Introduction To Storyweaving
Of the Four Stages of Communication, Storyweaving is most like what authors usually think of as the writing process. It is here that we gather everything we know about our story and decide how to present it to our audience.
Some authors are planners and like to work out everything before they write a word. For them, the Storyweaving process is simply deciding the most interesting way to tell a story that, for them, is already complete in their minds. Another breed of author consider themselves organic writers, and jump headlong into the writing process, only discovering what their stories are about along the way. Most authors fall somewhere between these two extremes, working out portions of their stories to varying degrees, then jumping in with the intent to become inspired by the writing process to fill in the gaps.
Which technique is best? Whichever works for you. Writing should be a positive experience, not drudgery. If you are having headaches instead of triumphs, you might want to consider changing the balance between your degree of preparation and your spontaneous exploration. For anyone destined to write, find the best mix of the two.
Of course, the proper mix of structure and stream of consciousness may change for an author from day-to-day. Some days may be good for working on the framework of a story. Other days it may be best simply to dive in and write. And the best mix can also change depending on the subject matter or even the medium or format. Writing is not a science but an art. Still, like any art, science can improve the tools of the trade making artistic expression more enjoyable and the finished product more reflective of the author’s intent. This is where Dramatica can help.
As aids to structure, the Storyforming and Storyencoding stages of communication describe everything necessary to form a complete argument. As tools for organic writing, Storyweaving and Story Reception provide techniques that create results. As you approach a story, you will likely want to draw on many of these tools to fashion the story you have in mind in the manner that brings the most creative fulfillment.
Having now set the stage, as it were, of how Storyweaving fits into the writing process, let’s explore some of the tricks of the trade.
Storyweaving and Structure
Part of the purpose of Storyweaving is to communicate the underlying dramatic structure or message of a story. The other part is to make that process of communication as interesting and effective as possible. In addition, the manner in which you express the structure has a great impact on how the audience receives the message that extends far beyond simply understanding the message.
Our first job then is the mundane task of describing how to communicate a structure through exposition. Once we have laid this foundation, we can cut ourselves free to consider the enjoyable aspects of using weaving techniques to build suspense, create comedy, shock an audience, and generally have a good time putting the frosting on the cake.
Space and Time Together Again
By now, you should be familiar with the idea that part of a story’s structure is made up of Static Story Points and part consists of Progressive Story Points. It is here in Storyweaving that we must find a way to blend the two together so all aspects of our story can unfold in concert.
In the Plot section of Storyencoding, we learned how the four structural and three dynamic acts of each throughline work as four signposts that defined three journeys. Although there are many ways we might weave all of this into a story, there is one straightforward method that is useful to illustrate the basic concepts.
First, think of each signpost and each journey not as an act, but as a Storyweaving scene. From this perspective, we can see there will be twenty-eight scenes in our story (four signposts and three journeys in each of four throughlines). If we write the Type of each signpost on a card and then write the Types that describe the beginning and ending of each journey on a card, we end up with twenty-eight cards. Each card represents a Storyweaving scene. (It is a good idea to put all the signposts and journeys from each throughline on a different color card to tell them apart easily.)
Now, we have in front of us twenty-eight scenes. Each one has a job to do, from a structural point of view. Each one must express to an audience the story point it represents. This is the process of encoding the signposts and journeys as we did in the Plot section of Storyencoding. We might write that encoding right on each card so we can tell at a glance what is going to be happening in that scene.
It is at this point we can begin to Storyweave. What we want to decide is the order in which those twenty-eight scenes will be played out for our audience. A good rule of thumb for a straightforward story is to keep the scenes in each throughline in order. So, Signpost 1 will be followed by Journey 1 which is in turn followed by Signpost 2 and Journey 2, and so on.
Now we run into a bit of a sticky wicket. Since all four throughlines are happening simultaneously from a structural point of view, all four Signposts 1 from all four throughlines occur at the same time! Of course, this might be difficult unless we were making a movie and used a four-way split screen. Still, some of our most sophisticated authors find ways to use a single event to represent more than one dramatic point at a time. This technique requires experience and inspiration.
A much more practical approach for those using Dramatica for the first time is to put one of the Signposts 1 first, then another, a third, and finally the last. Which of the four Signposts 1 goes first is up to our personal tastes, no limitations whatever. Although this is not as complex as describing all four throughlines at once, it is a much easier pattern to weave and has the added advantage of providing better clarity of communication to our audience.
