A Story Is An Argument

Dramatica Unplugged

Class One: Introduction

1.3 A Story is an Argument

A tale is nothing more than a statement. A statement that ‘this lead to this lead to that’ and ‘here’s how it ended up’.

An early storyteller would be able to say ‘ok, I’m going to tell you about this situation, that if you start here and you take this series of steps you end up there and it’s a good thing or its a bad thing to be there’. Large good, small good – little bad, big bad – but follow these series of steps from this starting point and you will end up with this thing that is good or bad.

There’s certain amount of power in that. You can fictionalize that statement to make it more human, and illustrate to people that ‘this is a path to stay away from because it’s bad’ or ‘this is a path to go towards because it’s good’.  And so you end up with fairy tales and things of that nature which, literally, are often nothing more than a tale – they are not really complete stories.

But what kind of power could you get if you were able to expand that and say ‘this is not just true for this particular case but its true for all such similar cases.’ In other words, if you start from here, no matter what path you try to take based on this particular problem you started with, it wouldn’t be as good (or it wouldn’t be as bad) as the one that I’m showing you.  Then the message of your tale becomes ‘this particular path is the best or the worst.’ It’s no longer just good or bad, it’s the best path or the worst path to take.

Now that has a lot more power to it because now you are telling everyone to exclude any other paths – ‘take only this one if you find yourself in this situation’ or,  ‘if you find yourself in this situation no matter what you do, don’t do that’. That has a lot more power to manipulate an audience – a lot more leverage – because even though you have only shown the one path, you convince them it’s better than any of the others you didn’t show.

But have you really convinced them?  After all, you are really just making a blanket statement and, in truth, an audience won’t sit still for a blanket statement. They will cry foul. They will at least question you. So, for example, if a caveman is sitting around the campfire and says, ‘this is the best of all possible paths that I have shown you.’, his audience is going to say, ‘hey wait a minute, what about this other case, what if we try this, this and this?’ If the author is to satisfy his audience and actually ‘prove’ his case to their satisfaction, he will be able to argue his point, saying, ‘in that case such and such, and therefore you can see why it would end up being not as good or better than this path that I’m touting.’

Another person brings up another scenario such as ‘what about going down this way and trying that.’ Then, if the author’s point can be well made, the storyteller is able to defend his assertion and say, ‘well that case, such and such, so you can see the point that the blanket statement I made is still true’. Eventually either something will be found that is better than what the author was proposing or the author will be able to stick it out and counter all those rebuttals and convince the audience, ‘yes that’s the case.’

Now you won’t have to counter every potential different way of doing it when you are telling the story live because the audience will only come up with a certain number of them before they are satisfied that the alternatives they think are most important to look into have been adequately addressed. But the moment that you record the story, the moment you put it into a song, stage play, a motion picture or a book, as soon as that happens, you’re no longer there to counter the rebuttals. You also don’t know exactly which potential rebuttals might come up. So if somebody looks at your story in the form of a movie in the theater and they see some pathway they think ought to be taken wasn’t even suggested, then they are going to feel that you haven’t made your case because maybe that would have been a better path than yours.

So what do you do? In a recorded art form you have to anticipate all the different rebuttals that might come up about other potential solutions and show why these other potential solutions would not be as good or as bad as the one that you are proposing – proving therefore that if all reasonable and appropriate alternatives have been explored and yours is still the best or the worst, then you’ve made your case. You have successfully argued your point, and the blanket statement is now considered true.

In order to do that you have to anticipate all the ways the audience might look at the problem alternatively. In effect, you to think of all the ways anyone might think of solving that problem alternatively. Essentially, you have to include in your story all of the different ways any human mind might go about solving that problem.  In so doing, you have automatically created a model of the mind’s problem solving process, the Story Mind. Ultimately, you have created an analogy to the mind itself.

Now you never set out to do that, it was a byproduct never intended. No caveman ever sat down and said, ‘you know I think I will create an analogy to a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity.’ No, it didn’t happen that way, but in the process of trying to communicate a recorded art form across a medium and successfully argue one particular situation is better than all potential ones, you need to put in all the potential ones, and you thereby create a model of the mind quite by accident.

Once that’s happened, once it’s recognized, one can now look to that model of the mind from a psychological perspective. Psychoanalyze the story, and you find everything that’s in the human mind represented tangible and incarnate in the story in some form or another in the structure.

That’s what Dramatica is all about. When we had that Rosetta stone we then threw ourselves into documenting the psychology of the story and we documented the Story Mind. We created the theory and then created the software to implement a major portion of the theory to allow an author to answer questions about the impact he or she wishes to have and have.  Dramatica’s story engine then predicts the structure necessary to achieve that particular impact.

Transcribed by Marc O’Dell from
Dramatica Unplugged by Melanie Anne Phillips