For those of you familiar with Dramatica, you know the term “storyform” means a complete narrative structure – the logical framework that makes a story make sense.
But where do storyforms come from? How do they begin, how do they form, and for that matter, how do they end, dissolve or die?
A strange thought, to be sure, until you consider what narratives really are. Simply put, they are rather precise models of the way people actually organize themselves in real life.
How does that work? Again, very simply, each of us has certain qualities that come in pairs and often play against each other like our initiative vs. our reticence, intellect vs. passion, conscience vs. temptation, skepticism vs. faith.
When we try to solve problems on our own, we bring all of these into play to look for the solution with all the mental tools we have. When we gather together in groups to solve a common problem, we’ve learned to specialize so that, for example, one person focuses on the intellectual component and becomes the voice of reason for the group. Another focuses on the passionate aspect of the problem and comes to function as the group’s heart.
Whenever enough people come together with a common purpose, they will automatically self organize into kind of a group mind (we call it a Story Mind) in which each person comes to represent a single facet of all the different perspectives we employ in our own minds.
The end result is that groups naturally evolve into an external projection of our own internal minds. The relationships among people in such a group function dynamically in a very similar manner to the way each of these perspectives relate in our own minds.
And authors throughout history, seeking to understand the nature and mechanism of human society, established the characters and conventions of story to parallel those very same aspects of the Story Minds we see every day in the real world.
So narratives are not just fictions that have no real bearing on human nature. On the contrary, narrative structure and dynamics are perhaps the most accurate representation of how actual people organize and interact in the actual world.
While that, in and of itself, is both intriguing and practical, it begs the question, “If authors create structures for stories, how do such narrative Story Minds come to be in the real world? In other words, can we understand the birth of a Story Mind?
Absolutely we can! Let me lay it out. It happens like a solar system forming. People, in volume, are like the gasses and dust from which a solar system forms – independent units with no pattern to their movements. When they gather together, they begin to organize, much like the dust collecting into particles.
First they form relationships of two. And, like the force of gravity, the gregarious nature of human attraction draws other to join them until the gathering, like a collection of particles, forms a growing mass.
Naturally, there isn’t one mass, but a lot of different ones of different shapes and sizes scattered throughout the dust and gas or throughout the population. From time to time they converge, sometimes changing each other’s course without directly coming into contact, and occasionally (and more rarely), they actually collide.
Depending on the size and shape of the two masses (or two groups of folk), they may combine, have parts stolen by one of the other, lose mass as it is calved off by the force of the encounter, or they might just shatter each other back into the dust, gas, or general population from whence they originally came.
In time, the number of conglomerate groups will decline as more and more smaller ones are absorbed into a handful of larger masses. And meanwhile, most of the gas gathers more and more densely in the center until it reaches a critical ratio of frictional heat and material until it ignites in a ongoing sustainable reaction that generates energy from the center of the solar system outward to the planets.
Societally, this is when a central identity, a sense of common self, forms in the middle of all the society groups so that while each has its own identity, the is a collective identity as well, such as in a political party made of factions or all the states in the United States feeling a national identity as being part of America.
Since societal organization mimics the mind, projected outward, then this sun at the center of the solar system must also have some parallel in the human mind. And it does. It is our sense of self – the “I” in “I think, therefore I am.”
That self-wareness that resides in each of us is not a facet like our intellect or passion. Rather, it is the energy source at the center that holds all of our facets in stable orbits and around which they all revolve.
And, in a Story Mind in the real world, it is the group’s collective identity that functions as its sense of self so that all members feel a commonality as part of the whole. I am a Virginian, or I am an alumnus of USC, or I am a Sci-Fi fan, are all statements of sharing an umbrella identity with all other members of the same group.
Naturally, a person can be a member of several groups at once. And so, they shift between one sense of identity and another whenever their activities or involvement move from one realm into another, just as the moon orbits the earth but also revolves around the sun and also around the galactic center.
