“Illegal” Plot Progressions

A Dramatica user recently noticed that certain progressions of the Signposts and Journeys that define a Dramatica plot were “illegal.” That is to say, they never came up, no matter what the storyform structure that was created.

Here is the reply I sent off in response.

NOTE – this reply deals primarily with psychology and the mechanism behind the Dramatica software’s Story Engine. For most writers, this tip will not be very practical, but I thought the amateur detectives among you might like to get the grit.

Why Certain Signpost & Journey Patterns are “Illegal.”

Here’s another clue for you all…

The model of the “Story Mind” in the Dramatica software is intended to represent a model of an actual mind. But, if we are looking at a mind, from WHERE are we looking? To see this model, we must adopt a point of view. Even though we wish to be “objective” about looking at the Story Mind, the moment we actually observe it, we are seeing it from a perspective.

In other words, in the very process of making a model of the mind, we have to adopt an angle from which to come at the actual truth. In Eastern philosophy it is akin to “The Tao that can be spoken is NOT the Eternal Tao,” which simply means that if you ever arrive at a definition (or model) of something it must, by definition, be incorrect. Why? Because the only true and complete definition of anything is that thing itself. No model of it can actually BE it. Yet, we can come close…

When we conceived of the notion that every story was a model of a mind – a Story Mind – we soon came to realize that we must choose a perspective from which to portray it, or rather, that if we were to portray the concept at all, we could not do so without looking at it. And, if we look at it, we have adopted a perspective.

Perspective, by its very nature, amplifies some things and diminishes others. Perspective can make some things completely invisible and create mirages of other things that are not really there but seem to be.

The trick, then, for us, was to find a way to ensure that if we MUST be saddled with a perspective, that perspective was evenly applied evenly to EVERYTHING in the model so that dramatic decisions in one area would have an accurate impact on decisions made elsewhere.

The problem authors often have is that we shift our perspective while writing. This helps us involve ourselves in the personal nature of the story, but also causes us to lose our objectivity. For example, we might come to a story with all kinds of interesting ideas, all of which fit compatibly within the same subject matters, yet cannot work together in the same story structure. Dramatica was created to eliminate this problem by adhering to a single perspective in which all dramatic decisions must be considered by the same standards. Only in this way could the holes be certainly seen, rather than covered up and hidden from ourselves by our fancy mental footwork as authors, shifting perspectives to make the holes disappear.

Unfortunately, when you use a single perspective from which to view something, you lose the ability to see certain parts of it. One of the ramifications of the perspective we chose from which to observe (to create) the model of the Story Mind is that it does not “see” certain combinations of linear progressions (signposts and journeys).

If we were to “force” the Story Engine to “allow” these combinations, then they would create plot progressions that didn’t match any of the dramatic structures visible from the overall perspective of the Story Mind model. In such cases, then, the plot progression would create an audience impact that would not relate to any structural meaning the model might develop. Such a situation would have the plot progression no longer working like the scanning lines on a TV picture which make sense in and of themselves, but also form a larger picture as the sum of the parts. Rather, the plot progression would create one message that would have nothing at all to do with the “big picture” or “overall” message of the story’s structure. To make a complete argument, the flow of experience must operate in the same “reality” as the overview of the story’s larger meaning. If it doesn’t, the story simply seems “broken.”

Now, what perspective did we choose? Well, the human mind has four major areas – Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire. These areas work together in a dynamic interrelationship, and in fact, there is no real dividing line from one to the next. Rather, they are like the names of colors (Red, Blue, Green, and luminosity). They are simply points along a spectrum, yet if you attach the names to equidistant points (like pickets on a fence painted like a rainbow) you can say “here is blue,” and “here is green,” and the divisions will make sense.

The model of the Story Mind as seen in Dramatica is called a “K-based” model, because it sees everything from the perspective of Knowledge, rather than Thought, Ability, or Desire. You can see that this is the case because there are no words like “Love,” or “Fear” in the model. These words would be in the “Desire” realm. But, from the perspective of Knowledge, Desire is the farthest away of the other three (Thought, Ability, and Desire.) So, terms of emotional value are the least represented, in fact are intended to be absent. The emotional side is left to the author to infuse into the structure once its “knowledge-base” has been constructed in a storyform.

As you may imagine, there are three other model projections which might be created – Thought, Ability, or Desire based models. At first, you might think that a D-based model would simply be a structure that had Love, Hate, Happiness, and Sadness as the classes, rather than Universe, Mind, Physics, and Psychology, but this would be wrong. In a true Desire-based model, the model would be experiential, rather than structural. So, an author might make dramatic choices by matching undulating color progressions to ever-morphing flow of colors.

Why did we choose a K-based system? Because our primary market – American Authors – works within American Culture. That culture is almost completely K-based. Which is why most rooms have four straight walls, why language is linear, why products are put in boxes on shelves, why definitions are important, why contracts are created, why laws exist. A D-based system would not have rooms with walls, it would have thickets where people congregated. It would not have laws, but tendencies. The worst punishment would not be death, but exile and isolation from the group experience.

If this sounds a little like the difference between a male world and a female world, that’s not far from the truth. In the Dramatica software, in each story, there is a Main Character, and to get a storyform, you must determine whether that character is Male or Female mental sex. But have you ever wondered what Mental Sex the Story Mind was itself? Male minds have direct access to K, T, and A, but synthesize D. Female minds have direct access to K, A, and D, but synthesize T. Yes, that’s right, female minds synthesize logic just as male minds synthesize emotions. So, the farthest thing from a male mind is the D-based system (though male minds can relate directly to D, they cannot get there from K, T, or A) Similarly, the female mind can appreciate T, come up with and entertain Thoughts, the female mind cannot “derive” thought by interacting K, A, and D together.

In the male mind, K is the foundation, and T and A are the tools. In a female mind, D is the foundation and K and A are the tools. American culture is based on the needs of the male mind. Men (who are more oriented toward spatial external views inherently, built the American Culture, in fact most of Western Culture, in its own image. Only when a female mind looks at the unspoiled landscape, untouched by billboards, sidewalks, buildings, and the like, does she experience the world without seeing it thought a filter of the male mind.

Law, Religion, Science, Grammar, and all other constructs of Western Culture, reflect a male Mental Sex view of the world. But, it is not the T perspective which women must synthesize, it is the K perspective which essentially calls for Structure.

So, women are able to access all the benefits of a K-based society, even though it is not in their native tongue of D. In fact, one might say that many women do not even know how to speak D because they were educated wholly in K. Ironic that so many Elementary teachers are women, providing instruction on how to be K when they, themselves, have a D operating system!

As a result of all this, we decided to make the first model of the Story Mind that would be created to be cast in the K-based standard of our culture. Effectively, the Story Mind is Male Mental Sex. And as a result of that, certain dramatic combinations (including the “illegal” signpost and journey combinations) simply cannot appear without violating that perspective and giving the overall story a split personality.

If you’d like to know more about this aspect of the “hidden” workings of the Story Engine, visit my Mental Relativity Web Site.

(Mental Relativity is the name Chris and I gave to the psychology of the Story Mind itself.)