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Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Write Your Novel Step by Step" - Free online book!

My complete book, Write Your Novel Step by Step, is now available for free on the Storymind web site.
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Monday, October 6, 2014

50 Sure-Fire Storytelling Tricks! Free Online Book

My book, 50 Sure-Fire Storytelling Tricks!, is now available free on the web site, as well as in paperback and for Kindle.
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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Visit Our Main Writers Web Site!

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (25) "Who's Your Main Character?"

Of all your cast, there is one very special player: the Main Character. Your Main Character is the one your story seems to be about – the one with whom your readers most identify – in short, the single most important character in your novel.
You probably already know who your Main Character is. If, so, you’ll find this step opens opportunities to avoid stereotyping him or her. If you haven’t yet selected your Main Character, this step will help you choose one from your cast list.
First, your Main Character is not necessarily your protagonist. While the protagonist is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the story goal, the Main Character is the one who grapples with an inner dilemma, personal issue or has some aspect of his or her belief system come under attack.
Most writers combine these two functions into a single player (a hero) who is both protagonist and Main Character in order to position their readers right at the heart of the action, as in the Harry Potter series.
Still, there are good reasons for not always blending the two. In the book and movie To Kill A Mockingbird, the protagonist is Atticus – a southern lawyer trying to acquit a young black man wrongly accused of rape. That is the basic plot of the story.
But the Main Character is Atticus’ young daughter, Scout. While the overall story is about the trial, that is really just a background to Scout’s experiences as we see prejudice through her eyes – a child’s eyes.
In this way, the author (Dee Harper) distances us from the incorruptible Atticus so that we do not feel all self-righteous. And, by making Scout effectively prejudiced against Boo Radley (the scary “boogie man” who lives down the street), we see how easily we can all become prejudiced by fearing what we really know nothing about.
In the end, Boo turns out to be Scout’s secret protector, and the story’s message about both the evils and ease of prejudice is made.
Your story may be best suited to center around a typical hero, especially if it is an action story or physical journey story. But if you are writing more of an exploration novel in which the plot unfolds as a background against which a personal journey of self-discovery or a resolution of personal demons is told, then separating your Main Character from the protagonist (and the heart of the action) may serve you better.
Armed with this understanding, review the cast you have chosen for your novel. If you have already selected a Main Character, see if they are a hero who is also the protagonist, driving the action. If so, consider splitting those functions into two players to see if it might enhance your story for your readers. If you have already set up a separate Main Character and protagonist, consider combining them into a hero, to see if that might streamline your story.
If you have not yet chosen a Main Character and/or a protagonist, review your cast list to see if one player would best do both jobs or if one would better drive the plot and the other would better carry the message.
When you have made your choices, write a brief paragraph about your Main Character and/or protagonist to explain how those two functions are satisfied by your chosen character or characters.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 10 "When to Use Dramatica"

