Introduction To Storyencoding
Storyencoding is simply the process of turning the raw story points of a storyform structure into the flesh and blood people, places, and events of a story that can be told.
As an example, suppose in our storyform we have selected an Overall Story Throughline of Situation. As we have learned, this means the Overall Story throughline revolves around an external situation. Now, when it comes to writing our story, we are not going to put down on paper, “The Overall Story throughline revolves around an external situation.” Our audience would have trouble getting involved with that! Instead, we’re going to connect that bare story point to something concrete so the audience can relate to what we’re talking about.
To make this story point real, we ask ourselves, “What kind of a situation is it?” One author might choose to say, A group of travelers trapped in a sunken ship.” That fulfills the dramatic function called for by placing the Overall Story Throughline in a Situation.
Another author might choose to encode an Overall Story Throughline of Situation by saying, “The death of the parents of five children in a car crash leaves the children to fend for themselves.”
Clearly, each story point might be encoded in any number of ways. Which way you choose depends only on the kinds of subject matter you wish to explore. How you encode each story point influences much of the setting of your story in a Genre sense. Encoding also influences the events that happen in your plot, the thematic issues that rise to the surface, and the nature of the people populating your story.
Once you understand encoding, another issue often comes up: Storyforming and then Storyencoding doesn’t seem like an organic way to go about creating a story. Well, we can’t argue with that. Most authors are attracted to a story by both the underlying structure and by some element of storytelling. It could be a setting or a character or a bit of action—anything that stimulates the imagination. In fact, most authors don’t even think about a message at this stage. What inspires them is some intriguing concept, and the rest of their effort in developing that concept is to try to build a story around it.
At first, things go smoothly. But at some point along the way there is a hole and no inspiration to fill it. Or, there are some incompatibilities or inconsistencies and no idea how to fix them. It is at this point that authors beat their heads against the wall, run in circles screaming and shouting. They tell their story to every remaining friend they have in hope of getting some comment that will clear the creative skies.
It is a lot easier if you have a storyform.
If you already know what your story is about, then all you need to do is illustrate it. Rather than being constraining, this process is freeing. You can let your imagination run wild, then hold up each new inspiration to the storyform and see if there is a story point that idea will encode. You may have to tweak it a bit to make sure it will communicate the story point accurately. If your intuition is on the mark, then just about anything you come up with is likely to be a part of the puzzle. It simply needs to be nuanced a bit to slip it into the job it ought to be doing.
Some of the story points in your storyform will already be encoded. In fact, they were encoded before you created the storyform; that’s how you knew which story points to select. If you are using the Dramatica software, after making a limited number of selections (perhaps twelve or even fewer!) the Story Engine will select all the remaining story points. In other words, the model of story programmed into the software has calculated the dramatic influence of the selections you’ve made and determined the remaining story points necessary for a balanced and complete story structure.
In the case above, many of the story points predicted by the Story Engine may not yet connect with anything you have already developed. Rather, you find in your Storyform a Goal of Obtaining, for example, and wonder, “Obtaining what? What are my characters after?” This is when you think about what you do know about your story. Maybe it takes place in a circus. Then a Goal of Obtaining could be getting to perform in the center ring, or winning a place as a permanent attraction in a new mega-amusement park. Your story might be about a mountain man, and his Goal of Obtaining might be to find a wife, or to get a ranch of his own. It doesn’t matter how you encode a story point, as long as the encoding carries the message of the story through one more stage of communication between author and audience.
Finally, if you are not using the Dramatica software, you will have selected your story points by feel or topic. Some may have been chosen as appropriate to specific ideas you are working with, but the rest just seemed appropriate to the story you have in your mind or in your heart. We’re back to intuition again here. And once again, you will need to examine those story points that do not yet have specific encoding in your story and ask your muse to suggest something.
In the end, even if the storytelling may be atrocious it will at least make sense if built on a sound storyform.
The rest of this section presents hints and tips for encoding all four aspects of story: Character, Theme, Plot, and Genre. By far, Character is the most complex of these for it requires the greatest subtlety and nuance to fashion believable people who still manage to fulfill their dramatic functions. As a result, you will find the character section the longest of the lot, and, because of its importance, the first one we address.
Encoding Overall Story Characters
Although encoding places the argument of a story about real life, the storyform itself is not real life at all. It is an analogy to the mind’s problem-solving process. We know what it is like to face problems in our own lives. However, we have no way of knowing what our manners of dealing with problems looks like from the outside from a more objective viewpoint. Storyforms deal with only one problem seen from two principal directions: The inside and the outside. When we look at the problem from the inside, we can connect with experiences we have had. The view is familiar and we connect emotionally to situations that touch our personal nerves. In fact, we tend to substitute our own experiences in place of what we see in the story. This subjective view holds our feelings and gives credibility to the objective view.
Out of Body Experiences
When we take an external view of a story, however, we no longer identify with the Story Mind directly but view it more like we would in an “out of body” experience. It is as if we had stepped out of our own heads, then turned around to see what we were thinking. From this view the author makes his rational argument, telling the audience, “If it feels like this from the inside, you’ll want to be doing that.”
Even this simple message carries value for an audience since the audience members can benefit from good advice born of experiences they have not had to suffer personally. In this way, when similar situations occur to them subjectively they can recall the objective dictum from the story giving them at least one plan to try.
Characters as the Author’s Positions
A story’s characters represent all the ways of considering each problem. Because they represent parts of the argument, Overall Story Characters must be called in the proper order and combination to support each of the author’s positions. This all sounds complex and manipulative. It is. But as authors, when we are on a roll we don’t stop to consider each aspect of what we are doing. Rather, it all blends into the smooth flow of creativity that we feel through our writer’s instincts. If the complexity is not there beneath it all, however, there will be noticeable holes in our plot and inconsistent characters.
Dramatica identifies every point of view that is essential to the objective argument. It allows an author to divvy them up among his characters, and then tracks the progress of the characters through the story. In this way, an author can cut loose with creative fervor until the muse fails. Then he can call on Dramatica to find the end of the thread so he can begin to weave it again.
Just because characters are Archetypal does not mean they cannot be fresh and interesting. Archetypal Characters have just as many diverse characteristics as Complex Characters. The only difference is how these characteristics are distributed among your story’s characters. When each character has an equal number, and when the elements making up each character are from a single family of elements, Archetypal Characters are created. In this sense, an Archetypal Character set is like an alignment of the planets: Each individual orbit is complex, but we choose to view them when they are all lined up in a clear and simple pattern.
