Sign in to follow this  
sunandshadow

characters, plot strands, algebra

Recommended Posts

sunandshadow    7426
This is a new journal entry I just added to my developer journal; I thought I cross-post it here since no one ever comments on my journal. This is related to the Dramatica theory of writing, as well as the cult that has grown up around Joseph Campbell and _The Writer's Journey_, a formula for writing mythic fiction which is very rigid, but effective if you want to write that kind of thing. I, however, don't. So, here's Teh Sunandshadow's mutant version of the theory of the interface between characters and plot: The terms protagonist and antagonist are useless. Every primary character is capable of acting in both protagonistic and antagonistic ways, especially when that character has strong internal conflict, filling both roles at the same time. (A vivid example of this is the character Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's _Crime and Punishment_. (Note: a character may actually be half of a person (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are 2 characters), more than one person (twins, a mob), or a personified inanimate object such as nature.) It IS useful to distinguish between primary characters and secondary character, since they are developed and used in fundamentally different ways. The essential difference between them is dynamism. Secondary characters do not fundamentally change during the course of a novel. Primary characters, while they may in the end decide not to change, struggle throughout the novel with forces pressuring them to change and other forces holding them back from changing. Thus, every primary character (assuming that character is not purely a hero or a villain) has an internal story as well as participating in the external story, while secondary characters participate only in the external story. (The Dramatica theory refers to these storylines as throughlines, although it maintains that each story has exactly 4 of them.) A novel is composed of an external storyline which contains all the characters, plus an internal storyline for each primary character, plus storylines between each pair of primary characters - so if you know how many primary characters you have, you know how many storylines you will need to weave together to make your novel (although authors may choose to leave out some that seem redundant or unimportant). So, # of plot strands = 1 + P + (P-1)factorial Since every story must have at least one primary character, the minimum number of plot strands is 2. An example of a novel of this type is William Golding's _Pincher Martin_. My own novel has 4 main characters (M, A, L, and R). So it has 1 + 4 + (4-1) + (4-2) + (4-3) = 11 plot strands. These plot strands are as follows: External = Family vs. Society Internal = M vs. self, A vs. self, L vs. self, and R vs. self Interstitial = M vs. A, M vs. L, M vs. R, A vs. L, A vs. R, and L vs. R Of these, M vs. R and A vs. L are relatively unimportant and could optionally be left out. Now, these plot strands can't all happen at the same time. In point of fact, a scene may have only one plot strand, and one would be hard pressed to include more than three, one of each type (external, internal, interstitial), in a scene. So, The weaving of a novel is a process of choosing which plot strand(s) to explore in any give scene, while making sure that all the plot strands get explored, hopefully with some kind of rhythm resulting in a climactic bang at the end, throughout the course of the novel.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5MinuteGaming    274
I'm not farmiliar with Joseph Campbell's "The Writer's Jounrney" but your method seems interesting. I would use it more as a guide for the story rather than as a forumla to creative writing. Since methods and templates to writing novels tend to limit the creative genius and should rather be thought of as something to aid you in keeping on the right track and to help gauge where you are in the story and where you have to go. Good thought though, counting how many relationships you have within your group of main characters.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Estok    104
For clarification, I said something similar here, but what I called 'threads' were not plot strand. It was a multiplot structure, and each thread is an interactive branching tree. The problem encountered there is not about presenting 19 story lines, but to interact the 19 forces. You can think of them as processors, and the problem is not about time sharing them, but sychronizing and intercommunicating among them. It was a very different problem statement from this:

Quote:
So, The weaving of a novel is a process of choosing which plot strand(s) to explore in any give scene, while making sure that all the plot strands get explored


It is the difference between designing a story for a game and designing a story that is the game.

I don't have anything to comment on your thread. Your notion that the formula was rigid was correct, and it didn't say much except for estimating the complexity (why would you need to estimate the number of strands? I needed to do that because the story is a game and I need to know the size of the branches to estimate the width and length of the game). For Cryo I didn't use use such estimation because the math will be an overestimation:

1 PC - Primary Character
4 RNPC - Primary Character
9 NPC - Secondary Character
4 External Threads
1 Global conflict

= 19 threads

Secondary Characters in Cryo also have inner and interpersonal conflict. If you use the math and assume that the agents are fulling connected, or pair-wise connected, it will lead to an overestimation of the size.




Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
sunandshadow    7426
Quote:
Original post by Estok
1 PC - Primary Character
4 RNPC - Primary Character
9 NPC - Secondary Character
4 External Threads
1 Global conflict

= 19 threads


What are the 4 external threads, if I may inquire? I'm having difficulty imagining how there can be more external threads than the global conflict.

Quote:

Secondary Characters in Cryo also have inner and interpersonal conflict. If you use the math and assume that the agents are fulling connected, or pair-wise connected, it will lead to an overestimation of the size.


I was defining secondary characters to be those who have no internal conflict. If that isn't true for yours, what would you say is the difference between primary and secondary characters?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Estok    104
Re:

The external threads are problems that the player can get involved in. The outcome of these threads affect the global thread but do not dictate its final state. They are not part of the global thread, but are parallel to it.

4 External Threads:
- Dark Crescent (The secret service of the Cincra)
- NaraSuh Project (The integrated city development project)
- Phoenix 5KF (Racing/Competition: The TaraSuh way of life)
- Freeing the Contaminated (The environment)

1 Global Conflict:
- Revival of the burning past (Cryo)


In your definition, none of the 13 characters are secondary characters. The difference between an RNPC and NPC is their degree of interaction with the PC, their semantic role, and their data structure.

The RNPCs were the 'first-tier' spawns to iconize the two new races, and the two sides of the human race. The NPCs were the 'second-tier' spawns to support the RNPCs. There is a layer of 'third-tier' NPCs that further substantiate the plot. Their degree of inner conflict is reduced. The third tier NPCs are probably what you would call as secondary characters. Examples of the third-tier: (In numpad order)

Cell 7 - The Lake Monster: The monster in the Northwest
Cell 8 - Case: Frequency's designer
Cell 9 - Templar Prototype: The Templar newborn
Cell 4 - Pluffy: Krystal's pet
Cell 5 - Rosefinch: Frequency's bike
Cell 6 - Eubola: The incomplete system the Templars protect
Cell 1 - The Canyon Monster: The monster in the Southwest
Cell 2 - Gaida: Shamila's best friend
Cell 3 - Baby Wyruka: The Wyruka newborn

And there is the horde of filler NPCs (fourth-tiers) such as neighbors, summons, bots, comrades, enemies, competitors, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
sunandshadow    7426
Interesting. While working on my plot outline today I was just thinking about how many plot threads can be ongoing at any given time. My novel has 11 plot strands (maybe a few more depending on how I count the external threads). But I can't hold that many threads in my head at once, so in following my instincts about how the story should be I used the setting to limit this, separating the characters so that each setting only has 4-6 plot strands happening it. In Xenallure the number of plot strands available at any given is also limited by setting - specifically the player chooses which of up to 7 locations in the game to spend the next day at, and can only interact with the characters who are there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Estok    104
In Cryo there is no intention to limit the plot strands at each location. In fact, the design tries to involve as many locations for a thread. There are 18 locations in Cryo, 9 above and 9 below. Each of the 18 locations have location-specific plot elements for each RNPCs. So each location must involve at least 4 plot strands, the global strand, and the plot strand related to the corresponding NPC. Six is the minimum number of plot strand at each location.

Most of the NPCs are not rooted in a location:
Wyruka Queen - 6
Ulora - 8
Chero - 14
Templar - 6
Hoplite - 8
Luth - 14
Cryo - 18
Dem - 18
Ark - 18
= 110 shared by 18 locations = 6 each.

So each location in involved in about 4+6=10 threads.

Currently there is no difficulty implementing this size. Memory is not an issue. There is a way to map this. I don't see much of a reason to estimate the number of threads and plot strands. The only reason I mentioned this in the other thread was to show that a branching trees and flowcharts would be incompetent for respresenting the complexity.



It seems you thought too much and it came around:
Quote:
In Xenallure the number of plot strands available at any given is also limited by setting - specifically the player chooses which of up to 7 locations in the game to spend the next day at, and can only interact with the characters who are there.
This is how things go normally even if you didn't think about threads or strands.