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
For some authors, applying Dramatica at the beginning of a creative project might be inhibiting. Many writers prefer to explore their subject, moving in whatever direction their muse leads them until they eventually establish an intent. In this case, the storytelling comes before the structure. After the first draft is completed, such an author can look back at what he has created with the new understanding he has arrived at by the end. Often, much of the work will no longer fit the story as the author now sees it. By telling Dramatica what he now intends, Dramatica will be able to indicate which parts of the existing draft are appropriate, which are not, and what may be needed that is currently missing. In this way, the creative process is both free and fulfilling, with Dramatica serving as analyst and collaborator.
Now this passage in the original theory book is just the tip of the iceberg.  In the twenty some-odd years since we wrote this, I've discovered a whole bucket of insights and practical tips that can really leverage Dramatica (both the theory and the software) to far greater power in their application.
Speaking of Dramatica software, this is one of the few passages in the theory book that references it when it says, "By telling Dramatica" and "Dramatica will be able," which clearly are not speaking of the theory by itself.
While I'm on this topic, let me hold forth a bit about the relationship between theory and software so we can clarify that issue, be done with that, and move on.  First of all, the theory is a conceptual construct that accurately describes the function of the forces that make up narrative.  In other words, the theory really sees narrative as a collection of dynamics that are interrelated, rather than seeing narrative as a structure made up of story points.
"What about the Dramatica Chart?" you might ask.  "That's made up of all kinds of structural points including some called 'elements' - you can't get any more structural than that."  Well, now, that's not exactly true.  It's how it appears, to be sure, but that not really what it is.  (Notice how I'm diverging farther and farther away from practical tips here, but I promise: I'll get to those down near the bottom of what now appears to be one freaking huge annotation....
Every item in the Dramatica Chart (AKA the Dramatica Table of Story Elements) is actually a process, treated as an object.  WTF?  Okay - imagine you make a list of chores for the day that includes washing the dishes, paying the bills, and going shopping.  Each of those is really a process, isn't it?  But on the list, they are all treated as things: chores.  By thinking of a complex process at a thing, the complexity kind of melts away so that you can begin to see how one "thing" relates to another.
The Dramatica Chart is, essentially, a map of how all the processes that make up narrative relate to one another.  By treating them as objects, we can see those relationships more easily (and some of them are so subtle that you can't see them at all until you create a chart in that manner and get rid of all the complexity).
Now for the software...  We took all these relationships among narrative processes that we found and discovered they had a pattern - think the DNA of story.  Every story has its own genome or perhaps "memnome" (playing off the word "meme" which is like a gene or cultural awareness).  But, they all use the same bases and there is an underlying deep structure to the way they are assembled.  (In DNA it is a double helix, in Dramatica it is actually a quad helix, which is why the "objects" in the Dramatica Chart are arranged in quads.)
So, we described this model of structure mathematically.  We realized that the way these elements could go together could be described by algorithms and these algorithms became a computer implementation of the model of DNA of narrative that is the story engine in Dramatica software.  Everything else in the software - the tools, features, interface and questions - are all just ways of accessing that algorithmic model.
The idea is to treat the model like a big piece of marble.  Michelangelo said, he just chipped away anything that didn't look like what he was trying to portray and what was left was the image he was going for.  That's how you use Dramatica: answer the questions so it sculpts the model to gradually look more and more like what you have in mind for your story.  Eventually, you'll enter enough information about your mental image, that the model with all its DNA-style algorithms can determine that the unseen in-between impact of all your choices on each other can pre-determine what other potential choices must be if they aren't to work against or undermine what you've already said you want to do narratively.  In plain language.  The more information you put into the model about your story, the more you limit what your other options are, without working against yourself dramatically.  Simple as that.
You can see this at work in the story engine feature in the software.  Every time you make a choice, the number of other options is reduced.  In Dramatica Story Expert there is a feature that shows all the choices you explicitly make in blue, and when enough information is input that other choices can be made by the model, these implied choices show up in red.  Interestingly, it never take more than about twelve explicit choices to know enough about your story to generate more than seventy other implied choices.  Pretty weird, huh?  But accurate as great-grandpa and his spittoon.
Now back to the title of this original section in the theory book, "When to Use Dramatica." Well, to use Dramatica you really need to know what your story is about before you start.  Oh, you can use it without a clue, but then every choice you make is rather arbitrary.  Of course, you might go into the process with no story idea at all and then answer questions like, "Is your overall story about a situation, activity, attitude or manner of thinking," and that might actually help you gravitate toward one kind of a story rather than another.  And, as you continue answering such questions as "Is your Main Character a Do-er or a Be-er" then you build up elements of the framework of a story, just like in 3D printing until you have a complete structure.  It won't have any subject matter yet - it will just be a bunch of girders and pulleys.  So, you'll then follow through the storytelling section of the software to describe what kind of subject matter in your story is going to fulfill each of those structural requirements.  For some folks, that's the best way to go.
But for me, and writers like me, I'm more like ol' Michelangelo.  I want to know what I'm trying to get at first, then use Dramatica to chip away at that block of Muse-provided marble until I can see the structure at the heart of the story I want to tell.  Doing it this way, I already have all my subject matter and a story concept in mind.  Dramatica then becomes a way of finding the dramatic center of all that material, the way you might find the geographic center of a country.  It brings clarity and gives you a pivot point around which to build and balance your story.
That, in fact, is why I created StoryWeaver after co-creating Dramatica: to provide tool for generating ideas, zeroing in on subject matter.  In short, to come up with people I'd like to write about before they became character, events before it became a plot, a message before it became a theme, and an atmosphere before it became a genre. Then (after using StoryWeaver to work out my story's world) - then I go to Dramatica to X-ray the damn thing and see what kind of structural skeleton its got.
So when to use Dramatica (software)?  If you already know what your story is and how its structured, what do you need software for?  If you need inspiration, use StoryWeaver.  If you need structural grounding and guidance, use Dramatica.
When to use Dramatica (theory)?  The theory is an understanding.  It doesn't generate creative motivation.  But, if you know it, the underlying concepts will open new doors to explore creatively and will almost subliminally guide your efforts so that the more theory you know, the more your stories will seem to be complete, make sense, not drive, and have consistency of outlook and consistency of impact.
And if you use the Dramatica software at least once every few months, you'll find that our writerly instincts are constantly drifting off true and being warped by new life experiences and old justifications.  Dramatica points to the proper lane on the freeway that will get you there - the corridor of clear thinking.  It doesn't regiment your Muse but keeps it from running off a cliff like the vast majority of lemming-like writers out there who follow formulas right behind the writer in front until they end up in a broken heap at the bottom of what might have been the best story they ever told.
--Melanie Anne Phillips

