Category Archives: Narrative Science

Characters and Contextual Retribution

The minds of characters work very much like our own.

People think both in terms of time and of space.  Our time sense gives us the ability to predict what is likely to happen next.  Our space sense gives us the ability to determine what else (unseen) may be connected to what we do see.

For example, “one bad apple spoils the bunch” describes a time-based (temporal) causal relationship: given that there are a bunch of apples with one bad one in the bunch, it will inevitably lead to the spoiling of them all.  Of course, this is meant as an analogy to the effect on a group of people if one person of questionable character remains in their midst.

The space-based (spatial) equivalent is “where there’s smoke there’s fire.”  This phrase does not predict what will be, but describes a here and now connection.  In other words, if you see all the symptoms or indicators that something exists, then it exists, even if you don’t see it.  The concept of circumstantial evidence is based on this concept as well.

In fact, we base many of our social conventions on macroscopic projections of inherent human qualities amplified to the large-scale.  Not surprising since when we gather in groups, we self-organize into external dynamic replicas of the very same thought processes that go on in our own minds so that the group itself takes on a personality and develops a psychology, and members of the group come to specialize in (or represent) all the different principal kinds of thought processes we use within our own minds.  So, in a group there will be an individual who represents the voice of reason while another expresses passion and a third speaks a the conscience of the group.  In my continuing development of the Dramatica theory I named this phenomenon “Fractal Psychology.”

Now because we, as individuals think in both time and space, and because we organize our experience both temporally and spatially (i.e. “if this, then than” for time and “when this, also that” for space), we are constantly evaluating, both consciously and subconsciously, all that we encounter so that we might identify any instances of either of these two forms of causality in our experience base.  In this manner we are able to protect ourselves in the here and now from that we cannot see and in the future from that which has not yet happened.  Simple survival programming.

Normally, this works pretty well.  And though we sometimes make mistakes by misinterpreting or by not being aware of the larger context, overall odds are that temporal and spatial anticipation is more beneficial than it is harmful.  But, when we interact with others, this seemingly positive survival system can really mess up our relationships.

Here’s a typical scenario:

A conversation between two friends or family members is going along quite normally, perhaps even quite pleasantly.  One says something quite innocuous and the other responds with thinly veiled sarcasm or even a blatant barb.  The first person, feeling unduly attacked, responds with a flash of anger and before either party sees it coming, they are a heated argument or perhaps even a full-blown fight.  We’ve all see this and probably experienced it.  But where does it come from? Why does it happen?

This kind of conflict often stems from a disconnect between time and space.  in a nutshell, one party to the conversation is thinking about the interchange in a temporal way and the other is noting it spatially.  What does that mean?  Simply that while the flow of the conversation by one party may be harmless, a particular item of subject matter may be very close to a land mind buried in the other party’s psyche.  In other words, the flow of one person’s time has intruded upon the other person’s space.

As an example, suppose a pleasant conversation is about getting ready for some guest who are about to arrive.  Dinner is discussed, and bringing out the board games and a selection of movies.  Then, the conversation naturally, temporally, progresses to the kitchen counters which need to be cleaned.  The first person is simply going through all the things that need to be done.  But, the second person has a spatial connection to the dirty dishes because a week ago, the first person had, with some irritation,  requested that the second person stop putting the dishes into the sink without rinsing them.

There was no argument at that time.  The second person grumbled and made some retort that it was no worse than the first person leaving their towels on the floor in the shower all the time.  First person just shrugged it off an moved on but the second person stewed awhile about the dishes comment, feeling put upon and unfairly held to task.

Now, a week later, the second person still has a spatial sensitivity – a topical sensitivity not only to the subject of dirty dishes, but by extension to any chores that pertain to the kitchen area, thereby including the cleaning of counters.  While a mention of dirty dishes again would have elicited a harsh response, this tangential topical reference brought only a verbal barb in reply.  But, since that snappy response seemed unwarranted to the temporally thinking first person, they now felt unduly attacked by the second person and respond in kind.

