What if your story had a mind of it's own, as if it were a character unto itself with its own personality, its own psychology?
Suppose your characters were seen as the conflicting drives of this "Story Mind," theme as its troubled value standards, plot as its efforts to resolve its problems, and genre as the Story Mind's overall personality?
More importantly, what if you could psychoanalyze your story's mind to learn who your characters should be, what thematic issues you should explore, how your plot should unfold, and what unique twists define your story's genre?
In this book you'll learn about all facets of the Story Mind. You'll find out how to create a personality profile for your story and to use it as a map to exactly what your story is about and what happens in it.
Structure Vs Passion
The Story Mind approach to story is a structural one. But no one reads a book or goes to a movie to enjoy a good structure. No author writes because he is driven to create a sound structure. Rather, audiences and authors come to opposite sides of a story because of their passions - the author driven to express his, and the audience hoping to ignite its own.
What draws us to a story in the first place is our attraction to the subject matter and the style. As an audience, we might be intrigued by the potential applications of a new discovery of science, the exploration of newly rediscovered ancient city, or the life of a celebrity. We might love a taut mystery, a fulfilling romance, or a chilling horror story.
As an author what inspires us to write a story may be a bit of dialog we heard in a restaurant, a notion for a character, a setting, time period, or a clever twist of plot we’d like to explore. Or, we might have a deep-seated need to express a childhood experience, work out an irrational fear, or make a public statement about a social injustice.
No matter what our attraction as audience or author, it is our passions that trigger our imaginations. So why should an author worry about structure? Because passion rides on structure, and if the structure is flawed or even broken, then the passionate expression from author to audience will fail.
When structure is done properly, it is invisible, serving only as the carrier wave that delivers the passion to the audience. But when structure is flawed, it adds static to the flow of emotion, breaking up and possibly scrambling the passion so badly that the audience gets nothing of what the author was sending.
Yet, the attempt to ensure a sound structure is an intellectual pursuit. Questions such as "Who is my Protagonist?" "Where should my story begin?" "What happens in Act Two?" or "What is my message?" force an author to turn away from his passion and embrace logistics instead.
As a result, an author often becomes mired in the nuts and bolts of storytelling, staring at a blank page not because of a lack of inspiration, but because he can't figure out how to make his passion make sense.
Worse, the re-writing process is often grueling and frustrating, forcing the author to accept unwanted changes in the flow of emotion for the sake of logic. So what is an author to do? Is there any way out of this dilemma?
In the pages that follow, you'll discover a new way of writing stories - a method that allows an author to retain his passion even while serving the demands of structure. This system can be used either before you write to know exactly where things will be going or after you write to find and refine the structure already hidden in your passion.
You won't be asked to discard any techniques or approaches you are currently using. Rather, you'll simply be adding to what you already know, to what you are already doing; extending your understanding of how stories really work and how to write them.
So join me on an expedition into the new world of the Story Mind. The risks are low, the potential rewards are great, and all you need to carry with you is your own passion.
Introducing the "Story Mind"
This book is entitled, "The Story Mind." and as described above, the Story Mind is a way of looking at a story as if all the characters were facets of a larger personality, the mind of the Story itself.
To illustrate, imagine that you stepped back from your story far enough that you could no longer identify your characters as individuals. Instead, like a general on a hill watching a battle, you could only see each character by his function:
There's the guy leading the charge - that's the Protagonist. His opponent is the Antagonist. There's the strategist, working out the battle plan - he's the Reason archetype. One soldier is shouting at the pathos and carnage - he's the Emotion archetype.
The structure of stories deals with what makes sense in the big picture. But characters aren't aware of that overview. Just like us, they can only see what is around them and try to make the best decisions based on that limited view. And so characters must also be real people as well, with real drives and real concerns.
Characters, therefore, have two completely different jobs: They must act according to their own drives and desires and also play a part in the larger mosaic of the story as a whole. The trick is to create a story in which these two purposes work together, not against each other.
As individuals, each character must be fully developed as a complete human being. As cogs in the Great Machine, they must each fulfill a function. So, when we develop our characters we need to stand in their shoes, make them real people, and express ourselves passionately through each of their points of view. But when we develop our story's structure, we must ensure that each character fulfills his, her, or its dramatic purpose in the story at large.
