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Story Domain Examples

In previous classes we’ve talked about the problem at the heart of a story that drives all the dramatics – from character growth through plot progressino and even development of the message.  In order to have the best control of our story, we need to know as much as we can about the specific nature of our story’s problem.  In fact, it is the discovery of that nature of the problem and then the attempt to find a solution for it that describes that journey of the characters in the story as well.

As we found, the first thing we can do to zero in on the nature of the problem is to determine whether it is an external problem (like being trapped in a cave) or an internal problem (like having a bad attitude).  Naturally, external problems can cause attitude problems and vice versa.  But the question is: from where does the problem originate – where does it begin: externally or internally.  That becomes ground zero for you story’s dramatics and all that happens in the other realm is best seen as ripples or ramifications of the problem.

Once you know if you are dealing with an external or internal problem, you can further clarify it by asking, “Is the problem with the way things are, or the way things are headed?”  In other words, is you problem (regardless of external or internal) caused by the state of things or by processes that are going awry?  An external state is a situation.  An internal state is an attitude, prejudice or fixation.  An external process is an activity.  An internal process is a manner of thinking or train of thought.  For example, even if someone has a great attitude, if their thoughts lead them down a negative path, they can end up in a depression for no good reason.

This much we learned in previous classes, and we named the external and internal states and processes, Universe (external state), Mind (internal state), Physics (external processes), Psychology (internal processes).  In fact, those are the four top-level categories in the Dramatica table of story elements.  To gain even more clarity about our story’s problem, we can continue to sub-divide the nature of the problem in each of these four areas, going down level after level in detail until we get to the heart of the matter – the elemental kernal that is the grain of sand at the core of the pearl – the big bang that resulted in the entier story world we are exploring.

Again, this much we have covered.  But what we have not yet explored is that no matter how detailed our examination of the nature of the problem and its story-wide ramifications, this only describes what we are lookiing at as both author and audience.  It says nothing about where we are looking from – our point of view, which is (essentially) where the author wants to position the audience in regard to the problem or subject under study.

There are, in fact, four points of view: that of the main character who represents the “first person” angle on the story.  It is through the main character’s eyes that the audience most personally and passionately experiences the nature of the story’s problem.  Then there is the “second person” perspective – the “you” angle by which the audience is able to observe the opposing view point to that of the main character, not by stepping into another set of shoes, but by examining it from the outside as we would if looking at someone else and their view point.  In stories, this represents that “devil’s advocate” voice within our own minds by which we consider changing our view on a particular issue or belief, but not by simply trying it on.  If we did, we would have already changed.  Rather, we look AT that piont of view and ask ourselves, “who would I be if I changed my view to that, rather than this?”

If we examine the give and take tug of war between those two views of the main character (“I”) and the influence character (“you”) we can see how each point of view struggles against the other for spremacy in the story’s mind, as it were.  That battle between two ideals is a third point of view – second person plural or “we.”  It is the battle in which boths sides of ourselves (represented by the main and influence character) have it out with each other.  Like fighters circling in the ring, our two view points revolve around one another until we arrive at a decision to stick with our guns and hold on to the old view or to change and adopt the new one.  We call this the “Subjective” view.

So far then, we have “I”, “You”, and “We.”  But there is one more – “They.”  This final view is of all the other characters in the story – those not involved in the philosophical argment because they don’t fall on either side of it.  Rather, all the other characters represent the other aspects of our minds that are trying to solve the logistic nature of the problem while our sense of self (the main character) has it out with the opposite philosophic view that outlines who we might become if we changed (the influence character). In fact, both the main and influence characters also have objective roles.

You might think of it as that our own minds have different facets – a voice of reason, for example, or skepticism.  These are represented by the charactes in a story so we can see, externally, how these different traits fare against one another and thereby the author can make an argument as to which of them is the best place to come from when trying to solve the particular kind of problem at the center of this particular story.  But in ourselves, not only do we have these traits or qualities, but we also have a sense of self (“I think, therefore I am” – represented by the main character who is not a trait but that self awareness of our own existence – that inner eye that can cast itself upon our own nature).

So, the main character may be at any given time coming from any one of those trait positions.  For example, in one story the main character may be attached to the character representing the voice of reason, meaning that the story mind’s sense of self is coming from a position of reason in regard to this particular problem.  Such a main character would be the audience position in the story and would then make the philosophic argument that reason was the way to go about solving the story’s problem.

But, the opposite view, that of the influence character, would argue that emotion was the way to best solve the problem – though passion and humanity.  So this forth and final view point of the objective story – the “they” perspective is about all the traits, as represented by characters.  We do not occupy them, we observe them.  This does not mean we will not care about them, but it is not the same as caring about yourself, which we only do for the main character.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is that for any given story, each of the four kinds of problems (Universe, Mind, Physics and Psychology) will be explored by one of the four points of view – I, You, We, and They – the main character, influence character, subjective story, and objective story.  When we attach or associate a point of view with an aspect of what we are looking at, we create perspective.  And it is this perspective that holds a story’s meaning – essentially, from here it looks like this, while from HERE it looks like THIS.  And, when it looks like those things from all those points of view, it is better to stick with your original philosophic viewpoint or to change it.

