Novels Aren’t Stories

A novel does not have to be a story.  It can just be extremely free forms, such as in Virginia Woolf’s books where the entire narrative is a single subjective stream of consciousness. Other narratives e are simply explorations of a top or even collections of several stories that may or may not be intertwined.

For example, Jerzy N. Kosinski (the author of “Being There,” wrote another novel called “Steps.” It contains a series of story fragments. Sometimes you get the middle of a short story, but no middle or end. Sometimes, just the end, and sometimes just the middle.

Each fragment is wholly involving, and leaves you wanting to know the rest of the tale, but they are not to be found. In fact, there is not (that I could find) any connection among the stories, nor any reason they are in that particular order. And yet, they are so passionately told that it was one of the best reads I ever enjoyed.

The point is, don’t feel confined to restrict your novel to tell a single story, straight through, beginning to end.

Rather than think of writing a novel, think about writing a book. Consider that a book can be filled with anything you’d like to put in it.  You can take time to pontificate on your favorite subject, if you like. Unlike screenplays which must continue to move, you can stop the story and diverge into any are you like, as long as you can hold your reader’s interest.

For example, in the Stephen King novel, “The Tommy Knockers,” he meanders around a party, and allows a character to go on and on… and on… about the perils of nuclear power. Nuclear power has nothing to do with the story, and the conversation does not affect nor advance anything. King just wanted to say that, and did so in an interesting diatribe.

So feel free to break any form you have ever heard must be followed. The most liberated of all written media is the novel, and you can literally – do whatever you want.

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Be Your Own Critic Without Being Critical

Be your own critic without being critical

Here’s how: First write a single descriptive sentence.

Now look at that sentence not as an author, but as a reader or critic.  You can see what’s there, but what’s not there?

To find out, ask some questions about what hasn’t been conveyed (yet).

For example, I write, “It was dawn in the small western town.”

Then I stand back and ask:

1. What time of year was it?

2. What state?

3. Is it a ghost town?

4. How many people live there?

5. Is everything all right in the town?

6. What year is it?

These are just the questions that come to my mind – things I’d like to know more about.  Your questions would likely be quite different and for the purposes of this example, you may want to jot down a few additional questions of your own.

Next, let your Muse come up with as many answers for each question as possible.

Example:

For question 6, What year is it?, my answers might be:

A. 1885

B. Present Day

C. 2050

D. After the apocalypse.

Now go back to answering questions, but this time, ask questions about each of your answers to the original question.

Example:

For the original question, What year is it?, one of our answers was D. After the Apocalypse.

So now ask:

1. What kind of apocalypse?

2. How many people died in the Apocalypse?

3. How long ago was the disaster, and so on.

Now let’s expand on this technique.  Suppose you write a one-sentence description of your story.  Then, by alternating between critical analysis and creative Musings, you will quickly work out details about your story’s world, who’s in it, what happens to them and what it all means.

But you can also use this technique at any point in the story development process.  Pick any sentence from one that describes your plot to one that speaks to an attribute of one of your characters.  Apply the technique and you will expand that area of your story quickly and easily into some fascinating new material.

In the end, you may very well turn out to be your own best critic.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

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Storyeaver Story Development SoftWare

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You Got Me! (Both Of Us!)



Arthur says:

I’m a great Dramatica fan so I’m a bit reluctant to take up Melanie’s challenge to refute the Dramatica Theory. My question was virtually identical to Armando’s but he put it better. Theory without practical application is not very helpful. Let’s try another. Supposing you wanted to create a story or play about a gifted female whose unique ability was “supreme self-confidence” and her critical flaw was “sophisticated self-deception.” How would dramatica help you arrive at those characteristics in order to get a Storyform? It can’t, can it? I refute the theory thus.

Okay, so I’m halfway into a deep consideration of this issue when suddenly it hits me…

“Wait just a cotton pickin’ minute!” I yell out loud to no one in particular.

Then, no one in particular shouts back, “What’s biting you?!”

I reply with recovered aplomb, “Did you notice the example in Arthur’s question?” “Yeah, so what?” no one taunts. “Think about it.” I bark bemusedly, “Arthur describes “a gifted female whose unique ability was supreme self-confidence and her critical flaw was sophisticated self-deception.” Sound like anyone you know?”

