex form of structure. Essentially, a number of different throughlines are layered, one upon another, much as a craftsperson might weave a tapestry. Each individual thread is a tale that is spun, making it complete, unbroken, and possessing its own sequence. But collectively, the linear pattern of colors in all the throughlines form a single, overall pattern in the tapestry, much as the scanning lines on a television come together to create the image of a single frame.

In story structure, then, the sequence of events in each individual throughline cannot be random, but must be designed to do double-duty – both making sense as an unbroken progression and also as pieces of a greater purpose.

You won’t find the word, “throughline” in the dictionary. In fact, as I type this in my word processor, it lists the word as misspelled. Chris Huntley and I used the word when we developed the concept as part of our work creating the Dramatica theory (and software). Since then, we have found it quite the useful moniker to describe an essential component of story structure.

Throughlines then, are any elements of a story that have their own beginnings, middles, and ends. For example, every character’s growth has its own throughline. Typically, this is referred to as a character arc, especially when in reference to the main character. But an “arc” has nothing to do with the growth of a character. Rather, each character’s emotional journey is a personal tale that describe his or her feelings at the beginning of the story, at every key juncture, and at the final reckoning.

Some characters may come to change their natures, others may grow in their resolve. But their mood swings, attitudes, and outlook must follow an unbroken path that is consistent with a series of emotions that a real human being might experience. For example, a person will not instantly snap from a deep depression into joyous elation without some intervening impact, be it unexpected news, a personal epiphany, or even the ingestion of great quantities of chocolate. In short, each character throughline must be true to itself, and also must take into consideration the effect of outside influences.

Now that we know what a throughline is, how can we use it? Well, right off the bat, it helps us break even the most complex story structures down into a collection of much simpler elements. Using the throughline concept, we can far more easily create a story structure, and can also ensure that every element is complete and that our story has no gaps or inconsistencies.

Before the throughline concept, writers traditionally would haul out the old index cards (or their equivalent) and try to create a single sequential progression for their stories from Act I, Scene I to the climax and final denouement.

An unfortunate byproduct of this “single throughline” approach is that it tended to make stories far more simplistic than they actually needed to be since the author would think of the sequential structure as being essentially a simple tale, rather than a layered story.

In addition, by separating the throughlines it is far easier to see if there are any gaps in the chain. Using a single thread approach to a story runs the risk of having a powerful event in one throughline carry enough dramatic weight to pull the story along, masking missing pieces in other throughlines that never get filled. This, in fact, is part of what makes some stories seem disconnected from the real world, trite, or melodramatic.

By using throughlines it is far easier to create complex themes and layered messages. Many authors think of stories as having only one theme (if that). A theme is just a comparison between two human qualities to see which is better in the given situations of the story.

For example, a story might wish to deal with greed. But, greed by itself is just a topic. It doesn’t become a theme until you weigh it against its counterpoint, generosity, and then “prove” which is the better quality of spirit to possess by showing how they each fare over the course of the story. One story’s message might be that generosity is better, but another story might wish to put forth that in a particular circumstance, greed is actually better.

By seeing the exploration of greed as one throughline and the exploration of generosity as another, each can be presented in its own progression. In so doing, the author avoids directly comparing one to the other (as this leads to a ham-handed and preachy message), but instead can balance one against the other so that the evidence builds as to which is better, but you still allow the audience to come to its own conclusion, thereby involving them in the message and making it their own. Certainly, a more powerful approach.

Plot, too, is assisted by multiple throughlines. Subplots are often hard to create and hard to follow. By dealing with each independently and side by side, you can easily see how they interrelate and can spot and holes or inconsistencies.

Subplots usually revolve around different characters. By placing a character’s growth throughline alongside his or her subplot throughline, you can make sure their mental state is always reflective of their inner state, and that they are never called upon to act in a way that is inconsistent with their mood or attitude at the time.