Monday, September 29, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (24) "Selecting Your Cast"

Congratulations! Over the last few steps you’ve learned a tremendous amount of information about your characters’ attributes, self-image, outlook, and personal issues.
With all the work you’ve done, you probably have more characters than you need or want. Still, by keeping them around, you have had the opportunity to inject new blood into old stereotypes. As a result, your potential cast represents a healthy mix of interesting people.
The task at hand is to pare down this list by selecting only those characters you really want or actually need in your story.
To begin, make three categories, either as columns on a page or piles of index cards: one for obvious rejects, one for maybes, and one for the characters you are absolutely certain you want in your novel.
Put into the Keeper pile every character that is essential to your plot, contributes extraordinary passion, or is just so original and intriguing you can wait to write about them.
In the Not Sure pile, place all the characters who have some function (though they aren’t the only one who could perform it), have some passionate contribution (but it seems more peripheral than central), or are mildly interesting but not all-consuming fascinating.
In the No Way! Pile, place all the characters who don’t have a function, don’t contribute to the passionate side of your story and rub you the wrong way.
After distributing all your characters into these three categories, leaf through the “maybe” category, character by character, to see if any of them would fit will and without redundancy in the cast you’ve already selected.
If any would uniquely bring something worthwhile to your story that couldn’t be contributed by a keeper character, add them to your cast for now. If they would not, add them to the rejects.
Finally, look through the rejects for any individual attributes that you are sorry to see go – character traits you’d like to explore in your novel, even if you are sure you don’t want the whole character.
If there are any, distribute those attributes among your chosen characters as long as they don’t conflict with or lessen their existing quality and power. In this way, you will infuse your cast with the most potent elements possible.
You now have your initial cast of characters for your novel. In the actual writing to come, you may determine that certain characters are not playing out as well as expected. At that time, you can always cut them from your cast and redistribute any desirable attributes among your other characters.
Or, you may discover there are some essential jobs left undone, and you’ll need to create one or more additional characters to fill that gap.
But, for now, you have finally arrived at your initial cast – the folks who will populate your story’s world, drive the action, consider the issues, and involve your readers.
In the next step, we’ll explore the nature of your Main Character before turning our attention to your story’s theme.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Never Be Stuck for a Plot Again!

