Close study of many narratives leads me to believe narratives of whatever form entail only one dramatic structure of near infinite interpretations. There is only one plot of many derivations. The proverbial beginning, middle, and end parts are one near useless formula for that structure.
Another somewhat helpful formula is a saying from writing culture, that a protagonist's want comes first, then a middle is problems prevent want resolution or, more broadly, satisfaction of the want, and vice versa, a problem with attendant want wants satisfaction. The end is that satisfaction, for good or ill or in between, some growth, some loss, as the case may be. One and only one want-problem complication of an order of magnitude suited to a narrative's length is the core kernel of a dramatic structure formula.
However, such a formula risks being too simplistic, too visible, too pat (on-the-nose), ergo, formulaic, so misdirection and implication serve to veil a complication's presentation. Natural and believable misdirection transcends visibility risks; implication, too, draws on reader ability to interpret intended intent and meaning; and both therefrom engage reader intellect, imagination, and emotional investment. Once invested, a reader is "hooked."
In addition to complication, therefore, which is causal and antagonal of a suitable magnitude, stakes, or conflict, too fosters investment. What is a want-problem if it is of too low a magnitude? A routine, everyday activity. Stakes raise magnitude and build onto complications' want-problem motivations. A want is itself a problem, and vice versa, in that one naturally attends the other. A lack of this or that is a problem and is a want for satisfaction of the lack. A routine want-problem is one that is as easily satisfied as a breath.
A want-problem of a morning cup of coffee is easily satisfied, so easy usually that the complication barely if at all registers conscious notice. Unless it becomes a monumental problem and of suitable stakes. What happens if the coffee want isn't soon enough satisfied? Frustration, at least; anger, too. The disturbed start of a disturbed day. Much can and will naturally go wrong. Through a personal error, want and problem escalate until the complication reaches satisfaction or not, or some other outcome. Escalation raises magnitude and stakes.
Is a missed cup of coffee a life and death situation? Probably not; may be, may be the very error that causes a life and death situation. A person like that, in that emotional state, is said to have woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Oh for the love of a missed coffee, a day or a life was ruined!
At what risk and personal cost for what reward is a coffee missed? The morning coffee is a routine ritual that, if interrupted, causes error due to frustration's anger, naturally, and consequent stakes escalation. Such is stakes' role in a formula, not the coffee itself, what its lack of routine ritual fulfillment means to a persona. Less emotionally secure personas will be all out of sorts. For more secure persons, a missed coffee is a mere everyday inconvenience, if that.
The former, a less secure person, for the moment at least, is what drama's formula concerns, not the exposure of insecurity, rather, the emotional response. Therefore, tone's emotional attitude toward a topic is the third feature of the formula. Anger is the most visible emotion, in others, somewhat less so internally, at least not as immediately visible in the self. Anger is the primordial emotion, followed in order of magnitude and visibility by fear, which causes anger, and joy. A cornucopia of nextmost and distant contender emotions follows, which require more development for visibility's sake due to their less tangible presentations, hundreds more. Doubt is an emotion itself, very intangible, for example.
The morning coffee missed at home, our coffee lover seeks one at a drive-thru. The line is too long to timely allow satisfaction: problem and emotional escalation. The coffee lover nonetheless arrives late at a destination: problem and emotional escalation. She or he snaps at the boss for making a scene about the tardiness: problem and emotional escalation. She or he is fired on the spot: problem and emotional escalation. And so on to some unequivocal, irrevocable outcome end. All for the love of a missed coffee.
This then is the formula, concurrent motivations, stakes, and tone development and movement thereafter, to a bittersweet end. An emotional equilibrium disturbance, ongoing and escalated emotional disequilibrium, and a new normal emotional equilibrium restoration end. Motivations are antagonal causation; stakes are tensional causation; all emotionally charged. *** Edited to add: More specifically, the formula in sequence is 1) emotional stimulus, 2) emotional influence assessment, 3) emotional response.