To the first person who was thinking temporally, they now switch to spatial thinking so that their comment seems to them to be a fair and balanced response to unjustified irritation and levels the score.  But, to the second person who was thinking spatially about the topic, they now switch to temporal thinking and see a trend defining itself in which the first person will not let them balance the remaining emotional distress they had been carried.  Projecting that sequence, the second person now responds with even greater anger.

And so, both parties, switching between time sense and space sense, find themselves becoming angrier as the other person (while really just trying to even the score according to their own needs and assessments) keeps undermining their own attempts to establish an equitable balance within their own hearts.  Each roadblock to satisfaction layers more irritation upon the last, increasing the amount of compensation required to balance the books.

And, since both sides are alternating their consideration of the conversation both temporally (how it is progressing as each seeks the last word to achieve temporal equity) and spatially (what old wounds are being re-opened in the attempt to find spatial equity), like a brush fire the flames move more and more quickly and cover more and more ground, thereby increasing both the pace of the mutual attacks and the extent of the topics begin brought into play.

Usually such interchanges continue either until they burn themselves out or spark a fire storm so great it creates its own weather and destroys the relationship landscape beyond any hope of regrowth.

This is contextual retribution.  It is the attempt to seek equity that is justifiable in one of either space or time, but seems inappropriately out of context in the other.  Such conflicts lead to broken relationships, alienated family members, feuds, wars, and even ethnic cleansing.  It is human nature.  But it is also human nature to have a choice.  Each individual may choose to accept that there is more than one valid perspective, more than one valid context in which the world and all that happens in it can be interpreted.  Space and time, logic and emotion, male and female, your experience and the other guy’s – each is valid in his or her own context – as valid as your is invalid from their experience base.  If we can train ourselves to recognize the occurrence of contextual retribution when it happen, either in the other party or, even more important, in ourselves, we can interrupt the temporal and spatial escalation of hostilities, allow the dust to settle, and then find a common solution that will bring equity to all parties at once, thereby avoiding the downward spiral of one-up-man-ship.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

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Predicting Human Behavior with Narrative

By Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure

Human behavior cannot be predicted by observation alone.  No matter how deep the statistical database, no matter how sophisticated the algorithms, accuracy derived from observation falls short because it is unable to see the inner mechanism of the mind itself.  All that can be catalogued is simply the external impact of internal mental processes, and therefore observation can only chart the progress of ripples in the pond and speculate as to the nature of the pebble that produced them.

Human behavior cannot be predicted solely by internal self-examination.  No matter how deep we focus our inner eye, no matter how extensive our thoughts, accuracy derived from self-examination falls short because it is unable to see the mechanism of its own sentience.  All that can be grasped is simply the results of inner mental processes, and therefore self-examination can only map our attitudes and speculate as to the nature of the feelings that produced them.

To predict human behavior, a true model of the mind is required – one not derived from external observation nor internal self-examination.  The question arises as to how such a model can be created.  The answer is that such a model already exists.  It is called Dramatica and it was discovered in the structure of narrative.

The creation of narratives – both as stories and in the real world – is a uniquely human endeavor with two primary purposes:  one, to move an audience to adopt an attitude or point of view and, two, to describe human truth as best we can, so that we might better know ourselves and understand our relationships with others.  The first purpose is directed toward subject matter – the real world issues about which an author might wish to move an audience.  But the second purpose is accomplished below the level of subject matter for it documents human nature itself.

When you strip away the subject matter, the structure is laid bare and reveals itself as a model of the mind.  Why should this be?  Because when humans gather in groups to address a common issue, they tend to self-organize into specialties that represent different attributes of the human mind.   For example, one will emerge as the voice of reason while another will express skepticism and yet another might express the considerations of conscience.  In this way, each specialist is able to bring greater depth to the collective discussion than if each individual was a general practitioner, all trying to do the same job – a shallow exploration of every perspective.  It is a simple societal survival technique.

Simple stories, the first stories, addressed this and established the archetypal characters and how the fundamental human attributes they represented interrelated.  In fact, the interaction of one character with another is analogous to the way these attributes interact in the mind of an individual, as if our own mental processes had been projected outward and made tangible in a macroscopic manner.

