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Friday, February 21, 2014

On Narrative Dynamics

In my critiques for Writers Workshop, when it comes to dealing with general plot structure, I tend to find Todorov's theory of narrative equilibrium a good touchstone. I try not to sideswipe a client with his name and lay down a whole whack of literary theory on them, but I do find it useful as an inroad to dealing with problems of a botched narrative trigger and fuzzy, or even absent, core conflict in a novel that's trying to be a conventional thriller, say. But where Todorov sets out five stages in his model of narrative equilibrium--

equilibrium as an initial stage;
disruption of that equilibrium by some event;
recognition of that disruption by some agent;
reaction seeking to counteract that disruption;
restitution of equilibrium, but in a new form.

--what interests me is not the notion of stages at all, but rather the fact that this is ultimately a model of dynamics rather than structure. It resonates with Clute's talk of narrative grammars of Fantasy, SF and Horror, in which I think we can see the alethic and boulomaic quirk (chimera and novum, monstrum and numina,) as the disruption leading, as a result of the priming of the worldscape by other quirks written into the backstory, to the interplay of recognition and reaction Clute calls Thinning and Thickening for Fantasy and Horror, and the middle ground I'd label Twisting in strange fictions of a less morally-loaded worldscape. In the past however, I've said I think Todorov's model mixes states and the actions that transition us between them. I've suggested a revised model that seeks to draw out the distinction:

Balance (a state of equilibrium)
  • The action of an agency upon the world, entailing:
  • The reaction of the world to this activity (disruption as a process)
Discord (disruption as a state)
  • The action of the world upon the protagonist, entailing:
  • The reaction of the protagonist to this activity (recognition as a process)
Conflict (recognition as a state)
  • The action of the protagonist upon the world (reaction), entailing:
  • The reaction of world to this activity (resolution as a process)
Harmony

But still, this is a bit structural for my liking, and a tad reductionist. I had a chat with a friend way back in which he lamented being taught Todorov's theory, in an English class at university, as a model that fits all narrative, universally applicable. And it just isn't, he said. I agreed. In any episode in a serial mode of narrative--I think of the 1970s TV series Monkey--it's quite possible that what's restored at the end is the exact same state as at the start. And that's just the beginning of where one might argue with a crude universalist application of the notion of narrative equilibrium. Still, even as I agreed, part of me niggled at the sense of an underlying dynamics that is, I think, the very substance of narrative. So, I find myself returning to it, to try and get at the root of what really interests me here.

I'll start then by abstracting that model above to something I'd say is pretty undeniable. Paring away the context of fiction, stripping the specifics, actually what we find is a simple (to the point of banal, maybe) model of any sort of event of action and reaction, taking place in some context between two objects, their interaction mediated by that context:

Start state
  • Action by object 1
  • Effect of action on context
Impact
  • Action on object 2
  • Effect of action on object 2
Comeback
  • Reaction by object 2
  • Effect of reaction on context
End State

There's nothing, I think, remotely controversial about that, nothing arguable as an unwarranted assumption about How Things Work. Taking everything down to first principles like so, the result is so schematic as to be, I'd say, uninteresting. Meh. Whatever. It's so reduced that it doesn't really say anything useful. But it is perhaps a good basis for a reconstruction of the dynamics of an event in narrative, if we now re-introduce Todorov's disruption as object 1, an agency as object 2, with the fictive worldscape as context. I'm a firm believer in using nice simple non-Latinate nouns to label elements in a model, so let's throw some in to try and encapsulate the different transitional actions. And I'll make two small but important tweaks on the start and end states: opening them to a range; letting the latter loop back to the former:

Harmony/Pressure/Turmoil
  • Breach: irruption of disruption;
  • Ripple: disruption of worldscape;
Discord
  • Jag: disruption of sensation;
  • Heed: evaluation of disruption;
Conflict
  • Maneuver: reaction of agency;
  • Outcome: reaction of worldscape;
Goto Harmony or Pressure or Turmoil.

Contrary to Todorov, we need not consider the startpoint equilibrium. Backstory often premises a worldscape's balance already taxed to breaking point or outright turbulent. One need only point to the opening scroll of Star Wars to see a story open with equilibrium already in ruins. If the breach is an irruption of disruption, this is not to say that other such disruptions are not in action, priming the worldscape with chronic and/or chaotic stresses. I'll hazard, in fact, that a cogent analysis of most narratives requires a grasp of how the worldscape is primed and/or fractured by such stresses at the story's start. C.f. the miasma that is in action upon the house of Atreus at the start of the Oresteia. The oldest story we have on record begins with Uruk out of whack because of Gilgamesh's wayward rule.