There are many other advantages to the use of throughlines as well. So many, that the Dramatica theory (and software) incorporate throughlines into the whole approach. Years later, when I developed StoryWeaver at my own company, throughlines became an integral part of the step-by-step story development approach it offers.

How do you begin to use throughlines for your stories? The first step is to get yourself some index cards, either 3×5 or 5×7. As you develop your story, rather than simply lining them all up in order, you take each sequential element of your story and create its own independent series of cards showing every step along the way.

Identify each separate kind of throughline with a different color. For example, you could make character-related throughlines blue (or use blue ink, or a blue dot) and make plot related throughlines green. This way, when you assemble them all together into your overall story structure, you can tell at a glance which elements are which, and even get a sense of which points in your story are character heavy or plot or theme heavy.

Then, identify each throughline within a group by its own mark, such as the character’s name, or some catch-phrase that describes a particular sub-plot, such as, “Joe’s attempt to fool Sally (or more simply, the “Sally Caper.”). That way, even when you weave them all together into a single storyline, you can easily find and work with the components of any given throughline. Be sure also to number the cards in each throughline in sequence, so if you accidentally mix them up or decide to present them out of order for storytelling purposes, such as in a flashback or flash forward, you will know the order in which they actually need to occur in the “real time” of the story.

Once you get started, its easy to see the value of the throughline approach, and just as easy to come up with all kinds of uses for it.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Your Story as a Person

All too often, authors get mired in the details of a story, trying to cram everything in and make all the pieces fit.  Characters are then seen only as individuals, so they often unintentionally overlap each other’s dramatic functions. The genre is depersonalized so that the author trying to write within a genre ends up fashioning a formula story and breaking no new ground. The plot becomes an exercise in logistics, and the theme emerges as a black and white pontification that hits the audience like a brick.

What’s more, you have days, months, perhaps even years to prepare your story to exude enough charisma to sustain just one 2 or 3 hour conversation with your readers or audience, and they expect all that effort to result in a tightly packed story holds their interest, transports them to a world of imagination, and also makes sense along the way.

One of the best ways to pump that kind of energy and detail in your story is think of your story as a person you’ve invited to dinner, and to let you story tell you all about itself over the meal.

Here’s how it might go.  Let’s call your story “Joe.” You know that Joe is something of an authority on a subject in which your are interested. You offer him an appetizer, and between bites of pate, he tells you of his adventures and experiences, opinions and perspectives.

Over soup, he describes all the different drives and motivations that were pulling him forward or holding him back. These drives are your characters, and they are the aspects of Joe’s personality.

While munching on a spinach salad, Joe describes his efforts to resolve the problems that grew out of his journey. This is your plot, and all reasonable efforts need to be covered. You note what he is saying, just an an audience will, to be sure there are no flaws in his logic. There can also be no missing approaches that obviously should have been tried, or Joe will sound like an idiot.

Over the main course of poached quail eggs and Coho salmon (on a bed of grilled seasonal greens), Joe elucidates the moral dilemmas he faced, how he considered what was good and bad, better or worse. This is your theme, and all sides of the issues must be explored. If Joe is one-sided in this regard, he will come off as bigoted or closed-minded. Rather than being swayed by his conclusions, you (and an audience) will find him boorish and will disregard his passionate prognostications.

Dessert is served and you make time, between spoonfuls of chocolate soufflé (put in the oven before the first course to ready by the end of dinner) to consider your dinner guest. Was he entertaining? Did he make sense? Did he touch on topical issues with light-handed thoughtfulness? Did he seem centered, together, and focused? And most important, would you invite him to dinner again? If you can’t answer yes to each of these questions, you need to send your story back to finishing school (a re-write), for he is not ready to entertain an audience.

Your story is a person.  It is your child. You gave birth to it, you nurtured it, you have hopes for it. You try to instill your values, to give it the tools it needs to succeed and to point it in the right direction. But, like all children, there comes a time where you have to let go of who you wanted it to be and to love and accept who it has become.

