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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dramatica Chart

Dramatica Unplugged

By Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator StoryWeaver, Co-creator Dramatica

The Story Mind

1.4 The Dramatica Chart Download Chart in PDF

At the heart of the story engine is a matrix of story points: The Dramatica Chart of Story Elements (which is not unlike the Periodic Table of Elements in chemistry). You can use it to create the chemistry of your characters, plot, theme, and genre.

The Dramatica chart contains all the psychological processes that must exist in a Story Mind. In fact, every human mind shares all of these processes. What makes one mind different from another is not the kinds of mental activities in each, but rather how the activities are interconnected.

Just as in chemistry, various elements might be combined to create an infinite number of compounds, so too the dramatic elements of the Dramatica Chart can be combined to create virtually all valid psychological structures for stories.

At its most simple level, the chart can be seen as having four principal areas (called classes): Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology. These represent the only four fundamental kinds of problems that might exist in stories (or in life!)

Universe is an external state

Physics, an external process

Mind is an internal state

Psychology, an internal process.

Essentially, any problem you might confront can be classed as either an external or internal state or process.

Universe then is our external environment. Anything that is a problematic fixed situation falls into this category. For example, being stuck in a well, held captive, or missing a leg are all situational “Universe Class” problems.

Physics is about activities that cause us difficulty. Honey bees dying off across the country, the growth of a militant organization, and cancer are all “Physics Class” problems.

(Note that if having cancer is a problem – such as people being prejudiced against you because you are cancerous – that is a situation or Universe problem because it is a steady or fixed state: a condition. But if it is the spread of the disease that we see as a problem, then it is a Physics-style activity problem. It is important not to assume content in a story falls into a particular class until you determine how that content is actually problematic.)

Mind is the internal equivalent of Universe – a fixed internal state. So, a prejudice, bias, fixation, or fixed attitude would be the source of problems in a “Mind Class” story.

Psychology is the Physics of the mind – an internal process. A “Psychology Class” problem would be someone who makes a series of assumptions leading to difficulties, or someone whose self-image and confidence are eroding.

(Again, note that having a negative self-image is a state of “Mind” whereas the erosion of one’s self-image is a process that must be stopped or even reversed, and would therefore be a Psychology problem.)

In stories, as in real life, we cannot solve a problem until we can accurately define it. So, the first value of the Dramatica Chart is to present us with a tool for determining into which of the four fundamental categories of problems our particular issue falls.

Now you may think that the terms, Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology, are a little antiseptic, perhaps a bit scientific to be applying to something as intuitive as the writing of stories.

Back when we were naming the concepts in the Dramatica Theory, we were faced with a choice – to either use extremely accurate words that might be a bit off-putting or to use easily accessible words that weren’t quite on the mark.

Ultimately we decided that the whole point of the theory was to provide an accurate way of predicting the necessary components of a sound story structure. Therefore, we elected to use the terms that were more accurate, even if they required a little study, rather than to employ a less accurate terminology that could be grasped right away.

Returning to the chart itself, it appears as four towers, each representing one of the four classes and each class having four levels. As we go down the levels from top to bottom we subdivide each kind of problem into smaller and smaller components, thereby refining our understanding of the very particular kind of problem at the core of any given story.

The top level, being the most broad, describes the structural aspects of genre. Genre (in the traditional sense) is largely a storytelling or content-driven realm. But genre is not immune to structure. In fact, as we shall see down the line genre must be built upon a solid structural foundation or it will flounder.

The second level, slightly more refined, deals with the dramatic components that are most associated with plot, especially at act resolution. That’s an odd term, so let’s define it. An act is the largest building block of plot. Each act has a particular kinds of concern that defines all the action that goes on in that act. For example, one act may deal with looking for a lost object, the next act with trying to obtain it, and the last act with bringing it back against steep odds.

“Resolution” is a term we use in Dramatica to describe how big a dramatic component is. The Genre “classes” cover the whole story since each story falls within a particular genre. But the acts change over the course of the story, shifting from one concern in a given act to another in the next. Therefore, we say that the components of the Dramatica Chart in the second or act level, are of a smaller resolution. Just as the genre level components are called “classes,” the act level components are referred to as “types.” So, we have classes of genres and types of acts.

The third level has the greatest structural impact on a story’s theme. Each of these components is called a Variation, as in “variations of a theme.” The Variations are of an even smaller resolution, and therefore provide more detailed information about the story’s problem.

A story’s thematic conflicts can be mapped in the Variation level. Story-wise, variations are sequence sized. “Sequences” are smaller than acts and are usually comprised of a number of scenes that deal with a particular moral issue or ethical topic.

The fourth and lowest level of the chart provides the greatest resolution on a story’s problem. It is comprised of components called Elements (in reference to their indivisible nature) and has the greatest structural impact on characters.

It is here in the Element Level that we find the plethora of human traits that make up our motivations or drives. It is the interaction among characters representing these various drives that constitute the scenes of our story. So, we say that the Element Level is at scene resolution.

So, like nested dolls, scenes fall within sequences within acts within a genre. In this manner, the structure of a story can be understood not as a simple sequence as one would find in a tale, but rather as a complex mechanism built of wheels within wheels.

I’ll provide a full description of the chart and its workings later on, but for now, picture it as a cross between a three dimensional chess set, a Rubik’s Cube, and the Periodic Table of Elements, which can be used to build perfect story structures.

The Dramatica Theory of Story - Class 6

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Story is an Argument

Dramatica Unplugged

By Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator StoryWeaver, Co-creator Dramatica

The Story Mind

1.3 A Story is an Argument

A tale is a simple linear path that the author promotes as being either a good or bad one to take, depending on the outcome. There’s a certain amount of power in that. It wouldn’t take our early storyteller long to realize that he didn’t have to limit himself to relating events that actually happened. Rather, he might carry things a step farther and create a fictional tale to illustrate the benefits or dangers of following a particular course.

That is the concept behind Fairy Tales and Cautionary Tales – to encourage certain behaviors and inhibit other behaviors based on the author’s belief as to the most efficacious courses of action in life.

But what kind of power could you get as an author if you were able to not merely say, “This conclusion is true for this particular case,” but rather “This conclusion is true for all such similar cases”?

In other words, if you begin “here,” then no matter what path you might take from that given starting point, it wouldn’t be as good (or as bad) as the one I’m promoting. Now, rather than saying that the approach you have described is simply good or bad in and of itself, you are suggesting that of all the approaches that might have been taken, yours is the best (or worst) way to go.

Now that has a lot more power to it because you are telling everyone, “If you find yourself in this situation, exclude any other paths; take only this one,” or, “If you find yourself in this situation, no matter what you do, don’t do this!”

That kind of statement has a lot more power to manipulate an audience. But, because you’ve only shown the one path (even though you are saying it is better than any others) you are making a blanket statement.

An audience simply won’t sit still for a blanket statement. They’ll cry, “Foul!” They will at least question you. So, if our caveman sitting around the fire say, “Hey, this is the best of all possible paths,” the audience is going to say , “What about this other case? What if we tried this, this or this?”

