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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Hero Breaks Down

Groucho Marx once said, “You’re headed for a nervous breakdown. Why don’t you pull yourself to pieces?” That, in fact, is what we’re going to do to our hero.

Now many writers focus on a Hero and a Villain as the primary characters in any story. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But as we are about to discover, there are so many more options for creative character construction.

Take the average hero. What qualities might we expect to find in the fellow? For one thing, the traditional hero is always the Protagonist. By that we mean he or she is the Prime Mover in the effort to achieve the story goal. This doesn’t presuppose the hero is a willing leader of that effort. For all we know he might accept that charge kicking and screaming. Nonetheless, once stuck in the situation, the hero drives the push to achieve the goal.

Another quality of a stereotypical hero is that he is also the Main Character. By this we mean that the hero is constructed so that the audience stands in his shoes. In other words, the audience identifies with the hero and sees the story as centering around him.

A third quality of the most usual hero configuration is being a “Good Guy.” Simply, he intends to do the right thing. Of course, he might be misguided or inept, but he wants to do good, and he does try.
And finally, let us note that heroes are usually the Central Character, meaning that he gets more “media real estate” (pages, screen time, lines of dialog) than any other character.

Listing these four qualities we get:

1. Protagonist.

2. Main Character.

3. Good Guy.

4. Central Character

Getting right to the point, the first two items in the list are structural in nature, while the last two are storytelling. Protagonist describes the character’s function from the Objective View described earlier. Main Character positions the audience in that particular character’s spot through the Main Character View. In contrast, being a Good Guy is a matter of personality, and Central Character is determined by the attention given to that character by the author’s storytelling.

You’ve probably noticed that we’ve used common terms such as Protagonist, Main Character, and Central Character in very specific ways. In actual practice, most authors bandy these terms about more or less interchangeably. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for structural purposes it’s not very precise. That’s why you’ll see Dramatica being something of a stickler in its use of terms and their definitions: it’s the only way to be clear.

At this juncture, you may be wondering why we even bother breaking down a hero into these pieces. What’s the value in it? The answer is that these pieces don’t necessarily have to go together in this stereotypical way.

For example, in the classic story of racial prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Protagonist function and the Main Character View are separated into two different characters.

The Protagonist is Atticus, played by Gregory Peck in the movie version. Atticus is a principled Southern lawyer in the 1930s who is assigned to defend a black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl. His goal is to ensure justice is done, and he is the Prime Mover in this endeavor.

But we do not stand in Atticus’ shoes, however. Rather, the story is told through the eyes of Scout, his your daughter, who observers the workings of prejudice from a child’s innocence.

Why not make Atticus a typical hero who is also the Main Character? First, Atticus sticks by his principles regardless of the dangers and pressures brought to bear. If he had represented the audience position, the audience/reader would have felt quite self-righteous throughout the story’s journey.

But there is even more advantage to splitting these qualities between two characters. The audience identifies with Scout. And we share her fear of the local boogey man known as Boo Radley – a monstrous mockery of human form who forms the stuff of local terror stories. All the kids know about Boo, and though we never see him, we hear their tales of his horrible ways.

At the end of the story, it turns out that Boo is just a gentle giant, a normal man with a kind heart but low intellect. As was the custom in that age, his parents kept him indoors, inside the basement of the house, leaving him pale and scary-looking due to the lack of sunlight. But Boo ventures out at night, leading to the false but horrible stories about him when he is occasionally sighted.

As it happens, Scout’s life is threatened by the father of the girl who was ostensibly raped in an attempt to get back at Atticus. Lo and behold, it is Boo who comes to her rescue. In fact, he has always been working behind the scenes to protect the children and is not at all the horrible monster they all presupposed.

In a moment of revelation, we, the audience, come to realize we have been cleverly manipulated by the author to share Scout’s initial prejudice against Boo. Rather than feeling self-righteous by identifying with Atticus, we have been led to realize that we are just as capable of prejudice as the obviously misguided adults we have been observing.

The message of the story is that prejudice does not have to come from meanness, but will happen within the heart of anyone who passes judgment based on hearsay rather than direct knowledge. This statement could never have been successfully made if the elements of the typical hero had all been placed in Atticus.

So, the message of our little story here is that there is nothing wrong with writing about heroes and villains, but it is limiting. By separating the components of the hero into individual qualities, we open our options to a far greater number of dramatic scenarios that are far less stereotypical.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Creating Characters from Scratch

Where Do Characters Come From?

When we speak of characters from a structural standpoint, there are very specific guidelines that determine what is a character and what is not. But when we think of characters in every day life, they are simply anything that has a personality, from your Great Aunt Bertha (though some might argue the point) to the car that never starts when you’re really late.

Looking back through time, it is easy to understand how early humans would assume that other humans like themselves would have similar feelings, thoughts, and drives. Even other species exhibit emotions and make decisions, as when one confronts a bear face to face and watches it decide whether to take you on or find easier pickings (a personal experience from my recent hike on the John Muir trail!)

But even the weather seems to have a personality by virtue of its capricious nature. That’s why they call the wind Mariah, why there is a god of Thunder, and why the Spanish say Hace Color, when it is hot, which literally means, “It makes heat.”

So while, structurally, to be a character an entity must intend to alter the course of events, in the realm of storytelling a character is anything that possesses human emotions. In short, structural characters must have heads, storytelling characters must have hearts. When you put the two together you have entities who involve themselves in the plot, and involve us in themselves.

Where Can We Get Some?

When writing a story, then, from whence can we get our characters? Well, for the moment lets assume we have no plot. In fact, we have no theme, no genre – we don’t even have any particular subject matter we want to talk about. Nothing. We have absolutely nothing and we want to create some characters out of “think” air.

Try starting with a name. Not a name like “Joe” or “Sally” but something that opens the door to further development like “Muttering Murdock” or “Susan the Stilt.” Often coming up with a nickname or even a derogatory name one child might call another is a great way to establish a character’s heart.

What can we say about Muttering Murdock? The best way to develop a character (or for that matter, any aspect of your story) is to start with loose thread and then ask questions. So, for ol’ Muttering Murdock, the name is the loose end just hanging out there for us to pull. We might ask, “Why does Murdock Mutter?” (That’s obvious, of course!) But what else might we ask? Is Murdock a human being? Is Murdock male or female? How old is Murdock? What attributes describe Murdock’s physical traits? How smart is Murdock? Does Murdock have any talents? What about hobbies, education, religious affiliation? And so on, and so on…. We don’t need to know the answers to these questions, we just have to ask them.

Why Does Murdock Mutter?

Next you want to shift modes. Take each question, one at a time, and think up all the different answers you can for each one. For example:

Why does Murdock Mutter?

1. Because he has a physical deformity for the lips.

2. Because he talks to himself, lost in his own world due to the untimely death of his parents, right in front of his eyes.

3. Because he feels he can’t hold his own with anyone face to face, so he makes all his comments so low that no one can hear, giving him the last word in his own mind.

4. Because he is lost in thought about truly deep and complex issues, so he is merely talking to himself. No one ever knows that he is a genius because he never speaks clearly enough to be understood.

You get the idea. You just pull out all the stops and be creative. See, that’s the key. If you try to come up with a character from scratch, well good luck. But if you pick an arbitrary name, it can’t help but generate a number of questions. If you aren’t trying to come up with the one perfect answer to each question, you can let your Muse roam far and wide. Without constraints, you’ll be amazed at the odd variety of potential answers she brings back!

Aging Murdock

Let’s try another question from our Murdock list:

How old is Murdock?

1. 18

2. 5

3. 86

4. 37

That was easy, wasn’t it. But now, think of Murdock in your mind…. Picture Murdock as an 18 year old, a 5 year old, an 86 year old, and at 37. Changes the whole image, doesn’t it! You see, with a name like Muttering Murdock, we can’t help but come up with a mental image right off the bat. It’s like telling someone, “Whatever you do, don’t picture a pink elephant in your mind.” Very hard not to.

The mind is a creative instrument just waiting to be played. It has to be to survive. The world is a jumble of objects, energies, and entities. Our minds must make sense of it all. And to do this, we quite automatically seek patterns. When a pattern is incomplete, we fill it in out of personal experience until we find a better match.

So, when you first heard the name, “Muttering Murdock,” you probably pictured someone who was in your mind already a certain gender, a certain age, and a certain race. You may have even seen Murdock’s face, or Murdock’s size, shape, hair color, or even imagined Murdock’s voice!

Give Murdock a Job!