“Sounds like both of us,” No One replied thoughtfully, “but , we’re both the same person and you realize, of course, that you are having a conversation with your self – and out loud, I might add.”

“True, but in fact, you are my Self-Confidence, and I am your Self-Deception (and pretty sophisticated too, “I” might add!”

“I guess that makes ME “supreme” then! Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more—PLEASE say no more!”

“Ah, but that would prove Arthur’s point, wouldn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if your self-confidence is undermined by my self-deception, then the Dramatica theory is refuted!”

“Whoa, hold on there, pardner! First of all, I believe it is quite the contrary. My Confidence is only bolstered by your self-deception. I mean, think about it. The more Self-Deceived “we” become, the more our confidence grows.”

“Blimey, but you’re right!”

“I was confident I would be…”

“Okay, that was “first of all,” so is there more?”

“But of course!” Suppose Arthur was serious in his question (though I seriously doubt it). Then, the first point he makes is almost to say that a theory is invalid if it isn’t useful.”

“Now just hold on…. He didn’t exactly say THAT.”

“True, but since he was setting up a refutation of the theory, he established a context in which the “value” of a theory is tied to its practical usefulness. Then, by shifting the subject of the question to the validity of the concepts there is an emotional carry-over that appears to strengthen the logistic contention.”

“Oh.”

“So, second of all, there are lots of theories that are almost totally wrong and still have a few concepts of practical value. And there are also a lot of esoteric theories which are almost certainly true, yet have no practical application at all. In conclusion, the ability to USE a theory has absolutely nothing to do with its validity.”

“I’ll give you that one, even though I don’t think it is self-deceptive enough.”

“Fine, let’s press on…. I think we’ve already dealt with the central contention that self-deception is a critical flaw to confidence. Arthur then asks a seemingly rhetorical question, “How would dramatica help you >arrive at those characteristics in order to get a Storyform? ” The rhetorical answer is, since that combination doesn’t work, Dramatica will not provide such a conjunction of story points.”

“’Scuse me…. but isn’t there ANY time in which I, self-deception, might undermine your self-confidence as a critical flaw?

“Sure, but not in a direct manner. In fact, a number of other writers on this list proposed very serious descriptions of how the “feel” Arthur was describing was quite achievable and in much more depth and nuance than his example would seem to indicate. Perhaps one of the most interesting came from Bill, who said:

“- Since the story is about this person, are these two attributes really the Unique Ability and the Critical Flaw? Perhaps self-deception is the Problem and self-confidence is the Focus. (Or some other combination like that.) Consider this mix of appreciations, straight from the Story Engine:

PROBLEM: Non-Accurate
SOLUTION: Accurate
FOCUS: Expectation
DIRECTION: Determination
UNIQUE ABILITY: Experience
CRITICAL FLAW: Fantasy

(It’s interesting that the self-deception gets sort of a double-whammy with the problem being Non-Accurate and the Critical Flaw being Fantasy.)”

“Well, Ms. “Supreme Self-Confidence”… I suppose you’re pretty pleased with yourself.”

“But of course! Still there are yet two remaining points to be made.”

“Pray tell, what are they?”

“First, Arthur responds to his rhetorical question, “How would dramatica help you arrive at those characteristics in order to get a Storyform? ” with “It can’t.” That’s not quite accurate….”

“Ah, so this is where self-deception comes into play?”

“Sort of… It’s not that Dramatica “can’t” help you do arrive at that combination. It’s that it “won’t.”” If it did, it would be leading you right into an invalid storyform.”

“Is that it, are you FINISHED YET!!!”

“Almost. The final line of Arthur’s post reads, “I refute the theory thus.”

“So?”

“So you don’t refute a theory by refuting an application of it.”

“Meaning?”

“Let’s start at the beginning… Dramatica starts with a hypothesis: Every complete story is an analogy to a single human mind, trying to deal with an inequity.” The hypothesis says “what” but not “how.”

“Go on.”

“The “theory” of Dramatica describes a structure and the dynamics which manipulate it. That winds up the model with dramatic tension.”

“Gotcha.”

“Now, each of the story points is “mapped” onto that structure. Each is determined by a separate formula, each is a separate application. “

“So are you saying some of the algorithms in Dramatica some of the formulas might be wrong?!”