When your story entertains an audience, you will not be there to explain its faults or compensate for its shortcomings. You must be sure your child is prepared to stand alone, to do well for itself.  If you are not sure, you must send it back to school.

Personifying a story allows an author to step back from the role of creator and to experience the story as an audience will. This is not to say that each and every detail in not important, but rather that the details are no more or less important than the overall impact of the story as a whole.

~~Melanie Anne Phillips

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Finding Inspiration for Your Novel

We all know that writing is not just about assembling words, but also about assembling ideas. When we actually sit down to write, we may have our ideas all worked out in advance or we may have no idea what we want to say – just a desire to say something.

Some of us must labor on projects that we hate, but which have been assigned to us. Others may simply be in love with the notion of being a writer, but haven’t a thing to say. Regardless of why we are writing, we all share the desire to create an expression that has meaning to our audience.

And just who is that audience? It might be only ourselves. Often I have written material as a means of getting something off my chest, out of my thoughts, or perhaps just to get a grip on nebulous feelings or issues by forcing myself to put them into concrete terms.

Some of what I write this way has actually turned out to be salable as essays on personal growth or insights into meaningful emotional experiences. But, most of what I have written for my audience of one remains with me. Perhaps it is too personal to share, or just too personal to have meaning to anyone else.

When I write for myself, it is seldom a story. More often than not, it isn’t even a tale. Rather, it is a snippet of my real experiences, or a flight of fancy, such as the words “red ground rover.” What does this mean? I have no idea. But I do know how it feels to me.

In fact, popping out a few nonsense but passionate words is a trick I often use to get a story going. I’ll write something like the above almost randomly. Then I’ll ask myself, “Is the ground red with some one or something roving over it, or the whole thing a nick name for a bird dog or a mail carrier in the outback?

Blurting out something that has no conscious intent behind it can be a useful trick in overcoming writer’s block. It seems that writer’s block most often occurs when we are intentionally trying to determine what we want to talk about. But, when we just put something forth and then try to figure out what it might mean, a myriad of possibilities suggest themselves.

If you like, take a moment and try it. Just jot down a few nonsense words to create a phrase. Then, consider what they might mean. Rather than attempting to create, you are now in analysis mode, the inverse emotional state of trying to produce something out of nothing. You’ll probably be surprised at how many interpretations of your phrase readily come to mind.

Imagine, then, if you were to take one of those interpretations and build on it. In my example, let me pick the first interpretation – that “red ground rover” means someone or some thing that roves over red ground. Well, let’s see…. Mars is red, and the Martian Rover at one time examined the planet. Looks like I’m starting a science fiction story.

But what to do next? How about another nonsense phrase: “minion onion manner house.” What in the world does that mean? Let’s tie it in to the first phrase. Suppose there is some underling (minion) who is hunting for wild onions on Mars (onions being so suited to the nutrients in the soil that they grow wild in isolated patches). The underling works at the Manner House of a wealthy Martian frontier settler, but is known as Red Ground Rover because of his free-time onion prospecting activities.

Now, these phrases weren’t planned as examples for this book. To be fair, I just blurted them out as I suggest you do. Just as we see pictures in ink blots, animals in the clouds, and mythic figures in the constellations, we impose our desire for patterns even on the meaningless. And in so doing, we often find unexpected inspiration.

Even if none of our ideas are suited to what we are attempting to write, we have successfully dislodged our minds from the vicious cycle of trying to figure out what to say. And, returning to the specific task of our story, we are often surprised to find that writer’s block has vanished while we were distracted.

Now you may have noticed that in the example we just explored, there are elements of Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre. The Genre appears to be a variety of Science fiction. The Theme would seem to revolve around the class system on a frontier Mars and the implications of interjecting one natural ecosystem willy nilly into another. The plot involves an individual out to better his lot by working outside the system, and whatever difficulties that may create for him. And, we have at least two characters already suggested – the Red Ground Rover explicitly and the Lord or Lady of the Manner House implicitly (plus whatever servants or staff they may employ.)