When groups grow even larger, the fundamental attributes attract additional followers so that they become sub-groups within the larger group.  In this manner, each perspective on the problem is represented by many individuals.  And, when a sub-group grows to a critical mass, it will itself self-organize, just as did the original master group.  One member of the specialty group will emerge as the leader with the others falling into the roles of the other human attributes.   And, similarly, if a number of master groups come together to address and even larger issue of common interest, each master group will shift off center as they all self-organize into specialty roles as well.

As thousands of generations of storytellers documented what they saw in the way people and groups of people organized themselves, though trial and error they gradually refined the conventions of story structure until it accurately represented the functioning of the mind itself.  Recognizing the correlation of structure to the mind, Dramatica further refined the structural elements and the dynamics that drive them.  Conceptually, this model of the mind is the substance of the Dramatica theory and, practically, it is re-created in the Dramatica software.

Dramatica’s model of the mind is comprised of two principal components.  The first is a periodic table of narrative elements in which the nested nature of human attribute self-organization is presented as families within families, much as the periodic table in physics gathers elements into families such as the rare earth elements or the noble gasses.  The second is a set of algorithms that describe the manner in which these mental attributes interact and interrelate.

In combination, the algorithms describe mental dependencies in which the action of every human dynamic has impact or influence upon other closely related dynamics.  The dynamics form a web that can be interpreted to reveal the tensions and forces at work in the mind and how they warp the shape of the mind and focus motivation in predictable directions.

In conjunction with the table of narrative elements, these algorithms of dynamics can pinpoint the sources of motivation and, conversely the location of blind spots into which one’s own consciousness, or that of a group, cannot see.

The model as whole is able to determine the relationship between a state of mind and the sequential progression of considerations, both conscious and subliminal, which must follow from such an arrangement.  This process is commutative, for if one knows the order in which a sequence of considerations occurred one can regressively ascertain in great detail the mental arrangement that must have existed to drive such a progression.

In theory, if one identifies in the real world an individual or group mind of any number of nested levels of sub-groups, one can accurately determine the drives, areas of focus, purposes and methods of that mind.  By applying the sequential algorithms, one can also predict the progressive behavior of the mind under study.

In practice, both individual and group minds are constantly coming into conjunction, in conflict or collusion.  Since they are not joining in a common purpose for a sufficient period of time, they do not reach the flash point at which they would self-organize into a single predictable system.  Rather, their interactions are only partial facets of a mental model and operate more according to the procession of chaos than an orderly progression.  Nonetheless, the impact of such encounters leaves an identifiable impact upon both parties that enables a revised accurate assessment of each altered mind and its future behavior.

The domain of chaos can be somewhat reduced by the application of those same standard statistical and algorithmic approaches that have been unable to predict human behavior, for they take into account environmental considerations, essentially the subject matter of medium in which the minds encounter one another.

In conclusion, human behavior can be predicted with significant accuracy through narrative modeling.  But when narratives are only partially present in volatile scenarios, statistical modeling can be used in conjunction with narrative to achieve the best possible predictive algorithm.

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Narrative Dynamics (Part 2)

In this second article in the Dynamic Model series, I’m going to explore really intriguing problem – how particles can be transmuted into waves and vice versa.

Why this important to writers and even more important to psychologists and social scientists may not be immediately apparent, so first I’ll outline its potential usefulness and also how it is essential to the expansion of the Dramatica theory into a whole new realm.

Stories might end in success or failure of the effort to achieve the goal.  But how big a success, or how great a failure.  Now you are talking a matter of degree.  What’s more, is it a permanent success/failure or a temporary one?  And if temporary, does it always remain at the same level or does it vary, getting bigger, smaller, or oscillating in a symmetrical cyclic or complex manner?

Now, apply this to a character’s motivation.  It may be motivated by one particular kind of thing, but is that motivation increasing or decreasing?  It is accelerating or decelerating?  Is it cyclic or complex, is it transmuting from one nature of motivation to another?  And for that matter, how does a character actually change from one nature to another in a leap of faith?  Up the magnification and ask, “can I see the exact moment a character’s mind changes from one way of looking at the world to another?”