A writer asked today:
Dear Melanie,
Could you please tell me where can I find some material on western genre plot building.
Let me make it much clearer. I have a character Marshal, A saloon girl, Rancher, Preacher, Blacksmith and bartender along with 4 outlaw gang and 1 leader og the outlaw gang.
What I am trying to find is a story of events that can occur within this small town. Which direction can I take to find some events to get me to page 75.
My reply:
Hi, Darryl
Here’s a link to my article, The Creative Two-Step, that uses that example to begin to develop characters in an old Western Town:
This technique can also be used equally well for plot events.
The idea is to switch back and forth between analytical mode and creative mode by asking specific questions about your emerging story, then answering them in as many creative ways as you can. Then, you repeat the process by asking questions about each of the answers and then answering THOSE questions. In short order, you end up with hundreds of plot points.
How does the Marshall first find out about the gang’s activities?
1. The gang rides into town hootin’ and hollarin’
2. He is told about the situation, right after he accepts the job and pins on the badge.
3. He saw a newspaper account of the town’s gang problem and came there on his own to get the job to clean up the gang.
4. The gang sends a telegram to the marshall’s home to let him know they are in town shaking it down.
Okay, that’s the first step - analytical (the first question), followed by the second creative step (all the potential answers).
Then you repeat, asking as many questions as you can think of about each answer. I’ll just do one as an example.
Answer 3: He saw a newspaper account of the town’s gang problem and came there on his own to get the job to clean up the gang.
1. Where was he when he saw the newspaper?
2. Has he done this kind of thing before?
3. Why does he want to interfere?
4. What makes him think he is qualified to do anything about the problem?
5. Does he notify the town’s mayor or governing body before he shows up?
Then, you repeat the second “creative” step and provide answers.
Question 2. Has he done this kind of thing before?
1. Yes, he is independently wealthy and does this all the time as a hobby.
2. Yes, one time. His family was killed when he was a child and in his first adventure, he read a newspaper account of a child who was made an orphan due to a gang’s violence in a town in the East. He brought the gang to justice and found a foster home for the child. It was so fulfilling, his ordinary job has been miserable since, and this new article has made him realize he needs to step forward to give his live meaning.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Now, through this exercise, what events have we created for our story? Perhaps these:
1. A scene showing the Marshall as a young boy when his family was killed (by who and how and where can all be figured out using the Creative Two-Step).
2. A scene showing the Marshall see the first article and decide to get involved.
3. Several scene, perhaps in a montage or in a scrapbook of how that first adventure went.
4. A scene of him encountering this new newspaper article and how it affects him.
5. A scene of him quitting his job (how much he needs the money, what kind of job, and so on can be created using the two-step)
6. A scene of him arriving at the town.
7. How he gets the job (again, use the two-step to come up with ideas for this)
8. His first encounter with the gang (casual, antagonistic, high or low tension, anybody get hurt?, did the gang know he was the Marshall when they first encounter?)
Okay, again, I could go on and on and so could you. Just use the ol’ two-step method and then stand back, see all the ideas you’ve generated and create a plot sequence from all the notions like I just did above.
The details in each scene can be created using the very same method, once you have the main plot line sequence.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Announcing our new Narrative Analysis Service

Storymind is pleased to announce our new narrative analysis service for real world issues and situations.  We find the narratives at the core of activities, then project the likely course of events based on a motivation map of the individuals and organizations involved.
Click the image below to take a tour of our new web site.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 9 "Author's Intent"

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
Simply having a feeling or a point of view does not an author make. One becomes an author the moment one establishes an intent to communicate. Usually some intrigu- ing setting, dialog, or bit of action will spring to mind and along with it the desire to share it. Almost immediately, most authors leap ahead in their thinking to consider how the concept might best be presented to the audience. In other words, even before a com- plete story has come to mind most authors are already trying to figure out how to tell the parts they already have.
As a result, many authors come to the writing process carrying a lot of baggage: favorite scenes, characters, or action, but no real idea how they are all going to fit to- gether. A common problem is that all of these wonderful inspirations often don't belong in the same story. Each may be a complete idea unto itself, but there is no greater meaning to the sum of the parts. To be a story, each and every part must also function as an aspect of the whole.
Some writers run into problems by trying to work out the entire dramatic structure of a story in advance only to find they end up with a formulaic and uninspired work. Con- versely, other writers seek to rely on their muse and work their way through the process of expressing their ideas only to find they have created nothing more than a mess. If a way could be found to bring life to tired structures and also to knit individual ideas into a larger pattern, both kinds of authors might benefit. It is for this purpose that Dramatica was developed.
Finally, here at part 9, do we come to a section of the book that I think says exactly what it intended to say.  And, in fact, that is what the section is all about - saying what you intend to say.
Having an experience or an insight doesn't make one an author.  SHARING an experience or an insight does - or at least attempting to share.  How successful you are at communicating the logic and passion of your intent determines how skillful an author you are.  How interestingly you convey that information determines how compelling an author you are.  Together, they determine how good an author you are.
If I were to add anything to this section at all, it would be something the Dramatica book intentionally avoided: giving advice on how to write.  We wanted to focus on explaining our model of story structure (our intent) and that is what we did (success).  But, we had no interest in making it interesting.  Which, by my definition above, means that we weren't very compelling authors and, overall, were not very good authors.
And so, let me simply suggest that it pays to not only know what you want to share with your audience, but to determine what impact you'd like to have on them, i.e. to scare them, motivate them, inform them, illuminate them or any combination of multiple intents.  In that way, even without a structural road map, you always have a beacon, a lighthouse to guide your communications and the manner in which you present your information.
~~Melanie Anne Phillips

Monday, September 22, 2014

Writing Exercise: 108 Year Old Film Clip

Narrative isn't everything.  Many experiences in fiction and real life have no narrative at all.  While movies are often thought to be one of the most story-oriented media, here is a film clip that has no story, yet has tremendous meaning.  It was shot in San Francisco in 1906, just six days before the Great Earthquake.  Though there is no narrative, we cannot help but wonder what stories unfolded for the people we see just one week later.

