Narratology – A Very Brief Lit Review

So, for my PhD thesis on Movie Creativity (2016), among other things, I did a Literature Review of the major works in narratology since Plato (i.e. “How-To” works, explaining How To Create Successful / Appealing / Effective Narratives, namely – works that are the most useful to a screenwriter/story creator, aiming to create a high-RoI movie or story).

But also back in 1995 and 2011, I did a review of popular “How-To” Screenwriting Literature, and published it as a (free) PDF. It is used in many international screenwriting courses, and has over a million downloads. So the PhD Lit Review was just an update to that.

Anyway below is a highly-condensed (super Brief!) version of that Literature Review from the (2016) PhD.


Also, a quick explanatory note – Most of the below, are: Western texts… Where are all the Eastern ones? (Aren’t they just as important / relevant?)

Yes; yes they are-!

When we look at which units of culture (i.e., memes: ideas, processes, products, including books and movies, songs, etc) spread furthest in global culture, many of the best-selling books of all time, are both: Western and Eastern (e.g. Japanese, Russian, Chinese, etc)!

i.e., When you sort that Wikipedia best-selling fiction authors list (as at: 22nd Oct 2018, when I am updating this blog-post) by: Original Language (of the best-selling authors by books / books series, comic/manga series, etc), here (below) is what you get:

…Wait for it…

…At least – here is what I got, on 22nd Oct 2018; note that, that Wikipedia data gets updata-d now and then. (…Updated. Updata-d. I like making up new words. Whatever.)

Ok, so – here’s what I advise, in order to best understand, what’s coming next:

There is a List of Best-Selling Books on Wikipedia… Maybe go take a real quick look at it now. (Please.)

And also – there’s a List of Best-Selling Fiction Authors on Wikipedia. Take a look at that, too (also: Please).

So, I chose to do an analysis (i.e., Digital Humanities style) on the Best-Selling Authors data (see: the 2 charts below).

There were 97 authors listed on the List of Best Selling Authors page. (on 22nd Oct 2018, when I did this.)

And, as much as pie-charts give us all intellectual indigestion, I was curious as to the percentages of Languages, of the original (i.e., book, books series, comic, or whatever)…

This is how they shook out:

Best selling books chart - Wikipedia - StoryAlity 2018

So – as we can see in the chart above, English is: 70%. (Think, stuff like: Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, Barbara Cartland, etc), and Japanese is: 16% (note: manga sells really well, and yes, let’s call them: books) and then, there are, all the others (at smaller percentages of the total).

The question this raises:

How come (say) Agatha Christie’s, Shakespeare’s and Cartland’s stories, reached such wide audiences? (Well; the biggest, in terms of sales, over time…)

That’s a long story, involving biological and cultural evolution, and the study of memes, or units of culture, and why some spread further in culture.

And it also includes, Why the English language [compared to: any other languages] spreads (kinda like, a virus)… And, what Agatha Christie, and Shakespeare, and those others were actually doing, in their works (in their: units of culture). And, Why.

And so – if you want the medium-length story, maybe read all my PhD blog posts (see: the Index to this PhD blog); and, the longer story is in the 450-page PhD (2016) – although it (my PhD) focusses on Movies, and not so much on Books (i.e., print media), but the point is basically the same.

Some units of culture (ideas, processes, products – eg books, movies, jokes) spread further, and faster.

If you like, they are: more viral memes.

And anyway, so here is a chart of that same data, this time, broken down by: the Citizenship of the author.

Best selling books chart by Author Citizenship - Wikipedia - StoryAlity 2018

As we can see, the three “biggest” (most influential?) ones are American (at: 44%, of the 97 total authors listed there), and British (23%) and Japanese (15%), which dominate the stats, and then, there is the rest (i.e., the smaller percentages).