Next, we will want to Storyweave all four Journeys 1. We might decide to move through them in the same order as the Signposts or to choose a different sequence. Again, that has no structural impact at all, and is up to our creative whims.
Just because we have absolute freedom, however, does not mean our decision has no affect on our audience. In fact, the order in which each scene crops up determines which information is a first impression and which is a modifier. It is a fact of human psychology that first impressions usually carry more weight than anything that follows. It takes much undoing to change that first impact. This is why it is usually better to introduce the Main Character’s Signpost 1 before the Impact Character Signpost 1. Otherwise, the audience will latch onto the Impact Character and won’t switch loyalty until farther into the story. Clearly, if our weaving has brought the audience to think the Impact Character is the Main Character, we have failed to suggest the real structure and meaning of our story. So, just because we have freedom here doesn’t mean we are not accountable.
Using these techniques, we could order all the Signposts and Journeys for all four throughlines until we set up a Storyweaving sequence for all twenty-eight scenes.
Before we move on to the next step of this introduction to building Storyweaving scenes, we can loosen up our constraints even a bit further. We don’t have to present all four Signposts and then all four Journeys. Together, each Signpost and Journey pair moves a throughline from where it starts right up to the edge of the next act break. Each pair feels to an audience as if they belong in the first act for that throughline. Therefore, as long as the Signposts precede their matching Journeys, the order of exposition can stick with one throughline for both Signpost and Journey or jump from a Signpost to another throughline before returning to the matching Journey.
Taking this more liberal approach, we might begin with Main Character Signpost 1 and Journey 1 (as illustrated below), then show Overall Story Signpost 1, then Impact Character Signpost 1, Overall Story Journey 1, Subjective Story Signpost 1 and Journey 1, and end with Impact Character Journey 1. In this manner, the Signposts and Journeys in each throughline stay in order, but we have much more latitude in blending the four throughlines together.
This still may be too chunky for our taste. If we want, we can break Signposts and Journeys into multiple parts. Each part explores only a portion of the Signpost or Journey. In this way we can weave the throughlines together more tightly than using whole Signposts and Journeys. When you subdivide Signposts and Journeys into smaller pieces, you allow for greater freedom in your storyweaving.
In practice, subdividing Signposts and Journeys into multiple pieces is a more commonly used approach than leaving entire Signposts and Journeys intact.
Storyweaving Static Story Points
By now, we have let our feelings be our guide in setting up a sequence for the twenty-eight Storyweaving scenes. Our next task is to figure out how to illustrate all of our remaining story points within those scenes.
One of the first things we might notice is the nature of each throughline is already expressed in the kinds of material we encoded for each Signpost and Journey. That is because the Types are simply a more detailed breakdown within each Throughline. All the remaining story points, however, will probably have to be addressed directly.
Since we have already woven all the crucial Progressive Story Points into our scenes, what remains is for us to weave the Static Story Points. Static Story Points all share one common quality: They must show up at least once, but can show up as many more times as you like. Again, we have freedom here. As long as we illustrate each story point somewhere, we have fulfilled our obligation to our structure. Anything beyond that is just technique that may make the story experience for our audience a more involving one.
So, let’s take Goal. We might spell out the Goal in the first Storyweaving scene and never mention it again. Hitchcock often did this with his famous MacGuffin, which was an excuse to get the chase started. Or, we might bring up the Goal once each act to make sure our audience doesn’t lose sight of what the story is all about. In fact, that is another good rule of thumb: Even though once will do it, it is often best to remind the audience of each Static Story Point once each act. As we shall later see, this idea forms the basis of The Rule of Threes, which is a handy writer’s technique.
Another thing we might do with a Static Story Point is hint at it, provide pieces of information about it, but never come out and say it. In this manner, the audience enjoys the process of figuring things out for itself. Since we are obliged to illustrate our structure, however, we better make sure that by the end of the story the audience has enough pieces to get the point.
For each kind of Static Story Point, authors have created many original ways in which to weave them into a scene through action, dialogue, visuals, even changing the color of type in a book. We suggest making a list of all your story points and then peppering them into your scenes in the most interesting and non-clich√© manner you can. Even if you are not excessively clever about some of them, at least the structure has been served.
