How Characters Avoid Truth

It is well known that the observer changes the observation, but it is equally true that the observation also changes the observer. Consider that the order in which you observe a series of perspectives changes you as you go. But because we always feel like ourselves, so we believe we are constant and any differences between perspectives are due to the object under observation, not to ourselves. This becomes especially crucial when we observe ourselves, for the order in which we take points of view of “us” is continually altering us, so in the end, we get a warped view of who we are because all we see is seen as us, not as us that was, us that is, and us along the path from was to is.

Lfe experience gives each of us a belief that a particular order is best (because we have found that we are safest putting our inaccuracies in one place over another). And society indoctrinates us to take a particular path through all points of view, because as a culture, it works best to sweep the inaccuracies under a particular corner of the rug.

But, no path is objectively accurate, and we can never see all points of view at the same time. Therefore, we always fall short of capital “T” truth, but can only hope to approximate it.

Still, if we are bold enough (and enough of a risk-taker) to continuously alter the order in which we play mental musical chairs, we can get even closer to objective truth by having the inaccuracy move around.

Problem is, when inaccuracy is always in the same place, you can discount that particular part of the observation and focus on what is most clearly seen. But if inaccuracy is mobile, you never know where it may show up, putting one in danger of relying on incorrect understandings.

Life is not a quest for truth – life is a race against misconception.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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The Holistic Side of Narrative Structure

Dramatica is a theory of narrative that has a very specific model – rather like the DNA of narrative psychology.  But, the model is just the structural linear side of the theory – a way of visualizing how narrative works from a definitive, almost mechanical perspective, like a Rubik’s Cube of story or a Difference Engine of psychology.

But there’s the whole other side of the theory that hasn’t been much expressed – a holistic or analog side that is more attune with the processes and emotions of narrative psychology than the specific nexus points of a given structural storyform.

It’s about time to creative a more balanced view of what Dramatica really is, and how it really works.

So, here’s a concise little crash course on Dramatica from a holistic point of view…

To the heart of the matter, are you familiar with the initial psychological equation of Dramatica that started it all – K/T = AD?

The left side of the equation is all about logic – Knowledge divided by (or parsed) by Thought – K/T.  It’s how we reason.  But the right side is Ability multiplied by Desire, which created a product we know as Desirability.  It is all about motivation or drive – If Ability is zero, motivation is zero.  If Desire is zero, motivation is zero.  But for any non-zero value of both Ability and Desire, some degree of motivation is created.

When this equation came into my mind for the first time I thought it meant, “One side divides and the other multiplies.” But It turned out it wasn’t a math equation, but a logic equation describing a psychological balance. It reads like this: When Knowledge is divided by (parsed by) Thought, the result is balanced against Desirability.

What is means is that K/T is Knowledge divided by thought or deductive reasoning or, for practical purposes “logic” (or linearity).

In other words, a lot of folks would say, “Emotion does not figure in my logic – my logic is pure reason, critical thinking.” And they’d be right. But, we might apply our logic anywhere, so how did we end up thinking about this particular thing? Desirability.

In other words, logic may be pure, but what we use it on (as opposed to some other topic) is determined by desirability – emotion, holism, touchy-feely.

So, while logic is pure, the application of logic is not. But, that doesn’t put passion at 180 degrees away from logic, because it isn’t against logic, it just directs its use. So, from a passionate or holistic perspective, passion is 90 degrees away from logic, because it also arrives at a conclusion – where to put our logic to work. But, from a linear or reason based perspective, passion is 270 degrees away from logic, because it keeps creeping into the purity.

So, linear thinking says – logic and passion are nothing alike because logic requires evidence and proof and passion does not. But from a holistic way of thinking, logic and passion are quite alike because each arrives at conclusions, and it requires both to direct and then implement logic – they are team members of the greater process.

Now this runs right up against the nature of the philosophy of duality. Linear thinking is going to see things as components, separate entities whose borders, perhaps even their natures, can be precisely defined. Things have edges that define them. And this is what K/T is all about – defining things as independent components. And this is how the model of the Dramatica theory was built – in order to best service and communicate with a linear society.

But, the holistic side of the Dramatica theory is more inclusive, rather than exclusive. It focuses on how separate things are actually interconnected, parts of a family or a greater whole.

For a more practical example of this, check out this video clip on my web site about main and influence characters. One of them is going to say, “you and I are both alike” and the other will respond “we are nothing alike.” I’ll tell you why they do this and how it relates to exclusive/inclusive and duality after you see the clip.

Here’s the ink:

Now that you’ve seen the clip, you can see how often that conversation comes up in stories. And yet we never see it as cliche, because it is the core and essence of that duality problem.

One is saying, “We are nothing alike because I am an apple and you are an orange,” and the other is saying, “No, we are both alike because we are both fruit.”

