James Hull Articles: Archive II

James Hull is an animator by trade, avid storyteller by night. He also taught classes on Story at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). You can find more articles like this on his site dedicated to all things story at...

For additional past articles for Screenplay.com by James Hull, click here.

Archetypes That Make Sense

Wouldn't it be nice if you had a set of eight basic characters from which to draw upon while writing a story?  And wouldn't it be nicer if they operated completely independent of the "hero"? As previously explained, the character archetypes found in the Hero's Journey mono-myth are a complete waste of time for anyone interested in writing a story.  They define a vision of character that is so narrow, that they become useless to anyone trying to write a story that isn't about a "hero's transformational journey."  And there are a lot of writers who aren't. The Dramatica Archetypes on the other hand are, by design, objective and therefore can be used in any story regardless of purpose.

Light Swords and Explosions in Space

It should be obvious that the impetus for writing Star Wars had little to do with the intricacies of refined character development.  As such, the characters in that film come off flat and to a point, obvious.  Yet, they still work.  Why is that? The following is a collection of slides from one of my classes on Character Archetypes.  Definitions of each are provided, along with their corresponding character within Star Wars.  Examples from the Robert Zemeckis film Contact are also provided.


Archetypes and Balance

There is balance within the archetypes.  Protagonists have their Antagonists, Sidekicks have their Skeptics, and Reason has Emotion.  Without that balance, a story will feel one-sided and the audience will feel cheated.  You can't have one side of an argument without supplying the other.  To that end, it is important to bring up the concept of the Contagonist. The Contagonist is solely a Dramatica innovation and one that becomes demonstrably necessary when considered within the context of balance.  The Guardian character, perhaps one of the most widely used character archetypes in all of narrative fiction, cannot exist in a vacuum.  That character needs their counterpart in order for their function within a story to seem genuine.

Useful Tools for Writings

So there you have the eight basic character archetypes, defined clearly and objectively without the use of "masks."  Each has a function within the story: the Protagonist pursues the goal while the Antagonist tries to prevent that from happening.  The Sidekick cheers them on while the Skeptic cynically disapproves.  Reason gives level-headed advice while Emotion provides the right side of the brain with comfort.  And finally, the Guardian chips in and actually helps out while the Contagonist just gets in the way.

But what makes these far superior to Tricksters or Shapeshifters is that they are defined NOT by their relation to the hero, but rather by their function towards or away from the story goal.  Sidekicks don't have to be attached to the Protagonist and Contagonists don't have to act as servants to the Antagonist.  All that matters is that they perform their functions in regards to the story goal.  Regardless of what kind of story you are trying to write, and as long as you buy into the idea that stories are about solving problems (which I think everyone can universally agree on), it then becomes clear that archetypes based on the goal of a story actually serve as useful tools for a writer.  Any kind of writer.

The only problem with these guys is that they're kind of boring if used as is.  Coming up next, we'll dive into these characters in more detail, see what makes them tick, and show ways of actually making them interesting.

If you wish to see the original article at StoryFanatic.com, click here.

Stories Are Not Always About Transformation

Early last month I posted a link to a sneak peek at Blake Snyder's forthcoming book Save the Cat Strikes Back! At the time I stated that I had a "mountain of disagreement" with some of his concepts and ideas and so, this article is an attempt to explain myself more clearly.

I present this rebuttal with all due respect.  Blake Snyder was a massive inspiration to many writers (yours included) and I have no desire to denigrate or downplay his contributions to the wide world of story.  I hope the following is taken as it was meant to be, a simple disagreement between two fans of great storytelling.

Growth, Not Necessarily Transformation

The thing I disagree most with in the chapter, is his notion that stories are always about transformation.  This is a common misconception among storytellers that revolves around two similar, yet definably different aspects of character: growth and transformation.  Transformation is defined as “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.”  Metamorphosis, conversion, remake, overhaul—these are all terms that can be found in the thesaurus entry for transformation.

Growth on the other hand is defined as “the process of developing or maturing physically, mentally or spiritually.”  Maturation, development, progress—these are the terms that are closely related to the idea of growth.

