Ensemble Stories

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Chris Huntley
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Ensemble Stories

Postby Chris Huntley » May 30, 2008 10:48 am

Anand -- Ensemble Stories

Hi there

I am trying to write an ensemble story but find very little help either in Dramatica theory book or Dramatica for Screenwriters by Armando. Good news is that I have successfully pitched a story (a thriller) with a producer using Dramatica for the first time. But Ensemble is the second one, so how do I go about writing one (even a synopsis using Dramatica)? Can you kindly give the latest Oscar winner Crash as an example please? thanks a lot.

Chris Huntley Re: Ensemble Stories #1

The Dramatica software isn't well suited to working with ensemble stories, but it can be helpful in developing or evaluating them.

There are different types of ensemble stories. The Big Chill is one in which most of the characters share the same world view and therefore loosely work as a collective Main Character. Other ensemble stories are a tapestry of two or more stories that weave in and out, sometimes sharing players between the stories.

I think Crash is is a work with at least two different grand argument stories in it. HOWEVER, I think the characters are more in service of the thematic exploration that character exploration. And this is where I think Dramatica might be able to serve your efforts best. Approach your storyform from the story's thematics. When answering character storyforming questions, think of them as descriptive of abstract classes of characters in your story instead of a specific character. In that way you can use the storyform to indicate how your thematics will develop over time.

I also think that the Plot Sequence Report might be useful in building your scenes thematically. It's a report that gives you a view of the story from the "inside." I suggest looking at what Armando has to say about using this report in "Dramatica for Screenwriters." This chapter is available online at dramatica.com: http://www.dramatica.com/theory/armando ... 21p01.html

Congrats on your thriller. Good luck on your ensemble piece.

Best regards,
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers

Anand Ensemble stories #2

Hi Chris

Thanks a lot for posting your suggestions, although to be honest with you I am not able to understand when you say "abstract classes of characters instead of a specific one while answering the storyforming questions". Also, I am at a loss when you say focus on thematics more than characters. anyway, what i do understand is that for an emsemble story, one can weave two or more stories together or have more characters (other than the archetypal or complex characters representing the character elements) to explore the thematics, say like incidental characters used here and there in any story.

Moreover, if we take Crash again as an example, my understanding is that it is a story that has explored the relationship throughlines more than any other one. We have paired characters (like the two car jackers, two policemen, the senator and his wife, the detective and his girlfriend and so on) that explore the thematics as in any relationship throughline and either of them changes in the end. In other words, I think it is a bundle of many relationship throughlines (many MCs and ICs) exploring a common or very similar thematics.

So my question is whether this is the right way to approach an ensemble story. What I have in mind is to create one grand argument story (with four differnt stories for each throughline) and merge as one story. To be more specific, can i merge Obtaining as an Overall story concern of one story, Future as a Main character concern of a second story, Changing One's Nature as a Relationship throughline of a third story and finally Innermost Desire as an Impact character concern of the fourth story and have the same corresponding issues and problems of each throughline and make it as an ensemble story? This way what I might get is different story illustrating and weaving but actually one grand argument storyform with each throughline having different characters exploring it. Is this the way to go? please help. thanks.

Chris Huntley Re: Ensemble stories #3

The short answer is "yes." The reason you can explore a storyform that way is that each throughline has all 64 character elements, 16 thematic variations, 4 plot types (signposts), and 1 domain within which to explore them. The thing you'll want to make sure you do NOT lose sight of is the perspective of the throughline.

The "Big Picture" Overal Story throughline is objective--a view of the outside from the outside.

The Main Character "Personal" throughline is completely subjective--a view of the inside FROM the inside.

The Impact Character "Opposition" throughline is a mixed perspective--a view of the inside from the outside.

The MC/IC "Relationship" throughline is a mixed perspective too--a view of the outside from the inside.

If you keep your explorations primarily focused within the narrow context of each throughline, the holistic effect on the audience SHOULD be the sense that you have created a single grand argument story.

When I said, "abstract classes of characters instead of a specific one while answering the storyforming questions," I meant that you should think of groups of people instead of an individual, such as "people inclined to be prejudiced" as a group instead of Matt Dillon's character as an individual (in Crash).

When I said to focus on the thematics more than the characters, I meant to pay more attention to exploring the thematic Variation level in the Dramatica structure than the character Element level. By emphasizing theme, your characters will seem to be in service to that purpose and character inconsistencies or digressions become less problematic, structurally-speaking.

