What if I told you that Worldview stories are crucial to human evolution, vital to our basic survival, part of what makes us human?
What if I said there is an invisible mesh-like structure holding almost every story together? And what if I could help you decipher that mesh and unlock your readers’ understanding of their world?
That mesh is the Worldview story. It’s hardwired in our brains. It’s the story that pervades all of human societies because it’s how we think. The Worldview genre is not limited to Coming-of-Age, Young Adult, or Maturation stories. It can feature protagonists of any ages and appeal to a wide variety of audiences. It can involve rites of passage or revelation. It forms the internal genre and emotional backbone of almost any Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey.
The Worldview genre is the story within every story, and mastering it is imperative for every writer.
So let’s examine the basics of the Worldview Genre.
Need to get familiar with the Story Grid’s categorization of genres first? A refresher is here.
“The Worldview Maturation Story is essentially the hero’s journey. All stories have maturation built into them as each story’s change arc requires the protagonist to shift their point of view in order to attain wisdom or experience….WORLDVIEW is an arch-plot (single protagonist) or mini-plot (multiple protagonists) internal genre, showing the process by which cognitive dissonance upsets the balance of a character’s life, requiring a shift in their view of reality.” —Shawn Coyne
The Worldview Genre is huge so we’ll break this down first by the overall genre and then by subgenre.
All stories are about change. In the Worldview Genre the protagonist must change by overcoming something within themselves, giving up a want in order to get what they need, which is generally a new and more mature, clear, meaningful or informed view of life.
Worldview stories can be Prescriptive or Cautionary. They help readers or viewers draft a narrative around their own possibilities, limitations, decisions and need for change.
We’re drawn to Worldview stories for similar reasons.
Core Emotion is what a reader wants to feel–the reason they choose a particular type of story. It’s what they want to experience through story without potential real-life consequences.
According to Norman Friedman, The Core Emotion of the Worldview genre varies according to the subgenre. People choose a Worldview story to experience hope, relief, or satisfaction by emerging whole from a threat to their internal status quo, or to feel a sense of loss or pity for a less fortunate character. We’ll go into the four subgenres below.
What is a Worldview story?
As Shawn Coyne demonstrates in the Story Grid Gas Gauge of Need, a Worldview story is driven by the protagonist’s need for self-actualization. When Worldview is your primary genre, your protagonist is not concerned with staying alive (as in an Action story), or with safety and security (as in a Crime story), but with fulfilling their talents and their potential, making sense of the world, and understanding their role in it.
What are the values at stake in a Worldview story?
Values in a story shape your protagonist’s arc. They drive the characters’ actions and choices. The Global Value describes the path along which the protagonist changes from the beginning of the story to the end.
The Global Value of a Worldview story depends upon the subgenre. Generally, a Worldview story runs along this line:
What’s the Controlling Idea of a Worldview Story?
A Controlling Idea of a story is the “lesson” your reader comes away with, the meaning they apply to your story. Also called a Theme, it’s the single sentence summing up the argument your story attempts to prove through narrative. This is made overt and transparent in non-fiction works such as the Big Idea Book and is usually only implied in fiction. (I’ll do more posts on this in the future.)
The Controlling Idea of a Worldview Story depends on the subgenre (see below) but here is how we Certified Story Grid Editors wrap them together:
If your story is positive your controlling idea will go something like this: Sophistication, wisdom and/or meaning prevail when we learn to express our gifts in a world that we accept as paradoxical and/or imperfect. Basically, we grow the heck up, stop seeing the world in only black-and-white terms, and start seeing and allowing for all those grays.
If your story is negative you’ll have a controlling idea like this: Ignorance, naiveté or meaninglessness reign when we fail to mature past a black-and-white view of the world.
In other words, we don’t grow up. We don’t mature because we’re stuck in the worldview conventionally belonging to a child or adolescent. Yikes.
What are genre conventions
and why do we need them?
