E36 – Theme and Story Hypothesis with J.P. Rindfleisch IX

Show Notes

In this episode, Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith talk again with J.P. Rindfleisch IX, this time about theme and his concept of Story Hypothesis. They discuss how to create a story hypothesis using Max Nief’s nine basic needs.

Find J.P. on the internet:
https://storyhypothesis.com

Movies
Toy Story (1995)
Star Wars (1977)

Books
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
Mandrake Manor by J.P. Rindfleisch IX
NRDS by J.P. Rindfleisch IX and Jeff Elkins

The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com

Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2400

Transcript

Miss Catherine M.H.
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Miss Catherine M.H. and I’m joined by my bonkers paladin co-host V.E. Griffith.

V.E. Griffith
This is episode 36 and we’re talking with returning guest and author J.P. Rindfleisch IX about writing with theme and his new method and book, Story Hypothesis, the missing piece of your fiction puzzle. All right, so we have a returning guest today. If you would tell us your name and your pronouns.

J.P. Rindfleisch
I’m J.P. Rindfleisch. I use he, they pronouns.

V.E. Griffith
Wonderful. Thank you very much.

Miss Catherine M.H.
You’re welcome.

V.E. Griffith
Yeah.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Hello.

Miss Catherine M.H.
We’re glad to have you on again.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Yes, indeed. It’s great to be back.

V.E. Griffith
So we’re talking today about Story Hypothesis and its use as a tool to develop theme. Why is theme important to you out of all the sort of parts of the craft? Why theme?

J.P. Rindfleisch
Honestly, it was because it was the most underused. And it was always something that was taught to me as some nebulous concept. And I did not like that.

J.P. Rindfleisch
As someone who is a bit more analytical, we are told what like there are six fundamentals of storytelling. One is theme. And then it’s like, oh, theme is this nebulous concept. We can just say that the story is about love. And that can bucket in books like Romeo and Juliet, Fault in Our Stars, and actual love stories. Well, that is a problem to me as a storyteller, because two of those are tragedies that are not love stories. So I knew that there was something to play with there. And it just after a lot of conversations, I was like, hey, I’ve got something. And a lot of people liked it.

V.E. Griffith
Well, I remember listening to your original presentations about it in the now defunct Author Success Mastermind. And I was really intrigued. And I think it’s really interesting that you’ve gone on and expanded. So where did story hypothesis come from? What is it?

J.P. Rindfleisch
So story hypothesis is my way of taking the nebulous concept of theme and interjecting character wants and needs into a formula that people can use to develop a story, edit a story, convey a story to like an editor to help build and make resonating scenes. So it is a simple formula. It’s your character has an initial want, and they then go to get their true need, the final need by a developing or third need. So it really focuses on having three needs that I personally pull from Max Neif, which we’ll probably get into. But we use that as that resonating concept so that we can really hone in on what is that final tolling bell and it correlates better with the character wants and needs.

V.E. Griffith
I remember back in the distant past that you had originally framed your statement as an argument. Is that still correct?

J.P. Rindfleisch
I would say so because the reason I use the term hypothesis is because coming from the science realm, a hypothesis is something you go to use as a form to research.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Well, as writers, we don’t need to research and confirm whether or not the hypothesis is true or not. We can create that hypothesis and then use our writing to debate and to argue what our hypothesis is. So in that sense, it becomes more of a debate. So in that case, when you’re looking at developing your story and you’re using something like a hypothesis, so for example, just because I happen to have it pulled up here using the movie Toy Story, we can say the hypothesis is Woody’s need for affection leads him to fulfill his true need identity by developing participation. Well, his initial want is affection. He wants to be Andy’s favorite toy. His true need is identity. He needs to understand what his role is in Andy’s life as new things start to come into play. And really, the whole story is Woody’s development of participation. It’s learning to share. It’s learning to appreciate that every toy in Andy’s life has an importance and that it’s not just Woody who is number one. And so when you look at a hypothesis like that, which obviously the showrunners didn’t use story hypothesis, but if you were to use a hypothesis like that to argue your story, you can see how that develops over time, how we start in the realm of Woody’s need for affection, how he’s more important, how a lot of his actions and his wants are going to surface around that, how he’s going to start to falter. We’re going to see ups and downs, and that’s going to be entirely based on how much he learns to share and his participation with others until he finally reaches that true and final need for understanding where he fits in.

