Idea versus counter-idea comes from the Greeks. It is the dialectical approach to telling a story. Socrates and Plato defined a story as a three-step conversation: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The thesis is a statement of the proposition. The antithesis is the discovery of a contradiction to this proposition – the opposite. Finally, the resolution of this contradiction that necessitates a correction of the thesis is called the synthesis – the combination of the two. Lajos Egri elaborately explains this in The Art of Dramatic Writing on pages 49-50.
In a dramatized dialectial debate, thesis events echo the contradictory voices of one theme. Sequence by sequence, often scene by scene, the positive idea and its negative counter-idea argue, so to speak, back and forth. At climax one of these two voices wins and becomes the story’s controlling idea.”
The positive and negative assertions of the same idea contest back and forth through the story, building in intensity, until at the crisis they collide head-on in a last impasse. Out of this rises the story’s climax, in which one or the other idea succeeds. By following this controlling idea, every dramatic sequence and scene should argue the theme. Each subsequent sequence should escalate the argument, and both sides of the debate should be argued with equal intensity. The bottom line is that there must be continuous escalating conflict through positive and negative charges. Each character must win some and lose some.
Karl Iglesias suggests that the theme should be turned into a question rather than a premise. For instance, rather than state the premise for Romeo and Juliet as “Great love defies even death,” you should ask, “What does great love defy?” or “Can love survive even death?” and let the story reach a natural conclusion.
So if I understand this correctly, a story should swing back and forth. If for example, your story’s theme is that living a life of integrity wins in the end, you first show that integrity wins by having your protag succeed using his integrity, then show that deceit wins by having the protag lose to someone through deceit, then switching again, building in intensity each time it switches. The reader should not know which is the true central theme until the climax. It is this pulsing back and forth that gives the story its rhythm, and keeps the reader wondering how it will end.
Dramatic writing is about conflict; therefore, the point vs counterpoint approach seems to make sense. I somewhat agree that at the climax the “Idea or the Counter-Idea” must win. Yet I am not sure how that would work with an ironic ending where the protagonist wins by loosing or looses by winning, then it is more difficult to define the controlling idea.
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