If the author was able to successfully argue his case he would compare all the solutions the audience might suggest to the one he is touting and conclusively show that the promoted path is clearly the best (or worst). Or, a solution might be suggested that proves better than the author’s, in which case his blanket statement loses all credibility.

In a nutshell, for every rebuttal the audience voices, the author can attempt to counter the rebuttal until he has proven his case. Now, he wont’ have to argue every conceivable alternative solution – just the ones the audience brings up. And if he is successful, he’ll eventually exhaust their suggestions or simply tire them out to the point they are willing to accept his conclusions.

But the moment you record a story as a song ballad, a stage play, or a motion picture (for example), then the original author is no longer there to counter any rebuttals the audience might have to his blanket statement.

So if someone in the audience thinks of a potential way to resolve the problem and you haven’t addressed it in your blanket statement, they will feel there is a hole in your argument and that you haven’t made your case.

Therefore, in a recorded art form, you need to include all the other reasonable approaches that might be tried in order to “sell” your approach as the best or the worst. You need to show how each alternative is not as good (or as bad) as the one you are promoting thereby proving that your blanket statement is correct.

In order to do this, you must anticipate all the other ways the audience might consider solving the problem in question. In effect, you have include all the ways anyone might think of solving that problem. Essentially, you have to include all the ways any human mind might go about solving that problem. In so doing, you create a model of the mind’s problem-solving process: the Story Mind.

Now, no caveman ever sat down by a fire and said to himself, “I’m going to create an analogy to the mind’s problem-solving processes.” Yet in the process of successfully telling a story in a recorded art form (thereby showing that a particular solution is better than all other potential ones) the structure of the story becomes a model of psychology as an accidental byproduct.
Once this is understood, you can psychoanalyze your story. And you find that everything that is in the human mind is represented in some tangible form in a story’s structure.

That’s what Dramatica is all about. Once we had that Rosetta Stone, we set ourselves to documenting the psychology of story structure. We developed a model of this structure and described it in our book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story.

Beyond that, we implemented this construct as an interactive software engine – the Story Engine, which sits at the heart of the Dramatica software. It allows authors to answer questions about their dramatic intent in any story they are developing, then cross references the impact of their various dramatic choices and predicts the remaining structure necessary to achieve that particular impact.

The Dramatica Theory of Story - Class 5

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The 12 Questions Every Writer Should Answer

Each of these questions determines the nature and impact of a key force that will shape your story. If you can answer all twelve, you will have laid all the necessary structural foundation on which to build your novel, screenplay or stage play.

1. Main Character "Resolve" - Change or Steadfast?

2. Main Character "Growth" - Start or Stop?

3. Main Character "Approach" - Do-er or Be-er?

4. Main Character "Style" - Logic or Intuition?

5. Story "Limit" - Time Lock or Option Lock?

6. Story "Driver" - Action or Decision?

7. Story "Outcome" - Success or Failure?

8. Story "Judgment" - Good or Bad?

9. Overall Story Throughline?

10. Overall Story Concern?

11. Overall Story Issue?

12. Overall Story Problem?

Overall Story Problem

The 12 Essential Questions Every Writer Should Answer

12. Overall Story Problem

As an author you will want to know what drives your Main Character. Selecting the Main Character problem determines the nature of this drive. Choose the item(s) that best describes this issue. Main Character Problem: the source of The Main Character's motivation; the source of the Main Character's problems

Without motivation - without a Problem - there is no inequity that spurs the Main Character to better his lot. Sometimes it may seem that Problems exist in our environment. Other times, we may perceive a Problem with ourselves: the way we act or feel. In truth, Problems really exist between ourselves and our environment as an inequity between the two.

As example, we may hang on to our desires, even though it causes trouble around us. Conversely, a whole situation might be faltering because of one stubborn individual. These are really two ways of looking at the same inequity. One casts the Problem in the environment, the other places it in the person. So when we look at the Main Character's Problem, we are really looking at the inequity of the story at large as it is reflected in the Main Character.

The relative importance of knowing the underlying Overall Story Problem varies depending on the choices you have made about Main Character and Plot. Once again, it is a matter of emphasis rather than elimination. In some stories, the Problem will be the key to determining how you will approach the Storytelling illustrations, while in others it will seem less relevant to the story's thematic progression.

In the case of Jurassic Park, the Problem is more essential than the Thematic Range to the storyline. Within the Issue of Fate, the story explores the imbalance between Chaos and Order. But its message is felt as an underlying sensation rather than a constant point of focus as the primary characters try to save themselves by containing the huge dinosaurs within the park's electric fences.

Examples of Overall Story Problems:

Overall Story Issue

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

11. Overall Story Issue

An author must not only choose the nature of the problem in his story, but also in what light he wishes to present it. The choice of Issue focuses the audience's attention on a particular issue affecting all the characters in the story.

Overall Story Issue: The thematic interpretation of the scenario against which a story takes place.

In stories, it is not only important what you wish the audience to look at but also in what light you want them to see it. The point of view from which the audience evaluates the meaning of the story is crucial to supporting the conclusion to a given argument. Issue helps select a filter through which the author can control the shading of the events that unfold. In a sense, Issue provides the audience with a yardstick and tells them, "measure what you see by this scale."

Examples of Overall Story Issues:

Overall Story Concern

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

10. Overall Story Concern

Within the scenario against which your story takes place, there is an area of shared importance to all the characters in your story. Select the item(s) that best describes this Concern. Overall Story Concern: the purposes or interests sought after by the Overall Characters.

Problems can manifest themselves in several ways. Therefore, simply defining the nature of a Problem does not necessarily predict its effect. For example, if the Problem is that there is not enough money to pay the rent, it might motivate one person to take to drink but another to take a second job. The effects of a Problem are not necessarily bad things, but simply things that would not have happened quite that way without the existence of the Problem. So it is with Concerns.

The choice of Concern determines the principal area affected by the story's Problem and serves as a broad indicator of what the story is about.

The Concern of a story tends to revolve around a definable area of activity or exploration. This central hub may be internal such as Memories or Conceiving an Idea (coming up with an idea). Or, it may be external such as Obtaining or How Things are Changing. When choosing a Concern it is often useful to ask, "Which of these items do I want the characters in my story to examine?"
Keep in mind that the Concern only describes WHAT is being looked at. HOW to look at it is determined by choosing the Issue. The choice of Concern sets limits on how much dramatic ground the Theme can potentially encompass and therefore includes some kinds of considerations and excludes others.

Three of the 16 Concerns are Obtaining, Understanding and How Things Are Changing. For example, an Obtaining Concern can be seen in Body Heat as both the wife (Matty Walker, played by Kathleen Turner) and the lawyer (Ned Racine, played by William Hurt) are concerned with obtaining money. This propels them to plot the murder of her rich husband, which leads to further complications for the naive lawyer.

