Latest Blog Posts

The Difference between Timespace and Spacetime

The impact of their relationship on narrative structure

Subtxt is the only narrative structure application that accounts for either Timespace or Spacetime when it comes to the sequencing of events.

Discovered during the development of Subtxt's unique narrative engine and explored in the article Time and Space in Dramatica: Re-writing the Story Limit, this key relationship organzies the order of Progressions and Events within the Transits of a complete story.

Unbeknownst to us, this concept exists elsewhere in the theoretical musings of Dewey B. Larson. His book, Beyond Space and Time is available for download, and though I have yet to read it myself, this introduction in bite-sized TikTok fashion, is intriguing (if nothing else, it'll force me to watch Ms. Marvel).

Visualizing the Main Character Dynamics

More than random stabs in the dark

Main Character Approach

The Main Character Approach Dynamic is the preferred method of resolving conflict for the Main Character. Some will prefer to address the world around them before adapating themselves (Main Character Approach of Do-er). Others would prefer to adapt themselves to the world before trying to address anything external to them (Main Character Approach of Be-er).

This choice is related to the location of the Main Character Throughline in the model of the Storymind.

Do-er

If the Main Character Approach is Do-er then the Main Character Throughline must fall in either the Universe Domain or the Physics Domain.

Universe

Physics

Be-er

If the Main Character Approach is Be-er then the Main Character Throughline must fall in either the Psychology Domain or the Mind Domain.

Psychology

Mind

The top of the model is External (Universe and Physics), the bottom is Internal (Psychology and Mind).

Main Character Growth

The Main Character Growth Dynamic is the relationship between Objective Story and Main Character Throughlines, the relationship between Character and Plot, or the objective point of view of conflict and the subjective point of view of conflict.

Stop

A Stop Dynamic finds the Objective Story Plot and the Main Character Throughline in a horizontal relationship.

Main Character

Objective Story

Objective Story

Main Character

Start

A Star Dynamic finds the Objective Story Plot and the Main Character Throughline in a vertical relationship.

Main Character

Objective Story

Objective Story

Main Character

Using Predictive Narrative Intelligence to Write a Story

More than random stabs in the dark

Part of my plans for 2022 involve weaving GPT-3 text generation into Subtxt. You can see current incarnations of this in apps like sudowrite or LitRPGAdventures. The only difference?

Those apps don't have a Storyform guiding the illustrations. 😊

A Meaningful API Request

Last year, I ran a quick manual test just using the major Transits of Moulin Rouge! and the result was just a little more than encouraging (it was mind-blowing).

Here is the result for reference:

In a futuristic society, a rebel fighter and his lover have just escaped after being held in prison for two years. While attempting to reach the safety of the Rebels, they discover that their relationship has changed--for the worse. They journey to the one place that can help them save their love: The Scarred Lands…where monsters rule.

The lovers intentionally misunderstand the other person. In the first place, they are lovers, and lovers by their nature do not understand what is said to them; they hear only what they wish. For instance lovers talk about "the beauty of nature"; but to lovers themselves the beauty of nature is simply an occasion for talking together. Again, if you call a lover bad-tempered he is not offended: he knows better than anyone that a lover ought to be in a rage at everything which hinders his setting forth or returning to his loved one; when he has no excuse for making a fuss (as in poetry) he

The Lover's Swore : We make love with someone else, Yet they still are ours. The two lovers were asked to be honest about how they felt, but neither could bring themselves to say what was truly on their minds. In the end, they settled for silence.

Their life together was a long one, and they always said they were meant to be together. Now the man is alone, and doesn't know how to go on without his beloved wife. He starts to wonder why he never told her how much he really loved her. He thinks about how he used to talk to her each day at lunch, but then got too busy with work and let their communication slip. One day while staring out the window of his office, he has an epiphany: he'll wait for her under the clock at noon tomorrow. If she's late, it means she didn't get his message because...

For context, the above were sent with just four requests: each an Illustration from Subtxt based on the Thematic Conflict of that particular Transit.

I don't remember the specific Illustrations used, but just from this brief MVP of generating a meaningful narrative one gets that sense of completeness absent in other projects.

Developing Useful Writing Prompts

Of course, it doesn't hurt that many of the writers already using Subtxt are published writers or established in the film industry. Their suggestions and recommendations for writing prompts and creativity-inspired tools take Subtxt to a completely different level.