Nonetheless, we must still explore all aspects of each character to make the Story Mind’s argument fully. However, since there is such consistency to the way the elements are divided, the audience presumes the content of each character. This allows an author the luxury of using shortcuts to describe them. In fact, once a character is outlined enough to show its Archetypal tendency, an author can leave out the rest of the information since the audience will fill it in anyway. In a sense, a character is guilty of being an Archetype until proven otherwise.
A Sample Story Using Archetypes
When an author wishes to concentrate chiefly on action or entertainment, it is often best to take advantage of the Archetypal arrangement to make the story’s argument fully and with a minimum of exposition. The characters still need to be interesting to involve an audience in their story. To illustrate how even Archetypal characters can be intriguing, let’s create story using only Archetypes and dress them up in some attractive storytelling.
Creating a Protagonist
We want to write a simple story using Archetypal Characters. We can create a PROTAGONIST called Jane. Jane wants to… what? Rob a bank? Kill the monster? Stop the terrorists? Resolve her differences with her mother? It doesn’t matter; her goal can be whatever interests us as authors. So we’ll pick “stop the terrorists” because it interests us. All right, our Protagonist—Jane—wants to stop the terrorists.
Creating an Antagonist
Dramatica says we need an ANTAGONIST. Antagonist by definition is the person who tries to prevent achievement of the goal. So, who might be diametrically against completing the task Jane wants to do? The Religious Leader whose dogma is the source of inspiration that spawns the acts of terror? The multinational business cartel that stands to make billions if the terrorists succeed in their scheme? Her former lover who leads the elite band of criminals? We like THAT one! Okay, we have our Protagonist (Jane) who wants to stop the terrorists led by her former lover (Johann).
Creating a Skeptic
Two simple Characters down, six to go. Dramatica now tells us we need a SKEPTIC. Who might oppose the effort and disbelieve in the eventual success of good Jane? A rival special agent who doesn’t want to be left in the dust by her glowing success? Her current love interest on the force that feels Jane is in over her head? Her father, the Senator, who wants his daughter to follow him into politics? Good enough for us. So we have Jane who wants to stop the terrorists, pitted against her former lover Johann who heads the criminal band, and opposed by her father, the Senator.
Creating a Sidekick
To balance the Skeptic, we’re going to need a SIDEKICK. We could bring back her current lover but this time have him knowing how much ridding the world of scum-sucking pigs appeals to Jane so he remains steadfastly behind her. Or we might employ her Supervisor and mentor on the force that knows the depth of Jane’s talent. Perhaps he wants to inspire other young idealists to take action against threats to democracy, or prove his theories and justify his name in the undercover world… We’ll use the Supervisor. So here’s Jane who wants to stop the terrorists, pitted against her former lover Johann, the head of the band who wants to stop her, opposed by her father, the Senator, and supported by her Supervisor.
Creating a Contagonist
Let’s bring in a CONTAGONIST: The Seasoned Cop who says, “You have to play by the rules” and thwarts Jane’s efforts to forge a better way of working? Or, the Ex-Con with a heart of gold who studies the classics and counsels her to base her approach on proven scenarios? Or, her friend Sheila, a computer whiz who has a bogus response plan based on averaging every scenario every tried? Computer whiz it is. So Jane wants to stop the terrorists, is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, opposed by her father, the Senator, supported by her Supervisor, and tempted by her friend Sheila, the computer whiz.
Creating a Guardian
Keeping in mind Dynamic Pairs, we are going to want to balance the Computer Whiz with a GUARDIAN. The Master of the Oriental martial arts who urges her to “go with the flow” (“Use The Force, Jane!”)? The Ex-Con again who urges, “Get back to basics”? Or perhaps the Seasoned Cop who clears his way through the undercover jungle? We like the Seasoned Cop. Note how we could have used him as Contagonist, but elected to use him as Guardian instead. It’s totally up to us as authors to choose which characteristics go into which players. Jane wants to stop the terrorists, is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, is opposed by her father, the Senator, supported by her Supervisor, tempted by her friend Sheila the computer whiz, and protected by the Seasoned Cop.
Creating Reason and Emotion Characters
Since we like some of our earlier concepts for Characters, let’s use the Ex-Con as REASON, stressing the need to use classic scenarios. We’ll balance her with the Master of the Oriental martial arts, who argues Jane’s need to break with the Western approach by letting loose and following her feelings.
Well, that covers all eight Archetypal Characters: Protagonist, Antagonist, Skeptic, Sidekick, Contagonist, Guardian, Reason and Emotion. Finally, we have Jane who wants to stop the terrorists and is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, is opposed by her Father, the Senator, is supported by her Supervisor, tempted by her friend Sheila the computer whiz, protected by the Seasoned Cop, urged by the Ex-Con to copy the classics, and counseled by the Master of Oriental martial arts to let loose and follow her feelings.
The Same Old Story?
This is beginning to sound like many stories we’ve seen before. Why have we seen this so many times? Because it is simple and it works. Of course, we have limited ourselves in this example to the Archetypal Characters, not even taking advantage of the Complex Characters we could also create.
When you keep in mind the Dramatica rules for mixing and matching characteristics to create Complex Characters, you have an astronomical number of possible people (or non-people) who might occupy your story. Because of the structure of interrelationships Dramatica provides, they fit together to the greatest potential with nothing repeated or missed. As a result, the Story Mind will be fully functional; the argument fully made.
It is not the content that makes characters complex, but the arrangement of that content. We know people who have one-track minds or are so aligned to be predictable (and often, therefore, boring!) People who are more diverse contain conflicting or unlike traits and are much more interesting to be around. So it is with characters.
Imagine building characters to be like playing Scrabble. There are a given number of letter tiles, no more, no less. The object is to create words using all the tiles. The game won’t feel complete if any unused tiles remain. Now imagine a set of words that are all the same length and use up all the letters so none are remaining. Suppose there is only one combination of letters that will do this. If we build characters that way, we get the one and only Archetypal set. There’s nothing wrong with playing the game that way, but after a few zillion times, seeing the same limited set of words over and over wears thin. It is much more interesting to create a wide vocabulary of all kinds and sizes of words.
Archetypes Have Their Place, But….
Archetypal Characters have their place, mind you. If an author’s focus is on Plot or Theme, he may want to create easily identifiable Archetypes as shorthand to save space and time. As soon as the edges of an Archetypal Character are sketched out, audiences (who have seen these Archetypes time and again) will fill in the rest, waiting for information to the contrary. In this way, an author can free up time or pages for aspects of the story that may be much more interesting to him.
As a result, Complex Characters are often the first things torn down to conserve media real estate. This leads to a glut of action-oriented stories populated by stick figure people. Whenever there is a glut in one place, you will find a shortage somewhere else. The imbalance between glut and shortage creates demand. Box office is directly proportional to demand. No more need be said.