It is that larger purpose that we call the Story Mind. As previously described, the Story Mind is like a Super Character that generates the personality of the overall story itself, as if it were a single, thinking, feeling, person. So, in addition to being complete people, each of our characters also represents a different aspect or facet of a greater character, the Story Mind.
For example, the Reason archetype represents the use of our intellect. The Emotion archetype illustrates the impact of our feelings. Individually as supposedly real people, they each employ both Reason and Emotion in regard to their own personal issues. But when it comes to the central issue of the story - the message issue that is the essence of what the overall story is about - then one of these two Characters will attempt to deal with that issue solely from a position of Reason and the other solely from the position of Emotion.
This is why we, the audience, see characters simultaneously as real people and also by their dramatic functions, such as Protagonist and Antagonist. Regarding their own concerns, characters are well rounded. Regarding the overall concern of the story as a whole, they are single-minded. Collectively, they describe the conflicting motivations or drives of the Story Mind.
But characters are only part of the story. As we shall see, Plot, Theme, and Genre are represented in the Story Mind as well. For now, suffice it to say that the Story Mind is the character of the story itself.
Why a Story Mind?
Before asking any writer to invest his or her time in a concept as different as the Story Mind, it is only fair to provide an explanation of why such a thing should exist. To do this, let us look briefly into the nature of communication between an author and an audience.
Tales vs. Stories
When an author tells a tale, he simply describes a series of events that both makes sense and feels right. As long as there are no breaks in the logic and no mis-steps in the emotional progression, the structure of the tale is sound.
Now, from a structural standpoint, it really doesn't matter what the tale is about, who the characters are, or how it turns out. The tale is just a truthful or fictional journey that starts in one situation, travels a straight or twisting path, and ends in another situation.
The meaning of a tale amounts to a statement that if you start from "here," and take "this" path, you'll end up "there." The message of a tale is that a particular path is a good or bad one, depending on whether the ending point is better or worse than the point of departure and perhaps whether or not the result was worth the journey.
This structure is easily seen in a vast majority of familiar fairy "tales." Tales have been used since the first storytellers practiced their craft. In fact, many of the best selling novels and most popular motion pictures of our own time are simply tales, expertly told.
In a structural sense, tales have power in that they can encourage or discourage audience members from taking particular actions in real life. The drawback of a tale is that it speaks only in regard to that specific path.
But in fact, there are many paths that might be taken from a given point of departure. Suppose an author wants to address those as well, to cover all the alternatives. What if the author wants to say that rather than being just a good or bad path, a particular course of action is the best or worst path of all that might have been taken?
Now the author is no longer making a simple statement, but a "blanket" statement. Such a blanket statement provides no "proof" that the path in question is the best or worst, it simply says so. If the blanket statement reflects popular assumptions, it might be accepted at face value. But, if the blanket statement diverges from conventional wisdom or expectation, an audience is not likely to accept such a bold claim, regardless of how well the tale is told. It will demand to be convinced; it will demand proof.
In the early days of storytelling, an author related his tale to his audience in person. Should he aspire to manipulate his audience by making a blanket statement that conflicted with the norm, the audience would likely cry, "Foul!" and demand that he prove it on the spot.
Someone in the audience might bring up an alternative path that hadn't been included in the tale. The author could then counter that rebuttal to his blanket statement by describing how the path proposed by the audience was not as strong as the path he did include. One by one, he would disperse any challenges to his tale until he either exhausted the opposition or was overcome by an alternative he couldn't dismiss.
But as soon as stories began to be recorded in media such as song ballads, epic poems, novels, stage plays, screenplays, teleplays, and so on, the author was no longer present to defend his blanket statements. If he were to convince his audience of his point of view he must anticipate all reasonable challenges that might arise to his blanket statement and incorporate them in his presentation in advance. In fulfilling this new requirement, authors pushed the tale format forward beyond the blanket statement until it became a new art form we call the story.
A story is a much more sophisticated form of communication than a tale, and is in fact a revolutionary leap forward in the ability of an author to make a point. Simply put, a tale is a statement, a story is an argument.
