The Argument

The Argument of every complete story exists at the crossover point between Character and Plot. In Subtxt, the two sides of the Argument are carried by the Main Character Pivotal Element and the Obstacle Character Pivotal Element. That clichéd scene where one says to the other, "You and I are both alike"? That's all about these two Elements.

The Argument of Ability

The above argument of desire vs. ability is taken from James Cameron's Aliens. Ripley is the Main Character and Newt, the little girl they discover on the planet, is the Obstacle Character. Ripley takes the position of doing out of fear, of not wanting to lose again. Newt takes the opposite position of being able to face anything, even if a small child.

The Main Character Pivotal Element of Aliens

The Obstacle Character Pivotal Element of Aliens

While they don't come right out and say it, deep down inside they both have a similar issue of dealing with nightmares--it's just that one is coming from a place of fear (desire) and the other is coming from a place of competency (ability). This "argument" fuels conflict throughout the entire narrative, and not just between the two of them. The Marines themselves also deal with their own fears and problematic desires, but on a much more objective and logical level.

That's how story works.

Diving Deep Into a Storypoint

The Main Character Pivotal Element is what we call a Storypoint: a singular reference point tied directly to the thematic message of the narrative. Open it up and you can start to get an idea of what it's like to know the precise subtext of each character's position in your story.

Ripley's Pivotal Element of Desire

Every Storypoint in Subtxt is divided into two sections, Storytelling on top and Subtext down below. If you take the familiar analogy of an iceberg, you can start to develop a mental model of what we're doing here with Storypoints.

We will cover this more in greater detail in the Storypoints section of this Guide, but for now you can see that Storytelling consists of General and Story-specific Illustrations, along with a section for Storytelling. This is where you write what your Audience sees and how they come to understand this Storypoint.

The Subtext down below is where you explain why this Storypoint exists and gain insight on how to better deliver this part of your story to your Audience. The Subtext is for you (the Author), the Storytelling is for the Audience.

And just so we're absolutely clear, this has NOTHING to do with the concept of wants/needs in a character. In the example above, the specific Element driving the Main Character is an abundance of unwanted desire. This is not the same for every character and every story. In fact, it's usually quite different. What a character wants and what a character needs is NOT the subtext of a story. It's a misguided understanding of how narrative works.

Not sure where to start?

That's where that Brainstorming AI button comes into play.

Introducing Brainstorming AI

Before we make any adjustments of our own, go ahead and press the Brainstorming AI button (the one near the top of the Pivotal Element) and watch what happens.

Subtxt AI in Action

Brainstorming AI reaches out to the world's leading natural language system (OpenAI's GPT-3) and asks it to expand upon this idea of desire as the basis for an argument. When the answer returns, Subtxt lists out the various possible ways you can bring that concept into your story.

Subtxt AI Results

Imagine if instead of being completely terrified of chest-bursting aliens, Ripley was frightened of germs. If she were to posit this argument in the story, especially to Newt, she would likely use one of these ideas as a basis for her point-of-view.

While initially silly, one can start to see how the Storytelling separates from the Subtext of a narrative. Ripley would still be driven by desire, and she and Newt would continue to have the same basis for their argument that eventually leads them to getting closer.

It's just that the storytelling itself would be different.

The Same Argument, Different World

This separation of Subtext from Storytelling explains why two stories with the same exact narrative can appear, on the surface, to be vastly different.

For example, the argument of Blade Runner: 2049 matches the one found in Aliens (desire vs. ability). That said, the Storytelling of these two Pivotal Elements changes to match its story:

The Main Character Pivotal Element of Blade Runner: 2049

The Obstacle Character Pivotal Element of Blade Runner: 2049

Both Ripley and K argue the importance of being driven by desire: Ripley coming from a place of fear, and K coming from a place of discontent. As with every Method in Subtxt, you can have too much of an Element (desire: fear) or you can have not enough of the same Element (desire: discontent). Both explore the extremes of an argument advocating for desire.

Both Newt and Joi counter the desire argument with a position of ability: Newt shows the importance of remaining able to engage physically, while Joi counters with not being hampered by not being able-bodied. Again, the first showcases an abundance of ability (being able to engage) while the second explores a lack of ability (not being able-bodied).

Making the Storytelling Yours

While we go into this in more detail later, the process of affirming the Storytelling for your story is quite simple. "Heart", or like/save, the ideas you like and Subtxt will drop them into the Storytelling section of your Storypoint.

Adding Brainstorming AI to Storytelling

You can add as many as you like, directly edit them in the Storytelling section, and even change the General Illustration above (or make it specific to your story), and roll the dice again for another round of ideas from Brainstorming AI.

Brainstorming While Maintaining Thematic Intent

Here, we adjusted the General Illustration of desire for Ripley to be about "wanting to improve your situation." While completely different from "fearing germs", you can see again that there is a sense of thematic consistency with the first being about not wanting something, and the second about wanting something.