All characters, Archetypal or Complex, have four levels or Dimensions in which they may contain characteristics. These are:
- Means of Evaluation
Archetypal Characters contain one characteristic in each of these areas that describes how they deal with external problems. They also contain one each that describes how they deal with internal problems. All together they possess eight characteristics.
The easiest way to create Complex Characters is to swap a few Elements between one Archetypal Character and another at the same level. This results in evenly balanced characters that are not nearly as predictable as Archetypes. When the points of view are mixed, the manner in which a character responds might also shift dramatically. For example, the focus of a scene or act may change from Methodologies to Motivations.
Even more Complex Characters can be built by giving more characteristics to some and fewer to others. For example, one character might have two Motivations, three Methodologies and so on. Another character might only have Purposes but no Motivations or any of the others. Those characters having the most characteristics appear more often, strengthening their presence with an audience.
A Character Cannot Serve Two Masters
An author can create characters for any purpose, to be played like cards at particular points in the hand. The only “rules” of character construction caution against any character containing more than one Element of a dynamic pair. In addition, it is best to avoid assigning a character more than one Element from the same quad as the character would then represent conflicting points of view on the same issue.
At first, this might seem desirable since it would create internal conflict. But with Overall Story Characters, we see them from the outside. We cannot see their internal deliberations. Any internal conflict simple weakens their objective function. However, it’s sometimes unavoidable because of Storyforming choices you make.
Overall Story Throughline Characteristics
Elements are the most refined resolution of the problem in a story. Beneath each Variation are four Elements that make up the parts of that Variation and are also defined by its umbrella. One of the four elements under the Issue is the Problem of the story in its most essential form. Another of the four will prove to be the Solution. A third element is the Symptom of the story, where the Problem principally reveals itself as symptoms of the Problem. The final element represents the Response taken in response to the Symptom.
Each of these elements has a specific and recognizable function even in traditional story theory. For example, we know that characters often do not work toward the real solution but to an apparent solution. And characters often grapple with a problem that is eventually recognized as only a symptom of the real problem.
The “Crucial” Element
As pointed out elsewhere, stories are about inequities and their resolutions. When you consider the four principal elements in this light, the Problem element appears more like the essence of the inequity. The Solution becomes the essence of what is needed to restore balance. Depending on the dynamics of the story, one of the four elements is lifted up” as the prominent point of view. It becomes the Crucial Element on which all other lesser inequities in the story center. It is Crucial because if it comes into balance all the remaining inequities of the story balance themselves as well. If not balanced, none of the others can be resolved.
Overall Story Elements and the Subjective Characters
Elements serve to show what the inequity looks like from all possible points of view and hone in on the source: The one bad apple in the basket. All 64 Elements in this level must be represented in character form to explore the story’s inequity fully. Of all these, two special characters bare special attention: The Main Character and Influence Character.
The Main and Influence Characters do double-duty by carrying the Relationship Story throughline and playing an Overall Story role by being assigned to two different players that contain an Overall Story function. The player containing the Main Character always contains the Crucial Element in its Overall Story role. However, that element does not always have to be the Solution. It might be the Problem, Symptom, or Response Element, depending on the dynamics. It is this duality that makes those two players the linchpins of the story: The hinge on which the Overall Story AND Subjective Problems and throughlines converge.
The player containing the Influence Character also contains the Element diagonal to the crucial element: The other half of the dynamic pair. In this way as a Main Character or Influence Character eventually comes to change or remain steadfast, the subjective problem influences how each player responds based on the Overall Story Element it also contains. Like magnets with North and South poles, what happens on the Subjective side will influence the Overall Story stand, and when pressures force a change in the Overall Story stand, it will influence the Subjective point of view. It is no surprise that this relationship between Overall Story and Subjective dynamics in characters has seemed so indefinably obscure for so long.
Encoding Subjective Characters
Although authors use Subjective Characters all the time they unfortunately view the Subjective functions simply as other aspects of Overall Story Characters. In fact, the two functions are most often blended into a single concept of character that does double-duty. This is dangerous since every aspect of the argument must be made twice: Once Objectively and once Subjectively. If both roles are blended, this can appear redundant. As a result, important points in the separate arguments may be missing. In a temporal medium such as motion pictures, it is often the Subjective argument that suffers as the focus is on more objective action. In novels, the Overall Story is often flawed as the spatial nature of a book favors the Subjective view.
Just because a medium favors one view over the other does not mean you can neglect anything. All parts of both arguments must be present to create an effective synthesis in the mind of the audience regardless of the emphasis a medium may place on each view.
The Main Character is Not Necessarily the Protagonist
Many authors are not aware that a Protagonist does not have to be the Main Character. When we stop to think about it, many examples come to mind of stories in which we experience the story through the eyes of a character other than a Protagonist. Many Sherlock Holmes novels are told from the perspective of Dr. Watson who is sidekick to the protagonist, Sherlock Holmes. To Kill A Mockingbird is told from the perspective of the young girl, Scout, while the protagonist and defense attorney in the story’s trial is her father, Atticus. Yet when it comes to writing our own stories, many of us never diverge from a Protagonist/Main Character combination.
There is nothing wrong with this combination. In fact, as long as you represent both characters in the single player, such a blend is a fine Archetypal Character. The point is: There are other ways.
Subjective Characters range from the Main Character with whom we identify to all the “other soldiers in the trenches” around us as we experience the battle together. They are friends and foes, mentors and acolytes. We see in them characteristics of Worry, Instinct, Experience and Doubt. Rather than functioning as approaches the way the Overall Story Characters do, the Subjective Characters function as attitudes.
“We’re Both Alike, You and I…”
The Main and Influence Characters are counterparts. They represent the two principal sides to the argument of the story. Because they are dealing with the same issues, they are not too far apart. This often results in such familiar lines as “We’re both alike,” “We’re just two sides of the same coin,”” I’m your shadow self,” and so on. In contrast, though the same things concern them, they are coming at them from completely opposing views. This leads to common lines such as “We’re nothing alike, you and I,” or “We used to be friends until you stepped over the line.”
Many authors picture the Influence Character as a negative or evil twin. Although this can be true, it has little to do with the Influence Character’s dramatic function. For example, if a Main Character is evil and needs to change, their impact might be a virtuous steadfast character. Or both characters might be evil, with the resolve of one contrasting the change in the other. Anyway, the function of the Main and Influence Characters is to show two opposing sides of the same issue. That is their story function: To show what happens when one changes and the other remains steadfast on a particular issue.
Encoding problem-solving style
Both Linears and Holistics use the same problem-solving techniques, but in different contexts. As a result, what is problem solving for one may be justification for the other. In fact, for the four perspectives in any given story, in one Throughline both Linear and Holistic problem-solving style characters will see a given approach as problem solving, while in another Throughline both will see it as justification. The third Throughline would be problem solving for one problem-solving style and justification for the other and the fourth just the reverse.
