We’re exploring a fairly complex space by combining some concepts from across a number of domains and disciplines. One consequence of this is that language starts to break down because different fields use different terms in slightly different ways. This introduces ambiguity and thus unreliability into our tools. As a result, we need to lock down the meanings of certain concepts. This glossary is our attempt to do that.
These are some of the ideas we’re bringing in from math. These concepts have a wide-ranging set of meanings across domains, so let’s be clear about what we mean.
A function in mathematics is a relation between a set of inputs (domain) and a set of possible outputs (range) with the property that each input is related to exactly one output. In simple terms, a function takes an input and transforms it into an output.
Math example: f(x) = x + 2 is a function where the input x is transformed by adding 2 to it.
Abstract example: A function can also be thought of as a process or an operation, like "cooking" that transforms raw ingredients (input) into a meal (output).
Functional Composition 🔄
Functional composition refers to the process of combining two or more functions to create a new function. In this context, it means combining narrative functions to construct a complex narrative structure.
Example: Combining the narrative functions of Setting, Character, and Conflict to form a complete story function.
Functional Decomposition 🔠
Functional decomposition refers to the process of breaking a function up into its constituent subfunctions. In this context, it refers to the act of converting a Narrative Function into the set of Narrative Subfunctions from which it was composed.
Example: Extracting the Characterfunction from Star Wars to focus exclusively on the characters themselves.
These are the crux of the metastructuralist project. Our thesis is that a “Story” is isomorphic to a mathematical function framed in narrative terms.
Narrative Function 📖
A narrative function is any subfunction of a story function, no matter how deeply nested. It can represent various elements, such as characters, themes, or settings, that contribute to the overall narrative. A narrative function can be extremely abstract and arbitrary — for instance, “each line of dialog as delivered by Humphrey Bogart portraying Carrie Fisher” is a perfectly valid narrative subfunction — or it can be extremely specific and deterministic. “Luke Skywalker’s self-confidence normalized to a scale of -1 to 1.”
Example: Star Wars is a narrative function. If we decompose it, we can extract the Setting subfunction. If we decompose that, we get a set of locations. Tatooine, for instance, may be one of our resulting subfunctions. This can be further decomposed to give us things like Owen and Beru’s Moisture Farm or Mos Eisley or even if for whatever reason we wanted to take in this direction, The Latitude and Longitude where Luke Skywalker was attacked by sand people. The point is that every part of a story is itself a narrative function.
A story can be defined in two ways:
As a complex function composed of various narrative functions that interact and evolve to create a coherent narrative structure.
As a form of human communication that conveys information, emotions, and ideas by serializing them into a format optimized for human comprehension.
By reasoning about stories as functions, we aim to preserve their communicative utility while gaining new insights into their structural properties.
Plot Function 📈
The plot is the sequence of events and actions that occur within a story. It represents the underlying structure of the narrative, connecting and driving the events experienced by the characters. Plot is both dependent upon and informative of the other top-level narrative subfunctions, but the nature of that relationship varies based on things like genre, story type and authorial intent and talent.
Example: In "The Lord of the Rings," the plot involves the quest to destroy the One Ring and defeat Sauron. As a narrative-driven adventure the plot drives the characters more than the characters drive the plot, but because it’s told from the standpoint of character development and choices the characterization also drives the plot.
Character Function 🎭
Character is a representation of the individual characters present in a story. This function is mutually dependent on the Plotfunction at least to ensure coherence between characters and actions. It’s also generally informed heavily by the other functions, as well as informing them.
Example: In a short story about a single person named Bob sitting in an empty room, the Character function would be isomorphic to the Bob function. In a story like Lord of the Rings, the Character function is complex and abstract and contains all of the details in the story that describe and characterize the cast.
Other narrative functions at the top level may include things like Theme, Setting, Authorial Context, Interpretive Context, Quality, Accuracy, Coherence — the list goes on. Metastructuralism is about providing tools for reasoning about the way all of these Narrative Functions inform each other.
Here are some terms that capture metrics and details about how a given story works. These are defined using complex relational logic and functional composition to provide short-hand ways to talk about long-handed things.
Coherence refers to the logical and consistent organization of a narrative's elements, such as plot, character, and theme. A coherent story is one where the various narrative functions fit together seamlessly, without contradictions or inconsistencies.
Fit describes the relationship of a given claim or set of claims to some context based on whether or not the claims and context are in contradiction. In other words, a claim "fits" a context if it is compatible with the context's rules, assumptions, and expectations.
Example: A claim about a character's magical abilities may "fit" in the context of a fantasy story but not in the context of a historical drama.
Flow refers to the relationships between the claims within a story and how they are ordered and revealed. It captures aspects of the narrative's progression, such as pacing, cause-and-effect, and character development. A story with good flow presents its claims in a way that feels natural, engaging, and satisfying to the reader.
By understanding and applying these concepts, we can explore narrative structures in a more systematic and rigorous manner, opening up new possibilities for generating, analyzing, and appreciating stories.