Now this puts a huge burden of proof on an author. Not only does he have to make his own point, but he has to prove (within reason) that all opposing points are less valid. Of course, this requires than an author anticipate any objections an audience might raise to his blanket statement. To do this, he must look at the situation described in his story and examine it from every angle an audience might consider in regard to that issue.
By incorporating all reasonable (and valid emotional) points of view regarding the story's message in the structure of the story itself, the author has not only defended his argument, but has also included all the points of view the a person would normally take in examining that central issue. In effect, the structure of the story now represents the whole range of considerations a human mind would make if fully exploring that issue.
As each of the points of view is explored and the argument is made, the structure of the story begins to resemble a map of the mind's problem solving processes, and (without any intent on the part of the author) has become a Story Mind. The more accurately the story's structure represents the Story Mind, the more powerful the story's argument.
And so, the Story Mind concept is not really all that radical. It is simply a short hand way of describing that all sides of a story must be explored to satisfy an audience. And, and if this is done, the structure of the story takes on the nature of a single character.
Armed with this information we are now prepared to examine the nature of the Story Mind, and to see how we might apply what we discover to meet the demands of a logical structure without sacrificing our passion.
What's In Your Story's Mind?
As with people, your story's mind has different aspects. These are represented in your Genre, Theme, Plot, and Characters. Genre is the overall personality of the Story Mind. Theme represents its troubled value standards. Plot describes the methods the Story Mind uses as it tries to work out it's problems. Characters are the conflicting drives of the Story Mind.
To an audience, every story has a distinct personality, as if it were a person rather than a work of fiction. When we first encounter a person or a story, we tend to classify it in broad categories. For stories, we call the category into which we place its overall personality its Genre.
These categories reflect whatever attributes strike us as the most notable. With people this might be their profession, interests, attitudes, style, or manner of expression, for example. With stories this might be their setting, subject matter, point of view, atmosphere, or storytelling.
We might initially classify someone as a star-crossed lover, a cowboy, or a practical joker who likes to scare people. Similarly, we might categorize a story as a Romance, a Western, or a Horror story.
As with the people we meet, some stories are memorable and others we forget as soon as they are gone. Some are the life of the party, but get stale rather quickly. Some initially strike us as dull, but become familiar to the point we look forward to seeing them again. This is all due to what someone has to say and how he goes about saying it.
The more time we spend with specific stories (or people) the less we see them as generalized types and the more we see the traits that define them as individuals. So, although we might initially label a story as a particular Genre, we ultimately come to find that every story has its own unique personality that sets it apart from all others in that Genre, in at least a few notable respects.
In the Genre section of this book, we'll describe how to get a feel for the personality of the story you wish to tell, how to create a Genre map describing your story's primary attributes, and how to develop your story so that its unique qualities surface and reveal themselves.
Everyone has value standards, and the Story Mind has them as well. Some people are pig-headed and see issues as cut and dried. Others are wishy-washy and flip-flop on the issues. The most sophisticated people (and stories) see the pros and cons of both sides of a moral argument and present their conclusions in shades of gray, rather than in simple black & white. All these outlooks can be reflected in the Story Mind.
No matter what specific thematic topic is explored, the key structural point about value standards is that they are all comprised of two parts: the issues and one's attitude toward them. It is not enough to only have a subject ( abortion, gay rights, or greed) for that says nothing about whether they are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Similarly, attitudes (I hate, I believe in, or I don't approve of) are meaningless until they are applied to something.
An attitude is essentially a point of view. The issue is the object under observation. When an author determines what he wants us to look at it and from where he wants it to be seen, he creates perspective. It is this perspective that comprises a large part of the story's message.
Still, simply stating one's attitudes toward the issues does little to convince someone else to see things the same way we do. Unless the author is preaching to the audience as choir, he's going to need to convince it to share his attitude. To do this, he will need to make a thematic argument over the course of the story which will slowly dislodge the audience from its previously held beliefs and reposition the audience so that it adopts the author's beliefs by the time the story is over.