So, remembering that:

(a) Due to random chance, I was born into a so-called Western culture (Australia);

(b) I know a little about Eastern (i.e., Asian, Russian, etc) cultures, but, not a lot (I came first in my Asian Social Studies class in high school. Does that count? I’ve been to various Asian countries); and

(c) I guess my main blog-audience is global, and, I am in no way implying any value judgment on any civilizations, cultures or even domains in culture. We’re all the one big globe, and by the way, my favourite filmmakers include Ozu, and Kurosawa. (Though, my fave filmmaker of all is, still: Kubrick. But that’s just me.)

Okay so anyway – below, here’s the list of major texts that seem to have influenced successful (thus: effective, viral, fecund) Western storytelling. Which in turn, seems to have influenced global storytelling.

(But I must say – Eastern storytelling, like say Kishōtenketsu is just as great; just apparently not as viral as Western storytelling in cinema; it’s complex. On the one hand, you may want to write a critically-acclaimed unit of culture (movie, book, etc), on the other, you may want to sell lots of copies. They are, usually, different categories of canon in culture…)

And these different types of canon, occur in all creativity. (In all domains in culture: Movies, books, paintings, photography, dance, cooking, architecture, etc!)

I mean, just looking at movies: Avatar (2009) is currently the most-seen (biggest global audience) movie… But – it is not the highest RoI movie, as that title goes to Paranormal Activity (2007), and – see my PhD for much more on all of that.

Also, Vertigo (1958) and Tokyo Story (1953) are among the most critically-acclaimed movies, but – are not: the most profitable movies… And, again – see my PhD for details!

As it happens, I like them all (all those movies). But, for different reasons.

I also love the Apu trilogy. (Genius!) And of course, it greatly influenced the high-RoI, independent film Easy Rider. And, if you read my PhD, you’ll see the Kurosawa films, that influenced, top 20 RoI movie, Star Wars (1977).

Also I’m a big fan of Schrader’s Mishima (1985) (Mishima was basically, the Japanese Stephen King). Also I love Schrader’s Masters Thesis on film: Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (Schrader, 1988). But, I digress.

So anyway, with that explanation out of the way, now on to, the key point of this post:

A brief overview of “The History of Structural and Anthropological Narratology”

(or – a list of popular, influential and important books on Storytelling and How to do it) is as follows:

