Write a Log Line for Your Story

A log line is just a one sentence description of the core of what your story is about.

You probably have a lot of ideas developed and even a potential structure.

That’s great, but it also can become a bit amorphous – all dealing with the same subject matter but perhaps not fully centered on a single concept.

Writing a log line is like dropping a string in a bowl of sugar water – by morning, there will be sugar crystals on the string. A log line performs the same function for your story concepts: It pulls them out of the subject matter and crystalizes them into characters, plot, theme and genre – the foundational elements of structure. I call it a “narrative attractor.”

So, to help your subject matter congeal around a central core, describe what your story is about in just one sentence!

Learn how to use log lines in my StoryWeaver software that guides you step by step through the entire story development process – from concept to completion.

It’s just $29.95 and you can try it risk free at Storymind.com

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Narrative for Movies and Television – Part 1 of 3

As promised to the attendees, here is the first of three parts of the outline for the seminar I presented to the Director’s Guild of Canada last Sunday in Vancouver.  Parts 2 and 3 will be posted tomorrow and the next day.

It was a spectacular session with a packed house of really eager creative industry people, looking for ways to break through creative block, inject life into their stories, and find and fix elusive narrative problems.

Judging by the response, they found what they were looking for.

Thanks again to the DGC for their invitation, to Roy Hayter who initiated the concept and sheparded it through, and to Barbara Anne Schoemaker (BA) who anticipated and handled every detail to not only make the seminar a huge success, but to make my experience both incredible and indelibly memorable.  Good people, one and all!

So, here’s part one of the seminar outline for reference, which of course does not contain any of the graphics, animations, numerous video clips or commentary.

Narrative for Movies & Television Seminar

Fix it in the Script – NOT in Post!

Part 1 of 3 – Fixing Character Problems in Existing Scripts

 

Narrative for Movies & Television

            Fix it in the script – NOT in post

Welcome!

Introduction

            Seminar Overview

                        Morning Session

                                    Identify common serious narrative flaws

                                    Techniques to repair flawed narratives

                        Afternoon Session

                                    Story Development Techniques

                                    Application of Structure to the Creative Process

What is Narrative?

            Origin of Narrative

            Generations of Storytellers

            Trial And Error

            Conventions of Storytelling

            Patterns of Dramatics

            The Concept of Narrative

Models of Narrative

            Aristotle and the 3 Act structure

            Jung and the collective unconscious

            Campbell and the Hero’s Journey

            Each had exceptions; Each was a formula

            Each showed only a glimpse of the elusive structure

A New Model of Narrative

            Structure is Non-Linear

            The Story Mind

Teaser

            “You and I are both alike”

What’s Happening!!!

            Narrative is happening

            These are the kinds of dramatic elements that make up narrative.

            If a narrative doesn’t have all the important elements, it will fail

            Let’s learn how to recognize and repair flawed narrative elements…

Narrative Problems with Characters

            The most common narrative missteps regarding characters, and how to fix them.

The Main Characterv& Influence Character

            The passionate core of your story’s message

Main & Influence Characters

            So who ARE these guys?

            Main Character represents a paradigm of belief.

            Influence Character represents an opposing view.

            Between them is your story’s passionate argument.

            The result of this argument is your story’s message.

To Kill A Mockingbird

            4 Principal Characters

                        Main Character

                                    First Person Experience for Audience

                        Influence Character

                                    An alternative life view

                        Protagonist

                                    Prime mover of the effort to achieve the goal

                        Antagonist

                                    Diametrically opposed to Protagonist achieving the goal

Head Line & Heart Line

Heroes and Villains

            The Hero

                        Protagonist

                        Main Character

                        Central Character

                        Good Guy

            The Villain

                        Antagonist

                        Influence Character

                        Second Most Central Character

                        Bad Guy

            Hero and Villain Swap

                        Anti-Heroes

                        Anti-Villains

            Melodrama

                        Head line AND heart line between same characters

                        Power of storytelling masks gaps in arguments

                        Arguments are incomplete

                        Conclusions not supported

            The Dramatic Triangle

                        Can fully separate as in To Kill A Mockingbird

                        Can hinge on one character and split the lines

                        Most common variation (the love interest)

                        Other variations

The Heart Line

            Main Character Resolve

                        The Main Character doesn’t have to change to grow

                        He or she can grow in their resolve

            The influence character pressure the MC to change

                        Key establishing points to reference later.

