Identifying The Storyform Of A Complete Story
Figure out what it is you want to say and the rest is easy.
Many writers write without any clue as to the relevance of their last scene. Self-doubt and panic sets in the moment they start to question if what they wrote fits in with the rest of their story. A Dramatica storyform erases this skepticism by guaranteeing a purpose-driven approach to scene writing.
Six days a week for nine months? Most view this kind of employment situation untenable. For those us working on completing How To Train Your Dragon in time for its release in 2010, it was an incredible honor and lasting experience. Why?
A singular vision propelled the narrative.
The purpose of this series on Preparing to Write a Complete Story is to help writers strategize an approach for figuring out the basic structure of your story. When you know where the conflict starts, and what is needed to resolve it, it's easy to determine which scenes are necessary and which scenes you can save for another day.
The articles on Identifying the Goal and Consequence of a Complete Story and Identifying the Protagonist and Antagonist of a Complete Story help you determine the forces at work within the conflict of your narrative. Identifying the Domains and Throughlines of a Complete Story and Identifying the Influence Character of a Complete Story aid in positioning the various perspectives on that conflict within your narrative.
Before you fire up the Dramatica Story Expert application and begin making selections, you need to consider what it is you want to say with your story. What message do you want to convey? The answer to this question ties those six steps above into a single hologram of meaning.
This final article in the series gives shape to that hologram through a concept of Dramatica known as the storyform.
Many think of story structure as something you apply to a series of events or a group of characters. They ascribe mythical journeys to these individuals and a set of predetermined cultural beats to log the progression to a higher self.
Not with Dramatica.
As confirmed in the previous articles on Identifying the Influence Character:
A complete narrative is not an investing and compelling account of something that happened–a complete narrative is a cohesive analogy of a single human mind trying to solve a problem. Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre–these are not parts of a story–they’re parts of the human mind.
Learning the important scenes becomes a process of determining that mind.
The storyform is a snapshot of the human mind at work.
If you want to write something meaningful, it’s time to stop fooling yourself. Stop thinking of your characters as real people with real feelings and start seeing them as elements of a single identity. That’s the way to a cohesive narrative.
The Great Debate Over Captain America: Civil War
The impetus for this series rests in the huge debate over the Main Character perspective within Captain America: Civil War. As evidenced by the amount of discussion in the Discuss Dramatica forums on the topic, confusion abounds in regards to this purpose of Dramatica’s storyform.
The storyform is not there to tell you more about your characters or what they’re thinking or what they’re going through–the storyform is there to tell you what your story is about. Problem, Solution, Resolve, and Outcome? These, and the seventy other story points found in a storyform make an argument for how one should approach life:
- Stop testing and start trusting and you can make the world a better place (The LEGO Batman Movie)
- Stop testing and start trusting and you can fight a rebellion against an empire (Star Wars)
- Embrace the good and the bad as if it all balances out in the end and understand the meaning of life (Arrival)
- Embrace the good and the bad as if it all balances out in the end and figure out how to live life in a new city (Inside Out)
The LEGO Batman Movie and Star Wars share similar storyforms. Aside from choices that skew Genre (the former is Dysfunctional Family Comedy, the latter SciFi Action/Adventure), the message of both films is the same: Success comes when you Stop Testing. A Main Character who Changes their Main Character Resolve by Stopping a Main Character Problem of Testing results in a Story Outcome of Success.
Arrival and Inside Out share a similar relationship. Again, discounting Genre selections (one a Sci-Fi Thriller, the other a Dysfunctional Road Trip Comedy), the message communicated by both storyforms is the same: Success comes when you Start seeing Equity (balance). A Main Character who Changes their Main Character Resolve by Starting a Main Character Solution of Equity results in a Story Outcome of Success.
In all four examples, the storyform communicates a message to the Audience. It’s not about Joy or Sadness, or Louise or Heptapod aliens, or Luke Skywalker or Batman–its about the intent behind the creation of the narrative itself.
What is the Author trying to say?
I Don’t Know What I Want to Say
If you don’t know what you want to say, Dramatica can help you with that. You can make selections within the application based on what you have written and wait for Dramatica to respond with choices to round out and complete your argument. Dramatica is the only story structure “paradigm” that can help you do this.
Write what you feel deep inside. Turn to Dramatica to help you uncover what is you’re trying to say.
The storyform defines the edges of an inequity so one can adequately communicate it to someone else.
The Conflict That Cannot Be Spoken
Many writers new to Dramatica grow frustrated over this idea of inequity. Where is it in the model? and How can I figure out the inequity of my story?
Well, you can’t. Because an inequity is not a real thing.
The mind senses an inequity, or imbalance between things, and begins imputing all sorts of problems and solutions to that imbalance. But these problems and these solutions–they’re made up in the mind.
The inequity isn’t a problem.
The mind’s justification process–that’s a problem.
The inequity of a story sits at the center of all four throughlines. It’s not something you can describe or define–if you could, you would call up your friend and tell them. But you can’t, and that’s why you write a story.
