Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Plots about Plots

It's time again for a not-so-random collection of pictures.  I'm not sure why I'm enjoying these kinds of posts so much, these days.  Don't worry, though; the final two moves of the Ode to Joy Game are coming soon.

Today I've found some interesting diagrams that involve stories and narratives.  I make no secret of the fact that I'm on a lifelong search for the meanings and formulas behind stories (see here and here, for example).  I've gotten lost for hours in the land of TV Tropes, too.  :-)

Before getting into the temporal flow (cause and effect, tension and release) in stories, how about just themes?

Click on any of these bad boys for more legible versions
This Venn diagram of themes that appear in Shakespeare's plays comes from someone named Straight Edge who's got some other interesting thoughts about the Bard (and games, and Star Trek).  It's interesting how the Scottish Play winds up at the center, inside all four categories.  I also wonder if there's something insightful in knowing that there are no plays with the supernatural that don't also involve some romance or war.

But okay, we can put aside ol' Willie S. for a while.  I know where the narrative center of the universe really is...

This is a (subjective!) view of the "tension level" experienced throughout a viewing of Star Wars, that I found here.  I've talked before about how the rising and falling of tension may be a central component of "grammar" in a universal common language that ties together disparate ideas into Glass Bead Games of the future.  Seeing examples plotted out like this is very helpful for starting to flesh out that grammar.

Next up is the visual grammar of comic books.  Author Scott McCloud has done a lot in recent years to highlight that the combination of words and pictures in the comic medium can give rise to totally new artistic possibilities that don't exist when one uses either one or the other.  The following is from his 1993 book Understanding Comics:

The human brain is pretty awesome for being able to build a coherent story out of a succession of images that uses all of these different transition types... and not even realize it's doing it.

And now for something completely different.  :-)

When I was 10 or 11, I was given a book on a new-fangled psychological theory called Transactional Analysis.  This theory has been notable for creating some pop-culture phrases ("I'm OK, you're OK," "warm fuzzies," "strokes") and helping people to understand the "games" and "scripts" that can sometimes be played out without us really knowing it.  Although I haven't thought about this theory much over the decades, whenever I read over its basic ideas, I think that many of them settled quietly into my brain.

A key concept in TA's conception of the personality is the existence of three quasi-separate modes of behavior.  Sort of Jungian archetypes, I suppose: the Parent, Adult, and Child:

Generally, the Parent and Child roles are created from one's early experience, and "Adult" is a more neutral and rational role that is primarily characterized by the absence of the Parent/Child dynamic.  The connection to plots and narratives comes into play because an interaction between people can play out very differently depending on the roles they are adopting.  The image above is a dysfunctional "crossed" dynamic where one person is relating in an Adult-to-Adult way, but the other is responding in a Parent-to-Child way.

Putting aside the actual insights of this theory, though, I also think I gravitated toward this because of my love of the symbols and colorful graphics.  :-)


  1. '"Adult" is a more neutral and rational role that is primarily characterized by the absence of the Parent/Child dynamic.'

    Hey, that's kinda brilliant and simple. :)

    1. All credit goes to Eric Berne, of course, even if he did inflict "I'm OK you're OK" on the world. :-)

      On the diagrammatic fleshing out of interpersonal dynamics, I'd also highly recommend R. D Liang's crazy little book "Knots" (no wiki entry for it?!).

    2. I read Liang's 'The Undivided Self' and got a lot out of it. Picked up 'Knots' in a used book shop but set it back on the shelf again. That was years ago. May look into it again at your rec.

      Ha! Just looked it up and it's actually 'The Divided Self.' I think my slip is indicative of really good things, though!

    3. I should find The Divided Self. I also chose my words carefully in calling "Knots" a crazy little book! :-) It's pretty out there and experimental, but I think he identified some universal patterns of behavior (mostly dysfunctional?) that are hard to talk about any other way. It's been a while since I've looked at it, too.

  2. That first diagram perfectly demonstrates why Macbeth is my favorite of all his plays, too - it's got it all! Look at all those comedies bunched together in the Romance bubble, too.

    1. I'm sure there are other ways to separate out the comedies... cross-dressing? Cyrano-type proxies? I don't think the theme of "mistaken identity" would be of much help, since pretty much all of them have that.

      I've read a bunch of Shakespeare plays (some even for fun), but still haven't made it to Macbeth.