            Change Characters

                        Establish a belief system

                        Establish illustrations of belief

                        Announce resolve

                        Verify resolve

            Steadfast Characters

                        Establish belief system

                        Establish illustrations of belief

                        Announce resolve

                        Verify resolve

            One Must Change

                        Main or Influence will convince the other to change

                        Change occurs at character climax

                        Success in logistic goal hinges on who changes

                        Message determined by results of change

            A Changing Influence Character

Character Arc

            Character Arc 101

                        The Steady Freddy

                        The Griever

                        The Weaver

                        The Waffler

                        The Exception Maker

                        The Backslider

                        How Change Happens

The Head Line

            Archetypes

                        Origins of Archetypes

                        Each of us has the same complement of basic traits

                        We use them to solve our personal problems

                        When we join in a group, we quickly self-organize

                        As specialists, the group gains depth and focus

            The 8 Archetypes

Protagonist

Initiative

Antagonist

Reticence

Reason

Intellect

Emotion

Passion

Guardian

Prudence

Contagonist

Expediency

Sidekick

Confidence

Skeptic

Doubt

            External / Internal

                        Protagonist

                                    Pursuit/Consider

                        Antagonist

                                    Prevent/Reconsider

                        Reason

                                    Logic/Control

                        Emotion

                                    Feeling/Uncontrolled

                        Guardian

                                    Help/Conscience

                        Contagonist

                                    Hinder/Temptation

                        Sidekick

                                    Support/Faith

                        Skeptic

                                    Oppose/Disbelief

            Star Wars Archetypes

                        Protagonist

                                    Luke Skywalker

                        Antagonist

                                    The Empire

                        Reason

                                    Princess Leia

                        Emotion

                                   Chewbacca

                        Guardian

                                    Obi Wan Kenobi

                        Contagonist

                                    Darth Vader

                        Sidekick

                                    R2D2 & C3PO

                        Skeptic

                                    Han Solo

            Oz Archetypes

                        Protagonist

                        Dorothy

                         Antagonist

                        Wicked Witch

                         Reason

                        Scarecrow

                          Emotion

                        Tin Man

                          Guardian

                        Glinda

                         Contagonist

                        Wizard

                         Sidekick

                                    Toto

                        Skeptic

                                    Lion

            Oz vs. Star Wars

                        Leia- Reason

                                    Logic

                                    Control

                        Scarecrow- Reason

                                    Logic

                                    Uncontrolled

            Oz vs. Star Wars

                        Chewbacca- Emotion

                                    Feeling

                                    Uncontrolled

                        Tin Man- Emotion

                                    Feeling

                                    Controlled

            Oz Element Swap

                        Scarecrow (Reason?)

                                    Logic

                                    Uncontrolled

                        Tin Man (Emotion?)

                                    Feeling

                                    Controlled

            Complex Characters & Relationships

                        Complex Characters

                                    Structural Relationships

                                    Character Relationships

                        Four-Dimensional Characters

                                    Motivations

                                    Methodologies

                                    Purposes

                                    Evaluations

            Summing Up Characters

                        Head Line characters involved in the goal

                        Heart Line characters involved in the message

                        Head Line determines if your story will make sense

                        Heart Line determines if your story will have meaning

Intermission

Part 2 of the outline will be posted tomorrow and part 3 on the next day

Posted in Announcements | Comments Off on Narrative for Movies and Television – Part 1 of 3

What is Truth? (The Character’s Dilemma)

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Characters reflect real people in a purified or idealized state.  And so, we can see in them qualities and traits that are hard to see within ourselves.  One of the most difficult challenges we face every day are exemplified by characters in virtually every story – the inability to confidently understand “what is truth?”