V.E. Griffith
Okay. So what I know from reading, I haven’t read the entire book, your new book on story hypothesis, but I’ve read enough of it to realize that there are nine basic needs. Can you talk a little bit about each of those real briefly?

J.P. Rindfleisch
Yeah. They are affection, creation, freedom, idleness, participation, sustenance, protection, identity, and understanding. Going back through them and kind of defining what they are, these are needs that come from a Chilean economist, Max Neaf. I like them more than the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because these are equal. You can pick and choose which ones you want here. You’re not forced into using a type of pyramid structure, which the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs really focuses on. You have to have certain base needs before you can attain self-actualization and all of these pieces in between. This looks at needs on a plain playing field. Things have different importances based off of where you are in your life and what you have access to. So with all of that in play, these nine needs, we have affection, which is the interconnection between you and your friends, your family, and your loved ones. Creation, the ability to create and put something out into the world. Freedom, which is pretty self-explanatory. Idleness, so with that, it’s something we often don’t do, but it is a need to relax, to play, to have those moments of mindfulness and just enjoy because that’s where creative wells get filled more or less. Participation is an intermix of basically community involvement. It’s your way of participating with the world and the people around you. So in terms of affection and participation, they’re really close to each other, but participation is more about interconnected communities. Sustenance is a lot of that need for food, need for things, need for this… It can be up to food, it can be up to physical things that you need, but that’s really what sustenance focuses on. Protection is safety. It can be personal safety, it can be safety of others, but it’s a need that drives to make you feel safe and secure. Identity, who you are and where you fit in. And then understanding is a broader concept of not just who you are, but bigger, broader concepts of the world around you.

Miss Catherine M.H.
So can you use any three or do they have to go together in sets? Do you find that they’re more likely to be in these batches or it’s any three?

J.P. Rindfleisch
Well, so there’s two answers to that question. The first one is you don’t have to use Max Neaf’s needs. If you’re more comfortable with Maslow, fine, use it. I just have a strong opinion about it. Or if you have a different model that works with you, by all means. But I feel like having nine, for me, having these nine core needs truly identifies explicit things that I can tackle to try and tell a story that resonates stronger with the reader. To your next question of are there any three that sit close to each other or whatever sort of reason, I think that all aspects of storytelling come into play here. If you’re telling a romance, more than likely affection is going to be the true need or the developing need because a romance has that resonation of affection, either being the final tolling bell of, wow, these two people got together and I feel super warm and fuzzy inside. Or the story has been them developing their affection for each other and by the end of it, they are together and something happens, they get free or they’re protected by the end of the story, something like that. But there’s that warm fuzzy feeling that’s driven by affection in those romances. So ultimately the answer is no, three don’t have to sit well together. But when you start thinking about story, a lot of that coming of age is going to involve identity. It could involve participation, depending on what kind of community-like stories you want to tell. So you can start to see where these naturally fall into play, like why people like certain genres. It’s because they’re feeling this need fulfilled when they’re reading it. They’re living vicariously through these stories and feeling that need in them. And that’s really what the whole point of this for me was.

Miss Catherine M.H.
That makes sense. So with that, do you think that these, let’s say we’re doing the three and you’re writing your book, do you think that they change? Could a new third one come in if one of those gets met? Or do you think that they usually stay the same throughout the whole book?

J.P. Rindfleisch
I think that with the formula, it sticks with those three throughout the whole book when I go to look at it. And in reality, I’m pulling from Max Neve’s Nine Fundamental Needs. He was an economist, he was not a storyteller. This was focused on real-world situations. And nine needs are what was broken down into what people generally have in different varying levels. And it was a way of basically measuring happiness or measuring satisfaction of a population without looking at financials. Because financials, he didn’t want to account for that. He wanted to account for these other feelings or these other needs that are seemingly more important or could be in one sense or another. So all of that to say that because we’re writing stories about imaginary people, more than likely they would have these nine needs at some form or another. But the reason I focus on three is because I feel like having this guiding light for you, the writer, makes a tolling or a resonation for your reader to know what they should feel fulfilled when they’re reading this. Because usually, you go to certain genres or you go to certain writers because there’s something that resonates when you read that story. There’s something you feel at the end of it. When you’re reading Hunger Games, your feelings are involved with participation and freedom. Sure, we kind of want to know who Katniss is. We feel that protection. We get nervous about her safety and her security. But by the end of it, we want her to stand up and fight. We want her to participate. That’s the need that we feel inside of us when we read it. So participation is actually the developing need, in my opinion, of the first Hunger Games. Freedom being the true need that she goes to reach at the end of the story. That’s why I think that you would focus, when you go to write this, on aspects of developing that participation in the story. We would start to see these moments in the story where things look a little off. Where when she doesn’t participate, she’s not rewarded with closer steps to freedom. Because we want her to participate. So we almost, as writers, what we’re doing is we’re inhibiting her when she doesn’t. We’re showing her that she needs this participation in order to get her freedom.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Okay, cool. And I love that you use the Hunger Games.