Now ask one more question about Murdock – What is his or her vocation? Try out a number of alternatives: a school teacher, a mercenary, a priest, a cop, a sanitary engineer, a pre-school drop-out, a retired linesman. Every potential occupation again alters our mental image of Murdock and makes us feel just a little bit differently about that character.

Interesting thing, though. We haven’t even asked ourselves what kind of a person Murdock is. Is this character funny? Is he or she a practical joker? Does he or she socialize, or is the character a loner? Is Murdock quick to temper or long suffering? Forgiving, or carry a grudge? Thoughtful or a snap judge? Dogmatic or pragmatic? Pleasant or slimy of spirit?

Again, each question leads to a number of possible answers. By trying them in different combinations, we can create any number of interesting people with which to populate a story.

As we said at the beginning of the Murdock example, this is just one way to create characters if you don’t even have a story idea yet. But there are more! In our next lesson we’ll explore more of these methods.

Study Exercises: Reverse Engineering Characters

1. Pick a favorite book, movie, or stage play. Make a list of all the principal characters.

2. For each character, list all the key bits of information the author reveals about that character, as if you were writing a dossier.

3. Do a personality study of each character, as if you were a criminal profiler or a psychologist.

4. For each item you have noted in your dossier and profile, create a question that would have resulted in that item as an answer. In other words, play the TV game Jeopardy. Take an item you wrote about a character like, “Hagrid is a large man, so big he must be part giant.” Then, create a question to which that item would be an answer, for example, “What is this character’s physical size?”

5. Arrange all the questions you have reverse engineered in an organized list to be used in the Writing Exercises.

Writing Exercises: Creating Characters

1. Arbitrarily create a character name.

2. Use your list of questions from the Study exercises to ask information about this character.

3. Come up with at least three different answers for each of the questions.

4. Pick one answer for each question to create a character profile.

5. Read over the list and get a feel for your new character. Then, swap out some of the answers (character attributes) that you included in the profile for alternative answers you originally didn’t use.

6. Keep swapping out attributes until you arrive at a character you really have a feel for.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Method for Locating Personality Types in the General Population

Subject matter alone will not indicate personality type, as many different kinds of people are interested in the same things and have similar habits. Narrative psychology alone will not indicate personality type, as any two psychologically identical people may have complete diverse interests and habits. It is the combination of subject matter and underlying psychology that creates context.

This context provides identifiable fingerprints of specific personality types.


1. Determine the personality type you wish to be able to locate.

2. Find similar personality types in the historic record.

3. Do a storyform narrative analysis of each individual’s underlying psychology in each historic case.

4. Run comparisons among case studies for correlations between forensic subject matter and the underlying narrative psychology.

5. Create a cluster map showing the relative incidence of correlation of each individual story point in the analyses of historic cases of the same personality type.

6. From the correlation cluster, develop a probability template for each personality type to be used as a filter against the target population to identify matched individuals.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Coming Global Story Mind

As described in my previous article, Birth of a Story Mind, when people gather in groups, they self-organize into a group mind in which each individual specializes in one of our mental functions, such as becoming the voice of reason for the group, or the skeptic, or the conscience of the group. These functions are both cognitive and affective, and for the group mind to form, is must have all of those function at work within it.

In a large population of individuals, many group minds will naturally form as the anarchy begins to settle into organization. When group minds encounter one another as they move through the population, some will collide and shatter, some will maintain their identity but have their course altered by the encounter and focus on other subject matter, and some will combine to form larger group minds in which each smaller group begins to specialize to focus on one of our mental functions.

So, one group will come to express (or represent) the voice of reason within the larger group, while another will express skepticism, and still other will function as the larger group’s conscience. Just because a whole smaller group begins to focus or center on reason, as an example, does not mean that it stops having its own voice of reason with it, and its own skeptic and conscience. Rather, these individuals in the smaller group will still function as the voice of reason within the reason group, while another individual will still function as the skeptic in regard to reason.

In essence, one might say that as a small group specializes within a larger group, the members of the smaller group move with it, maintaining their relative positions within the small group as they all be come consistently biased toward the new thrust of their small group within the larger group. In other words, the individuals take on the flavor of their group as it evolves as a member group of a larger group mind.

This process is not unlike how solar systems form, gathering aggregate from dust to form small particles that combine into larger particles, rocks, boulders, and so on. It is also not unlike the way the brain works insofar as neurons in the brain (individuals) gather together into ganglia (little neural networks of a few thousand cells), which then gather into clusters and ultimately into the hemispheres of the overall brain

Like in a solar system, loose gas and dust gathers at the center of this evolving organization until the planets, story archetypes or social groups revolve around it. Eventually, this gravitational center reaches a critical mass and becomes a star, the Main Character for a story, or the identity of a social group.

When people feel they are members of a tribe, not just of their families, or of their state or nation, not just of their county or neighborhood, it is an primary indicator that one or more larger group minds above them has reached a critical mass and is burning with an energy from which they draw. In our own minds, this is our self awareness, the “I” in “I think, therefore I am.”

In the brain, the creation of such an identity requires a sufficient number of levels in the hierarchy – neural networks within neural networks, sub-minds and proto-minds within larger minds, following the same physical pattern as the story mind psychology, because the psychology is just a dynamic resonance of the underlying structural (physical) system that spawns and maintains it.

The cognitive functions are driven by the binary firing of the neurons. The affective functions are driven by the flow of neurotransmitters through the fluid-dynamic system of the brain. Note that neurons don’t just fire when stimulated. They fire with the electrical potential between the inside and outside of the neuron’s body (the axon) reaches an action potential of a certain differential.

This potential can be created by sufficient direct stimulation through spatial summation (multiple small stimulations all at once) or by temporal summation (a series of small stimulations that collectively increase the charge faster than the neuron can shed the excess through natural half-life style decay).

But this is just half the system – the binary network of neurons within larger networks, which are components within even larger networks. The other influence is the biochemical dynamic in which neurotransmitters affect the likelihood of firing.

Normally, neurons such as exciters and inhibitors are spewed out by one neuron’s boutons to be received by another neuron’s dedrites which pass the information to the axon which then may fire if it has received enough information either spatially or temporally.

But not all of these exciters and inhibitors actually make it from the boutons to the dendrites for they must cross a biochemical ocean – a small gap between the physical end of one neuron and the beginning of another. This gap is called a synapse and it holds one of the two keys to self awareness.
As some of these biochemicals drift out of the synapse into the general population of the brain at large, they form currents and eddies and standing waves of varying duration and complexity. These patterns also hold information, not of the binary cognitive kind, but of the analog affective kind.

When a wave forms at a particular synapse, it is may be more biased toward excitement or inhibition, depending upon its chemical make-up which is in turn determined by the collective impact of sensory stimulation of neurons which had previously fired.

These waves (really just concentration densities of chemicals) are also built from the shedding of potential from neurons that do not fire because they did not reach their action potential threshold.
Functionally, these concentrations can further moderate the effects of spatial and temporal summation so that a neuron which would ordinarily fire due solely to binary network stimulation by not fire because the surrounding biochemical environment lowers the action potential around the axon to the point it is inhibited below the threshold. Similarly, a neuron which normally would not fire, may do so anyway, because the biochemical environment about it increases the action potential beyond the threshold.

If the point of origin for network stimulation is observation, then the energy produced by the natural decay of neurons which don’t reach threshold is a parallel for internal thought. Along these lines, chemicals that act to excite can be analogized as our desires, and those that inhibit as our repulsions.
Now this is actually not directly true, for at the level of the whole mind / whole brain, desires and repulsions may be created by either exciting or inhibiting, thereby creating an inequity, which may be positive or negative to the mind at large in an affective sense. But I used those words to illustrate the fractal similarity of the lower brain function to the higher level psychology, in the first belief that while there are certainly many levels of similar organization in between, the end result is that the lower level functions are fractally layered until they influentially affect larger and larger systems, resulting ultimately in both our cognitive and affective attributes being organized in virtually the same pattern of relationships as the smallest components at the very bottom of the hierarchy.

Now, add this to the solar system model and the fractal psychology model of the organization of group minds and you can begin to get a sense how there is a parallel between a sun beginning to shine, a Main Character representing our own sense of self in a story mind structure, and groups forming and self-organizing into larger groups.

The general population that does not become part of a group is part of the gaseous material that collects in a growing gravitational sense of group identity until it ignites in a sense of self in which, like the biochemistry in the brain, the hierarchical functioning of organizations is moderated to be excited or inhibited by the general population in which they function.

And, as from the smallest interactions of neurons to the largest interactions of our thoughts and feelings, it requires many levels to build a truly functional mind to the point of self-awareness, such as national identity.