As a good writer's exercise, pick a person or two that you see in the clip and write a short article that might have been published in the newspaper a week after the quake about their experiences.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (23) "Characters' Personal Issues"

We all have personal issues – trouble with co-workers, family difficulties, unfulfilled hopes or dreams or a moral dilemma.
Though it is not necessary, every character can benefit from having a personal issue with which it must grapple or a belief system that comes under attack.
A moral dilemma, worldview or philosophy of life helps your characters come off as real people, rather than just functional players in the story. In addition, readers identify more easily with characters that have an internal struggle, and care about them more as well.
Consider each of your potential cast members, one by one. Read their entire dossier so far consisting of their list of attributes, self-description and perspective on your story.
If a belief system, personal code of behavior, philosophy, worldview, moral outlook or internal conflict is indicated, note it and write a few words about it in their dossier.  If a character has emotional issues regarding themselves, their world or the people in it, note that as well.
If you don’t see such an issue already present, read between the lies to see if one is inferred. If so, write a few words about that.
Now don’t beat your head against the wall looking for something that may not be there. If a personal issue isn’t indicated, it makes no sense to try to impose one. Some characters are better off without them.
For this step, just look over what you already know about each character and then single out and describe any personal issues it might have.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 8 "Communicating Through Symbols"

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
How can essential concepts be communicated? Certainly not in their pure, intuitive form directly from mind to mind. (Not yet, anyway!) To communicate a concept, an author must symbolize it, either in words, actions, juxtapositions, interactions — in some form or another. As soon as the concept is symbolized, however, it becomes culturally specific and therefore inaccessible to much of the rest of the world.
Even within a specific culture, the different experiences of each member of an audi- ence will lead to a slightly different interpretation of the complex patterns represented by intricate symbols. On the other hand, it is the acceptance of common symbols of com- munication that defines a culture. For example, when we see a child fall and cry, we do not need to know what language he speaks or what culture he comes from in order to understand what has happened. If we observe the same event in a story, however, it may be that in the author's culture a child who succumbs to tears is held in low esteem. In that case, then the emotions of sadness we may feel in our culture are not at all what was intended by the author.
As I read this over, I think our intent was good, but we were a little off the mark.  Here we state in the opening paragraph that to communicate a thought, concept, feeling or experience you need to symbolize it first.  That's not technically true.  For example, suppose you want your friend to feel terror.  Well, you could just throw him out of an airplane and I'll bet he'd pretty much experience just what you had in mind.  Nothing symbolic about that!
More accurately, we can communicate by creating an environment that causes our reader or audience to arrive just where we want them.  In other words, we set up an experience that, by the end of the book or movie, positions our reader or audience into just the mindset we want them to have.
More sophisticated, or perhaps less end-product-oriented narratives are designed to position the reader or audience all along the way as well, so that the entire journey is an experience right along the logical and emotional path of discovery the author intended for his followers.
None of this requires symbols, however.  It can all be done simply by creating a series of artificial environments presented in a given sequence.  But, symbols can streamline the process.  If you don't have to build the environment for the reader or audience but merely allude to it, then you can get your point and passion across simply by invoking an element of common understanding.  A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but a symbol is worth 1,000 experiences.
So, what we wrote above is not wrong per se, but rather is short speak that (though it communicates) is open to criticism because is skips over a number of steps to streamline communication.  And that, is exactly what symbols do - they get the content to the recipient in the quickest fashion possible yet open the message - the story argument - to rebuttal because wholesale parts of the communication are truncated, leaving gaps in the actual flow, though if the author is in tune with the audience's symbolic vocabulary, the complete extent of the original concept may, in fact, be fully appreciated.
Bottom line - know your audience and you will be able to put far more logical and passionate density into the pipeline than if you had to spell everything out.
--Melanie Anne Phillips

