A Tale is a Statement

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Dramatica Unplugged

Class One: Introduction

1.2 A Tale is a Statement

Imagine the very first storyteller, maybe a caveman sitting around a campfire. Perhaps the very first communication was not really a story but just a physical need, like this caveman was hungry so he rubbed his stomach and he pointed at his mouth, and he said ‘ah-hah’. In addition to making an idiot of himself, he also might have communicated. He might have let the other cavemen around the campfire know that he was hungry, and why, because they would look at him and they look themselves; they’ve got two arms, he’s got two arms, and he looks like they look and they see him doing things physically and they think to themselves, ‘if I did those things, what would that mean to me?’, and they ‘decode’ his ‘encoding’, his symbolism, and they say, ‘well if I was doing that it would mean that I was hungry’ and they get his message, because there is a basic underlying similarity between the two.

Later on, we will talk about how the Story Mind works because all of us have the same basic operating system; it’s just our experiences that are different.  And because we have the same operating system it forms a carrier wave so that when we communicate and see in the Story Mind anything that’s the same as the operating system we can pull that out and get the information that was attached to that carrier wave which is the storytelling, the message.

Now this caveman communicates that way. After awhile he gets a little more sophisticated he is able to do such things as describe a linear series of experiences. Perhaps he wants to describe how to get to a place where there are berries or how to avoid a place where there are bears. Well he might say (with hand gestures) that he went down by the river and then he went over the hill and then he found these berries perhaps it took him several days to go from one place to another. Some sign language is complex; some is a lot easier to understand but it’s usually based on a representation of visual things that you find in the real world.

Eventually he is able to string a number of points together rather than just making a single point like pointing to his mouth and saying ‘ah-hah’. So, if he puts together a line of logic, that says ‘this happened and then this happened and then this happened’ and there are no breaks in it and there are no pieces missing, in that case, he has created what we call in Dramatica a “Tale”. That’s our definition of a tale: an unbroken linear progression. That’s a “head-line” because it deals with your logic.

But you could also have an unbroken progression of feelings; how he felt at one time whether he was happy or sad, whether he found something funny, whether he found something disgusting. This would be a “heart-line”.   He might convey those emotions just to express what he went through without even talking about the territory that he covered and with no “head-line”  at all.

So, a tale could be just an emotional progression, or it could just be a logistic progression, or a tale could be a logistic and an emotional progression running along side-by-side, perhaps affecting each other, perhaps not.

Let’s look at that in a little more depth. We know that the human heart cannot just go from one emotion to another without going through steps in between. There are feelings that you have to go through to get from one mood to another mood. Now if you start with one emotion you may be able to jump to any one of a number of emotions and then from any of those, jump to others, but you can’t jump to all of them. If you could, then we would just be bopping about from one feeling to another. There would be no growth, there would be no emotional development.  But we know there is, and that’s an indicator that we can’t go from any one thing to any other thing but, rather, there is direction to it.

You look at Freud’s psychosexual stages; you look at the stages Seven Stages of Grief. You have to go through them in a particular order. You can’t skip over any. If you do, there is an emotional misstep. It feels untrue to the heart, and a story that has a character go through and miss a step, skip a step or jump to another emotion that they ‘couldn’t get there from here’, that will then feel wanky to the audience. It will feel like the character stopped developing in a way that they could follow with their own hearts and it will pop the audience right out of the story, and they will look at the character as being a fabrication rather than someone they identify with.

So the idea is to create this linearity.  But doesn’t that linearly create a formula? Well it would if you could only go from one emotion to a particular next one to a particular next one and so on. Then there would be only one path you could take, but as mentioned earlier, from one emotion there are several – not all but several – that you might go to. When you go to one of those, there are several others you might go to next.

Similarly, in points of logic, from a single point there might be any one of a number of things that might happen next that would be Kosher to happen with what already happened, but you couldn’t have anything happen next because some things would just be impossible to happen if this had happened first. There would be missing steps, or this would preclude that from happening. Now, you can start from any place and eventually get to anywhere else, but you have to go through the in-betweens.

So as long as a tale has either a head-line or a heart-line and it’s an unbroken chain that doesn’t skip any steps, it constitutes a complete tale.

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