An Understanding Concern is seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind as both Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler (played by Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon) are trying to understand why they're drawn to Devil's Tower. At the same time, the scientists are trying to understand what's happening in the heavens through the increased number of extra-terrestrial sightings, the consistent musical tones they are receiving from Space, and other unusual signs from above.

A How Things Are Changing Concern is explored in Dances With Wolves as both the Sioux and Lt. John Dunbar (played by Kevin Costner) are concerned with how things are going between the Native Americans and the white men who are encroaching on their land and eliminating their traditional means of survival -- primarily the buffalo. The white soldiers are also concerned about how things are going between the Native Americans and themselves in addition to the progressive influence the railroad is having on the Western frontier.

Examples of Objective Story Concerns:

Overall Story Throughline

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

9. Overall Story Throughline

Every story is set against the issues which arise from a single problem. The problem itself will fall into one of four broad categories. If you want the problem to grow out of a situation, then choose Situation; if you want the problem to emanate from an activity, then choose Activity. If you want the problem to evolve from fixed attitudes and states of mind, then choose Fixed Attitude; and if you want the problem to result from the characters' manipulations and ways of thinking, then choose Manipulation.

Overall Story Throughline: The scenario against which a story takes place.

An author cannot successfully make an argument promoting a solution until he or she has identified the Problem. In stories, Problems can be identified as falling into four broad categories: Situations, Activities, States of Mind, and Manners of Thinking.

These categories are named by the four Classes, Situation (a situation), Activity (an activity), Fixed Attitude (a state of mind), and Manipulation (a manner of thinking).

Situation represents an External State

Activity an External Process.

Fixed Attitude is an Internal State

Manipulation an Internal Process.

Since they are related, all four of these Classes will figure in every story as the Problem works its influence into all areas of consideration. However, only one Class will ultimately prove to be both the source of the Problem's roots and therefore the place it must ultimately be solved.

The Overall Story Throughline is the throughline which describes how all of the story's characters have been brought together. By choosing this Throughline, the author sets the background against which the story will be told. Therefore, its influence is gently felt throughout the story.

A SITUATION story deals with an unacceptable situation - one in which the external environment is seen as problematic. This could be a job situation with poor working conditions, being trapped in a sunken ship, waking up as someone else, living next to an orphanage that keeps you awake at night with its screaming waifs or any other intolerable state of affairs. Often, the best way to see a Situation Overall Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Situation: The Past, How Things are Changing, The Future, and The Present. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Overall Characters in a Situation Overall Story.

An ACTIVITY story employs an activity that needs to arrive at a solution. This might be the effort to steal the crown Jewels, win the love of your heart's desire, make the Olympic team, or raise the money to buy the orphanage and evict all the screaming waifs. Note that if the existence of the orphanage is the focus of the story, it is a Situation (Situation) Throughline. However, if the effort to buy it is the focus, it is a Activity (Activity) Throughline. Often, the best way to see a Activity Overall Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Activity: Doing, Gathering Information, Understanding, and Obtaining. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Overall Characters in a Activity Overall Story.

In a like manner, the Fixed Attitude Throughline reflects a state of mind and the Manipulation Throughline describes a mental activity (or manner of thinking). Fixed Attitude Throughline stories might be about prejudice, a lack of self-worth (if it is a fixed view), or a refusal to see the value of someone's desires. Remember that, as an Overall Story Throughline, these fixed states of Mind will be the source of the problems that everyone in the Overall Story deals with. This would be an Overall view of problems of fixed states of mind, and not looking at how it feels to have these fixations. Often, the best way to see a Fixed Attitude Overall Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Fixed Attitude: Memories, Impulsive Responses, Innermost Desires, and Contemplation. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Overall Characters in a Fixed Attitude Overall Story.

A MANIPULATION Throughline supports stories where people take too many risks, are egocentric, or make light of serious situations. Overall Stories of this Throughline will look at the effect of a person's or persons' thinking in these ways to manipulate others. Placing the Overall Story in this Throughline means in essence that the story will objectify Manipulation, taking an Overall view of these ways of thinking and their effects. The problems that everyone in the Overall Story deals with will come from ways of thinking and their manipulations. Often, the best way to see a Manipulation Overall Story is in terms of the Types below the Class of Manipulation: Developing a Plan, Playing a Role, Changing One's Nature, and Conceiving an Idea. These Types will be of primary importance to all the Overall Characters in a Manipulation Overall Story.

As a final note, it is important to keep in mind that stories are often not about a problem that exists but a desire to be fulfilled. Stories of this nature can create a much more positive feel as exemplified in a Situation story in which an heiress must spend a million dollars in 24 hours to inherit 30 million more, a Activity story where a mountaineer hopes to be the first to scale a mountain on Mars, a Fixed Attitude story of unconditional love, or a Manipulation story about overcoming a dependence on sedatives. The choice of Throughline narrows the playing field of a story. Without actually putting up walls, choosing a Throughline shifts the focus of audience attention by establishing the center around which broad scale dynamics will revolve. The Dramatica engine is calibrated to this center.

To illustrate the differences between throughline classes, let's consider how different story concepts might be illustrated in each of the four perspectives:

Overall Story Throughlines that deal with a Situation

All of the characters are concerned with maintaining or demolishing a situation (e.g. The Verdict or The Fugitive). For example, a country under the thumb of an authoritarian dictator; the condition of a dysfunctional family; a utopian society; a submarine trapped under the ice; progress in one-sided relationships; a murder that occurred 30 years ago; the future of gay rights; the forces that bring on an ice age.

Overall Story Throughlines that deal with an Activity

All of the characters are concerned with an activity or endeavor (e.g. Star Wars or Blade Runner). For example, searching for lost treasure; engaging in a sport; exercising as a way of life; self-flagellation; taking part in a cattle drive; learning about DNA; obtaining secret plans; understanding messages from space, etc.

Overall Story Throughlines that deal with a Fixed Attitude

All of the characters are concerned with a fixed aspect of the mind (e.g. Hamlet or The Client). For example, a community's firm belief in the occult; a family's commitment to the memory of its ancestors (ancestor worship); TV addiction; a culture's fixation on celebrities; a Martian's prejudice against humans; unthinking responses to the conditions of war; essential desires and drives, etc.

Overall Story Throughlines that deal with Manipulations

All of the characters are concerned with a mental process or manner of thinking (e.g. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Four Weddings and a Funeral). For example, curing a mental illness; determining why someone's relationships always fail; becoming a new person; being more responsible to the environment; working through childhood trauma; mass manipulation through propaganda; a group of young people coming of age; a team's creative effort to work out an idea; people pretending to be things they are not, etc.

Story "Judgment"

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

8. Main Character Judgment: Good or Bad?

As an author, you can temper the story's Outcome by providing a Judgment as to whether the Main Character resolves his personal angst or not. Regardless of Success or Failure in the effort to achieve the goal, is your Main Character able to resolve his personal angst? If so, choose Good, and if not, choose Bad.

The notion that the good guys win and the bad guys lose is not always true. In stories, as in life, we often see very bad people doing very well for themselves (if not for others). And even more often, we see very good people striking out.