“Sure, they “might” be. I personally don’t think so (remember I AM self-confidence), but of course it is possible. You see, the real value of the theory is to look at every story as a SINGLE mind in which the characters, plot, theme, and genre are but aspects: families of different kinds of thought which interact so as to mimic the internal processes of the mind coming to a solution—it makes them TANGIBLE, so we can watch our own internal mechanism to learn how to best respond under different conditions.”

“Whoa! That’s a mouthful!”

“You bet it is, but it’s really what Dramatica is all about. If writers can just start looking to each story as a complete mind, as a person with a personality (genre), methods (plot), value standards (theme), and driving forces (characters), then the parts of stories would start to work together SO much better!”

“And if some of the particular formulas DO turn out to be in error?”

“Then they need to be re-written so they are more accurate. You see, the “theory” of Dramatica can’t really be proven or disproven. Either stories can be understood as a model of the mind or not. But if they can, then the applications and formulas of the theory need to be constantly questioned, amended, discarded, and added to. The advancement of practical applications and understanding of the theory is an ongoing process which will likely never be completed. After all, how much is there to learn about the mechanism of the mind? The key to improving the theory is to call every suspicious formula into question, lay it out for public viewing. The theory will only “advance” into more practical use if others more skilled than “you” (self-deception) or “I” (confidence) contribute our efforts.”

“That’s quite a concession, Confidence, to admit there are others more capable and you.”

“Hey, you know as well as I do that in spite of our self-deception to believe we are some sort of next-gen Einstein, we’re really just a couple of smart cookies who worked with ol’ Chris for a few years, tripped over a new concept (the Story Mind) because we were too intellectually inept to know better, and then spent the better part of a decade putting in good old-fashioned hard work to try and document it and make something out of it. Truth of the matter is that we’ve gone about as far as we can go! In your heart, you know its true. You keep thinking of yourself as 18, but just because we’re both 46 doesn’t mean we’re each 23!!!”

“Yeah, you’re right. I, of all people, can’t deceive myself on that one. It’s time to hand it off to those with degrees, and practical experience. Time to put it out there, let the world have it and make of it what they will.”

Then, both halves of myself joined in unison, both confidence and self-deception in Greek Chorus “singing”:

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”

“Stop it!” I shouted to both of them.”Shut up!”

“And now, the hour is late, and I have reached the final curtain…”

“I said SHUT UP!!! I still have a lot of good, creative years in me. LOTS…. REALLY!”

“Cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon…”

“WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP!!!!! I know, I’ll show you! I’ll come up with a whole NEW theory. Something even more extensive and complex than Dramatica! I’m not dead yet!”

“It’s a dead man’s party…”

“Ah, the hell with it.”



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Writing With Reversals

Reversals change the meaning of something by changing the context. In other words, part of the meaning of anything we consider is due to its environment.

In storytelling, we can add surprise to a story by leading the reader or audience to perceive something one way, than shift the context to show that it is really quite different.

For example, there is an old Mickey Mouse cartoon called Mickey’s Trailer which opens with Mickey stepping from his house in the country surround by blue skies and white clouds. He yawns, stretches, then pushes a button on the house.

All at once, the lawn rolls up, the fence pulls in and the house becomes a trailer. Then, the sky and clouds fold up revealing it was just a painted backdrop and the trailer is actually parked in a junkyard.

In your own story, look for opportunities to liven things up by intentionally creating a false first impression and then reversing it when more information is provided.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-Creator, Dramatica

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Weekend Writing Workshop – Create Log Lines for Your Characters

Welcome to our new series designed to focus on one practical way to improve your story each weekend.

This week, try coming up with a log line for each of your characters.

A log line is a one-sentence description of what each character is all about and can help focus your understanding their motivations and their behavior.

Examples:

John is a marketing executive and frustrated artist, unable to pursue his talents because of the financial needs of his family.

Sally, a fashion reporter, is determined to step out of the shadow of her sister, the adventurer, she accepts a dangerous assignment from her newspaper.

Each of these examples gives the character’s name and illuminates their situation and the key issue or issues that affect or drive them.

Individually, each log line provides a core or spine for each character and, collectively, the log lines suggest the nature of the conflicts you might want to explore between your characters and how their relationships might progress.