Because a story is not a static entity, characters have to grow.  The progress of time is an essential element towards the creation of a story, so yes, without a doubt that growth has to be prevalent.

But not every character has to transform.  For a more in-depth explanation of why be sure to check out the article entitled what character arc really means.  To categorically say stories are about transformation implies that if your Main Character doesn’t undergo some major change in how they approach life, the story somehow doesn’t work. Check out the video in the linked article above and see if those stories don’t work.

Characters need to grow certainly, but they do not need to transform.

Character Development

From the sneak peek chapter:

This is the part [the finale] where the hero has to find that last ounce of strength to win but can’t use normal means to do so.  And lest you think this is a goofy, “formula” thing, in fact it is the whole point of storytelling.  For this is the part we’ve waited for, the “touched-by-the-devine” beat where the hero lets go of his old logic and does something he would never do when this movie began.

I can’t tell you how grossly inaccurate that last statement is.  Sure, this happens in stories where the Main Character changes…but that only applies to 50% of the stories that can be told!!  (I loathe exclamation points, but here I find it is necessary).

To prove my point Blake goes on to compare Luke’s turning off the targeting computer with Maximus’ (Russell Crowe) finding “that last bit of energy to stab Joaquin Phoenix.”  What?  I agree that the Star Wars example is transformative, but Gladiator?  Maximus is a classic Steadfast Main Character.  His finding “the last bit of energy” was proof that he didn’t change, he always had it in him.  Regardless of what was thrown at him and regardless of all the crap he had to go through, Maximus still found it within his character to give that one last try.  There was nothing remotely transformative about it at all.

I do agree with his idea that a story is about “stripping away” the Main Character’s baggage till they get to a point where “only by stepping into the unknown—and trusting—that the hero could find the way to triumph.”  That sounds right (although it implies that every story should end triumphantly).

But it is also possible to step into that unknown by doing what you have always done.  There is power in that message and the consequences that come from taking such an approach.  That is essentially what Maximus is doing at the end of Gladiator.  He’s stepping into the unknown when he faces Commodus.  He is not sure how it will turn out, but he knows deep down within his heart that this is the approach he should take.

There can be great meaning found in stories like this.

Better and Better Stories

On this much, I’m sure both Blake and I would agree.  Fantastic storytelling is a wonderful aspiration for any author.  Whether it is achieved by following Blake’s teachings, or by finding inspiration from the concepts discussed on this site, the end game is exactly the same.  We want great stories.

Presently, the goal of brining people back into movie theaters is being met with promises of greater and greater advancements in technological presentation.  “3-D Adventures of a Lifetime” are becoming so commonplace, they almost seem like cover-ups for bad storytelling.  Believe it or not, they are even promising suits that shock you when someone on screen is shot.  Trust me, these suits work, I’ve tried them on.  But that jolt isn’t what audiences everywhere are craving.

They want meaning and that meaning can be found in stories of growth.  Transformation may occur, but it does not always have to happen within the Main Character.  Sensory stimulation is window dressing.

In the end, audiences want the shock of a well-told meaningful story.

If you wish to see the original article at StoryFanatic.com, click here.

What Character Arc Really Means

When asked to define character arc, most people think it has to do something with how the Main Character changes within a story.  While in some respect this is correct, it is inaccurate to assume that this means every Main Character needs to undergo some major transformation.  Understanding the difference between growth and change is essential to the proper implementation of character arc in a story.

Without a doubt, Main Characters need to grow.  A story cannot develop organically if the principal characters within it do not grow and adapt to the shifting dramatic tides.  When an act progresses from one area of exploration to the next, the Main Character needs to progress as well.  That's how stories work.  Therefore, it is easy to see how growth, and in particular the Main Character's growth, is inherent in the mechanisms that run story.

But when you talk about change and how the Main Character "has" to change, you're making an assumption about the nature of that growth.  Not all growth is transformative.  Sometimes a person can grow by maintaining their position, shoring up their resolve against whatever is thrown at them.  This is no less meaningful than the kind of growth where someone changes who they are or how they see the world.

