Developing Stories, Part 2


Continued from Part 1

My search for better and easier ways to plan and develop stories led me from simple structure to a more complex system called The Hero’s Journey. It’s the same basic idea – a series of events which you will plan into the story to develop it to its fullest potential and audience satisfaction – but it came in more granular portions. Instead of five milestones sprinkled among four parts of a story, The Hero’s Journey was composed of twelve markers, and especially at the beginning, provided finer guidance along the story’s path.

I decided this was the thing I’d been looking for all along. Until I realized it wasn’t.

That realization came in an accidental encounter on the Internet with another website, similar to StoryFix.com, which is How-To-Write-A-Book-Now.com. The site is run by author Glenn Strathy, who advocates use of Dramatica theory of story for story development and planning.

The first thing I learned about were the development of an outline using Dramatica theory.

Outline? Did you say “outline”? I couldn’t resist. Any method to outline a book which I’ve not seen before is going to catch my eye, and hold my attention. And it did.

I learned how to start with something called a “story goal” – the thing the protagonist wants to achieve or the problem he needs to solve. Okay, pretty standard I guess. But I then realized this isn’t exactly the same as the “premise” – in fact, it holds a much more intense and thought-provoking element to it. Because the story goal doesn’t stand alone. Like many other elements in Dramatica story theory, it’s part of a set of dynamic plot element pairs.

The story goal is good – you have something your protagonist wants to achieve, obtain or a problem he needs to solve. Dramatica also expects you to define the consequence, though, which is something I’d not done before (for some reason; stop laughing). The consequence is just what it says, the consequence(s) of not achieving the story goal. In other words, the stakes of the game. They must be high. I’ve heard it over and over again, but somehow, this presentation made it all clear.

By looking at the goal, I could understand how to make the consequences worse, how to raise the stakes for the players. I’m not great at this yet, but I’m still working on it and I have hope. Still, the exhilaration of new learning struck like a rattle snake and I could feel it coursing through my bloodstream.

I learned the other dynamic pairs, too. Requirements to achieve the goal, the forewarnings indicating the consequence is nigh, the costs and dividends to the characters seeking the goal, the prerequisites and preconditions which are minor achievements and setbacks respectively. Together, they make up the events which will fill the story throughlines and fill it out.

Uh…throughlines? What’s a throughline?

Onward I charged, until I learned there are, in Dramatica theory, four perspectives on the story you’re telling. The overall story view is the Overall Throughline. It’s the story from the 30,000 foot view, or an omniscient viewpoint. The Main Character throughline is the subjective viewpoint, the one we see through the eyes of the main character (which is not always the protagonist). The third view of the story comes from the Impact Character Throughline, which may or may not be the antagonist in the story, but is the character or force with the greatest impact on the main character. And finally, the Relationship Throughline is the view as seen from the tension between the main and impact characters, the elements which compose their relationship to one another and how that affects the overall story.

Wow! So, I had in my hands a new way to develop stories, and a new set of tools for doing so. I didn’t know much about Dramatica beyond the software I tried to use back in 2004, which I hated. But I was excited about this theory! So off I ran to apply the principles I’d learned to the story I’d just outlined in The Hero’s Journey template.

I was dumbfounded at the depth the Dramatica elements added to the story. Most of the throughlines were already in place. At least, I believed so when I tried this the first time several weeks ago. But now? Now I’m not so sure. I want every much to run through the process again, now that I’ve done this with several more stories, and while it’s still in outline form to see what shakes out.

Okay, great! With my story throughlines targeted, now all I need are the four signposts for each one!

Wait…four what? What’s a signpost?

Find out next time…

-JDT-

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