The opening up of potential inroads makes for an obvious answer to an obvious question? What if the outcome of the maneuver doesn't resolve things, if it doesn't achieve harmony? Well, then we must expect another breach born out of the pressure or turmoil, another iteration of the dynamics. We can expect a narrative to loop until harmony is achieved. It might, unexpectedly, carry on after that resolution, but the outroad is obvious enough that we tend to view a narrative as malformed if it loops through the cycle to an outcome that sorts out the jag of the breach decisively and then trundles on through action that now feels immaterial.

A basic anecdotal narrative--a joke, say--might stick to this simple dynamic. An Englishman, Scotsman, Irishman joke loops in three iterations. The firing squad joke sets up a base state of all three captives in North Africa, deserters from the French Foreign Legion, awaiting execution. Each selection by the sergeant gives a breach, rippling into the execution of the orders, putting each in the jag of being blindfolded, which they obviously heed. Through the three incidents, each carries out a simple maneuver, shouting a warning of an invented disaster, the outcome in the first two a distraction allowing them to escape, the opposite outcome in the third resolving the incident conflict with a twist--because instead of "Earthquake!" or "Flood!" the Irishman shouts "Fire!" Doh.

The threefold structure gives us a rudimentary escalation of metatextual conflict by resolving the first incident utterly with the simple maneuver and entering into an obvious repeat. Thing is, this is an exercise of first level agency--by which I mean, I'm hereby defining first level agency by the execution of a maneuver in this basic dynamics; we'll come to higher levels in a minute--and first level agency is basically "So what?" stuff. A maneuver that simply achieves the desired outcome is pointless narrative, insignificant; so the two iterations create a conflict of imports in the audience, between the expectation that the maneuver/outcome pattern will be applied again and the pointlessness of doing so in narrative terms given a foregone conclusion. The twist resolves that by trumping the foregone conclusion with an application of the maneuver/outcome pattern that has the opposite outcome.

In an abstract sense, if we want to think in terms of structure, we can see the Spur, Turn, Crunch architecture here in terms of the game being played with audience expectations, with audience as subject to that dynamics in place of a protagonist. The first iteration spurs a reckoning of the principle. The second iteration offers a turn by reapplying it and, by doing so, confounding expectations of a narrative complexifying beyond the first-level agency of an easy repeatable maneuver. The third crashes the assumption of repeatability into the reality of a legitimate variant of the maneuver which backfires, the punchline a crunch for the audience themself.

It's hardly a grand insight to unpack the simple joke like this, but it's revealing in so far as we're resituating the play of tensions in the audience. As an episode constructed of three incidents, this narrative has in its own right neither an exterior nor interior core conflict to resolve. The core conflict engaged as we scale up from incident to episode is outside the text, a wholly abstract clash of audience stances to the text. We might see in this then a potential for abstract narrative, for fiction which, contrary to the assumption that This Is How Narrative Works, eschews the engagement of exterior and interior core conflict as an agon binding incidents into an episode of story.

But now, let's step beyond that simple paradigm of narrative dynamics. When I say that it's only first-level agency being exercised here, in the maneuver, what do I mean? Well, here's a revision of the model that takes us into second-level agency:

Operational Balance/Pressure/Turmoil
  • Breach: irruption of disruption;
  • Ripple: disruption of worldscape;
Operational Discord
  • Jag: disruption of sensation;
  • Heed: evaluation of disruption;
Operational Conflict
  • Maneuver: reaction of agency;
  • Outcome: reaction of worldscape;
Goto Harmony or Pressure or Turmoil OR:
Tactical Balance/Pressure/Turmoil
  • Breach: irruption of disruption;
  • Ripple: disruption of worldscape;
Tactical Discord
  • Snag: disruption of sensation;
  • Savvy: evaluation of disruption;
Tactical Conflict
  • Gambit: reaction of agency;
  • Outcome: reaction of worldscape;
Goto Harmony or Pressure or Turmoil.

