Lose your Muse?
Trouble finding your author’s voice?
Stalled on your first draft?
Trouble fitting ideas together?
The concept behind this method of finding inspiration is quite simple, really: It is easier to come up with many ideas than it is to come up with one idea.
Now that may sound counter-intuitive, but consider this… When you are working on a particular story and you run into a specific structural problem, you are looking for a creative inspiration in a very narrow area. But creativity isn’t something you can control like a power tool or channel onto a task. Rather, it is random, and applies itself to whatever it wants.
Yet creative inspiration is always running at full tilt within us, coming up with new ideas, thinking new thoughts – just not the thoughts we are looking for. So if we sit and wait for the Muse to shine its light on the exact structural problem we’re stuck on, it might be days before lightning strikes that very spot.
Fortunately, we can trick Creativity into working on our problem by making it think it is being random. As an example, consider this log line for a story: A Marshall in an Old West border town struggles with a cutthroat gang that is bleeding the town dry.
Step One: Asking Questions
Now if you had the assignment to sit down and turn this into a full-blown, interesting, one-of-a-kind story, you might be a bit stuck for what to do next. So, try this. First ask some questions:
1. How old is the Marshall?
2. How much experience does he have?
3. Is he a good shot?
4. How many men has he killed (if any)
5. How many people are in the gang?
6. Does it have a single leader?
7. Is the gang tight-knit?
8. What are they taking from the town?
9. How long have they been doing this?
You could probably go on and on and easily come up with a hundred questions based on that single log line. It might not seem at first that this will help you expand your story, but look at what’s really happened. You have tricked your Muse into coming up with a detailed list of what needs to be developed! And it didn’t even hurt. In fact, it was actually fun.
Step Two: Answering Questions
But that’s just the first step. Next, take each of these questions and come up with as many different answers as you can think of. Let your Muse run wild through your mind. You’ll probably find you get some ordinary answers and some really outlandish ones, but you’ll absolutely get a load of them!
a) How old is the Marshall?
Some of these potential ages are ridiculous – or are they? Every ordinary story based on such a log line would have the Marshall be 28 or 35. Just another dull story, grinding through the mill.
Step One Revisited
But what if your Marshall was 86 or 7 years old? Let’s switch back to Step One and ask some questions about his age.
1. How would an 86 year old become a Marshall?
2. Can he still see okay?
3. What physical maladies plague him?
4. Is he married?
5. What kind of gun does he use?
6. Does he have the respect of the town?
And on and on…
Return to Step Two
As you might expect, now we switch back to Step Two again and answer each question as many different ways as you can.
5. What kind of gun does he use?
a) He uses an ancient musket, can barely lift it, but is a crack shot and miraculously hits whatever he aims at.
b) He uses an ancient musket and can’t hit the broad side of a barn. But somehow, his oddball shots ricochet off so many things, he gets the job done anyway, just not as he planned.
c) He uses a Gattling gun attached to his walker.
d) He doesn’t use a gun at all. In 63 years with the Texas Rangers, he never needed one and doesn’t need one now.
e) He uses a sawed off shotgun, but needs his deputy to pull the trigger for him as he aims.
f) He uses a whip.
g) He uses a knife, but can’t throw it past 5 feet anymore.
And on and on again…
Methinks you begin to get the idea. First you ask questions, which trick the Muse into finding fault with your work – an easy thing to do that your Creative Spirit already does on its own – often to your dismay.
Next, you turn the Muse loose to come up with as many answers for each question as you possibly can.
Then, you switch back to question mode and ask as many as you can about each of your answers.
And then you come up with as many answers as possible for those questions.
You can carry this process out for as many generations as you like, but the bulk of story material you develop will grow so quickly, you’ll likely not want to go much further than we went in our example.
Imagine, if you just asked 10 questions about the original log line and responded to each of them with 10 potential answers, you’d have 100 story points to consider.
Then, if you went as far as we just did for each one, you’d ask 10 questions of each answer and end up with 1,000 potential story points. And the final step of 10 answers for each of these would yield 10,000 story points!
Now in the real world, you probably won’t bother answering each question – just those that intrigue you. And, you won’t trouble yourself to ask questions about every answer – just the ones that suggest they have more development to offer and seem to lead in a direction you might like to go with your story.