Lastly, a word about weaving characters into your story. There is a huge difference between weaving a Subjective Character and an Objective Character. In fact, now the weaving of Subjective Characters is much easier. Just through creating scenes based on the Signposts and Journeys in the Main and Impact Character Throughlines, much of their character has been woven into the story. Then, by illustrating these character’s Static Story Points (such as Problem and Issue) the job almost finishes itself.
Objective Characters, however, are another matter altogether. Objective Characters have functions, and therefore to be woven into the Overall Story throughline they must exercise those functions. With archetypes it is an easy affair. There are eight archetypes. Each must be introduced so the audience knows what functions they represent. Each must be dismissed so the audience knows how they ended up. And, each must interact to show the audience which problem-solving techniques work better than others. Introductions, Interactions, and Dismissals: Another Rule of Threes again.
The most obvious and important interactions between archetypal characters occur between dynamic pairs, such as the Protagonist and Antagonist or Reason and Emotion. The two sides of each argument between functions must be played against each other to show which archetype fares better.
In addition, each interaction must go through the three steps of development: Set-up, conflict, and resolution. This means you must first establish the argument over the functions between each dynamic pair of archetypes. Then, the approaches must come into conflict. Finally, one of the two opponents must be shown to be better than the other.
Putting all this together, we have eight introductions, eight dismissals, and four interactions with three steps in each. This amounts to twenty-eight character events that must occur in a story using archetypes. As one might suspect, with twenty-eight character events and twenty-eight Storyweaving scenes, it dovetails nicely to put one character event in each Storyweaving scene. Now, you don’t have to do this. It’s just one simple way of getting the whole job done.
In keeping with this kind of approach, you might choose to touch on theme in each of the scenes, and explore at least one aspect of a Static Story point in every scene as well. This makes sure the entire structure relates. But it also runs the risk of creating a monotonous feel to your story.
Loading up one scene with many story points, then clearing the boards to concentrate on only one story point in the next scene, can liven up your storyweaving. In addition, all of this is based on an assumption of one Signpost or Journey for each Storyweaving scene. Although that is the simple way to Storyweave, there are many more ways to communicate the structure of a story.
Storyweaving complex Objective Characters is a little more involved but follows the same pattern. Instead of relying on the combination of functions represented by each archetype, we must storyweave the introduction, interaction, and dismissals of each character element individually. For example, the motivation element of Pursuit must be introduced, interact with the other elements, most notably Prevent/Avoid, and then be dismissed.
As with archetypal characters, each element interaction should include a set-up, conflict, and resolution. With sixty-four elements to explore, one can begin to see the attraction of the simplicity of archetypal characters. Conversely, the diversity of complex objective characters allows for nuances unavailable in archetypes. Fortunately it’s your choice as to how you wish to build your Objective Characters. Find the right combination of complex characters and archetypes that works best for your story.
Complex Characters require more consideration when peppering their events in your scenes. There are far more than the twenty-eight character events created by the character archetypes. Here is a useful trick to storyweaving complex characters: Limit the elements you explore in a given scene‚Äîdo not explore all of a complex character’s characteristics in every scene in which it appears.
For example, Character A is a complex character with the following characteristics: Faith, Control, Proaction, and Chaos Character B is a complex character with the following characteristics: Disbelief, Feeling, Trust, Acceptance, and Order. Imagine a scene in which both Character A and Character B interact. We can choose to illustrate every one of each of their functions, or we can choose to limit the interactions. A limited interaction might show Character A and Character B conflicting over Faith vs. Disbelief. Character A might also discuss the value of being proactive. Character B might suggest acceptance and a the value of trust. This leaves Character A’s elements of Control and Chaos and Character B’s elements of Feeling and Order open for exploration in some other scene.
Storyweaving and Storytelling
There are two kinds of storytelling techniques: Those that affect the arrangement and relationships of things (spatial), and those that affect the sequence of things (temporal). In Dramatica theory, we have cataloged four different techniques of each kind.
Building size (changing scope)
This technique holds audience interest by revealing the true size of something over the course of the story until you show it to be either larger or smaller than it originally appeared. This makes things appear to grow or dwindle as the story unfolds.
