Mysteries and Detective Stories

Q: I drafted my own work without proper plotting and storyforming - which is where I hope Dramatica will help me out. If we take Philip Marlowe as a detective, he seems to function without a mentor or obstacle character. The same goes for Poirot and Miss Marple. How do you accommodate these characters in Dramatica theory? If my detective story doesn't fit the grand argument model, it seems that Dramatica may not be the right tool. Have I got something wrong?
A: Many fantastic mysteries fit well within the grand argument story format (e.g. Chinatown). I haven't read any of the works by Raymond Chandler (Marlow) and Agatha Christie (Poirot and Miss Marple) so I cannot speak definitively about the particular structure of any of their works. From what I've read ABOUT their works, however, it's pretty clear that Chandler's The Big Sleep is structurally flawed but has fantastic storytelling style (an unusual "voice" in his time) and clever and convoluted plotting. The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity both have great storytelling AND solid GAS structure. Dramatica is perfect for making sure you have sound structure in your story. Mysteries, however, are not defined by their story structure. They rely on interesting subject matter, unique storytelling style, and, of course, complex storyweaving (the order in which plot information is doled out to the audience). Those elements are what define mysteries as a "genre." At the end of the book or film, the audience reconstructs what REALLY happened in the story. The question is: Does the story add up to something meaningful or is it just a series of events linked together by the author? If you want the audience to find meaning in your story in ADDITION to the enjoyable read or viewing, then you'll want to have a grand argument story at its core. There are several reasons why I think some of the stories from the thirties and forties do not explore the Impact Character throughline and the Main vs. Impact Character throughline to as great a degree as nowadays.
  1. Many "classic" mysteries seem to be focused on the logistics of the case and often stayed away from an earnest exploration of a Main Character's personal demons. Without that, there's little point in showing the alternative paradigm provided by the Impact Character.
  2. Even when the four throughlines exist in the story to keep the story structure sound, the IC and MC/IC throughlines are often given minimal exploration.
  3. Culturally-speaking, the first half of the twentieth century tended to be more "objective" about itself which is reflected in Western literature (and I don't mean cowboys and Indians). Gone were the romantic 19th-century views (e.g. Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters). The post-industrial age was into science and technology. The "objective" view found in the Sherlock Holmes novels (1987-1927) seemed to set a standard for storytelling style. Depression era and pre and post-war periods brought a grittiness to the genre storytelling style. It wasn't until the late 1950's and early 1960's that exploration of the personal journey became popular again. This isn't to imply that grand argument stories were not popular during that time. They were and are.
  4. RE: PLOTTING Dramatica will help you figure out what is REALLY going on in your story. That's what we call Plot. However, it won't help you with the storyweaving you'll need to do to write your finished work. Storyweaving is the process of choosing what and when to deliver bits of your story to your audience. Mysteries are "mysterious" because key information is withheld from the audience (e.g. who done it) until the end of the work. Those early PLOT events are delivered to the audience out of order through the STORYWEAVING. Ultimately, it's up to you to judge if Dramatica is the right tool for your working needs and style. I hope it's a good fit.

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