Screenwriting, structure and what I learned along the way
Our culture is built around storytelling: going to the movies, thumbing through the paper, buying too many books during lockdown … reading a blog. We can’t get enough!
I’ve always been fascinated by the spell a good yarn can cast over you but it wasn’t until I studied screenwriting that I actually understood where that magic came from: structure.
Let’s glance at the most common narrative structure: the three-act structure:
Beginning — Middle — End
It couldn’t be simpler. This is the basis of human storytelling, stretching back thousands of years. Blake Snyder, writer of Save the Cat (the most unapologetically structure-focused screenwriting book I’ve ever read), phrases it differently with:
Thesis — Antithesis — Synthesis
Any compelling story begins with a theme, or argument (the thesis), that is then challenged during the second act (the antithesis), until the hero finally overcomes their great peril by using all they’ve learned to find a final solution that returns them to a place of emotional clarity (the synthesis).
This isn’t unique to screenwriting; every story ever told around a campfire follows some sort of structure, with a beginning, middle and end. But screenplays are pure structure. They have to be! You’ve got 90–150 minutes to introduce your character, their world, blow that world up, stick it back together with the power of friendship and roll credits before the lights come back on and people head for their cars. You have to wring as much adrenaline/tears/laughter out of the audience as you can.
Writing a novel can seem downright lackadaisical by comparison.
What is unique to screenwriting is the sheer economy of storytelling on display. In order to be a great screenwriter, you have to learn how to intertwine plot and character as tightly as possible. Everything else is secondary to that goal: dialogue, action, the very words used to describe a scene—if it isn’t serving the structure, it has to go.
In his book, Snyder advocates for thinking of a story as an ocean and structure as a chain of islands, making the ocean crossable. I love this metaphor as a writer (who constantly feels like he’s drowning), but as an editor I’ve always resonated more with the analogy of a Jenga tower.
When handed a piece of writing, my job is to see the tower of blocks within it, loosely and miraculously supporting one another. Anybody can notice when a tower is shoddily constructed, listing to one side with pieces sticking out at odd angles—but the trick and the craft is knowing how and where to apply pressure to those pieces. Too much and the whole thing will collapse, worse off than when you first approached it. But take the time to understand how each of the blocks fit together, what they need from one another to stay stable and strong, and you can gently nudge them in the right direction.
So then … what is that process? How do you find where the “blocks” are weakest in a piece of writing? Let me show you what I do:
Read the piece—and read it again! You can’t possibly know how the end relates to the beginning without being intimately familiar with them both. Read it one more time just to make sure.
Isolate the thesis—what is this story trying to say? A quick way of checking this is to read the start and the end and note the change in the world. What has the main character been through? What have they learned? Does the story feel like its advocating for this change, or is it more of a cautionary tale?
Interrogate the thesis—has this been clear the whole time? Are there elements of the story that don’t contribute to this main idea? Examine the subplots and character relationships; do they interact with the thesis or are they useless deviations?
Examine the third act for unearned ‘moments’—this step is a little more nebulous and relies on intimate familiarity with the text (see step 1!), but I’ve found no greater way of punching up a narrative catharsis than examining the third act for ‘lessons learned’ moments; little callbacks and payoffs that rocket the reader back through the entire story to where the seed was planted. It’s hard to do in a first draft as a writer but can be shockingly easy to insert into a second or third pass as an editor—don’t miss those opportunities!
These are the rules screenwriting taught me, the tricks I use to understand the blocks stacked on the table in front of me—and hopefully they can help you too.
Persuasive Writing In Three Steps: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
April 14, 2021 by Ryan Law in
Great writing persuades. It persuades the reader that your product is right for them, that your process achieves the outcome they desire, that your opinion supersedes all other opinions. But spend an hour clicking around the internet and you’ll quickly realise that most content is passive, presenting facts and ideas without context or structure. The reader must connect the dots and create a convincing argument from the raw material presented to them. They rarely do, and for good reason: It’s hard work. The onus of persuasion falls on the writer, not the reader. Persuasive communication is a timeless challenge with an ancient solution. Zeno of Elea cracked it in the 5th century B.C. Georg Hegel gave it a lick of paint in the 1800s. You can apply it to your writing in three simple steps: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
Use Dialectic to Find Logical Bedrock
“ Dialectic ” is a complicated-sounding idea with a simple meaning: It’s a structured process for taking two seemingly contradictory viewpoints and, through reasoned discussion, reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Over centuries of use the term has been burdened with the baggage of philosophy and academia. But at its heart, dialectics reflects a process similar to every spirited conversation or debate humans have ever had:
- Person A presents an idea: “We should travel to the Eastern waterhole because it’s closest to camp.”
- Person B disagrees and shares a counterargument: “I saw wolf prints on the Eastern trail, so we should go to the Western waterhole instead.”
- Person A responds to the counterargument , either disproving it or modifying their own stance to accommodate the criticism: “I saw those same wolf prints, but our party is large enough that the wolves won’t risk an attack.”
- Person B responds in a similar vein: “Ordinarily that would be true, but half of our party had dysentery last week so we’re not at full strength.”
- Person A responds: “They got dysentery from drinking at the Western waterhole.”
