- Context & Perspective
- The Four Categories of Players
- Managing Players
- The Player Card
- Archetypal Characters and Motivation
- Video: Building Players with AI
There are no characters in Subtxt--only Players. Characters are storytelling, Players are subtext. As fun as it is to think about your characters as real people, seeing them as Players makes it 10,000x easier to figure out how they fit into the narrative structure.
A Player is a bucket that holds a perspective.
Context & Perspective
Context is meaning. Without context, anything you relate to an audience will end up being pointless and ultimately, forgotten.
Players are there to communicate perspective.
In A Christmas Carol, it is the shared perspective held by the Ghosts that eventually obstacles Scrooge to alter the way he sees the world.
In Aliens, it is the shared perspective held between Newt, Carter, and Lt. Gorman that eventually drives Ripley to "man up" and save the day.
In both of these examples, the "characters" holding that shared perspective are less important to the meaning of the story than their actual perspective.
Handing Off the Perspective
Subtxt recognizes the importance of perspective over character by providing an opportunity for the writer to track these "hand-offs" from one Player to the next.
Simply assign the Players you wish to share the same perspective into a Throughline by checking the appropriate Throughline box in the bottom right hand corner of each Player card.
In addition, the Throughline tab within each Throughline in the Illustrating section of Subtxt offers you a place to further track and develop these hand-off situations.
Believe it or not, you CAN assign multiple Players into the Main Character Throughline. Main Character is a perspective, not a character. Films like Stalag 17 or The Big Chill are examples of this rare—but perfectly legit—approach to framing a narrative.
A Word About Relationships
You may notice that you can't assign a Player to the Relationship Story Throughline.
The Players listed in the Plot & Players section of the Imagining stage are strictly for the Objective Story Throughline (the plot). When developing these Players and their role within the plot of the story, it can be helpful to know who is the Main Character and who is the Obstacle Character.
Relationships, on the other hand, are a different thing altogether. We cover them in more detail in the Illustrating section.
Playing Dual Roles
Some Players play different roles in different Throughlines.
In the Objective Story Throughline plot, the role a Player plays is a function related to the resolution of conflict from an objective view. Protagonist and Antagonist are not "characters," they are functions of conflict resolution: the Protagonist pursues resolution while the Antagonist avoids, or prevents, resolution.
Ripley is the primary Player within the Main Character Throughline of Aliens, while also playing the Role of Protagonist in the Objective Story Throughline.
E.T. is the primary Player within the Obstacle Character Throughline of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, while also assuming the Role of Antagonist in the Objective Story Throughline.
(Yes, we know this might seem crazy to say, but E.T.'s presence prevents Eliot from letting go and moving on after his father's absence)
Players drive Throughlines, not characters. Feel free to mix and match Players within different Throughlines in order to accommodate the story you want to tell.
You CANNOT assign the same Player to competing perspectives. In other words, you can't have the same player operating in both the Main Character and Obstacle Character Throughlines. That would create a schizophrenic story--and would be crazy for your Audience to experience.
The Four Categories of Players
The Players within a story exist to communicate thematic intent to an Audience. While incomplete themselves, they complete a story by collaborating in the collective transmission of the Storyform.
Players fall into four categories, as per their relationship to the Storyform:
Fundamental Players supply the thematic argument's main perspectives and include the Main Character Throughline perspective and the Obstacle Character Throughline perspective. The former offers a first-person personal point-of-view, while the latter supplies an objectified individual point-of-view. Both are essential components fundamental to the purpose of a story.
MC and OC
Primary Players and Secondary Players communicate the Objective Story Throughline perspective. The difference lies in their composition. Primary Players consist of several Objective Character Elements, coalescing on occasion into observable Archetypes like Protagonist or Antagonist.
Secondary Players offer the same objective Elements but in a limited and individualistic capacity. Primary over Secondary refers to the number of Elements; the more Elements a character possesses in a story, the more critical—and primary—they feel to a story.
Tertiary Characters are those you could remove and see no significant impact on the story's meaning. Players must contain at least one Objective Element to be perceived as relevant.
Storyform is everything. If the character lacks a tie to the Storyform, the character is disposable. You can keep them in for fun, or "worldbuilding" purposes, but know that in the end, you could take them out and no one would miss them.
A Player can function as a Fundamental, Primary, or Secondary Player by assigning them to the appropriate Throughline, and by adding Motivating Elements to their Player card.
Avoid sacrificing your imagination to the cold-hearted master of narrative structure. Recognize the throwaway status of those lacking apparent connection to a Storyform, but maintain your artistic integrity.
You don't win a prize for writing an excellent story structure.
Adding and deleting Players happens within the Plot & Players section of Subtxt.
Adding a Player
You can add as many Players as you want to your story by tapping the Add button, and then selecting the type of Player you want to add to your narrative (Groups or Individuals).