Communication among members of the general population is the key to their ability to act as an analog to the biochemical influence in the mind. Historically, increased communication outside the direct control of the organized neural networks (or socio-political groups) is an essential attribute to the freedom to form complex wave patterns (densities of opinions) which are sufficient to cause a group to act where it would not have by its own internal structure or to not act when it would have.
This is the nature of lobbyists, and of boycotts, and anti-boycotts in which the general unorganized components of society show their support or opposition to what the organization is planning or doing, just as the biochemistry affects the neurons and neural networks.

While communication had previously evolved to the point that many nations were able to achieve national identity, even today some nations have not yet coalesced into the level of self-awareness..
At an international level, everything from the formation of European Union to the Arab Spring illustrate the impact of internet and personal multi-media communication on the formation of identities for nations and even consortiums of nations.

But what of a global identity, a global group mind – the subject of this article? Clearly, the very same dynamics are at work among nations forming as group minds within a larger global mind – cognitively through channels (network hierarchy) and affectively through the global population (analog to the biochemical) by means of direct global communication among individuals of different nations.

Currently, this process is awaiting the advent of real time language translation that is accurate and effective to the fidelity of resolving idioms of one language into appropriate idioms in other so that the affective content in maintained.

When this happens, communication of analog, emotional information among individuals from all parts of the globe will become a functional dynamic wave-driven system, and with its advent a true global identity will reach critical mass and ignite into what amounts to a planet-encompassing self-wareness in which the earth itself may ponder, “I think, therefore I am.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Defining and Identifying Personality Types

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a list or a chart of all the major personality types in the world and all of their sub-types and variations? And wouldn’t it be even greater if we had a means of finding specific personality types in the real world?

Why, we could make social networks even more fun and compatible. We could build communities. We could better organize our clubs, better target our political parties, better understand our neighbors. We could improve advertising, more fairly judge punishments in court, predict what our adversaries might do. In fact, we might even be able to find home-grown terrorist and mass killers before they strike.

Problem is, though there are many theories, classifications and tests for personality, while each sheds some light on the issue, few of them have much overlap. Even definitions of “personality” show why, though we all can feel what personality is, we have very little understanding of what it is.

From Wikipedia:

Personality is the particular combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral response patterns of an individual.

1. the visible aspect of one’s character as it impresses others:He has a pleasing personality.

2. a person as an embodiment of a collection of qualities: He isa curious personality.

3. Psychology.

a. the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.

b. the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual.

4. the quality of being a person; existence as a self-conscious human being; personal identity.

5. the essential character of a person.
From a narrative perspective, I believe that the nebulous appearance of the nature of personality is due to what we call in Dramatica theory the “blending of story structure and storytelling.”

As I often describe it, every story has a mind of its own: its own psychology and its own personality. Its psychology is determined by the underlying dramatic structure and its personality is developed by the storytelling style.

Well, after all these years, I’d like to revise that a bit. A story’s psychology is determined by the underlying structure and dynamics. A story’s personality is developed by the subject matter and style. A story’s persona is the combination of it’s psychology and personality.

You’ll note here that I have added a few things and rearranged the hierarchy around as well. To begin with, I added the word “dynamics” to “structure” in defining a story’s psychology because structure only describes the arrangement of elements the drive a psychology, but dynamics describes the potentials, resistances, currents and powers that determine how those elements will rearrange in the course of psychological function.

In addition, I added “subject matter” to “style” for without something to talk about, it doesn’t really matter how you say it.

And finally, I added a whole new level that combines both psychology and personality into the story’s persona. What is “persona?” I intend it to mean the sum product of our (a story’s) nature (structure), nurture (dynamics), experience (subject matter), and learned behavior (style). In short, it is our interface with the world – in essence, our face to the world.

Here’s how other’s define “persona.”

From Wikipedia:

A persona, in the word’s everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. The word is derived from Latin, where it originally referred to a theatrical mask.
In psychology the persona is also the mask or appearance one presents to the world.


4. (in the psychology of C. G. Jung) the mask or fa├žade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or the environment and not representing the inner personality of the individual; the public personality.

5. a person’s perceived or evident personality, as that of a well-known official, actor, or celebrity; personal image;public role.
So, in essence, the persona is our public personality, while our true personality lies within. But, persona is not devoid of any elements of true personality. Rather, it is a filter and a manufacturer, hiding some things, creating others, continually adjusting the interface to maintain the least possible conflict with the external world while simultaneously minimizing the resulting internal conflict created between true self and presentation.

Well isn’t that a paragraph worth reading twice, I ask you! (Yes it is, I tell you).

Suggested by all this is that existing methods of defining and anticipating personalities are insufficient and therefore inaccurate because, while they have the persona down pat, personality and psychology can only be inferred from observation of the interface and not by direct observation.

Now we’d basically be screwed if it weren’t for an extremely fortuitous aspect of Dramatica narrative theory – the concept of fractal psychology. It holds the key to directly observing a story’s (or a person’s) psychology. And once that and the persona are both known, the personality can be calculated as the differential between the two.

Bear with me now as I take us on a little journey into the workings of fractal psychology, which will eventually lead us to a means of discovering the true underlying personalities of people both as individuals and in groups of any size.

Fractal psychology is the notion that when we gather in groups for a common purpose or to address an issue of common concern, individuals begin to specialize psychologically in terms of their function within the group. One will emerge as the voice of reason while another will take a skeptical position, for example.

The value of this specialization is that it brings greater fidelity in exploring the issue than would be achieved by having all members of the group be general practitioners, each trying to look at the problem for all perspectives, including our examples of reason and skepticism.

In a nut shell, each of these specialties is a function we have available in our own minds. By specializing, an individual gains value and potentially power. And, the group gains greater insight and capacity. So, driven by the personal motivations and collective benefits, any group of sufficient size will eventually self-organize into what is, effectively, a functional analog for the operating system and methodology of a single human mind.

And this means, the inner workings of psychology are mirrored in the definable and predicable externally observable world of human social organizational interactions. Now isn’t that a concept worth savoring!

Obviously there are a virtually unlimited number of applications one might create if you could define that system and use it not only to understand the workings of social groups, but also of individuals as well by projecting the system back into the minds from whence it came.

Nice dream, but how do you actually discover and document the elements of this organizational system? And even more challenging, how about the dynamics that describe the forces at work in such a system? They are harder to see, and even more difficult to quantitatively define.

Tough task. Where should we begin? Well, fortunately, someone already had started the process. Who? Authors and storytellers, as unlikely as that seems. You see, the reason for fictions is to look at human relationships in the hope of finding some repetitive patterns from which we might draw truisms that we can apply in our own lives.

If human interactions were truly chaotic, this would be a hopeless endeavor. But, since humans self organize into predictable patterns, these can be documented, and in fact they have been.

Literally thousands of generations of storytellers, in their attempt to reflect the reality of the human condition gradually refined these organizational interactions into the conventions of narrative structure and dynamics that we know today. And they carried the process quite a way along – but not all they way.

Without the understanding that organized human systems represent or mirror the functioning of a single human mind (we all it a Story Mind), there was no framework upon which storytellers could hang their collection of human elements and drives. They lacked a unifying perspective that could congeal the components of their understanding into a cohesive functional and predictive model.

And that is where we came in. Armed with our Story Mind concept, we recognized that framework, and seeing what it was, were able to further refine it into the Dramatica theory of story.

Let’s pause for a moment to take stock. In documenting the human condition, generations of storytellers identified many of the consistent elements and forces that define the way people relate. Because people in groups specialize and eventually self-organize into a system functional identical to the psychology of a single human mind, we were able to refine narrative conventions into an accurate model of the mind itself, at the level of psychology, below the level of personality.

Fine. We have a model of the mind. Now what does this enable in terms of defining and identifying personality types? To answer that question, let’s first take a look at the limitations of current approaches and then lay out how the Dramatica Theory can transcend those barriers.

Recall, early on in this article, that I mentioned the triumvirate of psychology, personality, and persona? Fact is, no one can ever directly observe any of those three except the persona – the mask, or publicly presented face of an individual or group. Psychology and personality can only be inferred. But since persona almost always is intentionally or at least unintentionally misleading, any inferences made from it are generally fuzzy and inaccurate at best.

If it weren’t for fractal psychology, for the model of the Story Mind, there’d be no getting around this. Yet with this model, we are able (essentially) to subtract the Story Mind component from the persona, leaving the pure personality behind. In plain speak, if you know the mask, and filter out the psychology, what is left is personality.

Now because personality (which consists of subject matter and personal or group interest) is built on top of psychology, it all falls into those cubby holes defined by the psychology. And this means that personalities fall into types.