So, one is using linearity to find the differences that define us as individuals, and the other is using holism to find the similarities that bind us together as a group.

Fact is, each one is right, but each thinks the other is wrong. Why? Because neither can conceive that there is no single answer to the question, “are we alike?” because in some ways we are and in other ways we aren’t.

But why would we have these two perspectives yet never reconcile them? Simply put, life experience shows us that under some conditions, it is better to see things as separate and other times as part of the same group. This is how we determine friend from foe, mine from yours, and even defining ourselves sometimes as individuals and sometimes as part of a family.

Children struggle with this as they grow up, first seeing themselves as part of the family, then trying to find their place within it, then trying to define themselves independently of it. But the truth is that we, like Schrodinger’s Cat, are both independent and dependent at the same time.

That is the core problem in the United States – are we United or are we States? There is no single answer because we are all part of the collective, yet at the same time each state has rights independent of the nation as a whole.

These concepts appear over and over again both in the elements of story structure and in the subject matter we explore in stories because choosing one view over the other is never absolute and must be determined by experience for a given context, yet is always changing, drifting, and what was best seen linearly this week (or in our childhood) may be better seen holistically (as an adult) at this time (though it might change again next week).

Linearity looks to the long-wave truths, calls them predicable, labels them as a law, sets up rules to impose the law, and defines any instance where it doesn’t work as an exception.

Holism looks to the short wave truths, calls them “evolving,” labels them as trends, breaks down barriers to encourage evolution, and defines any instance where change does not occur as an obstacle.

Both are true, neither is right.

In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven about the time of the crusades and the struggle for the control of Jerusalem, the Crusader philosophically asks the leader of the Muslims, “What is Jerusalem worth?” The Muslim leader replies, “Nothing,” turns to walk away, turns back and replies again, “Everything.” And THAT is the truth.

Those who go in search of the answer are already looking in the wrong place, because there is no answer. There are two points of view of equal value conceptually, but different value specifically.

When I was around 5 – before Kindergarten – I was on my swing set on an overcast day with a seamless gray sky. I wondered if I could swing high enough so that nothing but gray would fill my field of vision – no swing set edge, no bushes, no trees – no frame of reference.

I swung higher and higher, and after nearly toppling the swing set, for one brief moment, I saw nothing but gray. And I stopped my swing and sat there and wondered – If there was nothing that existed, would it be black because there was no light or gray because there was no black either?

This was an unsolvable problem. I could see it both ways. But clearly neither was more compelling as being the absolute truth of the matter. In my own childish terms, I realize that there were some questions to which there was not a single all-conclusive answer.

I wasn’t bothered by that so much, but I WAS bothered by the notion that there could be something in existence about which my mind was incapable of finding a single answer. In those days, I was sure the answer existed, I remember thinking, maybe God can see the answer. But if he can, then why is mind mind forever incapable of knowing the answer – in what way is my mind inferior to God’s?

Imagine what kind of five-year-old I was to be thinking such thoughts on my own in the back yard while my mom thought I was just playing on the swing set….

So, the fact that such an answerless question could be asked did not ruffle me, but what stuck in my craw and, in fact, guided everything I explored since – especially my work in developing Dramatica and the Story Mind and Mental Relativity, was to at LEAST find an answer to the question of why my mind is incapable of seeing the answer that surely must exist!

I couldn’t answer THAT question with Dramatica. I couldn’t answer it with 64 years of life-experience. But eventually I did answer it. And then I found peace.

Simply, it isn’t that one side divides and the other multiplies or even one side is exclusive and the other inclusive or even one side defines the differences and the other defines the similarities. No, the way to grok the equation is, one side separates and the other blends.

That blending part is what you don’t see in the dramatica model directly, but it’s affect is omnipresent.

Whenever we abandon our common societal view to step into the shoes of another culture, we discover the same thing – there are those in each society who see the other society as different and those in each society who see the other as the same. But what you don’t often find are those who see the two societies as being both different AND the same.

Embracing that perspective is the closest we can come to becoming one with the Truth.

My advanced work on Dramatica has all been about modeling that. Pretty complex stuff trying to describe something rather simple, but isn’t that always the case?

Now, I don’t expect this note to open your eyes to any new ways of looking at anything or to put peace on your table along with the meat and potatoes, but, like Prince Rupert’s Drop (Google it and watch a video – it’s a cool physics effect), I expect it to disintegrate against against your hard-earned life experiences, at first, and then, by the time you’ve assimilated it for a while, the almost invisible shock wave of this concept will reach the root of the questions you set out to answer, and will work its way back up from your premises to your conclusion, shattering previous perspectives along the way.

