Subtext Awesomeness: The Narrative Argument

One of the amazing features of Narrative First's Subtext service is that Jim Hull has gone through and "curated" all of the analyzed stories with a narrative argument. The argument is built up from the story structure (the storyform) with the elements of the argument worded as to best apply to the particular story.

For example, compare two stories with the same storyform:
  • Start chasing your dreams, and you can win.
  • Start pursuing adventure, and you can secure your family.
(Bonus points if you can identify these two stories in a comment!)

You can see how the Growth of Start, the Crucial Element of Pursuit, and the Goal of Obtaining are used there. (The formula isn't as simple as just stringing together those items, though, because the structure of the sentence used depends on other story dynamics like Outcome.)

Applying Narrative Argument To My Own Writing

I was curious to see if I could figure out the Narrative Argument for the story I'm working on now. I suspected it might help me better understand my current work-in-progress, Starfighters: Infection. But initially I had some trouble with the MC Crucial Element of Logic, so I tried a different story.

Last year I worked on a detailed treatment/outline for a novel called Oathbreakers, as part of my narrative first mentorship. I knew the structure was pretty sound because Jim had reviewed it. After a few tries I figured the narrative argument was something like:

Vindication awaits those who keep getting in the way, even if it means allowing your enemy to break free.

This is Steadfast/Good/Failure story, with an MC Crucial Element of Hinder. The MC is Caitlin, a poor magic-born girl who wants to help fight the enemy, but in the end she refuses to take on the ultimate burden. Thus she gets in the way of the IC-Protagonist's efforts to prevent an evil demon from escaping its age-old prison.

What's really fascinating to me is that I had always considered the MC Problem(Drive) of Uncontrolled to be the most important thing, but now I can really see how Hinder connects the different throughlines. It's quite amazing. I'm really looking forward to writing this story next!

Back to Starfighters. From the beginning I had trouble really understanding my MC Throughline -- I totally got it down to the Issue of Hope but the Problem (Control) and Focus (Logic) took me a few hundred pages of first draft to really grasp. I did make some breakthroughs, and could now see the whole MC Throughline quite well ... but still, trying to see Logic as an important part of the entire story's argument was throwing me for a loop.
Devin's MC Problem Quad.
For example, I knew MC Devin hates his friend Eric's logical, step-by-step approach to dating and picking up girls. And I knew that in the Overall Story, everyone's focusing on trying to find rational explanations of things, and seeing problems when things don't make rational sense. These are great illustrations of MC & OS Focus but they didn't seem "important" enough to glue the whole story together into a rich, complex argument that puts a shiver into your spine and makes you go "oh. oh wow."

This is where Subtext came in. I searched for other Steadfast stories with an MC Focus of Logic, and checked their narrative arguments, hoping something would jive with me.

BOOM. I found Braveheart, whose narrative argument is: Keep acting irrationally and you can see a future where you rule yourself.

WHOA. Somehow, seeing that same Crucial Element of Logic applied to another Steadfast story, and one I knew well, was like a lightning strike in my head. Suddenly I understood why poor, lovelorn Devin is the Main Character of this story. And with that, I had my narrative argument:

Keep acting irrationally, and you can save humanity from becoming infected*.
*(i.e. becoming the infected hosts of mind-controlling alien virus entities)

The thing with Devin is that his friends all think it's ridiculous that he keeps chasing the cruel, often heartless Becca. Devin knows his friends have a point -- and he doesn't even know the half of it, that Becca is working for the badguys (unwittingly, they're manipulating her, but she should know better).

But in several crucial moments in the story, Devin keeps going with his irrational hopes -- not only to date Becca, but to protect her, and to save her from herself when she realizes how she's betrayed everyone and wants to die. He pushes forward with an unreasonable plan to keep fighting when it seems they've already lost.

I can see now how that irrationality is so crucial to this story -- how my Author's viewpoint is saying "yes, Devin is being totally irrational, and he SHOULD be -- that's what they need to win".

This gives me chills because Subtext, like Dramatica, kind of peered into my writer's soul a bit there...

One More Thing I Learned From Subtext

I've been wondering why I seem to like writing Steadfast stories so much. As a viewer/reader I enjoy both Steadfast and Changed stories, but since finding Dramatica the two big stories I've pursued have had Steadfast MCs.

There is the idea that one enjoys feeling one was right from the beginning, as a Steadfast/Good story demonstrates. But that seems a bit too simple, especially when one's MC wavers toward Changed a lot.

I think what I really like is the complexity of the Crucial Element being the MC & OS Focus (in a Steadfast/Stop story). It's really cool because the MC sees something about that element as a problem and focuses on it, YET they also "stick with" an aspect of that element:
  • Caitlin hates how her life has been hindered due to being magic-born, yet she keeps getting in the way of the First Mage (Protagonist)'s plans.
  • Devin hates Eric's logical approach to women, but keeps following irrational hopes for Becca.
 There's almost a contradiction there, yet the story's argument is that such a contradiction is needed, it's a Good thing!


  1. "Finding Nemo" to secure the family (that movie line I picked up without 'assistance').
    "Pitch Perfect" for the win.

    As to "Pitch Perfect", I was able to narrow down the field by using the fantastic Storyform Connections, inserting the story points from the narrative argument given and then looking at the suggested films that matched up--looking at that list I could single out Pitch Perfect.

    By the way, Subtext now also features being able to search by the storypoints of Focus (aka Symptom) and Direction (aka Response).

    The many aspects of Subtext available for utilization allow the writer to come from many different angles and don't require using all the aspects. I use what aspects I want or need for the moment and then move on--for me the storytelling examples from other stories that exemplify some of the many ways storytelling Elements have been used frequently inspires my muse. (My motto-Keep pursuing the Muse and you can get the novel written).

    1. Thanks for the comment Flamel! You definitely win the bonus points. (Dramatica joke: lack of a prize is the same as a prize, so you're lucky.)

      Yes I'm glad Jim has added the search by Focus and Direction, I will update the article to reflect that. He's super-responsive to Subtext suggestions, I think he made that change within an hour of reading my blog post!

      I love your approach to pursuing the Muse and how Subtext helps you do that ahead of examining every single story point in detail.


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