Many writers new to the Dramatica theory of story, and even those with several years of experience, struggle to reconcile what they know about story with what Dramatica tells them. Accumulated interpretations of Villains, Protagonists, Heroes, and Goals clash against the theory’s very specific definitions.
And that’s because not every story falls into a cultural bias of likable Main Characters, good Protagonists, and clearly stated intentions of conflict resolution.
Balance In All Things
As with all things Dramatica, a balance exists. The Goal and Consequence of a narrative offset each together the same way the Protagonist and Antagonist do, the Main Character and Influence Character do, and any number of dynamic relationships within Dramatica’s narrative model of the mind.1
Goal and Consequence conform through their positions within the model. If the Goal of a story ends up in the upper right quadrant of a particular Domain, the Consequence will lie in the upper right quadrant of the Domain diagonally opposite. A Goal of Learning will create a Consequence of Conceiving and Idea (How to Train Your Dragon and The Lives of Others). A Goal of Developing a Plan will create a Consequence of Understanding (A Simple Plan and American Beauty).
This positioning ties the two Static Plot Points together, providing a natural harmony within a complete story. A logical relationship connects Goal with Consequence: if the Goal is not met, then the Consequence will arrive.
- If we can’t fight the Empire, then we will have to be the oppressed (Story Goal of Doing, Story Consequence of Being - Star Wars).
- If we don’t achieve superiority over the Matrix, then we will become batteries for computers (Story Goal of Obtaining, Story Consequence of Becoming, or Changing One’s Nature - The Matrix)
- If we don’t stop the Avengers, then more and more innocent people will die (Story Goal of Obtaining, Story Consequence of Becoming - Captain America: Civil War)
- If we don’t consider that priests may be abusing boys, then the status quo will continue (Story Goal of Contemplations, Story Consequence of the Present - Doubt)
- If we don’t get together, then we will be stuck wondering what could have been (Story Goal of the Present, Story Consequence of Contemplations - Moonlight)
- If we come to the understanding that the uncle simply can’t be a father right now, then the deceased father’s plan for the uncle to figure into his son’s life will fail to materialize (Story Goal of Conceptualizing or Developing a Plan, Story Consequence of Understanding - Manchester by the Sea).
This last example shifts the temporal order of the causality. Instead of thinking if the Goal fails, then Consequence appears, the Manchester example reads if the Consequence persists, then the Goal fails.
Both approaches honor the logical relationship between Goal and Consequence, because the relationship between the two does not require a temporal connection. Some stories start with the Consequence already in place, or evident from the very beginning (The Matrix, Captain America: Civil War), while others save the Consequence for the very end (Doubt). The meaning of the story remains the same regardless of their revelation within the actual text of the narrative.
The Beginning of Inequity
In order to accurately define the objective Goal of a narrative, one must first identify the beginning of conflict–the moment when equity turns to inequity–within the scope of that one story.
Many writers find it difficult determining the genesis of conflict within a story. They turn to elements of backstory or character justification as a means of explaining why characters get into conflict, rather than when the narrative in question actually began.
The story of The Matrix, the first film, begins with Morpheus’ decision that Mr. Anderson is the One. This upsets the balance of things and forces both sides to take action in the efforts to bring down the Matrix.
Focusing on the Story at Hand
Many might argue that conflict began earlier, that the enslavement of mankind as virtual batteries for computers somehow motivated efforts towards resolution. Maybe–but that’s not the story told in The Matrix. As far as we know there was the potential for conflict, but no observable conflict; there was objective equity in the arrangement between humans and the machines–no observable inequity that drove a narrative from beginning to end.
Consider Star Wars: A New Hope (the first film)–and consider it as if it was 1977. Prior to Darth Vader’s illegal boarding of a diplomatic vessel, a similar equitable state existed between the Empire and its citizens. Yes, there was civil war, but nothing deserving of a complete narrative…at least, until 2016 with the arrival of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
But that’s a completely different story.
The story of Star Wars: A New Hope concerns itself only with the inequity introduced by an Empire overstepping its authority. The narrative of that story tells of a group of Rebels who find a way to fight back and resolve that inequity. This effort towards a specific resolution sheds light on the Objective Story Goal.
Morpheus decides Mr. Anderson is the one, creating the inequity of The Matrix. The conflict that rises from that inequity consists of problematic activities like fighting, punching, kicking, and shooting. Stopping those activities resolves the inequity and brings an end to the narrative.
Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlett Witch) uses telekinesis to throw an impending explosion into the sky, damaging a nearby building and killing many innocent people. Her actions create the inequity of Captain America: Civil War. The conflict that rises from that initial inequity consists of further bombings, punching, kicking, chasing, and web-slinging. Like The Matrix, stopping those activities–by tearing apart the Avengers–resolves the inequity of that story and brings an end to the narrative.
Vader boards a diplomatic ship, creating the inequity of Star Wars. The conflict that rises from that inequity consists of problematic activities like space battles, supernatural choking, light-sword fights, and laser gun battles. Stopping those activities would not resolve the inequity of an Empire overstepping its bounds–but finding a better way to fight them would.
Joe finds out he has terminal cancer, creating the inequity of Manchester by the Sea. The conflict that rises from that inequity consists of scheming and positioning, fulfilling familial roles one is not ready for, and altering the family dynamic between an uncle and his nephew. Stopping those activities or finding a better way to fight cancer would not resolve the inequity of Manchester–but figuring out how to integrate the fatherless son into the uncle’s life would.
In each of these, the initial inequity sets the type of Objective Story Goal needed to resolve the conflict in each narrative:
- Morpheus decides Mr. Anderson is the One: We will continue to become batteries for computers, if we don’t tear down the Matrix (Story Consequence of Becoming, Story Goal of Obtaining - The Matrix)
- The Scarlett Witch accidentally kills innocent humanitarian workers: More and more innocent people will die, if we don’t stop the Avengers (Story Consequence of Becoming, Story Goal of Obtaining - Captain America: Civil War)
- Vader boards a diplomatic ship illegally: If we can’t fight the Empire, then we will have to live the life of the oppressed (Story Goal of Doing, Story Consequence of Being - Star Wars).
- Joe finds out he has terminal cancer: If we come to the understanding that the uncle simply can’t be a father right now, then the deceased father’s plan for the uncle to figure into his son’s life will fail to materialize (Story Consequence of Understanding, Story Goal of Developing a Plan - Manchester by the Sea)
Steps Towards Determining the Goal of a Story
Identifying the objective Story Goal and Consequence of narrative consists of three steps:
- Identify the initial inequity
- Determine what will resolve that inequity
- Set the type of Objective Story Goal that generates that resolution
From there, identification of Protagonist, Antagonist, and the balance of other objective structural elements becomes a matter of comparing their function in narrative to that Story Goal. Protagonists pursue resolution of the Story Goal, Antagonists work to prevent resolution.
Narrative and Meaning
Good or bad matters little when observing narrative in terms of inequity and equity resolution. One force pursues, one force prevents. One represents our mind’s motivation towards initiative, the other our reticence.
All that matters is the resolution of the inequity at hand.
Narrative gives meaning to chaotic and seemingly meaningless events. Where one sets the beginning and end of a narrative determines the scope of its eventual meaning.
Consider the events in our own lives. Without framing them into structure, life is random and uneventful–pointless and meaningless. The same holds true for our stories, whether on film, on stage, or in a book. Where the inequity of the story starts and where it ends sets the breadth of meaning and understanding for the Audience.
Everything else is chatter.