Writing an Effective Storybeat

Subtxt provides an easy way for writer's to distinguish between the storytelling, or illustrations, their Audience receives, and the subtext underneath it all that drives the story forward.

Diving Beneath the Surface

Visually speaking, the part of the Storybeat that rests above the surface is Storytelling, i.e. what the Audience sees or reads.

The part of the Storybeat that lies below the superficial Storytelling is the subtext, or Thematic Conflict of that Storybeat. This section defines the underlying meaning behind the Storybeat, i.e. why this particular part of the story is being explored at this time.

This visual separation between what the Audience engages with and what you, as Author, intend to say is meant to call to mind this image of an iceberg:

All the hard work of defining what goes into a Storybeat and HOW it is a part of the story happens just below the surface, and far out of sight. The Audience reaps the benefits of that hard work through the surface-level storytelling.

For those of you coming from a Dramatica theory background, the Storytelling on top is where you find the Focus and Direction of a particular Throughline. The subtext underneath is where you would find the Problem and/or Solution of that same Throughline.

Avoiding the Mad-libs Style of Writing a Storybeat

Too many writers fall into the trap of simply using the illustration of a Storybeat verbatim, without taking the time to consider WHY this particular illustration is problematic within the context of the story.

In the above example, Subtxt states that Main Character Red (from The Shawshank Redemption) finds conflict in "pretending everything is OK." The Mad-libs style of using Subtxt and the Dramatica storyform would find most Authors writing this:

Red pretends everything is OK when he's up for the parole board hearing. He then continues to do it when he meets Andy and when he hears the other inmates getting hurt late at night.

While this is OK, it's only illustrating 50% of what is actually needed to fully understand the conflict of this particular Storybeat.

It's not enough to simply copy and paste the illustration (a computer could do that), the Author's responsibility is to show HOW that is problematic for the characters in that scene. How does Stephen King show why Red "pretending something is OK" ends up being a problem for him? Some people are perfectly fine with pretending everything is A-OK--as Authors, we can't assume that just because we think this illustration is a problem that means everyone else will think it is a problem as well.

We need to show it being problematic. We need to show how it creates conflict.

Going the Extra Distance

How does Red find conflict in "pretending everything is OK"?

Red wants to stay under the radar in order to be known as someone who can get things done, yet such a man becomes complicit in the corrupt nature of the system--losing himself in the process. In addition, the bluffing is so insincere that the review board has no other alternative than to deny his release. As a consequence, fear and complacency rise to the surface for Red in this Act.

Why is this important?

Well, now we have more meaningful Storybeats to refer to when we go to write our story. It's not just that Red is pretending, it's that his pretending is causing him great personal conflict. This connection between Storytelling and Subtext (meaning) clues the Audience in on what it is we are trying to say with our story. There is a greater purpose behind the Scenes.

And it will help us generate even greater Storytelling further on down the line.

By illustrating this first Act of Red's as showing pretending as a problem, we prime the Audience with an understanding of the kind of resistance Red is creating for himself. We know where his self-sabotage is coming from, and we recognize it as an opportunity for growth.

Scene Beats are the smallest level of resolution when it comes to classifying and defining the events of a narrative.

Storybeats and Character Elements

In Dramatica theory, characters are assigned Character Elements within the context of the Objective Story Throughline. The Protagonist recieves Pursuit and Consider, while the Guardian character gets Help and Hinder. Looking at the very bottom of that Throughline, one finds 64 of these Elements--64 Elements which match and call to mind some of the Storybeats found in Subtxt.

The Storybeats in Subtxt do not correlate with the assignation of Character Elements in the Objective Story Plot. A Progression that calls for Help | Oppose | Support | Hinder does not mean that it has to be about the Guardian (Help), Skeptic (Oppose), Sidekick (Support), or Contagonist (Hinder). And there is no benefit towards looking at those characters for this or any other specific Progression.

Storybeats are about WHAT happens WHEN within a narrative. WHO carries it out is completely up to the Author.