This process continues until conversational bedrock is reached: an idea that both parties understand and agree to, helped by the fact they’ve both been a part of the process that shaped it.
Dialectic is intended to help draw closer to the “truth” of an argument, tempering any viewpoint by working through and resolving its flaws. This same process can also be used to persuade.
Create Inevitability with Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
The philosopher Georg Hegel is most famous for popularizing a type of dialectics that is particularly well-suited to writing: thesis, antithesis, synthesis (also known, unsurprisingly, as Hegelian Dialectic ).
- Thesis: Present the status quo, the viewpoint that is currently accepted and widely held.
- Antithesis: Articulate the problems with the thesis. (Hegel also called this phase “the negative.”)
- Synthesis: Share a new viewpoint (a modified thesis) that resolves the problems.
Hegel’s method focused less on the search for absolute truth and more on replacing old ideas with newer, more sophisticated versions . That, in a nutshell, is the same objective as much of content marketing (and particularly thought leadership content ): We’re persuading the reader that our product, processes, and ideas are better and more useful than the “old” way of doing things. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis (or TAS) is a persuasive writing structure because it:
- Reduces complex arguments into a simple three-act structure. Complicated, nuanced arguments are simplified into a clear, concise format that anyone can follow. This simplification reflects well on the author: It takes mastery of a topic to explain it in it the simplest terms.
- Presents a balanced argument by “steelmanning” the best objection. Strong, one-sided arguments can trigger reactance in the reader: They don’t want to feel duped. TAS gives voice to their doubts, addressing their best objection and “giv[ing] readers the chance to entertain the other side, making them feel as though they have come to an objective conclusion.”
- Creates a sense of inevitability. Like a story building to a satisfying conclusion, articles written with TAS take the reader on a structured, logical journey that culminates in precisely the viewpoint we wish to advocate for. Doubts are voiced, ideas challenged, and the conclusion reached feels more valid and concrete as a result.
There are two main ways to apply TAS to your writing: Use it beef up your introductions, or apply it to your article’s entire structure.
Writing Article Introductions with TAS
Take a moment to scroll back to the top of this article. If I’ve done my job correctly, you’ll notice a now familiar formula staring back at you: The first three paragraphs are built around Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis structure. Here’s what the introduction looked like during the outlining process . The first paragraph shares the thesis, the accepted idea that great writing should be persuasive:
Next up, the antithesis introduces a complicating idea, explaining why most content marketing isn’t all that persuasive:
Finally, the synthesis shares a new idea that serves to reconcile the two previous paragraphs: Content can be made persuasive by using the thesis, antithesis, synthesis framework. The meat of the article is then focused on the nitty-gritty of the synthesis.
Introductions are hard, but thesis, antithesis, synthesis offers a simple way to write consistently persuasive opening copy. In the space of three short paragraphs, the article’s key ideas are shared , the entire argument is summarised, and—hopefully—the reader is hooked.
Best of all, most articles—whether how-to’s, thought leadership content, or even list content—can benefit from Hegelian Dialectic , for the simple reason that every article introduction should be persuasive enough to encourage the reader to stick around.
Structuring Entire Articles with TAS
Harder, but most persuasive, is to use thesis, antithesis, synthesis to structure your entire article. This works best for thought leadership content. Here, your primary objective is to advocate for a new idea and disprove the old, tired way of thinking—exactly the use case Hegel intended for his dialectic. It’s less useful for content that explores and illustrates a process, because the primary objective is to show the reader how to do something (like this article—otherwise, I would have written the whole darn thing using the framework). Arjun Sethi’s article The Hive is the New Network is a great example.
The article’s primary purpose is to explain why the “old” model of social networks is outmoded and offer a newer, better framework. (It would be equally valid—but less punchy—to publish this with the title “ Why the Hive is the New Network.”) The thesis, antithesis, synthesis structure shapes the entire article:
- Thesis: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram grew by creating networks “that brought existing real-world relationships online.”
- Antithesis: As these networks grow, the less useful they become, skewing towards bots, “celebrity, meme and business accounts.”
- Synthesis: To survive continued growth, these networks need to embrace a new structure and become hives.
With the argument established, the vast majority of the article is focused on synthesis. After all, it requires little elaboration to share the status quo in a particular situation, and it’s relatively easy to point out the problems with a given idea. The synthesis—the solution that needs to reconcile both thesis and antithesis—is the hardest part to tackle and requires the greatest word count. Throughout the article, Arjun is systematically addressing the “best objections” to his theory and demonstrating why the “Hive” is the best solution:
- Antithesis: Why now? Why didn’t Hives emerge in the first place?
- Thesis: We were limited by technology, but today, we have the necessary infrastructure: “We’re no longer limited to a broadcast radio model, where one signal is received by many nodes. ...We sync with each other instantaneously, and all the time.”
- Antithesis: If the Hive is so smart, why aren’t our brightest and best companies already embracing it?
- Thesis: They are, and autonomous cars are a perfect example: “Why are all these vastly different companies converging on the autonomous car? That’s because for these companies, it’s about platform and hive, not just about roads without drivers.”