An inequity exists between things and as such, can only be approximated by looking at it from the several different viewpoints offered by the various Throughlines. Main Character, Influence Character, Objective Story, and Relationship Story–these are points-of-view on that fundamental inequity.
Note that they’re all looking at the same thing. That shared focus is an important concept to understand when making the final decision for the thematic story points within your narrative. Everything needs to point to the same thing if they’re going to add up to the message you’re trying to prove.
If you don’t have that purpose in mind, you’re going to end up all over the place–as evidenced by that discussion surrounding the Main Character in Captain America: Civil War.
Tying Personal Issues to The Story at Large
Reading through that post, some see Tony Stark (Iron Man) as the Main Character, others see Steve Rodgers (Captain America). The ones who see Tony assuming the position of the Main Character sense the challenging influence brought on by the perspectives of Steve and Peter Parker, and witness the resolution moment where Iron Man chooses for himself what is right and wrong and “eyeballs” a shot at the Winter Soldier.
Those who try to position Steve as the Main Character flounder when it comes to defining a consistent, challenging perspective from an Influence Character. They may insert concerns from the comic book series or their appreciations of the characters, but those understandings exist outside of the work in question. They bring in material inconsequential and, in some respects, contradictory to the singular storymind presented within the film.
No challenge exists for Steve. No moments of consideration. No defining resolution moment that ties his conflict with the external conflict of the Objective Story Throughline. The defining moment of his perspective–the decision to decide whether it was right or wrong to keep Bucky’s past a secret–was made off-screen and out-of-sight.
As presented in the film, this secret was something You did, not something I did.
Tony’s uncontrolled rampage is the kind of thing Zemo hoped for when he set out to split the Avengers. By tying Tony’s personal resolution in with the results of the Objective Story, the Authors prove their message:
When you stop trying to control yourself and start letting go, you split the ties that bind a team together.
Positioning Tony’s perspective within the Main Character Throughline outlines a cohesive storyform that argues the above without equivocation.
The Narrative First Approach to Dramatica
Over the years, I have developed a method for preparing writers and their stories for Dramatica. Before arriving at the one single storyform out of the 32,768 possible storyforms available within the current model, I like to develop a holistic sense of what the Author is trying to say with their story...
...because it’s nice when you can get the narrative first.
My process before opening Dramatica is simple:
- Identify the Initial Inequity (Story Driver)
- Determine what will resolve that initial inequity (Story Goal)
- Determine what happens without resolution (Story Consequence)
- Identify the forces of initiative towards that Goal (Protagonist)
- Identify the forces of reticence away from that Goal (Antagonist)
- Identify the personal point-of-view and its challenger (Main Character Throughline and Influence Character Throughline)
All of this can be done without the Dramatica Story Expert application and within a short amount of time. This series of articles walks you through that process. The key is staying objective and knowing what it is you want to say.
And if you don’t know, say half of it and let Narrative First and Dramatica help you with the other half.
The Disaster of Not Knowing
Imagine the disaster inherent within the animation studio system and without the aid of Narrative First and Dramatica. Not only do you have a situation where everyone vies for the validity of incongruent ideas, but you also have a situation where everyone competes for ideas based on these characters being real people and having real feelings. You don’t have everyone focused on a single mind, and you don’t have everyone focused on a single purpose.
The reason the first How To Train Your Dragon feature ranks superior to the second regarding storytelling is the simple fact that the studio system that bucks against a singular vision didn’t have enough time to intervene. After several misspent years in development, the original directors of the film were taken off, and Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders were brought in to save the day.
In three months, Dean and Chris tossed out the original book, cast Toothless as a giant and appealing character,1 and reworked the entire film into something everyone loves.
The second film? Not so much. And it’s a shame–Dean’s original pitch for the next movie in the series generated high emotional impact–because it was based on a robust and complete storyform. Unfortunately, with the second, the luxury of time worked against the production. With much riding on the series, studio executive and managers stepped in, reworked the story, and excised what used to work for the first film.
The original How To Train Your Dragon represented a singular vision–not from one person, but from two people sharing a common purpose. With Dean and Chris tuned into the same storymind, we worked those six day weeks with passion and with gratefulness–because we knew we were working towards something meaningful.
You can experience that same kind of passion by determining the storyform of your own story.
The Purpose of a Complete Story
Everything they told you about story in the past is wrong. McKee was wrong. Snyder was wrong. Syd Field was wrong. And so was Campbell and anyone who bought into the whole idea of the Hero’s Journey.2
Even Aristotle had it wrong.
A story is not something built with structure. A story exists because of structure.
Stories exist because of who we are.
A complete story is a functioning model of the human mind at work. Characters aren’t real people; they’re representations of the forces of motivation within the mind. Plot isn’t something that happens to characters or because of characters–plot is how the mind goes about solving the current problem. And Theme? Theme isn’t what you want to say with your story, theme models the evaluation processes going on within the mind.
The storyform–that’s what you want to say with your story.
The Narrative First method for identifying and dealing with the central inequity of your narrative is your first step towards nailing down that purpose and intent behind your story.
Your next is to write the damn thing.