Freytag’s Technique of the Drama (and AutoBlurb, live)

This is such a great book I’ll squeeze it in here, sideways.

Gustav Freytag’s Technique of the Drama is a long, older book that’s available online. A very useful, insightful, and overlooked book.

Freytag says that the dramatic is not emotion and not action, but it is emotion conjoined with action; it is action that is undertaken for emotional reasons. (Shades of Foster-Harris, but with a different palette.) He says drama is composed of play and counter-play: the play is what the hero does and the counter-play is what is done that has an effect on his psyche. He argues that the tragic should be an essentially ethical force which the hero must fulfill (again the resonance with F-H).

He breaks drama into five parts, with three crises joining them. The five parts are the introduction, the rise, the climax, the fall, and the catastrophe. (He only deals in the tragic; no happy endings here.) The three crises are the exciting moment (or exciting force), the tragic moment (or force), and the moment (or force) of last suspense.

He goes through Romeo and Juliette to show how to use minor characters like chess pieces to push around the major characters and make things happen. Indeed, he steps through the process of making a germ of an idea into an entire work — not formulaically, but nevertheless with an eye to the practical and useful.

There’s a slightly typoed pdf of his book here. You can get image-only scans online quite easily.

(That link broke somehow.  It’s fixed now.  I guess I can’t link directly to the pdf.  But the pdf is available for free download on the newly-linked page.)

Meanwhile, AutoBlurb is live and online! You can get completely fresh, random plots generated by clicking these links: Here for classic Polti plots, or here for Polti plots souped up with sci-fi contexts taken from S. John Ross’s Big List of RPG Plots.

Note:  AutoBlurb online does all kinds of weird things with punctuation.  I don’t know why; I don’t have ready access to the online version to streamline the generator file.  These formatting troubles don’t show up if you use the desktop program.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 8:34 am  Comments (1)  
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Take the Foster-Harris Survey!

Although I haven’t written anything on Foster-Harris in a while, I see that I’m still getting traffic on his writing system.  If you’re interested in his emotion-based formula for building stories, you can take the survey here.

If you’d like to let others know of this survey, you’ll find the tinyurled link most convenient — it won’t break under cut+paste:

http://tinyurl.com/yev2ha9

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Emotion + Action Story Formula

This formula combines the Foster-Harris emotional formula with the Lester Dent action formula.  It aims at a story 6,000 words long.  If you’re just tuning in and don’t know about these guys, check out the tags on this blog for the background.

The goal here is to create a story with action and emotional conflict, where the emotional conflict motivates the action, and the action is emotionally significant.

FINDING THE STORY LOGIC

1.) Use the F-H system to design an emotional conflict of interest to you.  We’re using the words “emotion” pretty loosely here; the conflict can be between any two values that get a rise out of people.  For example, the conflict between power and identity.

In general, you want these emotions to be similar to each other, or lay claim to similar domains of activity.  So Love v. Hate is not the way to go.  Love v. Lust is better.  Also popular, according to Foster-Harris, are Pride v. Honor (big with men) and Status v. Love (big with women). (more…)

Published in: on June 26, 2009 at 1:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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Q & A on Foster-Harris

Must emotions be about the future?

On the secret, hidden part of my blog, where I’ve posted my first story written to pulp formula, Wayne commented:

I’ve read Foster-Harris’ books and he’s excellent at explaining subjective POV.

His other notions are intriguing and I wish he had explained them more and gave more examples.

F-H says every fiction sentence should have an emotion looking forward and a fact looking back. Like “Angrily, he swirled.” Anger is an emotion but how is it looking forward? Anger is frustration at being stopped. How is swirling a fact looking back.

Well, there are different kinds of anger.  If the anger were about being stopped, then it would be “about the future” in the sense that the angry person didn’t want to be stuck on whatever had stuck them, but was already mentally trying to put themselves into the future situation, and stupid reality wasn’t keeping pace with them.

But your criticism is a very good one.  Emotions aren’t always about the future.  Foster-Harris is wrong on that point.

Some emotions are always about the future.  Fear, for example, doesn’t make sense if it’s not oriented toward the future.  You could image a situation where someone was fearful of something that technically had already happened — fearful of getting a bad grade on yesterday’s test.  They might know it had already been graded, but until it happens to them, until they get the grade, it’s in their future.

Other emotions are always about the past.  Regret, for example. (more…)

Published in: on June 25, 2009 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pulp Report – First Story Finished

Last night, I finished The Robot Murders, which I’m posting here.  I have to post it with a password, because part of the experiment is to try to sell it.  If you’d like to read it, write me with “pulp fiction password request” in the subject line. (more…)

Published in: on June 25, 2009 at 1:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Using the F-H System to write Viewpoint + Interiority

Just as a movie director works with camera, a fiction writer works with viewpoint.  The camera determines the image on the screen, and the viewpoint determines the perspective of the writing.  In the F-H system, this viewpoint must be subjective.  It must include a “me.”

