The Distance Needed To Write A Meaningful Story
Stories are as long as they need to be to fully explore the argument being made.
Why does it take so long to tell a meaningful story? Most movies require at least two hours. Novels sometimes need hundreds of pages. Is there a reason why successful authors can't cut to the chase and simply tell an audience what their story is really about?
Earlier this year I learned that a story's Limit defines why we don't immediately jump right to the crisis. The Story Continuum, a refinement of the Dramatica story theory's concept of the Story Limit, is a key element used towards the construction of meaningful stories:
The restricted amount of time or options that, by running out, forces the story to a climax…Running out of options is accomplished by an Optionlock; a deadline is accomplished by a Timelock. Both of these means of limiting the story and forcing the Main Character to decide are felt from early on in the story and get stronger until the climax.
Once the options are gone or once time runs out, a story has to have its climax. If there was only one option or an unreasonably short deadline, the crisis would happen instantly.
Unfortunately, this focus on what brings a story to an end obfuscates the true importance of the relationship between time and space in a story. When ordering the events of a story, it's important to establish the priority of relativity over linearity or linearity over relativity. Both exist within a story, but only one sets the sequence of a narrative.
A story requires this relationship to understand the nature of its progression. A Spacetime story explores relativistic potentials and sees a linear temporal sequence. A Timespace story works a linear sequence to see the relativistic nature of potentials.
The Main Character's point of view must be challenged in such a way that it is broken down or built up, the Objective Characters must come into conflict in order to help prove the validity of the thematic issue at hand, and an emotionally charged relationship, whether dwindling or growing, must be experienced. The Story Continuum gives a story the space or time necessary to cover all this distance.
In Aladdin, the title character had to selfishly work his way through two wishes before he ultimately could figure out the best use for the third. In 3:10 to Yuma, Dan had until 3:10 that day to change his son's rather negative opinion of his father. And in Se7en, Detective David Mills and William Somerset had to trudge through six deadly sins before that seventh could have any true meaning.
The Story Continuum gives a story a sequential context necessary for a meaningful and emotionally compelling ending.