  • In 380 BCE, Plato published The Republic, in which he identified 3 genres: lyric, drama and epic. Plato stated that the “drama” genre uses mimesis (showing – via actors, using direct action), the “lyric” genre uses diegesis (telling, via narration – which includes authorial comment) and – the “epic” (episodic) genre uses both modes. In short, Plato said the “drama” genre uses the technique “Show, don’t Tell”. Plato’s core philosophical idea was that there are `perfect forms’ behind `nature/reality’. (Part of my thesis is that this same pattern underlies many things in `nature’: physics, chemistry, biology and – reality. In the case of the Top 20 most viral films – the Structure of the Fibonacci sequence, which underpins the 10-Act StoryAlity™ syntagm, derived from this empirical doctoral comparative research study of the Top 20 – and Bottom 20 – ROI films.)
  • In 335 BCE Aristotle published The Poetics, in which he analyzed certain ancient Greek plays, and outlined their structure and content. Notably: Aristotle never said 3 Acts, although he did indicate two acts. Aristotle also decided that ancient Greek plays need a `beginning, middle and an end’. He also noted various other dramatic “principles”, including examples selected from the play Oedipus Tyrannous. (Oedipus The King. It should also be noted that Poetics was published in 2 volumes, and only the first volume, regarding `Tragedy’, survives. The `Comedy’ volume was lost. (I contend that many screenwriting `gurus’, such as Syd Field, Linda Seger, Michael Hauge and Robert McKee erroneously use Aristotle’s `Poetics’ as the basis of their story systems. I also contend this may also be one of the key reasons that: 7 in 10 films lose money. For one thing: Feature Films are not ancient Greek plays. For another, “3-Act structure” is not useful for screenwriters. See: `StoryAlity #26: 3 Acts? Aristotle said that?)
  • In 1863, Gustav Freytag published Techniques of the Drama, an analysis of the dramatic structure of five-act plays: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and `denouement/ catastrophe/ resolution’ – also known as `Freytag’s pyramid’.
  • In 1890, James Frazer published The Golden Bough, a comparative study of mythology and religion. He revealed that Humanity’s belief evolves – from a belief in primitive magic, then to religion, and finally, to science. (Also known in philosophy as: an evolution from mythos to logos).
  • In 1895, Georges Polti published The 36 Dramatic Situations, in which he outlined the 36 different types of story/plot (including: Vengeance, Pursuit, Disaster, etc.). [Notably, this is a continuation of the work of playwright Count Carlo Gozzi.]
  • In 1928, Vladimir Propp published The Morphology of the Folk Tale (translated into English in 1958). In his Morphology, Propp analyzed hundreds of Russian folk tales, to determine their common elements with regards to story structure and character archetypes. He discovered 31 plot beats, and 8 character types (the Hero, the Villain/Aggressor, the Donor, the False Hero, the Helper/Auxiliary, the Princess, her Father, and the Dispatcher/Committer). Most notably, Homer’s The Odyssey conforms very closely to Propp’s structural story paradigm.
  • In 1946 Lajos Egri published The Art of Dramatic Writing, a study of the principles of playwriting. He postulated that the best plays follow the dialectic structure: Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis, in order to prove a `premise’, such as “Ruthless ambitions leads to its own destruction” (for example, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth).
  • In 1949 Joseph Campbell published The Hero With A Thousand Faces, in which Campbell analyzed thousands of religious myths, folk and fairy tales and determined “the monomyth” which involves 17 story stages, and 10 character archetypes with parallels to those of “the collective unconscious” outlined by Carl Jung; Jung’s Man and his Symbols (1964) further outlines these archetypes. (Screenplay gurus Chris Vogler, John Truby, Linda Seger and Michael Hauge also use the monomyth extensively.)
  • In 1955 Claude Lévi-Strauss (one of the founders of structuralism) published “A Structural Study of Myth” in Journal of American Folklore, and in 1960, Structural Anthropology. These works identified a constant conflict of binary oppositions, and their final reconciliation in myths (thesis, antithesis, and finally synthesis). 
  • In 1959, Joseph Campbell published the 4 volumes of The Masks of God, namely Primitive Mythology, Oriental Mythology, Occidental Mythology, and Creative Mythology. The work was a treatise on the evolution of human mythology, focusing more on anthropology and history, rather than psychology, as in The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
  • In 1966 A. J. Greimas published Structural Semantics which proposed a system of 5 “actants”: the Hero, the Villain, the Object of the quest, the Helper of the hero, and the Sender (the one who initiates the quest).
  • Also in 1966, a special issue of the journal Communications (Issue #8), featured 6 articles on Narratology by key contemporary academic structuralists, including Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, Umberto Eco, Gérard Genette, A. J. Greimas, and film theorist Christian Metz. Most of these articles take an Audience/Reader-based perspective rather than a working Writer’s, and due to their use of the often-obscure and impenetrable prose, and the highly academic and philosophical science of Semiotics, are not particularly useful to any working screenwriter or filmmaker.
  • In 1969 Tzvetan Todorov published The Grammar Of The Decameron and coined the term “Narratology”. The Decameron (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio, is a portmanteau story, encompassing 100 tales told by ten young people. Todorov’s structural analysis of the common elements in the stories within it included the 3 stages: Equilibrium; Agents of disruption who cause Disequilibrium; and finally: Harmony.
  • In 1970, Roland Barthes published S/Z, a structuralist analysis of the short story Sarrasine, by Balzac. In it, Barthes identified 5 narrative codes: Enigma, Action, Semic, Symbolic, and Cultural.
  • In 1972 Gérard Genette published Narrative Discourse: An Essay In Method in which he outlined 5 narrative modes: Order, Frequency, Duration, Voice and Mood.
  • In 1979, Umberto Eco published a collection of essays, The Role of the Reader, which includes his analysis of the plot structure (the 9 common story beats) of all 14 of the James Bond novels.
  • In 1995, Joseph Carroll published Evolution and Literary Theory where he outlined a theory of literature using Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and also integrating Evolutionary Psychology into the study of literature.
  • In 2005, Christopher Booker published The Seven Basic Plots in which he finds all great stories are one of 7 plots, including structural story beats of each plot. (Although Dennis Dutton also criticizes aspects of this approach.)
  • In 2009, Brian Boyd published On The Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, in which he extended evocriticism using a study of Homer’s The Odyssey and Horton Hears a Who!, including a wider conception of Evolutionary Psychology (e.g. Geary), and integrating creativity (e.g. DK Simonton).
  • In 2010, Boyd, Carroll and Gottschall edited Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader which collects many of the best essays and articles that employ an evolutionary slant in explaining literature, including two chapters by eminent film theorist and film historian David Bordwell.
  • In 2012, Jonathan Gottschall published The Storytelling Animal in which he extends consilience and evocriticism even further, offering evolutionary explanations of why we tell stories.I do like Gottschall’s definition of story from The Storytelling Animal (2012):