If we only judged results by success and failure, it wouldn't matter if the outcome was Good or Bad as long as it was accomplished. The choice of Good or Bad tempers the story's success or failure by showing whether the Main Character resolves his personal problems or not.

The Story Judgment provides you with an opportunity to address good guys that win and bad guys that fail, as well as good guys that fail and the bad guys that win. It also allows you to comment on the success or failure of your characters' growth as human beings.

An example of a story where a Main Character's personal problem -- finding inner peace -- remains unresolved at the end is The Silence of the Lambs. The abduction of the Senator's daughter initiates the Overall Story so her rescue provides its resolution. But Clarice's personal problem -- her recurring nightmares of lambs crying as they're being slaughtered -- is emphasized as she plays "cat and mouse" with Dr. Lecter. When he asks her in the end whether "the lambs are still crying," it is clear by her silence that they are. She will not be at peace until she releases her need to save innocents, so the story ends with a Bad feeling even though the Overall Story is successful and her future as an FBI agent seems bright. This juxtaposition creates a bittersweet ending which is further emphasized by the somber music playing over the final shots.

In contrast, Charlie Babbott (played by Tom Cruise) in Rain Man is seeking to collect an inheritance left by his wealthy father to the autistic brother he's never met. When Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) turns out to be a "idiot savant" in mathematics, able to memorize an entire phone book and "count cards," Charlie schleps him to Las Vegas. There he hopes Raymond will make him some fast cash to save his failing business although Charlie's girlfriend's protests and ultimately rejects him as he uses Raymond for selfish means. Along the way, however, depth of feeling Charlie discovers for his long-lost brother surprises and changes him. At the end, Charlie is forced to return Raymond to the hospital where he can be cared for properly, but it is clear to the audience that the bond Charlie feels for Raymond is real when he promises to visit Raymond. He has gained both family and self-respect through their journey so although Charlie fails to get the inheritance at the end, what he has gained personally outweighs what he has lost financially. As the story fades out, it is clear the author judges this Failure/Good to be positive and the audience feels hopeful for Charlie even though his money problems remain unresolved.

Examples of Good and Bad:

Story "Outcome"

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

7. Story Outcome: Success or Failure?

Success or failure is solely determined by whether or not the story goal is achieved, regardless of how your characters feel about it. If you want the Goal to be reached in your story, choose Success. If you want a story in which your characters do not reach the Goal, then choose Failure.
Although it can be tempered by degree, Success or Failure is easily determined by seeing if the characters (in general) have achieved what they set out to achieve at the beginning of the story.
Certainly, the characters may learn they really don't want what they thought they did and choose not to pursue it any longer. Even though they have grown, this is considered a failure because they did not accomplish their original intention. Similarly, they may actually achieve what they wanted, and even though they find it unfulfilling or unsatisfying, it must be said they succeeded. The point here is not to pass a value judgment on the worth of their success or failure. It is simply to determine whether or not they achieved their original objective.

Examples of Success and Failure:

Story "Limit"

The 12 Essential Questions Every Writer Should Answer

6. Story Limit: Timelock or Optionlock?

In order to create tension in your audience, you will want to establish a limit to the story. This limit will indicate to the audience what will bring the story to a moment of truth, either running out of time or running out of options. If you want tension to increase as your characters run out of time, choose Timelock. If you want tension to increase as your characters run out of options, then choose Optionlock.

Every argument must come to an end or no point can be made. The same is true for stories. For an author to explore an issue, a limit to the scope of the argument must be established.
To establish how much ground the argument will cover, authors limit the story by length or by size. Timelocks create an argument in which "anything goes" within the allotted time constraints. Optionlocks create an argument that will extend as long as necessary to provide that every specified issue is addressed.

By selecting the kind of limit at work in your story, you lock down either the duration of the argument (Timelock), or the ground covered (Optionlock).

For example, in the film 48 Hours more time would indeed change the nature of burned-out cop Cates' efforts to track down a serial killer. If he had enough time for a leisurely search on his own, Cates (played by Nick Nolte) might not need to "borrow" fast-talking convict Reggie (Eddie Murphy) from jail. Thus the story contains a Timelock, stated clearly in its title, to propel the non-stop action along.

In Midnight Run, however, bounty hunter Jack Walsh's "easy job" of flying bail-jumping accountant Jonathan Mardukas (played by Charles Grodin) from NYC to LA becomes a logistical nightmare as his options become increasingly limited. Walsh (Robert De Niro) tries every available means of transporting Mardukas to LA, but Mardukas nixes each one for good reason. More delays are caused, allowing the mobsters, FBI agents and rival bounty hunters on their tail to catch up as the chase intensifies. If a Timelock were at work here, Walsh would ignore Mardukas' professed fear of flying at the start and force him to stay on the first plane to LA, arriving before the deadline runs out... but that would be another story.

Examples of Timelock and Optionlock

Story "Driver"

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

5. Story Driver: Action or Decision?

Some stories are driven by actions. Others are forced along by decisions. All stories have some degree of both. This question determines which one "triggers" the other, but does not determine the ratio between the two.

If actions that occur in your story determine the types of decisions that need to be made, choose Action.

If decisions or deliberations that happen in your story precipitate the actions that follow, choose Decision.

Story Driver: The mechanism by which the plot is moved forward.

Action or Decision describes how the story is driven forward. The question is: Do Actions precipitate Decisions or vice versa?

Every story revolves around a central issue, but that central issue only becomes a problem when an action or a decision sets events into motion. If an action gets things going, then many decisions may follow in response. If a decision kicks things off, then many actions may follow until that decision has been accommodated.

The Action/Decision relationship will repeat throughout the story. In an Action story, decisions will seem to resolve the problem until another action gets things going again. Decision stories work the same way. Actions will get everything in line until another decision breaks it all up again. Similarly, at the end of a story there will be an essential need for an action to be taken or a decision to be made. Both will occur, but one of them will be the roadblock that must be removed in order to enable the other.

Whether Actions or Decisions move your story forward, the Story Driver will be seen in the instigating and concluding events, forming bookends around the dramatics.

Examples of Action and Decision:

Main Character Style

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

4. Main Character Problem-Solving Style: Logical or Intuitive?

Every Main Character should have a Problem-Solving Style. Whether your Main Character is a horse, a house, a person, or an alien, the audience will not be able to empathize with it unless that character possesses a Logical or Intuitive mind. If you want your Main Character to tend to look for linear solutions to his problems, choose Logical Problem-Solving Style. If you want your Main Character to tend to look for holistic solutions to his problems, choose Intuitive problem-solving style.

NOTE: A character's Problem-Solving Style need not match its Gender.

Problem-Solving Style: A differentiation between logical and intuitive problem-solving techniques.

Much of what we are as individuals is learned behavior. Yet, the basic operating system of the mind is cast biologically before birth as being more sensitive to space or time. We all have a sense of how things are arranged (space) and how things are going (time), but which one filters our thinking determines our Problem-Solving Style as being Logical or Intuitive respectively.
Logical Problem-Solving Style describes spatial thinkers who tend to use linear Problem solving as their method of choice. They set a specific Goal, determine the steps necessary to achieve that Goal, then embark on the effort to accomplish those steps.