By referring back to your log lines as you write, you can keep your characters consistent and on track.  And by revising each log line as your characters (and your understanding of them) evolves during the writing process, you will build a template to help with revisions to the beginning of your story when you approach your second draft.

The Weekend Writing Workshop is drawn from our StoryWeaver Story Development Software that takes you step by step from concept to completion of your novel or screenplay.  Try it risk-free for 90 days.

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How to Create a Powerful Thematic Message

Your thematic message (moral of the story) has two sides: the Point and the Counterpoint. The Point is the human quality under examination in your story (such as greed) and the Counterpoint is the opposite trait (such as Generosity), presented for contrast. Together, they play both sides of the moral dilemma (Greed vs. Generosity). But how do you go about making your thematic point to your readers or audience?

The most important key to a successful thematic argument is never, ever play the Point  and Counterpoint together at the same time. Why? Because you don’t want to come off as preachy and ham-handed with a black & white one-sided message.

Your thematic argument is an emotional one, not one of reason. You need to sway your reader/audience to adopt your moral view as an author rather than telling them to adopt it. This will not happen if you keep showing one side of the argument as “completely good” and the other side as “completely bad” and making that message by direct comparison. Such a thematic argument would seem one-sided, and treat the issues as being black-and-white, rather than gray-scale.

In real life, moral decisions are seldom cut-and-dried. Although we may hold views that are clearly defined, in practice it all comes down to the context of the specific situation. For example, it is wrong to steal in general. But, it might be proper to steal from the enemy during a war, or from a large market when you baby is starving. In the end, all moral views become a little blurry around the edges when push comes to shove.

Statements of absolutes do not a thematic argument make. Rather, your most powerful message will deal with the lesser of two evils, the greater of two goods, or the degree of goodness or badness of each side of the argument. In fact, there are some story situations (as in real life) where both sides of the moral argument are equally good or equally bad.

To create this more powerful, more believable, and more persuasive thematic argument follow these steps.

1. Determine in advance whether if you want each side of your moral argument to be good, bad, or neutral, in and of itself in regard to the situation your story is exploring.

Assign a numeric “value” to both the Point and the Counterpoint. For example, we might choose a scale with +5 being absolutely good, -5 being absolutely bad, and zero being neutral.

In our sample moral conflict between Greed vs. Generosity, we might assign Greed a value of -3.  This would mean to your readers/audience that greed is a negative when it crops up in your story.  In other words, when someone is greedy, it makes things worse.

Generosity (our Counterpoint) might have a value of -2.  So, in this story, Generosity also has a negative impact on things.  In such a message, you are saying that in your story’s world, folks shouldn’t hoard nor give away because either way will lead to bad consequences.  Both Greed and Generosity are  bad (being in the negative) but  Generosity is a little less bad than Greed since Generosity is only a -2 and Greed is a -3.  Still, it would be better to just keep what you’ve got and neither try to garner more nor give away what you may later need.  Pretty complex message.

Of course, you could still show Generosity as all good and Greed as all bad, but what about those real word situations where Greed is good- in other words, what if Greed is actually necessary to solve the story’s problems?  By using a scale ranging from Good through Neutral to Bad, you can fashion a far more realistic, believable, and practical message that your readers/audience can take back to the real world and act upon.

2. Show the good and bad aspects of both the Point and the Counterpoint.

Make sure you include in your story examples of each side of the thematic argument being good in some scene and bad in others.  In other words, just because a Thematic Point or Counterpoint turns out to be, for example, a +3 in the end doesn’t mean it is a +3 in every scene.  In some scenes it might even be a negative.   In fact, even if one side of the argument turns out to be good  in the end, it might be shown as bad initially. But over the course of the story, that first impression is changed by seeing that side in other contexts.

3. Have the good and bad aspects “average out” to the thematic conclusion you want.

By putting each side of the thematic argument on a roller coaster of good and bad aspects from scene to scene, it blurs the issues, just as in real life.  And, as in real life, the reader/audience will “average out” all of their exposures to each side of the argument and draw their own conclusions by the end of the story as to what the final rating or value is of each and how they compare to one another.