Which is better is not determined by the structure, but simply by the author’s determination as to which messsage he wants to make.  After all, structurally, there is no right or wrong.  Rather, right and wrong come from which traits are appropriate in which contexts.  When a structure is placed in a given context (a particular real-world subject matter) than a given philosophy or trait might be right in one set of circumstances but completely wrong in another.  And that is the author’s message: that in these particular circustances, do this (or, conversely, don’t do that, whatever you do!)

In the end, structure simply makes a complete argument, leaving no stone unturned.  The main character provided a touch point for our own senses of self as readers or members of the audience.  The objective characters show how all the other traits or qualities of our minds come into play in this given scenario.  Determining the nature of the problem tells us what the issue is, and the perspectives created by associated each point of view with a different angle on the problem replicates the way that problem looks in real life to all the different ways we might look at it.

Simple, really.

The Four Story Domains

The subject matter of any story that describes the nature of the central problem falls into one of four domains – Universe (a fixed state), Mind (a mind set or attitude), Physics (an activity), or Psychology (a problematic chain of thought).

All four domains must be explored in every fully developed story, but only one will be see as the source of the story’s problem and the other three will exhibit the ramifications of that problem as it ripples out to affect all of the characters.

The reason for this is easy to see if we consider a problem in real life.  We might first ask ourselves, “Is the problem caused by something external (like the creature in the original Alien movie) or by something internal (like Scrooge’s outlook and attitude in A Christmas Carol).

An earthquake, an asteroid, and a shark are all external problems, but with one caveat – any of these might be seen as characters if they are imbued with human traits as opposed to being viewed as forces of nature.

So, if you actually try to get into the head of the shark in your storytelling or if you portray the asteroid as having a mind of its own – literally – then it becomes a character and as such whatever is driving it is an internal issue.  But, under most circumstances these things would be seen as just that – things – and therefore would be appreciated by both author and audience as external problems.

Naturally, then, any story in which the central problem is caused by a character – by any entity that is host to human traits and considerations – then it is an internal problem.  Essentially, the concept is, is it mind or matter.  Or, as has been said, “What’s mind?  No matter.  What’s matter?  Never mind.”

Once you have determined if your story’s problem (or any problem you encounter in real life) is caused by something external or internal you have a much better grasp of the nature of the beast, and therefore of which tools you’ll need to bring to bear in the attempt to find a solution and implement it.

That, in fact, is the real underlying message of a story – for this particular kind of problem, here’s the best tool set (means or methodology) for solving it.  So, stories are about first identifying and then determining the best way to solve a problem.

Still, while we can learn much about a problem just by ruling out external or internal so we have a better focus on where the real issue resides, we can learn much more, even at this most broad stroke initial level of parsing the problem in our dramatics.

To do this, we can sub-divide both external and internal into two other categories: State or Process.  An external state is a situation; an external process is an activity.  The difference between the two is that a situational problem is unchanging, like being stuck in an overturned boat under the water, whereas an activity problem is like a bridge that is crumbling while you try to get your troops across it to safety.  Both are external, and yet they are different “flavors” of external, and therefore will require different approaches and skill sets to solve.

Similarly, an internal problem can be a fixed state such as an attitude, outlook, fixation or prejudice that essentially never changes (at least until possibly at the climax of the story).  While, on the other hand, an internal problem might be an activity – a manner of thinking or a process or chain of thought – that causes problems.

Hamlet, for example, is defined by the trait that he overthinks the plumbing.  For example, he finds the kind kneeling alone in prayer and could easily kill him at that moment.  But, he begins to reason, point by point, that he cannot act then because the king, being in prayer, would go to heaven and that is not sufficient for his revenge.

In another example, imagine a fellow about to interview for a job for which he  is perfectly qualified and completely confident.  But, he begins to think that maybe he is too perfectly qualified and therefore will be seen as not having growth potential and….  if he isn’t seen favorably, it will make him nervous and… if he gets nervous, he’ll become tongue-tied and…   if the becomes tongue tied they won’t think he can communicate very well and…  so on.  Clearly, he didn’t have the wrong attitude, but the problem is because of the path his thoughts take – the process or activity of thinking itself: an internal activity.

To be clear, all four of these domains will be explored as the story unfolds, as we usually first become aware of the true nature of a problem by examining its symptoms.  And only when we have used those symptoms to triangulate on and diagnose the problem are we certain of which of the four is the actual source.  Only then can we bring to bear the proper tools to solve it, and, again, the story’s message, ultimately, is an argument as to which is the best set of tools for the job.