Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Narrative Arcology

Sustained, Structure, Sub-plots…

As a narrative is crafted its' creator strives to develop a self-contained world that feels believable and welcoming for an audience. Most often the piece is not a singular narrative but a comprehensive arrangement of narratives that are all self-contained yet influential and integral to forming the narrative.

Every narrative has a core element or theme that drives the story but each of these elements is also self-contained and complete. The primary components of this narrative arcology are the primary plot, each individual character's primary plot, the secondary sub-plots and the thematic components such as mystery, tension, anxiety and world building elements.

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Abstracting the perspective on a 'story' it is the point at which an audience begins viewing the lives of the individual characters. Something significant and contained has occurred in the lives of the characters that can be perceived as self-contained and complete story. It is this perspective that demonstrates one of the primary principals of the arcology concept, the self-contained and self-sustaining components to drive the primary element. As psychological profiling suggests, every individual experiences a form of narcissism that can be more dominant during early adulthood. This narcissism means that every individual believes that they are the star of their own story and in truth, they are. That means that every individual in a story is their own main character.

Many narratives address these separate sub-plots as a change in perspective to another character and ultimately reflect the complete impact of these self-contained narratives on the primary plot. Stories by Tolkien or Koontz demonstrate this separate but cohesive approach readily but the disadvantage of this approach is that often the reader can see the impact before it occurs. 

A secondary approach is to examine the full narrative for all of the individuals in-depth separately. The individuals reflect the events of their own narratives as they 'come into frame' in the primary plot but remain self-contained while contributing to the narrative arcology. Stories by Kelly Armstrong demonstrate this method quite clearly. One character may be distracted by a fight with a sibling when the main character asks for help with their problem. The main character may experience the fallout from that narrative but the actual narrative will remain self-contained.

A narrative is a bracket, a frame that is placed over any number of lives at a given point of time that can culminate in a decisive journey to conclusion. Each is a path that leads in one direction but has multiple paths that cross it to extend or add dimension to each path. The individual lives involved are each their own self-contained and self-sustaining narratives, sub-plots. Each individual is a component to the larger structure that makes the structure whole,  the narrative arcology.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Inexhaustible Aspirations

Regardless of the medium, everyone has long-term aspirations, dreams that they either consciously or subconsciously desire to attain. Aspirations are as varied as the individuals that have them. An artist may dream of having their work in a gallery exhibit, a writer may dream of publication and certainly there are those who dream of a stable home or the 'Epic Love.'

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Every aspiration can be very telling about the individual but these are more than simple aspirations to individual, these demonstrate motivations. When an artist is asked why they want their own gallery exhibit they may recount that it is because it symbolizes that they've 'made it' or any number of superficial reasoning but it is very likely that the individual does not even recognize the subconscious motivations that are driving them towards the aspiration.

A writer may aspire for publication or even acclaim for their work ranging from community praise to the Pulitzer. However, like the artist there are subconscious motivations that are responsible for driving the individual towards these aspirations.

More emotional aspirations like a consistently stable home or finding 'Epic Love' not only are subject to the subconscious motivations to the emotional states associated with these aspirations. Individuals aspiring of a stable home may be under constant duress, anxiety because their current status is the opposite of their aspiration. The 'Epic Love' or fairytale romance is subject to emotional fluctuations raising to the highest elation and dropping to the darkest depressions. The severe anxiety and emotional turmoil make the Epic Love one of the most dangerous psychological traumas.

"Spanning Years, and contenents. Lives ruined and blood shed. Epic!…. No one writes songs about the ones that come easy." -Logan Echolls (Veronica Mars)

Every long-term aspiration has a psychological impact on the individual and their behavior. Subconscious motivations that alter their behavior and the extreme emotional affluences that can alter an individual's emotional state. The desire for a gallery exhibit may actually be a subconscious desire for affection. These hidden motivations can cause undue amounts of stress as the individual obtains their exhibit but the aspiration still remains unfulfilled. As an individual moves closer to their aspiration, the events and obstacles that prolong attaining that aspiration will have a significant psychological impact. Often these will result in larger emotional reactions than they would ordinarily receive. As an aspiration continues to be evasive, anxiety ultimately becomes a tension and leads to psychological and emotional exhaustion.