`Story = Character + Problem + Attempted Extrication’ (Gottschall 2012, p. 52)

I also published an article in The Journal of Genius and Eminence (2018) about story structure, problem solving and, the monomyth as an algorithm for problem solving.

And see also,

StoryAlity #145 – Five views of the monomyth (Velikovsky 2017)

As, that post is focussed on: Stories as problem-solving.

And also, as Popper once said: All of life, is problem-solving.

For more on that, see:

StoryAlity #143 – All of life is doing science

But don’t get me wrong; I like: (some) mainstream stories, some cult stories, some non-narrative stories, etc!

I mean sheesh, check out my Philosophiction blog, sometime. A lot of them are sheer nonsense… and, they break loads of “rules/conventions/guidelines” of “good” (i.e., effective) storytelling… but, the point is, I don’t expect them to go viral in culture anytime soon… I just found them: fun to write.

On the other hand – if you are seeking to find out what has worked in the past, for viral storytelling techniques, (and, may even work just as well in the future) then, check out my PhD.

Game Over Man


Addendum – Also in 2016, I published this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)




JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

& Evolutionary Systems Theorist

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/


PS – And thanks so much, to Aurelio Mancinelli – for asking a really great question! (in October 2018, and which led me to update this post… and include stuff on kishōtenketsu) !

Namely – (and, I am paraphrasing Aurelio here) – a great question is:

Why is the (above) list of influential texts on storytelling, dominated by Western authors/texts? (…Is there any reason/s for that?) …Why, an absence of: Eastern culture texts/authors?

In short, I certainly wasn’t deliberately ignoring, Eastern storytelling traditions; I actually love (ie really enjoy) them.

And, am not biased against them, (…as far as I know)?

(Sheesh – I’ve even had lots of Eastern-culture girlfriends… Gimme a break.)

It’s more that: my PhD study/research was focused on the question:

How do you tell a (movie) story, that will reach the widest global audience, for the least (movie) production budget?

And, the statistics (e.g. the list of top 20 RoI films and the bottom 20 RoI films) are empirically, that:

ie – The 20 highest – and the 20 lowest – audience-reach to movie-cost ratio, movies…


So, my PhD study (and, indeed, this PhD research blog) is focused on:

What are they, (the top 20 RoI movies) all doing right?

What are the bottom 20 RoI (biggest money losing) movies, doing wrong?

And – how can we all (screenwriters, movie makers, audiences) benefit from that knowledge?

And so: My PhD study, answers all of that.

And so, if the top 20 RoI movies were all (or even: partly) Eastern (rather than: Western) movies, then maybe, my PhD study (Results, and Findings) would have turned out, differently.

…Or not! Who knows?

For the full, long, complex answer to all of that, see: my PhD!

Someone really should do, a (5-year, fulltime) PhD study of:

  1. The top 20 RoI Western culture movies.
  2. And –
  3. The top 20 RoI Eastern culture movies.

And figure out all the patterns, there.

I just did it, on: all movies (ie global – East and West, both included).