The key to understanding how this works is to recognize that we all have the same psychological components, both structural and dynamic, but how much emphasis we give each one, how often we use them, this is determined by the subject matter and our interest in it.

So, while psychology alone can tell you about an individual’s or group’s mind set, and personality alone can tell you about an individual’s or group’s interests, it is the combination of the two that defines the true kind of type we ought to be defining. In other words, any given mind set (Story Mind) is neither good nor bad until it is applied to a particular real world subject.

Conceptual example: Is it moral to steal? No, if you are simply greedy; yes, if you are trying to feed your starving baby by taking from a tyrant who is hoarding all the food. It all comes down to context. Again, one psychology is neither good nor bad, until it is contextualized by personality (subject matter in which it operates).

And so, if we want to identify who is going to bring a gun into a theater and kill dozens of movie-goers the visible persona mask will not tell us, no matter how much number-crunching statistical data or tracking of purchases we do. But if we combine the interest in particular subject matter with specific psychologies, we can, in fact, predict the dangerous personality.

Further, if we look back at the historic record of the kinds of personalities we wish to become aware of before they act, we can determine their Story Mind psychologies and independently determine their subject matter personalities, and then statistically determine which combinations of the two appear over and over again in those who eventually act.

My expectation is that such a study and analysis would produce several different combinations of psychology and personality matching, each of which would represent a different “type,” though in the end all of those types might end up acting in the same way.

In this manner, a variety of different templates could be applied to the general population of individuals or even of organized groups, to identify those which may ultimately cause problems for society as a whole.

Preventive vigilance or Minority Report? You decide.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Narrative Dynamics 6 – The Grand Unifying Theory of Everything

Okay, so this is where I go a little nutso. Yeah, I know… But I’m going to be crossing the line that will prevent anyone from every taking my theories seriously again. Because I can.

Here’s the scoop….

The Grand Unifying Theory of Everything is:

The degree to which something exists is variable, and we perceive this as time.

There. I said it. And I believe it with all my heart. But what the heck does it mean?

It is a recipe for converting space into time and vice versa. It provides a map of the interface that stands between structure and dynamics, mind and matter, order and chaos, existence and oblivion. It is Einstein’s equation coupled with the Story Mind. It is the understanding I have been seeking for more than half a century. It is the culmination of my life’s work.

Here we go….

Go back to the Greek philosophers. Is there the prefect form of a things already in our heads, like the shape of a table or the essence of a bed, and we seek to achieve it in the material world, or do we create function in the real world, by building tables and beds, and from this arrive at a conceptual form to enclose a variety of things with similar criteria? In an overused phrase does form precede function or vice versa? This is another structural/dynamic paradox, for it depends upon perception: one man’s table is another man’s bed.

As in my last article, “The Interface Solution,” both form and function depend upon context, where one places the line, what one considers inside or outside the group. In short, we draw a circle around a number of things or attributes of a concept and define all that is inside as being of that nature and all that is outside is not.

Is a bed a mattress, a board, the ground? Can a table be a bed? Can a bed be a table? Of course they can! It all depends (from one philosophy) on what you use it for, and (from the other) on what you intended it to be. Both are correct, but not at the same time from the same perspective.

And then there’s the matter of time. A table may be made of stone or plastic or wood. Take a wooden table. One it was a tree. Some day it will dissolve into its component elements. When, exactly does it stop being a table? When you can’t use it as one any more or when you can’t recognize it as one any more?

Nothing exists absolutely. It only exists to a certain degree. Similarly, nothing does not exist absolutely. It always has the potential to become more fully what it has the potential to be.
Hence, the first part of the Grand Unifying Theory, “The degree to which something exists is variable.”

Now, imagine for a moment that time does not exist at all. Rather, there is only an ongoing rearrangement of how firmly anything exists. Everything has the potential to become anything else or to stop being anything at all.

This smacks of quantum theory which has described quanta as “vibrating packets of probability.” But as we have seen in my last article, a packet would have to be a closed system and no system is ever truly closed. Nor is any system ever fully open. It is all a matter of how we choose to perceive it.
Change, then, from being to not being or vice versa, from falling within a set or outside of it, from being open or closed, is a matter of perception.

Hence, time is not required to exist in the external world. All that must be is change in the degree to which something exists, which is then interpreted as a pathway that spawns the notion of causality.
Which leads us to the second part of the Grand Unifying Theory, “and we perceive this as time.”
The inference is that there is no time without perception, just as there is no existence. But perception alone is not sufficient to account for existence, for we must have something to observe in order to contextualize it as this or that, before or after.

The ramifications of this contention are that all we can know is a combination of change and awareness. We do not exist without the universe and it does not exist without us.

The essence of all this is that it requires both universe and mind, in perpetual equilibrium, ever re-balancing through endless process and endless reconsideration.

Deal with it.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Narrative Dynamics 5 – The Interface Solution

Sometimes the solution to a problem comes from a most unexpected source. Often, there is no relationship between the subject matter of problem and solution, but rather a dynamic resemblance, an analogy of system or operation.

A case in point is when I solved the mystery of the erratic sequential patterns that were created when plotting the order in which acts and scenes progressed through the four items of the quad.

The problem was that while we had it right that all four dramatic items in each quad would show up by the end of a story, when we drew that order on the quad it made one of three patterns: a U or C shape, an N or Z shape, and a hairpin shape. And what was worse, the sequence could go in either direction along the pattern.

We struggled with this for weeks – trying all kinds of ways to predict which pattern and direction combination would show up and not making any progress at all.

And then, one weekend I took my daughter to L.A.’s Museum of Science and Technology where they had a display of line of twenty-one bar magnets in a row, end to end, each on a spindle on a board. By turning the first one at just the right speed, you could get it to turn the one next to it, and if you continued this process, with a little practice, you could get all twenty-one moving at the same time.
And then it hit me – the sequences in Dramatica shouldn’t be plotted on the fixed structure. Rather, the structure was actually mobile – the elements twisting and rotating in response to the tensions of the story. The pattern was actually linear, but when the quads all wound up like a Rubik’s Cube, that straight line was warped and distorted into the three patterns we had observed.

Ultimately, this lead to the whole set of algorithms that allowed the pressures upon a story structure to determine predictively the order in which elements needed to be explored in order to accurately reflect the tensions involved. In other words, seeing that simple display of magnets in the children’s area of the museum became a whole new theory of how space and time relate in the mind.

Well, that is also how I came to crack the problem of the Interface Conundrum of Narrative Dynamics. And here is how it happened, and then its ramifications:

Teresa and I were hiking near our home in the mountains. She was describing how her father was a strict authoritarian and she wondered if her sister (whom she had not seen in many years) had raised her children the same way or had taken the opposite tack.

We began to speculate as to what it was that determined if a child would act as a parent or do the opposite in all kinds or areas, from child rearing to career choice, to lifestyle. And then Teresa said that perhaps it had to do with memory – if we hold on to our memories we do the same, if we let them go, we do the opposite.

This didn’t ring completely true to me, so I suggested that even if we let go of our memories consciously, that doesn’t mean we also let them go subconsciously. So we have four combinations in which one lets go or does not consciously couple with those same two states subconsciously.

As we continued to talk, I began to wonder though, what was the force that would actually propel one to change, especially in a situation where one let go of memory in one realm only to be counterbalanced by holding on to it in the other.

Now it began to really bug me, because this harkened back to that incredibly frustrating question that had bugged me since I was four or five years old (as described in “The Interface Conundrum) in which I wondered if there was nothing, would it be black because there was no light or gray because there was also no dark?

In the decades that followed, this question evolved into wondering what determined the exact moment when a light switch changed from being “off” to “on?” And, of course, this led to Schrodinger, Zeno, event horizons, the uncertainty principle, and all sorts of binary states. And here I come up against the damned thing again – my nemesis and old friend.

What was worse, I was hot in the middle of trying to understand the relationship between structure and dynamics in a narrative model of psychology so that I could expand Dramatica into a new analog, passionate, and time-based model.

As documented in The Interface Conundrum, one can think of reality as if it were a field of standing waves on a flat plane, as illustrated simply below:

peaks and troughs

Structure is like a pane of glass that cuts through the mountains or the troughs horizontally, parallel to the plane, thereby creating slices of each tower or well that appears as a circle.

These circles are the particles we see from a structural perspective in which we seek understanding by looking at the patters of circles.

Dynamics is a vertical slice of the same set of standing waves so that we see the familiar wave forms such as sine waves, sawtooth or square waves of various amplitudes and wave lengths.

