Clear Your Mind Before Writing

When beginning a new novel, writers are often faced with one of two initial problems that hinders them right from the get go.  One – sometimes you have a story concept but can’t think of what to do with it.  In other words, you know what you want to write about, but the characters and plot elude you.  Two – sometimes your head is swimming with so many ideas that you haven’t got a clue how to pull them all together into a single unified story.

Fortunately, the solution to both is the same.  In each case, you need to clear your mind of what you do know about your story to make room for what you’d like to know.

If your problem is a story concept but no content, writing it down will help focus your thinking.  In fact, once your idea for a novel is out of your head and on paper or screen, you begin to see it objectively, not just subjectively.

Often just having an external look at your idea will spur other ideas that were not apparent when you were simply mulling it over.  And at the very least, it will clarify what it is you desire to create.

If, on the other hand, your problem is that all the little thoughts, notions or concepts that sparked the idea there might be a book in there somewhere are swirling around in a chaotic maelstrom….  well, then writing them all down will make room in your mind to start organizing that material by topic, category, sequence, or structural element.

For those whose cognitive cup runneth over, the issue is that one is afraid to forget any of these wonderful ideas, or to lose track of any of the tenuous or gossamer connections among them.  And so, we keeping stirring them around and around in our minds, refreshing our memory of them, but leaving us running in circles chasing our creative tales.

By writing down everything your are thinking, not as a story per se, but just in the same fragmented glimpses in which they are presenting themselves to you, you’ll be able to let them go, one by one, until your mental processor has retreated from the edge of memory overload and you can begin to pull your material together into the beginnings of a true proto-story.

Whether you are plagued by issue one or two, don’t try to fashion a full-fledged story at this stage while you are jotting down your notions.  That would simply add an unnecessary burden to your efforts that would hobble your forward progress and likely leave you frustrated by the daunting process of trying to see your finished story before you’ve even developed it.

Sure, before you write you’re going to need that overview of where you are heading to guide you to “The End”.  But that comes later.  For now, in this step, just write down your central concept and/or all the transient inspirations you are juggling in your head.

This tip was excerpted from our free online book,

Write Your Novel Step By Step

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Narrative in the Real World

Why do I post all these articles and videos on Story Structure?

Well, aside from it being my career for the past quarter of a century, narrative theory has shown me that people think in narratives, but we also manufacture narratives in the real world from too little information and hold them to be true.

We search for meaning, create a narrative to connect the dots, but they we assume we have the meaning, not realizing there may be other narratives that would equally explain those few points we actually observed.

In our relationships, in our politics, in our own hearts and minds we build narratives that in time become resistant to change. Eventually, even if a better narrative comes along that explains more and puts things in a more accurate context, we reject it out of hand because our trusted narrative is held as true.

And so we are convinced our enemy means us harm, that our internal angsts cannot be resolved, that our associates are insensitive or up to no good.

But the real harm occurs when we act on these convictions and feel justified in getting back at others or, at worst, at taking first strikes against them because we “know” the ill will they hold against us.

This I have learned from my twenty-five year study of narrative, and specifically from my work with my partner in creating the Dramatica theory of narrative structure.

Dramatica theory is a model of how the mind constructs narratives and becomes mired in misconceptions. But is also an instruction manual for discovering inaccuracies in our views and in adjusting our narratives continually to account for new information and new understandings.

Dramatica holds the key to resolving differences with others, to becoming closer to our loved ones, and to finding peace within ourselves.

Up to now, I have focused my work on explaining narrative in fiction, for that is where Dramatica was first discovered and refined. In posting these articles and videos it had been my hope that the application of these insights would be perceived by my audience and applied to their own lives.

Alas, very few have made that connection and, after a quarter of a century of sharing what I’ve learned, there is no general awareness of the power of Dramatica to effect change in oneself and one’s interactions.

And so, having described the use of narrative in fiction with as much depth and breadth as is reasonably possible, I have determined this day to take the plunge and shift my focus to an exploration of narrative in the real world.