The formula applies to macro as much as micro movement, and all points between. The micro, for example, within a sentence: portrait of an antagonal, causal, tensional emotional stimulus. Like the ingredient necessary for a coffee is unavailable. What, No coffee!? Who used it up and didn't resupply? Axe-wipe-hole. Yeah, assign blame externally. Never mind the error is of the self's doing, ultimately. Within a paragraph or two, a cause, a suspension, and a response, or a preparation, suspension, and partial satisfaction segment, is a spectacle scene made.
Emotionally charged cause of a magnitude, emotionally charged delayed satisfaction, emotionally charged satisfaction, this is the formula's sequence. Motivations, stakes, and tone combined at one and the same time.
A too-pat sequence explains through summary the personal and emotional significance of the coffee and its lack. An artful sequence shows its emotional texture and context through scene imitation, those delightful "telling details" which express through misdirection and implication it's not about the coffee, rather about something else of a personal error nature. And the error demands satisfaction for good or ill ends. What could the coffee missed mean? Lack of personal due diligence, for one potential: sloth.
How about if instead someone gaslights the coffee misser? Deliberately arranges circumstances so that the coffee is missed and the misser then thinks the immediate error is the self's. The motivation and error there is initially on the other person's part. Victimized by external causes. What? Some comparable vice: wrath, pride, envy, greed, gluttony, lust, or as well sloth.
Used to live with gaslighter housemates like that myself. Just took my coffee without permission and never replaced what they took in any kind of due and timely compensation. And cornflakes and shoftshell crabs, lobster, filet mignon, and milk, bread, eggs, and bacon and anything they desired. Once brought home $100 of groceries, most of it was gone that same night when I got home from work. Short term satisfactions: chained and padlocked a cupboard and a fridge and left only inconvenient staples in open storage, flour, yeah, which no one but me baked, and the like. Long term satisfaction: got the heck and libel, slander and calumny my everloving axe the hockey sticks out of there.
A disclaimer to avoid confusion: My use of the term you is purely generic, the universal you, and in no way is a direct reference to extrinsic.
Originally posted by extrinsic:
quote: Close study of many narratives leads me to believe narratives of whatever form entail only one dramatic structure of near infinite interpretations.
Agreed, with caveats. This describes the Western tradition of storytelling that probably dates back more than 80,000 years, when tales of hunting success were told around the cave fire. There are other storytelling traditions in other cultures.
I also feel that there are other exceptions but trying to put them into words and defend them requires long arguments with myself and lots of cogitation assisted by fermented grape juice. More effort than I can afford to expend at the moment.
Originally posted by extrinsic:
quote: There is only one plot of many derivations.
I disagree. Completely. To my mind there are an infinite number of plots that, while constrained by the story's structure, in no manner reduces the infinite possibilities for uniqueness.
That said, in James Scott Bell's book Plot and Structure, he identifies eight common and almost universal plot patterns that nearly everyone will recognise:
The Quest Revenge Love Adventure The Chase One Against One Apart Power
The beauty of plot is that elements can be taken from all of these patterns and be combined and rearranged into an almost infinite variety of plots and stories. Each one unique and each one constrained by the classic three act structure.
Originally posted by extrinsic:
The proverbial beginning, middle, and end parts are one near useless formula for that structure.
Again, I disagree. This observation only holds true if you don't understand what it entails and the effects it manifests. If you really understand first principles, everything else is revealed.
Plot and structure are inseparably entwined. But that doesn't mean they are the same thing.
The single feature of dramatic structure is an action that compels a substantive transformation. That is the furthest and farthest possible backtrack to a first principle of plot, whether a homo habilis brief or debrief session around a fire pit or, what, a present-day household of nonfamily individuals who contend about food ownership and free right of consumption. By the way, that story is much more complex than laid out above. Oddly, the miscreants of the event sequence threatened litigation if they ever see anything from the household experience published. Hah! This writer knows how to disguise the guilty parties and the circumstances such that no litigation ever arises.
James Scott Bell's and any other nuanced dramatic structure granulation describes emphasis features: event, setting, or character transformation, or successful though nonetheless transformative resistance to transformation.