Conspiracy stories are usually good examples of increasing scope, as only the tip of the iceberg first comes to light and the full extent is ultimately much bigger. The motion picture The Parallax View illustrates this nicely. Stories about things being less extensive than they originally appear are like The Wizard Of Oz in which a seemingly huge network of power turns out to be just one man behind a curtain. Both of these techniques are used almost as a subgenre in science fiction stories, notable in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series.
Red herrings (changing importance)
Red herrings make something appear more or less important than it really is. Several good examples of this technique can be found in the motion picture The Fugitive. In one scene a police car flashes its lights and siren at fugitive-from-the-law Dr. Kimble, but only to tell him to move along. In another scene, Kimble is in his apartment when an entire battalion of police shows up with sirens blazing and guns drawn. It turns out they are after the son of his landlord and have no interest in him at all. Red herrings can inject storytelling tension where more structurally related weaving may be less interesting. (Note the difference from changing size, which concentrates on the changing extent of something, rather than reevaluations of its power.)
Meaning Reversals (shifting context to change meaning)
Reversals change context. In other words, part of the meaning of anything we consider is because of its environment. The phrase, guilt by association, expresses this notion. In Storyweaving, we can play on audience empathy and sympathy by making it like or dislike something, only to have it find out it was mistaken. There is an old Mickey Mouse cartoon called Mickey’s Trailer that displays this nicely. The story opens with Mickey stepping from his house in the country with blue skies and white clouds. He yawns, stretches, and then pushes a button on the house. All at once, the lawn rolls up, the fence folds in and the house becomes a trailer. Then, the sky and clouds fold up revealing the trailer is parked in a junkyard. This is a reversal from our original understanding.
Message Reversals (shifting context to change message)
In the example above, the structure of the story changed from what we thought it was. In contrast, when we shift context to create a different message, the structure remains the same, but our understanding of it changes. This is clearly illustrated in a Twilight Zone episode entitled, Invaders, in which Agnes Moorehead plays a woman alone on a farm besieged by aliens from another world. The aliens in question are only six inches tall, wear odd space suits and attack the simple countrywoman with space-age weapons. Nearly defeated, she finally musters the strength to overcome the little demons, and smashes their miniature flying saucer. On its side we see the American Flag, the letters U.S.A. and hear the last broadcast of the landing team saying a giant has slaughtered them. Now, the structure didn’t change, but our sympathies sure did, which was the purpose of the piece.
Building importance (changing impact)
In this technique, things not only appear more or less important, but also actually become so. This was also a favorite of Hitchcock in such films as North By Northwest and television series like MacGuyver. In an episode of The Twilight Zone, for example, Mickey Rooney plays a jockey who gets his wish to be big, only to be too large to run the race of a lifetime (The Last Night of a Jockey, Episode #5.5).
There is often a difference between what an audience expects and what logically must happen. A prime example occurs in the Laurel and Hardy film, The Music Box. Stan and Ollie are piano movers. The setup is their efforts to get a piano up a long flight of stairs to a hillside house. Every time they get to the top, one-way or another it slides down to the bottom again. Finally, they get it up there only to discover the address is on the second floor! So, they rig a block and tackle and begin to hoist the piano up to the second floor window. The winch strains, the rope frays, the piano sways. And just when they get the piano up to the window, they push it inside without incident.
After the audience has been conditioned by the multiple efforts to get the piano up the stairs, pushing it in the window without mishap has the audience rolling in the aisles, as they say.
Out of sequence experiences (changing temporal relationships)
With this technique, the audience is unaware they are being presented things out of order. Such a story is the motion picture, Betrayal, with Ben Kingsley. The story opens and plays through the first act. We come to discover whom we side with and whom we don’t: Who is naughty and who is nice. Then, the second act begins. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that this action actually happened before the act we have just seen. Suddenly, all the assumed relationships and motivations of the characters must be reevaluated, and many of our opinions have to be changed. This happens again with the next act, so only at the end of the movie are we able to be sure of our opinions about the first act we saw, which was the last act in the story.
Other examples are Pulp Fiction and Memento in which we are at first unaware that things are playing out of order. Only later in the film do we catch on to this, and are then forced to alter our opinions.