Intuitive Problem-Solving Style describes temporal thinkers who tend to use holistic Problem solving as their method of choice. They get a sense of the way they want things to be, determine how things need to be balanced to bring about those changes, then make adjustments to create that balance.

To be sure, we can go a long way toward counter-balancing those sensitivities, yet underneath all our experience and training, the tendency to see things more in terms of space or time still remains. In dealing with the psychology of Main Characters, it is essential to understand the foundation upon which their experience rests.

Main Character Approach

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

3. Main Character Approach: Do-er or Be-er?

Some of the characters you create as an author will be Do-ers who try to accomplish their purposes through activities (by doing things). Other characters are Be-ers who try to accomplish their purposes by working it out internally (by being a certain way). When it comes to the Main Character, this choice of Do-er or Be-er will have a large impact on how he approaches the Story's problem. If you want your Main Character to prefer to solve problems externally, choose Do-er. If you want your Main Character to prefer to solve problems through internal work, choose Be-er.

Approach: the kind of techniques a character uses to solve problems, which favor either mental or physical effort.

By temperament, Main Characters (like each of us) have a preferential method of approaching Problems. Some would rather adapt their environment to themselves through action, others would rather adapt their environment to themselves through strength of character, charisma, and influence. There is nothing intrinsically right or wrong with either Approach, yet it does affect how one will respond to Problems. Choosing "Do-er" or "Be-er" does not prevent a Main Character from using either Approach, but merely defines the way he is likely to first Approach a Problem, using the other method only if the first one fails.

Examples of Do-er characters are John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) in Die Hard or Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Dirty Harry. Rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs also responds instinctively to events by taking action, which is why her supervisor believes she will make a good FBI agent when she graduates from training.
An example of a Be-er character with an intrinsic approach to problem-solving by deliberating is Frank Horrigan (played by Clint Eastwood) in the film In the Line of Fire.

Attorney Ned Racine (played by William Hurt) in Body Heat is also a Be-er. He seems impulsive in matters of love but deliberates about his options before agreeing to help sexy Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) inherit her husband's fortune.

A Be-er can seem like a victim in a story where actions precede decisions. In a story influenced by decisions, however, Be-ers are often the mastermind or supervisor behind the scenes, putting restraints on characters who are Do-ers. In a TV cop show like Law & Order, a Be-er might be the Chief of Police or District Attorney rather than an undercover Detective or a Assistant District Attorney whose job is to prosecute criminals in court.

Many famous movie pairs contain both a Be-er and a Do-er, such as Butch and Sundance (played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford) in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the title characters of Thelma & Louise (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon) or Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthorpe III (Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd) in Trading Places.

Examples of Do-ers and Be-ers

Main Character Growth

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

2. Main Character Growth: Stop or Start?

Over the course of your story, the Main Character will either grow out of something or grow into something. Authors show their audiences how to view this development of a Main Character by indicating the direction of Growth by the Main Character.

If the story concerns a Main Character who Changes, he will come to believe he is the cause of his own problems (that's why he eventually changes). If he grows out of an old attitude or approach (e.g. loses the chip on his shoulder), then he is a Stop character. If he grows into a new way of being (e.g. fills a hole in his heart), then he is a Start character.

If the story concerns a Main Character who Remains Steadfast, something in the world around him will appear to be the cause of his troubles. If he tries to hold out long enough for something to stop bothering him, then he is a Stop character. If he tries to hold out long enough for something to begin, then he is a Start character. If you want the emphasis in your story to be on the source of the troubles which has to stop, choose "Stop."

If you want to emphasize that the remedy to the problems has to begin, choose "Start."
Whether a Main Character eventually changes his nature or remains steadfast, he will still grow over the course of the story. This growth has a direction. Either he will grow into something (Start) or grow out of something (Stop).

As an example we can look to Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Does Scrooge need to change because he is excessively miserly (Stop), or because he lacks generosity (Start)? In the Dickens' story it is clear that Scrooge's problems stem from his passive lack of compassion, not from his active greed. It is not that he is on the attack, but that he does not actively seek to help others. So, according to the way Charles Dickens told the story, Scrooge needs to Start being generous, rather than Stop being miserly.

A Change Main Character grows by adding a characteristic he lacks (Start) or by dropping a characteristic he already has (Stop). Either way, his make up is changed in nature.

A Steadfast Main Character's make up, in contrast, does not change in nature. He grows in his resolve to remain unchanged. He can grow by holding out against something that is increasingly bad while waiting for it to Stop. He can also grow by holding out for something in his environment to Start. Either way, the change appears somewhere in his environment instead of in him.

Examples of Stop and Start

Main Character Resolve

The 12 Essential QuestionsEvery Writer Should Answer

1. Main Character Resolve: Change or Steadfast?

The Main Character represents the audience's position in the story. Therefore, whether he changes or not has a huge impact on the audience's story experience and the message you are sending to it. Some Main Characters grow to the point of changing their nature or attitude regarding a central personal issue like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Others grow in their resolve, holding onto their nature or attitude against all obstacles like Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.

Change can be good if the character is on the wrong track to begin with. It can also be bad if the character was on the right track. Similarly, remaining Steadfast is good if the character is on the right track, but bad if he is misguided or mistaken.

Think about the message you want to send to your audience, and whether the Main Character's path should represent the proper or improper way of dealing with the story's central issue. Then select a changing or steadfast Main Character accordingly.

Do you want your story to bring your audience to a point of change or to reinforce its current view? Oddly enough, choosing a steadfast Main Character may bring an audience to change and choosing a change character may influence the audience to remain steadfast. Why? It depends upon whether or not your audience shares the Main Character's point of view to begin with.
Suppose your audience and your Main Character do NOT agree in attitudes about the central issue of the story. Even so, the audience will still identify with the Main Character because he represents the audience's position in the story. So, if the Main Character grows in resolve to remain steadfast and succeeds, then the message to your audience is, "Change and adopt the Main Character's view if you wish to succeed in similar situations."

Clearly, since either change or steadfast can lead to either success or failure in a story, when you factor in where the audience stands a great number of different kinds of audience impact can be created by your choice. In answering this question, therefore, consider not only what you want your Main Character to do as an individual, but also how that influences your story's message and where your audience stands in regard to that issue to begin with.

Examples of Change & Steadfast Main Characters:


A Tale is a Statement

Dramatica Unplugged

by Melanie Anne Phillips

Part One ~ The Story Mind

1.2 A Tale Is a Statement

Imagine the very first storyteller, perhaps a caveman sitting around a campfire. The first communication was not a full-blown story as we know them today. Rather, this caveman may have rubbed his stomach, pointed at his mouth and made a “hungry” sound.

More than likely he was able to communicate. Why? Because his “audience” would see his motions, hear his sounds, and think (conceptually), “If I did that, what would I mean?”