The story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff offers a comparable framework to the joke. The base state has all three intent on getting across a bridge to the greener pastures on the other side, the worldscape primed with a troll under that bridge who eats anyone trying to cross. In three iterations, we get a similar pattern: the breach of an attempt to cross; the ripple of hooves which trip-trap on the wood, which draws out the troll, who blocks the path; the jag of the threat of being eaten, taken heed of and answered with a maneuver. Again, the maneuver is repeated twice, in an exercise of first-level agency, both the Little Billy Goat Gruff and the Middle Billy Goat Gruff directing the troll to eat the meatier goat coming after. Again, the outcome is the one desired.

There's a difference here though (beyond the fact that each breach is an action by one of the three, rather than another agency acting upon them.) With each iteration, the situation is being changed, the reserve of meatier goats dropping, so with the second incident, the maneuver is played out. Again we can see a conflict of imports in the audience, between the grasp of the maneuver/outcome pattern as solution and the grasp that this solution's no longer viable. Here though this is not just a metatextual conflict; it's an exterior conflict for the Big Billy Goat Gruff in the text itself, the core conflict emerging in the turn of the second iteration. As the Big Billy Goat Gruff sets out (breach) trip-trapping across the bridge (ripple,) the exclusion of the maneuver means the troll in his path presents not just a jag but a snag. So, the Big Billy Goat Gruff has to level up.

The Big Billy Goat Gruff must not just heed the jag so he can maneuver in response. He must savvy the snag and make a move based on that savvy. Where the maneuver comes of simply heeding the operational logic, the established operational logic has been rendered unworkable, has to be revised. In the revision of operational logic required, his problem becomes tactical. What turns a jag to a snag, I mean, is when it pricks also any sense of security in established operations. What makes it savvy rather than heed is that it must heed the operational logic itself as much as (or as part of) the jag. What makes his move a gambit rather than a maneuver is that we have operational logic applied to operational logic, the formation of a new tactic because the standing tactic can't be applied. A maneuver can be taken from the playbook. A gambit is by definition a suppositional revision of the playbook.

So the Big Billy Goat Gruff ups his game to second level agency when he savvies the snag, heeds the jag of a tactical problem--an established operational solution made defunct. In the moment he squares up to the troll, he becomes a primal protagonist, engaging the agon in the transition from operational to tactical conflict. Suddenly this isn't just another incident we're dealing with, but as a whole an episode, born from the core conflict with the troll as antagonist. Not just obstacle but antagonist, because the problem is not how to get past him; the problem is what happens when you run out of Billy Goats Gruff? What happens when you scale up beyond the incident, to where no one can maneuver their way by the obstacle any more?

The transition is marked indeed, in this example, by a division of the gambit into two discrete moves: the new move made as an alternative to the unworkable maneuver--the Billy Goat Gruff simply charging at the troll, poking his eyes out with his horns, crushing him to bits, body and bones, and tossing him out into the river; but also, before this, the action of resolving on this move as a move in its own right--the Billy Goat Gruff squaring up to the troll and announcing his pointy-horned, big-bollocked intent. This is the moment in which story in the traditional sense is born, the ascension of a character to second-level agency.

Well, come along! I've got two spears,
And I'll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I've got besides two curling-stones,
And I'll crush you to bits, body and bones.

A peripeteia of anagnorisis, this is the classic End of Act One crunch, the moment of lock-in, by circumstance or choice, in which the character's savvy of a snag is laid bare. The tactical nature of the discord acknowledged, the narrative announces that it's tactical conflict from here. The agon is engaged.

In this simplest of stories, there is only that single act, of course. The Big Billy Goat Gruff's gambit is a resounding success, resolving the conflict in a short and sweet showdown, then and there, with no moves on the antagonist's part, only the outcome, itemised in gory detail and with much gusto. We can carry on however, to identify a third-level agency in ascension from tactical to strategic conflict, from snag to snarl, (the sense of entanglement in failed tactics,) from savvy to nous, (heeding the failure of tactical logic,) from gambit to growth (the formation of a new strategy for the formation of tactics.)