The problem is, that to get a complete view of either structure or dynamics, one must move the pane of glass through the standing waves like a scanning line until we have picked up the full width, depth, breadth and shape of each.

The bigger problem is that the universe is not really made of standing waves, but of waves of variable stability and duration, so that between any two moments, some are rising while others are falling, and at different rates.

Therefore, neither structure nor dynamics can see the true nature of reality, and even taken together, they are insufficient to describe this common interface between the two. Hence, the “interface conundrum.”

In part four of my Narrative Dynamics articles, I outlined this and ended by saying that rather than trying to determine the nature of reality by exploring it through structure and dynamics, the only possible solution that would truly reveal the truth of the matter was to consider the nature and functioning of the interface itself, directly. An entity from which both structure and dynamics (both space and time) are only byproducts, not building blocks.

And now we come back to my conversation in the woods with Teresa. I thought about the patterns that became frozen in one’s mind due to the manner in which our parents raise us. And then I expanded my thoughts to any kind of fixed pattern to which we have become mentally locked.

What is habit, what is selective filter, what truly is the nature and function of the preconscious that have already described in Dramatica theory as the fixed filters of our minds that are built half of instinct and half of experience, but freeze in place so that they mask observation before we perceive it?

A prejudice is like a black hole. Energy enters but does not emerge, and once it is in place, it never dissolves but only grows to encompass and warp more of what it around it, farther and farther from the center of the original issue.

And yet, in the mind, people do change. In stories they have leaps of faith. I actually observed a leap of faith in myself for the first time about six months ago. I was considering changing my mind on an issue. But to be sure it was the right choice, I kept looking into that potential new point of view farther and farther to see as many of the likely ramifications as I could before deciding if I would commit to it or not.

And then, I suddenly realized I had leaned so far into examining that new perspective that I had actually adopted it while I wasn’t looking. I never had the chance to make the choice, yet once I recognized it, I could not return to the old point of view. In essence, it was like looking over the edge of a cliff to see the rocks below until one has unthinkingly passed the balance point and is now on the bottom with no way to return to the top.

This provided me with a case in point to something I had for some time suspected. That no binary state can ever change from within – it requires another force from outside the system. When does the light switch shift from off to on? When the finger flips it. What happens at that magic moment when it can be considered on instead of off? Incidental, it is just a matter of the standard by which one chooses to measure the process. In other words, there is no “off” or “on” merely the perception of one over the other.

Off and on are binary structural considerations. The direction of the switch and its speed are dynamic. The finger is chaos, as far as the closed system of the switch is concerned. So, how do we determine whether a child will raise their children in the same or a different manner than a parent, if a character will take a leap of faith, if an individual will change, or if the answer is black or gray?

And then it hit me – just like the eureka moment with the magnets so many years ago. The mind is a closed system like the switch. It is stuck in one position by experience. When the force that molded it remains consistent, that pattern freezes in the mind just like that plane of standing waves. Even when the child grows, they are gradually weaned from that pressure so that the mold remains solid. This is how it sets.

But if other life experience puts pressure on the closed system of the mind, it is like compressing a gas. Think of this pressure as emotional tension created by inequities outside the home. If it increases fast enough, it heats up the mind, just like a gas, thawing the frozen standing waves and softening them, making them pliable again – malleable – perhaps even liquidic at which point one would have no preference, no opinion, no bias in a particular mental realm.

Imagine then that a new interference pattern is created and sustained in such a matter that creates a new plane of standing waves. These would naturally erode unless, pressure is suddenly removed to the overall mind, in which case, like a gas, the standing waves will freeze in place and remain, like another black hole – another bias – another preconscious filter – another complex motivation – another pattern of behavior. And its shape and nature channels the forces that flow through the mind, generating both structure and dynamics as a byproduct.

What a simple and elegant solution. The complex forces the press upon our minds create waves. If overall pressure upon us decreases quickly, those wave will freeze in whatever pattern the pressures have maintained them. If pressure is quickly increased, it will melt that motivating, guiding pattern to be moldable again.

Let us carry it to a slightly deeper level of sophistication. Patterns may be not fully frozen but merely made slow-moving, like molasses, in any degree from wholly fluid to completely stiff. Or patterns may be stiffened making them more resistant to change, or lock them into full blown high-amplitude fixations, or locking them into calm flat planes of no motivation that cannot be moved through any ordinary forces, placid until outside pressures increase fast enough to melt them.

Just like the magnets that needed to be at just the right speed, any other speed (of increase of decrease of pressure) only gets part of the job done.

Wow. That’s what I thought, “wow.” But what I didn’t consider was that while the mind (or a storyform Story Mind, for that matter) is a closed system, in the real world (in both physics and psychology) there is always a larger system in which a closed system exists.

No closed system is ever truly closed or it could never change. It would establish either a stasis or eventually, if it exists long enough, establish a repetitive cycle, even if it is extremely complex.
This is good, for without influence from outside, there could be no finger to flip the switch and binary states could never change except alternately in cyclic repetition.

But here’s the rub. The realm outside the closed system is not homogeneous which, if it were, would equally affect the entire interior of the closed system with a consistent pressure increase or decrease from all side equally and simultaneously.

It is because there are many closed systems in physics and many individual minds, that the pressures brought to bear on the standing waves within the system are not equally applied. Rather, one area of our minds’ standing waves may be softening while other areas are stiffening. And, in fact, counteractive forces from outside may cancel out each others effects in a single given standing wave area, or mitigate the effect of one or the other.

And so, we do not have just one complex motivational pattern that is freezing or thawing, but a multitude, an infinity, not limited to the number of our brain cells but to the almost limitless analog undulations of the biochemical and emotional systems of our minds, ever in flux, with currents and eddies, like weather patterns of different courses, strengths and durations which wash up against our neurons, easing the firing or inhibiting it as the standing waves rise and fall.

And so, in the end, the interface solution resolves the problem of the paradox of black or gray, because it is structurally black and dynamically gray. And it solves the problem of a mind that cannot choose between two mutually exclusive but equally valid solutions by invoking the forces from outside the closed frame of reference for the thought problem by realizing that each solution is the only one, depending upon the external context.

While this addition to the theory (to my satisfaction) proves once and for all that there is no true certainty because there is always a higher or smaller closed system, it also provides a model of the nature and function of the interface itself, allowing us, for the first time, to determine exactly the operation and effect of one closed system (which is, in fact, truly open) and its surrounding external environment (which is, in fact, truly closed) upon one another.

In short, it describes how any closed system can be taken in conjunction with its surround open system to create a new closed system, and vice versa into the microcosms within the closed system as well.

And lastly (and I truly hope finally as well), the entire model indicates that none of this means anything without defining if a system is open or closed. But since each system is both open and closed (depending on context), it is really a mater of perception. And this infers that both the laws of psychology (and by extension, physics) simply do not exist without the mind, which must contextualize them.

In my usual arrogant audacity, I believe this model, this entire line of inquiry provides the essence of a Unified Field or Grand Unifying Theory of Everything:

The degree to which something exists is variable, and we perceive this as time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Birth of a Story Mind

For those of you familiar with Dramatica, you know the term “storyform” means a complete narrative structure – the logical framework that makes a story make sense.

But where do storyforms come from? How do they begin, how do they form, and for that matter, how do they end, dissolve or die?

A strange thought, to be sure, until you consider what narratives really are. Simply put, they are rather precise models of the way people actually organize themselves in real life.

How does that work? Again, very simply, each of us has certain qualities that come in pairs and often play against each other like our initiative vs. our reticence, intellect vs. passion, conscience vs. temptation, skepticism vs. faith.

When we try to solve problems on our own, we bring all of these into play to look for the solution with all the mental tools we have. When we gather together in groups to solve a common problem, we’ve learned to specialize so that, for example, one person focuses on the intellectual component and becomes the voice of reason for the group. Another focuses on the passionate aspect of the problem and comes to function as the group’s heart.

Whenever enough people come together with a common purpose, they will automatically self organize into kind of a group mind (we call it a Story Mind) in which each person comes to represent a single facet of all the different perspectives we employ in our own minds.

The end result is that groups naturally evolve into an external projection of our own internal minds. The relationships among people in such a group function dynamically in a very similar manner to the way each of these perspectives relate in our own minds.

And authors throughout history, seeking to understand the nature and mechanism of human society, established the characters and conventions of story to parallel those very same aspects of the Story Minds we see every day in the real world.

So narratives are not just fictions that have no real bearing on human nature. On the contrary, narrative structure and dynamics are perhaps the most accurate representation of how actual people organize and interact in the actual world.