This is a good illustration of the fact that when we seek to impose patterns on our world (real or imagined) we actually project the image of our mind’s operating system on what we consider. Characters form themselves as avatars of our motivations. Theme intrudes as representations of our values. Plot outlines the problem solving mechanisms we employ. And Genre describes the overall experience, from setting to style.

We cannot help but project these aspects of ourselves on our work. The key to inspiration is to develop the ability to see the patterns that we have subliminally put there. Almost as important is knowing when to be spontaneous and when to analyze the results, looking for the beginnings of a structure.

If you are a structuralist writer, you’d probably prefer to have the whole story worked out either on paper (or at least in your head) before you ever sat down to write. If you are an inspirationist writer, you probably wouldn’t have a clue what you were going to write when you began. You’d sit down, bop around your material and eventually find your story somewhere in the process, as you wrote. The final story would be worked out through multiple drafts. Most writer’s fall somewhere in between these two extremes. An idea pops into our head for a clever bit of action, an interesting line of dialog, or a topic we’d like to explore. Maybe it comes from something we are experiencing, have experienced, see on television, read in the newspaper, or perhaps it just pops up into our conscious mind unbidden.

Almost immediately a number of other associated ideas often come to mind. If there are enough of them, a writer begins to think, “story.” We then ponder the ideas with purpose, seeing where they will lead and what else we might dig up and add to the mix.

Eventually we have gathered enough material to satisfy our own personal assessment that we actually have the beginnings of a story and are ready to begin serious work on it. Then, structuralists set about working out the details and inspirationists set about finding the details as they go along.

Yet there is a problem for both kinds of writers. What holds all these ideas together is a common subject matter. But just because they all deal with the same issues does not mean they all belong in the same store.

It is common for authors to become frustrated trying to make all the pieces fit, when in fact it may be impossible for them to all fit. Perhaps several different combinations can be worked out that gather most of the material into the semblance of a structure. But odds are there will be a significant amount of the material that gets left out no matter how you try to include it. Even if each potential structure leaves out a different part and incorporates material left out in another potential structure, there is no single structure that includes all.

Like trying to pick up chicken fat on a plate with the flat side of a fork, we chase a structure all around our subject matter until we run ourselves ragged. Then we stare at the paper or the screen, realizing we’ve tried every combination we can think of and nothing works. It is this dilemma we call writer’s block.

It is much easier when we realize that stories are not life; they are about life. In the real world, we group our experiences together by subject matter, not by the underlying structure that describes it. For example, we are more likely to see the issues regarding the disciplining of our children as being lumped into one category of consideration whereas getting chewed out by our boss is another.

In truth, if our child tells a lie, it is not necessarily the same issue at all as when he or she doesn’t do the assigned homework. But, not doing homework may have a much closer structural connection to our getting in trouble with our boss because we failed to file all of the expense reports he requested.

We can avoid writer’s block. We can recognize that the material we create at the beginning of our efforts is not the story itself, but merely the inspiration for the story. Then we can stop chasing our mental tails and pick the structure that is most acceptable rather than cease writing until we can find the impossible structure that would pull in all the material.

Based on this understanding, it is not hard to see that we come to Characters, Plot, Theme, and Genre not on a structural basis but on a subject matter basis as well. And, there is nothing wrong with that. As was said in the beginning of this book, we don’t write because of the desire for a perfect structure. We write because we are passionate about our subject matter. Yet sooner or later, the structure needs to be there to support our passions.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Finding Your Creative Time

You sit in your favorite writing chair, by the window, on the porch, or in the study. You wear your favorite tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches, or your blue jeans, or your “creative shoes.” You look around at the carefully crafted environment you spent months arranging to trigger your inspiration. Reaching eagerly forward you place your hands on the keyboard or grasp the pen or pencil, and… Nothing happens.