When these multiple allegiances are nested, it functions rather smoothly. In terms of the birth of a Story Mind, people from the general population form groups. And then, these groups come to work together on an even larger issue, each group will eventually specialize so that one group becomes the voice of reason for the confederation while another evolves into the passionate voice of the confederation. In time, a star will form at the center of the confederation, creating its own identity as well, so that one may be a Virginian and also an American simultaneously. In this example, each state will have its own Story Mind, its own narrative, and they will also each be part of a larger narrative of the nation and its Story Mind. We call this phenomenon fractal psychology, as it describes how the dynamic structure of a single mind is replicated in a series of nested psychologies of progressively larger confederate groups.
Sometimes, in the real world, things build from the grass roots up, starting with individuals, then creating associations, factions, movements, parties, local governments, regional governments, and ultimately national governments. Even the planet as a whole is a Story Mind Narrative with its own global sense of self in which we all share. And the nations of the world jockey to specialize as the different aspects of a single mind’s problem solving psychology, thereby establishing their own national identities and also contributing its unique spin on the issues that affect all of humanity.
Other times, in chaotic social environments such as after natural disasters, war, or revolution, Story Mind narratives may form at several levels at once. But in either case, until that critical mass is reached in which the central star ignites in any group, thereby establishing a common sense of self for all its members, there is no organized functional narrative – no Story Mind.
Still, we can see the elements of a potential future mind begin to congeal as individuals and factions form into stable, definable attributes of the mind – the building blocks at an elemental level that will ultimately gather into families of like components that we recognize as the high-level aspects of psychology from faith to temptation.
In simple terms, Dramatica theory includes something of Periodic Table of Story Elements called, not surprisingly, the Dramatica Table of Story Elements. It had four levels. The top level names the largest aspects of our minds into which we tend to categorize our thoughts – essentially, the biggest families of thought that go on in our heads.
Each of these is subdivided in the next level down into the smaller cognitive components that make it up – sub-families within each top-level family of cognitive function. By the time we get down to the bottom level of the table, we are dealing with the elements – specialized mental functions that are the smallest we can perceive within ourselves as separate definable kinds of thought. These elements are the tiniest building blocks of a story mind that have any real meaning for us as a comparative to our own internal attributes and processes.
So, in a chaotic social environment, we will first see the formation of elements within any potential Story Mind at whatever level we are exploring (from local to national). Until all these essential elements are represented by some individual or group, even if the individual or group represents more than one, until they are all present there cannot be a complete narrative.
Yet, we can watch the elements form, and see the larger families form and those above them as well. As they do, we can begin to get a sketchy sense of what the final nature of any potential Story Mind will be as more and more components gather and firm up into lines of energy that define dynamics that hold all the particles together into a narrative structure that is analogous to our own internal mental system.
But just as we can be member of multiple narrative minds when we are both interested in sci-fi an also Virginians or USC grads, so too in a chaotic social environment proto Story Minds may move through each other like galaxies colliding, disrupting (or perhaps enhancing) the storyforming process in each.
It is not until a Story Mind reaches that point of ignition that the gravity within it is sufficient to keep it stable against only a direct encounter or even a near encounter from another Story Mind, proto or complete. Then, simple physics come into play to predict the result. From psychology to physics in one sentence. Sounds speculative. And yet, it rings true to our understanding of both.
The specifics of how all this can unfold, the applications of how we might employ it to understand and perhaps even guide the emergence and evolution of narrative storyforms at all scales within our world – these are intriguing and powerful lines of inquiry.
But, for now, my purpose here was no more than to describe the birth of a Story Mind in the real world, and how that process is closely analogous to the formation of solar systems with the planets as characters and the star as the Main Character – the Story Mind’s sense of self with whom the audience identifies, through whom the audience experiences being in the story, and in the real world which provides the force of commonality that binds a narrative together.
Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator of Dramatica