And as it happens, the one Eastern movie in the dataset, (in the Bottom 20 RoI) was Chinese, and that was a remake of an Western culture movie (a remake of a Coen Bros film).

Also, another of the Bottom 20 RoI movies was: a Russian biopic (About: Dostoyevsky writing one of his novels. By the way Crime and Punishment is one of my fave novels.)

Anyway – in my PhD there are breakdowns (i.e., tables, charts) of the Countries of each film, in the top 20 and also bottom 20 RoI movies. Some interesting lessons, there!

As a scientific study of creativity involves studying: the creative person(ality)/s, process, product (i.e.: the movie, or book they created), place, press, and persuasion.

Also, here is just a brief response (or: critique?) of this blog (actually Tumblr) post on, kishōtenketsu.

First of all, overall, I like that post! e.g., I like the cartoons, and how they attempt to demonstrate kishōtenketsu. Great stuff! Overall, I like the concept behind it.

I mean even I, write haikus. (See my (deliberately): Horrifying Haikus)

Ok so – now comes the stuff I don’t like. (Yikes, Duck and cover.)

First of all, PoMo is nonsense.

When anyone starts citing PoMo folks (e.g. Derrida, Foucault, and all that nonsense) I reach for my (laser)gun. (And Thank you, Science. For the laser-guns, and all the super-cool tech, like that.)

I am big into: Creativity, Problem-Solving, and Truth.

Which is also why, I can’t stand: Science-deniers, like Donald Trump, and, the PoMos.

Science, like it or not, is currently the best method we have for:

(b) solving problems, and (c) finding the truth.

And, (a) creativity just means, a meme, aka a unit of culture (an idea, process, product) that is: new, useful and surprising. You can do creativity in science, or in the arts. Preferably, do it in both at the same time! (See: consilience for more on all that).

Anyhoo. So, ignoring the PoMo waffle in it, that post talks about how, Western storytelling is dominated by: problem (aka conflict) structure.

Yes; it is!

That is: a true fact.

My quick summary of problem-structure in story is that, just as Gottschall (2012) noted, this (below) is the algorithm (or: formula, equation, recipe, whatever you wanna call it) for: a story, a narrative, in “Western” Culture (e.g. basically, European, and all the places the Europeans later colonized, eg like the USA, English, Australia, etc etc):

  • Gottschall’s definition of story, from The Storytelling Animal (2012):

`Story = Character + Problem + Attempted Extrication’ (Gottschall 2012, p. 52)

So, in that (very popular) Western tradition, Story is all about, a problem (or even: lots of problems).

And – yes, you can call it (or see it as) “conflict” – if you like.

And for example, if you wanna make a story (that, probably, more people in culture will: like) you: (1) get a person up a tree, and then (2) throw “rocks” (i.e. problems!!!) at them, and then (3) get them down (or, maybe even: kill them – and thus – metaphorically – leave them dead up the tree, like many of the top 20 RoI movies do. (See my PhD for details.)

i.e. In loads of Top 20 RoI movies, all the heroes die at the end. One reason, is: It’s “new, it works, and it’s surprising”. See: the standard definition of creativity for more.) Surprising because: We don’t often expect the hero of a story, to: get dead-! But some stories are more effective/powerful/satisfying/impactful, that way.

So, yes. Sure.

Problems, or “conflict” is indeed: yuge (really really: huge) in Western “classical” storytelling traditions…

Examples of types of problems you can throw at your hero(s) / protagonist(s) include:

  1. Intrapersonal (i.e., Inner conflict (psychological); maybe the character hates part of themselves, or, has “personal problems”/hangups/fears/phobias, etc, whatever those might be); also
  2. Personal conflict (e.g. a character hates another character, or is hated by them, i.e. They started it! ie Maybe there is a serial killer or monster or whatever trying to kill your hero and/or their family and friends; This is a real: Problem!); also
  3. Social (where: a character hates: a whole group);
  4. Environmental (a character hates, say, their town [or wherever they currently live], or the weather; or basically is in conflict with the natural elements, because NATURE WILL TRY AND KILL YOU, see: floods, storms, twisters, hurricanes, earthquakes, natural disasters, droughts, climate change, extreme weather events, etc). And see: lots of “Disaster Movies” about: all of that. And also,
  5. Metaphysical problems/conflict (eg – maybe some supernatural deity, or ghost, or something has it in for the hero…)

Anyway – see my free PDF-book on Feature Film Writing for more kinds of conflict (more problems) for writers to throw at their characters. (ie If, you are ever: short on ideas.).