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (22) "Character Points of View"

Now that you know something about the personalities of your potential cast members, it is time to find out how they see your story.
In this step, you’ll have each character write another paragraph from their point of view, but this time describing the basic plot of your story as it appear to them.
This will make your story more realistic by helping you understand and describe how each character sees and feels about the events unfolding around them.
Some characters may be integral to the plot. Others may simply be interesting folk who populate your story’s world. Be sure each character includes how they see their role (if any) in the events, or if they seem themselves as just an observer or bystander. If they are involved in the plot, outline the nature of their participation as they see it.
Again, you don’t want to go into great detail at this time. What you want is just an idea of how your story looks through each character’s eyes. This will help you later on not only to decide which characters you want in your story, but how you might employ them as well.
In the next step we’ll get to know your characters even better by investigating any personal and/or moral issues with which they grapple.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (21) "Auditioning Your Cast"

Now that you have mixed things up a bit with your potential characters, there is one last task to do before selecting which ones to hire for your novel: the audition!
Each character is currently just a collection of traits – the parts with no sum. To know how each might play in your story, you need to get a more organic sense of them. In other words, you need to get to know them as people, not just as statistics.
To do this, have each of your potential cast members write
a short paragraph about himself or herself in their own words, describing them, their attitudes, outlooks on life and incorporating all the attributes you’ve assigned to them.
Try to write these paragraphs in the unique voice of each character and from their point of view. Don’t write about them; let them write about themselves.
This will give you the experience of what it is like to see the world through each character’s eyes, which will help you understand their motivations and also make it easier for you to write your novel in such a way that your readers can step into your characters’ shoes.
In the next step, you’ll use these auditions to pare down your potential cast members to those who really belong in your novel.

This article is drawn from:

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 7 "Symbolizing Concepts"

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
It has been argued that perhaps the symbols we use are what create concepts, and therefore no common understanding between cultures, races, or times is possible. Dramatica works because indeed there ARE common concepts: morality, for example. Morality, a common concept? Yes. Not everyone shares the same definition of morality, but every culture and individual understands some concept that means "morality" to them. In other words, the concept of "morality" may have many different meanings — depending on culture or experience — but they all qualify as different meanings of "morality." Thus there can be universally shared essential concepts even though they drift apart through various interpretations. It is through this framework of essential concepts that communication is possible.
We wrote this section of the book right up front because we were getting a lot of "blow-back" from "artists" who felt that "story" was a magical, mystical thing that could  never be defined.  They believed that any attempt to do so was inherently flawed and, therefore, the whole Dramatica concept was wrong right out of the box.
And in regard to that box, you've hear people often say, "You need to think outside the box."  What Dramatica is saying here is, "Inside or outside: either way you're still thinking ABOUT the box."  Which means, that the box is, in the above example, "morality."  Every human mind has a little box called "morality."  We can't help it - its the way we're built.  But what we put in that box  is guided by culture and unique to each individual.
Thinking outside the box really just means looking into somebody else's box and seeing what they have in there.  If you consider it, see how that might be seen as, in our example, morality - they you are open-minded.  If you hold that only what you have put into your box is appropriate to be labelled "morality," they you are close-minded.
Life (if we look outward) and, more accurately, we ourselves (if we look inward) are made of boxes.  Each with a different label and each filled with a whole assortment of things we've piled in there over the years through experience and a bunch of stuff that has been piled in out box by others, through personal influence or collectively through cultural indoctrination.
As long as we look at the contents, story structure (and narrative psychology) will make no sense because were are trying to compare what one person believes should go in that box in their life to what everyone else is putting in a box with the same label in their lives.
But if you just look to see if everyone has a box labelled "morality" or any of the other story points that are the conventions of story structure, you'll see we all have the same boxes with the same labels, but what we put in them is different.
From that perspective, you begin to see that there is also a pattern to the way people stack up those mental boxes for storage.  The box labelled "Hope" is often stacked right next to the one labelled "Dreams."
The boxes are what we documented as the structure of Dramatica, and how they are organized is described by the dynamics of the Dramatica model.  When people start to stack things in a way that seems out of kilter, such as putting Morality next to Dreams instead of Hope, then you know that something in their lives has caused them to arrange their collections of experiences and responses into an unusual pattern because it helped them deal with unique but ongoing situations they've encountered.
Moving boxes around like that, out of category and out of sub-category is like mixing up the periodic table of elements in physics to create molecular substances or like pulling items out of the well-organizerd pantry to add them to a recipe boiling on the stove.
Life requires that we do such things to move efficiently through the trials and tribulations we face and to maximize the results we're after.  But when we get in the habit of re-organizing things in a particular manner and it sets in place so we never get back to the original, un-biased order...  well, that's what we call (in Dramatica) "Justification," and it is the process of being bent by experience to the point you think that crooked path is straight.
It IS kinda straight in a warped world.  But if the world warps some other way or you move to a new environment that isn't warped or is warped differently, then that pattern you don't even think about anymore is suddenly out of kilter.  That's the moment the problem at the heart of a story is born.
The question then is, do you keep your labelled boxes in the same organization that has now worked so well for so many years, or do you rearrange them to adapt to the new situation.  And this is the argument that ensues between the Main Character and the Influence Character, resulting in a climax in which the Main Character will either change or remain steadfast.  Which way leads to success, is unsure.  Maybe sticking with your tried and true will change the immediate world around you.  Maybe you have to change because the world ain't budging.  Either way, the choice is unavoidable.
This is what stories are all about.  So, if we put "morality" aside in terms of specific content and find the common ground that we all have a box with that label on it, just with different contents - if we stop thinking our way of stacking boxes is right for everyone else, even though our life experiences have been so different - if we just realize we all have the same bag of marbles but group them in different ways, then perhaps, just perhaps, we might have a little more tolerance for other people and other peoples and realize that we're all the same, even though we're nothing alike.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (20) "Character Trait Swap Meet"