But that is not my purpose.  Rather, the point for the here and now is to open a door to an additional realm within the Dramatica theory that leads to a more sweeping and more practical appreciation of the model as it initially appears and as you have currently applied it.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Of Men, Women, and Narrative

Not to be cryptic, but perhaps the answer you seek cannot be found from the wisest man because the answer is just beyond what men can see. It is also just beyond what women can see, but then it is a different answer. What men seek is the special knowledge that women possess and women seek the special knowledge that men possess.

In the early days of developing the Dramatica theory of narrative, hidden in the dynamics that drive story, we discovered a difference between the way men and women think – like the difference between Windows and Mac operating systems. Each gets the same jobs done, each is better suited to some things than the other, and not suited to other things as well. Programs designed for one will not run in native mode on the other, and must be translated through running a “virtual” version of the other OS as an environment within the native OS.

In fact, of the eight essential dynamic questions, the one currently called Problem Solving Method (Linear or Holistic) was originally called Mental Sex (Male or Female) and applied to the Main Characters mental orientation. It was this way for many years until confusion among writers who failed to read our explanations led Write Brothers to change the name (without my input) in order to make it more “accessible” to writers so the software would appear easier to use. In the end, I am not sure it helped or hurt, but it did obfuscate and essential aspect of the psychology of a story mind, be it an individual or a group.

Essentially, we have eight dimensions open to us: Mass, Energy, Space, Time when observing externally, and Knowledge, Thought, Ability, Desire when observing ourselves. The four external and four internal dimensions relate to one another the same way, relativistically, as in E=MC2. In fact, we call the name of the science of the psychology behind the Dramatica model, Mental Relativity.

As it turns out, though we all have the same dimensions, the order in which we explore them differs between males and females.

If life was static, and if our minds were static, this would have no affect – we would each eventually view all eight and determine the meaning of any given situation. But, the observer changes the observation, and therefore by the time we get to the last of the eight, it is no longer the situation internally as it was when we began our exploration. We cannot hold our minds constant while we explore them. So, since men and women are forced by the biology of the brain itself to take different paths through this exploration, the two sexes always see the first part of the exploration more accurately (clearly) than the end, but that first part is comprised of different dimensions between the sexes.

It amounts to about 3/4 of a quad that we can see to some degree of direct clarity and the final 1/4 of the quad is almost fully “calculated” from the other three items as hardly any of it can be seen for what it originally was when you started.

Therefore, a man can only lead another man 3/4 of the way to wisdom and then tell him what his experience have “calculated” that last leg might be. And for women, it is the same. And, alas, a man cannot tell a woman what he sees directly, because she is incapable of seeing it directly, and vice versa. So, as they say in a famous movie, “No one can tell you what the Matrix is – you have to see it for yourself.”

And this is why men and women take their journeys of discovery, both external and internal, to see the 3/4 they can directly observe is so many contexts that they can better approximate the 1/4 they cannot directly see. And, if you gain enough experience and truly achieve “enlightenment,” then you will have sufficient information to suddenly “grok” the truth of that final 1/4 all at once in an epiphany that you then find impossible to communicate to anyone else.

So, enlightenment is what one truly seeks for oneself, but “wisdom” is to know you cannot share enlightenment but merely help others find the path to their own.

There is much more to this part of the theory – the biological brain differences that create this, how it led to cultures that reflect male thinking, how there are four levels of the mind and Mental Sex is the only one cast in biology and not available to the other half of the population.

In the end, there are two alien species living on the planet, each in possession of the secret the other seeks, but that they do not know they have and could not communicate if they did.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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The Most Important Article You’ll Ever Read On Story Structure

We think in narrative, but think about topics. Narrative is the operating system of our own minds, and we seek to impose that upon every topic we encounter. For if we can, then we have the most touch-points with our own awareness, and see the most we can of what we are exploring, as well as the forces that operate in that system and hold things together.

That which does not match the very schematic of our minds appears to be chaos. But even chaos can be topically related.

The problem for the creative mind is that it wants to have topic and narrative come together in a perfect fit. It is not unlike putting a pencil on a table, and balancing a ruler across it. Topic is on one side and narrative is on the other. If you push the topic side down to the table, like a seesaw, the narrative side will go up, and vice versa.

So, the truth of the matter is, that topic and narrative can never both be fully explored in the same work.

And so, some writers seek a perfect structure at the expense of the passion of their topic. And others seek to completely explore their topic, though it makes a shambles of narrative.

But if you can accept that structure should not be perfect and that topic will never be expressed, then you can find the balance between the two that optimizes the effect or personal satisfaction you are shooting for.

When creating, the Muse abhors structure. She wishes to romp free in the fields of experience. You must never try to bridle the Muse or she will run away from you never to return.

So, in any first draft, forget about structure. Let the story flow of its own topical organic nature.