Men tend to use linear problem solving as their first method of choice. In linear problem solving, they set a specific goal, determine the steps necessary to achieve that goal, and embark on the effort to carry out those steps. Gathering facts, or successfully achieving requirements all deal with seeing several definable items that must be brought together to make the mechanism work in the desired manner.
This is a spatial view of problem solving, as it sees all the parts that must be accomplished or brought together to resolve the problem or achieve the goal.
Women TEND to use holistic problem solving as their first method of choice. In holistic problem solving, steps are not important and there may not even be a specific goal to achieve but simply a new direction wanted. As a result, the relationships between things are measured and adjusted to create a change in the forces that decide that direction. Unlike Linear problem solving, there is no causal relationship stating that this leads to that. Instead, combinations of changes in the way things relate alters the dynamics of the situation rather than the structure, and changes context rather than meaning.
This is a temporal view of problem solving, as it looks at the way things are going and tries to alter relationships so to deflect the direction of the forces that create the problem.
Men and women use both problem-solving techniques. Also, women may become trained to use the linear method first, and men may develop a preference for the holistic method as their primary problem solving approach. These are preferences made through conscious choice, training, or experience. Underneath it all, the brain’s operating system for problem solving will either be linear or holistic. This is what sets men and women apart from one another. No matter how much common ground they come to from training, experience and conscious choice, there is always that underlying level in which they can rarely see eye to eye, because they have intrinsically different outlooks.
So, when choosing Linear or Holistic problem-solving style, we are not concerned with the up front and obvious. What concerns us is the hidden level at the foundation of the Main Character’s psyche that dictates a linear or holistic approach to the problem regardless of what is done consciously.
That’s why the issue becomes vague—because it is not cut and dried in the Main Character nor is it up front. It is just their tendency at the lowest most basic part of their mind to go linear or holistic.
How can we illustrate this in a Main Character? The following point-by-point comparison can help:
- Holistic: Looks at motivations Linear: Looks at purposes
- Holistic: Tries to see connections Linear: Tries to gather evidence
- Holistic: Sets up conditions Linear: Sets up requirements
- Holistic: Determines the leverage points that can restore balance Linear: Breaks a job into steps
- Holistic: Seeks fulfillment Linear: Seeks satisfaction
- Holistic: Concentrates on “Why” and “When” Linear: Concentrates on “How” and “What”
- Holistic: Puts the issues in context Linear: Argues the issues
- Holistic: Tries to hold it all together Linear: Tries to pull it all together
As we can see, though both men and women will use both techniques depending on context, one kind comes first or takes priority. problem-solving style determines which one is the principal technique. So, if you keep in mind that this all may be overshadowed by other learned techniques, you can illustrate Linear and Holistic problem solving techniques as a tendency to employ those listed above, all other things being equal.
Building a Mind for the Audience to Possess
When an audience looks at the Overall Story Characters, they see the Story Mind from the outside in. When an audience empathizes with the Main Character, they see the story from the inside out. For the audience to be able to step into the shoes of the Main Character and look through his eyes, he must have a complete mind for the audience to take over. And that perhaps is the best way to look at it: The audience takes possession of the Main Character’s mind. That’s why you hear people in a movie yelling, “NO…. Don’t do that!!!” to a Main Character who is about to enter the shed where the slasher is waiting, or break up with a lover over inaccurate gossip.
However, the question arises: Who is taking possession of whom? As authors we direct our Main Character to take control of the audience’s hearts and souls. We make them feel what the Main Character feels, experience what he experiences. It’s a sinister occupation we engage in. But that is how a story stops being a spectacle and worms its way into the heart.
The trick in Storyencoding theme is to make sure the audience knows what the argument is about without coming right out and saying it. It’s also to make sure you make the argument without the audience ever feeling manipulated or the point made in a heavy-handed fashion. In this section we will explore methods of achieving these purposes for theme in general and suggest tips and considerations specific to the themes of each of the four throughlines.
What Are You Talking About?
Without theme, a story is just a series of events that advances logistically and ends up one way or another. Theme is what gives it all meaning. When encoded, theme will not be a universal meaning for all things, but a smaller truth about the proper way of dealing with a particular situation. In a sense, the encoding of theme moves the emotional argument of the story from the general to the specific. If you make the argument strongly enough, it may influence attitudes in areas far beyond the specific, but to be made strongly, it must limit its scope to precise encoding.
If our thematic conflict were Morality vs. Self-Interest, for example, it would be a mistake to try to argue that Morality is always better than Self-Interest. In fact, most people’s life experience would tell them that sometimes Self-Interest is the better of the two. Keep in mind here that Dramatica defines Morality as “Doing for others with no regard for self” and Self-Interest as “Doing for self with no regard for others.” This doesn’t mean a Self-Interested person is out hurt to others, but simply that what happens to others, good or bad, is not even a consideration.
As an example, Morality might be better if one has plenty of food to share during a harsh winter and does so. Morality might be worse if one subdues one’s life rather than displease one’s peers. Self-Interest might be better if a crazed maniac is charging at you and you kill him with an ax. Self-Interest might be bad if you won’t share the last of the penicillin in case you might need it later. It all depends on the context.
Clearly, the first step in encoding thematic story points is to check the definitions first! Dramatica is extremely precise in its definitions to make sure the thematic structure represents all the shades of gray an audience might expect to see in a thematic argument. So, before you even consider the conflict, read the definition that will help define where the real conflict lies.
A good rule of thumb is that each conflict should be explored at least once each act. In this way, the balance between the two sides of the conflict can be examined in all contexts appropriate to the story’s message.
Further, it is clumsy to encode the entire conflict. It is much better to show one side of the conflict, and then later show the other side in a similar situation. In this manner, you show the relative value of each side of the thematic conflict without directly comparing the two. In each act, then, what are some methods of encoding the two sides of the thematic conflict? This depends on which throughline is in question.
Encoding the Overall Story Theme
The Overall Story theme is an emotional argument that is story wide. Its connection to the Overall Story makes this theme “objective”, not any unemotional feeling possibly implied by the title. To encode the Overall Story theme, one must come up with scenes, events, comments, or dialogue that involves the thematic conflict. They must also imply that this particular issue represents the central imbalance in value standards that affects everyone in the story. In fact, it is often better if you encode the Overall Story theme through incidental characters or background incidents so association with any other dynamics in the story does not taint the message.