In this article, excerpted from the Dramatica Narrative Theory Book I wrote with Chris Huntley, the elusive and changing nature of truth is explored for the benefit of your characters and yourself.

What Is Truth?

We cannot move to resolve a problem until we recognize the problem. Even if we feel the inequity, until we can pinpoint it or understand what creates it, we can neither arrive at an appropriate response or act to nip it at its source.

If we had to evaluate each inequity that we encounter with an absolutely open mind, we could not learn from experience. Even if we had seen the same thing one hundred times before, we would not look to our memories to see what had turned out to be the source or what appropriate measures had been employed. We would be forced to consider every little friction that rubbed us the wrong way as if we have never encountered it. Certainly, this is another form of inefficiency, as “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In such a scenario, we would not learn from our mistakes, much less our successes. But is that inefficiency? What if we encounter an exception to the rules we have come to live by? If we rely completely on our life experience, when we encounter a new context in life, our whole paradigm may be inappropriate.

You Idiom!

We all know the truisms, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” “guilt by association,” “one bad apple spoils the bunch,” “the only good (fill in the blank) is a dead (fill in the blank).” In each of these cases we assume a different kind of causal relationship than is generally scrutinized in our culture. Each of these phrases asserts that when you see one thing, another thing will either be there also, or will certainly follow. Why do we make these assumptions? Because, in context, they are often true. But as soon as we apply them out of context they are just as likely false.

Associations in Space and Time

When we see something occur enough times without exception, our mind accepts it as an absolute. After all, we have never seen it fail! This is like saying that every time you put a piece of paper on hot metal it will burn. Fine, but not in a vacuum! You need oxygen as well to create the reaction you anticipate.

In fact, every time we believe THIS leads to THAT or whenever we see THIS, THAT will also be present, we are making assumptions with a flagrant disregard for context. And that is where characters get into trouble. A character makes associations in their backstory. Because of the context in which they gather their experiences, these associations always hold true. But then the situation (context) changes, or they move into new areas in their lives. Suddenly some of these assumptions are absolutely untrue!

Hold on to Your Givens!

Why doesn’t a character (or person) simply give up the old view for the new? There are two reasons why one will hold on to an outmoded, inappropriate understanding of the relationships between things. We’ll outline them one at a time.

First, there is the notion of how many times a character has seen things go one way, compared to the number of times they’ve gone another. If a character builds up years of experience with something being true and then encounters one time it is not true, they will tend to treat that single false time as an exception to the rule. It would take as many false responses as there had been true ones to counter the balance.

Context is a Sneaky Thing

Of course, one is more sensitive to the most recent patterns, so an equal number of false items (or alternative truths) is not really required when one is aware he has entered a new situation. However, situations often change slowly and even in ways we are not aware. So context is in a constant state of flux. If something has always proven true in all contexts up to this point then one is not conscious of entering a whole new context. Rather, as we move in and out of contexts, a truism that was ALWAYS true may now be true sometimes and not true at other times. It may have an increasing or decreasing frequency of proving true or may tend toward being false for a while, only to tend toward being true again later. This kind of dynamic context requires that something be seen as false as often as it has been seen as true in order to arrive even at a neutral point where one perspective is not held more strongly than the other.

*******

Let me now add a short conclusion to this excerpt from the Dramatica Book….

Truth is a process, not a conclusion.  If you have ever dipped into Zen, you realize that you cannot fully understand what something is unless you become it, and yet if you do, you lose the awareness of what it is as seen from the outside.

Capital “T” truth is perpetually elusive, as described in the saying, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao.”  Or, in less cryptic terms, if you define something, you have missed the point because nothing stands alone from the rest of the universe and cannot be fully defined apart from it.

The key to open-mindedness and problem solving is to decalcify your mind, to make it limber enough to perceive and explore alternative points of view without immediately abandoning the point of view you currently hold.

