The Meaning of the Story Mind

Excerpt from The Dramatica Theory:

So far in our journey we have explored the underlying concepts of the Story Mind, the elements that make it up, the forces that drive it, and the perspectives through which we can connect to it. But before we leave this esoteric territory for the more familiar ground of characters, plot, theme, and genre, let us stand back a bit, take in everything we’ve learned so far, and get a sense of what it all means for our stories and ourselves.

In our own minds we have a sense of who we are. In stories, that “sense of self”, essentially the identity or ego of the story, is represented by the Main Character. As readers or audience we tend to identify with that part of the Story Mind, either in empathy or sympathy, because it is the essence of the story’s humanity.

And just as within ourselves we sometimes must consider changing our point of view or our sense of what is right or wrong about a particular issue, so too does the Story Mind grapple with the possibility of change.

Our own survival instinct insists that we don’t recklessly abandon an old tried and true approach in favor of a new untested one without first engaging in some exploration of what such a change might mean in our lives.

After all, if we simply adopted a new mind set on a whim, we will have already changed and our allegiances would be to some other value standard, which may turn out to be contrary to our best interests.

So, essentially, we have it out with ourselves. We think about how our world looks to us at present, then imagine what it might look like if we altered some aspect of our outlook or personal code.

We think about how that other belief system – what does it hold, how does it work, what can we learn from it – while still maintaining the belief system we have. Only then, and only if we are convinced it is a better way to look at the world, we’ll jump over and adopt it.

At that moment we have changed at least some small aspect of what we call our “selves”. We have changed who we are in our own heads.

In stories, it is the Obstacle (or Influence) Character who represents this new person we might become. Functionally, this character might be very like the Main Character (and in practice often is) except in regard to the central message issue of the story regarding which these two characters are diametrically opposed.

The Subjective View – the perspective in which the Main Character and Obstacle Character duke it out over opposing belief systems – represents our inner struggle wherein we play devil’s advocate with ourselves, pitting who we are against who we might become.

In the end, we elect (or are emotionally compelled) to change or not. But whether that change will prove to be a positive choice will remain to be seen, as sometime we change for the good and sometimes we change for the worse. And just as certain, remaining unchanged can also end well or poorly.

And here we arrive once more at the Objective view. It is the one perspective we can never have of ourselves – from the outside looking in. Though we can apply that view to others, it is limited insofar as we can never really see what is going on inside their minds.

Stories, therefore, seem almost miraculous to us because they present us with more points of view in regard to a single central issue than we can perceive in real life. In a sense, the author provides us with a God’s Eye View of the Story Mind, enabling us to see the Big Picture even while we passionately share the Main Character’s inside experience.

The promise of a story is that it may tell us whether or not we should accept the way things are in our own lives or rise up to change them and, in the process, whether we should remain steadfast in our resolve or change our minds, abandon our proven methods and embrace the chance that new ones will serve us better.

In the end, it all amounts to the author professing to have some special knowledge of what is really best in a particular situation, regardless of how we may feel in the midst of it.