For example, our Protagonist is walking down the hall of a ward in a Veteran’s hospital with an elderly doctor who is an incidental character whose purpose in the story is only to provide exposition on a particular point. While they are walking, the doctor notes that he is out of breath trying to keep up with our Protagonist. The doctor says,” I can’t keep up with you young guys like I used to.” Moments later, a double amputee wheels across their path, stops, says cheerfully to the Protagonist, “As soon as they fix me up, I’m going to be a dancer again!” and wheels off. The doctor then remarks, “He’s been like that since they brought him here.” The Protagonist asks, “How long?” The doctor says, “Nineteen sixty-eight.”
What thematic conflict is at work here? The doctor’s comments represent Closure (accepting an end). The patient’s comments reflect Denial (refusing to accept an end). By itself, this short thematic encoding will not make the conflict clear. But as the story continues to unfold, several different encodings will eventually clarify the item they all share in common.
Theme encoding is an effort of subtle balance. Simply shifting a word or a reaction, even slightly, can tip a well-balanced argument. That is why many authors prefer more black-and-white thematic statements than a gentle thematic argument. In truth, it is the ability to get away from the binary that brings richness and depth to the emotional content of a story.
One other thing we might notice about our example is that we might evaluate whether Closure or Denial is better by seeing how each camp fared with reference to Hope and Dream. Why Hope and Dream? They are the other two Variations in the same quad as Closure and Denial. We can see the doctor has no Hope, but the patient still has Dreams. By showing that lack of Hope causes misery and an abundance of Dreaming bring joy, the case is made that the doctor who represents Closure does not achieve as favorable a result as the patient who represents Denial.
Clearly this thematic message is not true in every situation we might encounter in real life. For our latter example, however, we may say that for this particular kind of problem (the Overall Story Problem) Denial is a better way to go.
Our next concern is that even with a more balanced argument, it still seems one-sided. The way to soften this quality is to have some thematic moments occur in which Closure turns out to be better than Denial. By so doing, we admit to our audience that even for the kind of Overall Story Problem we are dealing with, neither Closure nor Denial is a panacea. As a result, the audience begins to draw excitedly toward the end of the story. Only then can it average out all the incidents of Closure and Denial and see which one came out on top and by how much.
Theme encoding requires skill and inspiration. Because we approach it by feel, rather than by logic, it is hard to learn and hard to teach. But by understanding the nature of the gentle balance that tips the emotional argument in favor of the Issue or its counterpoint, one can consciously consider when and where and how to encode the theme. This is better than simply winging it and hoping for the best. Knowing the storyform for your theme makes it far easier to draw the audience into feeling as you want them to.
Encoding Theme for the Other Throughlines
The Main Character theme follows many of the same guidelines as the Overall Story theme. In fact, the basic approaches of illustrating the conflict by indirect means are good rules of thumb for all four throughlines. We do this by calling on the other two Variations in the thematic quad and having the balance between Issue and counterpoint shift back and forth. The principal difference in theme encoding from one throughline to another is where you direct the conflict.
For the Main Character Throughline, only the Main Character will be aware of the thematic conflict in that Throughline. It might still be illustrated by contrasts between incidental characters or in non-essential actions or events, but no one will notice but the Main Character. For example, our Main Character in a motion picture might be sitting in a diner and look out the window to see a hungry man sifting through a trash can for some food. The focus shifts (as the Main Character ostensibly shifts his attention) to bring to clarity another man sitting in front of the window getting up to leave from his plate of half-eaten food. No one else is able to see this except our Main Character (and through him, the audience).
The example would be a subtle beginning of an argument about Morality vs. Self-Interest. In and of itself, there is not enough to say which is the Issue and which is the counterpoint. Also, this example merely sets up the haves and have-nots, but does not yet place a value judgment, for we do not even know which of the two men represents Morality and which represents Self-Interest.
An interesting turn would be to have a Maitre d’ notice our Main Character looking at the hungry man through the window and run over to say, “I’m sorry, Monsieur, I’ll have my waiter tell him to leave.” Our Main Character says, “No, wait…” He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his last hundred francs and, giving it to the Maitre d’ says, “Bring him some food instead.”
Still watching from the window, our Main Character sees the waiter taking a plate of food to the hungry man. As soon as he arrives, the hungry man beats the waiter over the head, takes his wallet, and runs off. The food has fallen into the garbage. Now, what have we said through our encoding about the relative value of Morality vs. Self-Interest as experienced by the Main Character? Also, which one is the Issue?
In our Main Character example, we did not feel like we were judging the Main Character himself because of the results of his actions. Rather, we were judging the relative value of Morality and Self-Interest. In contrast, the Influence Character theme encoding is designed to place a value judgment on the Influence Character himself.
Influence Characters are looked AT, not from. We want to evaluate the appropriateness of their actions. Part of this is performed by showing whether the Influence Character’s influence on the balance between Issue and counterpoint results in positive or negative changes.
Suppose we keep everything from our Main Character example in the diner the same, except we substitute the Influence Character instead. All the events would happen in the same order, but our point of view as an audience would have to shift. The question for the audience would no longer be, “How am I going to respond in this situation?” but would become, “How is he going to respond in this situation?”
If this is a film, the point of view shot through the window might no longer be appropriate. Instead, we might shoot from over the shoulder of the Influence Character. Further, we would want to make sure the audience does not get too drawn in toward the Impact point of view. So, we might have another customer watching the whole thing. Or, we might simply choose camera positions outside the diner to show what happens, rather than staying in the whole time looking out as we did with the Main Character.
Novels, stage plays, and all different media and formats present their own unique strengths, weaknesses, and conventions in how one can suitably encode a given throughline. Knowing which ones to use and inventing new ones never used before comprises a large part of the craft and art of storytelling.
Finally, let us briefly address thematic encoding for the Relationship Story Throughline. Theme in the Relationship Story Throughline describes the meaning of the relationship between the Main and Influence Characters. There are two distinct ways to evaluate everything that goes on in the relationship and these two ways don’t lead to the same conclusions. The thematic Issue and counterpoint reflect these two different means of evaluation.
In most relationships, everyone involved has an opinion about what’s best to do. That’s the way it always is in a story. As the Influence Character Throughline and the Main Character Throughline have an impact on each other, so do the Overall and Relationship Story Throughlines. Therefore, both Objective and Subjective Characters will have opinions to express about how the relationship between the Main and Influence Characters is going. Remember, it’s this relationship that makes the Relationship Story.
The variety of places to find opinions about the Relationship Story relationship means the Issue and Counterpoint in the Relationship Story need not come only from the Main and Influence Characters. They can be brought up and argued without the presence of either the Main Character or Influence Character.