Personally, I think Crash has at least one grand argument story that involves the prejudiced cop and the African-American woman he gropes and then later saves. Much of the rest of the story, however, is an exploration of prejudice in general. You have characters that act like stereotypes, others work against type, others accurately predict behavior, others inaccurately predict behavior--essentially every combination one can imagine with regards to stereotyping, profiling, and otherwise prejudging. At the end, what does it all mean? If it were a grand argument story, the audience should understand the author's position on the subject. I don't think that was the author's point in Crash. I think he wanted to point out that you CAN'T reliably predict how people will behave based on snap judgments and circumstantial evidence. Sometimes people behave according to cultural stereotyping (e.g. the two black youths carjacking). Sometimes people do not behave predictably. I think that IS the point of the story--to show how predictions based on preconceptions AREN'T reliable.

-- Chris

Anand Ensemble stories #4

Hi Chris

Thank you so much for explaining about Crash and clearing my doubts about ensemble stories. I need just one more clarification please. This is so much to do with the way I posed the question rather than your explanations. You see, what I want to know is whether I can create one grand argument story with all the four throughlines intact and use the individual throughlines alongwith the corresponding story appreciations like goal, issues etc and use it to create an ensemble piece.

For instance, let us take a story where the hero has a future concern, fate issue (I am writing this from top of my mind so if the example has wrong issues or problems please excuse, but I hope you get the idea), perception problem etc. This hero's story we do not explore any other throughline except MC throughline. But what we do is, we use the same storyform and use the other throughlines concerns, issues and problems and create three different stories and merge it as an ensemble story.

In other words, instead of having the MC interact with the IC in the same story, we shall have MC's throughline, but when it comes to IC, that person would be an IC for another MC in another story however retains the same corresponding concern, issue and problem from the same storyfrom. Similarly, Overall story will have the same elements, issues and problem and concern from the same storyform as that of the original or first MC but it will be a different story with some other characters having nothing to do with our first MC. The same goes for the relationship throughline where the relationship of some other MC and IC will be explored using the relationship throughline apprecaitions of this primary storyform of our first MC.

I hope I have made it easy to understand my question. This is what I have in mind and please let me know whether this approach is a right one. Thanks a lot.

Chris Huntley Re: Ensemble stories #5

I believe what you describe is possible and doable but difficult to accomplish. The resulting story would likely have an interesting "feel" to it--at one time both familiar and unfamiliar.

I say go for it.


Anand Plot Sequence Report #6

Thank you for your comments about writing an ensemble story. I will work on it and if i get stuck I will get back to you.

And regarding your suggestions about using the Plot Sequence Report, I am presently writing the script for the thriller I mentioned earlier, using the PSR report. I have a small query. Using the PSR I have some forty eight scenes with different thematics to explore in each scene. What I understand from the article by Armando (and the book as well) is that I have to insert three things - character interactions, Thematics like issues and problems and solutions etc and plot items like signposts, drivers etc.

However, I have two different things now - on one hand I have the Plot sequence report giving me some forty eight scenes and on the other I have the character summary, thematics and plot appreciations and progressions etc. What do I do now? How do I merge these two things together? And most importantly do I have to have character, theme and plot items in each and every scene? Please explain. Thanks. I have gone through the book by Armando and he has given two different examples on how to use the PSR for creating scenes. Can you kindly clarify which way to go please?

Chris Huntley Re: Plot Sequence Report #7

There are no hard and fast rules for creating scenes and there are LOTS of ways to create them. I believe Armando's suggestions are to do one or the other, not necessarily both.

The goal of creating scenes is to explore the static and progressive story points and characters in your story. There's no right or wrong way to create scenes, objectively speaking. However, there are many opinions on what should go into a scene with books on most of them.

To see ONE way you might organize a story in scenes, take a look at the Screenplay Structure Template shipped with Dramatica Pro (and the demo). Print the "Treatment with Structurre" report to see how those generic scenes are designed.

Best regards,
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers

Anand Plot Sequence Report #8

I can't thank you enough for your suggestions and most importantly for having created Dramatica, for it has made me a writer (an absolute novice with no prior experience or natural flair for writing). I will follow your suggestions and Armando's as well and see how I can fit it the characters, theme and plot appreciations into the existing scenes I have created using the PSR. Thank you once again for your time and guidance.
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers Inc.

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