It's not hard to extend this leveling-up of the dynamics, I mean, to step the agency up again, and find in this new level the complement of the End of Act One crunch, the moment of rallying, reappraisal, re-engagement that is the End of Act Two crunch in a Three Act Structure:

Operational Balance/Pressure/Turmoil
  • Breach: irruption of disruption;
  • Ripple: disruption of worldscape;
Operational Discord
  • Jag: disruption of sensation;
  • Heed: evaluation of disruption;
Operational Conflict
  • Maneuver: reaction of agency;
  • Outcome: reaction of worldscape;
Goto Harmony or Pressure or Turmoil OR:
Tactical Balance/Pressure/Turmoil
  • Breach: irruption of disruption;
  • Ripple: disruption of worldscape;
Tactical Discord
  • Snag: disruption of sensation;
  • Savvy: evaluation of disruption;
Tactical Conflict
  • Gambit: reaction of agency;
  • Outcome: reaction of worldscape;
Goto Harmony or Pressure or Turmoil OR:
Strategic Balance/Pressure/Turmoil
  • Breach: irruption of disruption;
  • Ripple: disruption of worldscape;
Strategic Discord
  • Snarl: disruption of sensation;
  • Nous: evaluation of disruption;
Tactical Conflict
  • Growth: reaction of agency;
  • Outcome: reaction of worldscape;
Goto Harmony or Pressure or Turmoil.

This is not a structural model of narrative though, to be clear. What we're modelling here is narrative dynamics, the states of the worldscape and the transitions between them, the processes of interaction that are the substance of narrative beneath any plot structure projected onto it. The ascension of a protagonist to third-level agency is not the Plot Point 2 of a Hollywood screenplay. The latter is a benchmark positioning in an architectural template at which that dynamics should be in effect. Where "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" gives us two maneuvers and a gambit which resolves the story immediately, it's clear from the Three Act Structure that a narrative need not be resolved by the gambit. Likewise, while the Three Act Structure takes one peripeteia of growth to achieve the resolution, it's perfectly possible for a narrative's dynamics to flow on through more iterations. I will even hazard a fourth-level agency in ascension from strategy to policy.

(A side note: Lest the stratification of the model be taken as a rigid structuring, I'll suggest that where I've been talking of ascension by level, one might perhaps better view the process as one of deepening, of intensification, with the operational, tactical, strategic and policy distinctions a nominal scale applied to a continuity of increasing engagement. That's to say, beyond a simple story like "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," the sense of a phase transition that makes a move read as gambit rather than maneuver, or as growth rather than gambit, will be a subjective reckoning of the evaluation conjured in the reading, and an effective conjuring of heed, savvy and nous should be nuanced as the reality it's rendering. One might well see the Little Billy Goat Gruff as also exerting second-level agency, his move a cunning gambit, not so obvious at all. We might take the gambit as the baseline and identify the maneuver as a relatively lower-agency move--as where the Middle Billy Goat Gruff is simply copying the gambit.)

An example offers itself in Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound. In a first iteration, we get the breach of Might and Violence entering, the ripple of Hephaestos hammering Prometheus's chains, the jag of those chafing irons, the heed that leads to monologue as maneuver, Prometheus's lament of his woes, calling to the ocean waves, the Oceanids who come. In the next iteration, their entry the breach, their challenge is the ripple, and the snag comes clear: he cannot plead mercy in the maneuver they urge, will not. He responds instead with the same big-bollocked second-level agency as the Big Billy Goat Gruff, in an explicit claim of such indeed:

He who stands free with an untrammelled foot
Is quick to counsel and exhort a friend
In trouble. But all these things I know well.
Of my free will, my own free will, I erred,
And freely do I here acknowledge it.

Prometheus speaks with a Billy Goat Gruff's big balls. And his big-horned attack on the powers that put him here follows in a promise to prophecy of things to come. Enter Oceanus as new breach, to jag with a pity that Prometheus dismisses. Through each incident as iteration of the dynamics, we see Prometheus confronted, challenged with a troll to vanquish; for all that these trolls offer solace, the core conflict that is emerging, as the incidents scale up to episode, is the retention of agency while bound. For all their sympathy, they bring in antagonistic forces in their disruption.

The antagonistic drive of each disruption is a pressure to surrender, to submit, indeed, and so the story does not just feature him leveling up in agency; it is about him leveling up in agency.

To the Oceanids, in the next key iteration, he reveals the profoundly tactical nature of his gambit of resistance: he knows a secret of how Zeus will get what's coming to him. To Io, he reveals more to his gambit of waiting: he knows that after all her torment of wanderings, one of her descendants, thirteen generations down the line--Herakles--will release him. He reveals the nature of that secret indeed: he knows of a union that will undo philandering Zeus, a maiden whose child will be greater than its father. With not just savvy but nous, his revelation is not just a gambit but growth. He ascends to third-level agency, his actions strategic.

