Category Archives: Story Psychology

What Is Truth? (The Character’s Dilemma)

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

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 become mostly true, sometimes true, or no longer true at all. 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.

The important thing for your characters is to recognize that they (like us) are just trying to discover what the truth is so they can make the best possible choices for themselves.  It is the difference in personal experience that leads to all dramatic (and real world) conflict.

To make your characters more human and to provide them with valid reasons for their actions and perspectives, you need to tell your readers or audience not where each character is coming from, but how they got to that belief system to begin with.


Let me now add a short addendum 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 our Dramatica Story Structuring Software risk-free for 90 days, or my StoryWeaver Step By Step Story Development Software, also risk-free.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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

We Think in Narratives

By Melanie Anne Phillips

We think in narratives. Narrative is not an artificial construct imposed on fiction nor on the real world, but it is a description of the ways of the mind beneath the level of subject matter. In a sense, narrative describes the operating system of the mind before a program is loaded.

As an example, consider that we all have certain fundamental human qualities such as a sense of Reason, Conscience, and Skepticism to name a few. When faced with problems or inequities in our own lives, we bring all of these qualities to bear in order to seek a solution to the problem and/or see balance to an inequity.

When we come together in groups around a issue of common interest or a common purpose, we quickly self-organize into specialties so that one of use becomes the Voice of Reason for the group, while another becomes the Conscience of the group and yet another emerges at the Resident Skeptic, for example.

This occurs because the group purpose is best served when one person spends all his or her time delving deep into the issue from the viewpoint of Reason while another focuses solely on examining the issue with Skepticism. Then, we come together to report our findings. In this way, the group sees far deeper into the issue that if we all worked as we do on our own problems, as General Practitioners, each trying to do all the same jobs everyone else is doing.

So something wonderful happened when storytellers sought to understand what goes on in our own hearts and minds and what goes on with our collective interactions. Over hundreds of generations, storytellers were able to document the patterns of group thought and individual thought and embed them in the conventions of story structure.

Narrative then, is not a linear path of logic as in Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” but it is fractal in nature. The group mind is identical in components and operation to that of the individual mind, just one fractal dimension larger than that of the individual.

This is why story structure was not previously decipherable – you can’t explain a nonlinear system with a linear paradigm.

The archetypes in stories are derived from these roles we adopt in the group mind which in turn represent our own internal qualities. And so, the group mind provides a visible working model of the mind, just as in my youth the Visible Man model showed our internal organs beneath a transparent plastic “Skin.”

Archetypes, then, represent our fundamental qualities and the group mind is an external fractal projection of the operating system of our own internal minds. The group mind (we call it the Story Mind, hence the name of my web site) is not Jung’s collective unconscious, though it is similar in that it the systemic functioning of our minds that we all shared in identically as human beings. And archetypes are not mythological, as in Campbell, but are personifications of our internal attributes as expressed through the avatar roles we adopt when we organize as specialists within a group.

Suffice it to say that through narrative, we are able to look into the structure and dynamics of the group mind and see those within ourselves. And, as a result, narrative holds the key to understanding why we think and feel as we do, and provides the methods and techniques that can solve both our external problems and internal inequities.

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…

The Four Faces of Narrative

The word “narrative” is bandied about today as a catch all for stories, both fictional and in the real world.  But what does it really mean?  In fact, “narrative” means four distinctly different things that share the same root.

The four faces of narrative can be thought of as Creative Writing, Story Development, Story Structure and Narrative Science.  These labels describe a spectrum that runs from the passion of self-expression at one side to the logic of self-awareness at the other.  Let’s briefly stare into the face of each….

Creative Writing

As human beings, we are all driven by the desire to share our passions and understandings with others.  We want them to empathize with our feelings and follow our logic: to know who we are and to see the world from our points of view.

While these drives are true for any means of communication, creative writing is the process of expressing ourselves through words.  What we create might range from a simple emotional juxtaposition of words intended only to represent what is in the heart (the written equivalent of modern art) to a highly structured story with a fully developed argument and a clearly defined point.

Regardless of the balance between passion and point, this first face of narrative is the Muse itself.

Story Development

Most written communication does not flow onto the page devoid of consideration.  Rather, the words come forth at times, and at other times one gives thought to how the concepts expressed are hanging together and where they might best lead next.

