Moving Beyond the Oppression of Linearity
Understanding the path of much resistance.
Rational thinking reigns supreme in traditional Western culture. The observation of cause and effect fuels our economy and drives the engine of innovation. How impractical is it then, to be burdened with emotion? You would think, by now, these weights of progress to be bred out of us by evolution.
Unless, of course, they serve a significant and meaningful purpose.
A Narrative Model of Linearity
Anytime you lock down the narrative dynamics of a story, you shut out an appreciation of the alternative. This zeroing in on intent is a natural part of writing a story. You can't say everything—only everything appropriate for your particular premise.
But when it comes to explaining the totality of narrative storytelling, reductive philosophies limit the artist and increase the likelihood of self-doubt. If I don't fit naturally into this one particular wedge, am I a wedge at all?
The Hegelian Dialectic describes a small sliver of our human experience with a narrative. The three-step thesis/antithesis/synthesis process works—but from a narrow point-of-view that invites misattribution error and subjective interpretation.
The current model of the Dramatica theory of story offers 32,767 different unique narrative structures. The Hegelian, as practiced for centuries, limits those options to 2,048. That's a bias that shuts out 97% of what is possible.
The Hegelian Dialectic is more than a curse—it's a scourge that devours clears thinking.
To be fair, there isn't anything wrong with being a part of the Hegelian 3%-er Club. Casablanca, Star Wars, The Shawshank Redemption, Good Will Hunting, and The Princess Bride all claimed membership and remain in good standing.
But why limit yourself to this small subset of narrative?
If you want to write about fixing problems, and you hold fast to the idea that solutions exist, then, by all means, sign up.
If, on the other hand, you see the world differently—yet, still want your point-of-view to communicate meaning effectively—then you must seek out a more Holistic approach.
Holistic, Not Holism
When we speak of Holistic problem-solving in the context of the Dramatica theory of story, we're not talking about Linear problem-solving with a broad or holistic mindset (the Marshall Plan referred to in the article, The Illusion of Fixing Problems). Instead, we refer to holism at the root level—the core system at the level of the Preconscious mind.
Think of a mind like a computer. The Preconscious is the root kernel of that mind. This is the boot sector of our inner drive—the part that can't be overwritten or erased.
We refer to it as the Preconscious, because it represents those thought processes that occur before conscious consideration. It colors our perceptions, blinds us to certain circumstances, and protects us through what many refer to as a "fight or flight" system.
The solution of the Marshall Plan describes holistic thought at the level of the Conscious mind. That's two steps removed from the Preconscious (the Subconscious sneaks its way in-between the two). What the Hegelian sees as holistic synthesis is really an understanding preconsciously filtered by Linear cause and effect rationality.
In other words—it's not holistic thinking at all.
Hegelian Dialectic is a Linear interpretation of holism.
An Introduction to the Road Less Traveled
Within the Preconscious level of the mind, the Holistic measures space between two perspectives. This approach resembles our appreciation of the Relationship Story Throughline perspective within a story. Less, "he said/she said" (Hegelian), and more the dynamic between he said, and she said. This space contains direction, growth, flow, and resistance, and the rate of growth within the growth (the delta of the dynamic).
A synthesis is nowhere to be found.
There's a lot of terminology (direction, growth, flow, resistance, rate of growth) there, but I'm wondering what that look like in practical terms?
Holistic problem-solving, by definition, is impractical. In fact, even the idea of "Holistic problem-solving" is a bit of a misnomer, as the Holistic doesn't engage in solving problems.
The Holistic manages imbalances.
For someone set on clearing a forest or collecting rent, managing imbalances is decidedly impractical. For another determined to create a nurturing environment where creativity and personal expression flourish, this approach is a no-brainer.
As someone saddled with a Linear boot-drive, I can only approximate the experience of Holistic thinking at the Preconscious level. I see, and understand, the purpose of intention—but I still find it alien and yes, at times, impractical.
The very best way I found to appreciate this alternate reality is to immerse yourself in Holistically structured narratives. Gaining familiarity with the emphasis on self, over the more practical considerations of accomplishments, develops your awareness of a life without "problems." An experience apart from thesis and antithesis.
A couple of my favorites:
- Moulin Rouge!
- The Farewell
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Leave No Trace
The list goes on and on. And if you're interested, you can find a comprehensive list here in Subtext: Main Character Mental Mindset of Holistic. (Note that the Appreciation of Mental Mindset replaces the misleading Problem-Solving Style found in Dramatica theory.)
A Life without Solutions
When it comes to writing a story with a Holistic-minded structure, I would first ask why?
Is your purpose to replicate the impractical experience of managing balances in an alignment of self? Or are you merely attempting to do something because it's different, and appears more sophisticated than the traditional Linear way of thinking?
Are you trying to do something you're ill-equipped to perform?
The Holistic author writes both Linear and Holistic-structured stories with ease. Comfortable with the notion that all antithesis is genuinely just another thesis, the Holistic transposes solution with equity and goes about her day.
Mention direction, intention, or manifestation to a Linear author, and the only -ion you'll receive in response is mass confusion. A solution isn't a balance—it's a solution.
In your example of The Matrix, you note the premise as: "Address doing right by others by balancing your self-doubts with your personal truth." The keyword here, of course, is "balancing" – accepting that this neither means compromising between the two nor picking a point somewhere between self-doubts and personal truth, what then does "balancing" look like?
Imagine you have self-doubt. Now imagine you believe in yourself. Now imagine both never ever going away.
That's the Holistic appreciation of conflict.
With The Matrix, It really is as simple as bouncing back and forth between the two AND seeing how that juggling act resolves the film's sense of being out-of-alignment.
Just like a Holistic would in real life.
To get a sense of what this feels like, compare the endings of Star Wars and The Matrix. The former ends with a trophy ceremony, the latter with a phone call of intention. Linear thinkers accomplish goals and give themselves awards. Holistic thinkers balance issues and set new intentions. The Purpose of an Ending: Star Wars and The Matrix Revealed dives deeper into this revelatory moment of narrative structure.
A predominantly Holistic thinker wrote in response to my development of The Holistic Premise. Her appreciation of someone finally understanding her thought process is captured in The Holistic Experience of Watching The Matrix.
Lastly, my series on The Holistic Premise offers a comprehensive insight into this other way of seeing the world.
A New Beginning
There is no solution at the root level of the Holistic because there is no such thing as a problem—only inequities that are met with equities (Intentions). This reality drives the final nail into the sarcophagus of the Hegelian Dialectic. How can one continue to espouse a philosophy that effectively shuts out half the population?
Many would-be authors struggle to write their stories. Raised on a system of linear thinking in a world constructed almost entirely by linear thinkers (even the words and letters of this sentence proceed left-to-right in a linear sequence), these writers eventually give up on their dreams. My story is worthless without an antithesis.
Imagine all the stories left behind for fear of not living up to the Hegelian.
That's a real monster.
I meet many Authors who manage to work up the courage to face this beast late in life. They finally feel confident enough to write their story because, for once—someone gets them.
I'm grateful for all this talk and writing about holistic, and this great new way to encode a premise, I believe it's going to encourage and help writers to write holistic stories, thus allowing holistics to understand and appreciate how they solve problems and linears to appreciate and understand how their wives/children/friends/business partners solve problems…I have a dream!
A greater understanding of narrative structure improves the quality of our lives. It helps write better stories—and it helps us right the stories of our lives with one another.