When is that magic moment at which Scrooge changes?  How long does it last?  Can we find the spot at which he is one way now and another way a moment later?  Is the change a process or an immediate timeless shift from one state to another?  What exactly is the mechanism – not the mechanism that leads him to the point of change, but the exact time at which that change occurs?

When can we say that a light switch is off versus being on?  Is it how many electrons are crossing the gap, is it the position of the switch at a visual resolution?  Is it the light getting brighter?  How bright?  How fast?  How about a mercury light that fades on and off at 60 Hz?  When it is on the nadir of the down cycle is it off?  And therefore, does the exact moment of a character’s change depend upon momentum?  Inertia?  Zeno’s paradox?

If writers could follow the rise and fall, the ebb and flow of dramatic potentials, resistances, currents, and powers discreetly for every element, every particle in a story’s structure, one could predict the cognitive and affective impact on the readers or audience as a constantly changing bundle of waveforms, each one thread or throughline in the undulating unbroken progression of experience.

Now project this into psychology, societal concerns, stock market analysis, weather prediction – such a dynamic model would enable incredibly accurate projections as well as far more detailed and complete snap analyses.

BUT

In order for these applications to be realized, we need not only a dynamic model, but also the means of connecting it to the structural model.  In other words, we need to develop a particle/wave continuum in which particles can become waves can become particles in an endless flow of cascading shifts and transmutations.

So how does this interface work?  What stands between particle and wave that alters one to another?

In the next installment of the Dynamic Model series, I’ll offer some conjectures.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Narrative Dynamics (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of articles I’ll be writing about a whole different way of looking at the Dramatica theory – in terms of dynamics, rather than structure.  In fact, the dynamic model is a counterpart, not an alternative, to the existing structural model with which you may be familiar.

As an illustration of the difference between the two, if you think of the structural model as being made of particles, the dynamic model is made of waves.  If the structural model is seen as digital, the dynamic model is analog.  If the structural model describes a neural network, the dynamic model describes the biochemistry,  If the structural defines the elements of a story (or psychology) and how they relate, the dynamic model defines how the elements transmute or decay into other elements and how relationships among elements are changing.

In usage, the structural model can tell you, for example, that a main character is driven by logic; the dynamic model can tell you how strongly they are driven and how the intensity of that drive changes over time.  The structural model can predict if a story will end in success or failure; the dynamic model can tell you the degree of success or failure.

In a nutshell, the structural model documents the fixed logic of a story’s structure, the dynamic model charts the ebb and flow of its passions.  Cognitive and Affective, Yin and Yang, Space and Time.  Head and heart.

If you are familiar with deep Dramatica theory, you know that all the output of the Story Engine is not made available in the Dramatica software.  In fact, the Story Engine generate quite a bit more information about a story’s structure than it makes available to a user.  What information, and why suppress it?  I’ll answer the second question first.

We suppressed information that was so detailed and dramatically “tiny” that it was beyond the scope or magnification in which authors work.  And, even if someone wanted to work with structure to that microscopic micromanaged level, that information had such little impact that it would almost certainly be lost in the background noise of the storytelling.  In other words, the granularity of that suppressed information was smaller than the resolution of an audience’s understanding.  In short – it would be lost in the translation from structure to finished story.  So, to keep from overcomplicating the story structuring process and having the author do work that would never have a practical impact, we decided this kind of material should not be provided by the Story Engine.

Still, just because authors can’t really apply this suppressed information in a useful manner doesn’t mean the information isn’t accurate, especially when using the Story Engine for psychological analysis rather than just for fictional constructs.  So, here’s a brief description of this information, shared here for the purpose of illustrating the limits of the current structural model at its farthest edges, and then being able to further describe what the developing dynamic model can bring to the table.