Today I was working with John Dusenberry, Head of Story at Warner Bros. Animation, on a way to leverage these technologies to better explain and define the difference between an Illustration (Storytelling) and a Source of Thematic Conflict (Storyforming).

The current modal for a Storybeat in Subtxt looks like this:

A Storybeat in Subtxt

As you can see, the Illustration--the superficial storytelling of what is going on, rests above the surface. The Source of Conflict, what drives the Storybeat thematically, lies beneath the surface. This visual relationship between the two is crucial towards understanding how a story works (rather than simply queuing a database of other stories).

Knowing the Illustration to be above surface, I was inspired earlier this week to make a connection in the Storyform to reinforce this idea:

  • the Focus & Direction of a Throughline ends up in an Illustration
  • the Problem & Solution of a Throughline ends up in the Thematic Conflict

Without getting too deep into the woods of Dramatica theory, the Focus and Direction of a Throughline is where awareness and attention is placed, i.e. what is assumed to be the problem of a Throughline. The Problem is where the conflict truly lies with the Solution marking the resolution point.

Asked to develop new writing prompts to facilitate this, I riffed on the First Transit of Simba's Main Character Throughline from The Lion King.

For reference, Simba's First Transit is Progress. His Focus and Direction are Oppose and Support, and his true Problem is Avoid. Translated, these Storypoints mean that in the First Act of a story, Simba will focus on others contradicting or opposing him, and in response will show support for others or hang out with those who support him--while his real problem is that he is driven to Avoid responsibility.

Sounds just like him.

Running the Illustration Prompts manually using the backend of Subtxt directly, I'm came up with the following--just as encouraging as the original Moulin Rouge! test almost a year ago:

First Draft of Meaningful Text Generation

There will be some universal "generation" icon on the right - a spark or something like that - which will reach out and generate something like this:

Simba didn't realize he was going to have to deal with the consequences of his actions when he denied a man's death. He was just trying to be nice.

and if you didn't like that, you could hit it again and get:

Simba always feels like he has to choose between being himself or pleasing his father. He's afraid that if he stands up for himself, his father will disown him. But when he sees someone else standing up for themselves, he feels inspired to do the same.

Behind the scenes, I'm sending out a request for a Focus of Oppose and a Direction of Support within a Context of Progress.

And then I would do the same on the bottom, but just send out a Problem of Avoid within a Context of Progress:

Simba's real problem is that running away from someone moves him in a positive direction. That's why he ran away from his father and his mother. He was always running away, trying to find something better.

Or, even better:

Simba is running away from his problems. He's moving in a positive direction, but he's not really solving anything.

And then when I add Activity, Resistance, and Growth to the request I get:

The problem with running away from someone is that it moves you in a positive direction. That's great if you're trying to get away from the bad guys, but not so great if you're trying to get away from yourself.

I'm calling this Predictive Narrative Intelligence, or PNI, to distinguish it from other projects.

GPT-3 in Subtxt will be more than simply something that writes your story for you, it will be a tool for teaching how how a story works behind the scenes, so you can make the final decision as to what works best for your artistic vision.

And I'm looking forward to installing it into Subtxt sometime later this year.

The Influence Character in The Shape of Water

A reminder of perspective

The Shape of Water has always been particularly problematic to me (I always thought it was a cheap comic-book knock-off of Amelié 😄), so I've always resisted putting it into Subtxt. As I'm going through and updating all the Storyforms, it showed up again, and I knew I had to face it one way or another.

I tried and tried to find a Storyform that worked for me (other than the "official" Dramatica one), and was ready to publish it--until I listened to the podcast recording of the original analysis back in October of 2018.

The hilarious part is that you can actually hear me go through the same kind of cognitive dissonance trying to figure out the Influence Character perspective, only four years earlier. 😆

Thankfully, screenwriter Mike Wollaeger and Dramatica co-creator Chris Huntley were there to tease things out for me.

I found that moment so insightful and so paradigm-shifting that I wanted to make sure it was preserved and elevated to a position of prominence in all the material we have for Dramatica theory, so...

...I just went through and cleaned up that whole part, identified all the speakers, removed the uhms and ahs, and put it together in a nice bite-sized 5-minute chunk of educational goodness.