In the Theme section of this book we'll outline how to discover your story's message and how to create a thematic argument that presents all sides of the issues. You'll find out how to make your point without hitting the audience over the head with binary statements of right and wrong, and how to lead the audience to your point of view.
Novice authors often assume the plot of a story is the order in which events unfold. In fact, the order in which events are revealed to an audience is seldom the same order in which they happened to the characters. Through exposition, an author unveils the story, dropping bits and pieces that the audience rearranges until the meaning of the story becomes clear. This technique involves the audience as an active participant in the story rather than simply being a passive observer. It also reflects the way people go about solving their own problems.
When people try to work out ways of dealing with their problems they tend to identify and organize the pieces before they assemble them into a plan of action. So, they often jump around the timeline, filling in the different steps in their plan out of sequence as they gather additional information and draw new conclusions.
In the Story Mind, both of these attributes are represented as well. We refer to the internal logic of the story - the order in which the events in the problem solving approach actually occurred - as the Plot. The order in which the Story Mind considers these elements as it develops a plan of action is called the Storyweaving.
If an author blends these two aspects together, it is very easy to miss holes in the internal logic because they are glossed over by smooth exposition. By separating them, an author gains complete control of the progression of the story as well as the audience's progressive experience. In the plot section of this book you will learn how to create a complete sequential treatment for your story and to develop an exposition plan that involves and captivates your audience.
If characters represent our conflicting drives yet they each have a personal point of view, where is our sense of self represented in the Story Mind? After all, every real person has a unique point of view that defines his or her own self-awareness.
In fact, there is one special character in a story that represents the Story Mind's identity. This character, the Main Character, functions as the audience position in the story. He, she or it is the first person experience of the story - the story's ego.
Earlier I described how we might look at characters by their dramatic function, as seen from the perspective of a General on a hill. But what if we zoomed down and stood in the shoes of just one of those characters, we would have a much more personal view of the story from the inside looking out.
But which character should be our Main Character? Most often authors select the Protagonist to represent the audience position in the story. This creates the stereotypical Hero who both drives the plot forward and also provides the personal view of the audience. There is nothing wrong with this arrangement but it limits the audience to always experiencing what the quarterback feels, never the linemen or the waterboy.
In real life we are more often one of the supporting characters in an endeavor than we are the leader of the effort. If you have always made your Protagonist the Main Character, you have been limiting your possibilities.
In the Character section of this book we will fully describe each of the Story Mind's drives, how to choose the right one as your Main Character, and how the Main Character needs to come into conflict not with the Antagonist but with an Obstacle Character who represents the opposite point of view.
Getting Our Mind Together
We've now established four key aspects of the Story Mind. Characters are the conflicting drives of the Story Mind, theme its reassessment of values, plot its problem solving techniques, and genre its overall personality. But how do these fit together in an integrated story?
When an audience sits down with a book, in a theater, or in front of a television, it is sitting down with a person to make conversation. In fact, it is a one-sided conversation. Your story must have a personality intriguing enough to hold the audience's interest until the show is over.
Is your story a good enough conversationalist, or does it need to go back to finishing school with another draft before it is ready for prime time? You have days, months, perhaps even years to prepare your story to exude enough charisma to sustain just one conversation. How disappointing is it to an audience when a story's personality is plain and simply dull?
As an author, thinking of your story as a person can actually help you write the story. All too often, authors get mired in the details of a story, trying to cram everything in and make all the pieces fit.
Characters are seen only as individuals, so they often unintentionally overlap each other's dramatic functions. The genre is depersonalized so that the author trying to write within a genre ends up fashioning a formula story and breaking no new ground. The plot becomes an exercise in logistics, and the theme emerges as a black and white pontification that hits the audience like a brick.
Now imagine that you are sitting down to dinner with your story. For convenience, we'll call your story "Joe." You know that Joe is something of an authority on a subject in which your are interested. You offer him an appetizer, and between bites of pate, he tells you of his adventures and experiences.
Over soup, he describes what was driving him at various points of his endeavors. These are your characters, and they must all be aspects of Joe's personality. There can be no characters that would not naturally co-exist in a single individual. You listen carefully to make sure Joe is not a split-personality, for such a story would seem fragmented as if it were of two or more minds.