You look around the room again, out the window, sip your coffee, cross or uncross your legs, finger your lucky charm, reach forward and… Still nothing

What in blazes is wrong? You know you are full of inspiration; you can feel it! Why the ideas were flowing like a deluge just this morning, last night, or yesterday. Frustrated, yet determined, you try several more times to get the words to flow, but to no avail. “Good pen name, ” you think,” Noah Vale.”

So what’s the problem? How can you feel all primed to write, sit in your favorite environment with everything just perfect and still nothing comes?

Perhaps the problem is not where you are trying to write, but when!

Each of us has a creative time of day and a logistic time of day. Never heard of this? I didn’t discover it until quite recently myself. As a writer, I always thought creativity came and went with the Muse, sometimes bringing inspiration, sometimes spiriting it away. Like most writers, I had found that creating a quiet refuge, a creative sanctuary, increased the frequency and intensity of visits from the Muse. What I didn’t know was that the Muse keeps a schedule: she comes and goes like clockwork.

Here’s my scenario and see how it might apply to you… I’ve always felt guilty when I write – guilty that I’m not out cleaning something, building something, visiting someone, or even just getting out in the real world and living a little. But writing always draws me back. I find it therapeutic, cathartic, invigorating, stimulating, and, well, just plain fun. Sometimes… no, make that ALL the time, it’s as good as… no, make that BETTER THAN sex! And food! And earning a living! I often feel (when writing) like that rat with the wire connected to his pleasure center who kept pushing the stimulation button until it starved to death because it forgot to eat!

Well, the urge to write is there all the time. But, because I feel guilty I try to get all of my chores done I the morning, clearing the way to spend the afternoon or evening writing guilt free. But then I sit there watching the sun go down, full of the desire to write but completely unable to do so.

Recently, however, I had the good fortune of actually finishing all my chores the night before. I found myself with the whole morning free and guilt-free as well! At first, I was just going to goof off, do some reading, watch some TV, but then that old Writing Bug took a nip of my soul and off I was to my study to pound the keys. And you know what? The words just spilled out like secrets from the town gossip! This was wonderful! What an experience! I was pelting out the thoughts without the least guilt and without the slightest hesitation. I was flying through my own mind and playing it out on the keys! It felt very much like when I play music.

But why was this happening? I was truly afraid the feeling would go as quickly as it came and I would be lost in the creative doldrums again. In fact, it did fade with time – not abruptly, but gradually… slipping away until it was no more. But it did not leave a vacuum. In its place was a rising motivation to clean something, build something, visit someone, or get out in the real world and live!

Then, it hit me… Perhaps my creativity does not spring from where I write, but when! Perhaps the morning is my creative time and the afternoon, my practical time! I experimented. Try to write in the afternoon, the evening, at night, the morning. Quickly I discovered that if I felt free from the guilt of non-practical activity, I could write in the morning as if I were designed to do nothing else! But no matter how many chores I might accomplish in the morning, by the time the sun dropped below the horizon, my inspiration dropped away as well.

In fact, my creative time seems tied to the sun. For me, it brightens in the morning, peaks around noon, and fades away to nothing at dusk. Interestingly, I recently moved to the mountains and dusk comes early hear in the canyon this time of year – far earlier than when I lived down in the flatlands of the city.

Looking back over the years, I could see that my daily creative cycle depended upon the direct rays of the sun, not the time of day. And all those years I tried to get the practical stuff done in the morning to avoid guilt didn’t help my creativity but hindered it!

Lately, I just know that when the sun goes down it’s time to get practical. As a result, I know in the morning that I’ll accomplish real world logistic things later in the day. That eliminates guilt because the work part is already scheduled. And, that frees my mind to play with words all morning long.

