11 Years of Narrative First
Jul 1st, 2016
Eleven years ago I sat in Steven Spielberg's private theater and watched his version of War of the Worlds. The event was the result of a contest I won while working as an animator at Dreamworks. Having grown up on E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark I entered the theater with wide eyes, full of hope and happiness. I grabbed a small bag of popcorn from the convenience bar and plopped myself down front row and center.
Two hours later my hopes were smashed, my enthusiasm dashed. How on Earth could the master of cinema end a story with a Deus Ex Machina? I mean, he had done it nine years earlier with Saving Private Ryan, why hadn't he learned his lesson?
And that's when I got the idea to start this site.
In the two years that preceeded that night I ran a successful and popular character animation blog called Seward Street[^domain]. But after two long years of writing about arcs and squash and stretch and Milt Kahl, the animation blogging phenomenon had run its course and I needed something new.
Enter the New
In 1996 I stumbled across a theory of story that so was succint and complete in its understanding that it made everything else look ridiculous and childish in comparison. I had been to a Robert McKee Story Seminar. I read Campbell's Hero's Journey and pretty much everything else written about the art of storytelling. When bookstores used to be a thing, I would love to visit the Creative Writing section and hope to find some new understanding, some new insight into the world of story.
The Dramatica theory of story was what I had always been searching for.
I went to one of Screenplay Systems free Dramatica Users Group meetings for the film Breaking Away and I have been every month ever since--twenty years in all.
I have no idea why Dramatica isn't popular or more readily understood. Or why someone like Steven Spielberg wouldn't know someone who knows Dramatica who could tell him how broken the Relationship Story Throughline was in that story and why you can't just end a story because.
So I took it upon myself to be that someone.
Putting Myself Out There
I was terrified to hit publish on the Typepad blog post I had written for War of the Worlds. At the time I found it extremely controversial and thought for sure I would be destroying any chances in the future of ever working in the industry. Turns out, people in the indsutry appreciate and actually encourage dissension and opposition.
Reading my analysis of War of the Worlds today I can tell how much I was holding back and how calculated I was in my wording. There was NO way I would have copped to being wrong or corrected myself the way I did with my analysis of Zootopia this week.
If there is one thing I have learned in the past ten years it is that it is better to be accurate than it is to be wrong. I was wrong about the original storyform for The Sixth Sense (he was a
Be-er not a
Do-er, duh!), wrong about the Main Character Resolve for the Polish film Ida (alright, she's Steadfast!), and wrong about the Throughlines for Zootopia.
But I wasn't wrong about War of the Worlds.
And I'm still not.
The Evolution of a Psychology of Story
In the beginning this site was called daily dramatica. Finding it close to impossible to write everyday I began searching for a new name, and landed upon Story Fanatic. For seven years I ran under that moniker until--after being let go from Dreamworks during one of their great purges of the 2010s--I came up with what I consider to be the perfect brand for what it is I do here: Narrative First.
I switched from Expression Engine to Statamic so I could write blog posts in plain text files on my iPhone. And I began laying the foundation for what would eventually become a successful story consultancy. In 2013, thanks to the not-so-gentle encouragement of my girlfriend, I took on my first client (thanks, Dave!) and the rest is history.
Now my clients run the gamut from amateur novelists to professional well-respected and popular novelists, studnets to executive producers to acclaimed directors, show-runners for high-profile television shows, professional commedians on the rise, and screenwriters for major studios. Each and every one of them found something of value in my articles and analyses and blog posts. Each and every one of them simply wants to know story better.
In May of 2016 I left my 23-year career as an animator/storyboard artist/director behind and committed myself 100% to this business. The difference is palpable and its almost as if everyone was waiting for me to finally take myself seriously. Well I am serious about what I do and serious about helping writers, producers, and directors better understand the psychology behind a successful and effective narrative.
In other words, I am here to help you write a great story.
To Those Who Enjoy My Particular Take on Story
In a way, everything I have been doing has been leading up to this point. The hundreds of articles in the archives, the weekend workshops, the books, the analyses, the Mentorship Program, the RoadMaps, and the Dramatica Guru Consulting. They all began when I took a chance putting my opinion about War of the Worlds out there.
But they really only made a difference when they were shared by you and embraced by you. To everyone who has ever written a kind word about an article I have written, I thank you. To everyone who has taken the time to correct my grammar and ask me what business I have writing about writing when I clearly can't write, I thank you.
But I really want to thank those of you who took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to help you out in the crafting of your own personal stories. It gives me no greater thrill then to see that look in someone's eyes when they finally get a certain aspect of story and they find a way to incorporate it into their own writing. Watching and encouraging someone's sense of story to grow is most certainly my life's purpose...and I thank you for making that a reality.
Things will be much different here in ten more years I suspect. Technology will change, systems to communicate Dramatica will change. But always at the center of it will be the relationship between the mentor and the student. I know that relationship will always be at the heart of our own narratives together.
Thanks again for everything.
[^domain]: A domain since stolen by someone else and held hostage for $3G.