That is the nature of stories – when a main character’s belief system is challenged by an influence character who represents an alternative truth.  The entire passionate “heart line” of a story exists to examine the relative value of each perspective, and the message of a story is the author’s statement that, based on the author’s own experience or special knowledge, in this particular instance, one view is better than the other for solving this particular problem.

There is no right or wrong inherently.  It all depends upon the context, which is never constant.  The philosopher David Hume believed that truth was transient: as long as something worked, it was true, and when it failed to work it was no longer true.

And so, the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article, “What is truth?” can only be “truth is our best understanding of the moment.”

For a tangential topic, you may with to read my article, “The False Narrative,” in which I explore how to recognize, dismantle and/or create false narratives in fiction and in the real world.

And finally, you may wish to support this poor philosopher and teacher of narrative by trying my Dramatica Story Structuring Software risk-free for 90 days, or my StoryWeaver Step By Step Story Development Software, also risk-free.

Posted in Narrative Psychology | Comments Off on What is Truth? (The Character’s Dilemma)

How to Make a Great Story Better!

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Here’s a flashback article from the early days of the Dramatica theory of narrative structure back in the mid 1990s.  It is the first article I wrote in a series of “Constructive Criticisms” in which I showed how Dramatica could have improved highly successful movies and books, not just ones that were obviously flawed.

We knew Dramatica was a powerful new way to look at structure.  And to convey this to others, we figured that while anybody might show how to make a bad story better, we had the method to show how to make a great story superlative.

So, here’s the original article as it appeared in the first edition of our Storyforming Newsletter…

Jurassic Park: Building A Better Dinosaur!

Jurassic Park is wonderfully entertaining. The concepts are intriguing, the visuals stunning. Everything it does, it does well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do enough. There are parts missing, little bits of story DNA that are needed to complete the chain. To be fair, these problems largely result from the mostly faithful adherence to the dramatic structure and dynamics of the book upon which the movie is based.

Storyform, the structure and dynamics of a story, is not medium dependent. What works in one medium will work in all others. Storytelling, however, must vary significantly to take advantage of the strengths and avoid the weaknesses inherent in any format. Jurassic Park makes this storytelling translation very well, but the flawed dramatics were nearly lifted intact, shackling the movie just like the book with a Pterodactyl hanging `round its neck.

Yet criticisms are a dime a dozen. Suggestions for improvement are much more rare. Fortunately that is the strong suit of the Dramatica theory. Here is one plan for building a better dinosaur.

Dramatica Background

As a starting point, Dramatica denotes a difference between a Tale and a Story. A Tale describes a series of events that lead to success or failure. It carries the message that a particular way of going about solving the problem is or is not a good one. But a Story is an argument that there is only one right way to solve a problem. It is a much more potent form that seeks to have the audience accept the author’s conclusions.

To gain an audience’s acceptance, an argument (Story) must appeal to both logic and feeling. To make the logical part of this argument, all the inappropriate ways a problem might be approached need to be addressed and shown to fail. Each one must be given its due and shown not to work except the one touted by the author. This is accomplished by looking at the characters and the plot objectively, much like a general on a hill watching a battle down below. The big picture is very clear and the scope and ramifications of the individual soldiers can be seen in relationship to the entire field.

However, to make the emotional part of the argument, the audience must become involved in the story at a personal level. To this end, they are afforded a Subjective view of the story through the eyes of the Main Character. Here they get to participate in the battle as if they were actually one of the soldiers in the trenches. It is the differential between the Subjective view of the Main Character and the Objective view of the whole battle that generates dramatic tension from which the message of the story is created.

By comparing the two views, the argument is made to the audience that the Main Character must change to accommodate the big picture, or that the Main Character is on the right track and must hold on to their resolve if they hope to succeed. Of course, the Main Character cannot see the big picture, so they must make a leap of faith near the end of the story, deciding if they want to stick it out or change.

Now this relationship between the Main Character and the Objective story makes them a very special character. In fact, they hold the key to the whole battle. They are the crucial element in the dramatic web who (through action or inaction) can wrap the whole thing up or cause it to fall apart. As a result, the personal problems they face reflect the nature of the Objective problem of the story at large.

