Storybeats

Storybeats are temporal aspects of a narrative that shift from beginning to end.

The Parts of a Storybeat

Like Storypoints, the Storybeats of a narrative are divided into two halves: Storytelling on top, Subtext underneath.

The Storytelling of a Storybeat

The Thematic Cycle defines what part of the mind is explored in this Storybeat.

Summarize Storybeat allows you to replace the more abstract and theoretical Thematic Cycle with a "human"-readable title. Clicking it summarizes what you have written in the Storytelling section.

Duplicate Storybeat copies the current Storybeat's Thematic components and generates a new random General Illustration. Useful if developing the Objective Story Throughline and you want to focus each Beat on one Player, or Player Group.

Jump to Scene View does just that--it jumps to the Act where this Storybeat appears in the Scene view.

Open/Close opens and collapses the Storybeat for editing.

Pressing the Random Illustration button will shuffle through the thousands of available example illustrations of the current Thematic Cycle and replace it in the Illustration Prompt.

The General Illustration Dropdown is a manual process of doing the same--click this, and Subtxt presents you the entire list of Illustrations available for this Cycle.

The Story-specific Illustration is where you can quickly adjust the Illustration of the current Thematic Cycle to suit the specific Storytelling of your narrative.

The Subtext of a Storybeat

In addition to finding the Thematic Cycle repeated below (in case you replace the one on top with a Title), you will find listed the Thematic Aspects of this Storybeat. Consisting of three separate Modalities: Substance, Spatial, and Temporal, these aspects help color the current Cycle to match the overall Premise (meaning) of the story.

The Scope of a Storybeat defines its size in relation to other Storybeats.

Mentor Help offers a writing prompt similar to the one you might receive from a live mentor.

The Breakdown Button breaks the current Storybeat down into smaller Storybeats. Transits breakdown into Progressions, and Progressions break down into Events.

Switching between General Encoding and Specific Players

Subtxt gives you the option to work with either a general understanding of a Throughline OR a specific Player for that Throughline. You will find this option at the top of the Throughline View (3 dots):

With General Encoding selected, Subtxt will refer to the Encoding you illustrated for the Throughline under the Conceptualizing tab.

With Specific Players selected, Subtxt will alter the Storybeats so that you can choose a specific Player to drive that part of the story:

Opening and Closing all the Storybeats of a Throughline

While opening and closing individual Storybeats may help you maintain a global understanding of your current Throughline, you may find it helpful to open all the Storybeats of a particular narrative at once.

You will find that option at the top of the Throughline View under the Details button (the 3 dots).

Opening and Closing All Storybeats

Subtxt will remember which beats you have left opened and close, so that when you return to your story they will be there waiting for you.

Storybeats and Scenes

When it comes to the meaning, or message of a story, scenes don’t matter. A scene can start and stop any time, and can consist of any number of thematic issues. End the scene earlier or move its issues from one scene to the next, and the message stays the same. The Subtxt of the narrative remains intact.

And that’s all we’re really concerned about when developing a story.

When it comes to meaning, scenes are arbitrary dividing lines. One man’s scene is another woman’s sequence—the markets are entirely subjective and therefore don’t factor into the message.

Subtxt honors this reality of story by referring to individual events as Storybeats, not scenes. A single scene can contain any number of Storybeats. It can consist of one or 600–the final tally is entirely up to the writer.

What isn’t up to the writer is the importance of that beat to the overall message of the story. Storybeats communicate the meaning of your story.

The more Storybeats within a scene, the greater the dramatic impact and importance within the scope of the narrative. Think of the final Trench Scene in the original Star Wars: Objective Story Throughline Beats mix with Main Character that mix with Obstacle Character and Relationship Story Throughline Beats.

The reason why the climax of a story feels so monumental is not just because it's at the end of the story, it's because it's chock full of important and meaningful Storybeats.

Writing an Effective Storybeat

Subtxt provides an easy way for writer's to distinguish between the storytelling, or illustrations, their Audience receives, and the subtext underneath it all that drives the story forward.

Diving Beneath the Surface

Visually speaking, the part of the Storybeat that rests above the surface is Storytelling, i.e. what the Audience sees or reads.

The part of the Storybeat that lies below the superficial Storytelling is the subtext, or Thematic Conflict of that Storybeat. This section defines the underlying meaning behind the Storybeat, i.e. why this particular part of the story is being explored at this time.

This visual separation between what the Audience engages with and what you, as Author, intend to say is meant to call to mind this image of an iceberg:

All the hard work of defining what goes into a Storybeat and HOW it is a part of the story happens just below the surface, and far out of sight. The Audience reaps the benefits of that hard work through the surface-level storytelling.

For those of you coming from a Dramatica theory background, the Storytelling on top is where you find the Focus and Direction of a particular Throughline. The subtext underneath is where you would find the Problem and/or Solution of that same Throughline.

Avoiding the Mad-libs Style of Writing a Storybeat

Too many writers fall into the trap of simply using the illustration of a Storybeat verbatim, without taking the time to consider WHY this particular illustration is problematic within the context of the story.

In the above example, Subtxt states that Main Character Red (from The Shawshank Redemption) finds conflict in "pretending everything is OK." The Mad-libs style of using Subtxt and the Dramatica storyform would find most Authors writing this:

Red pretends everything is OK when he's up for the parole board hearing. He then continues to do it when he meets Andy and when he hears the other inmates getting hurt late at night.

While this is OK, it's only illustrating 50% of what is actually needed to fully understand the conflict of this particular Storybeat.

It's not enough to simply copy and paste the illustration (a computer could do that), the Author's responsibility is to show HOW that is problematic for the characters in that scene. How does Stephen King show why Red "pretending something is OK" ends up being a problem for him? Some people are perfectly fine with pretending everything is A-OK--as Authors, we can't assume that just because we think this illustration is a problem that means everyone else will think it is a problem as well.

We need to show it being problematic. We need to show how it creates conflict.

Going the Extra Distance

How does Red find conflict in "pretending everything is OK"?

Main Character Transit 1 of Being

The Shawshank Redemption

Red wants to stay under the radar in order to be known as someone who can get things done, yet such a man becomes complicit in the corrupt nature of the system--losing himself in the process. In addition, the bluffing is so insincere that the review board has no other alternative than to deny his release. As a consequence, fear and complacency rise to the surface for Red in this Act.

Why is this important?

Well, now we have more meaningful Storybeats to refer to when we go to write our story. It's not just that Red is pretending, it's that his pretending is causing him great personal conflict. This connection between Storytelling and Subtext (meaning) clues the Audience in on what it is we are trying to say with our story. There is a greater purpose behind the Scenes.

And it will help us generate even greater Storytelling further on down the line.

By illustrating this first Act of Red's as showing pretending as a problem, we prime the Audience with an understanding of the kind of resistance Red is creating for himself. We know where his self-sabotage is coming from, and we recognize it as an opportunity for growth.

Scene Beats are the smallest level of resolution when it comes to classifying and defining the events of a narrative.

© 2022 Narrative First, Inc.