The key point is that rather than staring at a blank page trying to find that one structural solution that will fill a gap or connect two points, use the Creativity Two-Step to trick your Muse into spewing out the wealth of ideas it naturally wants to provide.
Do you want your story to bring your audience to a point of change or to reinforce its current view? Oddly enough, choosing a steadfast Main Character may bring an audience to change and choosing a change character may influence the audience to remain steadfast. Why? It depends upon whether or not your audience shares the Main Character’s point of view to begin with.
Suppose your audience and your Main Character do NOT agree in attitudes about the central issue of the story. Even so, the audience will still identify with the Main Character because he represents the audience’s position in the story. So, if the Main Character grows in resolve to remain steadfast and succeeds, then the message to your audience is, “Change and adopt the Main Character’s view if you wish to succeed in similar situations.”
Clearly, since either change or steadfast can lead to either success or failure in a story, when you factor in where the audience stands a great number of different kinds of audience impact can be created by your choice.
In answering this question, therefore, consider not only what you want your Main Character to do as an individual, but also how that influences your story’s message and where your audience stands in regard to that issue to begin with.
Excerpted from our Dramatica software
Try it risk-free for 90 days at Storymind.com
StoryWeaving – Write Your Novel or Screenplay Step By Step
Step 2: Nonsense!
If you already know what your story is about want to get right to the details, you might want to jump ahead to the “Finding the Holes” step farther down in this path.
But If you could use some additional ideas or are stuck trying to develop the ideas you already have, the next few questions will help you find new material.
If you are really stuck, its probably because you are trying too hard to be creative – a situation often referred to as “Writer’s Block.”
Fortunately, there is a trick you can use to break through Writer’s Block and get your creativity flowing again!
The following technique will help you loosen up and come up with some really off the wall ideas that you may want to incorporate in your story. At the very least, it should give your Muse a kick in the pants. So, even if the ideas themselves aren’t useful, you’ll be inspired to begin again where you were stuck before.
The Nonsense Technique for Overcoming Writers Block
First, write three nonsense words in the space below. Don’t stop to think it over, just jot down the first words that come to mind, as in a word-association test.
Cat, Running, Green
NOTE: You might want to include a mix of nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives
Write your nonsense words below, then proceed to the next step to turn your nonsense words into an inspiration….
Excerpted from our StoryWeaver software. Try it risk-free at Storymind.com
Transcript of the soundtrack from this video:
Class One: Introduction
1.1 Introducing the Story Mind
Let’s look at the central concept in Dramatica: the Story Mind. It’s what makes Dramatica unique. Dramatica says that every complete story is an analogy to a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity.
That’s quite a mouthful, but what it really means is that every complete story is a model of the mind’s problem solving process. In fact, it says that all the elements of the story are actually elements of a single human mind – not the author’s mind, not the audience’s mind but a mind created symbolically in the process of communicating across a medium to reach an audience. It is a mind for the audience to look at, understand and then occupy. That’s the story’s structure itself.
Characters, plot, theme and genre, are not just a bunch of people doing things with value standards in an overall setting. Rather, characters, plot, theme and genre are different families of thought that go on in a Story Mind, in fact that go on in our own minds, made tangible, made incarnate, so that the audience might look into the mechanisms of their own minds – see them from the outside looking in – and thereby get a better understanding of the problem solving process, so when a particular kind of problem comes up in their lives, they’ll have a better idea how to deal with it.
Also from Melanie Anne Phillips…
Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged“
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica
A part of the Dramatica Theory book, we developed the Dramatica Chart of Story Elements (which is not unlike the Periodic Table of Elements in chemistry). Download a free copy of the Dramatica Chart at Storymind.com. You can use it to create the chemistry of your characters, plot, theme, and genre.
The Dramatica chart contains all the psychological processes that must exist in a Story Mind. In fact, every human mind shares all of these processes. What makes one mind different from another is not the kinds of mental activities in each, but rather how the activities are interconnected.
Just as in chemistry, various elements might be combined to create an infinite number of compounds, so too the dramatic elements of the Dramatica Chart can be combined to create virtually all valid psychological structures for stories.
At its most simple level, the chart can be seen as having four principal areas (called classes): Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology. These represent the only four fundamental kinds of problems that might exist in stories (or in life!)