Life is filled with aspirations, dreams that drive individuals towards an uncertain goal. While the emotional turmoil of pursuing and ultimately attaining a dream may be an 'Epic' process the emotional and psychological turmoil does not end with attaining that dream. Fear of completing a dream is almost as daunting as trying to attain it. As many artists, writers and dreamers realize when they nearing their aspiration… What comes next?

"That's the fun part. You find a new dream."  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cliched Contrivances

Gimmicks, Machinations, Contrivances...

While every narrative, every work requires a series of contrived events to propagate a story and develop the plot into a designated direction, there are certain contrivances that have not only fallen into cliche but can also serve to sever the connection between the audience and the work.

These contrivances are prominently a single element on which the entire subject of a piece can hinge. While these elements have been overused to the point of absurdity by popular media, they still find their way into narratives and while these elements can have their place in a piece their implementation is often the largest failing. This comes from a lack of research and more reliance on what has be exemplified by the media when using these elements.

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The most gimmicky of these elements are the almighty whatsit, the walking encyclopedia and the psychological excuse.

The Almighty Whatsit takes two forms; the first is the whatsit that causes the story, while the second form is the whatsit that resolves the story. In the first form this can be a device that could save, destroy or alter the world, a miracle cure or artifact of some form. In Urban Fantasy this is often the lynch-pin of the story, someone is in pursuit of a magical relic that can give them unbelievable power to do very bad things. The second form usually is added to resolve the story when things are at their bleakest for the characters. This form can be anything that the first form can be. In both instances the almighty whatsit is something wholly unique and world shattering, while at the same time it's the implementation of this that breaks the audience-work connection.

The Walking Encyclopedia is often the solution resource for the main characters. When they are striving to accomplish something and need knowledge that will ultimately lead to the resolution of the piece the characters happen across the Walking Encyclopedia. This element often comes as the explanation or info-dump piece of the plot. The Walking Encyclopedia knows exactly what to do and is ancillary to the main characters either uninterested in the outcome or is secretly supporting the antagonist. The implementation of the Walking Encyclopedia is usually the by-product of foreshortening a piece. This can easily be rectified into something believable by reducing the information provided by any one character.

The Psychological Excuse is one of the most overused elements in any medium. This can be utilized to explain the behavior of characters, the motivation for the antagonist and even the core element of a piece.  This element is often a trauma of some form either physiological or psychological. Why does the antagonist hate the protagonist? They were abused as a child. The character needs to be captured to explore some exposition. The character is hit on the head and knocked-out, drugged or otherwise incapacitated. The character needs to explore their life, uncover a mystery etc. They have amnesia, multiple-personality disorder and so forth. The Psychological Excuse requires quite a bit more research than relying on traditional tropes. If someone is traumatized there are strong psychological and physiological effects that are often repressed or subconscious. If someone is knocked-out or drugged into incapacitation there are very dramatic side-effects ranging from brain lesions to sever vomiting and more.

Every Narrative relies on certain tropes to progress and develop the story but quite frequently these contrivances fall into cliched and gimmicky territory that breaks the spell for the audience. Popular media has explored these tropes extensively to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes it's best to recognize the cliche if only to avoid it.

Do you have any contrivances in your work? How do you avoid these cliches?


Monday, August 8, 2011

Abstracting Trauma

Almost every narrative's central theme is overcoming a significant trauma that has led to significant adversity and hardship. In many instances this trauma is either the crux of the narrative or the creators' primary means of drawing emotion from their audience.

A traumatic event involves an experience or recurring experience that completely overwhelms an individual's ability to cope.

