The Lingering and Lasting Effects of a Story's Outcome
A discovery out of left field ignites the development of new story theory.
Developing the next iteration of the Dramatica theory of story requires one to look at a story in a particular way—a perspective off the beaten path of the theory's previous two-and-a-half decades. We trade a structural view of the structure for a dynamic view of structure—one that measures the power coursing through the meaning of a narrative.
In my blog series Mornings with Melanie, I document my research and development into building out a dynamic model of Dramatica. The current model of the Storymind, the one in place since 1994, focuses on the substance and meaning of a narrative. The Narrative Argument found in Subtext codifies this meaning into a simple sentence, focusing on thematic argument present in a story.
While I planned on taking my time developing these new concepts of story, my experience with finishing the first season of Wanderlust prompted a surprising shift in gears.
The following is my entry in today's journal.
Uncovering the Hidden Half of a Dynamic Quad
Skipping ahead this morning. 😃
After finishing the first season of Wanderlust last night, I confirmed my thoughts surrounding the Co-Dynamic Pair to the Story Outcome.
MAJOR Spoiler Alert: A Dramatica storyform represents all the thematic content of a narrative, from beginning to end. If you haven’t seen Wanderlust, you owe it yourself and to the creators to experience it without knowing the ending.
In the last chapter of Melanie’s book on Narrative Dynamics, she posits the idea that the Dynamic Questions we know and love—like Main Character Resolve, Main Character Approach, Story Driver, and so on—are incomplete.
My best guess was that, like the four item[s] in any quad, you can only see one foot, while the other is in a different family. So, from a structural view of structure, you can only see half of each of the dynamic quad
The other half of the quad is seen from the Dynamic view of Structure—our current focus.
Constricting or Loosening
Melanie goes on to describe her first Co-Dynamic Pair discovery, the other “half” of the Story Continuum:
Simply put, while the current pair of Timespace and Spacetime describe narratives that are brought to a conclusion by running out of time or running out of options, the new pair describes narratives that, at the conclusion, find time or option (space) constrictions to be becoming tighter or looser. In essence, are time or space opening up into more possibilities or are they closing down into fewer?
This paragraph alone warrants several more posts to unpack, but before we get there, I want to share my own discovery made clear last night.
The second discovery made later in the early morning hours requires a bit more time to confirm its accuracy.
The Degree of an Outcome
What Melanie alludes to, but never completes, is the Co-Dynamic Pair to the Story Outcome.
In the current model, this Dynamic question asks Does the narrative end in Success or Failure? Do the “good guys” win, or do they lose?
As Melanie describes, the other half of this Dynamic Quad focusing on Outcome measures the degree of Success or Failure.
What's more, is it a permanent success/failure or a temporary one?
Left hanging at the end of her book for an answer, I set out to discover a solution on my own.
A Structural View Measures Substance
At first, I thought the pair would be Permanent/Temporary—
—until I realized that those two still measure the substance of the narratives meaning, not the power that runs through it.
We want the flow, or energy, of Success or Failure through the dramatic circuit of the narrative.
Not it's stasis at the end.
Instead, we want to know the power of that outcome and appreciate it as a process.
Is it Lingering or Lasting?
Measuring the Processes of Meaning
At the end of the first season of Wanderlust, the good guys “succeed.” Every relationship manages to find a way to reinvent itself, bringing a Successful Outcome to the Story Goal of Conceiving.
The question is: for how long?
If this were a powerful circuit, one with loads of energy behind it, one would see examples of lasting relationships forming on-screen.
This isn’t the case with Wanderlust.
In fact, with one slight exception (the lesbian couple), the Author dials back the degree of Success in the core relationships.
Jason and Celeste set off on a backpacking trip—yet, Jason hesitates, deciding to bring a photo of his ex-wife with him. Joe and his high-school sweetheart sputter in getting things off. And Joy, while accepting her relationship with Alan anew, finds success disconcerting.
The result is the sensation that yes, while they “won” this round, the success they achieve is fleeting and only temporary.
The power behind their Success is Lingering.
Measuring the Level of an Outcome
Measuring permanence or the temporal nature of an outcome is still weighing the state of a narrative. Measuring the levels of energy as they dissipate or increase measures the process of a narrative's meaning.
And with that, I made my first Dramatica discovery:
The Co-Dynamic Pair to the Story Outcome is Lingering/Lasting.
A Lingering Outcome, whether Success or Failure, wanes as it defines the meaning of a narrative. A Lasting Outcome magnifies and elevates the substance of a story, increasing relevancy as the Storymind processes the purpose.
Contrast the Lingering quality of Success found in Wanderlust with the Lasting Success of Star Wars or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The energy behind those Successes grows, increasing in power beyond the final frame.
The same distinction arises with stories that end in Failure.
Corruption in the LA police department is a Lasting Failure, as seen in L.A. Confidential. The failure of Andy to fit in with the fashion industry in The Devil Wears Prada is a Lingering Failure. The energy of that failure dissipates such that the failure to achieve factors little into the final analysis.
Note that both of these stories feature a Story Judgment of Good, lest you think the emotional judgment somehow leaks over into this assessment of power.
The current Dramatica model measures potential and substance. This new Dynamic view of Structure model measures the power, or velocity, of a dramatic circuit.
And that power Lingers, or it Lasts—as a measure of that process of power.