To the audience there are two problems in a story. One is the Objective problem that everyone is concerned with; the other is the Subjective problem that the Main Character is personally concerned with. Although the problems may be greatly different in the way they are manifest, they both hinge on the crucial element in the Main Character as their common root. So, to be a complete argument a story must explore an Objective AND a Subjective problem, and show how they are both related to the same source.

Jurassic Park Analysis:

Jurassic Park attempts to be a story (not a tale) but does not make it because its exploration of the Subjective problem is lacking.

The Objective problem is clearly shown to be caused by the relationship of Order to Chaos. The message of the logical side of the argument is that the more you try to control something, the more you actually open yourself up to the effects of chaos. As Princess Leia put it to the Gran Mof Tarkin in Star Wars, “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

Since Order is actually the problem, the Chaos must be the solution. This is vaguely alluded to in Jurassic Park when the Tyrannosaurus wipes out the Raptors, unknowingly saving the humans. Although the point is not strongly stated, it is sort of there. We will come back to this point later to show how it should have been a much more dramatically integral event than it was. The important concept at the moment is that as far as it goes, the Objective Storyline is fairly close to what it should be, which is true of most action-oriented stories.

It is the Subjective Storyline that fails to fulfill its dramatic mandate in Jurassic Park. To see how we must go back to the very beginning of the film, to our Main Character, Dr. Alan Grant. Since Dr. Grant contains the crucial element, we would expect him to intersect the Objective Story’s problem by representing Order or Chaos. Clearly the author intended him to represent Order. This means that he contains the Problem element (the inappropriate attitude or approach that is the underlying source of the Story’s troubles), rather than the Solution Element, and as such must Change in order to succeed.

The entire first scene with Grant at the dig should have illustrated his love of Order. All the elements were there: a disruptive boy, a randomly sensitive computer, a helicopter that comes out of nowhere and ruins the dig. All of these things could have illustrated Grant’s hatred of Chaos and his quest for Order. Using the same events and incidents the point might have been made in any number of ways, the easiest being a simple comment by Dr. Grant himself.

Unfortunately without any direct allusion to Order being his primary concern, Dr. Grant comes off simply as finding disruptions inconvenient, faulty equipment annoying, and kids as both.

Why is it so important to set up the nature of the problem so early? Well, one of the major problems with the Jurassic Park storyform is that we really don’t know what the problem is until near the end of the first act. Certainly almost every movie goer must have been aware that this was a picture about an island where they cloned dinosaurs back to life, and they run amok wreaking havoc – that’s all storytelling. But that doesn’t say why. The “Why” is the storyform: the excuse, if you will, for having a story to tell. If the point of contention had been established up front, the whole thrust of the picture would have been given direction from scene one.

Just stating that Dr. Grant shares the problem with the story is obviously not enough. The relationship between his view of the problem and the Objective view of the problem is what explores the concept, makes the argument, and allows the Main Character to grow. Ultimately, it is the differential between the two that brings a Changing (versus Steadfast) Main Character to suspect the error of their ways and make a positive leap of faith. They see the problem outside themselves, then find it inside themselves. They change the inside, and the outside follows suit.

What does this mean for Jurassic Park? As it is, Doctor Grant’s attitude toward John Hammond’s ability to control the dinosaurs is one of skepticism, but not because of Order, because of Chaos. Grant simply agrees with Ian Malcolm, the mathematician. This makes the same point from two directions. But Grant’s function is not to tout Chaos, but to favor Order. Only this point of view would be consistent with his feelings toward the children.

As illustrated in the table scene with Hammond, Ian, and Elissa, Grant jumps from representing his original approach to representing the opposite, neutralizing his effectiveness as owner of the crucial element and taking the wind out of the dramatic sails.

This problem could have been easily avoided and strong drama created by having Dr. Grant continue to believe that the park is unsafe, but for different reasons.