Here’s how Coyne explains Conventions:
“They are elements in the Story that must be there or the reader will be confused, unsettled or so bored out of their skull that no matter how beautiful the sentences, they’ll quit reading. Conventions are not obligatory scenes…they are specific requirements in terms of the Story’s cast or methods in moving the plot forward (minor revelatory turning points that must be there but can be weaved into the story at the writer’s discretion).”
What are the Conventions of the Worldview Genre?
Each Worldview subgenre has its own conventions, but here is what they all seem to have in common:
- The protagonist has at least one strong mentor figure. Sometimes they, instead, have several less involved mentor figures whose advice collectively adds up to the whole.
- Mentor examples are Emperor Marcus Aurelius of the film Gladiator, Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Miyagi of The Karate Kid films, Glenda the Good Witch of The Wizard of Oz.
- At least one large social problem is the subtext of the story. Examples are ageism, racism, misogyny, and class.
- There is a clear threat of escalating danger, even if the danger is limited to the psyche of the protagonist.
- There is at least one shapeshifter or hypocrite character capable of directly impacting the protagonist. This is a secondary character who says one thing and does another. Usually this character first appears as a helper and then become a hinderer but this can be reversed. The shapeshifter’s levels of antagonism can vary greatly between characters and stories.
- The Worldview story follows a cause and effect trajectory as the protagonist pursues their object of desire from beginning to end.
- The protagonist sees the world not as it is but as they believe it to be. They are focused on their want instead of their need. This external object of desire forces them to face a specific longstanding problem or fear.
- Through character action, the protagonist is forced to change in order to get what they need. This change results from conflict. A critical flaw of the protagonist must be remedied for them to self-actualize.
- Character development is accelerated, generally happening much faster and more definitively than in “real life.”
What are Obligatory Scenes and why do they matter?
Coyne describes obligatory scenes as “must-have scenes for paying off readers’ expectations as set up by the conventions of the genre.” If you leave out a scene, you’ll have a story that doesn’t work. The scenes, in the Worldview Genre, closely follow the classic Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey.
What are the Obligatory Scenes
of the Worldview Genre?
- There’s an inciting incident that challenges the protagonist’s worldview.
- The protagonist denies responsibility to respond to the opportunity or challenge.
- Forced to respond, the protagonist lashes out against requirement to change behavior. They resist change and rely on old habits.
- The protagonist learns what the external antagonist’s object of desire is.
- The protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails.
- There is a clear “point of no return,” the moment when the Protagonist knows they can never go back to the way things used to be. There must be a precise moment when the protagonist’s worldview is knocked out of alignment.
- During an All Is Lost moment, the protagonist realizes they must change their black and white view of the world to allow for the paradoxical nature of life.
- The protagonist’s gifts are expressed as acceptance of an imperfect world. This is the Core Event of the Worldview story.
- The Protagonist’s loss of innocence is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the universe based on their action in the Core Event.
- There is a paradoxical win-but-lose, lose-but-win, bittersweet ending. The protagonist gets what they need but not what they want, or vice-versa. There are clear sacrifices either way.
What are the four Worldview subgenres?
The Maturation story is about the protagonist’s shift in worldview from naiveté to sophistication.
The Core Emotion for the reader or viewer at the end of this story is either hope and satisfaction, or relief, at the protagonist’s having emerged whole from a threat to their belief system.
The Controlling Idea of a Maturation story on the positive side is: Sophistication prevails when we learn to express our gifts in a world which we accept as paradoxical and imperfect.
The character begins as flawed, with a negative attitude regarding some aspect of life. Their story arc is an attitude change from negative to positive.
A less common variation is the negative version in which the flawed character fails to grow or mature: Naiveté reigns when we fail to accept the paradoxical and imperfect nature of the world.
Examples of the Maturation story are the movies Saturday Night Fever; Love, Simon; and The 40-Year-Old Virgin; the novel Cerberon; and the TV series Friends (comedy) and Dawson’s Creek (drama).
The Disillusionment story is about the protagonist’s shift in worldview from belief to disillusionment. The protagonist begins with an optimistic or positive view of some aspect of life, and ends with a negative or pessimistic view of it.