It takes bravery to tackle objections head-on and an innate understanding of the subject matter to even identify objections in the first place, but the effort is worthwhile. The end result is a structured journey through the arguments for and against the “Hive,” with the reader eventually reaching the same conclusion as the author: that “Hives” are superior to traditional networks.
Persuasion isn’t about cajoling or coercing the reader. Statistics and anecdotes alone aren’t all that persuasive. Simply sharing a new idea and hoping that it will trigger an about-turn in the reader’s beliefs is wishful thinking. Instead, you should take the reader on a journey—the same journey you travelled to arrive at your newfound beliefs, whether it’s about the superiority of your product or the zeitgeist-changing trend that’s about to break. Hegelian Dialectic—thesis, antithesis, synthesis— is a structured process for doing precisely that. It contextualises your ideas and explains why they matter. It challenges the idea and strengthens it in the process. Using centuries-old processes, it nudges the 21st-century reader onto a well-worn path that takes them exactly where they need to go.
Ryan is the VP of Content at Animalz, an agency that provides high-end content marketing solutions to SaaS and tech companies.
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Harness the Power of Dialectical Opposites to Enhance Your Storytelling
This is an article I wrote for Medium.com.
I recently attended a screenwriting workshop in which I was told not to listen to screenwriting gurus . The key to writing a good story is not in placing an inciting incident on page 23. Rather, it is in understanding the inherent rule behind storytelling itself, the dialectical juxtaposition of opposites.
This is a principle present at every level of storytelling, from the three-act structure to individual scenes, beats, or, in prose fiction, even individual sentences.
The screenwriting charlatans will tell you: put the inciting incident on page 23. But they never ask, “Why?” This is the problem addressed by John Yorke in his excellent book Into the Woods , which discusses the dialectical basis of narrative . My screenwriting workshop instructor recommend it to me, since it offers a much better perspective on storytelling than most screenwriting gurus provide.
Yorke argues that the three-act structure is based on the dialectical juxtaposition of opposites and that the dialectical structure permeates every aspect of art and storytelling.
But what does he mean by dialectical ?
In philosophy, dialectics is the process of arriving at the truth through counter argument . The stronger the counter argument, the stronger the argument becomes. It follows the following structure: a thesis is stated (“All swans are white”), an antithesis is presented (“But there are black swans”), and a synthesis resolves the two (“Swans may be both white and black”). At the end of this process, the philosopher arrives closer to the truth.
Yorke’s observation that narrative is fundamentally about observing the world, processing it, and arriving at a conclusion came as a revelation for me. I’d encountered Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and the three-act structure before, but I’d never had it explained to me like this. Few books on the writer’s craft explain the “Why?” behind narrative structure so compellingly.
Which is why I’ve decided to take Yorke one step further. In his book, he focuses on the three-act and five-act plot. However, if you look at prose fiction under a microscope, paragraph by paragraph, the dialectic juxtaposition of opposites reiterates itself fractally, even at the sentence level . This plays a crucial role in keeping readers engaged page by page.
You can write compelling prose by harnessing the power of dialectical opposites. Before I explain how, however, let me first go over how dialectics apply to the three-act structure, since the same principle will apply at the sentence level.
Dialectics in the Three-Act Story Structure
Many stories, from The Godfather to Shakespearean plays such as Hamlet , Julius Caesar , and Macbeth –and even Pixar movies–follow a dialectical three-act structure. Like a dialectical argument, the stories break down into acts consisting of a “thesis,” “antithesis,” and “synthesis.”
A typical three-act story begins with a first act that presents the status quo. The second act challenges the status quo, precipitating a crisis, and the third act reconciles the two states, resolving the conflict. In this way, the structure of a dialectical argument maps onto narrative; an overarching theme is argued, counter argued, and synthesized.
For example, in the first act of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather , Michael Corleone is a war veteran who wants nothing to do with the mafia. In the second act , he makes the irrevocable decision to participate in the mafia. By the third act , he’s stepped into his father’s shoes as the head of his crime family and has become the devil; his innocence is forever lost.
In the thematic struggle between innocence and power, the dialectical synthesis results in Michael’s spiritual death—a tragedy.
Although some writers use the three-act structure to mark changes in interpersonal conflict or even setting, treating it as a dialectical structure that charts character change can be more useful . After all, taking The Godfather for an example, Michael’s inner journey is one between opposites: from innocence to violence. And the way these opposites resolve is through a dialectical structure.
Pixar movies work in opposites as well: a trash-cleaning robot who finds himself on a cruise ship in space ( Wall-E ) and a fish from the big ocean who finds himself in a dentist’s fish tank ( Finding Nemo ). The audience is compelled by these opposites to see how the stories eventually resolve.
It’s a principle that also works on the micro-level of a sentence.
Dialectics on the Sentence Level
Moving from screenwriting to prose fiction, I’ve observed that sentences may also exhibit a dialectical structure. In compelling prose, opposites are often presented within a sentence to create tension between two ideas or images .
Names of emotions might contrast, such as fear and curiosity , or a set of images, such as a rainstorm in the desert . In the reader’s brain, a synthesis occurs, suturing the gap between the disparate images in order to create meaning and flesh out an image that is only presented in fragments. The reader is engaged, because the prose inhabits a contradiction.