In short, the more problems, thus conflict, and the more kinds/types (levels: see those 5 levels above, Personal, Social, Metaphysical, etc) of conflict/problems, the more engaging and attention-getting the story is…

Thanks (or: no thanks?) to Evolution, People actually get a drug-rush in their brains, when they see problems getting solved.

I am not making this up.

Brains are hardwired that way.

So, the more problems the hero has, and the more they solve, the happier (more satisfied) the audience is, in general.

So, think of why Agatha Christie (murder mysteries, etc) just for example, are so popular… And, police-procedural TV shows. Serial-killer movies, etc.

And, on the other hand, there is a (wonderful!) Eastern tradition (classic Chinese, Korean and Japanese narrative structures), e.g. kishōtenketsu.

So, (1) Introduction (2) Development (3) Twist, and (4) Conclusion.

Often, like a haiku, such stories are not about problem-solving so much as, just: observing stuff. Like say, how beautiful and interesting a nice scene in nature is, or whatever.

And just being: thoughtful and philosophical, and drinking that experience in.

And – I love those kinds of stories, too!

But – and this is important: they are not “about” problem-solving.

And since stories (and types of stories) compete for our (global) attention, which stories seem to empirically compete, the best?

When you check the global statistics, I mean.

Answer: The ones with the big, fat, hairy problems in them.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Ozu’s Tokyo Story. And I love, slow cinema.

I mean for crying out loud, I even made three slow cinema feature-length films:

Runaway Chainsaw

Lights, Camera… Axin’! – EyeSaw


And, I love Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalker, etc) and Kubrick and Malick (Tree of Life, Thin Red Line, etc) and Bergman films, which are often seen as “slow paced”. (Compared to say, a mindless piece of fast-paced popular crap, like say, a Transformers movie).

(I also wrote, some regular-paced films. e.g. Caught Inside).

And, so here’s the thing:

If you are trying to create a story that will reach the widest audience, and for the least budget, (ie a high-RoI movie, say), you basically need to cram it full of problems and conflict.

See: the Top 20 RoI movies! And compare them to the bottom 20 RoI movies. (Which, is exactly what my PhD does. By the way – there is a Chinese movie in the Bottom 20 RoI movies.)

So, that post, with its PoMo guff, is not trying to solve the same problem, that I am.

ie The problem that my PhD solved.

ie This problem:

StoryAlity #115 – The `Less-Than-1%’ Problem, in the Domain of Movies

And, it is the same problem in Novels-!

StoryAlity #114B – The Less Than 1% Problem in the Domain of Novels

And songs, and in fact, any domain in culture.

So, if you want to tell successful stories (and reach a wide audience); sure. Use any story structure, and narrative tradition and conventions that you want…

But – the evidence from the empirical data is clear:

Problems grab attention!

So, if you are just: writing because you enjoy it, and want to express something personal; then, great! Ignore all the structures.

What: whatever you feel like.

BUT – (and this is important) MOVIES COST A LOT OF MONEY (and TIME) TO MAKE. (And so do videogames, usually).

Novels are cheaper. Poems are very cheap. (Not many people make a living out of being a Poet. But whatever. Money isn’t everything. Well – unless you have none.)

So – if you want to get your movie story (i.e., your screenplay) financed, and thus made, so that people can see it – and enjoy it…?

(i.e., Maybe you have some important Theme or Message you want to convey in your story – and, maybe even: Change the world!)

Then, probably – you’re gonna have to cram it, chock-full of problems and thus: “conflict”.

And – show your hero/s, solving those problems in interesting, and new and useful and surprising (thus: creative!) ways.

