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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dramatica - The Lost Theory Book (Part 10)

by Melanie Anne Phillips
creator StoryWeaver, co-creator Dramatica



Before the final version of "Dramatica - a New Theory of Story" there was an earlier draft which contained unfinished concepts and additional theory that was ultimately deemed "too complex". As a result, this material was never fully developed, was cut from the final version of the book, and has never seen the light of day -- until now! Recently, a copy of this early draft surfaced in the theory archives. The following are excerpts from this "lost" text.


Because the text that follows was not fully developed, portions may be incomplete, inaccurate, or actually quite wrong.

It is presented as a look into the history of the development of Dramatica and also as a source of additional theory concepts that (with further development) may prove useful.

NOTE: This excerpt provide a completely different look at two kinds of characters later dropped from the Dramatica theory - "Pivotal" and "Primary." It errs, however, in seeing only two points of view - the Main Character (Subjective) and Author (Objective). Later it was discovered that there are four points of view - Main Character, Obstacle Character, Subjective Story, and Objective Story.

Subjective Characters

In the introduction to this book, we assert that stories work because audiences are provided TWO views of the Story mind. One is the view OF the Story Mind dealing with the problem. This is the Objective view, much like a general watching a battle from atop a hill. From this perspective, characters are external to us. We appreciate them logically, and may have feelings for them, but they are not us. These are the Objective Characters that we have just described in Section I.

But stories provide TWO views of the Story Mind, and the other one is the view FROM the Story Mind. This is more like the perspective of the soldier in the trenches: she actually LIVES the battle, and perhaps DIES in it. The view FROM the Story Mind is the Subjective view, as if we actually WERE that mind, and were dealing with the problem ourselves. This is a much more personal experience, and is represented by much more personal characters: The Subjective Characters.

Unlike the extended family of their Objective kin, the Subjective Characters number only two. Remember, the Objective Characters exist to show ALL the ways in which the Story Mind might go about solving a problem - the Subjective Characters exist to show the ONE SPECIFIC way that CAN solve the particular story's SPECIFIC problem.

So why TWO Subjective Characters? Why not just ONE? Since all characters represent problem solving approaches, different approaches conflict. Even when one approach turns out to be the correct one until that is proven it is still pondered by the Story Mind as one of many potential solutions. It is weighed and balanced against its antithesis, like any Dynamic Pair. Only when one of these two elements of the Subjective Character Dynamic Pair is shown to be the only actual solution is it accepted without resistance.

This creates a wonderful and complex relationship between the two Subjective Characters, that brings the problem solving process home, and makes us, the audience, feel part of the story. The Subjective Character who carries within them the actual solution is the Main Character: the one we empathize with. The Subjective Character that resists them is called the Obstacle Character.

Obviously, a question of Resolve must be answered. Sometimes the Main Character must remain Steadfast in order to achieve her goal. Other times, they must change by learning what their real strength is. When a Main Character must remain Steadfast, we call them a Pivotal Character, since they remain "fixed" as a Character, and the story must revolve or pivot around them. However, for the Main Character that must learn and change, we call them the Primary Character, since they are central to the deliberations of the Story Mind.

This whole conflict between Main and Obstacle Characters is based on their natures as Pivotal and Primary. In essence, the deliberations of any problem solving process is most effected by the decision to stick with the same approach, or try something different. In real life, sometimes one works, and sometimes the other. We cannot tell until we have tried.

Sometimes the message of a story is to explore whether or not it is correct to remain Steadfast in trying to solve a particular kind of problem. In this case, the Main Character would be Pivotal, and the resisting Obstacle Character would be Primary.

Now think about this for a moment: the Primary Character in a story does not have to be the Main Character. But if she is not, she must be the Obstacle Character.

Then, there is the other case: the story that has a message about whether or not it is correct to change your approach, based on experience gained in the problem solving process. In this arrangement, the Main Character is the Primary Character and the Obstacle Character is the Pivotal.