It’s relatively easy to learn this technique and apply it to your own prose. As an example, I’ve provided an excerpt from one of my personal favourite novels: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer . VanderMeer’s prose style is laced with inherent tension, a simultaneous sense of forward momentum and dread.
In this scene, two characters, the surveyor and the biologist (the first-person narrator), are exploring an underground stairway for traces of a mysterious, possibly extraterrestrial organism.
“Should we go back?” the surveyor would say, or I would say. And the other would say, “Just around the next corner. Just a little farther, and then we will go back.” It was a test of a fragile trust. It was a test of our curiosity and fascination, which walked side by side with our fear. A test of whether we preferred to be ignorant or unsafe. The feel of our boots as we advanced step by careful step through that viscous discharge, the way in which the stickiness seemed to mire us even as we managed to keep moving, would eventually end in inertia, we knew. If we pushed it too far. (Jeff VanderMeer, Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy, 39)
Starting from the top, the reader is immediately confronted with the question of why both the surveyor and the biologist could have spoken the dialogue. Why not specify who said what? The reader, even if only on an unconscious level, attempts to resolve this contradiction through synthesis.
As a reader, I formed the opinion that it must reveal more about their situation to know that it doesn’t matter who is talking at any single moment. They’re both reluctantly pushing the other deeper into the thrall of curiosity.
Next, inner emotional conflict is demonstrated by the contrast between fear and curiosity . These contrasting emotions are not precise opposites, but they’re far from identical in a conventional sense. Before the reader vicariously experiences these emotions, they must confront the intellectual problem of how the emotions “fear” and “curiosity” may be related.
Can fear and curiosity be the same emotion? VanderMeer doesn’t simply give the reader the answer. What he does is say that these emotions walk “side by side” (a personification recalling the biologist and the surveyor, who also walk side by side). This way, the reader’s imagination is engaged in imagining what this “fearful curiosity” must feel like.
Andrew Stanton and Bob Peterson, the writers of Finding Nemo , once said: “ Good storytelling never gives you four, it gives you two plus two … Never give the audience the answer; give the audience the pieces and compel them to conclude the answer” (qtd. in Yorke 113). To give his readers a taste of the complex emotion he wanted them to experience, VanderMeer gave them fear and curiosity and let them imagine the rest.
The power of VanderMeer’s prose comes, at least in part, from his ability to suggestively juxtapose disparate words and images . The reader must synthesize these in order to create meaning. Providing the reader with the emotions “curiosity” and “fear,” VanderMeer allows the reader to decide for themselves what feelings the biologist is experiencing.
Now, at one level, synthesis is part of the fundamental process of reading and experiencing the world. Readers do it all the time, no matter the quality of the prose. However, when the text presents irreconcilable contradictions, the dialectics of the text become more powerful and the reader engages even more.
Just as the philosopher gets closer to the truth when faced with a stronger counter argument, so do readers become more engaged when words and images are more starkly contrasted.
To return to Annihilation , the ideas of knowledge and danger are juxtaposed again later: “The test of whether we preferred to be ignorant or unsafe.” Here, the word choice is more complex, since the phrasing emphasizes the opposites of the conventional values of knowledge and safety. The biologist may prefer ignorance, which is ironic given her profession as a scientist. It also suggests that, perhaps, the biologist also wishes to be put in danger.
The reader synthesizes these contradictions, which compels them to read on.
Lastly, there’s the image of how the viscous slime sticks to the soles of the biologist’s boots, resisting her desire to step deeper down the stairs to discover the organism. On a linguistic level, “moving” and “inertia” are both opposites. Their appearance within a single sentence creates contradiction, probably in a more powerful way than if they’d been placed in separate sentences.
Opposites charge sentences with dialectical tension. The biologist is both descending the staircase and being resisted. But will her movement or inertia win out in the end?
This tension compels the reader to read on. Oppositions of this sort carry the reader right on through the story.
You could imagine that the sustaining tension emerges from the inner and outer conflicts of the characters. But on a stylistic level, contrasting word choices and structuring sentences as contradictions are crucial ingredients. I would even venture to say dialectical language can sustain reader interest irrespective of the idea of “character and “conflict.”
In conclusion, juxtaposing opposites can imbue inherent tensions into the reading experience, making your pose irresistible to readers. By harnessing the power of dialectics, your story structure will be stronger at a fractal level: both in terms of plot, and in terms of style.
In the words of the great philosopher and literary critic, Gyorgy Lukács, “ The essence of art is form; it is to defeat opposition, to conquer opposing forces, to create coherence from every centrifugal force” (qtd. in Yorke 231). Embed that centrifugal force in your sentences and plot, and you can infuse your prose with the storytelling power of Jeff VanderMeer in Annihilation .
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How our survival (and your success at a party) is based on three-act stories
In her excellent book, Wired for Story , Lisa Cron describes how we can go weeks without food, days without drinking, but only about 35 seconds without finding meaning in something. We do this for one reason: survival.
We are biologically programmed to learn through three-act stories: Set-up, conflict, resolution. This three-part story structure is our default problem solving setting. It is how our brain auto-navigates our surroundings to transform ambiguity into meaning.
