Storytelling and Plot Appreciations
Selecting Plot Appreciations
Plot Appreciations come in two varieties: Static Appreciations, and Progressive
Appreciations. Static Appreciations are dramatic items such as Goal, Requirements, and
Consequences, and may also include the Concerns of each throughline. Progressive
Appreciations deal with the order in which each Domain's Types are arranged to become a
throughline's Acts. In this section we shall first explore the issues involved in
selecting the Static Plot Appreciations, then turn our attention to what influence the
order of Acts will have on our story's impact, and consequently on our audience.
Static Plot Appreciations
A story's Goal is most often found in the Objective Domain for stories written in our
culture. Aside from that bias, the story Goal might just as properly be found in any of
the four Domains. As we now consider how to select the Goal for our story, we need to know
a little bit more about what a Goal really does for an audience, and what kinds of control
over our audience we can exercise simply by choosing where we place the Goal.
An audience sees a story's Goal as being the central objective of the story. As such, it
will be of the same nature as the Concern of one of the four Domains. Which one depends
upon which throughline an author wants to emphasize in his storytelling. For example,
suppose your Main Character and his experiences are the most important thing to you, the
author. Then you will most likely want to make the Main Character's Concern your story
Goal as well. On the other hand, if your story is about a problem that is affecting
everyone, you will probably want to make the Objective Story Domain Concern your story
Each throughline will have its own Concern. When the audience considers each throughline
separately, it will focus on that Concern as being the principal objective from that
point of view. When the audience considers the story as a whole, however, it will get
a feel for which throughline is most emphasized by the author's storytelling, and will see
that throughline's Concern as the overall story Goal.
Since emphasis is a gray-scale kind of process, the story Goal may appear to be a highly
focused issue in some stories and of lesser concern in others. In fact, all four
throughlines might be equally emphasized, which would result in an audience being unable
to easily answer the question, what was this story about? Just because no overall
Goal is identifiable does not mean the plot necessarily has a hole. It might mean that the
issues explored in the story are more evenly considered in a holistic sense, and the story
is simply not as Goal-oriented. In contrast, the Concern of each Domain must appear
clearly in a complete story, for Concerns are purely structural appreciations which are
developed through storytelling, but not dependent upon it.
When selecting a Goal, some authors prefer to first select the Concerns for each Domain.
In this way, all of the potential objectives of the story have been pre-determined and the
author then simply needs to choose which one to emphasize. Other authors prefer not to
choose the Goal at all, since it is not truly an essential part of a story's structure.
Instead, they select their Concerns and then let the muse guide them in how much they
emphasize one throughline over another. In this way, the Goal will emerge all by itself in
a much more organic way. Still, other authors like to select the Goal before any of the
Concerns. In this case, they may not even know which Domain the Goal will ultimately be a
part of. For this kind of author, the principal question they wish to answer is, what
is my story about? By approaching the selection of your story Goal from one of these
three directions, you can begin to create a storyform that reflects your personal
interests in telling this particular story.
There are four different Classes from which to choose our Goal. Each Class has four unique
Types. In a practical sense, the first question we might ask ourselves is whether we want
the Goal of our story to be something physical or something mental. In making this
decision we are able to limit our available choices to Universe/Physics (physical goals)
or Mind/Psychology (mental goals). Instantly we have cut the sixteen possible Goals down
to only eight.
Next we can look at the names of the Types themselves. In Universe: Past, Progress,
Present, and Future. In Physics: Understanding, Doing, Learning, and Obtaining. In Mind:
Memory, Preconscious, Conscious, and Subconscious. In Psychology: Conceptualizing, Being,
Conceiving, and Becoming. Some are easy to get a grip on; others seem more obscure. This
is because our culture favors certain Types of issues and doesn't pay as much attention to
others. This is reflected in our language as well so that even though the words used to
describe the Types are quite accurate, many of them require a bit more thought and even a
definition before they become clear. (Refer to the appendices of this book for definitions
Whether you have narrowed your potential selections to eight or just jump right in with
the whole sixteen, choose the Type that best represents the kind of Goal you wish to focus
on in your story.