(Note: The following proposed scene is designed to illustrate how Grant’s and Ian’s positions on what is needed for the park to be safe is different. The storytelling is minimal so as not to distract from the storyforming argument.

GRANT

How can you be sure your creations won’t escape?

HAMMOND

Each compound is completely encircled with electric fences.

GRANT

How many fences?

HAMMOND

Just one, but it is 10,000 volts.

GRANT

That’s not enough….

HAMMOND

I assure you, even a T-Rex respects 10,000 volts!

GRANT

No, I mean not enough fences. It’s been my experience that Dr. Malcom is right. You can’t count on things going the way you expect them. You need back-ups to your back-ups. Leave a soft spot and Chaos will find it. Put three fences around each compound, each with a separate power source and then you can bring people in here.

MALCOLM

That’s not the point at all! Chaos will happen no matter how much you prepare. In fact, the more you try to control a situation, the greater the potential that chaos will bring the whole thing down.

In the above scene, Grant stresses the need for even MORE control than Hammond used. This clearly establishes his aversion to giving in to chaos. But Ian illustrates the difference in their points of view by stating that the greater the control you exercise, the more you tighten the spring of chaos.

What would this mean for the middle of the story? Plenty. Once Grant and the children are lost in the open with the thunder lizards, he might learn gradually that one must allow Chaos to reach an equilibrium with Order. Several close encounters with the dinos might result in minor successes and failures determined by applying Order or allowing Chaos.

As it stands, Dr. Grant simply learns to care about the children. But what has really changed in him? What did he learn? Would it not have been more dramatically pleasing to have the children teach him how chaos is not just a disruptive element, but sometimes an essential component of life? And would it not make sense for someone who has spent his whole life imagining the way dinosaurs lived to be surprised by the truth when he sees them in person? What a wonderful opportunity to show how the Orderly interactions he had imagined for his beloved beasts are anything but orderly in the real world. So many opportunities to teach him the value of Chaos, yet all we get is “They DO travel in herds… I was right!” Well, that line is a nice place to start, especially if you spend the rest of the story showing how wrong he was about everything else. Truly a good place to start growing from.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Subjective Storyline is the manner in which they escape in the end. Grant and the kids are sealed in the control room, but the Raptors are right outside. The girl struggles to get the computer up so they can get the door locked. This of course, merely delays the Raptors until the helpless humans can escape into another Raptor attack. Then out of nowhere, T-Rex conveniently barges in, kills the Raptors and allows the humans to escape? Why? Why then? Was T-Rex just waiting in the wings for his cue?

Let’s describe one possible ending that would’ve tied in Chaos, Dr. Grant’s personal problem of order in the Subjective storyline, his growth as a character and eventual change, AND have all this force a successful outcome to the Objective storyline.

Imagine that earlier in the story, when the power went down it only affected some of the compounds, not all. So only some of the areas were open to the roving dinos. Rather than having Elissa get the power back on for the fences, she merely powers up the computer system, but then no one can boot it up.

Dr. Grant and the kids make it back to the control room, barely escaping the T-Rex who is trapped by one of the functional electric fences. They climb over the fence on a tree knocked down by the Tyrannosaurus. The Raptors are at the door of the control room, the girl goes to the computer to lock the door. She locks it, then tells Grant she can bring up the rest of the fences. There might be some kind of visual reminder in the room (such as a dino picture) that Grant (and the audience) associate with his major learning experience with the kids about needing to accept Chaos. Grant almost allows her to bring up the power, then yells for her to stop. He tells her not to bring it up, but to actually cut the power on all of the fences.

Just as before, the Raptors break in, the humans escape onto the dino skeletons. NOW, when T-Rex comes in to save the day, it is solely because of Dr. Grant’s decision to cut the power to the fence that was holding him in. Having learned his lesson about the benefits of Chaos and the folly of Order, he is a changed man. The author’s proof of this correct decision is their salvation courtesy of T-Rex.