While that, in and of itself, is both intriguing and practical, it begs the question, “If authors create structures for stories, how do such narrative Story Minds come to be in the real world? In other words, can we understand the birth of a Story Mind?

Absolutely we can! Let me lay it out. It happens like a solar system forming. People, in volume, are like the gasses and dust from which a solar system forms – independent units with no pattern to their movements. When they gather together, they begin to organize, much like the dust collecting into particles.
First they form relationships of two. And, like the force of gravity, the gregarious nature of human attraction draws other to join them until the gathering, like a collection of particles, forms a growing mass.

Naturally, there isn’t one mass, but a lot of different ones of different shapes and sizes scattered throughout the dust and gas or throughout the population. From time to time they converge, sometimes changing each other’s course without directly coming into contact, and occasionally (and more rarely), they actually collide.

Depending on the size and shape of the two masses (or two groups of folk), they may combine, have parts stolen by one of the other, lose mass as it is calved off by the force of the encounter, or they might just shatter each other back into the dust, gas, or general population from whence they originally came.

In time, the number of conglomerate groups will decline as more and more smaller ones are absorbed into a handful of larger masses. And meanwhile, most of the gas gathers more and more densely in the center until it reaches a critical ratio of frictional heat and material until it ignites in a ongoing sustainable reaction that generates energy from the center of the solar system outward to the planets.
Societally, this is when a central identity, a sense of common self, forms in the middle of all the society groups so that while each has its own identity, the is a collective identity as well, such as in a political party made of factions or all the states in the United States feeling a national identity as being part of America.

Since societal organization mimics the mind, projected outward, then this sun at the center of the solar system must also have some parallel in the human mind. And it does. It is our sense of self – the “I” in “I think, therefore I am.”

That self-wareness that resides in each of us is not a facet like our intellect or passion. Rather, it is the energy source at the center that holds all of our facets in stable orbits and around which they all revolve.

And, in a Story Mind in the real world, it is the group’s collective identity that functions as its sense of self so that all members feel a commonality as part of the whole. I am a Virginian, or I am an alumnus of USC, or I am a Sci-Fi fan, are all statements of sharing an umbrella identity with all other members of the same group.

Naturally, a person can be a member of several groups at once. And so, they shift between one sense of identity and another whenever their activities or involvement move from one realm into another, just as the moon orbits the earth but also revolves around the sun and also around the galactic center.
When these multiple allegiances are nested, it functions rather smoothly. In terms of the birth of a Story Mind, people from the general population form groups. And then, these groups come to work together on an even larger issue, each group will eventually specialize so that one group becomes the voice of reason for the confederation while another evolves into the passionate voice of the confederation. In time, a star will form at the center of the confederation, creating its own identity as well, so that one may be a Virginian and also an American simultaneously. In this example, each state will have its own Story Mind, its own narrative, and they will also each be part of a larger narrative of the nation and its Story Mind. We call this phenomenon fractal psychology, as it describes how the dynamic structure of a single mind is replicated in a series of nested psychologies of progressively larger confederate groups.

Sometimes, in the real world, things build from the grass roots up, starting with individuals, then creating associations, factions, movements, parties, local governments, regional governments, and ultimately national governments. Even the planet as a whole is a Story Mind Narrative with its own global sense of self in which we all share. And the nations of the world jockey to specialize as the different aspects of a single mind’s problem solving psychology, thereby establishing their own national identities and also contributing its unique spin on the issues that affect all of humanity.
Other times, in chaotic social environments such as after natural disasters, war, or revolution, Story Mind narratives may form at several levels at once. But in either case, until that critical mass is reached in which the central star ignites in any group, thereby establishing a common sense of self for all its members, there is no organized functional narrative – no Story Mind.

Still, we can see the elements of a potential future mind begin to congeal as individuals and factions form into stable, definable attributes of the mind – the building blocks at an elemental level that will ultimately gather into families of like components that we recognize as the high-level aspects of psychology from faith to temptation.

In simple terms, Dramatica theory includes something of Periodic Table of Story Elements called, not surprisingly, the Dramatica Table of Story Elements. It had four levels. The top level names the largest aspects of our minds into which we tend to categorize our thoughts – essentially, the biggest families of thought that go on in our heads.

Each of these is subdivided in the next level down into the smaller cognitive components that make it up – sub-families within each top-level family of cognitive function. By the time we get down to the bottom level of the table, we are dealing with the elements – specialized mental functions that are the smallest we can perceive within ourselves as separate definable kinds of thought. These elements are the tiniest building blocks of a story mind that have any real meaning for us as a comparative to our own internal attributes and processes.

So, in a chaotic social environment, we will first see the formation of elements within any potential Story Mind at whatever level we are exploring (from local to national). Until all these essential elements are represented by some individual or group, even if the individual or group represents more than one, until they are all present there cannot be a complete narrative.

Yet, we can watch the elements form, and see the larger families form and those above them as well. As they do, we can begin to get a sketchy sense of what the final nature of any potential Story Mind will be as more and more components gather and firm up into lines of energy that define dynamics that hold all the particles together into a narrative structure that is analogous to our own internal mental system.

But just as we can be member of multiple narrative minds when we are both interested in sci-fi an also Virginians or USC grads, so too in a chaotic social environment proto Story Minds may move through each other like galaxies colliding, disrupting (or perhaps enhancing) the storyforming process in each.

It is not until a Story Mind reaches that point of ignition that the gravity within it is sufficient to keep it stable against only a direct encounter or even a near encounter from another Story Mind, proto or complete. Then, simple physics come into play to predict the result. From psychology to physics in one sentence. Sounds speculative. And yet, it rings true to our understanding of both.

The specifics of how all this can unfold, the applications of how we might employ it to understand and perhaps even guide the emergence and evolution of narrative storyforms at all scales within our world – these are intriguing and powerful lines of inquiry.

But, for now, my purpose here was no more than to describe the birth of a Story Mind in the real world, and how that process is closely analogous to the formation of solar systems with the planets as characters and the star as the Main Character – the Story Mind’s sense of self with whom the audience identifies, through whom the audience experiences being in the story, and in the real world which provides the force of commonality that binds a narrative together.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Story’s Limit: Timelock or Option Lock?

The following is excerpted from an online class on story structure presented by co-creator of the Dramatica theory of story, Melanie Anne Phillips, signed on as Dramatica:

Dramatica : Now, I’ll jump ahead for a moment and look at a couple of plot questions…. First of all, is your story forced to a conclusion because your characters run out of time, or run out of options? This is Timelock or Optionlock. We all know what timelocks are…The ticking clock, 48 hours, etc. But what about stories like Remains of the Day? What was the time limit in that? There was none. So why didn’t the story go on forever? Because it was set up to have a limited number of opportunities for the characters to try and make a relationship happen. And when all the opportunities were exhausted, that’s when the story ends. Its important for the audience to know this right up front… they have to know the scope of the argument.

In Speed, the movie, they actually change from one lock to the other and this is confusing…The set up is, that the bomb will go off at 11:30 no matter what. So, the audience gets their sense of tension from the ticking clock. They expect that to be the moment win or lose will happen. All the other “constraints” about the speed of fifty miles per hour, and not being able to take anyone off the bus, are just that, constraints, but the bus could keep going forever with refueling, if it were not for the time bomb. But at the end of the story, what brings the moment of truth? Not the time bomb…. In fact, the bus slows down below fifty as it hits the plane. The LED numbers that are ticking down are the speed, not the time! So, the timelock is not honored.

Then we don’t know WHEN the story is going to end for sure. We assume maybe when the bad guy gets it. But that wasn’t where our tension was headed. Where the tension was built toward at the beginning, and therefore its something of a cheat and bit of a disappointment.

Dramatica : Actually, barring questions, I’ll have to stop there for now, as I have a class of 30 eager writers coming here to Screenplay for a class tomorrow morning.

Dan Steele : is “reception theory” the psychology of the audience?

Dramatica : Yes, Dan, its like this.. We, as an audience, can see pictures in clouds, wallpaper, constellations…We try to order our world, When we see a finished work, we look for pattern. Sometimes we see what the author intended, Sometimes things the author never intended that may or may not be in conflict with the intended message. And sometimes, we see no pattern at all. It may be the Storyform was flawed, missing apiece. Or it may be that the storytelling just didn’t convey it, or it may be that the audience just isn’t tuned into the symbols the author chose to use.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Complex Characters in “Rear Window”

Principal Characters in Rear Window

If there is anything that can be seen as “typical” about a Hitchcock film it would be his forefront use of thematics. Rear Window is no exception. As with Gone With the Wind, the enjoyment of the story comes largely from what happens between the lines. But unlike GWTW, the characters in Rear Window are relatively complex.