We all have roughly the same physical make-up, we make the assumption that we also think similarly. Therefore when that early man encoded his feelings into sound and motion, the others in his group could decode his symbolism and arrive back at his meaning.

Buoyed by his success in communication, our caveman expands his technique, moving beyond simple expressions of his immediate state to describe a linear series of experiences. For example, he might relate how to get to a place where there are berries or how to avoid a place where there are bears. He would use sign language to outline his journey and to depict the things and events he encountered along the way.

When our storyteller is able to string together a series of events and experiences he has created a tale. And that, simply put, is the definition of a tale: an unbroken linear progression.

We call this kind of tale a “head-line” because it focuses on a chain of logical connections. But you can also have a “heart-line” – an unbroken progression of feelings. For example, our caveman storyteller might have related a series of emotions he had experienced independently of any logistic path.

Tales can be just a head-line or a heart-line, or can be more complex by combining both. In such a case, the tale begins with a particular situation in which the storyteller relates his feelings at the time. Then, he proceeded to the next step which made him feel differently, and so on until he arrives at a final destination and a concluding emotional state.

In a more complex form, emotions and logic drive each other, fully entertwining both the head-line and hear-line. So, starting from a particular place in a particular mood, driven by that mood, the storyteller acted to arrive at a second point, which then made him feel differently.

The tale might be driven by logic with feelings passively responded to each step, or it might be driven completely by feelings in which each logic progression is a result of one’s mood.

And, in the most complex form of all, logic and feelings take turns in driving the other, so that feelings may cause the journey to start, then a logical event causes a feeling to change and also the next step to occur. Then, feelings change again and alter the course of the journey to a completely illogical step.

In this way, our storyteller can “break” logic with a bridge of feeling, or violate a natural progression of feelings with a logical event that alters the mood. Very powerful techniques wrapped up in a very simple form of communication!We know that the human heart cannot just jump from one emotion to another without going through essential emotional states in between. However, if you start with any given emotion, you might be able to jump to any one of a number of emotions next, and from any of those jump to others. But you can’t jump to all of them. If you could, then we all just be bobbing about from one feeling to another. There would be no growth and no emotional development.

As an analogy, look at Freud’s psycho-sexual stages of development or consider the seven stages of grief. You have to go through them in a particular order. You can’t skip over any. If you do, there’s an emotional mis-step. It has an untrue feeling to the heart.

A story that has a character that skips an emotional step or jumps to a step he couldn’t really get to from his previous mood it will feel wanky to the audience. It will feel as if the character started developing in a manner the audience or readers can follow with their own hearts. It will pop your audience or readers right out of the story and cause them to see the character as someone with home they simply can’t identify.

So the idea is to create a linearity. But doesn’t that linearity create a formula? Well it would if you could only go from a given emotion to just one particular emotion next. But, from any given emotion there are several you might jump to – not all, but several. And from whichever one you select as storyteller, there are several more you might go to next.

Similarly with logic, from any given situation there might be any one of a number of things that would make sense if they happened next. But you couldn’t have anything happen next because some things would simply be impossible to occur if the initial situation had happened first.

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 you have a head-line and/or a heart-line and it is an unbroken chain that doesn’t skip any steps, that constitutes a complete tale.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Hero" is a Four Letter Word

Introducing the Story Mind

Dramatica Unplugged

By Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator StoryWeaver, Co-creator Dramatica

Part One – The Story Mind

1.1 Introducing the Story Mind

The central concept in Dramatica is called "The Story Mind." It is what makes Dramatica unique. Dramatica says that every complete story is an analogy to a single human mind trying to deal with an inequity.

That's quite a mouthful, but all it really means is that a story structure is a model of the mind's problem solving process. It means that all the dramatic elements of a story are actually psychological aspects of the human mind.

This is not the mind of the author, reader or audience, but of the story itself - a mind created symbolically in the process of communicating across a medium. It is a mind for the audience to look at, understand, and then occupy.

Moreover, characters, plot, theme, and genre are not just a bunch of people doing things with value standards in an overall setting. Rather, characters, plot, theme, and genre are different families of thought that occur in the Story Mind, in fact, in our own minds.

In story structure, these thoughts are made tangible, incarnate, so that the audience members might look into the mechanisms of their own minds, see them from the outside in, and thereby gain an understanding of how to solve similar problems in their own lives.

Dramatica Storyforming Newsletter - Volume 1 Number 1

Dramatica Storyforming Newsletter
Volume One * Number One

Download in PDF (179K)

The Dramatica Storyforming Newsletter contains Writing Tips, Analyses of popular books and movies, and materials to help your create a perfect structure in your novel, screenplay, or stage play.

In this Issue: "Building a Better Dinosaur" - a creative criticism of Jurassic Park, Objective vs. Subjective Story Perspectives, Story vs. Tale, The Story Mind, Storyforming vs. Storytelling, Leap of Faith, the Main Character, the Obstacle Character, Problem Element and Solution Element, Author's Proof, Change Characters vs. Steadfast Characters, "One Woman's Problem Solving is Another Man's Justification", Identifying the Throughlines in Your Story, Gender Speak - What's In a Name?, and more!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How to Draw Readers Into Your Story

StoryWeavingWriting Tips Newsletter

Issue 76

How to Draw Your Readers into Your Story

By Teresa Darnold

Have you ever read a story that pulls you right into it without you even noticing? This doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, some very specific methods are employed.

Read the following story segment, see if it pulls you in, and then I’ll describe all the techniques I used to craft it.

“When somebody's "fixin'" to do something,
it won't be long.”

“Go outside and tell your brother that I won’t be long…” Kate knew that tone of voice; her dad was impatient at having been interrupted while doing something he felt to be important – whatever that might be at that moment. This time, he had worked an all-nighter at the plant, got home late, and was trying to unwind a bit before he had to take his son to the game. Trouble was, he was making everyone late in the process of waitin’ for him to unwind.

Kate went outside. She knew her brother wouldn’t like the answer; he was more impatient sometimes than a cow that needed milkin’, but such was the way of her family. She went around to the back of the pickup where her brother was waitin’.

Her Brother spoke first: ‘Well?’

Kate: “Said he’s fixin’ to be out and take you, by and by.”

Her brother looked up at the sky. It was an unruly palate of greys, cold and dark like the weathered steel of an old rifle, or the dark look of the pond out back behind the house.

“It’s fixin’ to rain.” He said simply.

Kate looked up and saw that he was right; if they were going to go, it should be soon. She climbed up into the bed of the old pickup and sat down next to her brother. The wooden boards were cool while the steel bands between were hot. It was hard to find a place to sit where the metal didn’t feel like it was burning her legs. Giving up, she stood up and just leaned against the trucks cab: “He’ll be here soon enough.” She paused, not for effect, more because she knew her brother was upset, and in a mood like that – he’d be more quick to anger than most times. Calmly, she just repeated herself: “He’s fixin’ to take you soon, I’m sure of it.”

About that same moment, just as soon as she finished talkin’, a single large raindrop hit a wooden board between them with a loud slapping sound.