Equilibrium is established on the island, Grant suddenly loves kids, he gets the girl, they escape with their lives, and all because the crucial element of Order connected both the Objective and Subjective storylines.

Certainly, Dramatica has many more suggestions for Building a Better Dinosaur, but, leapin’ lizards, don’t you think this is enough for one Constructive Criticism?

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Posted in Dramatica, Story Development | Comments Off on How to Make a Great Story Better!

Character Justification

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Problem solving tries to resolve an issue.  But if there is an obstacle to a solution, the process of justification tries to find a way around.  Sometimes characters get so wrapped up in the attempt to side-step an obstacle that they miss an alternative direct solution.

This can lead characters into misconceptions, irrational behavior, and conflict with other characters.

Let’s see how this happens.

A Simple Example of Problem Solving

Imagine a waitress coming through the one-way door from the kitchen into the restaurant. Her nose begins to itch. She cannot scratch her nose because her hands are full of plates. She looks for a place to lay down the plates, but all the counter space is cluttered. She tries to call to a waiter, but he cannot hear her across the noisy room. She hollers to a bus boy who gets the waiter who takes her plates so she can scratch her nose. Problem solved! Or was it justification?

What if she could have solved the problem just by shrugging her shoulder and rubbing her nose? Then there were two possible solutions, but one was much more direct. Rationally, either one would serve as well in that particular context, yet one was much more efficient and therefore more emotionally satisfying because it required less unpleasant work than the other method.

There’s a Problem In Your Solution!

If the waitress could not use her hand to scratch her nose, then using her shoulder was another potential solution to the same problem. However, trying to find a place to put down the plates is a generation removed from solving the original problem. Instead of trying to find another way to scratch her nose, she was using her problem solving efforts to try and solve a problem with the first solution. In other words, there was an obstacle to using her hand to scratch her nose, and rather than evaluating other means of scratching she was looking for a place to get rid of her plates. When there was a problem with that, she compounded the inefficiency by trying to solve the plate problem with the solution devised to solve the problem with the first solution to the problem: she tried to flag down the waiter. In fact, by the time she actually got her nose scratched, she had to take a round-about path that took up all kinds of time and was several generations removed from the original problem. She made one big circle to get to where she could have gone directly.

But, what if there was a limit: her itching nose was about to make her sneeze and drop everything. Then, going on that long circular path might mean she would sneeze and fail, whereas the only appropriate path would be to use her shoulder to scratch before she sneezes. But what if her stiff uniform prevents her shoulder from reaching her nose? AND what if the extra time it took to try the shoulder actually delayed trying the round-about method just long enough to make her sneeze before the waiter arrived? If she had only taken the great circle route in the first place, she would have had just enough time to solve the problem.

Paying the Price For a Solution

Clearly, problem solving turns into justification and vice-versa, depending on the context. So how is it that achieving results in the rational sense is not the only determining factor as to which is which? Simply because sometimes the costs that must be paid in suffering in a long, indirect path to a goal far outweigh the benefits of achieving the goal itself. When we try to overcome obstacles that stand between us and a goal (pre-requisites and requirements) we pay a price in effort, resources, physical and emotional hardship. We suffer unpleasant conditions now in the hope of a reward later. This is fine as long as the rewards justify the expenses. But if they do not, and yet we continue to persevere, we cannot possibly recoup enough to make up for our losses, much as a gambler goes into the hole after losing her intended stake.

Why is it that we (as characters) throw good money after bad? This occurs because we are no longer evaluating what we originally hoped to achieve but are trying to solve the problems that have occurred with the solutions we have employed. In the case of our waitress, she wasn’t thinking about her nose when she was calling to the waiter or yelling to the bus boy. She was thinking about the problem of getting their attention. Because she lost sight of her original objective, she could no longer tally up the accruing costs and compare them to the benefits of resolving the inequity. Rather, she compared each cost individually to the goal at hand: putting down the plates, calling to the waiter, yelling at the bus boy. And in each case, the individual costs were less than the benefits of resolving the individual sub-goals. However, if taken as a whole, the sum of the costs may far outweigh the benefits of resolving the original problem. And since the pre-requisites and requirements have no meaning except as a means to resolving that original problem, any benefits she felt by achieving those sub-goals should have had no bearing on determining if the effort was worth the benefits. But, as she had lost sight of the original problem, that measurement could not be made. In fact, it would never occur to her, until it was too late to recoup the costs even if the problem came to be resolved.