J.P. Rindfleisch
It’s my default.

Miss Catherine M.H.
I know a lot of people will use like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and I’m like, I love that you use something different. Thank you.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Good.

V.E. Griffith
So how does this help with revision? Do you see this more as a first drafting tool or a revision tool or does it matter?

J.P. Rindfleisch
I honestly I think of it as both. And I think that it can change between the first and the second depending on what you feel the story needed when you started versus when you go in revisions. It happens. Especially with really close ones like understanding and identity to me are very close to each other. And you may start a story off with a broader need for a character’s understanding and then when you go to edit you realize really what they needed to do was understand themselves. And then you’re like, okay, it was identity. So then you might hone that in a little bit later. But I’ve used this with Mandrake Manor. I use this at the beginning. I’ve created what my story hypothesis was at the start. And I mapped out where my story was going to go and then I didn’t edit it or change it upon revisions. In NRDS and in some other stories, when I go and edit, I actually might create the hypothesis then and I’ve done this before. And the reason I would do it then is I might have a scene where something doesn’t feel right, where it just didn’t hit right and I don’t know why it’s not hitting right. More than likely it’s not hitting right because it’s not doing or it’s not resonating in the way that you would have your story hypothesis resonate. So let’s take Hunger Games again for an example. And let’s say early on, let’s say Katniss doesn’t volunteer as tribute. Well, that would be a problem. That wouldn’t be the same story. There’d be something that doesn’t hit right. So I would look at it and I would be like, why isn’t this scene where she’s not volunteering, why isn’t that working for me? Well, if I have a formula that’s Katniss’ need for protection, which is her initial want, leads her to fulfill freedom by developing participation. And we’re early on in the story, then what she’s really focused on then is protection. She’s focused on not only protecting her, but above her, she’s focused on protecting her sister. And so because she’s so focused on protecting her sister, she’s willing to give up everything, including her freedom, in order to protect her sister. So then light bulb goes off and I know, oh no, this scene, the reason why it’s not resonating is because I’m missing that thread. I no longer have that protection need because she’s not protecting the thing that she cherishes most, her sister. And so that makes sense to me to then go and edit it. So it’s why I would use it during the editing process as well.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Okay. Now we know that you co-write. So how does this help you with your co-writing?

J.P. Rindfleisch
It helps me because I like to, I’m usually like the second person that edits stuff, which is fine. And so it helps me to know, to have the conversation with my co-writer. So A.B. Cohen or Abe or Jeff, and be like, this is what I feel like the story is going towards. Kind of talking about where our hypothesis is at the moment and then using that to make sure that things get tightened up. Both with Abe and Jeff, we’re both involved during the outlining process as well. So I know where the story is going. It’s not like I’m handed a draft and I have no idea what happened and whatnot. So it just helps me tighten stories. I have this thing at this point where if I read a scene and I’m like, something feels wrong, it’s 90% of the time because it’s not following the story hypothesis. They’re making a choice that doesn’t really resonate or doesn’t really align with where the story’s headed. So yeah, that’s what I do.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Okay.

V.E. Griffith
How does the story hypothesis work alongside the three C’s since we focus on conflict, choice and consequence on this show a lot because we’re all three, three story method editors.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Yeah, yeah. So for me, what’s happening usually when I feel like a scene isn’t working is the choice. More than likely, we all recognize that usually when a scene doesn’t work, it’s because it’s not a strong choice. But the other caveat to that is a choice based off of a need. And so, usually what happens is when I correlate the two, I’m looking at the hypothesis based off of where we are in the story. And then I’m looking at the three C’s to see like is that choice correlating with like the initial want in the first half of the book. Is it correlating more towards the true need or that final need at the end. And so I’m looking at it through like this broader lens scope, but I definitely look at three C’s like all the time.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Makes sense.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Yeah.

Miss Catherine M.H.
So how would you say this works for a series because like sometimes you might have one arching, you know, theme that goes through.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Yeah.

Miss Catherine M.H.
But not always or like you have little mini themes.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Yeah.