What is suppressed: PRCO and 1234.  What the hell does that mean?  PRCO stands for Potential, Resistance, Current and Outcome (or Power).  1234 is the sequential order in which the four items in a quad will come into play.  You see this last part in the sequence of the Signposts and Journeys for each of the four throughlines in Dramatica, but the engine only shows you the output for the “type” level or plot level of a story’s structure – the equivalent of the topics each act will cover in each of the four throughlines.  It is suppressed for all the other levels and all the other quads.  (Though some additional sequential information is also available in the Plot Sequence Report in Dramatica.)

In truth, EVERY quad in the structure appears in every story structure, but some, like the Signposts, are the focus of the story.  And yet, if you watch a story unfold, you’ll see that EVERY SINGLE QUAD in a completely structured story will unfold in a predictable sequential manner.  As a side note, the manner in which we discovered this is an intriguing story I may write about someday, but for the purposes of this article, suffice it to say that every quad in a structure at every level will have a 1234 sequence attached to it, and those sequences will differ from one storyform to another.

But what about the PRCO?  Well, consider ever quad as a little dramatic circuit – not a static thing except in the sense  that an electronic circuit is static – a battery, a resistor, a light bulb and some wire – but the electrons flow through it and the bulb generates light.  Similarly, in a dramatic circuit – a quad – the four items will act as Potential, Resistance, Current and Outcome (Power) and form a flow that moves one moment into the next and generates energy that sparks the next scene or sequence or act.

Now I could go into great detail about how all this works (it is built into the Story Engine after all) – BUT, that’s not the point  All you need to know for this article is that in the process of “winding up” the dramatic potential of the story at large, the model is (conceptually) twisted and turned like a Rubik’s cube so that quads are misaligned in a way that creates the tension that drives the story forward.  Or, in terms of psychology, it describes the conflicting forces that are at work in the mind.

And so, every item in every quad will be assigned a 1234 and also a PRCO.  This means that sometimes a scene will begin with a Potential and other scenes will open with a Resistance or Current or Power.  In other words, 1234 and PRCO are independently assigned because they are not tied together psychologically, nor in terms of fiction.

Back to the dynamic model.  The structural model can only tell you if something is a potential or resistance and the order in which it will come into play.  But, only a dynamic model could tell you how MUCH potential or resistance was present and how long its span of time in the sequence will last: its duration.  Plus, the dynamic model could tell you how the intensity of that potential might be changing and how fast it is changing and whether that speed of change is accelerating.

Stepping back then, it is pretty easy to see the usefulness of this both in charting the collective dramatic intensity of an unfolding story upon an audience’s head and heart, and also the manner in which motivations and decisions, effort and activities reach a flash point or recede in real world individual and group psychology.

Enough for this introductory article.  More soon….

Melanie Anne Phillips

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(Originally published in 2012)

 

The Dramatica Concept

Over the years there’s been so much sophisticated material written about how the Dramatica theory of narrative structure deals with all kinds of complex story issues that it is easy to forget about the central purpose of Dramatica in the first place.

So, here’s a short article to help those of you new to Dramatica to get a grip on what it is and why its important.

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There’s two parts to stories – the part that gets us all excited (the subject matter and style) and the dry, frustrating part (the underlying structure).

Writers also come in two varieties – the intuitive writers who like to follow their Muse and the logical writers who like to build their stories from the ground up, according to plan.

There are very few folk who do both very well.  We usually call them “Master Storytellers” or John LeCarre or Shakespeare or Aaron Sorkin.

For the rest of us, we usually have some degree of talent in one of the two areas and a noticeable lack in the other.  Me – I’m great at following the Muse, but can’t structure a story worth a darn.

So, twenty years ago, a friend of mine and I went hunting for the answer to story structure.  Along the way, we invented a whole new theory of it called “Dramatica.”

Dramatica says that structure is like the platter on which you serve up your passion and ideas.  Structure is like the carrier wave in radio upon which the program is broadcast.

If structure is done right, it is invisible – just like that carrier way you never hear in a radio program.  But if it isn’t tuned properly, it gets in the way of the program, creating static and drop-outs.  And, you certainly don’t your readers dropping out of your story or stumbling over a logical problem when logic is the last thing you want them to be thinking about.