In the last step you made sure each of your potential characters had a vocation, name, gender, age and perhaps additional personal attributes.
In this step we’re going to swap around some of those traits to make your list of potential characters even more original, interesting and memorable than before.
Our creative minds tend to fall into the same patterns over and over again. As a result, our characters run the risk of becoming overused stereotypes. By exchanging traits, we can create characters that transcend our inspirational ruts and become far more interesting and memorable.
Don’t feel pressured to alter the original collection of attributes you had assigned to any given character if you are truly happy and comfortable with it. Still, mixing things up a bit just to see what happens can’t hurt and just might just turn out to build an even more intriguing character.
Task One: Swapping Jobs
In this section rearrange your characters' jobs until you have created a new cast list with all the same information except different vocations for each.
For example, a Mercenary named Killer and a Seamstress named Jane are inherently less interesting that Seamstress named Killer and a Mercenary named Jane.
Swap jobs around a few times, locking in the combinations you like and reverting to the original arrangement of attributes for those you don’t. Then, move on to Task Two….
Task Two: Swapping Genders
Every culture has preconceptions of the kinds of vocations appropriate to each sex. Adhering to these expectations makes characters familiar but also makes them predictable and ordinary.
By changing the gender of at least some of your less interesting characters, you can breathe new life into them.
For example, a male Mercenary is typical, a female Mercenary is not. A character called "John's Wife" does not necessarily have to be female, especially in this day and age.
Referring to your revised cast list including the new vocations, swap gender assignments among your characters to create even more interesting cominbations.
Task Three: Swapping Ages
We tend to write about characters our own age, or to assume a particular age by virtue of vocation. For example, an action character such as a Bush Pilot, or Spy is usually set as ranging between 25 and 50. An elementary school student is usually 5 to 12.
But what if you had a Bush Pilot in the range of 5 to 12 and an elementary school student of 25 to 50? In fact, these characters are not only more interesting, but easier to write, simply because the contrasts they express spur all kinds of creative inspirations.
Referring to your newly revised cast list from Task Two, swap the ages around to create a new list with these additional changes.
Task Four: Swapping Additional Attributes
Just as you have done with jobs, genders and ages, swap around any additional attributes you may have assigned to your characters to see if they make your potential cast members even more interesting.
When you have settled on the best possible combinations of attributes for each character, move on to the next step to audition these people for a role in your novel.