Some groups of characters function as singular Player.
The Imperial Stormtroopers in Star Wars and the Orc Hoardes in The Lord of the Rings function as Group Antagonists. They literally "hand-off" their function of preventing successful resolution every time one of them dies.
Removing a Player
In order to remove a Player from a Throughline, simply uncheck the appropriate box and Subtxt will remove them from that perspective. Players not a part of the Objective Story Throughline will end up at the bottom under the heading "Unassigned Players".
If you remove a Player from the OS Throughline, but still have Motivations assigned and attached to that Player--Subtxt will re-assign that Player to the OS the next time you load up the story.
If you truly want that Player removed from the Objective Story Throughline, you first need to remove the Motivations located in the Subtext section of a Player card, and then uncheck the OS box.
Deleting a Player
If you wish to permanently remove a Player from a narrative, select Edit button at the top of Players list. Red Delete icons will appear to the left of each Player. Select those you want to delete, and confirm your selection.
The same rules for removing Players exist for deleting Players from a story. If a Player chosen for deletion is the last one in a Throughline, Subtxt will prevent you from following through on that choice.
The Player Card
The Players in your story each have a card in the Plot & Players section. This card offers you space to jot down their name, clarify their role, illustrate how they function in context of the Story Goal, and assign individual Motivation Elements.
In addition, you can set their gender and assign them to individual Throughlines.
Whether opened or close, you can always change the name of the Player by simply selecting their current name. To toggle open the card select the Edit icon to the far right of the Player block.
Once open, you will be able to illustrate in more detail their role within the Objective Story. When illustrating their Player Role, focus on an objectified understanding of how they relate to all the other characters in the story.
Brainstorming AI for Players
The Brainstorming AI within the Players card reacts a bit differently in that all requests will focus on how the Player relates to the Story Goal. This is not the place to describe how they look or their favorite food--this is far more important stuff.
To the Players in the Objective Story Throughline, the Story Goal is everything. Some will be for it (Protagonists), some will be against it (Antagonists). The Motivations attached to each Player are ALWAYS in context of the Story Goal.
One way of illustrating The Batman/Bruce Wayne's Motivation of desire in The Batman is through the Batman "wanting to improve things for Gotham's victims of crime." Identifying his Illustration of desire secures him to the Objective Story Throughline plot while simulateneously ensuring thematic integrity across both the Objective Story Throughline and the Main Character Throughline (as this is a Pivotal Element).
Note how in the above example, the Brainstorming AI tool added in the idea of the Batman being motivated by "his desire to help others...so he can make a difference in the city."
This addition was not present in the original Illustration, but was an extension and inference from the Motivation of desire (of wanting things to be better). This is what it means to keep intact the integrity of a narrative structure while simultaneously allowing for serendipitous storytelling generated by artificial intelligence.
The subtext of a Player is where you can set the Motivations that drive them within the context of the Objective Story. You can also set their gender, as well as select what Throughlines you want them to show up in while illustrating Storypoints and Storybeats.
The selected Motivations tie the Player directly to the Objective Story Throughline. The more Motivations, the more important they are to the story.
Two Motivations stand out from all the rest. These Pivotal Elements are marked red, and you'll find one in the Main Character Player and one in the Obstacle Character Player. These Pivotal Elements cannot be removed as they are essential to the integrity of your narrative.
Adding Motivations and Suggestions
To add a Motivation, select Add and choose the intended driving Element. Subtxt will attach the Element to this Player, leaving you room to illustrate the Element as you see best. You can also select the Random Illustration button to the right to ask Subtxt AI to write the motivation for you.
You do not have to illustrate each Motivation. You can leave it blank and Subtxt will take care of the rest.
If unsure of which Motivation to add, select Suggest. Subtxt AI will scan the current Elements used in the story and recommend Motivations yet unused in the current story.
You do not have to account for all 64 Motivation Elements. At the very least you should cover the Pursuit and Avoid Elements found in the Protagonist and Antagonist Players, respectively. And you should handle the Pivotal Elements.
While you can share the same Element between different Players (a hand-off situation), know that overuse of shared Motivation Elements will result in Players doing double and triple duty. The result is monotony and frustration on the part of the Audience.
Schizophrenic Motivations within a Player
If you try to add a Motivation that is the opposite of a Motivation already assigned to this Player, Subtxt will remind you that doing so would create a schizophrenic story.
The purpose of assigning Motivations to a Player is to provide an opportunity for the Author to illustrate the relative appropriateness and inappropriateness of different Motivations. If competing Motivations were present within the same Player, they would effectively zero each other out in the minds of the Audience, thus reducing the effectiveness of the narrative.
"Opposite" Motivations are known as Dynamic Pairs, and can be found in the model diagonally opposed to the each other. Oppose is the Dynamic Pair, or "opposite," of Support. Help is the Dynamic Pair to Hinder.