Flashbacks and flash-forwards (sneak previews and postviews)
There is a big difference between flashbacks where a character reminisces and flashbacks that simply transport an audience to an earlier time. If the characters are aware of the time shift, it affects their thinking, and is therefore part of the story’s structure. If they are not, the flashback is simply a Storyweaving technique engineered to improve the audience experience.
In the motion picture and book of Interview With The Vampire, the story is a structural flashback. Our concern centers on how Louis will react once he has finished relating these events from his past. In contrast, in Remains Of The Day, the story is presented out of sequence to compare aspects of the characters lives in ways only the audience can understand. Even Pulp Fiction employs that technique once the cat is out of the bag that things are not in order. From that point forward, we are looking for part of the author’s message to be outside the structure, in the realm of storytelling.
As long as the audience is able to make out the story’s structure when the Storyweaving is completed, the underlying argument will be clear. Beyond that, there is no law that says if, when, or in what combinations these Storyweaving techniques can be brought into play. That is part of the art of storytelling, and is best left to the muse.
The one area we have not yet explored is the impact medium and formats have on Storyweaving techniques. Not to leave a stone unturned, Dramatica has a few tips for several of these.
Tips for Short Stories
How to Make Short, a Story
The Dramatica model contains an entire Grand Argument Storyform. There is simply not enough room in a short story, however, to cover all aspects of a Grand Argument. The worst thing to do is arbitrarily hack off chunks of the Grand Argument Story in an attempt to whittle things down. A better solution is to limit the scope of the argument. This can best be done by focusing on a single Class or removing a level of resolution (such as Overall Story Characters or Theme).
Two Ways to Limit Scope
When limited to one Class, the story will be told from only one point of view: Main Character, Impact Character, Overall Story Throughline, or Subjective Story Throughline. Because storyforms are holographic, the gist of the argument is made but only proven within that point of view.
When limiting to fewer resolutions, we remove a whole level of examination, effectively obscuring a portion of the exploration and leaving it dark. Again, we explore the gist of the topic but only in the clarified areas.
With a single-Class story, the argument appears one-sided, and indeed it is. In the limited-resolution story, exploring the topic seems shallow but is complete as deep as it goes.
When writing VERY short stories, these two methods of paring down the information are often combined, resulting in a loss of perspective AND detail. So how small can a story be and still be considered a story? The minimal story consists of four dramatic units in a quad. This is the tiniest story that can create an interference pattern between the flow of space and time, encoding both reason and emotion in a way than can be decoded by an audience. However, ANY quad will do, which leads to a great number of minimal stories.
Tips for Episodic Television Series
Characters in Episodic Series
Keeping Characters Alive
Unlike single stories told from scratch, television stories have carry-over. That which is established becomes embedded in the mythical lore of the series, creating an inertia that strangles many fine concepts before their time. This inertia can be a good thing if it forms a foundation that acts as a stage for the characters rather than burying the characters under the foundation.
To keep a limber idea from succumbing to arthritis in this concrete jungle, create characters that can portray the full Element level of the structural storyform. Make choices that shift the dynamics from episode to episode. That keeps things lively.
Many episodic series rely on Archetypal Characters who can be counted on to respond in the same way from episode to episode. This caters to the strengths of television series with a loyal audience: The ability to create friends and family on which one can rely.
The first few episodes of a series usually bring in the “Villain of the Week” (essentially a new Archetypal Antagonist each time) while establishing the Archetypal roles for the regular cast and outlining the mythical lore. This formula wears thin rather quickly as the characters fall into predictable relationships with one another. They assume standard roles from which they never vary until the series loses its ratings and is canceled.
A solution to this growing inflexibility is to change the formula after a few establishing episodes. If one keeps the Overall Story Characters the same for stability but swaps the Subjective Character roles, the dynamics of the character interrelationships change even while the structure remains the same. This means the Protagonist is still the Protagonist, Reason is still Reason and so on, but Reason may be the Main Character of the week and Protagonist the Impact Character. By shifting Subjective Character roles, several season’s worth of character variations can be created without any repeats and the loyal audience’s attention is held.
To further break up the routine, occasional stories can focus on one of the Overall Story Characters as Protagonist and Main Character in his own story, without the other cast members. For this episode only, assemble a whole new ensemble as if it were a story independent of the series. Obviously, too much of this weakens the mythical lore, so use this technique sparingly.
