Dialing In the Consequence of a Story
The effect an outcome plays in the loudness of failure.
A successful broadcast consists of many finely-tuned switches and dials. Switches to flip from one camera to the next. And dials to adjust color and volume. Both work in tandem to deliver a clear signal from the studio to your eyes and ears. It may surprise you then, that these same switches and dials also exist within the narrative structure of that broadcast.
The previous article in this series on The Story Consequence, The Relationship between Growth and Consequence proved the truth of an understanding lying dormant in the original Dramatica theory book:
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. (Dramatica: A New Theory of Story, p. 177)
Utilizing examples from How to Train Your Dragon, The Wife, and Michael Clayton, the article confirms the impact Main Character Growth plays on the Story Consequence.
Only one problem.
All three films feature a Stop dynamic and a story that ends in Failure. The Consequence should stand out in those kinds of narratives because of that outcome. But what about something that ends in Success and features a Start dynamic, where the Consequence should only appear towards the end?
Something like Pretty Woman—where the Consequence of Edward dismantling a shipping company exists from the very beginning.
The Light-hearted Consequence
With the three films explored in the previous article, a sense of heaviness to the storytelling exists—as if the Consequence bears down on the characters. This makes sense for a mind beset with the consequences of irresolution already in place. The mind weighs “heavy” with its sense of conscience.
In a typical Coming of Age film, the focus lies not on a perceived sense of heaviness, but rather, on the growth into something new. The mind of this story seeks adventure rather than escape. The result is an overall light-hearted feeling towards the stakes of failing to get out of one’s situation. Only when one begins to pull away, do they finally see what it is they leave behind.
Pinocchio is a light-hearted Coming of Age Start story with a Goal of Becoming and a Consequence of Obtaining. The shared Goal is the transformation of Pinocchio from a puppet into a real boy. The Consequence is losing the boy to various ne’er do-wells, which I admit—doesn’t factor heavily into the story from the very start.
But it is there.
The Story Consequence of Obtaining (or loss) is there lightly when Honest John and Lampwick abscond with him on the way to school—but doesn’t really kick in until Stromboli slams the cage door on Pinocchio. And it becomes hugely influential at the end when Pinnichio loses Gepetto to Monstro the Whale.
Still, it’s not something that waits to arise until the very end.
Just like Pretty Woman.
The LEGO Batman Movie is another light-hearted Coming of Age Start story with a Goal of Being and a Consequence of Doing. Everyone wants Batman to lighten up a little and merely be Batman—to play the role, rather than simply do the job the way he’s doing it right now.
Again. Exactly like Pretty Woman.
Perhaps there is something else going on here.
What about Stand By Me? The ultimate Coming of Age film. Stand By Me is a Start story with a Goal of Obtaining (claiming the dead body) and a Consequence of Becoming. That definitely does not show up until the end of the story. In fact, the last sequence is all about their relationship changing into something else. The boys grow up and grow out of being friends with one another.
But it’s also a story that ends in Failure.
The Interplay between Story Dynamics
How to Train Your Dragon, The Wife, Michael Clayton, and Stand by Me all end in objective Failure. Pretty Woman, Pinocchio and The LEGO Batman movie do not.
The typical dynamic between all the stories where the original passage from the theory book holds true without a doubt is a Story Outcome of Failure—not merely the Main Character Growth.
This makes sense: stories that end in Failure focus on the Consequence of that missed opportunity. The mind of the story naturally emphasizes its presence, whether Start or Stop. Stories that end in Success downplay the results of failing.
Star Wars is a Stop story with a Consequence of Being. Living under an oppressive regime (Being) is hardly given a line or two throughout the entire two hours. Sure, it’s there in the beginning when Leia stands up to Vader with her “only you could be so bold” line—but its significance throughout amounts to little more than a dull roar.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse is another Stop/Success story. The film’s Consequence of Preconscious appears as Kingpin’s loved ones running away from him. Their disgust with his violence and their impulse to run away is the motivating force behind the creation of the Large Hadron Collider. While there theoretically in the beginning, the film downplays the presence of the Consequence until much later.
It’s almost as if the Story Outcome works as an analog dial for the Story Consequence. Lean towards Success, and the Consequence recedes and fades back in the mix. Turn towards Failure, and you turn up the Consequence—amplifying the message making it loud and clear.
A Matter of Emphasis
A storyform is a holistic relationship between all Storypoints—not just one relationship taken in isolation. Assuming that original passage to apply to all stories blinds one to the reality of these relationships. Those who hold fast set themselves up for gross misattribution error.
The presence of the Story Consequence within a narrative is a blend between Main Character Growth and Story Outcome. A Stop story with a Failure Outcome really plays up that Consequence from the beginning. The same Stop story that ends in Success downplays its presence.
The appreciation of the Story Outcome is not merely a switch set to Success or Failure. Like all the Dynamic Appreciations found within the Dramatica theory of story, the Story Outcome is a dial. Turn it one way, and you amplify specific critical characteristics of a narrative. Turn it the other way, and you boost a whole different set of influencing factors.
The same holistic relationship occurs with the dynamic appreciation of Main Character Growth. Turning the dial to Stop doesn’t automatically mean the Story Consequence is always there from the beginning.
But it does mean there exists a tendency.
The real answer as to the presence of a Consequence lies in checking the other dials. What frequency is the Story Outcome set to? How does that vibe and resonate with the Main Character Problem-Solving Style? How does the dial labeled Main Character Resolve adjust them all?
A story is a snapshot of consciousness in an instant. All Storypoints exist as analogies to the weight of consideration in the mind, and they happen all at once. Beginning and end exist as one—and in one instance.
Telling a story is simply a process of stretching that one instantaneous moment out into two hours or 120,000 words. It may appear as a sequence of several hundred events, but it’s really just one.
And the Author knows every bit of it.
Accurately measuring the weight of a narrative requires one to possess command over all aspects of the story. Every switch and dial must be in arm’s reach, ready at a moment's notice to respond to the writer’s command.
See the world as a switch, and you risk turning your Audience off for good.