In this way, your thematic argument will move out of the realm of intellectual consideration and become a viewpoint arrived by feel. And, since you will have not only shown both sides, but the good and the bad of each side, your message will be easier to swallow. And finally, since you never directly compared the two sides in the same scene, the reader/audience will not feel that your message has been shoved down its throat.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

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Character Likes and Dislikes

“Snakes… Why did it have to be snakes….???”

What a character likes and dislikes takes the curse of its larger than life stature. Whether you are writing a novel, play, screenplay, or teleplay, your characters loom in the hearts and minds of the audience. No one can relate to a loom. To humanize your characters and bring them down to size, give them preferences rather than just points of view.

You work in an office. Everyone does their job. The place runs like clockwork. Who ARE these people?! Until you know if they love football but hate sushi, you don’t really know them all. Who CARES what their functions are; more important to your readers is what do they take in their coffee, or tea, or do they not touch either but guzzle cola and pistachios.

Red. Does it do anything for them? What about wall paper patterns with thousands of little ducks? The things your characters like and don’t like set them apart from the crowd. And letting yourself go a little bit off the wall can bring forth attractions and repulsions that can suggest settings for a whole scene, sequence, or even the whole story itself.

Work yourself into the words. If you have pet likes and dislikes, this is the place to spout off about them. Assign them to your characters and you can get back at all those hated things, and express all those yearnings for the loved ones.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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The Hero Breaks Down

Groucho Marx once said, “You’re headed for a nervous breakdown. Why don’t you pull yourself to pieces?” That, in fact, is what we’re going to do to our hero.

Now many writers focus on a Hero and a Villain as the primary characters in any story. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But as we are about to discover, there are so many other options for creative character construction.

Take the average hero. What qualities might we expect to find in the fellow? For one thing, the traditional hero is always the Protagonist. By that we mean he or she is the Prime Mover in the effort to achieve the story goal. This doesn’t presuppose the hero is a willing leader of that effort. For all we know he might accept that charge kicking and screaming. Nonetheless, once stuck in the situation, the hero drives the push to achieve the goal.

Another quality of a stereotypical hero is that he is also the Main Character. By this we mean that the hero is constructed so that the audience stands in his shoes. In other words, the audience identifies with the hero and sees the story as centering around him.

A third quality of the most usual hero configuration is being a “Good Guy.” Simply, he intends to do the right thing. Of course, he might be misguided or inept, but he wants to do good, and he does try.

And finally, let us note that heroes are usually the Central Character, meaning that he gets more “media real estate” (pages, screen time, lines of dialog) than any other character.

Listing these four qualities we get:

1. Protagonist.

2. Main Character.

3. Good Guy.

4. Central Character

Getting right to the point, the first two items in the list are structural in nature, while the last two are storytelling. Protagonist describes the character’s function from the Objective View described earlier. Main Character positions the audience in that particular character’s spot through the Main Character View. In contrast, being a Good Guy is a matter of personality, and Central Character is determined by the attention given to that character by the author’s storytelling.

You’ve probably noticed that we’ve used common terms such as Protagonist, Main Character, and Central Character in very specific ways. In actual practice, most authors bandy these terms about more or less interchangeably. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for structural purposes it’s not very precise. That’s why you’ll see Dramatica being something of a stickler in its use of terms and their definitions: it’s the only way to be clear.

At this juncture, you may be wondering why we even bother breaking down a hero into these pieces. What’s the value in it? The answer is that these pieces don’t necessarily have to go together in this stereotypical way.

For example, in the classic story of racial prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Protagonist function and the Main Character View are separated into two different characters.

The Protagonist is Atticus, played by Gregory Peck in the movie version. Atticus is a principled Southern lawyer in the 1930s who is assigned to defend a black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl. His goal is to ensure justice is done, and he is the Prime Mover in this endeavor.

But we do not stand in Atticus’ shoes, however. Rather, the story is told through the eyes of Scout, his your daughter, who observers the workings of prejudice from a child’s innocence.

Why not make Atticus a typical hero who is also the Main Character? First, Atticus sticks by his principles regardless of the dangers and pressures brought to bear. If he had represented the audience position, the audience/reader would have felt quite self-righteous throughout the story’s journey.

But there is even more advantage to splitting these qualities between two characters. The audience identifies with Scout. And we share her fear of the local boogey man known as Boo Radley – a monstrous mockery of human form who forms the stuff of local terror stories. All the kids know about Boo, and though we never see him, we hear their tales of his horrible ways.