Though this new area of inquiry draws on all of my experience, it is essentially a whole new career for me as it applies this knowledge in a completely different realm.

Posting real world narrative articles and videos is not appropriate to all my many channels, pages, blogs, and web sites that deal with the construction and development of novels and screenplays. So, you won’t see this new work everywhere I distribute.

What you will see is the occasional link to evolving material as I build whole new sites and avenues of distribution.

For many years, I have felt that this is my true calling, and all my work in fiction was simply preparation for the journey to share the means to make a better life, not only for ourselves, but for all with whom we relate.

Perhaps it is grandiose and overly optimistic, but it is my belief that the more we grasp the reasoning behind our own narratives and those of others as well, the less judgmental we will become in our conflicts, the more tolerant we will become of differing viewpoints, and greater will be our understanding of ourselves as individuals and as members of the human tribe.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

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Can There Be More Than One Protagonist In A Story?

A writer recently asked:

I write Western genre screenplays. And I love to use Dramatica Pro. In Western Genre sometime I will run into more than one  protagonist more than one antagonist . I name my antagonist in Dramatica Pro and then when I try to name another antagonist it will not allow me to go any further down the road in story. Will there be another advanced software in Dramatica Pro that will allow me to name more than one antagonist and let me go on with my story and continue to use Dramatica Pro?

Here’s my reply:

There is only one protagonist and antagonist in a story, but there may be more than one story in a single book or movie.

The protagonist is defined as the character who is leading the effort to achieve the Story Goal, and the antagonist is trying to prevent him from doing that.

The protagonist and antagonist represent initiative and reticence in our own minds – the force to effect change and the force to prevent change or to embrace or return to the status quo.

There can be a protagonistic group where, as an assembly they all function as a single protagonist, but if there were just two protagonists, they would both have to be the prime mover of the quest to the goal and they both can’t be, by definition. Or, each could have a separate Story Goal that affected everyone, but then you really have two stories.

In a nut shell, here’s why narrative works that way. Narratives reflect how people interact in real life. As individuals, we all have a sense of initiative, reason, emotion, skepticism and so on. And in solving personal problems we use all of these to try and find the solution.

But when we come together as a group toward a common purpose, we quickly self-organize into specialities, where one person becomes the Voice of Reason, another as the resident Skeptic and another as the Prime Operative who pushes everyone else forward toward completion of the group’s goal.

The “specialists” are represented in narrative as the archetypes, and each is just one facet of all the traits an individual has, yet each function just as we do in groups, focusing on just one aspect of the problem solving so that, collectively, the group can go into more detail and thought than if we were all general practitioners, each trying to be a jack of all trades (as we have to do for our personal issues.

Now the protagonist in the group – the one leading the effort – does not have to also be the main character. The main character is the group’s identity – the character who represents the spirit of the group – its personality in a sense. Sometimes the leader of the effort is also heart and soul of the group, in which case you have a typical hero who not only does the job, but also has to grapple with a personal issue – a decision about his own value standards that can make or break the overall effort depending on how he decides to see things, often in a leap of faith, as when Scrooge changes in A Christmas Carol.

So, only one protagonist or antagonist or reason archetype or emotion archetype, etc. per narrative.

BUT, often stories have sub-narratives built around some of the archetypes. Everyone has a story of their own. And so does every character in an overall story. We just don’t always choose to sell those “sub-stories” because we want to focus on the principals and not clutter things up.

But, you can take any character and create a sub-story around a personal goal in which he is the protagonist and main character in his own personal narrative that is not at all the issue the whole group is dealing with. This sub-story might be completely independent of the main story, or it might be hinged so that events in a character’s personal narrative are so potent than it causes the character to step out of his function in the overall story in a surprising way.

After all, our own personal narratives tend to be more important to us than the narrative of the overall group with whom we are associated.

So, with sub-stories, it can seem as if there are two protagonists in the story and even two antagonists, but they aren’t really in the same story but in a sub-story in the same overall “world” you’ve created in your story telling – your story universe.