Of course, these two characters will be involved at some point as well. When they’re together, they’re likely to be arguing the two sides of the Relationship Story’s Thematic issue and providing the Thematic Conflict. When they do, however, it is a good idea to avoid just giving one character the Issue and the other character the Counterpoint. That would lead to a simple face off over the issues without exploring them. Instead, have them swap arguments, each using the Issue, then the Counterpoint as their weapon. Neither of them is solely a villain or a good guy from this personal point of view.
Giving your Overall Story Characters conversations about this relationship is a good way to express Issue vs. Counterpoint without involving the Main or Influence Characters. This will help avoid unintentionally biasing the audience against either of them.
The real issue is, which is the best way to look at the relationship?
We all know stories involving newlyweds where the father of the bride argues that his daughter’s fiancée is not good enough for her since the boy has neither job nor means to provide for her. In these stories, the mother will often counter the father’s argument by saying the two kids love each other, so what could be better?
In that example, father and mother may be Overall Story Characters arguing about the best way to look at the Relationship Story between the Main and Influence Characters (the daughter and son-in-law). In the end, one way of seeing the kids’ romance will prove to be the better way of evaluating the relationship.
The thematic resolution may be that the Relationship Story relationship appears terrible from one standard of evaluation and only poor from the other, in which case these people haven’t got much of a relationship. Or, a relationship may appear mundanely workable from one standard and thrilling from the other. Or, one may see it as highly negative and the other sees it as highly positive. These are all potential conflicting points of view about a relationship and these differences give the Relationship Story theme its depth.
The important job of the writer is to balance the argument so there is a real question about which way of seeing the relationship is using the best standard of evaluation. Don’t’ sell the audience a biased bill of goods. Present them a much more realistic tableau.
Encoding Static Plot Story Points is simple. One need only figure out what it is. How and when it is going to show up in the story is a different issue and is part of Storyweaving.
The way to approach the encoding of Static Plot Story Points is more or less the same for all of them. As an example, let us consider something conventional: A Goal of Obtaining. Obtaining what? That is what encoding determines. The Goal might be to Obtain the stolen diamonds, a diploma, or someone's love. In each case, Obtaining has been effectively encoded. Which one you might choose is dependent only on your personal muse.
Interestingly, there are many ways to stretch a story point to fit preconceived story ideas. Suppose that we want to tell a story about a woman who wants to be President. It might be she wants to be elected to the office. That would encode a Goal of Obtaining. Or, she might want to have people believe she was the President on a foreign trip. That would be a Goal of Playing A Role. She might already hold the office but feel that she is not authoritative enough and wants to Become presidential. That would encode a Goal of Changing One's Nature.
Clearly, there are ways to bend a story to fit almost any story point. And, in fact, that is the purpose of encoding—to create symbols that represent a story point's particular bend. So, going around the remaining Types, we might also have:
- A Goal about discovering a president's Past
- How much legislative Progress a president is able to make
- The Future of the presidency
- Whether the president is able to address Present concerns
- To Understand the president's vision
- Doing what is necessary regardless of chances for reelection
- Learning the President's hidden agenda,
- Developing A Plan for strengthening the presidency
- Conceiving An Idea a new kind of political leverage
- Trying to evoke the Memory of a past president's greatness
- Responding with Impulsive Responses should the president be attacked
- Trying to curb a president's subconscious drives until after the election
- Making the president Conscious of a problem only he can solve
Each of these encodings deals with the presidency, but in a different way. This allows an author to stick with the subject matter that interested him first, yet still accurately encode the Story Goal. And why even bother? Because the wrong perspective creates the wrong meaning. Anything not properly encoded will work against the dramatics of your story, rather than with them, and weakens your story's overall message and audience experience.
Encoding Progressive Plot Story Points
Progressive Plot Story Points are also fairly straightforward. At act resolution there is a simple method for encoding Signposts and Journeys that also sets up the plot aspects of your story's scenes.
Signposts and Journeys
When we develop a plot, we are in effect planning a journey for our characters. We might imagine our plot as a road. We have already discussed how that road might be thought of as containing four signposts that define three journeys. The Type at Signpost #1 marks our characters' Point of Departure. This Type is the name of the town at which we are beginning our Journey. In our example, the characters are in the good borough of Learning.
We have also planned a destination for our characters. Again, in our example, we wish our characters to arrive at the village of Obtaining. Signpost #4 marks Obtaining's city limits.
For our characters to experience the Journey we intend, we also want them to pass through the towns of Understanding and Doing along the way. Once they have arrived at Obtaining, they will have covered all the ground we want them to.
Our Plot consists of Signposts plus the experience of traversing the road between the Signposts.
If we have four Signposts, we can see three Journeys between them. The Signposts merely provide our audience with an unbiased map of the checkpoints along the way. It is the Journeys, however, that involve our audience in the experience of crossing that ground.
Some writers have learned to create stories in a Three-Act Structure. Others have worked in a Four-Act Structure. In fact, we need both to map out the terrain and involve the audience.
Now that we know the names of the Signposts in our Overall Story, it is time to describe the kinds of Journeys that will take place on the road between them.
In our example, the three Journeys are:
Topic 1. Learning ---------->Topic 2. Understanding
Topic 2. Understanding ---------->Topic 3. Doing
Topic 3. Doing ---------->Topic 4. Obtaining
For a hypothetical story, we might then encode each Signpost and Journey as follows:
Type 1. Learning
Our characters Learn that several robberies have occurred involving diamonds.
Type 1. Learning ---------- > Type 2. Understanding
As our characters Learn about the robberies that have occurred, they become aware of similarities in the crimes. Eventually, the similarities are too much to be coincidental.
Type 2. Understanding
Our characters arrive at the Understanding that there is one multinational consortium involved in the heists.
Type 2. Understanding ---------->Type 3. Doing
The more our characters Understand about the consortium, the more they are able to figure out which smaller organizations are involved, as well as the names of specific individuals. Eventually, the characters Understand enough of the organization of the consortium to try to put someone on the inside.
Type 3. Doing
Our characters track down and infiltrate the consortium.
Type 3. Doing ----------> Type 4. Obtaining
Our characters get in tighter and tighter with the consortium until they are finally trusted enough to take part in the heist. Through a series of dangerous maneuvers, our characters are able to get word of the heist back to their organization, which alert the authorities.
Type 4 . Obtaining
Our characters recover the stolen diamonds.
As you can see, the Signposts outline the direction events will take. The Journeys help bring them to life.
Main Character Throughline Plot Progression
By now you should be familiar with the idea that the Main Character represents a point of view for the audience. In fact, the audience stands in the shoes of the Main Character and sees what he sees and feels what he feels.
In the Overall Story Throughline, the Plot Progression concentrates on the kinds of activities involving Overall Story Characters. In the Main Character Throughline, Plot Progression describes the stages of the Main Character's Growth.