At the end of the story, it turns out that Boo is just a gentle giant, a normal man with a kind heart but low intellect. As was the custom in that age, his parents kept him indoors, inside the basement of the house, leaving him pale and scary-looking due to the lack of sunlight. But Boo ventures out at night, leading to the false but horrible stories about him when he is occasionally sighted.

As it happens, Scout’s life is threatened by the father of the girl who was ostensibly raped in an attempt to get back at Atticus. Lo and behold, it is Boo who comes to her rescue. In fact, he has always been working behind the scenes to protect the children and is not at all the horrible monster they all presupposed.

In a moment of revelation, we, the audience, come to realize we have been cleverly manipulated by the author to share Scout’s initial prejudice against Boo. Rather than feeling self-righteous by identifying with Atticus, we have been led to realize that we are just as capable of prejudice as the obviously misguided adults we have been observing.

The message of the story is that prejudice does not have to come from meanness, but will happen within the heart of anyone who passes judgment based on hearsay rather than direct knowledge. This statement could never have been successfully made if the elements of the typical hero had all been placed in Atticus.

So, the message of our little essay here is that while there is nothing wrong with writing about heroes and villains, it is limiting. By separating the components of the hero into individual qualities, we open our options to a far greater number of dramatic scenarios that are far less stereotypical.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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How To Create Archetypal Characters

Archetypal characters have a bad name.  Many writers think such characters are two-dimensional stick figures that come off more like plot robots than real people.  But the truth is that archetypes represent essential human qualities that need to be explored in every story, such as trying to solve the story’s problems through logic as opposed to another character who hopes to succeed by following his or her heart.  The story’s message is which approach turns out to be the best one in regard to the particular predicament explored in the story.

So if these archetypal human qualities need to be explored, how can you write a plot in which the characters that represent these attributes come off as flesh-and-blood, rather than automatons?

To find out, let’s build a plot using only archetypal characters.  For this exercise I’ll be using the eight archetypal character described in  the Dramatica approach story story structure that I co-developed along with my writing partner many years ago.  You can, of course, use any archetypal system that is comfortable for you, such as those of Campbell or Jung.

A Sample Story Using Archetypes

To build our sample story, let’s take each archetype one by one and see how each can add the potential for interpersonal conflict and internal conflict as well.

Creating a Protagonist

Everyone is familiar with the Protagonist archetype, so let’s begin there and arbitrarily create a PROTAGONIST called Jane. Jane wants to… what?… rob a bank?…kill the monster?… stop the terrorists?… resolve her differences with her mother? It really doesn’t matter for our sample story; her goal can be whatever interests us as authors. So we’ll pick “stop the terrorists” because it interests us. All right, our Protagonist — Jane — wants to stop the terrorists.

Creating an Antagonist

Our Dramatica approach says we also need an ANTAGONIST. Antagonist by our definition is the person who tries to prevent achievement of the goal. So, who might be diametrically against the completion of the task Jane wants to accomplish? The Religious Leader whose dogma is the source of inspiration that spawns the acts of terror?… The multinational business cartel that stands to make billions if the terrorists succeed in their scheme?… Her former lover who leads the terrorist who are really an elite band of criminals? We like THAT one! Okay, we have our Protagonist (Jane) who wants to stop the terrorists who are led by her former lover (Johann).

Creating a Skeptic

Two simple Characters down, six to go. Dramatica now tells us we need a SKEPTIC. So who might be doubtful of the effort and not believe that success is possible for our  stalwart Jane? Perhaps a rival special agent who doesn’t want to be left in the dust by her glowing success?… Maybe her current love interest on the force who feels Jane is in over her head?… Her father, the Senator, who wants his daughter to follow him into politics? Good enough for us. So we have Jane who wants to stop the terrorists, pitted against her former lover Johann who heads the criminal band, and opposed by her father, the Senator.

Creating a Sidekick

To balance the Skeptic, we’re going to need a SIDEKICK is, by definition, has complete unshakable faith in the Protagonist. We could bring back the idea of using her current lover but this time have him knowing how much ridding the world of scum appeals to Jane so he remains steadfastly behind her. Or we might employ her Supervisor and mentor on the force who knows the depth of Jane’s talent, wants to inspire other young idealists to take action against threats to democracy, or prove his theories and vindicate his name in the undercover world… We’ll use the Supervisor. So here’s Jane who wants to stop the terrorists, pitted against her former lover Johann, the head of the band, who wants to stop her, opposed by her father, the Senator, and supported by her Supervisor.