When the Main Character reaches the crisis point or climax of a story they are faced with a very important question: are they on the right path or the wrong path?  Some stories are about characters who realize they have been doing things wrong the whole time.  These characters change and adopt a new way of seeing the world.  Other stories are about characters who realize that the way they have been doing things is in fact the right way to approach their problems.  These characters remain steadfast.  In both cases, this realization that they arrive at is an extension of, or better yet, result of their growth.

Now whether or not their decision turns out to be a good thing or a bad thing is a completely different area of discussion.  The takeaway here is that in assuming that every Main Character has to change, you are effectively ignoring or discounting fifty percent of the stories out there.  And we're not talking about weak stories or stories that have problems.  Amadeus, The Silence of the Lambs, Chinatown, the list goes on and on.  These are fantastic stories that are on the top of every Top 100 list.  Non-transformative growth can be a powerful means of expressing an author's point-of-view.

Again, understanding the difference between growth and change is the key.  Not all growth requires a different mindset.  As the video above clearly shows, there is great meaning to be found in stories where a character's "arc" requires them to stand their ground.

(The original post for this article can be found here.)     

Stories Exist for One Purpose: Meaning

It should come as no surprise that super-egos run rampant in Hollywood. "Why bother having a story based on familiar structures? I don't care about character development or plot progression. I've got a better way of telling a story. Audiences are tired of the same old thing." Are they?    

It is my belief that that is the only reason someone wants to be told a story - to see something familiar.  Familiar so far as they’re able to accurately synthesize something greater out of it. An audience wants and expects a greater understanding of life that they cannot receive any other way.  From the Dramatica website:    

We look to stories for meaning, for answers to everyday life experiences. More specifically, stories are arguments that provide us with solutions to problems we may encounter in life—they provide a way to examine inequities with an eye toward resolving them. We use different points of view available to us (I, You, We, They) to examine conflict created by the inequity at the center of a story. And, by looking at the conflict in the context of the perspective, gain insight into the nature of the inequity—hence meaning.    

You cannot look at your own life objectively.  Conversely you can’t look at someone else and know what it’s like to be in their mind.  Both contexts are impossible to achieve at the same time - except in a story.  

But someone who has a proven track record of success in Hollywood knows better, don’t they? “Following the same old formula is boring.  Audiences want something new - something unexpected. They’ll love my new way of telling a story.”    And then they’re shocked with the lack of applause.    

The human mind searches for meaning in everything.  From the beginning of time we have survived because of our ability to recognize patterns: Large paw prints and flesh-stripped bones signal dangerous animals lurking nearby.  Bushes with this color berry are good, bushes with that color berry are very very bad.   

Nothing has changed.    

Do you really think audiences nowadays are somehow beyond looking for a greater meaning in a story?  These are the same people who see the Virgin Mary in potato chips.  Of course they want your main character’s actions and the world around him to mean something.    

And it’s not enough to simply make the main character likable or have him change at the end of the story - there has to be a reason for it that has been setup from the very beginning. Meaning comes from a progression of story events and that meaning starts with the potentials you put in place during the first act.    

It’s like a great powerful electric circuit that courses through the audience’s mind for 2 hours.  You can’t give them that jolt at the beginning and then not provide the conduits to allow that current to run its course.    

You cannot cheat the audience of meaning for the sake of your own ego.

Of Tragedies and Triumphs

There are tragic endings, and there are triumphant ones.  There are celebrations of personal achievements, and cautionary tales of pushing too far.  The meaningful ending is the purpose of a story, it is the essence of what the author is trying to say.  Understanding the mechanics of what makes a story a tragedy or a triumph can go a long way towards insuring that every audience member ends their experience both satisfied and emotionally fulfilled.

A Theoretical Basis for Understanding

In this series on Meaningful Endings, I've set out to examine exactly what is going on with well-told stories.  While the two core questions asked (Did the good guys win, Does the main character go home happy or sad) may seem overly simplistic, they are actually based on a very sophisticated theory of story known as Dramatica.  If you're a regular reader of this site or know me at all, you know that I consider this theory the be-all end-all of story theory.  Pretty much everything I write is either informed or heavily inspired by what I've learned from studying it.  In other words, I think it's super-cool.