So, the Dramatica theory deals solely with that dry, uninteresting, but essential underlying “story argument,” because without that sound foundation, even the most interesting subject matter and most intriguing storytelling will collapse.

Well, that’s an introduction to the concept.  What I’m writing these days is like “doctorate level” dissertations – for the following of hard-core structuralists I’ve collected over the years.

Keep in mind, it is all about form, not formula.  It is more like studying good graphic design than paint by numbers.

If you are still interested, I can point you at some good videos and articles I’ve created over the years on the basic concepts.  Just let me know.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Fractal Psychology in the Real World

Here is an early article about a new aspect of narrative science I was developing.  It is based on a previous concept from our Dramatica theory of narrative structure called the Storymind.

The Story Mind asserts that every story has a mind of its own, as if it were some sort of mega character with its own psychology and its own personality.  Psychology is the deep structure, just as it is with real people, whereas personality are all the traits and attributes that stand on that foundation and give the story identity, again as with real people.

In the Story Mind theory, characters have two aspects.  First, each represents a facet of the overall mind.  That is their dramatic function, and it is from this function that we derive the archetypes, such as the Protagonist, Antagonist, Reason, and Emotion.

But characters also have their own personal stories as well in which they are complete human beings, each with his or her own psychology.  And so, when we look at an individual character, we can see that the same attributes they use for problem solving within their own minds are fractally represented in the overall Story Mind, each by a different character.

This led to the notion of Fractal Psychology in which when people come together in a group toward a common purpose, they quickly self-organize so that one character becomes the protagonist in the group, another the antagonist, one emerges as the voice of reason and another as the passionate emotion archetype.

Yet beyond that, groups might come together to form larger organizations in which each group becomes an archetype within the larger organization, like departments in a major corporation, each with an identifiable story of its own.

Over the years, this initial concept has continued to evolve in detail and substance.  But the seeds were first planted some five years ago as of this posting, and one of the first articles I wrote about how that theory was evolving is reprinted here:

Fractal Psychology in the Real World

What characters represent in the Story Mind is not their own psychology but rather just the small fragment of that overall entity. Essentially, in the story at large characters are nothing more than automatons – going about their functions as “intelligent agents” controlled from above (by the structure of the story as a whole).

The reason we do not easily see this is because we endow our characters with human qualities so that we might identify with them. In a sense, we must give each character at least a rudimentary psychology of its own in order for the reader or audience to empathize or sympathize with it.

But, that psychology does not drive what the character does in the story – it merely defines its personality. Personality is like subject matter or storytelling; it is not structure and does not give the character any psychology at all when it comes to its objective function in the overall story.

Another reason we do not easily see characters as objective is because of something I call “fractal psychology” (see my video on my Storymind YouTube channel). The concept is that when we gather in groups, we form a larger Story Mind as the underlying organization of that group and each adopt roles in the group that correspond to the objective characters. For example, one of us will take the role of the voice of Reason and another will be the Skeptic.

Just as characters can be subdivided into their component elements, so too, in larger groups, its members will refine their functions and specialize until all the elemental positions are taken. Then, if the group grows larger, something really intriguing happens. Individuals will form smaller story mind groups within the overall group. So, there will be one “click” or “faction” within the group that collectively act as the voice of Reason and another that functions as the Skeptical voice. Within each sub-group (sub-story) are similarly-minded individuals who all share the same basic attitude. BUT – within each sub-group, the individuals will take on other objective roles so that, for example, someone will become the Skeptic within the group that stands for Reason – essentially he or she will function as the Skeptical voice of Reason.

And finally, as the original large overall group encounters other similarly sized groups, each group will take on a function and collectively all the groups will form an even larger mind.

This is Fractal Psychology – a pet theory of mine. It explains why we are all in a constant complex web of interrelationships with our peers, our superiors and our subordinates, sometimes being driven by our own psychologies, but socially always acting as objective characters.

And so, we expect every character to have a psychology when, in fact, stories are not complex enough for that. Stories are about dealing with a single central issue with a single Story Mind and the agents that make it up. In this level of magnitude, the objective characters have no real psychology, and yet the reader or audience will expect it, for they see the story as a slice of real life in which everyone they know, themselves included, has a psychology. We, as storytellers, then humanize our automatons so that we fool the audience, sugar coat the functions to make it appear as if they are fully developed people when they truly are not.