If you tried to add Oppose to a character already motivated by Support, Subtxt will give you the warning. You have the option to find other Motivations, or you could remove the Motivation already in place and then add the new one.
Removing a Motivation
If you decide you would like to remove a particular Motivation, tap on it and confirm the removal.
If you remove the last Motivation from a Player, Subtxt will automatically remove that Player from the Objective Story. As a result, the Player will also be moved down to the "Unassigned Players" section.
In recognition of concerns of gender bias, particularly in conjunction with its AI features, Subtxt provides the option for writers to assign a gender identity to individual Players. There are fourth options to choose from:
- M for male
- F for female
- Z for non-binary
The fourth option is choosing nothing at all. If left blank, Subtxt will do its best to interpret gender identity from the name itself.
Select Throughlines you want this Player to appear in by marking the appropriate box. Note that those grayed out selections are unavailable.
Your story must have at least one Main Character Player and one Obstacle Character Player.
A single Player cannot be both the Main Character and the Obstacle Character.
You will have to make changes in other Players in order to release a Throughline for use with this Player
Archetypal Characters and Motivation
As mentioned above in the example from The Batman, some Motivations combine to create what is known as an Archetypal Character. Pursuit and Consider make a Protagonist, Avoid and Reconsider make an Antagonist, and Help and Conscience make up a Guardian.
While Archetypal Characters are certainly great learning tools, when it comes to applying practically to a story they usually end up too reductive and too constricting to be of any use to the typical writer. Their practicality is often tied to the Genre of the piece: the more fantastical the plot/world and the more general the character, the more you'll find Archetypal motivations (Star Wars, the Marvel movies, etc.).
Still, they are wonderful teaching tools and--as far as the Protagonist and Antagonist go--are great starting points for establishing the Players of your Objective Story Throughline.
If interested, you can learn more about these combinations in the Series of Articles from Narrative First entitled Archetypal Characters.
Identifying the Protagonist and Antagonist
In Subtxt, the Protagonist and Antagonist of a story are indicated by the Players driven by Pursuit and Avoid, respectively.
When you assign either Pursuit or Avoid to a Player (or have them automatically added when you assign a Player to either the Story Goal or Story Consequence), Subtxt indicates their new role at the top of their Player card.
The Antagonist and Protagonist exist in relation to the Story Goal. Conventional understandings that the Protagonist is the "good guy" and the Antagonist is the "bad guy" do not apply to all stories.
Many would consider the Terminator the "Antagonist" of The Terminator. However, it is Kyle Reese that functions as the Antagonist of the story. His mere presence in the story is enough to prevent (or Avoid) Sarah from gaining control over her life.
The Protagonist pursues the Story Goal, the Antagonist prevents it and is aligned with the Story Consequence. That said, these Players may not even be fully aware that they are aligned with either one.
It's very important that you remain objective about these assignments, and that you refer to the Motivations in context of the Story Goal. The Story Goal of The Terminator is for Sarah to gain control, or command, over her life--not to simply escape from the Terminator.
This strangeness of narrative structure plays out in films like The Terminator, E.T., Casablanca, and The Lion King where the personal development of the Main Character is the point of the entire story.
In the context of Sarah gaining control over her life, those pursuing her are what make her the Protagonist of that story. The Antagonist then, the one avoiding, or preventing--even if unconsciously--is Reese, her protector. His very presence makes it impossible for Sarah to gain control over her life.
It's only once he is dead and gone that Sarah can finally step up and assume her place as leader of her life.
My Main Character is NOT the Antagonist
The structure of your story says otherwise. 😁
The Player with the Pursuit element is the Protagonist, the Player with the Avoid element is the Antagonist. In addition, the Protagonist is more closely aligned with the Story Goal--as they are PURSUING the resolution of that Story Goal. The Antagonist is avoiding the resolution of that Story Goal and is more closely aligned with the Consequence.
So while colloquially you might not think of your MC as the Antagonist, as far as the story you've constructed is concerned the Player playing both Avoid in the OS and MC is an antagonistic in so far as they are avoiding the successful resolution of the story.
Accessing Player Information throughout Subtxt
What's the point of figuring out all the Motivations of your Players?
Besides developing a strong understanding the forces involved in your narrative, Subtxt uses this information as it helps you develop your Objective Story Throughline.
While Muse is not fully aware of the Illustrations and Motivations of your Players yet (coming in 2024), you can take advantage of all the work you've done here through the Brainstorming AI tool.
When developing a Storybeat, simply enter the name of the Player(s) you want involved in that Beat, and the Brainstorming AI will reach out to the Players module to get the appropriate information. In this way, you can rapidly develop different Storybeats throughout the Objective Story and have them aligned to a particular Player or set of Players.