When an author, be it a personal diarist or successful screenwriter, cogitates either in advance of writing, during the process, or after the fact in order to improve the work in another draft, he or she is wearing the face of Story Development.

Story Structure

Unless wordplay is random, unless there is no intent involved, then the face of Story Structure rears its head.  And the head, not the heart is where it belongs.  Story Structure describes the underlying mechanics of a story, the cogs and processes that lead an audience down a path and bring them to embrace (or at least understand) a message about life and the best way to lead it.

Story structure exists because those cogs and processes provide all the essential techniques and points of view that we, as humans, use in our own minds and in our associations with others to identify problems, refine our understanding of them, and seek to discover the solutions that will resolve them.

Narrative Science

If we look beyond the conventions of story structure to ask why these same cogs and processes appear repeatedly in narrative after narrative, we discover that story structure is a model of the mind itself.  Every character, plot point, thematic issue or genre mood is a facet of our own minds, isolated in nature and made tangible so that we might better understand ourselves.

At the most basic level, narrative science allows us to understand human psychology, both of individuals and how when we come together toward a common problem, we self-organize into group minds in which each individual comes to specialize in once aspect of our narrative selves in order to bring the greatest clarity to the group as a whole.  In essence, when we gave into the face of narrative science, we stare into a mirror.

Though I might conclude this brief introduction to the four faces of narrative with some grand intellectual framework, my own Muse calls at the moment.  And so I rather bring this to a close with a short bit of my own creative writing, pertinent to the subject:

In Verse

by Melanie Anne Phillips

If you could look into infinity,
all you’d see was the back of your head.

And if you were living forever,
you’d clearly be nothing but dead.

But if you step out of the universe,
where time is the flip-side of space,

You could be everywhere,
though you’d never been there,
and you’d stare,
right back into your face.

The “Influence Character” in a Nut Shell

Stories have a mind of their own, as if they were a person in their own right in which the structure is the story’s psychology and the storytelling is its personality.

Characters, in addition to acting as real people,, also represent facets of the overall Story mind, such as the Protagonist which stands for our initiative to effect change and the Skeptic archetype which illustrates our doubt.

Yet in our own minds is a sense of self, and this quality is also present in the Story Mind as the Main Character.  Every complete story has a Main Character or the readers or audience cannot identify with the story; they cannot experience the story first hand from the inside, rather than just as observers.

This Main Character does not have to be the Protagonist anymore than we only look at the world through our initiative.  Sometimes, for example, we might be coming from our doubt or looking at the world in terms of our doubt.  In such a story, the Main Character would be the Skeptic, not the Protagonist.

Any of the facets of our minds that are represented as characters might be the Main Character – the one through whose eyes the readers or audience experience the story.  And in this way, narratives mirror our minds in which we have a sense of self (“I think therefore I am”) and it might, in any given situation, be centered on any one of our facets.

Yet there is one other special character on a par with the Main Character that is found within ourselves and, therefore, also within narrative: the Influence Character.

The Influence Character represents that “devil’s advocate “ voice within ourselves – the part of ourselves that validates our position by taking the opposing point of view so that we can gain perspective by weighing both sides of an issue.  This ensures that, as much as possible, we don’t go bull-headedly along without questioning our own beliefs and conclusions.

In our own minds, we only have one sense of self – one identity.  The same is true for narratives, including fictional stories.  The Influence Character is not another identity, but our view of who we might become if we change our minds and adopt that opposing philosophical point of view.  And so, we examine that other potential “self” to not only understand the other side of the issues, but how that might affect all other aspects or facets of ourselves.  In stories, this self-examination of our potential future selves appears as the philosophical conflict and ongoing argument over points of view, act by act.

Ultimately we (or in stories, the Main Character) will either become convinced that this opposing view is a better approach or will remain convinced that our original approach is still the best choice.

No point of view is good or bad in and of itself but only in context.  What is right in one situation is wrong in another.  Situations, however, are complex, and often are missing complete data.  And so we must rely on experience to fill in the expected pattern and to project the likely course it will take.  Entertaining the opposite point of view shines a light in the shadows of our initial take on the issues.  Psychologically, this greatly enhances our chances for survival.

This is why the inclusion of an Influence Character in any narrative is essential not only to fully representing the totality of our mental process but to provide a balanced look a the issues under examination by the author.