Creating a Contagonist

Let’s bring in a CONTAGONIST.  What’s a Contagonist, you ask?  It’s an archetypal character we developed uniquely in Dramatica.  Essentially, they gum up the works.  Sometimes they act as tempation to lure the protagonist off the proper path.  And other times they gum up the works by doing or saying something that creates problems for the Protagonist, often quite by accident.

Here are some possible Contagonists for our sample story: the Seasoned Cop who says, “You have to play by the rules” and thwarts Jane’s efforts to forge a better approach?… Or, the Ex-Con with a heart of gold who studies the classics and counsels her to base her approach on proven scenarios rather than her own inspirations?… Or, her friend Sheila, a computer whiz who has a bogus response plan based on averaging every scenario every attempted? Computer whiz it is. So Jane wants to stop the terrorists, is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, opposed by her father, the Senator, supported by her Supervisor, and tempted away from the strength of her own inspired approach by her friend Sheila, the computer whiz.

Creating a Guardian

Keeping in mind the concept that for every archetype there should be another one who represents the opposite human quality, we are going to want to balance the Contagonist (who tempts and gums up the works) with a Guardian archetype (who appeals to conscience and smooths the way).

We might go with a Master of the Oriental martial arts who urges her to “go with the flow” (“Use The Force, Jane!”)?… The Ex-Con again who says, “Get back to basics”?… or perhaps the Seasoned Cop who paves the way through the undercover jungle?…. We like the Seasoned Cop. Note that we could have used him as Contagonist who says “You have to play by the rules,” but elected to use him as Guardian instead, who paves the way for Jane by giving her the benefit of his experience. As you can see it’s totally up to us as authors which characteristics go into which players. Jane wants to stop the terrorists, is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, is opposed by her father, the Senator, supported by her Supervisor, tempted by her friend Sheila the computer whiz, and protected by the Seasoned Cop.

Creating Reason and Emotion Characters

The final two archetypal characters in our Dramatica system represent our intellect and our passion, respectively.  Since we really like some of the character we came up with earlier but not to use, let’s bring back the Ex-Con as REASON, stressing the need to use classic scenarios. We’ll balance her with the Master of the Oriental martial arts, who maintains Jane’s need to break with the Western approach by letting loose and following her feelings.

Well, that covers all eight Archetypal Characters: Protagonist, Antagonist, Skeptic, Sidekick, Contagonist, Guardian, Reason and Emotion. So now we end up with Jane who wants to stop the terrorists and is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, is opposed by her Father, the Senator, is supported by her Supervisor, tempted by her friend Sheila the computer whiz, protected by the Seasoned Cop, urged by the Ex-Con to copy the classics, and counseled by the Master of Oriental martial arts to let loose and follow her feelings.

As was pointed out at the beginning, you can use any archetypal characters you like, and simply applying the human quality they represent to their plot function, they will have the potential not only to come off as real people but to lay the groundwork for conflict within themselves and with the other characters as well.

You can learn more about the Dramatica approach to archetypes by downloading a free PDF version of Dramatica: A New Theory of Story, and you can put it to work with our Dramatica Story Structure Software, which you can try risk-free for 90 days.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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StoryWeaving – Getting Started

Step 2 from the more than 200 steps in our StoryWeaver Story Development Software:

Getting Started

How to get started? It’s easy as 1, 2, 3…

1. Read the instructions on each Story Card (like this one). Sometimes the Story Cards just provide information. Other times they direct you to do some thinking and/or writing about your story.

2. Click the Save button. If you have entered text, be sure to click the Save button before leaving that Story Card or Window or what you wrote might be lost. If you forget to save and leave the page, try using the “Back” button on your browser and your text may still be there.

3. Continue to the Next Step. Once you have completed your work on a Story Card, click the Next Step button, which you’ll find near the top right of this window (or just below this text on small screens such as smart phones). It will carry you to the next Story Card in the story development path.

If you are really eager to get started, that’s all you need to know.