When is your creative time? Just being a “morning person” or a “night person” isn’t enough because that only determines when you have your most energy. But what KIND of energy? Perhaps you are more energetic when you are working on the practical, so you think that just because you get your greatest energy at night you are a night person. This is not necessarily so! Suppose your creative side is NEVER the most energetic part of you, but is strongest in the morning. Then you are a Practical night person and a Creative morning person.

Your Creative Time might be any span of hours in the day. Or, it might even be more than one time. For example, you might be most inspired from mid-morning until noon and again from mid-afternoon to dusk. Everyone is a bit different. The key is to find your Creative Time and then adjust your daily schedule to fit it. It is important to remember to avoid guilt feelings while trying to determine your Creative Time. To do this, don’t just focus on when you are going to try writing, but make sure to also schedule other time to concentrate on chores. This way your “reading” of the level of your creativity will not be tainted by negative feelings of guilt, and you should arrive at more accurate appraisals.

After a week or so of trying different combinations, you should be able to determine the best creative and most practical times of the day. From that point forward, you will almost certainly find inspiration is present more than it is absent, and writing becomes far more joyful a process and less like work.

But there is a little bit more… Our lives are not just creative or practical. In fact, there are four principal emotionally driven aspects to our days: Creative, Practical, Reflective, and Social.

We need our Reflective time to be alone, to mull the events of our life over our minds eye, to let our thoughts wander where they will: to daydream. We need our Social time to recharge our batteries in the company of others, to express ourselves to our friends, to de-focus from our own subjective view by standing in the shoes of those around us.

I’ve found for myself that Saturday is a Social day for me, and that Sunday a Reflective day. I don’t do much of either on the weekdays at all. Whether this is nurture, nature, or something else altogether I can’t say, and to be truthful, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I have come to recognize it.

When is your Reflective time? Do you have some every day, just on weekdays, only on weekends, or some combination of these? How about your Social time? Do you ever feel guilty wanting to be alone? Do you ever feel deprived because you ARE alone? Part of these feelings may come from trying to do each of these activities in times that (for your) are actually geared toward the other.

Once you have mapped our your Creative, Practical, Reflective, and Social cycles, you’ll find that you get so much more accomplished, and with so much more fulfillment. All four aspects of your life will improve, and the improvement in each will remove emotional burdens and therefore increase the energy in each of the other three!

In short, you can be in phase with your emotional cycles, or out of phase. The more you schedule your activities to match the flow of your feelings, the more your life experience will buoy itself higher and higher with less and less effort. And best of all, the more inspiration you will find when you sit in your tweed jacket and reach for the keyboard.

Melanie Anne Phillips

This article is excerpted from the book:

How to Beat Writer’s Block

 

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What’s in Your Story’s Mind?

As with people, your story’s mind has different aspects. These are represented in your Genre, Theme, Plot, and Characters. Genre is the overall personality of the Story Mind. Theme represents its troubled value standards. Plot describes the methods the Story Mind uses as it tries to work out its problems. Characters are the conflicting drives of the Story Mind.

Genre

To an audience, every story has a distinct personality, as if it were a person rather than a work of fiction. When we first encounter a person or a story, we tend to classify it in broad categories. For stories, we call the category into which we place its overall personality its Genre.

These categories reflect whatever attributes strike us as the most notable. With people this might be their profession, interests, attitudes, style, or manner of expression, for example. With stories this might be their setting, subject matter, point of view, atmosphere, or storytelling.

We might initially classify someone as a star-crossed lover, a cowboy, or a practical joker who likes to scare people. Similarly, we might categorize a story as a Romance, a Western, or a Horror story.

As with the people we meet, some stories are memorable and others we forget as soon as they are gone. Some are the life of the party, but get stale rather quickly. Some initially strike us as dull, but become familiar to the point we look forward to seeing them again. This is all due to what someone has to say and how they go about saying it.

The more time we spend with specific stories or people the less we see them as generalized types and the more we see the traits that define them as individuals. So, although we might initially label a story as a particular Genre, we ultimately come to find that every story has its own unique personality that sets it apart from all others in that Genre, in at least a few notable respects.