I hope this helps you better understand how the Influence Character perspective works in Dramatica, but above all--

--I hope I remember this when it pops up again for me five years from now! 😊

The Coincidence of Opposites and Story Structure

An age-old lecture sheds light on the foundation of a meaningful story

While teaching the latest cohort of The 2nd Act Solution, I stumbled upon this lecture from Alan Watts that perfectly described the center of every meaningful story. Entitled Coincidence of Opposites, this brief segment is all you really need to know when laying down the foundation of your latest work:

The vibration Watts speaks of is the mind's recognition of context: of that which surrounds an observable inequity--the same kind of inequity that fuels a story.

So if I may start by insulting your intelligence with what is called the most elementary lesson – the thing that we should have learned before we learned “1 – 2 – 3” and “A – B – C,” but somehow was overlooked. Now, this lesson is quite simply this, that any experience that we have through our senses, whether of sound, or of light, or of touch, is a vibration. And a vibration has two aspects: one called “on,” and the other called “off.” Vibration seems to be propagated in waves, and every wave system has crests and it has troughs.

The two Elements of the Dramatic Argument, the Crucial Elements found in a Dramatica Storyform, are an inseparable pair of Elements that act both as two--and, as one. These two Elements form the foundation of all narrative conflict in a complete story.

And so life is a system of now you see it, now you don’t, and these two aspects always go together. For example, sound is not pure sound; it is a rapid alternation of sound and silence, and that is simply the way things are. Only, you must remember that the crest and the trough of a wave are inseparable. Nobody ever saw crests without troughs or troughs without crests. Just as you do not encounter in life people with fronts but no backs, just as you do not encounter a coin that has heads but no tails. And although the heads and the tails, the fronts and the backs, the positives and the negatives are different, they are at the same time one. And one has to get used, fundamentally, to the notion that different things can be inseparable, and that what is explicitly two can at the same time be implicitly one. If you forget that, very funny things happen. If therefore we forget, you see, that black and white are inseparable, and that existence is constituted equivalently by being and non-being, then we get scared, and we have to play a game called “Uh-oh, Black Might Win.” And once we get into the fear that black – the negative side – might win, we are compelled to play the game, “But White Must Win,” and from that start all our troubles.

Direct link to Coincidence of Opposites

Writing a Dramatic Argument

Clarify the motivating forces behind two points-of-view

When developing a story around a Dramatic Argument, many writers think in terms of opposites...when they should be thinking in terms of dramatic pairs.

Thinking in terms of opposites is always the death of conflict.

Let me explain: 🧵👇

Let's say you have one character who believes strongly in something and another character who lacks the same belief. One character believes they deserve an ice cream, the other doesn't think the same.

Instant conflict, right?

Wrong. 🛑

When they meet, the first will say "It's mine." And the other will say, "I don't believe it is." They'll both nod at each other and say, "To each his own, then." And move on with life.

Boh-ring.

Sure, they could get into a tussle at first, but how long will it last? Maybe a scene or two, but then that's it. The core conflict between them is so weak that it really has nowhere to go.

Why?

Because the belief in something and a lack of belief in something are the same exact thing. They're both looking at Faith as the motivating force behind them.

Faith vs. Faith is not conflict.

If instead you have one coming from a place of Faith and the other coming from a place of Disbelief...well, now you have the start of something very meaningful...

The first will say, "I believe this ice cream is mine" and the second might respond, "Well, commonly held notions of ownership aren't even a real thing..."

NOW you have conflict.

There's no way these two can ever come to an agreement without one giving over to the other.

Which means now you have the basis for an entire story...

This idea of clarifying your story's Dramatic Argument is at the heart of my cohort-based course The 2nd Act Solution.

In six weeks, I take you by the hand through exercises like the one above to help define what it is you want to say with your story, which is the VERY BEST way to not get lost halfway through writing your story.

Enrollment is limited, so reserve your seat now.

Apply to The 2nd Act Solution Cohort

All are welcome! 😃

And I look forward to meeting some of you in the very near future.

Subtxt Podcast Author Wins Big

Writing a podcast that attracts critical acclaim

Writer Daniel Williams, a subscriber to Subtxt, achieved success this year at the New Jersey Webfest 2021.

His podcast, Uncle Walter's Year of Wonder, won both Outstanding Drama Fiction Podcast and Best Writing in a Fiction Podcast! 🎉 👏

Author Daniel Williams accepting his award

Daniel, who has always been appreciative of our work here at Narrative First, had this to say:

I can’t thank you enough for Subtxt and what it’s provided me. I would never have got these without it and Dramatica

You're very welcome, Daniel, and congratulations again. Your win is well deserved. 🚀 😃

Subtxt Without the E

Hidden clues located throughout the app--even the title

Subtxt lost some weight during the most recent rollouts. Beyond making it easier to direct everyone to the same short URL for the app (https://subtxt.app), the X plays a significant role in depicting just what Subtxt does to create your stories.