Anyway: see the PhD. It explains it all.

Also, just to criticize that post a little more.

Sure, you can indeed have a plot, without: conflict. Without: problems.

But the question is – How is it going to compete for mass attention with other stories, that do have that stuff, in them?

Check the cinema box-office and the book-sales figures. (…What do the numbers / facts tell you?)

Also, I note in the 2 cartoon examples on that blog, the examples aren’t that great…?

In, example 1:

Panel 1 – Girl inserts coin in soda vending machine

Panel 2 – Girl gets (grabs) soda from vending machine slot

Panel 3 – Guy waits for girl on a bench nearby

Panel 4 – Girl gives guy the soda

ie Yes, no “obvious” problems there.

But, I note – the story is actually, solving a problem-(!)

The problem that gets solved is, the guy, getting his soda.

The “problem” (apparently) was: The guy wanted a soda.

In the story, the girl solved it.

(In fact if you wanted to go deep; it’s sexist. Why can’t the stupid, lazy-ass guy, get his own damn soda; What is she, his slave?)

Alternately, if the guy didn’t want a soda, and she (whoever she is) just got him one anyway, now, he has a new problem, namely: What the hell am I going to do with this soda that I don’t even want? If I throw it away, she’ll probably get offended. Then I’ll have to deal with all of that crap, too. 

Anyway in the 2nd series of panels, which is supposed to show, how: Western storytelling would do it, by including a clear “problem” – I would just say that – that isn’t very good as any kind of explanation or comparison.

Namely at first, (in the 2nd cartoon sequence) the soda machine doesn’t work properly (so she has to press the button again, and then her soda pops out of the machine).

Sure there is added suspense, and a more obvious problem (i.e., obstacle) in that version, but, in fact – it’s a kinda-boring solution? And not even a very interesting problem/obstacle? ie Who really cares? What are we supposed to do with this information? It’s not like, we all just learned a good new trick for solving problems in our own real lives?

ie The Moral of that story is: Sometimes, a soda machine malfunctions.

And in that version of a story, there’s not even a “love interest” – or, whatever the hell that lazy-ass guy is, in the first cartoon series. (…Who knows, maybe it’s her brother, it’s not at all: clear?)

So my point is, that so-called “illustration” of a difference in Eastern and Western classic story styles isn’t that great an example.

By randomly inserting more “problems/conflict” into a story, they – generally – can’t be just a random non-sequitur. ie A random problem inserted for no real purpose. Not if you want to satisfy your story’s audience. Unless your audience is just one person: You, the guy writing the (rather pointless) story.

Any problem (that is “added” to the Plot) really should “pay off”, elsewhere in the same story. And/Or, it can be a payoff, that was set up, earlier in the story.

e.g. If, say, the story was about a girl who always has bad luck, and is basically a loser, so that everything she does, almost-always fails, then – sure: the soda-machine malfunction plot event would be a good, valid problem (even: kinda funny) to include in the story.

But random, annoying, unenlightening problems, just for their own sake are not a part of the Western (good, effective, tight) storytelling tradition…

Anyway my main overall point is: Derrida and the PoMos, never solved any problems.

They only created a whole bunch more of them (like say, the Anti-Science movement – by suggesting nonsense like, “Science is just another discourse, of many valid discourses”). What a load of complete hogwash that all was.

Science is how you solve problems.

…How else are you going to solve problems-?

Like, say: How to survive in the (brutally-competitive) film (or – even novel) industry as a writer / a storyteller, if your stories don’t reach a wide audience, and thus, you make no money from all of your skills, knowledge, training and experience?

See also, the Ten-year rule in creativity. (Who wants to spend 10 years training to become a screenwriter/storyteller, and then never make any money from it? Well; some people, sure. Good luck with all that.)

Anyway see my PhD, as it has all the answers. Seriously.

And, so, there’s no real reason why I have ignored the Eastern classic storytelling traditions in the list above; it’s just that, stories in the East have tended to have different characteristics.

And – They are wonderful!