Requirements are the essential steps or circumstances which must be met in order to
reach the story's Goal. If we were to select a story's Requirements before any other
appreciation, it would simply be a decision about the kinds of activities or endeavors we
want to concentrate on as the central effort of our story. If we have already selected our
story's Goal, however, much has already been determined that may limit which Types are
appropriate to support that Goal.
Although the model of dramatic relationships implemented in the Dramatica software can
determine which are the best candidates to be chosen for a given appreciation, the
ultimate decision must rest with the author. "Trust your feelings, Luke," says
Obi Wan to young Skywalker. When selecting appreciations that advice is just as
Consequences are dependent upon the Goal, though other appreciations may change the
nature of that dependency. Consequences may be expressed as what will happen if the Goal
is not achieved or they may be what is already being suffered and will continue if the
Goal is not achieved. You should select the Type that best describes your story's
One of the eight essential questions asks if the direction of your story is Start or Stop.
A Start story is one in which the audience will see the Consequences as occurring only if
the Goal is not achieved. In a Stop story, the audience will see the Consequences already
in place, and if the Goal is not achieved the Consequences will remain.
Choosing the Type of Consequence does not determine Start or Stop, and neither does
choosing Start or Stop determine the Type of Consequence. How the Consequence will come
into play, however, is a Start/Stop issue. Since that dynamic affects the overall feel
of a story, it is often best to make this dynamic decision of Start or Stop before
attempting the structural one of selecting the Consequence Type.
Forewarnings appear as a signal that the Consequences are imminent. At first, one might
suspect that for a particular Type of Consequences, a certain Type of Forewarnings will
always be the most appropriate. Certainly, there are relationships between Forewarnings
and Consequences that are so widespread in our culture that they have almost become story
law. But in fact, the relationship between Forewarnings and Consequences is just as
flexible as that between Requirements and Goal.
Can the Forewarnings be anything at all then? No, and to see why we need look no further
than the fact that Consequences and Forewarnings are both Types. They are never
Variations, or Elements, or Classes. But, within the realm of Types, which one will be the
appropriate Forewarnings for particular Consequences depends upon the impact of other
When selecting the Type of Forewarning for your story, think of this appreciation both by
itself and also in conjunction with the Consequences. By itself, examine the Types to see
which one feels like the area from which you want tension, fear, or stress to flow for
your audience and/or characters. Then, in conjunction with the Consequences, determine if
you see a way in which this Type of Forewarning might be the harbinger that will herald
the imminent approach of the Consequences. If it all fits, use it. If not, you may need to
rethink either your selection for Forewarnings or your choice for Consequences.
Dividends are benefits accrued on the way to the Goal. Goal, Requirements,
Consequences, and Forewarnings are all Driver Appreciations in Plot. Dividends are the
first of the Passenger Appreciations. As such, we see it used in storytelling more as a
modifier than a subject unto itself. Still, since authors may choose to emphasize whatever
they wish, Dividends may be lifted up to the forefront in a particular story and take on a
significance far beyond their structural weight.
No matter what emphasis Dividends are given in your story, they are still modifiers of the
Goal. As such, when selecting the Type of Dividends for your story, consider how well your
choice will dovetail with your Goal. Sometimes Dividends are very close in nature to the
Goal, almost as natural results of getting closer to the Goal. Other times Dividends may
be quite different in nature than the Goal, and are simply positive items or experiences
that cross the characters' paths during the quest.
As with the Driver Appreciations, this choice is not arbitrary. The dynamics that
determine it, however, are so many and varied that only a software system can calculate
it. Still, when one has answered the essential questions, it is likely one's writing
instincts have become so fine-tuned for a story as to sense which kinds of Dividends will
seem appropriate to the Goal under those particular dynamic conditions.
Costs function much like negative Dividends. They are the detrimental effects of the
effort to reach the Goal. Look at the Requirements for your story and see what Type of
Costs might make that effort more taxing. Look at the Consequences for your story and see
what Type of Costs might seem like an indicator of what might happen if the Goal is not
achieved. Look at the Forewarnings and determine the Type of Costs that enhances, or
possibly obscures the Forewarnings from your characters. Finally, look at the Dividends
and try to find a Type for Costs that balances the positive perks. To balance Dividends,
Costs need not be an exact opposite, but simply have the opposite (negative) effect on the
Prerequisites determine what is needed to begin meeting the Requirements. When
selecting Prerequisites, keep in mind they are to be used in your story as essential
steps or items that must be met or gathered in order to attempt a Requirement. As such,
the appropriate Type of Prerequisites is much more heavily influenced by the Type of
Requirements than the Type of Goal.