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Frequently the theme of overcoming the trauma and 'moving on' or confronting the repercussions of that trauma are the core foundation of any narrative piece due to the highly controversial and emotional nature of the trauma. When the success of a piece is dependent on drawing an emotional connection between the individuals in the piece and the audience, beginning with a trauma that stirs emotions in the audience is fundamental.

Due to the controversial and highly emotional nature of trauma, the selection of those traumas for the piece are delicately selected to either develop characters or the primary plot. The selection is often made because the creator wishes to explore the depths of a particular trauma. What are the prolonged effects of child abuse on the child? What reactions does someone have after years of verbal abuse? How does an individual perceive the world after the loss of a loved one? How does a rape victim cope? These particular traumas are extremely powerful but it is also important to note that these can have an adverse response from the audience. Not everyone will want to explore these 'dark' emotions.

Attempting to explore trauma is highly contingent on understanding the psychological effects of the trauma on an individual. Often after a traumatic experience a person may re-experience the trauma mentally and physically. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to escape as psychological triggers cause a re-experience of the event. The individual may suffer feelings of intense anger, resentment and guilt. Upsetting memories such as images, thoughts or flashbacks may haunt the person. Nightmares and insomnia may occur as their repressed fears keep the person on edge. As these stressors continue it can lead to emotional exhaustion and ultimately emotional detachment.

In a narrative piece that utilizes trauma as both backstory for individuals in the piece and as a core element of the primary plot, it is paramount to understand what that trauma actually does to the individuals that experience it. Just as imperative is understanding how an audience will perceive that trauma and if they are willing to confront those 'dark' emotions.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Saturated Settings

In any piece, a setting can infuse a narrative with a distinct tone, a mood that flows throughout or even permits the characters to demonstrate traits that would otherwise remain hidden from the piece. Unfortunately many settings have been utilized to the point of exhaustion from decrepit abandoned buildings to the city coffee shop.

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Each distinct setting in a narrative can infuse a particular tone into the piece because of the preconceptions that every individual has regarding those settings. Most settings are not chosen based on the tone that they will set but because they will be relatable for the majority of the target audience but in choosing this route it creates and sustains the cliche settings.

Some of the most over saturated settings include; urban sprawl, office building, coffee shops, the sea-side town, the sewers, caves, hidden rural towns, decrepit abandoned buildings, schools, forests and swamps. Each of these settings carries a certain connotation and infuses a specific tone into the narrative.

In the Urban Sprawl setting(Cities or Suburbia) this is the most common setting for a narrative because the sheer number of audience members that live in a similar setting. The Urban Sprawl infuses believability and a tone of pressure, stress, to the piece. The coffee shop, the office building, the parking garage, the sewers and apartment/loft are frequently exploited in this setting. While there are a multitude of variants of these settings, the sense of normalcy that these settings evoke makes the narrative more believable but also less distinguishable from other works in a similar setting.

In the Rural setting, whether it's the hidden town on the sea or in the woods the setting adds a sense of peace and a tone of mystery. While there are fewer individuals of the audience that actually live in these settings the preconceptions created by these are far stronger. The audience will constantly be 'en garde' for the subtle hints of something else underneath the surface of the town.

The Hidden settings like swamps, forests, caves and abandoned buildings carry a tone of foreboding and sadness. Unfortunately these settings have been used by horror stories so frequently that the audience is just waiting for something to 'jump out' at them from the piece. Since far fewer individuals have actually experienced these settings, the layers of development and detail will be much greater to convey the same levels of tone that a familiar setting can do far quicker.

As a setting is utilized to build a relatable connection between the audience and the characters this also applies all of the knowledge and experiences that an individual has regarding a setting. When tapping into the viewer's knowledge it is important to note that not only will it be more readily believable but also that they may have more knowledge about the setting than the writer. It becomes a delicate balance of tone and believability. Drawing on popular settings can make a piece more believable but also less distinct.

What settings to you find that you draw upon the most and for what tone?

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