Universe is an external state
Physics, an external process
Mind is an internal state
Psychology, an internal process.
Essentially, any problem you might confront can be classed as either an external or internal state or process.
Universe then is our external environment. Anything that is a problematic fixed situation falls into this category. For example, being stuck in a well, held captive, or missing a leg are all situational “Universe Class” problems.
Physics is about activities that cause us difficulty. Honey bees dying off across the country, the growth of a militant organization, and cancer are all “Physics Class” problems.
(Note that if having cancer is a problem – such as people being prejudiced against you because you are cancerous – that is a situation or Universe problem because it is a steady or fixed state: a condition. But if it is the spread of the disease that we see as a problem, then it is a Physics-style activity problem. It is important not to assume content in a story falls into a particular class until you determine how that content is actually problematic.)
Mind is the internal equivalent of Universe – a fixed internal state. So, a prejudice, bias, fixation, or fixed attitude would be the source of problems in a “Mind Class” story.
Psychology is the Physics of the mind – an internal process. A “Psychology Class” problem would be someone who makes a series of assumptions leading to difficulties, or someone whose self-image and confidence are eroding. (Again, note that having a negative self-image is a state of “Mind” whereas the erosion of one’s self-image is a process that must be stopped or even reversed, and would therefore be a Psychology problem.)
In stories, as in real life, we cannot solve a problem until we can accurately define it. So, the first value of the Dramatica Chart is to present us with a tool for determining into which of the four fundamental categories of problems our particular issue falls.
Now you may think that the terms, Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology, are a little antiseptic, perhaps a bit scientific to be applying to something as intuitive as the writing of stories.
Back when we were naming the concepts in the Dramatica Theory, we were faced with a choice – to either use extremely accurate words that might be a bit off-putting or to use easily accessible words that weren’t quite on the mark. Ultimately we decided that the whole point of the theory was to provide an accurate way of predicting the necessary components of a sound story structure. Therefore, we elected to use the terms that were more accurate, even if they required a little study, rather than to employ a less accurate terminology that could be grasped right away.
Returning to the chart itself, it appears as four towers, each representing one of the four classes and each class having four levels. As we go down the levels from top to bottom we subdivide each kind of problem into smaller and smaller components, thereby refining our understanding of the very particular kind of problem at the core of any given story.
The top level, being the most broad, describes the structural aspects of genre. Genre (in the traditional sense) is largely a storytelling or content-driven realm. But genre is not immune to structure. In fact, as we shall see down the line genre must be built upon a solid structural foundation or it will flounder.
The second level, slightly more refined, deals with the dramatic components that are most associated with plot, especially at act resolution. That’s an odd term, so let’s define it. An act is the largest building block of plot. Each act has a particular kinds of concern that defines all the action that goes on in that act. For example, one act may deal with looking for a lost object, the next act with trying to obtain it, and the last act with bringing it back against steep odds.
“Resolution” is a term we use in Dramatica to describe how big a dramatic component is. The Genre “classes” cover the whole story since each story falls within a particular genre. But the acts change over the course of the story,
shifting from one concern in a given act to another in the next. Therefore, we say that the components of the Dramatica Chart in the second or act level, are of a smaller resolution. Just as the genre level components are called “classes,” the act level components are referred to as “types.” So, we have classes of genres and types of acts.
The third level has the greatest structural impact on a story’s theme. Each of these components is called a Variation, as in “variations of a theme.” The Variations are of an even smaller resolution, and therefore provide more detailed information about the story’s problem.
A story’s thematic conflicts can be mapped in the Variation level. Story-wise, variations are sequence sized. “Sequences” are smaller than acts and are usually comprised of a number of scenes that deal with a particular moral issue or ethical topic.
The fourth and lowest level of the chart provides the greatest resolution on a story’s problem. It is comprised of components called Elements (in reference to their indivisible nature) and has the greatest structural impact on characters.
It is here in the Element Level that we find the plethora of human traits that make up our motivations or drives. It is the interaction among characters representing these various drives that constitute the scenes of our story. So, we say that the Element Level is at scene resolution.