This is the power of the Subtxt approach. You can feel free to stretch your creative wings through all kinds of different Storytelling ideas, AI-generated or not, and Subtxt will make sure that the Thematic Intent of your story (your Premise and meaning) stays consistent and on-topic.

Bringing Two Ideas Together

Again, we could edit these two ideas ourselves, or click the Merge button to ask Subtxt to do the work for us.

Merging Storytelling while Maintaining Intent

See how nicely the two ideas work together? We could tap Replace, and then Subtxt will now refer to both instances of desire when arguing Ripley's point-of-view.

Merged Storytelling with the Same Intent

And it will all stay thematically consistent.

That's how you build a meaningful story.

Introducing Subtxt AI

For those who want to dig a little deeper, Subtxt offers the Subtxt AI option located beneath the surface of every Storypoint. Instead of blending specific ideas from your story (the General Encoding, for example), the Subtxt AI button helps you fully understand how this particular Storypoint would appear as a problem in any story.

Subtxt AI and the Pivotal Elements

As you can see, the responses from the Subtxt AI are much more universal in nature--more general--and more focused on how that particular Method would show up as a problem in any scenario. The nice thing about having access to this kind of understanding is that we can sometimes be locked into our own understandings of a story. Our preconceptions keep us from seeing things from a different point-of-view.

The Subtxt AI almost acts as a mentor and teacher, as it expands your appreciation of what it means to illustrate conflict in your story.

As with the Brainstorming AI, you can add as many as you would like, and edit and merge them to fully appreciate this part of your story.

Illustrated Subtext for a Storypoint

Note how once you add an Illustration to the Subtext section, the Surface Storytelling button (the up arrow) appears directly next to the Subtxt AI button. If available, you'll see the General Encoding for the appropriate Throughline as well.

Surfacing Storytelling

The Surface Storytelling button is a fun way to generate actual scenes and dialogue for your story based solely on the Subtext. Thinking back to the iceberg analogy, pressing this button is akin to that snowpack rising above the surface and making itself known to the viewer.

Surfacing Storytelling in a Storypoint

The Storytelling that Subtxt generates from the Subtxt will behave differently given the context. Whether its a Player, a Storypoint, or a Storybeat, Subtxt will do its best to help you write this part of the story, while guaranteeing it relates back to your overall Premise.

And as with everything else, you can always pick and choose the responses you like, mix and match them, and merge them together to create the story the way you imagine it.

Think of these two buttons, the Brainstorming AI and the Subtxt AI, as if they were two different individual artists in a writer's room. If you've ever experienced that situation, you know that every storyteller is unique in their abilities when it comes to collaborating on a story. The same thing happens here with these two buttons. It's as if the Brainstorming AI is the writer who is quick-on-their-feet and gets right to the point, whereas the Subtxt AI is the more methodical, contemplative writer who wants to make sure it all means something in the end. The best part is: you get to act like the show runner sitting in-between these two super-geniuses. Like a show-runner, you take the very best ideas from both, merge them together, and make the end result all your own.

We can continue to build several ideas on top of our intial forays into this Storypoint until we start to craft the kind of point-of-view that makes sense for our Main Character. And then we can do the same for our Obstacle Character and their Pivotal Element.

And we can do the same for the hundreds-more Storypoints and Storybeats within a single narrative. 😅

Repetition of Elements in a Storyform

The more you work with Subtxt, the more you may begin to recognize certain Elements popping up in different contexts. The Story Goal also appears as the Objective Story Concern; the Main Character Pivotal Element may show up as the Main Character Problem or Focus. And the question that typically comes up is Am I supposed to connect the two, or are they meant to be different?

Generally speaking, you want to come up with different Illustrations for the different contexts regardless if they share the same Element. The repetition of the Element is meant to reinforce a particular thematic aspect given the meaning of your story.

For example, in the above example from Aliens, the Main Character Pivotal Element of desire shows up in four places within the Storyform:

  • The MC Pivotal Element
  • the subjective/character component of the Premise
  • The Objective Story Problem
  • The Main Character Problem

While each refer to desire, they each refer to a distinct instance of desire:

The Main Character Pivotal Element is basically what your character believes or the argument they're making in the story. (’Ripley believes that wanting to stay alive is the best way to deal with a nightmarish situation’ is one example of a character making the argument for desire)

The Subjective/Character portion of The Premise is what you're saying with your story. While it could be a mirror of the Pivotal Element (Abandon wanting to stay alive and...), it doesn't have to be, and often your story will be richer if it isn’t (Abandon being afraid and you can understand how to survive is the Premise of Aliens)

The Objective Story Problem is the problem everyone in the story is dealing with. (e.g., ’Everyone wants something from the encounter with the Aliens. While some want to profit others just want to survive.’) The OS Problem is the thing that's causing conflict for everyone.

The Main Character Problem is the problem the Main Character alone is dealing with. (’Ripley’s longing for the daughter she never had to chance to raise drives her to mother everyone on the mission.’)

Usually, all four are their own thing. Some stories might mirror those elements, but it's generally better if you don't. In the end, it all depends on what story you're trying to tell.

© 2023 Narrative First, Inc.