Characters of the Week
On the other hand, many successful series have been built around a single character that travels into new situations from week to week, meeting a whole new cast of characters each time. This forms the equivalent of an anthology series, except the Main Character recurs from week to week.
A means of creating character variety is to assign this recurring character occasionally to roles other than that of Protagonist. Instead of telling every episode as revolving around the recurring character, have that character be Guardian or Antagonist or Skeptic to some other Protagonist. This technique has allowed many on the road series to remain fresh for years.
Plot in Episodic Series
Plot is the aspect of episodic series most plagued with formula. This is because of a predictable Dramatic Circuit. A Dramatic Circuit consists of a Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome. Each of these aspects must be present to create the flow of dramatic tension.
Storytelling conventions often follow the order suggested above. Each episode begins with the potential for trouble either as the first act in a half hour series or as the teaser in an hour series. In half hour series, the next act brings in a Resistance to threaten conflict with the Potential. Hour-long series present an act setting up the status quo the Potential is about to disrupt, then present an act on the Resistance. Next follows the Current act in which Potential and Resistance conflict. In the final act, Potential and Resistance have it out with one or the other coming out on top. Some series favor the Potential winning, others the Resistance; still others alternate depending on the mood of the producers, writers and stars.
Some feel this kind of formula is a good pattern to set up because the audience becomes comfortable with the flow. Sometimes this is true, but unless the Character, Theme, and Throughline of each episode vary the audience will wind up getting bored instead. More interesting approaches vary which function of the Dramatic Circuit comes first and jumble up the order of the others as well. Starting with an Outcome and showing how it builds to a Potential, then leaving that Potential open at the end of the story can make plots seem inspired. Many a notable comedy series has its occasional bittersweet ending where all the pieces don’t come together.
Theme in Episodic Series
Often in episodic series, themes are replaced with topics. Although Dramatica refers to the central thematic subject as a Topic, common usage sees topics as hot subjects of the moment. This makes topics an element of storytelling, not storyform. Often, the actual thematic topic is missing or only hinted at in exploring a news topic.
For example, the topic of the week in a typical series might be “Babies for Sale.” But is that a Theme? Not hardly. What is interesting about Babies for Sale? Are we exploring someone’s Strategy or Worry or Responsibility or Morality? Any of these or any of the 60 other Variations could be the thematic topic of “Babies for Sale.”
To involve the audience emotionally, the theme of each episode must be distinct, clearly defined and fully explored in essential human ways‚Äînot just revolving around a news item.
Genre in Episodic Series
Series can be comedies, action stories, love stories‚Äîwhatever. The key point to consider is that Dramatica Throughlines work in any Genre. To keep a high concept from bottoming out, rotate through the Throughlines, using a different one each week. There are only four Throughlines: A Situation, an Activity, Manipulation and a Fixed Attitude. A Situation Comedy (Situation) is different from a Comedy of Errors (Manipulation). Whatever Genre the series is cast in, bouncing the episodes through the Throughlines keeps the Genre fresh. In addition, jumping among genres can spice up the flavor of a series that has begun to seem like leftovers from the same meal, week to week.
Tips for Multi-Story Ensemble Series and Soap Operas
The least complex form of the Multi-Story Ensemble Series employs the use of subplots. Subplots are tales or stories drawn with less resolution than the principal story. They hinge on one of the principal story’s characters other than the Main Character. This hinge character becomes the Main Character of the subplot story.
Subplots are never essential to the progression of the principal plot and only serve to more fully explore issues tangential to the principal story’s argument. Tangent is a good word to use here, as it describes something that touches on yet does not interfere with something else.
Subplots may begin any time during the principal story, but should wrap up just before the principal climax, or just after in the denouement (author’s proof).
Relationships of Subplots to Plot
Since subplots are essentially separate stories, they may or may not reflect the values and concerns of the principal story. This allows an author to complement or counterpoint the principal argument. Often a subplot becomes a parallel of the principal story in another storytelling context, broadening the scope of the principal argument by inference to include all similar situations. In contrast, the subplot may arrive at the opposite conclusion, suggesting the solution for one storytelling situation is not universally appropriate.
There can be as many subplots in a story as time allows. Each one, however, must hinge on a character that is essential to the principal story (as opposed to a character merely created for storytelling convenience). Each character can only head a single subplot, just as the Main Character of the principal story cannot carry any more subplots. However, the Main Character can (and often does) take part in a subplot as one of its objective characters.
