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The Theory of Story

The Theory of Story


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Published by Ramsubramani

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Published by: Ramsubramani on Jan 01, 2009
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There is only one Main Character in a story. Why is this? Because each complete
story is a model of the Story Mind which reflects our own minds, and in our minds we
can only be one person at a time. At any given moment, we have a position in our own
thoughts. Our state of mind in regard to a particular problem reflects the biases of the
position on which we stand. If a story is to fully involve an audience, it must reflect this
point of view.

What Is the Story Mind?

Dramatica is built on the concept that the structure and dynam-
ics of a story are not random, but represent an analogy to a single
human mind dealing with a problem. We call this concept the Story
Mind. A Story Mind is not a character, the author, or even the
audience, but the story itself. It's as if the audience's experience of
a complete story were like looking inside of someone's head. Every
act and scene, the thematic progression and message, the climax,
plus all the characters and all that they do represent the parts and
functions (or thoughts if you will) of the Story Mind.
A complete story successfully argues all possible sides of its
message, thus it will address all the possible human perspectives
on that specific issue. That is how the structure and dynamics of a
single story create a single Story Mind. This is also why characters
are common elements in all stories, along with theme, plot, acts
and scenes. Each of these represent the way in which essential
human psychology is recreated in stories so that we can view our
own thought processes more objectively from the outside looking in.

Now before we go on, it is important to note that there can be many Main Characters
in a completed work, but there will be only one Main Character in a completed story.
This is because a work is the finished product an author puts before an audience, and
may contain a single story, several stories, or several partial and complete stories all
woven together or at least nestled in the same fabric of storytelling. This means that a
book or a movie, a stage play or teleplay, may have no Main Character at all, or it may
have many. But for any single story in that work, there will be only one Main Character.
A Grand Argument Story does not allow the audience to stand in the shoes of every
character, every Element, and see what the story looks like from there. Such a work
would simply be too big to handle. Rather, the purpose of a Grand Argument Story is to
determine if the Main Character is looking at the problem from the right place, or if he
should change his bias and adopt another point of view instead.

Dramatica, A New Theory of Story -- Copyright (c) 1993 - 2001 Screenplay Systems Inc. All Rights Reserved


An Alternative Point of View

There is also one other very special character who represents the argument for an
alternative point of view. The character who spends the entire story making the case for
change is called the Impact Character, for he acts as an obstacle to the direction the
Main Character would go if left to his own devices.
As with each of us, the last thing we tend to question when examining a problem is
ourselves. We look for all kinds of solutions both external and internal before we finally
(if ever) get around to wondering if maybe we have to change the very nature of who we
are and learn to see things differently. We can learn to like what we currently hate, but it
takes a lot of convincing for us to make that leap.
When a Main Character makes the traditional leap of faith just before the climax, he
has explored all possible means of resolving a problem short of changing who he is.
The Impact Character has spent the entire story trying to sell the Main Character on the
idea that change is good, and in fact, pointing out exactly how the Main Character ought
to change. The clock is ticking, options are running out. If the Main Character doesn't
choose on way or the other, then failure is certain. But which way to go? There's no
clear cut answer from the Main Character's perspective.

A History of Success

The Main Character came into the story with a tried and true method for dealing with
the kind of problem featured in the story. That method has always worked for the Main
Character before: it has a long history. Suddenly, a situation arises where that standard
approach doesn't work, perhaps for the first time ever. This marks the beginning of the
story's argument. As the story develops, the Main Character tries everything to find a
way to make it work anyway, holding out in the hope that the problem will eventually go
away, or work itself out, or be resolved by the tried and true method.
Along the way, the Impact Character comes into the picture. He tells the Main Char-
acter there is a better way, a more effective approach that not only solves the same
problems the Main Character's tried and true method did, but solves this new one as
well. It sounds a lot like pie in the sky, and the Main Character sees it that way. Why
give up the old standby just because of a little flak?
As the story develops, the Impact Character makes his case. Slowly, an alternative
paradigm is built up that becomes rather convincing. By the moment of truth, the long-
term success of the old view is perfectly balanced by the larger, but as of yet untried,
new view. There is no clear winner, and that is why it is a leap of faith for the Main
Character to choose one over the other.

Dramatica, A New Theory of Story -- Copyright (c) 1993 - 2001 Screenplay Systems Inc. All Rights Reserved


Main Character Resolve: Does the Main Character ultimately
Change or Remain Steadfast?

In completely empathizing with the Main Character of a story,
we practically become this person. There are certain dynamics we
expect to be able to determine about a Main Character as part of
experiencing things from his point of view. One of these is called
Main Character Resolve.
Main Character Resolve answers the question "Does the Main
Character ultimately Change or Remain Steadfast?" At the begin-
ning of the story the Main Character is driven by a particular motiva-
tion. When the story ends, he will either still be driven by the same
motivation (Steadfast) or have a new motivation (Change).
Main Character Resolve really describes the relationship be-
tween the Main Character and the Impact Character. The impact of
the Impact Character is what forces the Main Character to even
consider changing. If the Main Character ultimately does change, it
is the result of the Impact Character's effect on the Main
Character's perspective. If, on the other hand, the Main Character
remains steadfast, then his impact on the Impact Character will
force the Impact Character to change.

Some Examples:
Star Wars:

Main Character: Luke Skywalker (Change)
Impact Character: Obi Wan Kenobi (Steadfast)

The Story of Job:

Main Character: Job (Steadfast)
Impact Character: The Devil (Change)

To Kill A Mockingbird: Main Character: Scout (Change)
Impact Character: Boo Radley (Steadfast)

The Fugitive:Main Character: Dr. Richard Kimble (Steadfast)
Impact Character: Agent Gerard (Change)

It should be noted that the Impact Character need not even know he is having that
kind of effect on the Main Character. He may know, but he may easily not even be

Dramatica, A New Theory of Story -- Copyright (c) 1993 - 2001 Screenplay Systems Inc. All Rights Reserved


aware. Main Characters are defined by the point of view, Impact Characters by the
impact on that point of view.

A Leap or a Creep?

As a final thought in this brief introduction to Subjective Characters, the "leap of
faith" story is not the only kind that occurs. Equally reflective of our own mind's pro-
cesses is the slow change story where the Main Character gradually shifts his perspec-
tive until, by the end of the story, he is seen to have already adopted the alternative
paradigm with little or no fanfare.
Usually, in such stories, a particular dramatic scenario occurs near the beginning of
the story and is then repeated (in some similar manner) near the end. The Main Char-
acter reacted one way in the first scenario and then the audience gets a chance to see if
he responds the same way again or not. In the Slow Change story, the Main Character
may never even realize he has changed, but we, the audience, are able to evaluate the
worth of the journey the Main Character has been through by seeing whether the Main
Character has been changed and whether that is for better or worse.
In our current Western culture, especially in Hollywood-style motion pictures, the
leap of faith story is favored. In other media and cultures, however, the Slow Change
story predominates. In theory, each reflects the way our minds shift belief systems:
sometimes in a binary sense as a single decisive alternation, and other times in an
analog sense as a progressive realignment.

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