I hope this helps provide some new ways in which to think about your characters and plot.

Let me know if you have any additional questions and may the Muse be with you!

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

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Storytelling and Cognitive Modeling

Recently, an associate suggested a tie-in between cognitive modeling of cultural storytelling preferences and Dramatica that might, someday, provide guidelines for “writing the next Star Wars.”

This, for me, opened the whole discussion regarding the relationship between story structure and storytelling – specifically in this case, between our Dramatica theory of narrative and cognitive modeling of audience reactions to stories.

Here is my reply to my associate:

To me, it is important to think of stories as having layers:

The first layer is the structure

The second layer is the subject matter

The third layer is the storytelling style

The fourth layer is the target audience, which will be pre-primed with its own expectations.

In Dramatica theory, Chris and I have named these stages:

1.  Storyforming

2.  Story Encoding

3.  Story Weaving

4.  Story Reception.

Returning to my earlier analogy where I referred to the Dramatica model as the DNA of story structure, these stages have the following correlation:

1.  Species Genome (human, house cat)

2.  Individual Genetics (height, hair color, predilection toward specific diseases.

3.  Clothing, body building, style, and presentation

4.  Surrounding culture, societal norms and expectations, etc.

In terms of characters:

1.  Psychology (The underlying functioning of the mind below the conscious mind – i.e. neuroses, biases)

2.  Personality (The true nature of one’s identity – charismatic, timid, natural leader, joker)

3.  Persona (The image we wish to project to others – i.e. appearing confident, though really fearful)

4.  Presentation or Perception (How the persona is tailored to a particular audience and/or how the audience is pre-loaded to perceive the persona).

Dramatica theory and the story engine function only at the first of these stages – creating a map of the dramatic potentials of a story or a character – the psychology of the story mind or the character mind.

Chris and I have written extensively on the other three in order to provide a means of connecting the raw framework of narrative psychology to the finished product of stories as they are presented to an audience.

And it is in this realm that the suggestions made in your note might be extremely useful.

What makes Dramatica unique is that all previous attempts to understand story structure looked at the way people were dressed and trying to determine from it the underlying psychology.  While there can be some generalized correlation between, for example, people who wear red and a given neurosis, Dramatica can map the psychology directly.

Yet that map is sterile and bears no passion with it.

And so, while essential for creating a sound foundation that is a true functional narrative, Dramatica can never provide all the emotive aspects that make stories (and characters) so attractive.

Conversely, while work on cognitive models of story reception can be extremely useful in establishing guidelines for storytelling, such guidelines will always shift as the culture changes and need to be updated regularly.  Attempts to find absolutes through cognitive modeling can never discover the underlying DNA of character any more than we can determine a person’s individual genome from their wardrobe.

The key to developing a fully connective methodology for “writing the next Star Wars” is to build a bridge between Dramatica and cognitive modeling from the other side of the storytelling/structure divide so that both the underlying psychological functioning of a story and the cultural/societal preferences for substance and style are maximized to create a finished work that is both accurate to human nature and responsive to human desire.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

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The StoryWeaver Method – Step 1

StoryWeaver is a step by step approach to developing your novel or screenplay.

StoryWeaver will help you create your story’s world, who’s in it, what happens to them, and what it all means.

In this first step, we look ahead to the process and outline the four stages of development common to all authors.

There are four stages to StoryWeaver’s story creation path:

1.  Inspiration

2.  Development

3.  Exposition

4.  Storytelling

In the Inspiration section, Storyweaver will help you come up with ideas for your Plot, Characters, Theme, and Genre.

In Development, you’ll flesh-out these ideas, adding details and making all the bits and pieces work together in harmony.

Exposition will help you determine how to reveal your story to your readers or audience, story point by story point.

The Storytelling stage is where you will develop a sequential plan for how your story should unfold, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, event by event.

By the end of the path, you’ll have a completed story, fully developed, expertly told.

