Blog Post

No Compromise Found In Great Stories

Mar 15th, 2016

In Dramatica there is a concept of story known as the Main Character Resolve. Compared to the other seventy-plus story points, this one is perhaps the most important. It sets the meaning of the story by giving purpose to the eventual outcome. Mess this story point and your narrative will be confused at best.

The Main Character's Resolve can go one of two ways--either he or she will have Changed their Resolve in such a way that they now approach problems differently than they did in the beginning of the story or they will have Remained Steadfast and continue to attack problems the way they always have. The compelling dynamic here rests with the other principal character in the story, the Influence Character. The Resolve of the Influence Character will be the inverse of the Main Character. If the Main Character's Resolve is Changed then the Influence Character's Resolve will Remain Steadfast (While We're Young, Nebraska, and Short Term 12). If the Main Character's Resolve is Steadfast then the Influence Character's Resolve will have Changed (Nightcrawler, Whiplash, and Ida).

Great stories work out this way because great stories work the way we work, or more specifically--the way our minds work. Faced with an inequity (the source of conflict) we choose one side or the other of the equation. The results inform us whether or not the approach was appropriate so we can adjust accordingly the next time around.

Stories give us an external model of that process.

The Lack of Compromise

Some struggle with this dynamic when first they encounter it. What about stories where both characters meet in the middle? Aren't those stories valid? They are--but they're not stories. Disney/Pixar's Brave is a perfect example of what happens when you have both characters meet in the middle: you get muddle. As discussed in the article The Schizophrenic Stories of Pixar's Brave:

The Main Character and Influence Character of a story represent unique points-of-view on the same thing. This is why you frequently come across the clichéd line of dialogue "You and I are both alike." The conflict exists between these two characters because they're both looking at the same thing. One side has their approach, the other has theirs.

Typically when someone sees compromise between the two principal characters of a story they are either viewing a broken narrative or they're confused over the conflicting issues at heart between these two characters. This is what happens with most analysis of Pixar's Toy Story; they think Woody becomes less selfish and Buzz stops thinking of himself as a Space Ranger. They're right about the latter but not about the former:

Contrast this with Woody who matures into his point-of-view. At the beginning of the story Woody tells Buzz, “It doesn’t matter how much we’re played with—what matters is that we’re here for Andy when he needs us.” Now, he only sort of believes this at the start. One gets the sense that Woody is slightly patronizing the other toys. Nevertheless this is what he believes. This is his point-of-view.

In regards to the central issue of toy or not, Buzz & Woody sit on opposite sides. Woody thinks being a toy is the best, Buzz knows he is a Space Ranger. Woody maintains that Resolve in the end. It breaks down as it often does with a Steadfast character, but that Resolve remains the same:

This perspective grows over the course of the story until it becomes so strong that Woody is willing to risk everything to make it happen. It feels like a “change” because he has accepted how much of a selfish jerk he has been to everyone, but it’s really more an acceptance of his original point-of-view. In order to change his resolve—or “flip” his perspective the way Dramatica inteprets a character’s Change of Resolve—he would have to disavow Andy and claim his own identity. He would have had to adopt Buzz’s dysfunctional point-of-view. This is how a story works and this is not what happened.

Learning a New Paradigm of Story

There is no compromise in Toy Story, there is no meeting in the middle. As Dramatica Story Expert Mike Wollaeger puts it so aptly in this thread on Discuss Dramatica:

Dramatica is hard, and one of the biggest hurdles is learning to see story is a new way. [...] Dramatica is not an improvement on other story paradigms. It is a different paradigm, requiring different ways of approaching a story.

The greatest difficulty with learning Dramatica is letting go of the old ways of looking at story. Authors must Change their Resolve on this issue of narrative paradigms for there to be any true growth; Remaining Steadfast will only lead to tragedy...and unfortunately for us--bad storytelling.