Category Archives: Story Points

Story Consequences

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Step 43

Story Consequences

A goal is what the characters chase, but what chases the characters?  The consequence doubles the dramatic tension in a story by providing a negative result if the goal is not achieved.

Consequences may be emotional or logistic, but the more intense they are, the greater the tension.  Often it provides greater depth if there are emotional consequences when there is an external goal, and external consequences if there is an emotional goal.

Your novel might be about avoiding the consequences or it might begin with the consequences already in place, and the goal is intended to end them.

If the consequences are intense enough, it can help provide motivation for characters that have no specific personal goals.

In this step, describe the consequences that will occur if the characters in your story fail to achieve the story’s goal.

Plot Requirements

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Plot Requirements

The success or failure in achieving the goal is an important but short moment at the end of the story.  So how is interest maintained over the course of the story?  By the progress of the quest toward the goal.  This progress is measured by how many of the requirements have been met and how many remain.

Requirements can be logistic, such as needing to obtain five lost rubies that fit in the idol and unlock the door to the treasure.  Or, they can be passionate, such as needing to perform  enough selfless acts to win the heart of the princess.

The important thing is that the requirements are clear enough to be easily understood and measurable enough to be “marked off the list” as the story progresses.

In this step, list the requirements that need to be met in order for the story’s overall goal to be achieved.

Main Character’s Resolve

Dramatica asks 12 Essential Questions every author should be able to answer about his or her story. Four deal with the Main Character, four with Plot, and the remaining four with Theme.

The first of these questions is Main Character Resolve, and asks:

By the end of your story, has the Main Character “Changed” or remained “Steadfast?”

Traditionally, it has been taught that a character must change in order to grow. This is not actually the case. A character may grow in his resolve. For example, Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive never changes the nature of his character. Rather, he redoubles his resolve in order to cope with the increasing obstacles placed in his path.

There is a character in The Fugitive who DOES change, however, and that is Sam Girard, the Tommy Lee Jones character. At the beginning of the story, he tells Kimble, “I don’t care,” when Kimble says that he didn’t kill his wife. At the end of the story, Girard comes to believe in Kimble’s innocence, removes Kimble’s handcuffs and offers him a compress to ease the soreness they caused. Kimble says, “I thought you didn’t care…” Girard replies with gentle sarcasm, “I don’t,” then adds, “Don’t tell anybody…”

Girard is the Obstacle Character to Kimble’s Main. For every Main and Obstacle character, one will change as a result of the others steadfastness. In essence, because Kimble cares so much (as evidenced by the many people he helps even when on the run) Girard changes his nature and begins to care himself.

Another example of this can be found in the James Bond film, “Goldfinger.” In this story, Bond remains steadfast but someone does change. Again, it is the Obstacle Character, Pussy Galore (the Honor Blackman part) who runs the Flying Circus. She changes her mind about helping Goldfinger, spills the beans to the CIA and changes the gas canisters from poison to harmless oxygen. It was Bond’s resoluteness, which eventually leveraged her to change.

Examples of Change Main Characters are Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and Chief Brody in Jaws. In the case of Scrooge, he ultimately makes a conscious decision to change the very foundations of his nature. In contrast, Luke only changes a small aspect of his nature – at the crucial moment he decides to trust the Force (in effect to trust his own abilities, himself) and is therefore able to win the day. Other than that, Luke remains pretty much the same personality he was before. Finally, Chief Brody is afraid of the water and won’t even wade into it. But, after defeating the shark, he has a conversation with Hooper as they swim back to shore. He says, “You know, I used to be afraid of the water.” Hooper replies, “I can’t imagine why.” Brody has also changed, but not by conscious decision, more by attrition. In a sense, Brody has BEEN changed by his story experiences. So, we can see that Change may be universal (Scrooge), specific (Skywalker), or unintentional (Brody).

When a character must make a conscious (active) decision to change, regardless of whether it is his whole personality or just an aspect, it is called a Leap of Faith story. When a character IS changed by the story experience without an active decision, it is called a Non Leap of Faith Story. Both kinds of Change are equally sound dramatic structures, but each creates a different feel over the entire course of the story.

It is important to recognize that Change may lead to success if it is the right choice, or it may lead to failure if the character should have remained Steadfast. Similarly, remaining Steadfast may lead to a positive or negative conclusion.

Also, characters may flip-flop over the course of the story, changing for a while and then changing back. Or, they may grow closer and farther from changing as their experiences proceed. But in the end, the character will be the same person, albeit older and wiser, or they will have some fundamental trait of their character altered, large or small, for better or worse. Regardless of the propriety of the outcome, if the character is different in nature he has changed. If he is the same, he has remained Steadfast.