No surprise that this moment of rallying agency, of a Prometheus with pitying visitors for his eagles leveling up to an iron will forged in the crucible, has the outcome of bringing on the final showdown, the arrival of Hermes as breach, to lay clear the snarl of his situation with an ultimatum, a last chance: This, then, is all thine answer: thou'lt not / One syllable of what our Father asks? But the Chorus make it clear what this entails, even as they urge it: For he enjoins thee to let self-will go / And follow after prudent counsels. Him / Harken; for error in the wise is shame. And Prometheus, bound, roars back with all the power of fourth-level agency, his stance no mere maneuver, no simple tactical gambit, and not just strategic, but rather an action rendered of principle in this moment, made a policy:

These are stale tidings I foreknew;
Therefore, since suffering is the due
A foe must pay his foes,
Let curled lightnings clasp and clash
And close upon my limbs: loud crash
The thunder, and fierce throes
Of savage winds convulse calm air:
The embowelled blast earth's roots uptear
And toss beyond its bars,
The rough surge, till the roaring deep
In one devouring deluge sweep
The pathway of the stars
Finally, let him fling my form
Down whirling gulfs, the central storm
Of being; let me lie
Plunged in the black Tartarean gloom;
Yet-yet-his sentence shall not doom
This deathless self to die!

And there can be only one outcome here, because what he acts upon in the world is himself, resolving all conflict into the harmony of awe. It is not a new equilibrium he establishes in any sense of peace, tranquility. Pressure and turmoil remain. In the awe is every ounce of terror and pity Aristotle would write about. But his response is beyond even growth; it is epiphany.

So, I'll leave you with this model of narrative dynamics, and with Aeschylus's Prometheus as a potent emblem of the agency at the heart of it, with Todorov's equilibrium turned inside out maybe, no longer focused on an ideal harmony with the protagonist the subject of a formal structure of stages aimed at restoring sterile order, albeit in a new form. No, narrative exists for the dynamics, exists to celebrate the agency that drives it.

He is the paragon of agency, Prometheus, and he is bound into every narrative, at some level or other, from the simplest fairytale of Three Billy Goats Gruff--from the most basic joke even--to the most sophisticated novel cycling through the process, up and down the levels--or in and out the depths of engagement--in the most intricate riverrun of breaches, ripples, jags and snags and snarls, gambits, growth and epiphany, driving onward for resolution not to fit some structural template of architected stages but because it is the nature of narrative to roar and crash, its shape emerging in the substantiation of a simple but inexhaustibly profuse dynamics of agency always already bound within its worldscape, but always already, in itself, unbound.

6 comments:

  1. I'd say there could even be some further unpacking to be done somewhere around the Maneuver-Outcome pair.

    Just as protagonists and antagonists could be composites of a number of agents, each one potentially different than the one before or after, the agon itself lends itself to a sort of a jagged line of development, where any maneuver/gambit/growth could lead to any number of unexpected results, not necessarily predictable from the general direction of the Jag/Snag/Snarl.

    I'm thinking of a potential left-field development in Prometheus Unbound, not necessarily giving it or standing up to the will of the Olympians, but something else entirely maybe, a protagonist setting out a path for himself but arriving somewhere else, so to say. (Dunno if I'm making myself clear at all...)

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  2. I'm not really sure what you're driving at, I fear. The jag/snag/snarl would imply a goal--getting out of the execution, getting by the troll, maintaining a defiant stance against the arguments to submit--but any move beyond maneuver is automatically unpredictable because it's essentially defined as untested, a novel & suppositional tactic, a sidestep out of any readily apparent narrative logic.

    The outcome is just whatever effect results from that--it's very much *not* predictably/necessarily a resolution of the discord/conflict. It's only going to be such if it results in harmony. Until such time as we hit a final move where the outcome is harmony (or a pressure/turmoil with enough harmonisation of the core conflict in it to read as resolution,) the protagonist is pretty much by definition veering out of his path.

    In so far as growth entails a novel & suppositional strategy, indeed, that basically means--or includes--a change of the goal itself. If a gambit is a matter of experimenting in the means used to an end, growth is a matter of experimenting with the frame one uses to come up with such tactics, which is to say, with one's characteristic modes of thought. Where a gambit takes a side-step to try and get around a snag, growth is essentially what you get when the protagonist levels up and looks at how they choose which direction to side-step in. If third level agency entails reconsidering how one constructs alternative goals as potential stepping stones to a standing goal, I mean, that entails reconsidering how one selects goals full stop. Like, a change in strategy from appeasement to total warfare utterly transforms a nation's goal. That sort of unpredictability is about as hardwired into third-level agency as it could be. Fourth-level agency would mean even less predictability; a policy decision for a protagonist is basically an adjustment of core motivations themselves.