Her brother looked at the water stain on the wood, looked up at her, looked up at the sky; pausing - each time for just a moment before changing the focus of his gaze. He spoke with a slight sad tone to his voice, and just repeated himself: "It's STILL fixin' to rain."

How did I write that?

Right from the get-go, before I press a key and apply an electron to my screen, I start to consider in my mind the kinds of people, places, and things that I know most readers will be able to relate to right away. I know that if my readers can personally relate to my story elements (possibly having experienced them – or even only some of them) that they will connect with my story through their own lives. That’s the key I feel – involving your audience with your story in such a way that they can see the images you create through their own memories.

In the preceding story scene, I decided to use a family situation. The reason is obvious – most people have one - simple. But what of people who may have lost a family member? (t’s possible to lose some readers if they can’t personally relate to your story.) Well, an easy solution is to then write the story from a youthful perspective – a youthful POV. More folks are going to have their parents still around when they’re young than old, and justly so, will be able to relate more to your story then if you write from the point of view of a youth.

In the above story, I chose to start on a conversation between family members. For a short story, it’s the fastest way to establish some of a person’s personality and some personal information for a couple or more of story characters. You also get to use an already defined character interrelationship structure – an already established family group. Dad is the top dog usually – but it could be any adult family member that is used in this role. Siblings that are close in age have a tendency to be considered equals by adults. This is useful in that conversations between similarly aged siblings are usually one of equality. If a sibling is old enough to have acted in the role of babysitter to a younger sibling, those siblings will not have an equal relationship because the older sibling has had to take a parental role over the younger sibling, so conversations between siblings of large age differences usually defer to the older sibling just as they do for a family adult.

Another convenient quality about using family members or close friends in your story is that people who are close to one another have a tendency to speak in partial sentences with one another. Families and friends develop ,over time, subtle ways of communicating that includes an intrinsic awareness of the other persons personality and habits. I used this quality several times in the story. For example:

“Go outside and tell your brother that I won’t be long…”

“Her Brother spoke first: ‘Well?’”

“Kate: “Said he’s fixin’ to be out and take you, by and by.””

“It’s fixin’ to rain.” He said simply.”

“Calmly, she just repeated herself: “He’s fixin’ to take you soon, I’m sure of it.””

“He spoke with a slight sad tone to his voice, and just repeated himself: "It's STILL fixin' to rain."”

This is all the conversation there is in the story. You’ll note that the conversation alone can carry the story, even without all of the added descriptions I included. That’s because - in this case - the contents of the conversation are the story. That’s very important to note, because that means that the conversation also casts the direction the story will go. The conversation is like a divining rod, leading you onward toward where the water is to dig your well. Just so, the character’s verbal conversation directs the pace and focus of the story. If the story is first person and you’re just reading the characters thoughts, then in that case it’s the thoughts that disclose the direction the story takes.

The manner of speech used in the conversations is also character defined. The first sentence is from the father character. It’s authoritative, it’s an order, and it’s also the only formal manner of speech used. The remaining sentences spoken by the children are filled with local colloquialisms. This was done intentionally as this tends to mirror real life.

The second sentence is a demand, verging on being an order. The daughter’s reply is one of ignoring the manner her brother spoke to her. It’s a feminine, passive method of reestablishing a conversation of equality. She’s also the one who is empowered as she has information he desires. That’s why I made his second sentence to be passive also – because she had established that he wasn’t in charge.

The last two sentences were designed to express a subtle hint of mood. The fifth sentence from the girl is meant to express a subtle change in temperament. It’s designed to be more supportive and hopeful. The girl is trying to put a positive spin on what her father said. The sixth sentence was one of resignation. He repeats himself just as his sister did – his way of showing equality. But by pointing out that the weather wasn’t going to wait for his father, he was pointing out his father’s error in his decision – just as any adolescent boy does about parental decisions.

Now, let’s look at the first paragraph:

“Go outside and tell your brother that I won’t be long…” Kate knew that tone of voice; her dad was impatient at having been interrupted while doing something he felt to be important – whatever that might be at that moment. This time, he had worked an all-nighter at the plant, got home late, and was trying to unwind a bit before he had to take his son to the game. Trouble was, he was making everyone late in the process of waitin’ for him to unwind.

In this paragraph, I establish a lot about the history and mood of the father. As in real life – the spoken word is not just the words – it’s the manner with which something is spoken that conveys as much meaning as the words themselves. That’s why I use the opportunity that a spoken conversation in my story brings, to explain the manner of conversation that you would have understood had you ‘heard’ the words, and not read them. But knowing how a person speaks often isn’t enough for your audience; they often want to know more. So if a character has an extreme mood of some kind, giving a reason for that mood often helps to carry story information and to give life to the character. In this instance, you learned that the father is a man of at least two children, that he works long hours at some kind of a large company/plant that tires him out, but he still tries to do things for his children, even when he is tired and had to work overtime.

I also used a technique that is very subtle, and this is to morph a conversation into a thought in the mind of another character. I can do this by using the daughter’s thoughts to define the manner and mood that the father used to speak. It’s her mind that tells you the father’s mood. She then tells you the reason for her father’s mood – and is the source for giving information about the father to the audience. I then close the paragraph by completing the daughter’s mind thought by using a colloquialism that her father didn’t use – thus further defining a wall between the two characters, I show adolescent impatience for her father by the comments the daughter thought, and I show a bit about the character relationship between father and daughter because she didn’t voice her displeasure at waiting for her father, she only thought it.

The next paragraph:

Kate went outside. She knew her brother wouldn’t like the answer; he was more impatient sometimes than a cow that needed milkin’, but such was the way of her family. She went around to the back of the pickup where her brother was waitin’.

This paragraph was used to define the manner of the family’s life. The country colloquialisms used in conjunction with a reference to a cow, milking, and a pickup truck is used to give the impression that the family lives on a farm and specifically that the daughter knows about tending to farm animals, like milking a cow. She also defines a little amount of information about her brother who the audience has yet to meet at this time. By thinking/telling the audience about her brother mood, she then defines the manner and mood of what the brother will say.

The next paragraph:

Her Brother spoke first: ‘Well?’ Kate: “Said he’s fixin’ to be out and take you, by and by.”

See what I mean? When you read the first line by the boy, you already know that his ‘Well?’ is said impatiently. I don’t have to follow what he say’s with an explanation because I already did explain it through the daughter’s previous thoughts. The daughter’s words that follow the son’s impatient ‘Well?’ don’t have to be mood defined because they were already mood defined when she showed her impatience with her father through her thoughts in the first paragraph.

If I were to have written: “Her Brother spoke first: ‘Well?’ he said impatiently." That sentence description would have appeared to be more simple, less professional, less creative and frankly – more ham-handed. Your audience doesn’t want to be outright told how a person is feeling, that makes a story seem less like a story and more like stereo instructions - seriously. They want to know how a person is feeling because they’re in your story – not reading it.

Her brother looked up at the sky. It was an unruly palate of greys, cold and dark like the weathered steel of an old rifle, or the dark look of the pond out back behind the house. “It’s fixin’ to rain.” He said simply.