Prerequisites may open the opportunity for easy ways to bring in Dividends, Costs, or even
Preconditions (which we shall discuss shortly.) Certain Types of considerations may be
more familiar to you than others as a result of your personal life experience. As such,
they will likely be a better source of material from which to draw inspiration. Choosing a
familiar Type will help you later on when it becomes time to illustrate your
appreciations in Storyencoding.
Preconditions are non-essential steps or items that become attached to the
effort to achieve the Goal through someone's insistence. A keen distinction here is that
while Pre-requisites are almost always used in relation to the Requirements in a story,
Preconditions are likely to apply to either Requirements or the Goal itself. As such, both
Goal and Requirements should be taken into account when selecting Preconditions.
Think about the sorts of petty annoyances, frustrations, and sources of friction with
which your characters might become saddled with, in exchange for assistance with some
essential Prerequisite. If you were one of your characters, what kind of Preconditions
would most irritate you?
Appreciations of this level are usually presented as a background item in storytelling.
Draw on your own experiences while making this selection so that the level of nuance
required can grow from your familiarity.
Plot Appreciation Examples:
The Story Goal in Hamlet is Memory: Everyone wants to be comfortable
with the memory of King Hamlet. Most wish to accomplish this by erasing the memory
entirely, but Hamlet wants to keep it alive and painful.
The Story Goal in The Godfather is Obtaining: The Objective Story
goal of the Godfather is for the Corleone family to reclaim their place of power and find
a new "Godfather" to maintain this status.
The Story Requirements in Hamlet are The Subconscious: Hamlet must
get Claudius to expose his true nature, his lust for power and Gertrude, before anyone
will believe Hamlet's accusations.
The Story Requirements in The Godfather are Doing: In order for a new
Don Corleone to regain his family's former stature and power, he must do things which
demonstrate his superiority in the rivalry among the New York families. This is
accomplished with the hits on Barzini, Tessio, and Moe Green on the day Michael
"settles all family business."
The Story Consequences in Hamlet are The Past: If the memory of King
Hamlet is not allowed to rest, a repetition of the past murder will (and does) occur. King
Claudius kills Hamlet to maintain his position as king.
The Story Consequences in The Godfather are Becoming: If the Corleone
family fails to reclaim their power then they will be forced to become one of the
secondary families in the New York crime scene, a fate which hasn't been theirs for a very
The Story Forewarnings in Hamlet are Becoming: Hamlet starts becoming
the crazy person he is pretending to be. This alerts everyone, including King Claudius who
plots against Hamlet, that Hamlet will not let the memory of his father die peacefully.
The Story Forewarnings in The Godfather are Progress: When Don
Corleone realizes that it was the Barzini family who had been orchestrating his downfall
all along, the Barzini's have already made quite a lot of progress towards becoming the
new top family in New York. The progress of the loyalty of other families falling in line
with Barzini threatens to cut off Michael's chance to re-establish his family's stature.
The Story Dividends in Hamlet are Conceptualizing: There is a general
sense of creative freedom among the members of King Claudius' court exemplified by
Polonius' advice to Laertes on how to take advantage of his trip abroad. Hamlet finds that
suddenly many ordinary things can be used to help in his objective of manipulating the
truth out of King Claudius, and he takes pleasure in them. The play becomes a trap, every
discussion becomes an opportunity to investigate people's true opinions. These are all
dividends of the efforts made in this story.
The Story Dividends in The Godfather are The Future: The struggle in
the world of organized crime over how drugs will be distributed is costly, but it lays the
ground work for what will one day be their biggest money making industry. Michael's choice
of assassinations that make him New York's new "Godfather" also ensures his
family a safe move to Las Vegas in the future.
The Story Costs in Hamlet are Understanding: In Hamlet,
understanding is seen as a high price to pay -- sometimes too high. King Claudius comes to
the understanding that Hamlet is on to him and won't stop pushing until his father's death
is avenged; Ophelia comes to the understanding that Hamlet does not love her and is also
responsible for her father's death, so she loses her mind; Queen Gertrude comes to the
understanding that her son is probably insane and her new husband is a murderer; etc.