Interestingly enough, this idea of meaningful endings can be found elsewhere.  In Derek Rydall's I Could've Written a Better Movie Than That!, four are identified:

Happy Ending - The protagonist achieves the "outer" and "inner" goal.  In other words, the hero gets the gold and becomes a better person.

Bittersweet - The protagonist achieves the "inner" goal, but fails to get the "outer" goal.  In Rain Man, Charlie doesn't get "ownership" of his brother, but he does grow from a self-centered narcissist to a more selfless brother.

Cautionary Tale - The protagonist gets the "outer" goal, but fails to achieve the "inner" transformation.  In Citizen Kane, Charles Foster gets the power and wealth (outer), but dies empty and unfulfilled ("Rosebud" represented the innocence and joy of his childhood).

Tragic - The protagonist achieves neither the "inner" nor the "outer" goal, Leaving Las Vegas was, in my opinion, a tragedy (although, you could argue that the protagonist's goal was to "drink himself to death" -- which he did accomplish).

Sound familiar?!

Now whether or not Rydall was influenced or aware of Dramatica is not fully clear as it isn't mentioned anywhere in his book (I suspect it is as there are more than a couple instances where the theory shines through).  Either way, it's a fantastic read, especially if you have any interest in becoming a story analyst.  I bring it up only to show that this concept of connecting the results of the main story line with the results from the personal story line is a sound technique for analyzing what a story is trying to say.

Two questions: Did the good guys win or lose? and Did the main character go home happy or sad?  The sum of which adds up to a purposeful ending.

The Good Guys Win or Lose

When you talk about this half of the equation, what you are really focusing on is the Objective Story Throughline.  Typically referred to as the "A" story line (or "outer" story), the Objective Story Throughline is that part of the story that involves everyone.  It is labeled Objective because it is looking at the story's central problem from an objectified 3rd person point-of-view.  Characters don't have names when taking this perspective, they have roles.  So Mav in Top Gun becomes the "Hot Shot Fighter Pilot", Marge in Fargo becomes the "Plunky Sheriff", and Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada becomes the "Evil Magazine Editor" (of course there are other names you could call her, but let's keep it clean!).

It's a good trick because when you stop using character's real names, you tend to focus less on their own personal issues and more on how they function in the story.  This is the part of the story where Protagonists, Antagonists, Sidekicks and Guardians reside.  Again, function over the personal.

So when you ask the question, "Did the good guys win or lose?" you are in essence asking "Did the Protagonist's efforts to achieve the goal end up in success or failure?"  The Protagonist, nine times out of ten, is someone the audience would interpret as the "good guy" and it is this interpretation that they use as a baseline when they want to know the logistical meaning behind a story's conclusion.

The Dramatica theory of story labels the answer to this question the Story Outcome.  Was it a Success (good guys win) or was it a Failure (good guys lose)?

The Main Character Goes Home

On the other side of the meaningful endings equation lies the Main Character.  When asking whether they go home happy or sad, what you are really trying to establish is whether or not the Main Character resolves their own personal problems.  These internal issues are the sole property of the Main Character; other characters may comment on it or be a part of it, but the heart of that emotional turmoil belongs to the Main Character.  So Stan has his Wendy-induced anxiety, Detective Somerset wants to retire, and Charlie Babbitt has his daddy issues.  The story these Main Characters inhabit serves as an opportunity for personal growth.

So when you ask the question, "Did the Main Character go home happy or sad?" what you are really asking is "Did the Main Character resolve their own personal angst?"  The audience uses the answer to this question as a baseline for determining the emotional meaning behind a story's conclusion.

Dramatica labels the answer to this question the Story Judgment; Judgment because it is the Author's evaluation of the Main Character's efforts to work through his or her issues.  Was it Good (main character goes home happy) or was it Bad (main character goes home sad)?