Simply put, in every story, there will be a Main and an Obstacle Character. One of them will be Primary, and the other one Pivotal. This results in two possible combinations: Main Character remaining Steadfast, Main Character Changing.

A number of interesting ramifications spin off of this simple concept. Perhaps foremost is the notion that a Main Character does not have to change. A popular concept of story insists that a Main Character must change. Yet, one is hard pressed to see how James Bond grows as a character. The point of the Bond stories is that he must remain Steadfast. That is to say that he is already using the proper approach, and therefore there is no need (and actually much to lose) by failing in his resolve.

Nevertheless, there IS one Bond film that accommodates Bond as a Primary Main Character: On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In this picture, Bond changes and determines to resign as 007 in order to make a new life with his bride. This IS the proper choice from his Subjective Character's view.

Of course, if James Bond actually left the service, there would be no more in the series with the successful formula that had been established by all the earlier stories. So, at the end of the picture, after he has married, Bond's wife is gunned down by the villains, thereby not only removing his motivation to leave the service, but actually rekindling his motivation to remain.

This prevents the necessity of setting the next Bond thriller in a Scottish suburb with the wife, the kids, the boss, and the bills. Certainly, the death of his wife could've been accommodated at the beginning of the next in the series, driving him back to the service, but the producers did not want to leave a mamby pamby taste in the mouths of avid Bondite's, and also the author could make a powerful statement that once in, you cannot get out.

But we said that if a Main Character Changed (was Primary) then the Obstacle Character would be Pivotal (remain Steadfast). So, who remains steadfast throughout that entire story? Bond's future bride. She is an unbridled woman who maintains her course and never caves in, even in marriage.

Okay, so this is the exception to the Pivotal nature of the Bond Characters. But what about the other Bond stories? If Bond remains steadfast, who changes? Let's look at one: Goldfinger. In Goldfinger, who is it that changes their course, in this case alters their allegiances? Pussy Galore. She is the one who is "forced" by Bond's steadfast nature to change her attitude and fink on Goldfinger to the authorities. Then, consistent with her new approach, she exchanges the gas canisters on her planes with harmless substitutes.

What is clear is that there is one Pivotal Character (Bond) and one primary (Pussy), but since Bond is the Main Character, Pussy provides the Obstacle to his success. Therefore, when she changes, that obstacle is removed and he can succeed by remaining Steadfast.

These, again, are simple examples, but the principle is true of every story.

So far, we have spoken of Main Character, Obstacle Character, Pivotal Character, and Primary Character as concepts. If we were able to define the Objective Characters down to their elements, what can we say about the content of the Subjective Characters?

As we recall, sixty four elements make up all the Objective Characters, each one getting at least one, and up to 16 of them. Each Subjective Characters gets all sixty four. If we simply duplicate two additional groups of sixty four elements from the original Objective group, one would go to the Primary Character and one to the Pivotal. Then, one of these two groups would be named Main and the other Obstacle.

The Subjective Characters each get a complete group because they have more duties than the Objective Characters. Rather than representing the functioning of a one part of the problem solving process, the Subjective Characters represent a view of the entire process working together. This is the view FROM the Story Mind, that requires a new angle on all of the Objective Characters and what they do.

We can easily see that the discrepancy between how the audience sees the function of the Objective Characters and how the Subjective Characters see it is what creates the dramatic potential that drives the story forward. When Objective "reality" sees things one way, and the Subjective sees them another, that is truly a definition of a problem. In fact, this is much like saying that the Universe is arranged in a certain manner, and the Mind is at odds with it.

It becomes crucial to understanding story and the functioning of the Story Mind to define how a Mind can fall into a discrepancy with reality so deeply that is requires either the Universe to change to accommodate the view of the Steadfast Pivotal Character or requires the Mind to change (Primary Character) in order to accommodate the Universe. The latent force that supplies the Pivotal Character her resolve and the Primary Character her adaptability is called Justification.

[Lost Theory Book Contents]