There are, of course, two exceptions to this – the Main Character and the Influence Character. They are special because in addition to their objective functions, they also represent our sense of self and that small “devil’s advocate” voice within us with whom we argue about whether we should stick with the tried and true, even if it appears to be failing, or adopt the new and promising, even though it has never been tested.

So these two exceptional characters need to be fully developed with their own true internal thought processes. But that, alas, is another story……

Melanie Anne Phillips

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Narrative Space in the Real World

In an earlier post I described how the term “narrative space” refers to the breadth and depth of the subject matter from which you will develop a story.  Like a cloud, the subject matter is just the raw material – a nebulous realm in which many story structures might be found.  Think of a story structure as a construct of tinker-toys about the size of a basketball.  And think of a narrative space as your bathtub.  With a tub full of subject matter, you can drop your tinker ball anywhere in it and encircle a different batch of water.  Without changing the structure at all, you can move it just an inch and still change the nature of the particular subject matter you’ll use in making your point.

Now look at it another way.  You have this tub full of subject matter than intrigues you.  You’d love to cram it all into the same story.  But, your ball just isn’t that big.  In other words, you’d need a book the size of an encyclopedia to cover it all, or perhaps a movie 8 days long.  Could it be done, of course!  But should it?  Not if you expect anybody to read it or go see it.

So, you assess your tub.  You’d really like the rubber duck in your story so you put the ball around that.  But, you’d also like that particular lump of suds – it just intrigues you.  You gently push that little bubbly heap into your ball as well.  In fact, you go all over your basin and pull all the water and floating things you’d specifically like into your ball.  Eventually, you can’t get anything new into the ball without pushing something else out.  That is the story equivalent of the speed of light constant.  I call it the size of mind constant, because it describes the maximum size a story can be and still be held at one time in the mind of your reader or audience.

Of course you can always plop another ball into the same tub to gather in a different collection of subject matter.  Thus, by writing a series of books, penning a television series, or hammering out a bunch of movie sequels, you might be able to get almost all the subject matter that interests you covered in one story or another – just not all in the same story!

(Naturally, you could create an over-arcing story structure in which each of the smaller stories becomes just an element in a bigger structure, but then the read or audience won’t be able to see the subject matter detail in the smaller stories at the same time that they appreciate the subject matter in the over-arcing story – just too many degrees of separation or magnitude from the biggest to the smallest to capture in a single glimpse.)

Some of your tinker balls might actually overlap in the tub, like galaxies colliding, in which they each share some elements of story structure.  Others may carve out sections that are completely separated.  And, some may nudge up against each other just close enough to have a topical point of connection.  In the end, though, you need to decide for any given story what subject matter you will include and what you will exclude.  Or, put inversely, you need to determine where in the tub to drop your ball.

Finally, to the point of this particular posting – narrative space in the real world.  By this I do not mean the practical application of story structure in fiction, but the projection of story structure concepts into the actual, physical world of living, breathing people.  Quite a departure, I know.  But recall that Dramatica is a theory of the story mind.  It holds that every story structure is a model of the mind’s problem-solving processes.  Even more, it goes so far as to contend that story structure represents the underlying structure and dynamics of our own minds upon which our unique experiences fashion our singular personalities.

Hey – too talky…  Let me try that a little more conversationally…  What works in story structure works in understanding everyday life as well.  The story mind is the same as our own minds.  It is a fully functional model of how we think – how we organize things in our own heads.  So it should not come as much of a surprise that the way we organize our stories is all the way we organize our lives.

Everything we do in life is represented in stories, at a structural level.  I’m not talking about whether you like red or blue or whether you play football or go bowling – that’s all just subject matter.  (And when I say “just” subject matter, yes I know that is where the passion lies.  We only care intellectually about structure.  In short, our heads are into structure but our hearts are into the subject matter.  Still, we’re talking about the relationship between structure and subject matter here, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter much anyhow.)