While munching on a spinach salad, Joe describes his efforts to resolve the problems that grew out of his journey. This is your plot, and all reasonable efforts need to be covered. You note what he is saying, just an an audience will, to be sure there are no flaws in his logic. There can also be no missing approaches that obviously should have been tried, or Joe will sound like an idiot.
Over the main course of poached quail eggs and Coho salmon (on a bed of grilled seasonal greens), Joe elucidates the moral dilemmas he faced, how he considered what was good and bad, better or worse. This is your theme, and all sides of the issues must be explored. If Joe is one-sided in this regard, he will come off as bigoted or closed-minded. Rather than being swayed by his conclusions, you (and an audience) will find him boorish and will disregard his passionate prognostications.
Dessert is served and you make time, between spoonfuls of chocolate soufflé (put in the oven before the first course to ready by the end of dinner) to consider your dinner guest. Was he entertaining? Did he make sense? Did he touch on topical issues with light-handed thoughtfulness? Did he seem centers, together, and focused? And most important, would you invite him to dinner again? If you can't answer yes to each of these questions, you need to send your story back to finishing school, for he is not ready to entertain an audience.
Your story is your child. You give birth to it, you nurture it, you have hopes for it. You try to instill your values, to give it the tools it needs to succeed and to point it in the right direction. But, like all children, there comes a time where you have to let go of who you wanted it to be and to love and accept who it has become.
When your story entertains an audience, you will not be there to explain its faults or compensate for its shortcomings. You must be sure your child is prepared to stand alone, to do well for itself and to not embarrass you. If you are not sure, you must send it back to school.
Personifying a story allows an author to step back from the role of creator and to experience the story as an audience will. This is not to say that each and every detail in not important, but rather that the details are no more or less important than the overall impact of the story as a whole. This overview is one of the benefits of looking at a story as a Story Mind.
The following is excerpted from
by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
The Four Throughlines
It is not enough, however, to develop a complete Story
Mind. That only creates the argument the audience will be considering. Equally
important is how the audience is positioned relative to that argument.
The first perspective is from the Objective Story Throughline,
so called because it is the most dispassionate look at the Story Mind.
For a story to be complete, the audience will need
another view of the battle as well: that of the soldier in the trenches. Instead
of looking at the Story Mind from the outside, the Main Character Throughline
is a view from the inside. What if that Story Mind were our own?
That is what the audience experiences when it becomes a soldier on the field:
audience members identify with the Main Character of the story.
To see the third perspective, keep yourself in the shoes
of the Main Character for a moment. You are right in the middle of the story's
battle. Smoke from dramatic explosions obscures the field. You are not
absolutely sure which way leads to safety. Still, before there was so much
turmoil, the way was clear and you are confident in your sense of direction.
As soon as the Main Character encounters his Obstacle, a
skirmish ensues at a personal level in the midst of the battle as a whole. The
two characters close in on one another in a theatrical game of
"chicken," each hoping the other will give in.
The Four Throughlines Of A Story You Know
Objective Story Throughline: The
Objective view of Star Wars sees a civil war in the galaxy between
the Rebels and the evil Empire. The Empire has built a Death Star which will
destroy the Rebels if it isn't destroyed first. To even hope for a successful
attack, the Rebels need the plans to the Death Star which are in the possession
of a farm boy and an old Jedi master. These two encounter many other characters
while delivering the plans, ultimately leading to a climactic space-battle on
the surface of the Death Star.
To Kill A Mockingbird
Objective Story Throughline: The
Objective view of To Kill A Mockingbird sees the town of Maycomb
with its horns locked in various attitudes over the rape trial of Tom Robinson.
Due-process has taken over, however many people think this case should never see
trial. As the trial comes to fruition, the people of the town argue back and
forth about how the defense lawyer ought to behave and what role people should
take in response to this alleged atrocity.
Summary - The Grand Argument Story
We have described a story as a battle. The overview that
takes in the full scope of the battle is the Objective Story Throughline.
Copyright 2001 Melanie Anne Phillips
Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips - Owner, Storymind.com, Creator Storyweaver, Co-creator Dramatica