At first glance, it may seem that there are quite a few characters, what with the neighbors and all. There’s the Composer, trying to sell his first hit song. There’s Miss Lonely Heart, who can’t get a date. We see a lot of Miss Torso who exercises in front of her open window. Upstairs is the Couple With the Dog, downstairs, the Sunbather. And, of course, Thornton the murderer.

More prominent, of course, is Jeffries and the characters we see in his apartment: his girlfriend Lisa; Doyle, the detective; and his Nurse. (It is important to note that Thornton also shows up in Jeffries’ apartment near the end of the story and is the only neighbor to do so.)

The Top Five

The purpose of characters is to show how aspects of the Story Mind deal with a problem. And this is what determines that the neighbors are not Objective Characters. Aside from Thornton, they all have their own little stories, but only interact with each other peripherally, if at all. Their private stories enhance the thematic atmosphere of the overall story but neither advance nor clarify the plot.

If we eliminate all the neighbors who do not interact, we pare our list down to five actual characters: Jeffries, Lisa, Doyle, Nurse, and Thornton. If Rear Window is well written, we would expect all sixteen motivation Elements to be distributed among these five. Let’s see if they are.

Elements of the Top Five

Who represents FAITH? Unquestionably Jeffries. He maintains his belief that a murder has been committed in the face of objections by each of the other characters. Lisa can’t talk him out of it and neither can his Nurse. Thornton denies it by his actions and Doyle is not convinced until after the proof is irrefutable. In fact, Doyle personifies DISBELIEF, even while HELPING Jeffries gain information to which he would not otherwise have access. Lisa comes around to accepting the possibility and so does Nurse. Thornton already knows the truth, but Doyle is never convinced until he sees the proof with his own eyes.

In addition, Doyle relies on LOGIC to support his disbelief. He will not accept Jeffries’ contentions without logical arguments. Then is Jeffries FEELING? No. Jeffries does not disregard Logic in his considerations; he merely can’t supply it. Jeffries urges the others to CONSIDER what he knows and what he suspects. Lisa, on the other hand, continually acts on impulse without regard for logic, illustrating nicely the characteristic of FEELING.

If Jeffries is CONSIDERATION, we would expect his nemesis, Thornton, to cause RECONSIDERATION, and he does. Thornton’s apparently guilt-free actions are a constant force that urges Jeffries (and the others) to RECONSIDER. All we ever see of him is that he acts methodically to carry out his plan, whatever that might be. It is his methodical approach that makes Thornton the CONTROL Character as well. He wastes no time or energy on anything but the task at hand, whereas Jeffries dabbles at whatever fills his view, even when it interferes with his goal of getting the goods on Thornton. Jeffries plainly illustrates the Element of being UNCONTROLLED.

Even though Lisa SUPPORTS Jeffries in his quest, she manages to HINDER his efforts through distraction and re-direction of their conversations. She clearly TEMPTS him to give up PURSUING this crazy scheme. In contrast, Jeffries’ Nurse OPPOSES his efforts, even while providing a moralistic philosophy or CONSCIENCE to his every comment. And, of course, Thornton would prefer to AVOID the whole thing.

Characteristic Lists

If we take a slightly different form, we can arrange the five Characters as column headings and list their characteristics beneath them.

Rear Window Characters in the Motivation Set

Assigning the Character names of Rear Window to the Motivation Characteristic Quads we get:

Using the grid above we can predict the principal conflicts of Rear Window simply by noting which characters are in Dynamic (diagonal) positions and the issues (Elements) over which each pair will diverge.

In summary, the set of sixteen Motivation Elements offers a valuable tool for understanding some of the essential building blocks of Objective Characters and how they can be distributed to create both Archetypal and Complex characters.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dramatic Quads & Dramatic Pairs

In each quad of Elements, we find not only Dynamic (diagonal) Pairs, but horizontal and vertical pairs as well. Horizontal Elements are called Companion Pairs, and vertical Elements are Dependent Pairs. Each kind of pair describes a different kind of relationship between the Elements, and therefore between the characters that represent them.

In addition to the three types of pairs, we can look at each Element as a separate component and compare it to the overall nature of the quad itself. This Component approach describes the difference between any given Element and the family of Elements in which it resides (quad). Therefore, the degree of individuality the characters represent within the “group” can be explored.

Dynamic Pairs describe Elements with the greatest opposition to one another. Whenever two opposing forces come together they will create either a positive or negative relationship. They can form a synthesis and create something greater than the sum of the parts or they can simply tear away at each other until nothing is left (destructive). Within a quad, one of the Dynamic Pairs will indicate a positive relationship, the other a negative one. Which is which depends upon other story dynamics.

Companion Pairs contain the Elements that are most compatible. However, just being compatible does not preclude a negative relationship. In a positive Companion Pair, characters will proceed along their own paths, side by side. What one does not need they will offer to the other (positive impact). In a negative Companion Pair, one character may use up what the other needs. They are not against each other as in a negative Dynamic Pair, but still manage to interfere with each other’s efforts (negative impact).

Dependent Pairs are most complementary. In a positive sense, each character provides strengths to compensate for the other’s weaknesses (cooperation). Together they make a powerful team. In its negative incarnation, the Dependent Pair Relationship has each character requiring the other in order to proceed (codependency).

Components describe the nature of the Elements in relationship to the overall quad. On the one hand, the individual characters in a quad can be a group that works together (interdependency). The group is seen to be greater than the individual characters that comprise it, at the risk of overwhelming the individuality of its members. This is contrasted by identifying the disparate nature of each character in the quad (independency). Seen this way, the characters are noted for their distinguishing characteristics at the risk of losing sight of shared interests.

Dynamic Relationships are the most familiar to writers, simply because they generate the most obvious kind of conflict. Companion and Dependent Pairs are used all the time without fanfare, as there has previously been no terminology to describe them. Components are useful to writers because they allow characters in groups to be evaluated in and out of context.

By constructing characters with thought and foresight, an author can use the position of Elements in the Chess Set to forge relationships that are Dynamic in one dimension while being Companion and Dependent in others. Characters created with Dramatica can represent both the structural Elements of the Story Mind’s problem solving techniques and the dynamic interchange between those techniques.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Category – Narrative Science!

For the convenience of all you narrative scientists out there, we’re gathering all our articles on narrative science from all over Dramaticapedia into a single category called (not unexpectedly )- Narrative Science.

We already have quite a collection there of some pretty heavy-duty reading, and will be sopping up lots of other pertinent articles form the web site, as well as posting all new articles on the topic.

So – wanna know what’s really going on inside your story (or your mind, or your story mind for that matter), check it out!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Protagonist & Antagonist

Protagonist drives the plot forward.

Antagonist tries to stop him.

The Protagonist is the Prime Mover of the effort to achieve the Story’s Goal. The Antagonist is the Chief Obstacle to that effort. In a sense, Protagonist is the irresistible force and Antagonist is the immovable object.

In our own minds, we survey our environment and consider whether or not we could improve things by taking action to change them. The struggle between the Protagonist and Antagonist represents this inner argument: is it better to leave things the way they are or to try and rearrange them?

The Protagonist represents our Initiative, the motivation to change the status quo. The Antagonist embodies our Reticence to change the status quo. These are perhaps our two most obvious human traits – the drive to alter our environment and the drive to keep things the way they are. That is likely why the Archetypes that represent them are usually the two most visible in a story.

Functionally, the character you choose as your Protagonist will exhibit unswerving drive. No matter what the obstacles, no matter what the price, the Protagonist will charge forward and try to convince everyone else to follow.

Without a Protagonist, your story would have no directed drive. It would likely meander through a series of events without any sense of compelling inevitability. When the climax arrives, it would likely be weak, not seen as the culmination and moment of truth so much as simply the end.

This is not to say that the Protagonist won’t be misled or even temporarily convinced to stop trying, but like a smoldering fire the Protagonist is a self-starter. Eventually, he or she will ignite again and once more resume the drive toward the goal.

In choosing which of your characters to assign the role of Protagonist, do not feel obligated to choose one whose Storytelling qualities make it the most forceful. The Protagonist does not have to be the most powerful personality. Rather, it will simply be the character who keeps pressing forward, even if in a gentle manner until all the obstacles to success are either overcome or slowly eroded.

When creating your own stories, sometimes you will know what your goal is right off the bat. In such cases, the choice of Protagonist is usually an easy one. You simply pick the character whose storytelling interests and nature is best suited to the objective.

