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REVIEWS: STORYCRAFTPRO: CHARLES DEEMER

Note: This excerpt is an unsolicited review from Charles Deemer, one of the nation's preeminent screenwriting teachers and webmaster of the Internet's first and most prestigious sites for fiction writers, The Screenwriters and Playwrights Home Page.

A REVIEW OF RECOMMENDED SOFTWARE, BY CHARLES DEEMER

STORYCRAFT
"By my lights, this is the best story development tool on the market today."

StoryCraft is a story-development tool. It was written by John Jarvis and based on what is now called "the Jarvis Method" of story-development, which is a structural approach based on the ideas of Aristotle, Lajos Egri, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Campbell. What makes StoryCraft so appealing is its strong and clear focus, the direct presentation of its ideas, the user-friendliness of its interface, and the flexibility available within the solid story foundation presented by its step-by-step "tutors."

The Jarvis Method is based on what it calls the "Five Elements of Story Crafting," which are:
     Story concept
     Story category
     Story type
     Story components
     Story structure

In the design of the software, you are led through these steps in order, tutored on the elements of each and prompted to write about your story within the context of each element.

Thus the first thing you are asked to do in StoryCraft is to write a "story concept," defined here as a one-line logline. In the Windows 95 version, the program will not go on to the next step if you write a two-line logline, and I admire the discipline demanded here. Much of screenwriting is about economy, and StoryCraft instills this demand from the beginning.

After the concept, one must select one of two story categories: "Action" or "Theme." Is the story plot-driven (action) or character-driven (theme)? This decided, the writer is asked to select one of 14 types of stories, such as Puzzle, Chase, Kidnap and Rescue, Love, Coming of Age, Excess and Downfall.

The beauty of the software is that it responds to the writer's choices along the way. With concept, category and type in place, individualized tutors now lead the writer into setting down the structural foundation of the story, first through a "world creation" series of 6 steps, in which the writer defines the hero and villain and the ordinary and extraordinary worlds that define the backdrop of the hero's journey; and finally through 12 "story steps" the prompt the writer to tell the story in response to a specific order of challenges to the hero.

If this seems like a rigid formula for story creation, it is and it isn't. Certainly "the Jarvis Method" is heavily influenced by "the hero's journey" take on story-telling and not every possible story fits this paradigm. At the same time, a vast number of stories do follow this paradigm, which at any rate is one that beginning writers should master. Additionally, these steps, while precise in a foundational context, are general enough to be interpreted in highly creative ways, according to the sensibilities of the writer. Once again, this software is a precise and valuable tool, not a crutch, and writers can do far worse than to develop their stories along the structural lines developed here.

All of the "world creation" and "story creation" steps are introduced thoroughly with "tutors" that explain and clarify each step of the writing process. Indeed, the strong "help" features of StoryCraft, which include a large number of areas (such as "the mythological approach" to storytelling and "embellishing your story") not directly related to developing the specific story at hand, are among its strongest features. But the feature I like best, which I've seen in none of its competitors, is its clear, direct focus on the single task of putting down a well-defined, well-structured story within the framework of a paradigm that has worked since Aristotle. By my lights, this is the best story development tool on the market today.

Charles Deemer, Screenwriters & Playwrights Home Page

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