When Narratives Collide

What happens when narratives collide? Fictional stories are generally about a single primary narrative perhaps surrounded by a number of satellite narratives that function as sub-plots.  But in the real world, every person is the main character in his or her own narrative and what’s more, everyone has many sub-narratives orbiting around them as well, all trying to co-exist in the same narrative space.

The end result is that narratives are continuously bouncing off, absorbing, merging, fracturing, shattering and even altering one another through tidal pull. Think of simple narratives as solar systems and complex ones as small galaxies.  The rules that govern how they interact are just as complicated as celestial mechanics.  Still, just as one can intuitively appreciate the transit and cycles of the sun, moon, planets and the sphere of constellations, one can also grasp the impact of one narrative upon another as they cross paths in transit.

Let us consider the different manners in which two narratives might interact, beginning with the gentlest of influences and progressing toward cataclysmic mutual annihilation.

Imagine narrative space as the topical material of a fiction or the subject matter of life – all the people, places, things and events of interest or concern to us.  As our interests grow and change, we pass through narrative space much as an object passes through the universe.

Along the way, we encounter new subject matter – like dust and gas – that is gathered into our growing fictional or personal narrative, adding to its mass and increasing its complexity.

From time to time, however, we encounter another system similar to our own, with a sun and planets – a complete narrative that is not our own but is also moving through the narrative space picking up mass and using it to generate internal energy.

In fact, from a distance this other narrative cannot be perceived in its component parts, but only as a single point.  Initially it is merely noticed, but has no discernible affect upon us, our course, and our internal activities.

As our narrative closes the gap with the other, we each begin to feel a pull.  If we are headed on a collision course, the pull merely accelerates our respective courses along the path they would have taken on their own.

If, however, we are not on a direct intercept with the other narrative, we begin to feel a force pulling us very slightly away from the path we intended to take.  We are not likely to assign this discrepancy to the other narrative, for there are many narratives in our story universe and their collective impact is perceived by us as chaos.

But, as the error in our course establishes itself as a consistent force and is also noted to be growing in power, we begin to scan our surroundings to see if we can identify the source of the gravity that is warping our trajectory.

You see all this in stories as one character begins to fall under the influence of another, and you see it in real life as things start affecting our plans to the point we feel there is another agenda at work out there other than ours that is undermining or redirecting our efforts.

As the two narratives approach, they begin competing for the same resources.  Since, like solar systems, narratives are made of story elements in a matrix, they are mostly empty space.  They often move partially through each other in the same narrative space without any direct contact, like people moving in the same circles but not actually meeting as they are never in the same place at the same time.  Yet each is affecting others in that narrative space, and therefore indirectly affecting one another.

Even if they never meet directly, depending on the relative sizes of the two narratives, one may become trapped in the influence of the other and begin to orbit it.  Depending upon whether it is a circular or elliptical orbit, whether it is symmetrical or asymmetrical and the rotational rate of the captured narrative around its core, the orbiting narrative may be subjected to mild to extreme tidal pull.  This may create everything from  heating of the core (strong emotions) within the captured narrative to breaking it apart (as when a previously stable individual begins to act erratically and eventually snaps to become a lone wolf terrorist.

What’s more, the distance from the larger narrative that the captured narrative’s orbit describes determines whether it will fall in the sweet spot or Goldilocks zone and continue to thrive, or that the heat, energy or power from the master narrative will burn the life right off the slave or perhaps leave it too cold to continue as a narrative that can maintain its own sense of identity.

In a fictional narrative, a sub-narrative without an identity is simply a sub-plot, but if identity exists (as when an archetype or supporting character in a story has its own personal narrative) than the sub-narrative is hinged to the main narrative and what happens in the subordinate can affect what a character does the master.  In other words, a character’s personal needs in his or her own story may cause that character to act in a way contrary to their assigned or expected role in the general narrative.

In real life, this effect leads to compromised individuals engaging in traitorous actions, or to  petty thievery by employees in a company who can justify their actions according to overriding personal narratives.  Of course, orbiting sub-narratives with identities can also lead to improved behavior or greater achievement by those who revolve around a celebrity or role model as well.

All of these effects, and more, are of the influential nature.  But there is a far more impactful kind of interaction between narratives, and it will result in the alteration, complete remaking or possibly the complete annihilation of one or both of the converging narratives.