Theme

Everyone has value standards, and the Story Mind has them as well. Some people are pig-headed and see issues as cut and dried. Others are wishy-washy and flip-flop on the issues. The most sophisticated people and stories see the pros and cons of both sides of a moral argument and present their conclusions in shades of gray, rather than in simple black & white. All these outlooks can be reflected in the Story Mind.

No matter what approach or which specific value is explored, the key structural point about value standards is that they are all comprised of two parts: the issues and one’s attitude toward them. It is not enough to only have a subject (abortion, gay rights, or greed) for that says nothing about whether they are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Similarly, attitudes (I hate, I believe in, or I don’t approve of) are meaningless until they are applied to something.

An attitude is essentially a point of view. The issue is the object under observation. When an author determines what he wants to look at it and from where he wants it to be seen, he creates perspective. It is this perspective that comprises a large part of the story’s message.

Still, simply stating one’s attitudes toward the issues does little to convince someone else to see things the same way. Unless the author’s message is preaching to the audience’s choir, he’s going to need to convince them to share his attitude. To do this, he will need to make a thematic argument over the course of the story which will slowly dislodge the audience from their previously held beliefs and reposition them so that they adopt the author’s beliefs by the time the story is over.

Plot

Novice authors often assume the order in which events transpire in a story is the order in which they are revealed to the audience, but these are not necessarily the same. Through exposition, an author unfolds the story, dropping bits and pieces that the audience rearranges until the true meaning of the story becomes clear. This technique involves the audience as an active participant in the story rather than simply being a passive observer. It also reflects the way people go about solving their own problems.

When people try to work out ways of dealing with their problems they tend to identify and organize the pieces before they assemble them into a plan of action. So, they often jump around the timeline, filling in the different steps in their plan out of sequence as they gather additional information and draw new conclusions.

In the Story Mind, both of these attributes are represented as well. We refer to the internal logic of the story – the order in which the events in the problem solving approach actually occurred – as the Plot. The order in which the Story Mind deals with the events as it develops its problem solving plan is called Storyweaving.

If an author blends these two aspects together, it is very easy miss holes in the internal logic because they are glossed over by smooth exposition. By separating them, an author gains complete control of the progression of the story as well as the audience’s progressive experience

Characters

If Characters represent the conflicting drives in our own minds yet they each have a personal point of view, where is out sense of self represented in the Story Mind? After all, every real person has a unique point of view that defines his or her own self-awareness.

In fact, there is one special character in a story that represents the Story Mind’s identity. This character, the Main Character, functions as the audience position in the story. He, she or it is the eye of the story – the story’s ego.

In an earlier tip I described how we might look at characters by their dramatic function, as seen from the perspective of a General on a hill. But what if we zoomed down and stood in the shoes of just one of those characters, we would have a much more personal view of the story from the inside looking out.

But which character should be our Main Character? Most often authors select the Protagonist to represent the audience position in the story. This creates the stereotypical Hero who both drives the plot forward and also provides the personal view of the audience. There is nothing wrong with this arrangement but it limits the audience to always experiencing what the quarterback feels, never the linemen or the water boy.

In real life we are more often one of the supporting characters in an endeavor than we are the leader of the effort. If you have always made your Protagonist the Main Character, you have been limiting your possibilities.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Why a “Story Mind?”

The Story Mind concept is a way of visualizing story structure that sees every story as having a mind of its own and the characters within it as facets of that overall mind.  So, one character represents the Intellect of the Story Mind and another functions as its Skepticism, for example.

Of course, this is just at a structural level – the mechanics of the story.  Naturally, characters also have to be real people in their own right so the readers or audience can identify with them.

But, structurally, the archetypes we see in stories are very like the basic mental attributes we all possess, made tangible as avatars of the Story Mind’s thought processes.