A Purpose to Storytelling

Choosing the answers to these two questions locks in the meaning of a story.  A storyteller can only hope for confusion if he or she does not fully appreciate the concept between these two story structures.  Audiences reach to stories for an explanation of why things are the way they are.  Sure, there is a certain entertainment value that they may be seeking, and sadly, perhaps, even a thoughtless desire for distraction.  But overwhelmed by the crushing flood of information and bite-sized video clips available from monitors and phones everywhere, audience members will quickly comment on anything less than purposeful as "Meh."  They want more.

Giving them a meaningful ending overcomes all that noise.

A story provides the audience a welcome respite from the meaningless and a chance to ponder why.

The original article can be found at http://storyfanatic.com/articles/story-structure/of-tragedies-and-triumphs/

How to End a Movie

There are basically four different ways you can end a movie: Happy, Sad, Bittersweet Happy, and Bittersweet Sad.  Afraid that might be a little reductive?  Not when you realize that there are a zillion different ways of presenting these endings.  So how do you determine exactly what ending a story might have?

It’s really quite simple.

To determine the type of ending you have to figure out the answer to two questions.  Do the good guys win? Does the Main Character go home happy?  That’s it.

We’ll start out with Happy Endings, which we can also call Triumphs.

Happy Movies

These are the kinds of movies that everyone thinks most stereotypical studio executives love.  While I don’t have any deep scientific research to prove why, I’m pretty sure it’s because Happy Ending films have the biggest box office draws.  The majority of people want to see a movie with a happy ending (Personally, I prefer something a little more complex, but we’ll get to that in a different post).

The good guys win and the Main Character goes home happy.  Plain and simple…

We start out with the super cheesy celebration of all things male, Top Gun .  What does the end of the film reveal?  Well, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the good guys are jumping up and down while they thrust their fingers in the air, proclaiming their victory over the Evil Empire.  In the following scenes, Maverick (Tom Cruise) has finally resolved his personal issues concerning Goose and living under the shadow of his father.  Tossing his buddy’s dog tags into the ocean, he’s now “free” to kick ass on his own terms.

The good guys have won and the Main Character heads back to Miramar happy— Top Gun is the very definition of the Happy Movie.

What about something a little more sophisticated?

As wonderfully complex as Amelie is, it still ends the same way as the missiles and chicks flick.  This time though, the good guys are less a force to be reckoned with than a group of people who successfully overcome their own problems with the help of the title character.  Of course, even Amelie herself can’t avoid a happy ending as she scooters her way through the streets of Paris, hugging her new-found love.

I love the way in which Jean-Pierre Jeunet visually reveals this kind of ending with the kinetic camera work, i.e. using the medium to describe the emotion.  Awesome.

Lastly, we have the bawdy South Park movie.  Satan is sent back to Hell, thus reverting the quaint Colorado town back to its idyllic roots.  Stan, the main Main Character (the film actually has several main characters, as described elsewhere on StoryFanatic.com ) also has resolved his personal issues with Wendy…albeit, a bit messier than she probably would have liked!

Good guys win.  Main Character goes home happy.

Three completely different films.  All with the same structural ending.

Three Other Endings

In forthcoming articles we’ll take a look at the other ways you can end a story.  Hopefully the above clips serve to show that, even with the stifling notion of only four kinds of endings, there are a zillion different ways that you can incorporate those endings into your story.


Setups and Payoffs and The Lives of Others

Sometimes the student educates the teacher. At least, that’s what I found during my first year teaching story at the California Institute of the Arts .The idea that you learn more by teaching, I think, has more to do withwhat is given back more than it does with having to memorize theconcepts and ideas you are trying to get across. Never was this moreapparent to me than after a recent screening of The Lives of Others in one of my classes. A student approached me and offered aninterpretation of a key moment that completely blew me away. Why hadn’tI seen that before?!

One of the Greatest

To me, The Lives of Others is one of the greatest films of all time. It certainly has become my favorite foreign film and as far as personal ranking goes, it’s one very small notch below The Shawshank Redemption . Besides the captivating acting and the rewarding story structure, the film sails effortlessly along a constant stream of setups and payoffs. No event, no turn is wasted. Everything is there to eventually be paid off later, almost to the point of being too obvious.