So, like nested dolls, scenes fall within sequences within acts within a genre. In this manner, the structure of a story can be understood not as a simple sequence as one would find in a tale, but rather as a complex mechanism built of wheels within wheels.
We’ll learn more about the Dramatica Chart and its workings later on, but for now, picture it as a cross between a three dimensional chess set, a Rubik’s Cube, and the Periodic Table of Elements, which can be used to build perfect story structures.
Also from Melanie Anne Phillips…
Excerpted from the Book “Dramatica Unplugged“
By Melanie Anne Phillips, Co-creator of Dramatica
So a tale is a simple linear path that the author promotes as being either a good or bad one to take, depending on the outcome. There’s a certain amount of power in that. It wouldn’t take our early storyteller long to realize that he didn’t have to limit himself to relating events that actually happened. Rather, he might carry things a step farther and create a fictional tale to illustrate the benefits or dangers of following a particular course.
That is the concept behind Fairy Tales and Cautionary Tales – to encourage certain behaviors and inhibit other behaviors based on the author’s belief as to the most efficacious courses of action in life.
But what kind of power could you get as an author if you were able to not merely say, “This conclusion is true for this particular case,” but rather “This conclusion is true for all such similar cases”?
In other words, if you begin “here,” then no matter what path you might take from that given starting point, it wouldn’t be as good (or as bad) as the one I’m promoting. Now, rather than saying that the approach you have described is simply good or bad in and of itself, you are suggesting that of all the approaches that might have been taken, yours is the best (or worst) way to go.
Now that has a lot more power to it because you are telling everyone, “If you find yourself in this situation, exclude any other paths; take only this one,” or, “If you find yourself in this situation, no matter what you do, don’t do this!”
That kind of statement has a lot more power to manipulate an audience. But, because you’ve only shown the one path (even though you are saying it is better than any others) you are making a blanket statement.
An audience simply won’t sit still for a blanket statement. They’ll cry, “Foul!” They will at least question you. So, if our caveman sitting around the fire say, “Hey, this is the best of all possible paths,” the audience is going to say , “What about this other case? What if we tried this, this or this?”
If the author was able to successfully argue his case he would compare all the solutions the audience might suggest to the one he is touting and conclusively show that the promoted path is clearly the best (or worst). Or, a solution might be suggested that proves better than the author’s, in which case his blanket statement loses all credibility.
In a nutshell, for every rebuttal the audience voices, the author can attempt to counter the rebuttal until he has proven his case. Now, he wont’ have to argue every conceivable alternative solution – just the ones the audience brings up. And if he is successful, he’ll eventually exhaust their suggestions or simply tire them out to the point they are willing to accept his conclusions.
But the moment you record a story as a song ballad, a stage play, or a motion picture (for example), then the original author is no longer there to counter any rebuttals the audience might have to his blanket statement.
So if someone in the audience thinks of a potential way to resolve the problem and you haven’t addressed it in your blanket statement, they will feel there is a hole in your argument and that you haven’t made your case.
Therefore, in a recorded art form, you need to include all the other reasonable approaches that might be tried in order to “sell” your approach as the best or the worst. You need to show how each alternative is not as good (or as bad) as the one you are promoting thereby proving that your blanket statement is correct.
In order to do this, you must anticipate all the other ways the audience might consider solving the problem in question. In effect, you have include all the ways anyone might think of solving that problem. Essentially, you have to include all the ways any human mind might go about solving that problem. In so doing, you create a model of the mind’s problem-solving process: the Story Mind.
Now, no caveman ever sat down by a fire and said to himself, “I’m going to create an analogy to the mind’s problem-solving processes.” Yet in the process of successfully telling a story in a recorded art form (thereby showing that a particular solution is better than all other potential ones) the structure of the story becomes a model of psychology as an accidental byproduct.
Once this is understood, you can psychoanalyze your story. And you find that everything that is in the human mind is represented in some tangible form in a story’s structure.
That’s what Dramatica is all about. Once we had that Rosetta Stone, we set ourselves to documenting the psychology of story structure. We developed a model of this structure and described it in our book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story. While that book is detailed and complete, it is also written like a scientific paper. For decades folks have been clamoring for less daunting guide to the theory – something that covers all the key points but in a more conversational tone. Hence, this book. Better late than never, eh?
Also from Melanie Anne Phillips…