Problem, Symptom, and Critical Flaw

A writer recently sent these questions.  First, their letter, then my response:


I’ve been following Dramatica for almost a year now and when you think you’ve got everything sorted out, something comes along to make you question what you thought you knew!  In Dramatica some of the traits you have for the Main Character are :

  • Critical Flaw
  • Problem
  • Symptom

The reason I’m lost is how does this relate to other theories talking about a main character just having a need and a want (aside from their external goal)? I get that the ‘need’ is Dramatica’s ‘solution’ but what is the ‘want”s (their superficial want right at the beginning of the story) equivalent in Dramatica’s terms? They talk about the ‘want’ as being something main characters usually overcome in realisation that they have a much deeper inner need which is fueling this ‘want’. I was thinking that Critical Flaw maybe this ‘want’ because it hinders their progress but main character’s don’t overcome their Critical Flaw do they? Otherwise you’d have a character who could overcome their external problem, internal problem AND critical flaw – that seems like too much of a stretch.

I guess what i’m asking is if you could help enlighten me on what a main character’s (external/superficia/what-they-think-will-solve-the-problem) ‘want’ is in Dramatica terms? Is it the Symptom? (If that’s the case then – e.g. in the Social Network, the main character’s ‘Symptom’ is to get into one of the elite Harvard clubs when you could argue his ‘Solution’ is to get back with his ex-girlfriend which he doesn’t seem to realize truly until the end of the film)

Any help would be greatly appreciated,

My response: 

Hi, Kris.
The Main Character isn’t driven by a single source but by the combination of several different story dynamics.
For example, the Problem represents the source motivation for the character.  The word “problem” is misleading, as it really is the drive they have, which is only a problem if it is misplaced or inappropriate.
The “critical flaw” on the on other hand, is a thematic item – the counterpoint to the “unique ability”.  Dramatically (and psychologically), the unique ability is the quality that makes the Main Character uniquely able to determine whether the effort to achieve the goal will end in success or failure.  It does not mean the MC must even be directly involved in the quest – simply that they hold the key to success or failure in that venture through their action or inaction.  Critical flaw is the MC quality that either undermines their ability to employ their unique ability or that undoes their unique ability accomplishments after the fact.
As an example, we all know MCs about whom we say, “If they would only XXXXX, then they could solve the problem.  “XXXXX” is what their unique ability would have them do, but their critical flaw is what holds them back from doing it.  Or, another MC about whom we say, “Great.  Problem solved.  Now if only they won’t XXXXX this time.”  In this case, the critical flaw comes in to wipe out the gains made through using their unique ability.
As for the “symptom” you mention, there is really a quad of items that primarily drive the MC – the Problem, Solution, Focus, and Direction.  They are the equivalents of a Disease, Cure, Symptom, and Treatment for the symptom.  And so, an MC will not see his or her real drive (or problem) because they are Focused on the symptom.  In response, they pursue the Treatment for that symptom by moving in a particular Direction.  In the end, they will either treat the symptom until that relieves the situation enough for the problem to cure itself, or they will realize the problem is just getting worse, see it for what it is, and address it directly with the cure.  That is, of course, if they ultimately are to succeed.  If they continue treating the symptom when a cure is needed, they will fail, just as if they keep searching for a cure when there really is none, and should have simply kept treating the symptom until the problem can resolve itself.
Hope this helps.

The Objective Story Issue

The Objective Story is the overall story in which all the characters are involved.  Essentially, it is what the reader or audience will think of as the “plot” of the story. 

To add meaning and purpose to your objective story you’ll want to include a message, statement or value judgment about some aspect of life or some human quality.  The subject you choose to explore will be your Objective Story Issue.

For any given issue there can be many points of view. To make a successful argument about a particular point of view on the issue an author must address them all, yet select one as the preferred perspective.

If an author wishes to merely explore an issue rather than argue it, the issue must still be touched on by all perspectives and the author must select one of them as the view from which all the others are measured.

If this yardstick is not provided, the reader/audience is free to judge anything from any point of view and will simply adopt the one they are familiar with out of habit.   As a result, they will gain no new understanding and the story will have no meaning or purpose other than to reiterate what the audience already knew.

Conversely, if an author wishes to make a point or deliver a message or even document the similarities and differences between dramatic incidents, then the events of the story must be measured against something.

Choosing the Issue tells an audience by what standard the author intends them to evaluate what they experience in the story.

Ultimately, the objective story thematic issue places the story’s central problem in context.

Excerpted from
Dramatica Story Development Software