Each Type in the Main Character Throughline reflects the Main Character's primary concern at that point in his development. Eventually, he will grow enough to deal with the issue closest to his heart: The Main Character Concern. Let's look at an example of how you might encode this by continuing to develop the story we presented for Type Order Plot Progression of the Overall Story.
In this fictitious story example, the Main Character Throughline is a Situation. The Type order selected for the Main Character is as follows: Past, Progress, Present, and lastly Future.
Type 1. Past
The Main Character is a law enforcement agency Department Chief with political ambitions. He has zero tolerance for officers of the law who have accepted payoffs from organized crime. As the story opens, his chief Concern of the moment is the history of graft in his department.
Type 1. Past ---------- > Type 2. Progress
The Main Character looks into Past instances of Consortium influences in his department. Using this historical information, he gets closer to infiltrating the Consortium.
Type 2. Progress
The Main Character decides his agents are too weak to resist stealing money from the Consortium. Therefore, he takes the case himself, going undercover and slowly snaking his way into the heart of the Consortium over some months.
Type 2. Progress ----------> Type 3. Present
The more the Main Character gets deeper into the Consortium, the more he is trusted with the Consortium's funds. Also, he finds himself in something of a Godfather position in which local businesses and organizations come to him for help. For a while, he is able to either deny them or calm them.
Type 3. Present
Now, well settled in the Consortium, the Main Character is faced with a situation in which an important Children's Hospital will be closed unless he uses some of the Consortium's ill-gotten gains to provide the necessary funding.
Type 3. Present ---------- > Type 4. Future
The Main Character gives in to the needs of others, violating his own zero tolerance code of ethics because of the serious needs of the children. Still, he is able to get the goods on the Consortium enough to stop some of their local plans, though not enough to damage the consortium at core level. When he is brought in from the cold" by his agency, they treat him as a hero for his success. In contrast, his own ethical failings trouble him. He gave in to the temptation to take the money.
Type 4. Future
Though he is in a better position than ever to break into the political scene and demand strict adherence to a code of ethics, his grand words about his Future are now just ashes in his mouth. He sits miserably in his office pondering his failings, drained of ambition.
Impact Character Throughline Plot Progression
The Influence Character in a story never stands alone, but is always evaluated in terms of his impact on the Main Character. When encoding the Influence Character Throughline Plot Progression, this is equally true. Unlike the Main Character Type Order, which reflects the Main Character's Growth from one concern to another, the Influence Character Type Order reflects the progression of the Influence Character's impact on the Main Character. In other words, each of the four Influence Character Types describes a chink in the Main Character's armor, a weakness exploited by the Influence Character. This forces the Main Character to consider issues that will eventually bring him to Change or remain Steadfast.
For example, in our sample story, the Influence Character Throughline is in the Fixed Attitude Class. As a result, the Influence Character Throughline Types are Memory, Impulsive Responses, Contemplation, and Innermost Desires. This means the Influence Character will (in some order) force the Main Character to remember (Memory), to respond differently when there is no time for consideration (Impulsive Responses), to become aware of something (Contemplation), and to desire something (Innermost Desires).
Encode the Influence Character's Types by the impact the Influence Character has in that area of concern on the Main Character. In this way, your Influence Character will force your Main Character to grow to a point of potential Change. That is the function and purpose of the Influence Character in a story.
Influence Character Throughline Type Order Encoding
In this fictitious story example, the Influence Character Throughline has a Fixed Attitude (Mind). The Type order selected for the Influence Character is as follows: Impulsive Responses [Preconscious], Contemplation [Conscious], Memory, and lastly Innermost Desires [Subconscious].
Type 1. Impulsive Responses
The Influence Character is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He sees justice and honor as being flexible, dependent on the situation. His attitude causes unthinking responses (Impulsive Responses) in the Main Character, who reacts to every instance of the Influence Character's sliding scale of values as if he was shocked with an electric prod. The Influence Character's actions force the Main Character to lose his temper, make threats he later regrets, and smash things in a fit of self-righteous rage.
Type 1. Impulsive Responses ---------- > Type 2. Contemplation
As the Main Character becomes more obsessed with infiltrating the Consortium and edges toward putting himself under cover, the Influence Character's flexible ways enrage him more and more. Eventually, the Influence Character has had enough of this, and intentionally begins to show his easy attitude in front of the Main Character, so he can make him aware of situations in which rigid views just won't work.
Type 2. Contemplation
The Influence Character carries the argument to the Main Character that no one is immune to temptation. Going under cover in the Consortium will surely cause the Main Character to break if he does not learn to bend. Prophetically, the Influence Character makes the Main Character aware (Contemplation) of some situations in which a fixed code of ethics creates a paradox where one must reexamine one's ideals.
Type 2. Contemplation ---------- > Type 3. Memory
Coming to see that even though the Main Character is now aware of the issues involved, he still does not relent in his plans. The Influence Character begins to bring up the old days" when they were both beat cops together, fresh out of growing up in the same neighborhood. The Influence Character uses the Main Character's memories to drive home the point that the Main Character was also flexible in those days, and they laughed at the stiffs who usually ended up getting killed or going crazy.
Type 3. Memory
The Main Character has gone so deeply under cover that no one at the agency has heard from him in days. The Influence Character contacts and meets with the Main Character, finding him caught in a web of self-doubt, unable to choose between sticking with his code and helping the children's hospital. The Influence Character forces the Main Character to remember their days growing up together in the same neighborhood. Recalling how the Main Character's thinking was not always so black and white, he urges the Main Character to learn a lesson from those memories and bend with the wind, rather than snap under the pressures that are on him.
Type 3. Memory ---------- > Type 4. Innermost Desires
Unable to be in further contact with the Main Character who remains under cover, the Influence Character gets a few old friends from the early days to cross paths with the Main Character in the attempt to loosen him up. Each has been told by the Influence Character to remind the Main Character about the old days" and how much fun they used to have, how many dreams they shared before they got locked-in" to the system.
(Note to authors: The Influence Character need not be physically present for his impact to be felt!)
Type 4. Innermost Desires
With the Main Character back in the agency, the Influence Character passes judgment on him. He tells the Main Character to look to his heart—look to all the noble things the Main Character had hoped to do in the political realm. The Influence Character asks the Main Character how he feels now, knowing that he has violated the ideals he had intended to run on. What does your heart tell you now?" he asks of the Main Character, and then walks out leaving the dejected Main Character alone.
Relationship Story Throughline Plot Progression
It is always best to work on the Relationship Story Throughline last since it describes the growth of the relationship between the Main and Influence Characters, and therefore needs to call on what was determined previously for them.