Sometimes referred to as the Degradation Plot, this story is essentially the opposite of the Education plot.
The Core Emotion the reader or viewer seeks from a Disillusionment story is a feeling of loss or pity for the protagonist whose belief has been eroded.
The Controlling Idea of a Disillusionment story is: Disillusionment reigns when we fail to accept the paradoxical nature of the world.
The flawed character begins with a positive attitude regarding some aspect of life.Their story arc is an attitude change from positive to negative.
Examples of the Disillusionment story are the novels The Great Gatsby and Love Me Back.
The Education story is about a protagonist’s shift in worldview from meaninglessness to meaning.
A sympathetic protagonist faces a threat of some sort to their view of life, and emerges into a new and better kind of wholeness at the end.
Their story arc is an attitude change in which the familiar takes on new meaning.
The Education story is not written to educate the reader, but to show the protagonist “becoming someone.” This story is essentially the opposite of the Disillusionment plot.
The Core Emotion the audience is searching for in this story is relief and pleasure at the protagonist’s having emerged whole from a threat to their belief system.
The Controlling Idea of an Education story is: We gain meaning when we learn to express our gifts in a world which we accept as paradoxical and imperfect.
Examples of the Education story are Educating Rita, Tender Me
rcies, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The revelation story is about the protagonist’s shift in worldview from ignorance to knowledge, through the revelation of hidden information.
The Core Emotion the reader or viewer feels at the end of this story is relief or satisfaction when the protagonist learns what is essential in time to avoid disaster; or pity and horror when the protagonist finds out too late.
The Controlling Idea of a Revelation story is: Right action is possible only when we have clear knowledge of reality; OR Disaster reigns when live in ignorance of reality.
The character begins lacking some crucial knowledge. Their story arc is a change in both attitude and action as the missing knowledge is revealed.
Examples of the Revelation story are Oedipus Rex and Arrival.
What about characterization in a Worldview story?
Coyne has said, “Character is Action.”
It’s not what they’re thinking or saying that defines your characters, but how they choose to act and what they do. How does this play out in the Worldview story, where the choices and changes are often internal?
“Action” does not have to mean gunfire or fistfights. An action can be as simple as setting the glass of whiskey down. Leaving the house. Turning down a backroad. Clicking on “send.”
There are two places in each scene where the old “Show, don’t tell” rule is crucial: the Turning Point and the Climax. Even–maybe especially–in a quiet, internal Worldview story, concrete character action is essential. Show what the character is thinking, deciding or feeling by what they’re doing.
In story, change requires conflict. Lots of conflict. So, your protagonist has to mature in opposition to an antagonistic force, person, or people.
Additional suggestions regarding
the Worldview Genre:
Compare and integrate the Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell) or The Virgin’s Promise (Kim Hudson) with the obligatory scenes and conventions of the Worldview Genre.
Change is hard and requires loss. See if you can weave in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ change curve with your story arc. For example: The Inciting Incident of the global story correlates to Shock, Progressive Complication #1 correlates to Denial, Progressive Complication #2 with Anger. Progressive Complication #3 could correspond with the Bargaining Phase, the Turning Point with Depression, the Crisis with Deliberation, the Climax with Choice, and the Resolution with Integration.
Consider one of these external content genres as your story’s secondary genre: Action, War, Love, Crime, Thriller, Society, or Performance. Also, consider the internal genre of Status. Think of all the lessons a protagonist could learn as she tries to improve her position within a hierarchical of society.
Time to put it all together.
Now you have the basic keys to the Worldview Genre and many of the tools you’ll need to write better Worldview stories. The way to put this all together is to read widely within the genre. Compare the masterworks of the genre. Imagine your story arc by using the values at stake in the Worldview Genre. Get your words on the page and then compare your work to those masterworks. Check your work with The Story Grid book and against the Worldview Genre secrets here. Use what you learn to edit your work and finish that story. Your readers, like me, are waiting for stories that will help us navigate and better understand our world. We’re ready to grow the heck up.