Category Archives: Plot Points

Creating Extra Tension with 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 story 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 who have no specific personal goals.

Don’t Forget the Requirements!


The achievement or failure to achieve 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 specific, such as needing to obtain five lost rubies that fit in the idol and unlock the door to the treasure. Or, they can be nebulous, such as needing to reach three progressive states of enlightenment before the dimensional portal will open.

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

Quick Tip: The Collective Goal

Some novice writers become so wrapped up in interesting events and bits of action that they forget to have a central unifying goal that gives purpose to all the other events that take place. This creates a plot without a core.

But determining your story’s goal can be difficult, especially if your story is character oriented, and not really about a Grand Quest.

For example, in the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” all the characters are struggling with their relationships and not working toward an apparent common purpose. There is a goal, however, and it is to find happiness in a relationship.

This type of goal is called a “Collective Goal” since it is not about trying to achieve the same thing, but the same KIND of thing.

So don’t try to force some external, singular purpose on your story if it isn’t appropriate. But do find the common purpose in which all your characters share a critical interest.

Revealing Your Goal

Sometimes the goal is spelled out right at the beginning, such as a meeting in which a General tells a special strike unit that a senator’s daughter has been kidnapped by terrorists and they must rescue her.

Other times, the goal is hidden behind an apparent goal. So, if your story had used the scene described above, it might turn out that was really just a cover story and in fact, the supposed “daughter” was actually an agent who was assigned to identify and kill a double agent working in the strike team.

Goals may also be revealed slowly, such as in “The Godfather,” where it takes the entire film to realize the goal is to keep the family alive by replacing the aging Don with a younger member of the family.

Further, in “The Godfather,” as in many Alfred Hitchcock films, the goal is not nearly as important as the chase or the inside information or the thematic atmosphere. So don’t feel obligated to elevate every story point to the same level.

As long as each key story point is there in some way, to some degree of importance, there will be no story hole. You may still have a lot of interest in that story point, however. A character’s personal goal, for example, may touch on an issue that you want to explore in greater detail.

When this is the case, let your imagination run wild. Jot down as many instances as come to mind in which the particular plot point comes into play. Such events, moments, or scenarios enrich a story and add passion to a perfunctory telling of the tale.

One of the best ways to do this is to consider how each plot point might affect other plot points, and other story points pertaining to characters, theme, and genre.

For example, each character sees the overall goal as a step in helping them accomplish their personal goals. So, why not create a scenario where a character wistfully describes his personal goal to another character while sitting around a campfire? He can explain how achievement of the overall story goal will help him get what he personally wants.

An example of this is in the John Wayne classic movie, “The Searchers.” John Wayne’s character asks an old, mentally slow friend to help search for the missing girl. Finding the girl is the overall goal. The friend has a personal goal – he tells Wayne that he just wants a roof over his head and a rocking chair by the fire. This character sees his participation in the effort to achieve the goal as the means of obtaining something he has personally longed for.

And how does your story goal exemplify or affect the moral message of your story as part of the theme? When you see the story goal mentioned in your story synopsis, see if you can incorporate aspects of theme, and when you see theme, try to add a reference to the goal.

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain has the boy cooking up some food for Tom Sawyer. He puts all the vegetables and meat in the same pan and explain that his pop taught him that food is better when the flavors all “swap around” a bit.

The same is true for stories. Don’t just speak about goal, speak about goal in reference to as many other story points as you can.

In the space below, first describe how you will reveal the goal to your audience so you are sure you’ve at least covered that base. Then, describe as many other scenarios as you can where goal impacts, influences, or affects other story points.

A Story’s Limit

  A Writer asks…

What changes within the Story’s structure when you switch the Limit from Optionlock – to Timelock or vice versa?

My reply…

The story’s Limit (Optionlock or Timelock) determines whether your story will draw to a climax because the characters run out of options or run out of time.

The quick answer to your question is that the story’s Limit, like most Dramatica story points, is not dependent on only one thing, but on several. So, there is not a one to one correlation between Limit and any other single story point. In other words, there is no simple answer to the question, “What happens to the story overall if you change the Limit from Optionlock to Timelock.

In fact, in some storyforms, the choices you make for other story points may create a condition in which a Limit of either Option Lock OR Time Lock will equally satisfy the contributing story points.

In such a case, the Limit becomes a “dealer’s choice” for the author, and one may select either option or time without impacting the overall storyform in any way, other than to determine the “feel” of the constraints imposed directly by the kind of Limit to the story’s scope. You have clearly created such a storyform.

In other storyforms, the choices for other story points would create conditions in which Option Lock or Time Lock will be predetermined by the collective impact of the contributing story points. In those cases, you would not be able to simply change from one kind of Limit to the other directly, but would need to unravel the entire group of story points that determined the choice for you.

As it turns out, the choice of Limit is determined by a great number of interrelated factors, so it is not really practical to list the scores of arrangements that would choose one or the other. Rather, if you find in a future storyform that the Limit (or any other story point) is “locked in” and cannot be directly changed, it is better to open a new storyform file and select the Limit (or other story point) first. That way you will be sure to get the one you want. Then, “re-make” the choices you had originally selected.