But if you’d like a quick tour of StoryWeaver’s other key features and how to use them, click the “Tell Me More” button below for a fully detailed description.

Tell Me More…

StoryWeaver’s Key Features

Story Cards

StoryWeaver consists of more than 200 interactive Story Cards that take you from concept to completion of your story step by step. Each Story Card covers one dramatic topic in the StoryWeaver story development path. Sometimes cards just provide information to get you ready for the next kind of development you’ll be doing. But most cards ask you to answer a question about your story, develop a concept, or pull several of your ideas together into an integrated story thread. That’s why it is called StoryWeaver – you are guided step by step to weave together all the threads of your story into a tapestry the fulfills your original vision.

Story Development Box

On Story Cards that ask you to work on your story you’ll find a Story Development box where you can enter text in response to the Story Card’s topic. The point of each topic is to do some thinking about an aspect of your story and then describe how that topic applies specifically. You can write as little or as much as you like, but quality is always more important than quantity.

The SAVE Button

Directly below the Story Development area is the Save button. Be sure to click the Save button before leaving a Story Card or your work on that card won’t be saved. Very important safety tip! But should you forget and click on another card, you can usually use your browsers Back button to return to the previous story card, and most often your work will still be present in the Story Development box so you can still save it. Who says there are no second chances?

On most devices you can also right-click on any text field and select Undo to removes changes to your text that you have recently made. This can be especially useful if you accidentally delete the text you have entered.

The References Box

After you’ve responded to a few Story Cards, you’ll see a References box show up just above the Story Development box. The References box quotes your responses to previous Story Cards to help you respond to the topic of the current Story Card. This is one of StoryWeaver most powerful features and is at the core of the StoryWeaver process. By folding your previous work into your current work, you continuously integrate your ideas, build on your story’s central concepts, and create a rich and detailed story world.

Action Buttons

Directly below each topic are the Action Buttons. Some of these are links to helpful in-depth articles on story development that are pertinent to that Story Card’s topic. Others may open an informational video or an example to illustrate how to respond to this topic.

Every Story Card has a Notes and Story button. Click on the Notes button to open a window where you can jot down any creative ideas that may come to you while you are working on that story card. The Notes window is free-form – use it as you like. The Story button opens another text window where you can jump ahead and start writing your story if you like. Perhaps you have a first draft already written and want to paste it here so you can revise it as you go. Or, you might suddenly get an inspiration about how you want to begin your story and write your opening lines down while the notion is hot. In a nut shell, the Story button is where you go when you want to jump ahead of Story Development for a bit and work on your overall story.

Many cards have a Tell Me More button that provides additional information about the topic being covered. And some cards have buttons that link to in-depth articles that inform the topic at hand, or provide an example to illustrate one way of responding.

The StoryWeaver Path

This is the collapsible menu to the right on larger screens and at the bottom of each Story Card on smaller screens. It outlines the entire 200 topic story development path. Normally, you only use the Next Step and Previous Step buttons just above that collapsible list, but you can click directly on the list should you want to go back and change an earlier response or expand the list to see what’s coming up.

The “My Stories” Menu

At the top of each Story Card is the My Stories menu. It allows you to create or delete a story project, open one you’ve been working with, or rename a story project. You can work on as many stories at a time as you like – just create a new story project for each. StoryWeaver saves your stories securely on our server, and you can also download all your story text (everything you’ve written in StoryWeaver) any time you like in a text file. Just click on the My Stories menu and select Download Story Text for any given story project.

The “Font Size” Menu

Click the Font Size menu to make all the on screen text (including what you write) larger, smaller, or back to default so that you can maximize readability on any size screen.

The “StoryWeaver” Link

In the upper left corner of every Story Card is the word “StoryWeaver.” It leads to the StoryWeaver home page where you can learn all the latest StoryWeaver news and contact us with questions, comments or (hopefully not) problems.

You Are Here

Directly below the StoryWeaver link is a “You are here” address that shows where you are in the process. On this Story Card it looks like this: “My Story / Welcome to StoryWeaver / Getting Started.”

Final Notes

That’s all there is to it. StoryWeaver is powerful in how it guides you to develop your ideas into a fully crafted story, yet it is also streamlined and easy to use.

Still, if you run into any problems, let us know and we’ll help you get back on track.

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