Dramatica Unplugged (Part 7) – Story Structure vs. Storytelling

In this episode of the 113 part video series we explore one of the most useful, yet most difficult, tools an author can possess: the ability to tell the difference between story structure and storytelling. Typically, authors think of their stories in terms of the people in it, how they relate, what happens to them, and what it all means. But this is mixing storytelling with story structure because all subject matter is storytelling.

To see this, consider a Protagonist – a structural character. The Protagonist is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the story goal – a structural function. But, whether the Protagonist is man, woman, child, animal, or a cloud is all storytelling. Now consider that the the Protagonist is married, or has a relationship with his boss, or has one leg, or possesses special powers – all storytelling. None of this changes that the Protagonist is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the goal.

But, consider the Reason archetype. They provide the story with the logical point of view, so that the story does not seem lacking in exploring that perspective, for certainly every reader or audience member is using logic as one of the ways he or she is examining the story. The Reason archetype is another structural character. And it doesn’t matter if it is a man, woman, child, animal or cloud; it doesn’t matter if the Reason archetype is the Protagonist’s spouse or boss or has one leg or possesses special powers – the structural relationship between Protagonist and Reason is that the Protagonist provides the drive and the Reason archetype provides the logical perspective.

Structure ends there and any subject matter, personality traits, physical attributes, history, intelligence or real world relationships are all storytelling.

By being able to separate story structure from storytelling, an author can get down to the underlying mechanics that makes their story make sense and ring true. By possessing this ability, and author can tell whether a problem with a story is caused by what is being said or how it is being said. And most important of all, dividing story structure from storytelling enables an author to ensure the framework of their story – its foundation – has no holes or inconsistencies that weaken it.

Think of structure as a platter upon which your subject matter is served, and the manner in which you serve it is your style. Think of structure as a carrier wave upon which a song is transmitted over the radio, think of the music and lyrics as the subject matter and the performance as the style.

Clarifying this understanding in your mind will help focus your work without undermining the serendipity of your Muse.

Melanie Anne Phillips,
Co-creator, Dramatica