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  3. Hm, yes, maybe I got it turned around in my head.

    Basically, I had it that each leveling up hardens the protagonist's resolution in the chosen course of action, but what you meant, I see (I think), was that the more the protagonist levels up, the more expensive the decision becomes to actually stay on course, in terms of hard choices and pressures from the environment.

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  4. Not quite, tbh; I think you're getting snarled in the specifics of the Prometheus example. It's less about the fact it gets more difficult to stick to his guns, more just about the level of decision-making he's employing, how far he's willing to go from passively acting on reflex, habit, or shallow reason. It's about the degree of control he exerts over his own actions--hence agency.

    Think of it this way: The maneuver is the reflex/habitual/obvious thing to do given some problem. If a character departs from this, it becomes a gambit. Simple.

    But the act of constructing a novel & suppositional gambit is itself still going to be shaped by certain reflex/habitual patterns of behaviour. Like, the Big Billy Goat Gruff is coming up with a gambit, but that new decision is still based on a simple standing tactic: "If in doubt, hit it." The gambit is not reflex/habitual in itself, but it's a *direct product* of reflex/habitual behaviour. Now, if the character departs from *that* tactical behaviour, they're exerting a greater degree of control over their actions. They're not just revising behaviour; they're revising *the way* they revise behaviour. That's when you have growth.

    So, suppose the Big Billy Goat Gruff realised the troll would kick his ass, so he went one step further. Rather than coming up with a gambit based on his existing tactics, based on what was reflex/habitual to him--"If in doubt, hit it"--savvying that this would only end badly, suppose he instead overrides that by trying out a whole new tactic: "If in doubt, make friends." So his move is to offer the troll a nice cup of tea, some cake and sympathy over the fact that living under a bridge probably sucks. The goat has exercised a higher degree of control over his actions--more agency--because he's changed his whole default tactic of belligerence in the face of any problem. So: growth.

    Still, though, there's a level of programming above that in terms of principles. If he tries making friends with the troll, that doesn't mean he's not doing so on the exact same principle as he'd have tried the "If in doubt, hit it" default. When it comes down to it, he's only coming up with a new tactic in a way that's driven by his desire to get what he wants, his willingness to do whatever in order to get it. Strategically, he's still all about getting to the greener grass, and the troll is just a nuisance in his way.

    But suppose he's standing on that bridge, looks at the hungry desperate troll, and has an epiphany: this poor troll has been driven to hircicide by famine; he deserves pity, help. The Big Billy Goat Gruff does the exact same action--offering tea and cake--but this time he does it because his heart has opened up to the troll, because he's become a pacifist-socialist in a Road to Damascus satori. He's exerted as high a degree of control over his actions as you can go. We'd probably expect to see him driven to this by getting his ass kicked, but the cost is not what I'm talking about here. What I'm talking about is simply the degree of volition.

    He hasn't just pulled the old "next goat's meatier" maneuver. He hasn't just come up with a new move by applying the "If in doubt, hit it" tactic. He hasn't just come up with a new "If in doubt, make friends" tactic in a moment of personal growth, realising that benevolence will be more expedient here--hasn't just applied the same old principle of self-interest. He's trumped every hint of the reflex/habitual in himself, sweeping away his old motivations, selecting an entire new idealism on which his decisions will be based henceforth.

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  5. Hah, just saw that you already explained that in the first reply, only in more general terms - sorry to have you reiterate that :)

    By the way, for a slightly kooky way to think about narrative dynamics, in a hermeneutic wheel sort of way, I've taken to reading the rules of some strategy card games (Call of Cthulhu for example)-

    - specifically their long and complex chains of player-activated "actions", reactions of "constant effects" e.g. context, then possible "disruptions" that take place after an action is formulated but before it's executed, then "forced responses", that are basically condition-triggered context effects, and then "responses", which are another way to express character agency after everything's said and done, *to* anything that might've been said and done within that causal chain.

    It's an interesting framework for emergent storytelling, not to mention the imagination fuel the cards themselves are (about a 1000 of them so far)

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  6. Just let me add that such gameplay frameworks obviously present nothing in the way of motivation and thematic import, but for someone like me, not just snarled but cocooned by inability to think up plot incidents, it provides something to untangle myself with, at least at the start.

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