Beginning, Middle and End
Aristotle described story structure as set-up, confrontation and resolution.
German philosopher Georg Hagel ‘s science of logic, known as the Hegelian Dialectic , is an approach to reasoned arguments in the pursuit of truth. Also known as the Triad , it process is characterized as thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
German novelist and playwright Gustav Freytag outlined the Dramatic Structure that most story artists agree with today. It is a five part construction with three primary elements: EXPOSITION, rising action, CLIMAX, falling action and DENOUEMENT. His structure is known as the Freytag Pyramid .
Trey Parker, creator of South Park, uses an “And, But and Therefore” organization for each script. This was brought to my attention in Randy Olson’s terrific book . Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking.
This three-part form is not just found in writing. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his contemporaries were guided by the structure of exposition, development and resolution when composing sonatas.
In photography, people use the rule of thirds – placing your subject in either the left or right side of the frame – when composing a photo to create more tension, energy and interest. I think the rule of thirds relates to three-act story structure because the imbalance of subject – not being placed in the center of the pic – creates the same tension and energy that conflict/confrontation/development/antithesis does for narrative. That’s probably why a great picture is worth a thousand words, because it presents your brain with the visual content from which it creates a story to find meaning and truth in the image.
In sales, I once had a client describe the process as “Find the hurt, amplify the pain, and heal the wound.” See the set-up, conflict and resolution in his approach?
The next time you have a story to tell, don’t worry about being an expert storyteller. Simply hijack the mind by giving it what it wants, what it needs… a story with a beginning, middle and an end. You’ll know when it works when your audience goes, “Uh-huh, Uh-oh, Aha!”
You’ll even be more popular at parties.
About Park Howell & The Business of Story
Park Howell is a trusted brand story strategist and sought-after keynote speaker on story marketing. His book, Brand Bewitchery , offers a comprehensive guide to attract loyal customers and conjure word-of-mouth marketing.
The widely popular Business of Story podcast helps leaders of purpose-driven organizations clarify their stories to grow revenue and amplify their impact.
Learn more about working with Park Howell and getting your brand story straight through workshops or inspiring storytelling keynote presentations .
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The Curse of the Hegelian Dialectic
The rational alone is unreal.
Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis.
Mention these three words together, and you unlock the accursed genie that is the Hegelian Dialectic. Rising from the mystic ashes of ancient philosophy, the Hegelian promises riches beyond comprehension for those who follow his three-step process towards resolving conflict.
You only have to turn a blind eye to how the other half lives.
Hegelian Dialectic--which, interestingly enough, didn't even come from Hegel himself--is a Male Mental Sex process of solving problems.
A truth, or problem, is introduced. An alternate truth, or Antithesis, enters the scene to maximize conflict. And then the resulting solution, or Synthesis, finds a third truth that takes the best of both to resolve the original problem.
Classic Male Mental Sex, cause and effect problem-solving.
But then, what on Earth is Mental Sex?
A Unique Understanding of Narrative Structure
While an entire book could be written about the concept itself, Mental Sex is the idea that our minds run on one of two distinct operating systems.
One prefers space over time, and problem-solves through cause and effect ( if that, then this ). The other prefers time to space, and justifies inequities through managing relationships ( you are another me ).
In Dramatica theory, the mind that filters through cause-and-effect is defined as having a Male Mental Sex. The mind that filters through relating inequities is defined as having a Female Mental Sex.
Some versions of Dramatica theory equated Male Mental Sex with Linear thought, and Female Mental Sex with Holistic thought. The problem with this equivalence is that both Male and Female Mental Sexed minds can think consciously in terms of Linear or Holistic thought. Earlier versions of this article and others fostered this misinterpretation with its attempt to conceal this enlightening concept behind the more acceptable notions of Linear and Holistic thought.
Mental Sex is not the same thing—which is why throughout Narrative First and Subtxt you’ll find this original concept restored to its rightful place in the discussion of narrative structure.
It’s important to understand that Mental Sex is NOT determinant upon Gender, nor does it correlate with Gender Preference and/or Gender Orientation. Mental Sex defines the boot record base-operating system of the mind, and nothing more.
Back to the Hegelian Dialectic and it’s roots in Male Mental Sexed appreciations of narrative structure.
The Female Mental Sexed mind takes a different approach. Seeing inequities instead of problems, and equities instead of solutions, the Female Mental Sexed mind deals in the consistent application of balance.
Watch then, as the vaulted genie-us and supremacy of the Hegelian dissipates into the ether.
The Method of Balance
My series on The Female Mental Sex Premise addresses that train of thought wherein the wheels never stop turning. The Male Mental Sexed mind believes in the Solution--the resolution that permits one to move on, knowing the problem to be "solved." The Female Mental Sexed mind realizes problems themselves are manufactured within the mind and that nothing is ever solved, it's only balanced for the time being.
I read your article about holistic premises and watched your writer's room session, and it made me think about the Hegellian notion of the Dialectic and whether that might apply to Dramatica from the holistic standpoint – that we have thesis (problem), antithesis (solution), and that what you're calling balance (which to me sort of implies just sticking them on a linear scale and going halfway between) might be thought of as synthesis – finding a way to forge a new perspective from the two?