In its most primitive form, Subtxt models the psychological act of projection. Once a writer sets the various perspectives of a story into place (Main Character, Influence Character, Protagonist, etc.) and clicks “Build a Story”, the app starts swapping those points-of-view. The determination of alternate perspectives often finds one corner exchanging places with another. If you were to draw this exchange on the model, it would appear as an “X”.

Take, for instance, the exchange between the Main Character and Influence Character. Often illustrated as a conversation of “You and I are both alike,” this conflict of interests finds the Main Character projecting his or her issues onto the Influence Character. It’s not my problem, it’s your problem is what happens when we’re too uncomfortable (or blind) to reflect upon ourselves.

Which is why we reach for stories—to help us see what we are unable to see.

As a practical tool for writers to quickly and efficiently build out their stories, Subtxt’s new brand is yet another gentle reminder of why we work so hard to make them great.

Psychological Projection Operating as a Source of Conflict

Our personal vulnerabilities and probability

The Discuss Dramatica forums pose a question about a Motivation of Projection. With Illustrations of Projection covering everything from "figuring out how someone is likely to be exterminated" to "forecasting someone's future, " one wonders whether psychological projection fits into the mix.

The short answer is yes.

Psychological projection is defined as:

Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others. For example, a bully may project his or her own feelings of vulnerability onto the target, or a person who is confused may project feelings of confusion and inadequacy onto other people.

If I project onto you some vulnerability or negative feeling of my own, I am literally projecting my experience onto yours. When issues arise where I assume or imagine some behavior you are most likely go into do, I’m doing that based on my experience with myself. The motivation to damn someone before they’ve done wrong is an attempt to punish oneself for behavior that they themselves see as negative within. Unable to course correct or heal that personal trauma, they externalize and “take it out” on the other person.

If you look to the Parents of Projection (Issues in Dramatica), you'll find Sense of Self, Falsehood, Conditioning, and Destiny:

Sense of Self calls to mind negative self-imagery, as described in the example above. Falsehood encompasses the lies we tell about others, and ourselves, when projecting. Conditioning describes those projections brought about by a lifetime of managing internal pain through external means like personal and interpersonal physical abuse. And lastly, Destiny shrouds those negative connotations of being trapped in a body–or a lifetime–that desires something perceived as negative or illusory. That feeling of being unable to escape and the overwhelm that arises from a path not taken, or even accessible, can lead some to even consider taking the short road out of this life.

In short, a Motivation of Projection finds one driven to do something or be some way because of what will most likely happen based on prior evidence–within and without.

Luke Skywalker and his Motivation of Test

Illustrations of how challenging yourself creates problems

At the bottom of every Main Character's justification for bad behavior rests a Motivation. This Motivation, while seemingly amorphous and given to interpretation, is definitive and recognizable within the context of a Dramatica Storyform.

Life is meaningless--save for the meaning we apply to the thoughts and events that appear before us. Accepting this, one understands that the events within a story posess little to no meaning save what we put into it. The Storyform splits apart meaning into its basic components so that we can better understand how all the parts relate to one another.

Take for instance, Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars, and his Motivation of Test.

Defined as "a trial to determine something's validity, " Luke's drive to stand up to the challenges presented before him creates a lot of personal grief for himself.

Trust rests on the opposite side of the spectrum from Test. Whereas Test requires trial for validity's sake, Trust accepts without validity.

The balance between the two creates an inequity that motivates Luke's Throughline forward:

  • when rescuing R2 Luke is warned of danger nearby. Instead of trusting that information, he grabs his rifle and says let’s go take a look…and then he gets knocked out
  • later in the bar, he’s accosted and told to watch himself. Instead of trusting messed-up nose guy and leaving, Luke meets the challenge head-on with a snappy remark, and then turns his back—which ends up in a gruesome bar brawl
  • instead of trusting that Han can get the job done for an unfair price, Luke opens himself up to scrutiny by saying he can fly the thing himself—which creates an inequity, or imbalance, with the one person he’ll want on his side when he tries his one-in-a-million shot.
  • It’s easier to find these things when you think less in terms of “what is a problem for x?” and more in terms of “what is x driven to do that creates inequity?”