Story Drivers exist between Storybeats. While presented in the Objective Story Throughline view as equivalent to other Beats, a Story Driver depicts the relationship between the Beat that comes before it, and the Beat that comes after it.
Story Drivers are a component of the Objective Story Throughline. While the Author is free to make all kinds of associations between the shifting of an Act and other Throughlines, in the context of narrative structure, Story Drivers only hold meaning within the perspective of the Objective Story Throughline. Subtext encourages this approach by limiting the appearance of Drivers to the Objective Story view.
Think of Story Drivers this way: the first one hits, and then the characters in your story scramble around to find a way to resolve this new problem. Eventually, they exhaust every alternative within that general area of concern and dramatic energy subsides—until the next Story Driver kicks in, pushing all your characters into the next general area of concern.
That’s all an Act is: grouped resolution techniques in service of resolving the greater conflict. Story Drivers are a signal from Author to Audience that it’s time to move on.
Types and Modalities of Story Drivers
There are two kinds of Story Drivers and two modes of operation: Action/Decision and Problem-Solving/Self-actualization.
In its simplest form, the Story Driver determines which comes first: the Action or the Decision. Your story is a series of actions followed by decisions followed by actions, and so on—decision, action, decision, action, until the very end. Stepping back, you will find that one precipitates the other.
In a story about Problem-Solving, this leading Storybeat appears as the cause of subsequent effects. Actions force decisions, or Decisions force actions. In a story about Self, dramatic energy subsides as a factor of resistance. Actions engender the flow of decisions, or Decisions call forth a flow of actions.
Problem-Solving stories operate on a cause-and-effect basis. Self-actualization stories serve narrative through flow-and-resistance.
Examples of Story Drivers in Problem-Solving Stories
Most Action films fall into that Genre because their Story Drivers are Actions that precipitate decisions. The BBQ-inq of Luke’s Aunt and Uncle in the first Star Wars drives the farm boy to decide to leave. No way he would have left without that Action. Same with poor Chrissie at the beginning of Jaws—without her unfortunate end, Brody would never have decided to close the beaches.
Courtroom Dramas often base their narrative structure on key Decisions. In A Few Good Men, Kaffee’s Decision to put Lt. Col. Markinson on the stand is what drives the Colonel to take his life. Henry Drummond asks to withdraw because he feels as if the case has already been Decided in Inherit the Wind. In both films, a jury’s Decision resolves the conflict.
Examples of Story Drivers in Self-actualization Stories
Morpheus’ choice of Mr. Anderson as The One in The Matrix, calls forth a flow of action towards the poor cubicle jockey. Neo’s Decision to turn and face Agent Smith breaks up the resistance engendered by the human’s literal resistance movement, ushering forth the break down of the machines.
Ray Kinsella’s Decision to undermine his crops in Field of Dreams allows the ghosts of baseball past to return to Iowa. Later, Dr. Graham’s Decision to leave the field to help Karron unleashes a flow of actions culminating in old friends playing ball once again.
In Elf, Buddy’s over-enthusiastic Christmas makeover of Gimbels—and subsequent unmasking of a charlatan Santa—lands him in jail. These series of Actions break up the resistance maintained by his father Walter, and engender further deliberation over what to do with the man-child.
In Roma, Cleo’s pregnancy and subsequent abandonment by her boyfriend Fermín allows a tide of deliberation similar to that engendered by Sofía with the estrangement from her husband, Antonio. Subsequent fires and run-ins with paramours, both chance and intentional, open up a flow of continued decisions that eventually lead to new selves.
Starting and Ending Conflict
With the exception of the initial Driver and the Concluding Driver, Subtext anchors Story Drivers into place at the end of each Act. This placement helps an Author communicate to the Audience the intention of moving on from one area of narrative exploration to the next.
Subtext allows the Initial Story Driver and Concluding Story Driver to be woven around other Beats within the Storybeats section because Story Drivers tie themselves exclusively to the Objective Story Throughline perspective. Sometimes, the telling of a story starts and ends with the Objective Story Throughline. The original Star Wars begins with Vader’s illegal boarding of a diplomatic ship, and concludes with the destruction of the Death Star. In that example, the Initial Story Driver is the first Storybeat, and the Concluding Story Driver assumes the position of last Storybeat.
Other times, the telling of a story may call for an early termination of the Objective Story Throughline. Andy’s Decision to get busy living ends the Objective Story Throughline long before The Shawshank Redemption comes to an end. Red’s Main Character Throughline plays out over the next twenty minutes or so, and the last-minute addition of the reuniting scene on the beach wraps up the Relationship Story Throughline.
In that example, the Concluding Story Driver Beat occurs before the ensuing Main Character and Relationship Story Storybeats. Subtext allows for this reality of relating a narrative by unlocking the positioning of the Initial and Concluding Story Drivers within their respective Acts.