Continue to next step…

 

The StoryWeaver method  is taken from the

StoryWeaver Story Development Software

Created by Melanie Anne Phillips

 

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The DNA of Story Structure

Narrative structure has, at its core, a code not unlike that of DNA.

We first documented a model of this DNA of story in our 1994 book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story, concurrent with the release of our Dramatica software, which implemented the model as a patented interactive story engine that enabled writers to design the genome of their stories’ narratives.

Today, more than twenty years later, there is still much confusion as exactly what Dramatica is, though the model has been successfully used by more than 100,000 writers around the world, on best selling novels, on motion pictures with billions of dollars of collective box office, and most recently by the CIA and the NSA in applying narrative structure to understand and anticipate the actions of terrorist groups and lone wolves.

To help clarify the nature of the Dramatica model, I’ve prepared the following short list of points that may provide a framework from which to appreciate what Dramatica really is:

First, think of the Dramatica model as the DNA of story.

This is not a loose analogy.

In organic genetics, the model of DNA is not a specific genome but a description of how genomes can be formed.

The model of DNA is (in part) defined by having four bases and a double-helix assembly. And this is the level at which the Dramatica model functions as well.

Dramatica is the DNA of narrative structure. It is a quad-helix arrangement with four bases. It describes how narratives can be formed.

From it, you can build specific narrative genomes for species of stories, just as you can create a human genome or one for a cat.

The model of DNA does not change in the case of a human or cat genome just as the model of Dramatica does not change in the case of any given storyform.

Dramatica is not a specific narrative structure – it is a model of DNA from which specific narrative structure are created.

Just as a specific genome holds the instructions for building a particular creature, so too, a specific storyform holds the instructions for building a particular narrative.

In biology, DNA is not weighted. There is no greater tendency for DNA to create a particular genome over another.  That is the job of evolution.

Similarly in story, Dramatica is not weighted. There is no greater tendency for Dramatica to create a particular narrative over another.

However, in biology, there is great genetic variance within, for example, the human genome. So, while we can easily identify a species by its DNA, the genetic variance leads to differences in height, weight, bone structure, hair color, and even unseen attributes such as tendencies toward certain diseases.

In species, genes are specific expressions of their common genome, which creates variance among individuals within a species.

In stories, the subject matter and storytelling style are specific expressions of a common narrative, which creates variance among individual stories told from the same storyform.

And so, systems that seek to understand narrative by finding common traits among finished stories is like trying to understand genetics by finding common traits among all animals.

In 1991, we began our three-year exploration into the nature of narrative structure, eventually having a “Eureka!” moment in which we realized that while each character has a full complement of human mental traits, in the story at large, they each function as but a single facet of an overall mind, the mind of the story itself – a story mind.

This occurs in narrative because it occurs in real life, and narrative is our attempt to map out and find meaning in understanding ourselves and our interrelationships with others.

In real life, we each possess the same basic traits such as Reason, Emotion, and Skepticism.  And we use all of them to try and parse our problems and discover solutions.

When we gather together in groups toward a common purpose, we quickly self-organize to become specialists, so one person emerges as the Voice of Reason for the group, and another as the group’s resident Skeptic.  This provides the group with much greater depth and detail as it explores its issues than if all the members of the group remained as general practitioners, trying to cover all the bases to a lesser depth as we do for our own individual problems.

So, the group organization becomes a map of how individuals interact in society, and the specialties within the group define the traits within us as individuals, and illustrate how those mental processes interact within our own minds.

This is why in stories characters must do double duty.  As individuals when working on their own issues, they are general practitioners, and as members of a group, they are specialists.  It is these specialist roles from which character archetypes are derived.

Armed with this new manner of assessing narrative structure, we spent years searching for a model that explained it, ultimately discovering the mechanism of the narrative mind and publishing our theory and model.

Hopefully, this short introduction to the nature of Dramatica will provide some corners to the jig-saw puzzle of cognitive science.

Click here for more information about the Dramatica theory and its ramifications.

Melanie Anne Philips
Creator StoryWeaver
Co-creator, Dramatica

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