As far as Foster-Harris is concerned, when writing fiction, the subjective and the emotional are good, and the objective and the intellectual are, at best, a necessary evil.  This is very different from most modern fiction styles, and it is the reverse of journalistic and academic writing.  The argument is that the power of journalistic and scholarly writing is in their objective truth, because we have a stake in knowing the truth, whereas the power of fiction is in its ability to reach our subjective emotions.  The idea is to establish an emotional stake even in the absence of truth.

Basically, we do this by describing the viewpoint character as if he were us.  We put ourselves imaginatively through the viewpoint character’s experiences and write that as our story.  When the reader reads it, he goes through the experiences of the viewpoint character and has the corresponding emotional response.  So it’s really very complicated, especially when you consider that either the author or the reader might or might not sympathize with the viewpoint character.

But we won’t get that complicated here:  this is a basic storytelling system, and the seven following rules are meant for the relatively simple case, described above, where the viewpoint character mediates the author’s emotions to the reader.

Rule One:  There must be one viewpoint character in your story at any time.  (more…)

Published in: on June 17, 2009 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Deeper IF Characters with the F-H System

We’ve considered the F-H system of characterization, with one blog post on theory and strategies, and one on techniques and implementation.  The goal now will be to re-work these techniques for IF, making them suitable for the existing technology, and not reliant on tricky AI.  I’m all for tricky AI, but I can’t do it myself.

The broader purpose in doing this is to see how we can make NPCs that live up to at least the minimal standards set by pulp literature.  Since we know that much of pulp is pretty bad, and yet many people do consume it and, like fast-food, find it satisfying, we can infer there’s something in the pulp formula which over-rides the frequent overall badness of the writing.  By including this element in our games, along with good writing and game design, we can enrich our player’s game experience.

The F-H principles of characterization are:  create characters through emotional conflict; maximize that conflict by making the hero 49% evil, and the villian 49% good; portray characters with conflicting qualities, such as strength and weakness, or wisdom and folly; and write characters with physical and behavioral tags for those qualities, as a way of keeping on-message.  The overall idea is to foster inner emotional conflict about future events in the narrative.  Now let’s apply this to IF. (more…)

Conveying Character with the F-H System

In the previous post, we saw that to make characters with the F-H system, we need to show characters undergoing a conflict between two emotions; and that, to make the conflict a strong one, the hero should be 49% evil, and the villian 49% good.  The character will be evil or good in ways relevant to your particular plot, and the emotional problem it poses.

Characterize With Opposing Qualities

Now, this reflects the way Foster-Harris tells us to create characters generally:  in opposing qualities.  If we are talking about a character who is strong, it is necessary to mention ways he is weak.  If we are talking about the ways a character is wise, we must mention ways she is foolish.  And so also for nice-mean, smart-stupid, religious-sinful, charitable-thrifty, and so on. (more…)

Published in: on June 11, 2009 at 8:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Creating Character with the F-H System

The F-H system, if you’re just tuning in, is a system for creating popular fiction.  It was made in the 40’s by a writing instructon named Foster-Harris.  Some of the instruction is geared to an older style of writing, but much of it is still valuable.  It’s overlooked and out of print, but I’ll be going through it thoroughly on this blog.  See that? — Free writing course.

The F-H  standard appears to be the minimum necessary requirement for a work to qualify as a story.  And it seems that, if you follow this system, you will reliably create a story.  Might not be a good one, but it won’t be something else masquerading as a story.  That’s what the F-H system is about — getting the minimum requirements.

Conflict Creates Character

We create character in the F-H system the same way we create plot:  through conflict.  The emotional conflict which generates the story must live in the central character, and make the big decision seemingly impossible.  The more conflicted the character is, the more real he seems to the audience.

(more…)

Published in: on June 11, 2009 at 2:45 pm  Comments (2)  
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Pulp IF? – Applying the F-H system to text game plots

In the last blog post, I reviewed the Foster-Harris formula for creating (let’s face it) pulp plots.  I argued that the F-H system is the minimal system for creating an emotionally salient plot.  Therefore, presumably, a F-H plot in a text game is the minimal design we’d need to get an emotionally salient piece of interactive fiction.

And I’m not saying that there is no emotionally salient IF out there, but the word on the street is that IF generally falls short of qualifying as “literature,” in contrast to pulp fiction (which is bad literature, but literature nonetheless).

So, what do we need to do to bring IF “up” to the standards of bad literature, according to the F-H system?

(more…)

Published in: on June 11, 2009 at 12:48 am  Comments (2)  
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