Progressive Plot Points & Acts

The structure of a Grand Argument Story can be thought of a house the characters need to explore. The Objective Characters will be looking for clues to a treasure. The Main Character is thinking of buying the house and the Obstacle Character is trying to sell it to him. The plot is like a sight-seeing tour through this story house. The house itself has three floors each of which is separated into two wings. Each wing has four rooms. This is like a story with three acts, each of which is separated into two sequences, each of which has four scenes.

Our characters begin on the ground floor and enter the first room in the first wing. This room is like the first scene in the first sequence (wing) of the first act (floor) of the story. Here, they look around, opening drawers, checking under the furniture and peering out the windows, if any. Each little area of investigation is an event in the first scene.

The Objective Characters are trying to discover a treasure map. The Main Character is looking for termites and problem plumbing and the Obstacle Character is pointing out the conveniences. When they have all finished, they have a pretty good idea about the value of this room, either as a source of clues to the treasure or as a place to live. Still, they have learned all they can here, and it is time to move on.

The characters now enter a second room, which is still in the same wing on the same floor. This is like the second scene in the first sequence (wing) in the first act (floor). Again, they investigate. They may find this room to be geared more to function than the last. Or, it might be designed more for entertainment. It may or may not have windows or more than one doorway to other rooms. In fact, part of the interest (and possibly suspense) for them is which room they will be taken to visit next.

When they have fully explored four rooms (scenes), it is time to move on to the next wing (sequence). One of the rules of our tour is that the characters cannot leave a room (scene) until it is fully explored, cannot leave a wing (sequence) until all the rooms (scenes) on that floor of the wing have been explored, and cannot leave a floor (act) until all the rooms (scenes) on that floor in both wings (sequences) have been explored.

In the second wing, our characters also find four rooms and explore them one after another. Once they have finished, the entire first floor (act) has been examined in its entirety. Now it is time to go up to the next floor and continue their tour of the house. On the second floor they look through the four rooms in the first wing, the four in the second, and thereby complete that level and move up one more to the third and final floor. Here they repeat the same procedure until, at last, the entire house has been fully explored.

At this point, the characters have gathered all the information they are going to be given about the house. If the Objective Characters have gather enough clues to find the treasure, their problem is solved. If the Main Character buys the house, he is a change character. The question then remains, is he solving his problem of having a place to live or buying into even more problems with the faulty plumbing.

We can see that the Main Character’s decision is based partly on what was in the house and partly on the order in which things were presented. We all know that first impressions are powerful, even if they are later proven to be inaccurate. How the Main Character decides must conform to the combination of both these influences.

Similarly, the order in which the Objective Characters gather clues will have an influence on whether they are able to put the pieces together or not. Assumptions can easily be made that would not have been made if the information was presented in a different order.

In the end, an audience will reject our story’s argument either if there are rooms missing (static) or if they are visited in an order that doesn’t reflect the outcome (progressive). It is important, therefore, to pay as much attention to the Progressive Plot Appreciations as the Static ones. Because Acts are the largest resolution of the Progressive Appreciations they have the greatest influence on the flow of a story’s plot, and therefore deserve significant attention.

ACTS

Each throughline has its own four structural acts, which are like the three floors and the roof of our story house. Each of the dynamic acts is like the journey that explores the rooms on one of the three floors. As already discussed, when we choose a Class to be a particular Domain, the four Types in that Class become the names of the four structural acts. We might write those names on cards and place them in front of us. We can then rearrange those cards until we establish an order that reflects the concern with which we want that throughline to begin, the intermediate concerns, and the concern of interest when that throughline concludes. Most likely, our decision will be based not only on the logistics of our story, but just as heavily on how this order feels, both to us and hopefully to our audience. When we have settled on an order, we can be confident that throughline reflects the proper journey to reach the conclusion we have envisioned for it.

If we establish an order for each of the throughlines, we might feel our act level work is done. That would be true if the throughlines were not connected. As we already know, however, there is a strong connection between the four throughlines, for each really represents only one angle on the same overall story. All four throughlines are really happening simultaneously, just as the characters in our story house all take the tour at the same time. To truly understand the impact of our decisions for act order, we must lay out all four sets of our cards in parallel rows, side by side, and compare what is happening in the same act in all four throughlines.

Tflavor of our story as a whole depends both on the order of acts within each throughline and the combination of the acts from all four throughlines. When our plot is laid out in this manner, we may elect to make a few changes in one or more throughline’s order to more accurately represent the overall concerns of our story’s progression as we envision it.

It is important to remember when making these decisions that the order we’re talking about reflects only the internal logic of the story, not necessarily the order in which it will be revealed to the audience. How exposition is presented to the audience is a whole different area of concern that is covered extensively in Storyweaving. Here we simply want to make sure that the act progression in each of the throughlines supports the outcomes, judgments, and conclusions of our story both from a logical and emotional perspective.

Obviously, such considerations must rely heavily on intuition. That is why it is often best to select all of the static appreciations before determining the progressive appreciations. That extra familiarity with your story will go a long way toward clarifying your intent, thereby providing a more solid foundation for your intuition. In addition, for those who find constructing act order a daunting task, the Dramatica software model is able to calculate the best progression for each throughline’s acts, based on your selection of static appreciations. In this manner, authors who would like some guidance in designing their plots can approach their stories by subject matter and have that input translated into the key stages of plot development and character growth.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

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