Other than subplots, Multi-Story Series can contain several unrelated stories. In this case, there may be two or more independent sets of characters that never cross paths. Or an author may choose to interweave these independent stories so the characters come into contact, but only in an incidental way. In a sense, this form is a spatial anthology in which multiple stories are not told in succession but simultaneously.
Perhaps the most complex form of the Multi-Story Ensemble Series is when both subplots and separate stories are employed. Often, the subplots and the separate stories both use the principal story’s characters as well as characters that do not come into play in the principal story.
An overabundance of storytelling becomes difficult to finish within the limits of even a one-hour show. Therefore, single episodes can be treated more like acts with stories sometimes running over four or more episodes. Each episode might also contain subplots staggered in such a way that more than one may end or begin in the middle of another subplot which continues over several episodes.
Obviously, many cross-dynamics can be going on here. It is the author’s job as storyteller to make sure the audience always is aware which story or subplot they are seeing and what the character’s roles are in each context. This is essential, since no internal storyform controls all the independent stories. The connective tissue of storytelling holds them together.
Tips for Novels
Novels, like all forms of prose, employ stretchy time where (unlike plays) individual audience members can advance through the work at their own pace. They can also reexperience important or personally meaningful sections and skip sections. As a result, in novels an author can play with storytelling in ways that would be ineffective with the audience of a stage play.
More than most formats, the author can meander in a novel without losing his audience. This is a wonderful opportunity to explore areas of personal interest, develop an intriguing character, harp on a message or engage publicly in a fantasy.
Of course, if you intend to tell an actual story in your novel, then the storyform has to be in there somewhere. However, with stretchy time in effect, time is not of the essence and one can afford to stray from the path and play in the fields on the way to Grandmother’s house.
Tips for Motion Pictures
The Rule of Threes
Many rules and guidelines work fine until you sit down to write. As soon as you get inspired, creative frenzy takes over and the muse bolts forward like a mad bull. But there is one rule of thumb that sticks out like a sore thumb: The Rule of Threes.
Interactions and the Rule of Threes
Overall Story Characters represent dramatic functions that need to interact to reflect all sides of solving the story problem. The first interaction sets the relationship between the two characters. The second interaction brings them into conflict. The third interaction shows which one fares better, proving one as more appropriate than the other.
This is true between Protagonist and Antagonist, Protagonist and Skeptic, Skeptic and Sidekick‚Äîin short, between all essential characters in a story. A good guide while writing is to arrange at least three interactions between each pairing of characters. In this manner, the most concise, yet complete portrayal can be made of essential storyform dynamics.
You must introduce each of the characters before the three interactions occur, and dismiss them after the three interactions are complete. These two functions set up the story and then disband it, much like one might put up a grandstand for a parade and then tear it down after the event is over. This often makes it feel like there are five acts in a story when three are dynamic acts and two have been borrowed from the structure.
Introducing characters is so well known that the author often forgets it. A character's intrinsic nature must be illustrated before he interacts with any of the Overall Story Characters. This is so basic that half the time it doesn't happen and the story suffers right from the start. (Keep in mind that an author can use storytelling to fool his audience into believing a character has a given nature, only to find out it made assumptions based on too little information in the wrong context.)
Introductions can be on-camera or off. They can be in conversation about a character, reading a letter that character wrote, seeing the way they decorate their apartment‚Äîanything that describes their natures.
The Rule of Threes should be applied until all the primary characters are played against one another to see what sparks are flying. Once we understand how they interact, it is time to dismiss the company. Dismissals can be as simple as a death or as complex as an open-ended suggestion of the future for a particular character. When all else fails, just before the ending crawl a series of cards can be shown: "Janey Schmird went on to become a New Age messiah while holding a day job as a screenplay writer."
The point is the audience needs to say good-bye to their new friends or foes.
Handoffs and Missing Links
Often we may find that a particular point of view needs to be expressed in a given scene but the character that represents that view has gone off to Alaska. Why did we send him to Alaska? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But now... Do we go back and rewrite the entire plot, have him take the next flight home or blow it off and let the lackluster scene languish in his absence?