At this time, you create a Story World – the universe of experience in which your story will take place. It is not your story, but is the realm in which your story’s journey will occur. But it should have no structure, because it is not even a narrative yet – just the narrative space in which the narrative will eventually form.

Next, after creating a story world, you create a storyline. This can be one or more journeys across your story world, with a point of departure, a destination, and meandering around and lingering at as manny different concepts as you like within your story world. Again, structure should not be specifically applied at this time, since your own mind is already automatically laying the embryonic foundations of structure in the background while your Muse creates.

Finally, in the third stage, you look at your finished storyline journeys and, regardless if there is just one story/journey or many, you go to the list of Story Points in Dramatica and make sure each journey has them all, as completely as is reasonable.

So, you ensure there is a goal, a protagonist, a main character, an influence character unique ability, and so on. BUT do NOT create a storyform yet! We aren’t interested at this stage what kind of goal it is, just to identify what the topical subject matter of the goal is – that each journey HAS a goal.

Finally, once you have revised your storylines to include as many of the story points as you reasonably can, THEN and ONLY then do you create a storyform. This storyform will provide a template to which you can aspire, but like the pencil and the ruler, you can never really achieve without short changing your topic and your passion.

So, in seeing what KIND of goal your story SHOULD have, for example, you can then consider if your goal is actually like that, similar to that, or worlds away from that. And, if it doesn’t match exactly, you can determine if you think that will hurt your story, or if it is close enough, or the story point minor enough, that you can just leave it as it is, in the most passionate and organic form, and ignore structure at that point.

No one ever read a book or saw a movie to experience a magnificent structure. The readers and audience are there to ignite their passions about a topic of interest to them. THAT is the bottom line and it is also King. Never let structure get in the way of that.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

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The Main Character and Duality

Consider the Main Character and the Influence Character who, it would seem at first blush, are as opposite as they can be in regard to  some underlying philosophical perspective, world view, belief system or moral code.

But in fact, they are not 180 degrees apart but 90 degrees from the point of view of one, and 270 from the point of view of the other.  If you haven’t seen it recently, check out the following video clip called “You and I are both alike” that explores the relationship between Main and Influence characters.  Here’s the link:

These two “opposing” viewpoints are not about arguing “apples and oranges” but about one arguing they are nothing alike because one is an apple and the other an orange, and the other saying no, we are both alike because we are both fruit.  You see, duality is misunderstood when it assumed to be “black or white,” “hot or cold,” “good or evil.”  It is really a matter of how we classify ourselves – as different people on the same team or as members of different teams.

Are you familiar with the four kinds of character relationships – Dynamic, Companion, Dependent, and Associative?  That part of the Dramatica theory has much to inform a new way of looking at duality.  Here is a link on that concept, and then some more commentary:

The relationship between the Main and Influence Characters is really that of the fourth kind of relationship – the Associative, in which its members are either seen as Components – Independent agents (apples and oranges), or as a Collective in which they are all part of the same family (fruit).

So duality does exist, but it is not as simple as saying for every ounce of good energy there must be an equal and opposite bad energy somewhere to balance it out.  Nothing is good or evil in and of itself.  It is all context dependent, but the sticking point is that conflicts occur because people don’t agree on which context to use in a given situation.  And that issue, in fact, is the core of what every story ever written is about: the author telling the audience that they have some special information or experience in regard to a particular kind of problem, and then promoting a particular context as the best one to use with that specific problem to have the best chance of solving, or at least lessening the effect of it.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Duality and Dramatica

For fans of the Dramatica Story Structure Theory (and software):

Here’s part of a note I recently sent to a Dramatica user who is currently focused on the concept of Duality. Now, this note won’t make much sense if you don’t know anything about Dramatica, but you can get a pretty good crash course here at where you can download a free copy of the Dramatica Theory Book and learn all about the concepts behind this approach to narrative.

Here’s my note:

Duality holds initial increased clarity but is a dead-end if you stop there. The quad provides all of the perspectives necessary to see any situation or feeling under study as a dynamic, rather than just two perspectives on the same thing. Two of the elements of the quad are dynamics, and two are elements. This is exactly the same as Yin and Yang. Most people see the Yin Yang symbol as just two things, male and female. But it actually has four parts: each comma-shaped area, and within each a dot. The dots are the elements, the commas are the dynamics. In a quad, mass and energy are the dots – the binary and the immediate. Space and time are the commas – the higher dimension of dynamics in which the elements exist, but are also guided by the dynamics as water might flow around a rock.

Yeah, I know, pretty philosophic from someone who co-created the very definitive Dramatica chart that operates more like a Rubik’s cube. But Chris and I were always aware that the visualization we use to present Dramatica only expresses the digital side, at the expense of the additional analog truth that operates in the same space-time.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

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