Does this mean the only danger lies in the round-about path? Not at all. If it were to turn out that there were NO direct paths that could work, ONLY an indirect one could resolve the problem at all. And if the existence of the problem is such that its inequity is not just a one time thing but continues to cause friction that rubs one physically or mentally raw, then the inequity itself grows the longer the problem remains, which justifies ANY indirect method to resolving the issue as long as the rate at which the costs accrue is less than the rate at which the inequity worsens.

Accelerating Inequities!

But let’s complicate this even more… Suppose the inequity doesn’t worsen at first, but only gets worse after a while. Then what may have been the most appropriate response for problem solving at one stage in the game becomes inappropriate at a later stage. In such a complex web of changing conditions and shifting context, how is an individual to know what choices are best? We can’t. That is the point: we can never know which path is best because we cannot predict the future. We can only choose what our life experience has shown to be most often effective in similar situations and hope for the best. It does not matter how often we re-evaluate. The situation can change in unpredictable ways at any time, throwing all of our plans and efforts into new contexts that change their evaluation from positive to negative or the vice versa.

Stories serve as collective truisms, much like the way insurance works. Through them we strive to contain the collective knowledge of human experience so although we cannot predict what will happen to any specific individual (even ourselves) we can tell what is most likely the best approach to inequity, based on the mean average of all individual experience.

Strategy vs. Analysis

Although we have covered a lot of ground, we have only covered one of two kinds of problem solving/justification: the effort to resolve an inequity. In contrast, the second kind of problem solving/justification refers to efforts made to understand inequities so that we might come to terms with them. In a sense, our initial exploration has dealt with strategies of problem solving whereas this other area of exploration deals with defining the problem itself.

More Articles on Justification…

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The Main Character’s Problem

This is the nature of the Main Character’s struggle in a story. He has either built up an understanding of how to try and solve problems that no longer fits, or he has built up an understanding of what causes problems that is no longer correct

The backstory builds one of these scenarios. A context is established that creates one kind of problem requiring a specific solution. The story begins with a context in which the main character’s established problem solving technique is no longer appropriate. The question then becomes whether the Main Character should change his method to conform to the new situation or remain steadfast in sticking to the old method until things get back to “normal.”

This creates the core of the story’s message, which is brought to a climax when the main character must make a leap of faith.

Excerpted from the free online book,

Dramatica: A New Theory of Story

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Mental Sex, Characters, and You

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This three-hour audio program in mp3 (download and/or play online) explores one of the most crucial aspects of narrative structure that reflects not only in characters, but in each of us as well.

Mental Sex, Characters and You explores the nature and impact of gender-based thinking on stories and on ourselves. You’ll learn about the reasons for fundamental innate differences in the underpinnings of our male and female minds, and how we can benefit from recognizing our inherent mental abilities and compensate for gender-related areas of distraction, unclarity, bias.

You’ll discover the pathways of rationalization and justification that differ between the mental sexes and how to recognize, compensate for, play into, and manipulate each mental sex, no matter which mental sex you are!

This program was recorded live at a once-only presentation by Dramatica co-creators Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley, based on their theories of narrative structure. Interestingly, the Mental Sex concept emerged when Phillips & Huntley discovered that the underlying mechanism of stories was significantly altered depending upon whether the main character was of a male or female mind. While the same considerations were made by each, the order in which they were explored and the relative significance of the results was functionally different.

In this program, you’ll get a range of insights on story structure, character, real people, society, and even yourself! There is no other explanation of the differences between male and female thinking as fully developed, as precisely defined and organized, and as completely argued, from a rock solid foundation to startling high-level conclusions.

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