This is conversation break is an opportunity to set up a reason for the son’s impatience; it’s about to start raining. I begin by defining the look of the sky which I have the boy do. I often use what I call ‘Flowery Words’ when I write my descriptions, because it often adds a bit of a ‘high-brow’ quality to my work (Sorry, but it’s true), and it is seen as more descriptive. I might write that: “The sky had a translucent azure quality to it”, rather than “The sky was dark blue and hazy”. See – the first one just reads better. But, if I’m writing a story that is to take place on a farm, I can’t use descriptive words that are out of place on a farm because it would take away from my stories realistic quality I’m trying to create in the mind of my audience. So I used descriptions that were based on things one might find on a farm – a cold pond - -the grey colour of the steel of a rifle-. If I were to go further with it, I might describe the sky as like the colour and appearance of weather worn grey wood, such as could be found on the old barn doors out back of the house. See?

I then made the whole concept of idea that it’s about to rain by having the son verbally make the declaration about pending rain. How this will affect the game they are about to go to is unclear. Perhaps the son is using the weather as an excuse for his impatience, or maybe he’s genuinely worried about the weather and the drive there. Like in real life, you can’t know every motivation a character has for being the way they are. You’re character looses the ability to surprise your audience if you overly define them. Besides, your audience will fill in any small holes you leave in your character’s personality.

Kate looked up and saw that he was right; if they were going to go, it should be soon. She climbed up into the bed of the old pickup and sat down next to her brother. The wooden boards were cool while the steel bands between were hot. It was hard to find a place to sit where the metal didn’t feel like it was burning her legs. Giving up, she stood up and just leaned against the trucks cab: “He’ll be here soon enough.” She paused, not for effect, more because she knew her brother was upset, and in a mood like that – he’d be more quick to anger than most times. Calmly, she just repeated herself: “He’s fixin’ to take you soon, I’m sure of it.”

I had mentioned the pick-up truck, so it’s a story element – however inconsequential. But I often use an inconsequential story element to further other story elements, like character personalities or elaborating further on environmental conditions for example. I remember from my childhood that the old pick-up trucks often had both wooden boards and metal strips in the truck-bed. And likewise – I remember when sitting in such a truck in the bed, that it was difficult to try to position yourself so that your legs were only on the wood. The metal bands really would feel like red hot metal on my young little legs. Because I want more people to relate to my story, made the truck old. I want people my age to think back to their childhood and relate to the old days on a farm in a nostalgic manner, while at the same time I want younger people to relate to the story and just think that the family has an old truck. Until I define the actual year later in the story – assuming I do that – I use this method to grab as big an audience as I can. Remember, you want to not loose too many people along the way of reading your story because they got bored with it part way through.

Why did I have her stand up? Because the truck bed was hot – obvious right? But why have her stand? Why not write a bale of hay in the truck bed for her to climb in and sit on? Because the boy would have already been sitting on it and the daughter would have had to stand anyway. Plus they may not have seen the rain drop as it would have hit the hay or the truck bed where the boy wouldn’t have likely seen it. I try to keep the characters in my stories consistent in behaviour and temperament with every change or alteration. Anyone who is familiar with siblings is going to know that without a parent around, the boy is absolutely not going to give up the hay bale for his sister to sit on so he can stand, and neither one of them is going to want to sit next close to the other one.

Adding too many story elements can overly complicate the story – lengthening it unnecessarily. There’s no need to bog down your story with too much incidental info when it’s still in the character and story development phase.

Next, once again we’re given a view into the mind of the daughter:

She paused, not for effect, more because she knew her brother was upset, and in a mood like that – he’d be more quick to anger than most times.

This has happened twice now, and the story is now being defined by this second thought narrative sequence. Because of this second thought narrative, Kate is becoming defined as the central character in the story. Now, I know this doesn’t come across immediately as a thought narrative. It shouldn’t, it’s designed not to look like one. By writing a description of what a character is doing physically, you can then segue into their thoughts behind those physical actions, and now you can write in the central characters mind narrative. It’s a subtle trick, like a slight of hand that a magician does – only you’re misdirecting your audiences attention so they don’t see how your redirecting them into the mind of the character. You can see that this is done because you can also see how I altered the language just a touch – going from the normal language an author uses - to the kind of colloquial language that the two children use with each other. The division line is where the line is to pause the audience, between the words “that’ and “he’d”.

See – an obvious manner of disclosing something that a character thinks would be to write something like this:

Her brother was upset, and in a mood like that – he’d be more quick to anger than most times: She Thought

This is another example of where we the author once again tell the audience something. Again – ham-handed…bad.

When the daughter comments after her thoughts:

Calmly, she just repeated herself: “He’s fixin’ to take you soon, I’m sure of it.”
She’s reinforcing her previous thought by putting into action a manner of talking that many people would use to calm someone down that’s agitated. Once again you’re already given the information about why she’s talking the way she is through your already having read the main character’s thoughts.

Bringing my audience back to the matter at hand, the need to go to this game;

About that same moment, just as soon as she finished talkin’, a single large raindrop hit a wooden board between them with a loud slapping sound.

I emphasize the point the boy made by making his pronouncement of rain correct. Now – from his personal point of view - He’s right – they waited too long. And since we’re focusing on the children and their point of view, we then presume that even though good ‘Ol dad is really tired, he should have just gotten into the truck and driven his son to the game. Had I made the raindrop small, it wouldn’t have emphasized the point that he was correct as much, and I couldn’t have written as definitive a comment by the boy later on when he repeats his comment about the rain coming.

Her brother looked at the water stain on the wood, looked up at her, looked up at the sky; pausing - each time for just a moment before changing the focus of his gaze. He spoke with a slight sad tone to his voice, and just repeated himself: "It's STILL fixin' to rain."

In this story example, I start off emphasizing that the daughter is the main character by referring to her brother as only ‘Her Brother’. He doesn’t even have a name yet. For a story like what I’ve written for this creative writing lesson, it’s unnecessary ancillary information that only serves to get in the way and muddy the waters so to speak. If the story were written to be longer, or if her brothers name were necessary – it would have been included. The point is – if a character doesn’t need a name – don’t give it one.

I have her brother, the secondary character, go through the motions of looking around as a means of extending out the scene enough to give a length of time pause. In other words, I want the audience to wait a moment before they read the next line that is uttered by the secondary character. In real life – we often give a pause conversationally to make a point. Just so, this is often done in creative story writing. The difference is in talking, when we give pause to emphasize something – we really do pause. In a story, we have to have the scene progress visually in the eyes of the minds of the audience by writing visual descriptions, before we present them with the words that are spoken by the secondary character.

Now we’ve reached the end of the story segment. You’ve seen how what at first appears to be a simple scene that flows along naturally is actually a heavily crafted construction very specifically designed to create the impact it has.

Writing is often thought of as nothing more than letting the words flow passionately onto the page. Some writers are so naturally gifted that this happens all by itself. But for the rest of us, learning the techniques of story-crafting enables us to achieve the very same result.