Category Archives: Zen of Story Structure

The Zen of Narrative

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Think of Dramatica as the Zen of narrative. Every new aspect of it that you learn provides a new angle on the issues you face and opens up new avenues of exploration through which to seek a resolution to your inequities. So, each new step is going to be a zen-like lesson the illuminate another side of how personal narratives can be controlled and altered.

To begin, consider that stories (in general) are about a single narrative growing from a single inequity. They are closed systems in which only those elements that pertain to that exploration of that particular issue are included. But this differs from real life. In our own lives, we weave scores of narratives and participate as minor characters in many others created not by ourselves.

For example, we may have a narrative about our career, a narrative about our self image, a narrative as a member of our family, a narrative in our department at work and another regarding the entire company at the corporate level. We may participate in a narrative in our church, in a club, with our in-laws or in a class we are taking. In fact, whenever we gather in a group, a narrative will form and we will play a role in it.

And so, when dealing with our issues in the real world, there is not one single silver bullet that will solve everything. Rather, we need to identify each of the principal narratives in which we have dissonance so we can then analyze each one to better understand the dynamics at play, and through them discover the kinds of pressure we must bring to bear to eventually resolve the underlying inequity.

The best way to identify these different narratives in our lives is to see them in terms of our independent areas of relationship. For example, the relationship we have with our boss is not directly connected to the relationship we have with our spouse, though each can affect the other in indirect ways. For example, our spouse may egg us on to ask for a raise we don’t feel comfortable in seeking. But the spouse and boss never are never directly involved with each other, just through us as the hinge, lynch pin, or intermediary.

In the end, we are each the main character in the narratives of our life.

Contact me about narrative analysis for fiction and the real world

Step Back

Although it is important to work on the particulars of your story you can lose track of the big picture in doing so exclusively.

Step back from time to time to take in your story as a whole.  See it as the readers or audience will and appreciate it not just for how it works but for how it feels and what it means.

Write your Novel or Screenplay step by step with StoryWeaver

Predict your story’s perfect structure with Dramatica

God and Dramatica

Now here’s a touchy subject.  Still, over the years, many have taken a philosophical, even spiritual view of Dramatica.  There are even some who have drawn a comparison between Dramatica’s 64 elements and the 64 trigrams of the I Ching.   In fact, two of them wrote articles on that topic.  Here are the links:

Noa’s Archetypes
by noted ballet coach,
Anthony Noa

The One and the Many
by C.J. Lofting

Some find this comparrison odd, and at first so did we, since neither Chris nor myself had studied the I Ching before creating Dramatica and only after having this brought to our attention did we explore the similarities.  Ultimately, for me, it is just another indicator that we are all looking for the same answers to the same universal questions.  Dramatica is just another lens through which to focus on our own existence.

A new Dramatica user recently sent to me the following:

I’m probably stating the obvious, but have you thought about the Story Mind in terms of God, and human beings in terms of representing different aspects of God?
Well, as you might expect, I do in fact have a few thoughts on that matter.  But before I pen them, a caveat:
In the early days of our development of Dramatica, some twenty years ago, Chris and I encountered legions of fans who were so enraptured with the potential of the theory as a model of the mind that they started applying it to all kinds of areas outside of the realm of the creation of fiction.
For example, one lawyer was using it to help structure his closing arguments in criminal trials.  A student in one of my UCLA classes began exploring how Dramatica might be applied to the patterns he encountered in sub-nuclear physics.  And another student in a Deep Theory class I taught was having her pyschiatrist apply it to help her integrate her multiple personalities.
Due to the comments by users and students and our own awareness of some of the philosophical implications of Dramatica, Chris and I began to worry about the potential abuse of Dramatica as the basis for some new religion.  After all, Dramatica (in its original form) dealt with four Classes – Universe, Mind, Physics, and Psychology – which were already a keystone in Dianetics (something neither of us knew until long after the theory was complete).  Of course, we use the terms differently as meaning the four posible realms of exploration in a story – External or Internal States or Processes.  Every story problem can be identified as being either an External or Internal State or Process.  Universe is an External State, Physics is an External Problem, Mind is an Internal State, Pyschology is an Internal Process.  And so, for us, this was just a story issue.  But, quite naturally, stories are about the way we think and feel and we realized that people would probably try to resolve problems in their own lives by identifying them in the same way, with the same terms.
So, we have always been pretty wary and on guard against any “cult-like” movements that might crop up around the ol’ theory, lest the power of Dramatica from an organizational and self-illuminating aspect might be subverted to lure in and control innocent seekers of truth.
(After all, in my pre-Dramatica days I had written and edited a feature length documentary on Jim Jones and the People’s Temple and the Guyana suicide.  I spent a year on that project, and it has made me ever-watchful for any charismatic leader who isolates his or her flock and professes to be the sole source of God’s Truth.  Again, the Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao.  In fact, I went on to write a song about what I learned in that year – including interviewing one-on-one a survivor from the massacre.  Here’s a link to a rendition of that song, if you are interested: on mp3 at Guyana Dreamin’ or on video at Guyana Dreamin’)
And so, knowing that the last thing I want to do is encourance any kind of following of my personal philosophies, please take this as just a little sharing of some of my speculations with that new user who asked:
I’m probably stating the obvious, but have you thought about the Story Mind in terms of God, and human beings in terms of representing different aspects of God?
Here’s my reply:

If God is within us and we within God, then the concept of characters within a Story Mind might be a useful perspective in our attempt to better understand our relationship with the Divine.

Consider – suppose that we experience our linear lives like scanning lines on a television. Suppose our souls do not perish at death, but simply reset to the next scanning line, so that we either have been or will at some time be and live the life of every thinking creature that has existed, currently exists, or will exist. In other words, be good to your neighbor and every bug on your wall, for it is you.

Time is irrelevant to God, for it is our one continuous life as a single soul that scans the experience of reality from a Main Character view – I think, therefore I am. But God sees all the scanning lines not as individual linear experiences, but as comprising a bigger picture – the fully scanned image, in motion, as the universal collection of thinking creatures is constantly altering as new hosts are born and old hosts die, frame by frame.

Together, we play out across God’s mind, informing God’s thoughts and, in a sense, continuously creating God as God puts us (who are really one) into play.

God is both author and audience to his own creation in a way no player on the field can ever fully appreciate, for ours is not to watch the movie but to live the role.

I call this concept “co-creation.”

Just idle speculation.  Make of it what you will.


Zen of Writing: “Prediction”

Prediction explores the effort to learn the course of one’s destiny.

Destiny is the path to a particular fate, or through a series of fates. Fates are experiences or conditions one must encounter along the way as one’s destiny directs one’s course.

The nature of destiny is such that no matter how much a character is aware of the nature and location of an undesirable fate, nothing it can do is enough to pull it off the path. However, if one could know the future course, one could prepare for each eventuality in order to minimize or maximize its effect.

DEFINITION: Prediction: a predetermination of a future state of affairs.

SYNONYMS: foresight, foreseeing, anticipation, envisioning one’s future, prophecy, forecast, foretell, prognosticate.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Interdiction, an effort to change a predetermined course.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

Zen of Writing: Fate

The distinction between Fate and destiny is an important one. Destiny is the direction one’s life must take, Fate is any given moment along that direction. So whereas one can have many Fates, one can only have one destiny.

Fate describes a state of situation and circumstance that exists at a particular point in time. In other words, Fate is something of an outcome, or perhaps a step – just one of a number of Fates along the path of one’s destiny.

Characters often either make the mistake of assuming that they have only one Fate and are therefore stuck with it, or they mistakenly believe they can achieve their destiny without “passing through” unattractive fates that lie along the path.

The nature of a Fate is that no matter how you try to avoid it, it tracks you. All options that you might exercise still lead to that Fate. That is what also defines Destiny as the limitations on free will that force you to arrive at your Fate no matter how you alter what you do or what kind of person you are.

If we all knew the future, there would be no freewill.

DEFINITION: Fate: a future situation that will befall an individual.

SYNONYMS: inevitable events, unpreventable incidents, eventual events, destined occurrence, destined events, unavoidable situations.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Destiny, the future path an individual must take.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

Zen of Writing: The Conscious

When one has all the facts, knows all the impact – both positive and negative; when one is fully aware of detrimental consequences and still decides on the poor course of action, there is something wrong with the way one arrives at conclusions. This is the subject of stories focusing on The Conscious.

The key here is not to redefine who a character is, but to lead it to relearn how to weigh an issue so that its conclusions are less destructive to itself and/or others.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: The Conscious: present considerations.

SYNONYMS: considerations, sensibilities, cognizant, ability to consider, sensible, informed contemplation, contemplation.

DYNAMIC PAIR: Memory, recollections.

Zen of Story Structure: The Subconscious

The Subconscious describes the essential feelings that form the foundation of character. These feelings are so basic that a character is often not aware of what they truly are. When The Subconscious is involved, a character is moved right to the fiber of its personality.

In contrast with the Preconscious, the Subconscious deals with the sum total of a character’s experiences that determine what attracts and repels it, whereas the Preconscious describes the innate responses which are not dependent on experience.

Excerpted from
The Zen of Story Structure

DEFINITION: The Subconscious: basic drives and desires.

SYNONYMS: libido, id, basic motivations, basic drives, anima.

DYNAMIC PAIR: The Preconscious, innate responses.