Though a narrative structure is mostly open space, every narrative has a core.  In colder, stable narratives, the core is like a planet.  In hotter, active narratives, it is like a sun.  In fictional stories, the core is  the Main Character – the one through whom the readers or audience experience the story first hand, through its eyes, as the other elements of the narrative revolve around it.

In real life, the core is the identity of a person, group, movement, political party, or even nation – anyone, any thing, or any organization that has organized itself into a narrative.  When people come together in groups, each the center of his or her own narrative, they adopt within the group a role in orbit of the group narrative.

As groups form, just as solar systems congeal around a star, people begin to gather around an idea, a concept.  We see this in grass roots movements, and such narratives are intentionally created by companies to establish a corporate identity.

When two cores encounter one another, it is like stars, planets, or a star and a planet colliding.  If they are both hot and star-like, identities may just graze one another, leaving emotional scars, or a stronger personality may strip material from another, leaving behind an individual (or group) that is just a shell of its former self.  We see this not only in broken people taken advantage of by an emotional charlatan to a business left destitute of resources due to corporate raiders, or a country suffering a brain drain.

Under some conditions, two narratives might merge with the cores becoming a single new identity through synthesis, as in a corporate merger.  Or, the cores may become a binary system in which the identities revolve around each other, as in a marriage.

If one identity is vibrant and star-like, but the other is established and planet-like, the encounter usually ends in favor of the star, whose mass and influence is so much greater.  In other words, you can’t fight city hall unless you become a star yourself.

But there is still the far more common situation in which worlds collide.  When two established cores run into each other, even a glancing blow can be catastrophic, just as when two bull-headed people lock horns, set in their own ways, each supported by their own cadre of followers making up their respective narratives.

In such cases, depending on their relative sizes and the grit of the material that make them up, there will be earthquakes and fracturing within each narrative as they approach one another due to their respective gravitational effects.

Depending on the angle of collision, one may prevail at the expense of the other, or they might completely pulverize each other into fragments and dust (splinter groups and free radicals) which themselves may either become the seeds of a new core, or may be absorbed as raw materials within the narrative space in which a new narrative is forming around a completely different social core.

At this point we have outlined the key forces at work when narratives collide.  As we can see, the laws of physics and psychology are resonant, which is not surprising when you adopt the perspective that are minds are a system generated by our brains, which operate according to the same physical laws.

To understand narrative psychology, keep watching the skies.


Flight Recorder of the Subconscious

A real life example that just occurred:

In the kitchen, I began singing the theme song from the 1965 old west comedy “Cat Ballou” starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin.  Upstairs, Teresa (upon hearing this) inquired why I was singing such an obscure song.

My initial answer was that I had no clue.  But, curious now myself, I invoked my subconscious flight recorder.  This is a mental process I learned as a child wherein I am able to play back, in reverse, the subconscious elements which led to a conscious thought or unconscious action.

It is a handy skill, though not unique to me.  Teresa, for example, is also able to do this, and though I have never actually inquired of anyone else as to whether this is possible for them as well, I assume a great number of people have learned to do it.

In this particular case, just before I started singing that theme, I had been looking at the bottle of medication we are giving to our kitty, Clarice, for an upset stomach.  It makes her mouth foam, and we have come to refer to it as her goo.

Also, I was considering posting a picture I took some years ago of our home in the mountains which, due to the dark wood exterior, pine trees, and corn growing in front was very reminiscent of the old west – striking me as such in impression, even though I did not consciously consider this.

And so, I was thinking about “cat goo” in the just prior context of the old west feel of the photograph.  My subconscious mind, like everyone’s, is always trying to understand the situation by seeking patterns of comparatives with experience; it is a survival trait that allows us to anticipate trouble and recognize potential benefits.

In the context of the old west, the nearest pattern in my experience that matched “cat goo” was the sound-alike, Cat Ballou, and my subconscious responded by triggering me to start singing the theme song, thereby alerting my conscious mind to the found pattern match.

And so, from this simple example, we can understand a basic process of the mind that we all employ constantly and unbidden as part of our survival instinct.  Clearly one might apply this knowledge to perceive in their actions and reactions, initiations and responses, a mechanism that can both explain and, with some training, be directed, much as one might direct a lucid dream through practice.

And in writing, a clever author might present his or her readers or audience with the subconscious elements that lead to a character’s unknowing motivations or afterwards to explain why a character acted as it did.