Of course, since you have now changed the Limit, you will find that the exact same combination of other choices will no longer be possible. Therefore, it is best to prioritize your choices, so that you begin with the story point most important to you and work your way down to the ones that are less important. In this way, you will get all of your key dramatic elements exactly as you want them, and will only encounter the constraints caused by the different choice for Limit when you are down to less important items.

Four Essential Plot Points

There are many story points relating to your plot, ranging from the the outcome of the quest to the obstacles the characters face along the way.  While all story points are important, there are four essential ones that provide the cornerstones of your plot.

1. Goal

We are all familiar with the need for a central unifying goal to drive the plot forward. This goal can be a shared objective, such as the desire to rob a casino in Ocean’s 11, or it can be a shared or collective goal, such as in Four Weddings and a Funeral in which all the characters are seeking a satisfying relationship, but not with the same person!

Goal is the primary and most essential story point in your plot, but there are three other plot points that are nearly as crucial to creating a captivating plot.

2. Consequences

If the Goal is what the characters are after, then the Consequence is what is after the characters! If the characters are chasing something, that can be exciting. But if something is chasing the characters as well, it doubles the tension.

Typically, consequences are the bad things that will happen if the Goal is not achieved. But they can also be bad things that are already happening and will continue to happen if the Goal is not achieved.

For example, if the goal is to find a hidden treasure, that can create drama. But if the families of those trying to find the treasure will be sold into slavery if the treasure is not found, that is much more intense drama.

3. Requirements

Having a goal is fine, but if it were something that would be achieved or not in only a moment, the story would be over before it started. Goals can’t just be achieved. Rather, a series of Requirements must be met that will cause the goal to be achieved, or enable the characters to then tackle the goal directly.

Requirements can be a collection of items that must be obtained or endeavors that must be successfully undertaken in any order, like a scavenger hunt. Or, a goal’s requirements might be a series of objects or activities, which must be performed in order, more like advancing through grades in order to graduate from school.

It helps a story move along to spell out what the requirements are before the end of your first act, or opening dramatic movement. This provides a clear idea of where things are heading, and allows your reader or audience to put plot events into context.

This is not to say that complications can’t arise, or that additional requirements might be added (“Bring me the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West). But providing an initial list of requirements will create a yardstick against which your readers or audience can judge the story’s progress toward it’s ultimate conclusion.

4. Forewarnings

Just as a goal has requirements, consequences have forewarnings. These can be as simple as cracks forming in a dam or the extent of the rash on a hapless fellow who’s been poisoned.

As with requirements, forewarnings can be a matter of degree (“That’s three people who have quit the program. How many more can you afford to lose before the whole show folds?”) Or it can be a sequence, such as the evil robot breaking past the third of five automatic defense stations.

Without forewarnings, the consequences are just a nebulous threat or existent condition. But forewarnings make the consequence come alive, become immediate, and impending.

All Four Together

All four essential plot points work together to create a web of tension, but long and short term, that can flux and flow. The objective looms ahead as the threat looms in the rear view mirror. And along the way, requirement road signs tell us how far we have to go, while the growing size of the headlights in the mirror forewarn that the consequences are almost upon us.

Will we get to the goal before we are overtaken, or will we be run down from behind just moments before we might have grabbed success? These are the questions that inject tension in your plot, in addition go giving it direction.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Develop all four of these plot points and 80 more
in Dramatica Story Structure Software

The Collective Goal

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Some writers become so wrapped up in interesting events and bits of action that they forget to have a central unifying goal that gives purpose to all the other events that take place. This creates a plot without a core. But determining your story’s goal can be difficult, especially if your story is character oriented, and not really about a Grand Quest.

For example, in the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” all the characters are struggling with their relationships and not working toward an apparent common purpose. There is a goal, however, and it is to find happiness in a relationship. This type of goal is called a “Collective Goal” since it is not about trying to achieve the same thing, but the same KIND of thing. When considering the goal for your story, don’t feel obligated to impose a contrived central goal if a collective goal is more appropriate.

StoryWeaving Static Plot Points

We might spell out the Goal in the very first Storyweaving scene and never mention it again. Hitchcock often did this with his famous “MacGuffin”, which was simply seen as an excuse to get the chase started. Or, we might bring up the Goal once per act to make sure our audience doesn’t lose sight of what the story is all about. In fact, that is another good rule of thumb: even though once will do it, it is often best to remind the audience of each Static Appreciation once per act. As we shall later see, this concept forms the basis of The Rule of Threes, which is a very handy writer’s technique.

Another thing we might do with a Static Appreciation is hint at it, provide pieces of information about it, but never actually come out and say it. In this manner, the audience enjoys the process of figuring things out for itself. Since we are obligated to illustrate our structure, however, we better make sure that by the end of the story, the audience has enough pieces to get the point.

For each kind of Static Appreciation author’s have created many original way in which they might be woven into a scene through action, dialogue, visuals, even changing the color of type in a book. We suggest making a list of all your appreciations and then peppering them into your scenes in the most interesting and non-cliché manner you can. Even if you aren’t overly clever about some of them, at least the structure has been served.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

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.


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