E.M. Forester's two plot types. Norman Friedman's twelve plot types, Damon Knight's eight types, one purportedly nonplot, Joseph Campbell's Monomyth and others, George Poiti's thirty-six plot types, Christopher Booker's seven plots, Aristotle's two-by-two-by-three types (comedy or tragedy, simple or complex, bad to good, good to bad, bad to worse: twelve), Freytag's one that is nevertheless several, and etc., all entail an unequivocal, irrevocable transformation, often internal to a narrative's events, settings, characters, or permutations thereof.
However, anecdote, vignette, or sketch narratives often entail little to no narrative internal transformation movement, instead are snapshot portraits of a discrete moment of time, place, situation, and personas -- situational stasis or state-of-being snapshots. No less dramatic, per se, in terms of antagonism, causation, and tension, complication and conflict, events, settings, and characters, their distinction is they entail little, if any, transformation movement and imply and intend external transformation movement -- in readers.
Folk tales and other than Western cultures' narrative artifacts, customs, and traditions entail such philosophical narratives: assertions, more or less, of moral law designed by intent or happenstance to persuade spectator moral transformation. The plot, or dramatic structure, forges the same function: persuade transformative moral adjustment. Only that a transformation design may be external to a narrative's surface or near-surface subtext thread content, for reader moral transformation persuasion purposes.
Other composition organization strategies likewise forge similar transformation designs and functions, regardless of expression type or form. The single distinction of note is how and what type portions, pieces, parcels, or wholes of the plot transformation structure are used. A piece or pieces at least; for novels, often parcel wholes, though not exclusively.
Another distinction of note, as regards internal or external, or both, transformation, is of how irony's applications function, practical irony, for one. Does a narrative assert, tell, that theft is immoral? Or does a narrative show the risks and perils an individual encounters due to theft?
The latter is an effectual use of narrative's practical irony arts to persuade external transformation; the former, a moral law assertion subject to challenge due to a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy that is of a self-service nature. Told you can't have a cookie by a red-handed cookie thief!? The first dictates behavior and conduct from a petitio principii fallacy, (begs the question, assumes the conclusion at the outset): theft is immoral, ergo, poetic justice demands equitable punishment, persuasive adjustment anyway, and artlessly telegraphs the outcome end.
A telegraphed outcome may appeal anyway out of a desire to see poetic justice served; good rewarded, evil punished; appealing from dramatic irony's implications of inevitable outcomes and desire for confirmation of expectations, though is of a less appealing type composition than a composition that keeps an outcome in doubt until a bittersweet end, which is externally more persuasive than direct moral law assertions' persuasion resistances. That's also most persuasive, is practical irony's glorious art.
The formula is meant to appear as unformulaic -- invisible. Low or no visibility makes the formula a challenge to observe, analyze, and implement. High formula visibility is the dreaded formulaic consequence, like melodrama and plot gimmicks.
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Which is the reason I loathe 'How to' books, Internet lists of "The 10 best ways to . . .", and acronyms. Loathe is probably too strong a word. I have no further use for them. Don't get me wrong though, such 'prompting' devices are extremely useful for the novice writer; it took me twelve months to realise I had outgrown them. But once the budding writer realises this, careful study of the underlying principles of the foundations of narrative gives rise to unique, insightful, and non-formulaic narratives that are fresh. That is, if the writer actually has something to say about humanity; either individually, in job lots, or in its entirety.
[ November 02, 2016, 07:16 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
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Seconded, mostly in that naivete about structure and that it is a singular formula of infinite interpretation can be overcome through study, albeit some fortunate writers possess an inherent appreciation of structure learned through social osmosis and intuited therefrom. Others, many in number, have the hard slog of unlearning much nonsense and learning practical methods. Once method is learned, though, such writers are at par or beyond writers who arrive at structural parameters easily.
The matters of uniqueness, insightfulness, and freshness are for the intuitive writers arrived at by shortfalls of structure awareness; they are Freudian in that their nonconscious processes shape their stronger appeals, which then some rearrangement and attention paid to overlooked content and organization specifics, and perhaps tone, are arrived at through intuition as well and part from reader comment.
For the others, the matter is more one of needing to know what they do, from intensive study and analysis, and the effects therefrom, and then effort necessarily invested to deflect, misdirect, subtend, and appear as ease of natural expression so that the formula is as invisible as possible and as needed.
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