The Story Costs in The Godfather are The Subconscious: As the
struggle for power in New York's underground continues, all of the people involved suffer
emotional damage which hits them in their subconscious. For example, Tom's pain over the
fact that he is not really the Don's son is exacerbated by the death of Sonny; Don
Corleone suffers for the future of his family as his sons are killed or forced to become
criminals like himself; Sonny is forced to suffer the insult of living with a
brother-in-law who beats Sonny's sister; the "Turk" is forced into a traumatic
position when the Don is only wounded during a murder attempt; Kaye is forced to bury her
suspicions that her husband is involved in organized crime.
The Prerequisites in Hamlet are The Future: Before Hamlet can
begin the work of exposing Claudius, he must know when the appropriate people will be
around so he can put his plans (such as the play) into place.
The Prerequisites in The Godfather are Being: Because Michael, the
new candidate for the title of Don Corleone, had intended to avoid being in his family's
business, others are forced to temporarily fill in the vacancy left by his wounded father.
Michael himself believes he is temporarily becoming involved with the Mafia up until the
point when he has truly become the new "Godfather."
Preconditions in Hamlet are Obtaining: Hamlet needs hard evidence of
his uncle's murderous actions -- his own preconditions are that he cannot allow himself to
go on the word of the Ghost alone.
Preconditions in The Godfather are The Preconscious: In order for
someone to be a good Don, they have to have the correct kinds of immediate responses.
Sonny was "not a good Don," because he was too hot-headed. A precondition, which
Michael fulfills, is that he have the instincts to guide the family well. He demonstrates
these when he has no frightened responses while protecting his father at the hospital and
when he immediately insists on killing the "Turk" himself; once again when he
accepts the news of Tessio's betrayal without blinking an eye or betraying himself at any
point through Preconscious reactions; etc. When Sonny's hot-headed attempts to muscle the
Corleone's back to the top failed, it became apparent that there are preconditions set as
to who could be the next "Godfather." Only someone with a steel control over his
Preconscious responses could be cool enough to successfully lead the Corleone family back
Summary On Selecting Static Plot Appreciations
We have examined some of the considerations that go into selecting Static Plot
Appreciations. Independent of any other dramatics, any Type might be selected for any of
these appreciations. When additional structural appreciations are already chosen, however,
one must consider their impact as well in making a selection.
In Western culture, the Goal is most often found in the Objective Story Domain, however,
it might be equally appropriate in any of the four Domains. In conjunction with the eight
essential questions the relationship between the Static Plot Appreciations may place them
evenly throughout the Domains, or may favor some Domains more than others.
All things considered, these eight Static Plot Appreciations are not solely structural
items (though grounded in structure) but are also affected by how they are emphasized in
Static & Progressive Plot Appreciations:
There are two kinds of plot appreciations, Static ones which do not change and Progressive
ones which transform as the story continues. To see each kind of appreciation in your
story you need to alter your point of view.
Static plot appreciations are Goal, Requirements, Consequences, Forewarnings,
Dividends, Costs, Prerequisites, and Preconditions. Since these static plot
appreciations remain constant in nature from the beginning of the story to the end, the
perspective from which to see them is to look at the story as a whole, as if it
were one single thing. These appreciations should seem to be in effect no matter what part
of the story you look at. The Goal will always be present and identifiable, the
Consequences will always be looming, etc. Their presence at any point in the story may be
understated or right up front, but the clearer they remain throughout the story, the
stronger the story's plot will be from this point of view.
Progressive Plot appreciations are Acts, Sequences, Scenes, and Events.
These appreciations describe the experience of moving through the story so it is
important to look at them in sequence. Whichever kind of progressive appreciation you are
looking at, it is how they relate from one item to the next which is most important aspect
about them to understand.
Progressive Plot Appreciations
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
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.
As we can see in the illustration above, the flavor 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
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.
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Copyright 1996, Screenplay Systems, Inc.
The Dramatica theory was developed by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley
Chief Architect of the Dramatica software is Stephen
Dramatica is a registered trademark of Screenplay Systems Incorporated