Miss Catherine M.H.
So how would this work for a series?

J.P. Rindfleisch
Yeah, so I think that they change because I feel like each book has a difference or a reason why it exists kind of as its own. So when we look at Hunker Games, the first book, I feel like the true need is freedom. And I feel like the developing need is participation. But by the end of the series, I feel like the true need is participation. The need to be the rise up leader like this is me. I need to be a part of this bigger thing and less about personal freedom or whatnot. I feel like they almost shift like it’s bigger focus on community aspects. However, saying that I don’t feel like we would randomly toss in affection in Hunger Games because it just wouldn’t correlate. Probably the same with something like creation or idleness. Like there are some needs that sit closer together, especially when you start talking about certain genres. So I could see a story like that maybe in one book focusing on Katniss getting her freedom. Another one focused on Katniss either understanding something or herself, something about herself or her identity, and then coming full circle once we’ve gained freedom, once we know who we are, then being in the right place of mind to be a full participation need.

Miss Catherine M.H.
With people like VE who love to plot everything out, like there’s no tomorrow and use the evil thing called Scrivener, how do you see this working for people like me who pants and will literally throw any kind of outline out a window?

J.P. Rindfleisch
So I think that because I kind of pantsed Mandrake Manor, I’m kind of like in the middle I guess. What I ended up doing was I wrote down my story hypothesis at the beginning and I sort of had a nebulous idea of where the story was going to go. But I actually had it on my whiteboard behind me and I just kind of looked at it every day and that really kept the story in the direction I wanted it to go. With Mandrake Manor, it was really focused on characters discovering who they were. So I knew their initial want was identity, understanding their neighborhood, which I knew was their developing need in the first story because they move into a new location, they need to meet new people and really figure out what their role is. And then finally, it’s basically a big old gay romance. And so the final true need is romance more or less, so affection. So I knew that that was the focus that I wanted to make in the story. And because of that, I had it written on my board. I knew that our characters need for identity led them to fulfill affection by developing their understanding. And I just kept playing that in my head. And then I would write and I kind of felt where the story was going. I felt those beats as I was writing them. So I think that panthers can use this as a preliminary tool, as a sort of a way to create a guiding light at the start. And if they don’t, if they don’t want to do that, if that’s too much planning, they can do it during the editing process as well. I think that works just as fine there.

V.E. Griffith
So what did we miss about story hypothesis that’s important to you or important to the writer? Where do we go from here?

J.P. Rindfleisch
Yeah, I mean, I think one of the key things is like the formula is just the starting point. It is a guiding light, but you can’t do much with a guiding light if you don’t know what to do with it. In the book, I have the idea of what you can do with certain scenes and expectations of like where you might see certain scenes as the story develops. Because obviously, characters don’t go on this straight linear path from knowing what they wanted versus knowing what they needed and everything’s hunky dory in the middle. It’s ups and downs, trials and misunderstandings. We hit a point in the middle of the story, almost always where they get what they thought they wanted, but it wasn’t what they truly needed, which is pretty much a core tenant of Western storytelling. So I have in the book, all of these kind of examples, and I tried really hard to incorporate as many examples as I possibly could, because I know that that helps me. And I broke down several different stories using these different types of scenes, because I feel like looking as a writer, looking at different stories and breaking it down through this way can only help you figure out how to use something like this to start to see where your story and your trajectory of your story would go.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Awesome. So, I guess with that, do you have any other questions, VE?

V.E. Griffith
Well, where can we find you and your book on the net?

J.P. Rindfleisch
So the easiest way is storyhypothesis.com. I bought the domain, so that it would be easier than looking up my last name.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Yeah, I still can’t spell it. You also spell it so fast when you do it, it’s not even funny.

J.P. Rindfleisch
I do. I do. Isn’t that fun?

Miss Catherine M.H.
Yeah, I got the R.

J.P. Rindfleisch
But yes. Yeah, storyhypothesis.com will actually reroute you straight to my site. But yeah, I made it so that it’s just a little bit easier.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Awesome.

J.P. Rindfleisch
Okay, well, thank you for joining us this time and we hope to have you back soon. Yeah, absolutely. It was fun.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Awesome. Stay magical.

V.E. Griffith
Bye.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode. You can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts, please visit our website at revisionwizards.com. They go live the same day as our episodes.

V.E. Griffith
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me at vegriffith.com and Miss Catherine at scribes-pen.com.

Miss Catherine M.H.
Stay magical.

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