None of the above. We could do those things, but there are two other choices that often prove much more satisfying as well as less destructive to what has already been written. One method refers to absent characters; the other is the handoff.
Characters in Absentia
The function of characters in a scene is not to show their physical presence, but to represent their points of view on the topic. As long as they fulfill that mandate and throw their two-cents into the mix, their actual presence is not required.
As authors, how can we represent a character's point of view in a scene without having to haul him in and place him there? Perhaps the easiest way is to have other characters talk about the missing character and relay the opinion that character would have expressed if he had been present. For example, one character might say, ‚"You know, if Charlie were here he'd be pissed as hell about this!" The conversation might continue with another character taking a contrary position on what old Charlie's reaction might be until the two have argued the point to some conclusion much as if Charlie had been there in spirit.
Other techniques might use an answering machine message, a letter, diary or video interview from the character in question that is examined during a scene. Many current stories use a murder victim's videotaped will to include him in scenes involving his money-grubbing heirs. More subtle but potentially even more effective is for one character to examine the apartment, studio, or other habitat of a missing character and draw conclusions based on the personality expressed in the furnishings and artifacts there. Even the lingering effect of processes a character started before he left, or other characters' memories of the missing character can position him amid intense dramatic discussions without his actual attendance.
Still, for some storytelling purposes, you need a live body to uphold and represent a point of view. If there is just no way to bring the character that contains those characteristics into the scene personally, an author can assign a proxy instead. Do this by temporarily transferring the dramatic function from one character to another. We call this a handoff.
What is a Handoff?
A handoff occurs when one player temporarily takes on the story function of a missing player. This new player carries the dramatic flag for the scene in question, and then hands it back to the original player on his return.
Doesn't this violate the Dramatica guideline that every Objective Character is the sole representative of his unique characteristics? Not really. Having one character be the sole representative of a characteristic is a guideline, not a law. The essential part of that guideline is that a character does not change his internal inventory of characteristics during the story. A player, however, is not bound by that restriction.
In a handoff the player is not actually giving up a characteristic because he isn't around when another character is using it, so technically the first player is never seen without it. But because of this, he cannot share characteristics with other players at the same time. If he did, two characters might be trying to represent the same point of view in the same scene, making dramatic tension just go limp.
How to Do Handoffs
When we employ the handoff, we create two players to represent the same trait at different times. It is reminiscent of time-sharing a condo. In any given scene, a single point of view might be represented by character "A" or by character "B," but never by both in the same scene.
Most often, one of the players will be a major player and the other just a plot device player of convenience who appears for one scene and is never heard from again. Such players just fill in the gaps. Sometimes, both players prove intriguing to the author and each becomes a major player. The difficulty then arises that at the climax of the story, both players might still be alive and kicking and therefore suddenly converge in an awkward moment. No matter what you do, it's going to be clunky. Still, if you must have both present, it's best to either make a statement in the story that they have the same characteristics, binding them in the mind of the audience, or deal with them one after another.
A special case exists when (for whatever reason) an author decides to remove a player from the story. This can be a result of sending the player to its death, to the Moon or just having it leave at some point and not return. Often, this technique is used to shock an audience or throw them a red herring. Unless the functions represented by the eliminated player reappear in another player, however, part of the story's argument will disappear at the point the original drops out. In the attempt to surprise an audience by killing off a major player, many an author has doomed an otherwise functional storyform.
There are two primary ways in which an eliminated player's functions can continue without him. The easiest is to bring in a new player who is dramatically identical with the first, although its personal qualities are usually different. Often the storytelling requirements of a plot judge one player more suited to part of a story and another player to be more in line with the rest. Killing off the first player but continuing its dramatic function through a new player can serve both purposes and provide the best storytelling effect without a loss of dramatic continuity. The major condition is the audience must be made aware that this dead man handoff has occurred so it does not suddenly sense a vacuum in the story's argument. This may require a fair amount of introduction to place the new player solidly in the old role.
The second technique for replacing a player yet continuing the character's functions is to divide the functions among several new players, each representing only a portion of what had previously been contained in one. Naturally, these new players would be less complex than their predecessor, which may decrease nuance at certain levels of the story. On the plus side, this method scatters the functions into new bodies, allowing for external conflicts between functions previously blended into a single individual. Once again, telling the audience who got what is essential to the smooth progression of this type of handoff.