Other times, you may begin with only a setting and your characters, having no idea what the goal will turn out to be. By trying out the role of Protagonist on each of our characters, you can determine what kind of a goal the nature of that character might suggest.

By working out an appropriate goal for each character as if it were the Protagonist, you’ll have a choice of goals. Developing the plot of your story then becomes a matter of choosing among options rather than an exercise in the brute force of creating something from nothing.

What, now, of the Antagonist? We have all heard the idioms, Let sleeping dogs lie, Leave well enough alone, and If it works – don’t fix it. All of these express that very same human quality embodied by the Antagonist: Reticence.

To be clear, Reticence does not mean that the Antagonist is afraid of change. While that may be true, it may instead be that the Antagonist is simply comfortable with the way things are or may even be ecstatic about them. Or, he or she may not care about the way things are but hate the way they would become if the goal were achieved.

Functionally, the character you choose as your Antagonist will try anything and everything to prevent the goal from being achieved. No matter what the cost, any price would not seem as bad to this character as the conditions he or she would endure if the goal comes to be. The Antagonist will never cease in its efforts, and will marshal every resource (human and material) to see that the Protagonist fails in his efforts.

Without an Antagonist, your story would have no concerted force directed against the Protagonist. Obstacles would seem arbitrary and inconsequential. When the climax arrives, it would likely seem insignificant, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In choosing one of your characters as the Antagonist, don’t be trapped into only selecting a mean-spirited one. As described earlier, it may well be that the Protagonist is the Bad Guy and the Antagonist is the Good Guy. Or, both may be Good or both Bad.

The important thing is that the Antagonist must be in a position in the plot to place obstacles in the path of the Protagonist. Since the drive of the Protagonist is measured by the size of the obstacles he or she must overcome, it is usually a good idea to pick the character who can bring to bear the greatest obstacles.

Ask yourself which of your characters would have the most to lose or be the most distressed if the goal is achieved. That will likely be your Antagonist. But don’t discount the other candidates out of hand. In storytelling, characters are not always what they seem. Even the character who seems most aligned with the Protagonist’s purpose may have a hidden agenda that makes them the perfect choice for Antagonist. You might play such a character as an apparent aid to the effort, and later reveal how that character was actually behind all the troubles encountered.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Narrative Dynamics – The Interface Conundrum

Unlike my usual articles, this piece is not intended to document an existing part of the Dramatica theory nor to reveal a part newly developed. Rather, I will be sharing my speculations on a life-long thought problem of mine and, toward the end, provide a new way of looking at some old issues.

The subject of this line of inquiry is that “magic moment” when one binary state changes into another. To illustrate, consider a light switch. We can tell when it is on and when it is off. We can recognize when it has changed state from one to the other. But what happens at that moment between the two when it is neither on nor off, or perhaps both?

This is really a restating of the uncertainty principal or even of Zeno’s Paradox or Schrodinger’s Cat, for that matter. It touches on the potential for faster than light travel, black holes, and synchronicity. But for me, personally, it is at the heart of the issue that has driven me since childhood with a specific curiosity that led to the development of Dramatica and still propels me today into my ongoing work on narrative dynamics.

For me, the quest began at age four or five – sometime before kindergarten – while I was on my swing set in the backyard of our home in Burbank. This would be, perhaps, 1957 or early 1958.
I remember the moment as if it were yesterday, for it has motivated (plagued) me since it occurred. It was a seamlessly gray overcast, that day, and as I was swinging I wondered if I could get high enough so that my entire field of vision was filled by nothing but that flat gray sky – no trees, no birds, not the neighbor’s houses nor the edges of my swing or its suspending chains.

So, I set about rocking myself higher and higher to the point I became fearful the whole contraption would collapse upon me, assuming I didn’t just fly off into space from the force.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and finally (fortunately) I rose high enough at the apex of the arc and for just one glorious instant I achieved my seamless gray experience. As the swing set was by that time wobbling menacingly, I quickly brought myself back to rest.

And I sat there for a bit when a question arose in my young mind: If nothing existed at all, would it look black because there was no light or gray because there also no dark? This is, of course, just another version of “if a tree falls in the forest,” but I had never heard that one, so this was news to me.

I pondered the question for a long time (for a child with a short attention span), thinking about it from both sides. And then I had the thought that has haunted me and pretty much cast the cut of my jib for the remainder of my days (so far). This unbidden query rose into my conscious mind: “Why can’t I figure out which it would be?”

Now that’s an awful thing for the universe to do to such an innocent kid – a carefree (until then) child who might have just breezed through live with a 9 to 5 and weekends to play. But once that thought was there, it would not leave.

I kept thinking about it, for days on end. My first assessments were along the lines of, “Well it must be either black or gray. Okay. But why can’t I figure it out?” You see it wasn’t the paradox itself that bothered me but the very concept of paradox – that my mind was not capable of discerning the answer, for I was sure there must be one.

In later years, I began to speculate whether God knew the answer to whether it would be black or gray. Surely he must; He’s God, after all! But if he does, then why did He make me in a limited sort of way, unable to see the truth of it. And if that is the state of affairs, then how can I be sure of anything, for I’m not graced with the whole picture! What good is it, then, to try and know anything, to try and find any meaning at all, for it is all based on a partial access to the capacity to understand the universe and therefore any conclusions are inherently suspect and likely to be overturned if we are given full access to reality when we die and go to heaven. (Which was where my young mind took me at the time.)

Seeing the truth after death was my only hope, because if that was not the case, then I was by nature locked in a limited mind incapable of truly understanding the universe in which it existed. Obviously, I paraphrase, but those exact lines of reasoning were coursing through my brain to me continual dissatisfaction.

So, being rather enamored of my own cognitive abilities at the time (a trait I’ve seen no reason to alter over the years), rather than imagining myself as a hero with super powers, I imagined myself as a hero with mental powers – the one individual in the history of the planet with the capacity to answer that blasted question: “Why is it that our minds are not capable of resolving paradoxical questions?” Which later evolved into “What is the difference between observation and perception,” “How do logic and emotion affect one another,” “What is that magic moment between one binary state and another,” and, currently, “What are the physics of the interface between structure and dynamics?”

And so, you see, the same insidious line of inquiry vexes me yet today in my attempts to develop the dynamic side of the Dramatica theory and to describe how the two sides impact one another and work together – an analog of our reason and emotion, and the holy grail (as I see it) of both universe and mind and, quite naturally by extension, of the relationship between universe and mind.

Sorry. I hadn’t intended to go into such a detailed back story, but my decades long frustration with this pesky query oft gets the better of me.

Having set the stage, let’s get down to the heart of the matter. What can we know about this limit line or interface between structure and dynamics beyond which neither can venture yet which also connects them both so that they influence one other across that great divide?

peaks and troughs

Let’s visualize the interface. Imagine one of those 3D computer images that shows a flat plane with peaks and troughs on it, like mountains and gravity wells – essentially round-topped cones like stalagmites and stalactites, above and below the plane.

Structure takes a horizontal cross section of the cones, as if a pane of glass were placed above or below the plane.

This cross section results in a flat image with a number of circles on it. Each circle is seen as a separate object and its edges define its extent. Taken together, the circles form a pattern, and it is that arrangement by which structure seeks understanding.

Dynamics takes a vertical cross section of the cones as if a pane of glass were placed perpendicular to the plane.

This cross section results in a flat image with linear wave forms on it. Each curve is seen as a separate force with its line defining its frequency. Taken together, the wave forms create harmonics, and it is that arrangement by which dynamics seeks understanding.

So on the structural side we have patterns made of particles and on the dynamic side we have patterns made of waves. Particle or wave, digital or analog, on or off, gray or black. Between the two sides of any paradox is an interface that generates both and created by both. Yet neither side can see the whole of it.

Just as if you look at a scene with one eye and then the other, you now have all the information you need to create 3D, but neither eye can see it alone. In fact, only if both eyes are looking at the same moment at the same thing (space and time in synchronicity) can the whole of the thing be appreciated. But even then, it is only an approximation of the true three dimensional nature of what is being viewed, made up of a left and right slice merged together.

And herein lies the essence of the paradox of mind that has hung over my head for all of these years: structure gives us one partial view of a larger Truth and dynamics give us another. Neither view is wrong; each is incomplete.

So what are we to do? Or, more personally, how am I ever going to resolve this durn conundrum? The answer is to create a model of the interface itself, incorporating both structure and dynamics not as a synthesis between alternative views but as full-bodied model of the true critter, inclusive but not limited to structure and dynamics.

Fine. So how do we do that?

Well, you’ll just have to wait for part two, “Narrative Dynamics – the Interface Solution,” coming soon….