Now one person will organize his life in many story structures.  Your life is your tube and you’ll have lots of balls in it – some bigger (up to the size of mind constant, at times) but mostly smaller structures of various sizes.  You’ll have a structure for your parents and one for your kids.  You’ll have a structure for your job and, within that, one for your boss.  You’ll have a structure for your future, one for each hobby, and one for the concept of hobbies in which each smaller structure is an element in the overall concept.

We don’t think about structure, we think in topics and organize in structure.

So, one person will have many nested and isolated structures all bouncing around in his or her head all the time, shifting around the the subject matter of our lives, driven by the passions of our personalities.  But underneath it all, logistically, organizationally, there is sense in the midst of the chaos when you recognize the structures of your life and don’t try to create a “life story” but more like a “life pageant” of the ongoing progression, collision and evolution of all the little stories that make up your pitiful existence.  Oops…  got a little carried away there with the rhetoric….

Point is, one person has many stories.  And within themselves, they can see all the characters you find in stories – the Reason character who represents our intellect, the Emotional archetype who stands for our passion, the Protagonist who is our initiative, the Antagonist (our reticence), the Sidekick (our confidence) the Skeptic (doubt), the Guardian (conscience), and the Contagonist (temptation).

But here’s the fun part – when we get together in groups, us humans take on the role of characters in the group story.  In short, we organize ourselves as part of a a larger group-story because story structure is how we organize.  Sounds recursive, but when you consider that the whole point of stories is to show us how to deal with situations that reflect (at some tiny or grandiose level) our own lives, add to that the notion that story structure evolved because it represents the way we think, and add to that the fact that of course we try to organize our world they way our heads are organized – well then maybe it isn’t so much recursive as it is fractal.  In fact, when I first thought of this concept, I called it “fractal psychology” – that’s my name for it and I’m sticking to it!  (Check out my videos on fractal psychology on YouTube.)

Every time you join a club, participate in a class, get involved in a political party or show up to work, you are taking a role in a bigger story than yourself, but completely like the way your own mind is organized.  So, one of us will be the voice of Reason, another the Emotional (passionate) perspective.  By each taking a role, we cover all the ways we can possibly think about the issues the group faces, we create a “big giant head” a la the old television show Mork and Mindy and populate its roles.

Now if you join an already existing organization, there might not be the position open to which you are best suited.  And, because of seniority (or lack thereof) you have to take a role that isn’t all that natural to you.  But if you don’t, you won’t have a place at the table.  So, you cram yourself into that position as best you can in the hopes that if somebody else leaves or dies or gets kicked out or whatever, when the musical chairs of reorganization occurs you may be able to snag yourself a better seat.

Though these things are always to some degree in flux (like molecules, heated, agitating and vibrating to one extent or another), there is a general inertia to each story system that holds the group together.  In time, like a person, a group may grow old and die, lose its vibrancy, or simply go to pieces.  And then, the pieces will gather together or be sopped up by other groups (again like solar systems forming from the remnants of a super nova) and the process will begin all over.

Now the last notion I’ll lay upon you (hallelujah!) is that even groups gather together in groups.  Cities become States become Nations.  Factions become Movements become Parties.  All of humanity is arranged as nested or separated groups, vibrating and evolving and overlapping as they pass through one another in the great subject matter tub of life.  Seems largely like a mess (if you watch the evening news or try to find a job) but beneath it all, very sound, stable, predictable and consistent patterns are a work, all fractally related to that little bitty brain stuffed into each of our puny heads.  A world within and a world without.

Finally, just to poke the bear one more time, go ahead and write your fictions, shoot your movies, and tell your tales.  But wouldn’t it be interesting to try and apply these same Dramatica principals not only to the realms of your creation but to all creation?  What’s the story with your spouse?  Your job?  Your future?  Which of those countries is the Skeptic in this particular international melee?  How does what happens in my town fit in with what happens in my county, and how does it mesh with the next burg over?

You want to think about it.  You know you do.  (That’s just me falling into the role of Contagonist….)