Well, that’s a pretty radical concept.  So before asking any writer to invest his or her time in a concept as different as the Story Mind, it is only fair to provide an explanation of why such a thing should exist. To do this, let us look briefly into the nature of communication between an author and an audience and see if there is supporting evidence to suggest that character archetypes are facets of a greater Story Mind.

When an author tells a tale, he simply describes a series of events that both makes sense and feels right. As long as there are no breaks in the logic and no mis-steps in the emotional progression, the structure of the tale is sound.

Now, from a structural standpoint, it really doesn’t matter what the tale is about, who the characters are, or how it turns out. The tale is just a truthful or fictional journey that starts in one situation, travels a straight or twisting path, and ends in another situation.

The meaning of a tale amounts to a statement that if you start from “here,” and take “this” path, you’ll end up “here.” The message of a tale is that a particular path is a good or bad one, depending on whether the ending point is better or worse than the point of departure.

This structure is easily seen in the vast majority of familiar fairy “tales.” Tales have been used since the first storytellers practiced their craft. In fact, many of the best selling novels and most popular motion pictures of our own time are simple tales, expertly told.

In a structural sense, tales have power in that they can encourage or discourage audience members from taking particular actions in real life. The drawback of a tale is that it speaks only in regard to that specific path.

But in fact, there are many paths that might be taken from a given point of departure. Suppose an author wants to address those as well, to cover all the alternatives. What if the author wants to say that rather than being just a good or bad path, a particular course of action the best or worst path of all that might have been taken?

Now the author is no longer making a simple statement, but a “blanket” statement. Such a blanket statement provides no “proof” that the path in question is the best or worst, it simply says so. Of course, an audience is not likely to be moved to accept such a bold claim, regardless of how well the tale is told.

In the early days of storytelling, an author related the tale to his audience in person. Should he aspire to wield more power over his audience and elevate his tale to become a blanket statement, the audience would no doubt cry, “Foul!” and demand that he prove it. Someone in the audience might bring up an alternative path that hadn’t been included in the tale.

The author might then counter that rebuttal to his blanket statement by describing how the path proposed by the audience was either not as good or better (depending on his desired message) than the path he did include.

One by one, he could disperse any challenges to his tale until he either exhausted the opposition or was overcome by an alternative he couldn’t dismiss.

But as soon as stories began to be recorded in media such as song ballads, epic poems, novels, stage plays, screenplays, teleplays, and so on, the author was no longer present to defend his blanket statements.

As a result, some authors opted to stick with simple tales of good and bad, but others pushed the blanket statement tale forward until the art form evolved into the “story.”

A story is a much more sophisticated form of communication than a tale, and is in fact a revolutionary leap forward in the ability of an author to make a point. Simply put, when creating a story, and author starts with a tale of good or bad, expands it to a blanket statement of best or worst, and then includes all the reasonable alternatives to the path he is promoting to preclude any counters to his message. In other words, while a tale is a statement, a story becomes an argument.

Now this puts a huge burden of proof on an author. Not only does he have to make his own point, but he has to prove (within reason) that all opposing points are less valid. Of course, this requires than an author anticipate any objections an audience might raise to his blanket statement. To do this, he must look at the situation described in his story and examine it from every angle anyone might happen to take in regard to that issue.

By incorporating all reasonable (and valid emotional) points of view regarding the story’s message in the structure of the story itself, the author has not only defended his argument, but has also included all the points of view the human mind would normally take in examining that central issue. In effect, the structure of the story now represents the whole range of considerations a person would make if fully exploring that issue.

In essence, the structure of the story as a whole now represents a map of the mind’s problem solving processes, and (without any intent on the part of the author) has become a Story Mind.

And so, the Story Mind concept is not really all that radical. It is simply a short hand way of describing that all sides of a story must be explored to satisfy an audience. And, and if this is done, the structure of the story takes on the nature of a single character.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Learn more about the Story Mind

 

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