Imagine for a moment the Main Character is a boxer. As an audience we stand in his shoes, effectively becoming him during the story. We look in the far corner and see our opponent, the Influence Character warming up for the bout. As the fight begins, we pass through changing concerns represented by the Main Character Throughline Type Order. As the fight progresses, the Influence Character lands some telling blows. The Influence Character Type Order describes these.
Outside the ring sit the judges. They do not stand in the shoes of the Main Character, nor are they concerned, fearful, or affected by the Influence Character's attack. Rather, the judges watch two fighters circling the issues—preserving the same relationship between them as opponents, but covering different ground in the ring.
So it is with the Relationship Story Throughline Type Order. As the first round begins, the Main and Influence Characters converge on a particular issue. They argue the issue, each from his own point of view. Once they have thrashed that topic into submission, they move on to another area of friction and continue sparring.
In this fictitious story example, the Relationship Story Throughline is Manipulation. The Type order selected for the Relationship Story is as follows: Developing A Plan, Conceiving An Idea, Playing A Role, and lastly Changing One's Nature.
Type 1. Developing A Plan
Developing A Plan means working out a plan, model, belief system, or paradigm. In the Relationship Story, the Main and Influence Characters quickly come into conflict about how to look at the relationship between organized crime and law enforcement. The Main Character argues that law enforcement is like a breakwater, holding back an ocean of anarchy. The Influence Character sees the system more like an ecology, where each kind of activity has its place in an ever-changing environment.
Type 1. Developing A Plan ---------- > Type 2. Conceiving An Idea
As new information about the increasing number of diamond heists builds, both the Main and Influence Characters approach the problem, arguing over how to put the clues into a meaningful pattern. When they discover the international Consortium, the Main Character looks for ways to stop it, while the Impact looks for ways to divert it. Based on his views, the Main Character Conceives of the need to place one of his agents deep within the Consortium as a mole. The Influence Character argues that the Main Character is thinking about it all wrong. They should be working out how to make the heists too difficult and costly a venture so the Consortium will go elsewhere to greener pastures.
Type 2. Conceiving An Idea
Conceiving An Idea means coming up with an idea or discovering a need. They finally come up with the idea of using the Main Character as the mole in an undercover operation, agreeing that this will be the best way to continue given their two points of view. They both believe that this plan will not only achieve their purposes, but will also make the other see the error of his ways. The Main Character believes he will be able to prove that he can stop the Consortium dead in its tracks, and the Influence Character believes the Main Character will be forced to compromise and change his point of view.
Type 2. Conceiving An Idea ---------- > Type 3. Playing A Role
As the Main and Influence Characters come up with more ideas to help him rise among the Consortium, they realize they are still not agreeing on how to run this operation. The Main Character starts acting more and more impatient with the Influence Character, being more and more like the role he is playing to be in among the sting. The Influence Character starts taking on a different role, that of the Main Character's nagging conscience.
Type 3. Playing A Role
Playing A Role [Being] means acting a role or playing a part. With the Main Character now within the Consortium, he adopts the role of an up-and-coming organized crime boss. The Influence Character is only allowed to see him while playing the role of his longtime friend and priest. Having to meet under the gaze of criminals, their relationship becomes one of playacting.
Type 3. Playing A Role ---------- > Type 4. Changing One's Nature
In their meetings, the Influence Character argues that if the Main Character is to become a mole in the Consortium successfully, the Main Character needs to play the role better than he has been. This will mean acting ruthlessly and letting a few people get hurt. The Main Character argues that he will not cross his personal line, even if that choice blows his cover: If he acted like them, he says he would be no better than they are. The Influence Character points out that if the Main Character doesn't bend his own code a little more, they will both become suspected narcs and probably will be exposed. This comes down to the choice between using crime money to save the children's hospital or shutting down the hospital. The Main Character chooses to save it.
Type 4. Changing One's Nature
Changing One's Nature [Becoming] means truly transforming one's nature. The Influence Character points out to the Main Character that The Main Character is no longer the self-assured champion of virtue he once was. He points out there was no escaping the change the Main Character made in his personal code to be able to bring the Consortium to some measure of justice. The Main Character says the angst he is suffering is a test of his moral fiber. Those who stand against the pressure and survive Become stronger for it. He throws the Influence Character out of his office yelling that they will never work together again. It is clear the Main Character has seen too much in himself and has become convinced that his moral ethics are no longer as powerful as they used to be.
As previously discussed, Genre is only slightly influenced by a storyform. This is because only four story points have a structural influence on Genre: The four Throughlines. Once each Throughline has been encoded, all the rest of the indistinct realm called Genre consists of storytelling preferences.
We have already explored the meaning of each Throughline story point in the Genre portion of The Elements of Structure. In the next section on Storyweaving, we will touch on many writing techniques that help to fashion Genre.
For now, let us simply recall that a story's Genre does not spring forth full-grown from the first word. Rather, it begins as a generalization and gradually evolves into a more and more refined overall feel and tone until it becomes a unique Genre represented only by this single story.
As a caution, keep in mind that trying to be completely unique up front often alienates an audience. Conversely, failing to develop enough unique refinements over the course of a story makes it less than memorable. A safer approach is to start with the same general nature as any one of thousands of other stories and then slowly mold a new realm. This is much more audience-friendly and will still create a one-of-a-kind experience.
Another consideration is to be aware of genre-specific storytelling conventions. Using genre conventions smartly and sparingly often satisfies an audience's expectations. Overusing genre conventions often works against a story's success by making it overly familiar and predictable. For example, putting your horror story in a dark, rainy location is consistent with genre conventions. However, having a cat unexpectedly jump out from somewhere is a tired convention. It may work to startle your audience, but it often produces as many groans and giggles as it does gasps.
Medium and Format
Up to this point, we have explored the encoding process as if storyform and storytelling were the only concerns. This is only true in a theoretical sense. In practice, you cannot relay a story from author to audience except across a medium. The medium in which a story is presented both limits the tools available to the author, and provides uniquely useful tools. For example, motion pictures are not known for the capacity to present stories told in taste or touch or smell. Stage productions, however, have made effective use of all three. Also, a novel allows a reader to jump ahead if he desires, and examine aspects of the story out of order, something one cannot do as easily in a movie.
Stories in many media are recorded to play back directly to the audience. Others are recorded as cues to performers and translated through them to the audience. Still others are not recorded at all and are simply told. There can be as many media as there are means of transferring information.
Even within a single medium there may exist several formats. For example, in television there are half-hour, three-camera formats, half-hour, single-camera formats, one-hour and two-hour and miniseries formats. Also, time is not the only quality that defines a format. Soap operas, episodic series, and multi-throughline episodic series are but a few variations. Each of these formats offers dramatic opportunities and each works under constraints. By exploring their demands and benefits, the process of encoding can be related to best advantage in each.