This would be a Male Mental Sexed interpretation of balance—that there is a scale that exists between the two and once the perfect balance point is found (a synthesis), then all potential is resolved, and a solution has been found.
Hegelian and his followers were die-hard Male Mental Sex thinkers.
The Female Mental Sexed mind knows there is never a real synthesis, but rather a constant cycle of growth and rebirth, continuous attention applied to balancing out inequities that are never truly solved.
I'd argue that they are solved but that every new balance (the synthesis that becomes the next thesis) creates the necessary preconditions for its own antithesis.
The Male Mental Sexed mind needs to argue that problems are solved because it can't function without the recognition of problem and solution.
This is, in part, where "mansplaining" comes from: the Male-minded person interrupts the Female Mental Sexed mind because it believes that what that other mind observes is somehow inaccurate or insufficient, when what they're seeing is, in fact, what they're actually seeing.
The Male Mental Sexed mind sees problems that are solved; Female Mental Sex sees inequities that are met with equities. Neither is more right than the other, but indicative of a baseline for appreciating conflict.
The structure of a story must know the baseline of the mind of the story because it affects the order of concerns in a narrative. If you see everything as a problem that needs to be fixed, you're going to go about solving that in a completely different way than someone who registers everything as an imbalance requiring balance.
The Hegelian Explained
I hear you about the scale being a Male interpretation of balance. However you wouldn't think of a Hegellian synthesis as being finding a point on that scale.
And neither would the Female Mental Sexed mind in the process of resolving an inequity--as that point on the scale doesn't exist for the mind that thinks that way. There are no points to the Female Mental Sexed account of experience, only waves.
A classic example is the notion of early childhood, where doing everything your parents say is the necessary normal state (the thesis = obedience). You become a teenager and begin to resent the oppressive nature of parental control and so rebel against everything they say (antithesis = rebellion). It's only in becoming an when you reconcile the two oppositions – not through balancing "some" passive acceptance with "some" automatic rebellion, but through the realization that you require true independence which neither involves obedience nor rebellion (synthesis = independence).
So rebellion is the linear response to control, but independence is the synthesis that emerges from the clash of those two forces.
A synthesis is still a Male Mental Sexed approach to solving a conflict. Both perspectives are evaluated separately for rightness—if one is right, or more right, than the other than that perspective is the solution. If neither is correct, then balance is the solution. If balance doesn't work, then neither can exist.
Every thought process is an if...then statement—a primary function found in any programming language (even the most basic of programming language, BASIC).
It's neither the Male Dramatica move from one to the other nor finding a balance point on that scale, but rather the solution which removes the existence of the conflict (and in doing so, introduces a new thesis which will one day meet its antithesis as the cycles of growth and conflict continue – as you state below.)
Male Mental Sex in Dramatica theory refers to the process that sees conflict as a problem to be solved. Moving from Problem to Solution is Male. Finding a balance point on a scale is Male. Finding a Solution that removes the existence of conflict is Male.
The Female Mental Sexed mind can never remove the existence of conflict because inequity always exists. It's merely a matter of how much or how little.
The Matrix , which is structured with a Female Mental Sexed approach to conflict, doesn't serve up an account of synthesis—Neo hasn't become one with his awareness and self-knowing. But he has become composed with the overall balance between the two and can literally shape his world accordingly.
I always thought what was going on with the Matrix was: Thesis: We are waiting for "The One" Antithesis: Neo isn't actually "The One" (when he meets the nice old lady in her house or whatever and she says he's not the one) Synthesis: Neo wasn't The One until he became The One. So both thesis and antithesis were wrong until Neo changed and made both of them true.
Another way to look at the narrative conflict within The Matrix , one that is closer to the foundational structure of the film, is to see it as a juggling back and forth between Awareness and Self-awareness.
The Oracle wasn't wrong. She was only confirming what Neo already was already aware of. And Morpheus wasn't wrong either. His identity with self-awareness above all else was also right. Both positions are self-evident as appropriate throughout the film. And we experience the movie as a mind that seeks balance in all and sees all would when facing a similar inequity.
My previous article The Female Mental Sex Experience of Watching The Matrix shares an account of what it feels like when you take everything in at once. No judgments. No evaluations. No problems and no solutions. Only the flow of allowing one position in after the other and then back again.
A Matter of Intention
You know that feeling of frustration you sometimes get when someone close to you won't just do what they should to solve the problems in their lives?
That's often someone comfortable with a Female Mental Sex approach--a method of “problem-solving” that doesn't recognize the problem, nor the potential solution.
The "solution" for the story inequity is about synthesizing the two opposing forces into a new perspective rather than either picking one or the other or merely compromising between them.
The balance of inequities for the Female Mental Sexed mind is also not a compromise. Female Mental Sex does not compromise. They don't give this for that, and any suggestion that services rendered are an exchange for goods offends as it suggests some obligation supplants the growth of the relationship.
The Female Mental Sex mind is never at ease with forcing two into one, only at ease with a shift in direction that increases the flow of communication.
