Steadfast Characters and the Crucial Element
Exploring character arc in characters that don't "change."
When it comes to the Crucial Element, Change Main Characters have it easy. They restore balance to the story by either giving away or receiving an element. Makes sense to most authors. But Steadfast Main Characters are a different story entirely. In these kinds of stories, what element is moved? And if the story is about a hole to be filled, which element do we write about?
These were questions I asked about eight years ago. At the time I was writing a story with a Steadfast Main Character, and I was having trouble understanding the connection between the Crucial Element and a Steadfast Main Character. Of course now it makes sense to me, but in case there are people out there who are experiencing the same sort of confusion, I’ll share with you what I learned.
The first thing you should understand is that the Crucial Element is not all that crucial. Even if you don’t completely comprehend its use in a story, chances are it will show up naturally if you have the big pieces of structure in there.
The Storyforming chapter in the theory book is a good place to start:
For a Steadfast Main Character, the imbalance is not seen by him to be between himself and the environment, but wholly within the environment. In this case, the Main Character takes an Element from one place and moves it to another to restore balance. If the story is built around the Element that needs to be moved, the Main Character contains the focus. If the story is built around the hole that needs to be filled, the Main Character contains the direction.
What was not clear to me at first was what element should be moved. Was it the Focus element? And if so, what if the Main Character had the Direction element? Was he supposed to move that one out of the way? I was pretty confused.
The answer to my question came, as it did many times back in those days, in the form of an email response from Armando Saldana Mora (who just so happens to be teaching a class on Dramatica and screenwriting this evening):
It depends on the Story Growth. In a Steadfast-Start story (a hole to be filled) the OS Direction element is used by the main Character to fill that hole (the OS Focus) and thus allow the Solution to take effect and clear the problem.
- OS Problem = Result,
- OS Solution = Process,
- OS Focus = Cause,
- OS Direction = Effect.
“Somehow the economy kept going badly (result) no matter which economic plan the government used (process). So a plan to fight corruption (effect) was instated, allowing a rigid control of the tax money (cause) and until then the economy began it’s way up again.”
Now, in a Steadfast-Stop story (element that needs moving) the Main Character takes the Focus and moves it to it’s proper place, allowing again the Solution to operate.
- OS Problem = Feeling,
- OS Solution = Logic,
- OS Focus = Uncontrolled,
- OS Direction = Control.
“Even though the patient had gone through therapy for more than two years, her relationship with men hadn’t gone better. She was the type who had read all the books on relationships (logic), but still was terribly afraid of men (feeling); ‘I don’t understand men. They’re like animals!’ (uncontrolled) she used to say. At one session the therapist tried another approach ‘and are you afraid of animals?’ she asked. ‘No’ - the patient replied. “Unless they get too near.” A few weeks later she realized she was afraid to set her instincts free (uncontrolled), and the therapy advanced more rapidly.”
Dramatica is so much easier with examples!
I should add that the terms Focus and Direction have been “simplified” to Focus and Response, respectively. They mean the same thing, although the latter terms tend to be more writer-friendly.
The second example may seem a bit confusing. Back then, someone asked, “Does this mean the MC originally did NOT have the Focus element (Uncontrolled in the above example) as one of her characteristics?” Armando replied:
The trick here is that the Therapist is the Main Character, while the Patient is the Obstacle Character.
When the therapist tried another approach (“and are you afraid of animals?) she took the “Uncontrolled” Element and separated it from the “Men are Animals” idea to put into the patient concept of herself (“She was afraid to let her instincts free”), which was its proper place.
To finish this example, once the patient realized that her fear of “letting go” was causing problems, she could then look rationally (logic) at her concept of men. “If I think of them as animals, then that’s all they’ll ever be.”
Now it could be that after reading this post you’re more confused than ever. Hopefully not. I think what helped me was to read through these sorts of things a couple of times and then put them aside.
Actually, that’s not true.
What I did first, was I tried to plug in my storyform into the above example. I can’t remember the exact storyform (or story for that matter), but I simply took the quad of elements from the Objective Story and tried to write a paragraph similar to the ones Armando wrote above. I think this idea of “mimicking examples” with your own story is a powerful one. I know it’s been immensely helpful to me.
Then, once you’ve written a paragraph that seems to flow, put it aside and start writing your own story. More than likely the idea of an element moving out of the way or filling a hole will seep into your own work (and hopefully, make your story stronger).