This article is drawn from:

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dramatica Theory (Annotated) Part 6 "The Scope of Dramatica"

Excerpted from the book, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
With all these forms of communication, isn't Dramatica severely limited in addressing only the Grand Argument Story? No. The Grand Argument model described by Dra- matica functions to present all the ways a mind can look at an issue. As a result, all other forms of communication will be using the same pieces, just in different combina- tions, sequences, or portions. In our example, we indicated that the less we said, the more the audience could use its imagination. A Grand Argument Story says it all. Every point is made, even if hidden obscurely in the heart of an entertainment. Other forms of communication use "slices" of the model, chunks, or levels. Even if an author is un- aware of this, the fact that human minds share common essential concepts means that the author will be using concepts and patterns found in the Dramatica model.
This section is pretty straight-forward.  All it says is that the Dramatica model of structure describes the full size a structure can be.  Therefore, all other structural models are not in conflict with it, but contained within it.
Well, now, isn't that arrogant?  Arrogant, yes, but also true.  You see, in the process of discovering Dramatica's structural model, we came to realize that there is a maximum amount of information the human mind can hold and consider at one time without relegating some of it to memory to call up as needed.  We coined the phrase, "Size of Mind Constant" to describe this phenomenon.
Dramatica describes the totality of this "biggest thought" that anyone can have so, therefore (if you buy into that) all other structural models must, by definition, fall into it.  Implied: if they don't, they're wrong.  And we, as usual, are being arrogant again.  But also right.
Here's why there's a Size of Mind Constant.  There are four external dimensions: Mass, Energy, Space and Time.  Einstein messed around with those in his famous E=MC2.  What we discovered in story structure is that those four dimensions are reflected in the mind as Knowledge, Thought, Ability and Desire.  And we came up with our own logic equation to describe the relativistic relationship among them: T/K=AD.
Conversationally, Knowledge is the Mass of the Mind - it describes the discrete particles of what you know.  Thought is like Energy, it moves those pieces of Knowledge around to build things (like complex understandings).  Ability is like Space because it describes all the unknown in which your particle of Knowledge reside.  In other words, Ability is the comparison of how much you know in a given area to how much you don't know.  And Desire is like Time because it is a comparison of how things are compared to how they were and how they might be.
Okay, enough with the science - for now...
So in non-math speak, you've got four external dimensions and four internal dimensions to work with.  Each is a different kind of evaluation of your world and yourself.  But, your mind has to go someplace, so you need to "stand" on one of the eight and use it as your baseline from which to measure the other seven.  Then, you jump from the one you are on and measure the new set of seven (this time including the one you were on originally) and see what that looks like.  When you have finally "stood" on all eight and seen all you can see, all of those perspectives are what make up the Dramatica model.
Recall, now, that we didn't invent this model (way too complex for us! See, being non-arrogant here...).  Rather, we simply discovered the kind of out-of-focus existence of it in the conventions of narrative structure and simply sharpened the image.
Now, we stand on one at a time and look at seven.  If we want to move beyond that, we are beyond the capacity of our minds to see that much without treading over the same ground.  So, shift to look at new stuff, and when we do, it appears to be another topic or another category or another kind of thing.  Everything in our perception is really interconnected, but when we examine all we can from one perspective (jumping through all eight points to look at it) we see anything outside that as a separate topic.
So, here we come to the size of mind constant.  We are all quite capable, regardless of mental prowess, to jump around all eight of those dimensions and all of those resulting perspectives on a topic make up a Grand Argument Story - a complete description of all the different ways we might look at an issue.  That's the Size of Mind Constant.
Now here are some fun reflections of that.  Average "short-term" memory is 7 items, which is why phone number ended up seven numbers long and perhaps why we divide things into seven day weeks.  Who knows?
Also, Size of Mind Constant is like thinking of your ability to hold a big thought as being the capacity of a box-car on a railroad track.  The ties on the track show the subject matter you are covering.  You stand in the box car and cover one tie.  The rest of the box car covers seven more ties.  You can move the car up and down the track to cover more subject matter, but you can never cover more than eight ties at the same time (including yourself).
Another way of looking at it is that the Dramatica model describes the biggest notions you can have (the "classes" in the model) while still being able to see the smallest details (the "elements").  If you look at something bigger (like rising up over a landscape in a balloon) you start to loose the ability to see the details.  If you drop down to see the details, you loose sight of the Big Picture.
And so, the Size of Mind Constant describes the bandwidth you can perceive at the same time from the biggest broad strokes to the tiniest concepts.
And THAT is why all other structural models are not in conflict with Dramatica (unless they are flat-out wrong) but rather, fall within that scope because, quite simply, there's nowhere else to go.
- Melanie Anne Phillips