To the Female Mental Sex mind, there is no real Solution that solves it all—only an Intention. Neo isn’t completely self-aware at the end, he only has the notion that there is something more than what he sees with his eyes—and he’s going to show everyone else his world.
This Intention to balance out his awareness with a personal truth sets the mind in a different direction—opening it up to receive whatever various sort of inequities that suggest an alternate path.
In a Changed Resolve/Female Mental Sex Minded story, the Main Character intends to balance out the inequity of their Throughline with an equitable element. That's why in future versions of the theory, you're likely to see Problem and Solution within Female Mental Sex stories adjusted to reflect their real purpose: Inequity and Intention.
The Dramatica theory of story is a holistic appreciation of narrative structure--which is to say that the relationship between Storypoints is as equally important as the structural concerns themselves. The theory develops in the way that all dynamic relationships do, by shifting back and forth, appreciating the lack of a specific solution.
Like the genie who emerged to grant untold fortune, the writer tied to the Hegelian Dialectic is trapped--trapped in the bottle of cause and effect and Male methods of problem-solving, unable to see the totality of the world around them. Rich, but rich with an even higher cost. Whereas those swayed by the Siren Song of a centuries-old philosophy shackle themselves to ancient knowledge as if truth, the writer familiar with Dramatica appreciates the need for further thought, and if needed--a change in direction.
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Literature Review Survival Library Guide: What is a literature review?
What is a literature review.
- Thesis, antithesis and synthesis
- 1. Choose your topic
- 2. Collect relevant material
- 3. Read/Skim articles
- 4. Group articles by themes
- 5. Use citation databases
- 6. Find agreement & disagreement
- Review Articles - A new option on Google Scholar
- How To Follow References
- Newspaper archives
- Aditi's Humanities Referencing Style Guide
- Referencing and RefWorks
- New-version RefWorks Demo
- Tracking Your Academic Footprint
- Finding Seminal Authors and Mapping the Shape of the Literature
- Types of Literature Review, including "Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide"
- Research Data Management
- Tamzyn Suleiman's guide to Systematic Reviews
- Danielle Abrahamse's Search String Design and Search Template
A literature review is:
- A list of books and journal articles,
- on a specific topic,
- grouped by theme,
- and evaluated with regard to your research. This evaluation would identify connections, contradictions and gaps in the literature you have found.
The purpose of a literature review, therefore, is:
- To get a feel for the agreed academic opinion on the subject (the connections).
- To discover the disagreements on the subject (the contradictions).
- To find opportunities, (the gaps), for developing and expressing your own opinions.
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Thesis, antithesis, synthesis
This simple model for the progression of ideas is sometimes called a dialectic. It has many philosophical roots, but regardless it’s a nice way to think of how ideas, and perhaps society can progress. Something is created or put forward. It has some benefits but gives rise to negative effects and somehow we figure out a resolution as progress. That new solution then becomes the basis for the next step.
In engineering I learned that we progress by the resolution of contradictions. As a very simple example, it’s nice to have a walking stick. But a full-length walking stick is difficult to transport. You want it to be long when you’re walking, and short when you’re traveling with it. So we invent retractable ones. But retractable ones break more easily, so we invent…to be determined.
You also see a similar idea in stories, for example, the story spine .
It’s sometimes erroneously called Hegel’s dialectic, perhaps partly because Hegel’s work was sometimes so difficult to grasp and this is nicely simple.
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In philosophy, the triad of thesis, antithesis, synthesis (German: These, Antithese, Synthese; originally: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis) is a progression of three ideas or propositions. The first idea, the thesis, is a formal statement illustrating a point; it is followed by the second idea, the antithesis, that contradicts or negates the first; and lastly, the third idea, the synthesis, resolves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis. It is often used to explain the dialectical method of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, but Hegel never used the terms himself; instead his triad was concrete, abstract, absolute. The thesis, antithesis, synthesis triad actually originated with Johann Fichte.
1. History of the Idea
Thomas McFarland (2002), in his Prolegomena to Coleridge's Opus Maximum , [ 1 ] identifies Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781) as the genesis of the thesis/antithesis dyad. Kant concretises his ideas into:
- Thesis: "The world has a beginning in time, and is limited with regard to space."
- Antithesis: "The world has no beginning and no limits in space, but is infinite, in respect to both time and space."
Inasmuch as conjectures like these can be said to be resolvable, Fichte's Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftslehre ( Foundations of the Science of Knowledge , 1794) resolved Kant's dyad by synthesis, posing the question thus: [ 1 ]
- No synthesis is possible without a preceding antithesis. As little as antithesis without synthesis, or synthesis without antithesis, is possible; just as little possible are both without thesis.
Fichte employed the triadic idea "thesis–antithesis–synthesis" as a formula for the explanation of change. [ 2 ] Fichte was the first to use the trilogy of words together, [ 3 ] in his Grundriss des Eigentümlichen der Wissenschaftslehre, in Rücksicht auf das theoretische Vermögen (1795, Outline of the Distinctive Character of the Wissenschaftslehre with respect to the Theoretical Faculty ): "Die jetzt aufgezeigte Handlung ist thetisch, antithetisch und synthetisch zugleich." ["The action here described is simultaneously thetic, antithetic, and synthetic." [ 4 ] ]
Still according to McFarland, Schelling then, in his Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie (1795), arranged the terms schematically in pyramidal form.