Due to the multi-thread nature of the story, Cryo uses a different approach. In order to solve the overall puzzle, the Player needs to know quite a lot about what are going on at different parts of the world. To immerse the Player to the Situation, Cryo allows the player to interact and explore in different forms--PC's physical form, Krystal's ghost, and other avatars and agents. Controlling Krystal's ghost is not that much of a surprise, the Player is going to figure that out way before the PC does. It is just another way to starve the Player. Much of the gameplay involves the Player trying to make the PC aware of a certain situation. There is a distinction between the motivation of the PC and of the Player. The Player is not the PC. The PC is an optimistic dumb guy that doesn't know what is going on, it is the Player's game to find and reveal the truth to the PC. The PC does not represent the player, and the player does not have complete control over the PC. Through the PC's exposure to the events, the motivation of the PC will change.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ketchaval    186
Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
The essential difference between them is dynamism. Secondary characters do not fundamentally change during the course of a novel. Primary characters, while they may in the end decide not to change, struggle throughout the novel with forces pressuring them to change and other forces holding them back from changing.


Hmm, interesting many games don't feature much in the way of other characters trying to change the main character. I suppose that this kind of thing could create an interesting dynamic, for example having various guilds (ie. social groups) that try to get you to work with them, hang out with them and start to think like them.

For example the way that the Gang mentality takes over your character in GTA.

It would be interesting to see several different groups each with different causes, ie. the choice between an aggressive pressure group and a pacifist non-violent protest one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ahw    264
I dunno why, but this thread reminds me of 24.
One of the aspects of this show I have admired since the first episode was the ability of the authors to have so many threads running concurrently, all in real time. It magistrally answered the first question I asked myself when I started watching : "if it's in real time, how are they gong to fill in the dull moments, like when they must drive from point A to point B, or the characters are doing something like going through the records in a computer, or waiting for a pickup, etc".
Turns out, they simply switch to different characters.

In effect, the amount of characters and the consequent number of possible interactions, plot threads, which would normally not be explored due to the "lack of time", here becomes an advantage! A way to keep things moving while somebody else isn't being so exciting to watch.
There is something about the efforts it must take for the authors, to make all seem to flow naturally, that I found amazing [smile]

Anyway, I don't know if you can see where I am going with this, but I think this answer your concern that "all those plot strands can't happen at the same time".
Actually, they can. You just have to make the high points of each separate strand be occuring at a different time than the other strands.
If the strands were waveforms, the goal would be to align the signals so that, instead of overlapping, they would overlap as little as possible, in a manner where there would never be any down time.

It's what happens in 24: instead of having an action sequence, then calming down with some talking (as in a normal action movie). You just keep switching from a high octane situation to another crisis, the focus leaving the characters while they are having their "quiet moment" (say, while they are recovering after a fight).

Hope this is helpful ? [rolleyes]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Estok    104
Re: ahw

Downtime is almost never an issue in story-telling, because fast-forward, flashback, and perspective-switch are instinctly used by the designer. Scripted story design never ran into the problem of downtime to begin with, it is only through reality shows when the existence of downtime become apparent.

There is not much reason why the time of presentation needs to flow in a constant rate. Time scaling is a usual property of story-telling. You are correct that if the story has to be presented in a constant time flow, then it is logical that the events are scheduled by the designer to cover all downtimes. 24 is such a design where time needs to be presented in a constant fashion, where all events occur within the 24 hours. Normal designs do not run into the design constraint that 24 has.

A situation where that constraint exists is in a story platform of persistent world with multiplayer. The idea is to let the players to be entertained by stories occuring in real-time no matter when they log on. I don't think the story designs mentioned in this thread so far encounter the problem of having downtime.




Cryo

Cryo is not subjected to the constraint of constant time flow. When there is a potential downtime, the slot is filled with thoughts and flashbacks. By default, the design of Cryo does not use uncontextual perspective-switch. There is a reason in the context of the story that the PC is able to view each remote event. It is part of the gameplay for the player to establish such reasons to gather information to solve the mystery.

The reason I do this, is because uncontextual perspective switch, although useful, is not an integrated story-telling device, that it is potentially unsatisfying for a mystery game, because it leaves the player thinking, "how would the PC know this? The PC is not supposed to know this." Yet, a design goal of Cryo is to starve the player through the difference between what the PC knows and what the player knows. So eventhough only contextual perspective-switching is used, the interpretation of the PC may not align with the truth. It is part of the gameplay for the player to make the PC realize the meaning of the observation.

(i.e. both the PC and the player saw the scene, but the player thinks that the PC interpreted the situation wrongly, or is deceived by the RNPC. The player identified who the villain is, but the PC does not see the RNPC as a villain, therefore the player desperately tries to find situations where the evilness of the RNPC can be revealed.)



Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this