And ironically, creative filmmakers (storytellers) steal a whole lot of good tricks from Eastern cinema! And, incorporate them into their work! (Most people never notice, or know.)

But as for overall story templates/tools/structures, basically, “East is East and West is West” and, diversity is a beautiful thing.

I happen to love both Western and Eastern (and Northern and Southern) storytelling.

But when you look at international movie RoI datasets (e.g. the top 20 RoI and Bottom 20 RoI movies) – some patterns emerge, and none of those are: my doing. Those are: facts.

Also – and, hopefully this isn’t going to be taken the wrong way, by anyone:

Creativity is just: problem solving. 

In general, Eastern cultures don’t tend to take the same approach to problem-solving, and thus, creativity as the Western schools of thought have, since say, the Ancient Greeks, ie the so-called Western tradition.

See, say, this article: Why Asian People Are Uncreative? Why Jewish People Are Creative? (Kim 2017). It is by someone who is Asian, so no, it is not: racist.

There is a body of research (scientific articles, academic books, etc) in the scientific research literature on creativity that examines the same issues. It is not: new. it is an old, well researched issue.

Some key points:

`The Nobel Prize is the ultimate symbol of innovative achievement, but this award is not distributed evenly across all cultural groups. Jewish people constitute less than 0.2% of the world population, yet about 23% of Nobel Laureates have at least one parent who identifies as Jewish––including a recent Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan. In contrast, Asian (e.g., China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan) people constitute about 23% of the world population, but only about 4% of the Nobel Laureates. Considering population size, a Jewish person is roughly 625 times more likely to win a Nobel Prize than an Asian.’ (Source: Kim 2017)

And another key point:

`Asian Culture
Asian parenting is shaped by Confucianism, impacting children’s creativity development. Four Asian parenting principles emphasize 1) conformity, 2) hierarchy, 3) filial piety, and 4) academic achievement. These four principles have resulted in Asian children’s low creativity compared to Western counterparts.’ (Source: Kim 2017)

So. If in general, you are encouraged to be conservative and conforming, you are not likely to: (1) see, or even seek out problems; (2) point out problems when you find them, nor even: (3) try to solve, those problems.

So; Western storytelling, with its focus on “problems”, and thus, “conflict”, probably has culturally encouraged Western society in general to be better problem solvers, and thus: be more creative. They grow up, swamped in narrative, which means they get to see loads of problems getting solved (even if, just in: fiction).

On the other hand, sometimes, you just wanna get all philosophical – and watch, a slow cinema movie – where nothing much happens, and nobody has any problems, and just: observe nice stuff. It’s nice and peaceful and meditative. And, mindful.

I love all kinds of cinema, and, all kinds of storytelling. In any and all, media.

None are empirically “better”. It also depends: What you’re in the mood for!

But – some storytelling styles and methods and techniques do compete better in the brutal marketplace of human attention, like in the movie industry. i.e. See my PhD for details.

I will say, my favourite TV shows are Maniac (which had a dry humour, and slow pace), and Rick & Morty (which has an insanely fast pace) and, The Orville (which is kinda slow in places too but funny as hell). More on my other fave stuff, here.

But anyway, there’s no real reason why the emphasis on Western culture in this list of influential texts. Or if there is, it goes to issues of: Why some units of culture (aka: memes) are more viral. Like say, the English language, and, all of that. And, which, if you read my PhD blog, you’ll see: Why that can and does happen.

And if you’re a PoMo, (ie Anti-Science), and don’t understand consilience (combing the sciences and the arts) then you will probably rabbit on about “cultural imperialism” and “cultural appropriation” and all sorts of very negative stuff, which is all terrible, wrong-headed thinking that came out of (ugh! Gimme a break) Continental Philosophy, and PoMo. And – that way lies madness; as there are no solutions to problems to be found in there.

My advice: try consilience instead.

And – read my PhD.

PPS – Did I mention, I have done a PhD on all of this-?



12 thoughts on “StoryAlity #27 – Narratology since Plato – a Brief Lit Review

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