According to Walter Kaufmann (1966), although the triad is often thought to form part of an analysis of historical and philosophical progress called the Hegelian dialectic, the assumption is erroneous: [ 5 ]
Whoever looks for the stereotype of the allegedly Hegelian dialectic in Hegel's Phenomenology will not find it. What one does find on looking at the table of contents is a very decided preference for triadic arrangements. ... But these many triads are not presented or deduced by Hegel as so many theses, antitheses, and syntheses. It is not by means of any dialectic of that sort that his thought moves up the ladder to absolute knowledge.
Gustav E. Mueller (1958) concurs that Hegel was not a proponent of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, and clarifies what the concept of dialectic might have meant in Hegel's thought. [ 6 ]
"Dialectic" does not for Hegel mean "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis." Dialectic means that any "ism" – which has a polar opposite, or is a special viewpoint leaving "the rest" to itself – must be criticized by the logic of philosophical thought, whose problem is reality as such, the "World-itself".
According to Mueller, the attribution of this tripartite dialectic to Hegel is the result of "inept reading" and simplistic translations which do not take into account the genesis of Hegel's terms:
Hegel's greatness is as indisputable as his obscurity. The matter is due to his peculiar terminology and style; they are undoubtedly involved and complicated, and seem excessively abstract. These linguistic troubles, in turn, have given rise to legends which are like perverse and magic spectacles – once you wear them, the text simply vanishes. Theodor Haering's monumental and standard work has for the first time cleared up the linguistic problem. By carefully analyzing every sentence from his early writings, which were published only in this century, he has shown how Hegel's terminology evolved – though it was complete when he began to publish. Hegel's contemporaries were immediately baffled, because what was clear to him was not clear to his readers, who were not initiated into the genesis of his terms. An example of how a legend can grow on inept reading is this: Translate "Begriff" by "concept," "Vernunft" by "reason" and "Wissenschaft" by "science" – and they are all good dictionary translations – and you have transformed the great critic of rationalism and irrationalism into a ridiculous champion of an absurd pan-logistic rationalism and scientism. The most vexing and devastating Hegel legend is that everything is thought in "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis." [ 7 ]
Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) adopted and extended the triad, especially in Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy (1847). Here, in Chapter 2, Marx is obsessed by the word "thesis"; [ 8 ] it forms an important part of the basis for the Marxist theory of history. [ 9 ]
2. Writing Pedagogy
In modern times, the dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis has been implemented across the world as a strategy for organizing expositional writing. For example, this technique is taught as a basic organizing principle in French schools: [ 10 ]
The French learn to value and practice eloquence from a young age. Almost from day one, students are taught to produce plans for their compositions, and are graded on them. The structures change with fashions. Youngsters were once taught to express a progression of ideas. Now they follow a dialectic model of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. If you listen carefully to the French arguing about any topic they all follow this model closely: they present an idea, explain possible objections to it, and then sum up their conclusions. ... This analytical mode of reasoning is integrated into the entire school corpus.
Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis has also been used as a basic scheme to organize writing in the English language. For example, the website WikiPreMed.com advocates the use of this scheme in writing timed essays for the MCAT standardized test: [ 11 ]
For the purposes of writing MCAT essays, the dialectic describes the progression of ideas in a critical thought process that is the force driving your argument. A good dialectical progression propels your arguments in a way that is satisfying to the reader. The thesis is an intellectual proposition. The antithesis is a critical perspective on the thesis. The synthesis solves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis by reconciling their common truths, and forming a new proposition.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Opus Maximum. Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 89.
- Harry Ritter, Dictionary of Concepts in History. Greenwood Publishing Group (1986), p.114
- Williams, Robert R. (1992). Recognition: Fichte and Hegel on the Other. SUNY Press. p. 46, note 37.
- Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Breazeale, Daniel (1993). Fichte: Early Philosophical Writings. Cornell University Press. p. 249.
- Walter Kaufmann (1966). "§ 37". Hegel: A Reinterpretation. Anchor Books. ISBN 978-0-268-01068-3. OCLC 3168016. https://archive.org/details/hegelreinterpret00kauf.
- Mueller, Gustav (1958). "The Hegel Legend of "Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis"". Journal of the History of Ideas 19 (4): 411–414. doi:10.2307/2708045. https://dx.doi.org/10.2307%2F2708045
- Mueller 1958, p. 411.
- marxists.org: Chapter 2 of "The Poverty of Philosophy", by Karl Marx https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/poverty-philosophy/ch02.htm
- Shrimp, Kaleb (2009). "The Validity of Karl Marx's Theory of Historical Materialism". Major Themes in Economics 11 (1): 35–56. https://scholarworks.uni.edu/mtie/vol11/iss1/5/. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
- Nadeau, Jean-Benoit; Barlow, Julie (2003). Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France But Not The French. Sourcebooks, Inc.. p. 62. https://archive.org/details/sixtymillionfren00nade_041.
- "The MCAT writing assignment.". Wisebridge Learning Systems, LLC. http://www.wikipremed.com/mcat_essay.php. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
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