In an effort to cut to the chase, I won’t list out exactly every single thing that is setup and paid off, but if you have a chance to watch the film, do so with that in mind. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how economical the story is. Christa-Maria’s drug problem, the joke-teller who we find out was indeed sent down to the mail room, the typewriter that only has red ink - all of these are brought around again in the end. The last one in particular seems almost silly afterwards. Really? The only ink they could find for that particular typewriter was red? Of course it was, if you were setting up a clue for the author, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) to discover later on.

But the one thing I could never figure out was why the Brecht poem? What significance did it have? It was obvious that, structurally, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) was enchanted by it enough to inspire some change in his character, but I wasn’t quite sure why it was never paid off. That is, until one of my students pointed it out to me.

Despair When Love is Lost

If you don’t quite remember, there is a point in the film when Wiesler breaks into the Dreyman’s room and steals the Brecht book. Back at the safety of his small apartment, Wiesler lays on his couch and reads the following lines:

It was a day in that blue month September
Silent beneath a plum tree’s slender shade
I held her there, my love so pale and silent
As if she were a dream that must not fade.
Above us in the shining summer heaven
There was a cloud my eyes dwelt long upon
It was quite white and very high above us
Then I looked up, and found that it had gone.

It is a beautiful poem, but how was it paid off?

Of course! It’s so obvious now right? Almost as obvious as the red ink in the typewriter. The Brecht poem foreshadows the ultimate tragedy that will occur, the loss of someone truly and deeply loved. Holding his love “so pale and silent” - certainly sounds like that last scene, does it not? Even Christa-Maria’s bathrobe is pale white! Sorry if this was obvious to you, but I get really excited about figuring this sort of stuff out.

A Point to the Poetry

Those lines are from the poem, Remembering Marie A . I think it’s fair to say that it is no coincidence that the subject of the poem also shares the same name as the woman in the film. The point of impetus for Wiesler’s change comes from Dreyman’s intense love for this woman. From what we can gather, Wiesler has never experienced a love as strong as this and thus explains why the poem has such an effect on him. How can Wiesler continue on his life without experiencing this kind of love at least once.

The poem continues:

And since that day so many moons, in silence
Have swum across the sky and gone below.
The plum trees surely have been chopped for firewood
And if you ask, how does that love seem now?

Despair for a love lost. Plain and simple. And now, an understanding to why that particular poem appeared in the film. Christa-Maria’s death calls to Wiesler’s mind those lines and the tragic realization that now he knows first hand what Brecht was writing about.

The Impact Others Have On Us

Without a doubt, teaching this past year has had an incredible impact on my life. So many things I thought I knew, I didn’t, and so many things I didn’t think to know, I already understood. And just like Hauptmann Wiesler, I too feel myself propelled into a greater understanding of story (and by extension, life) because of the wisdom of one of my students. My thanks to Jee Sung Yang for his insightful analysis of one of my favorite films ever. A film that keeps getting better each and every time I watch it.


"The Wrestler" is Not a Tragedy

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a famous story guru’slecture.  As I had only previously read his concepts and ideas inbooks, the lecture was both illuminating and enlightening.  Towards theend of the lecture, he fielded some questions from the audience.  “Whatwould be an example of a modern-day successful tragedy?” someoneasked.  Smiling, I leaned back in my chair and eagerly awaited hisanswer, knowing for sure what the easy answer was.

To my surprise he rather confidently replied, “ The Wrestler .”

The Wrestler ?  Really?!  I almost shot out of my seat.  If there ever was a film that was the exact opposite of a tragedy, it would be Darren Aronofsky’s latest work.

I understood why he gave that answer and wished that there was someway I could clear it up.  That’s when I remembered I had this site ( storyfanatic.com ) where I used to write articles about the theory and structure behind stories…

Analyzing stories can be a tricky process, mainly because everyone comes to the analysis process with their own set of story terms and definitions.  There are some concepts that everyone can agree on (although even the readily understood notion of the “Protagonist” can also have a different interpretation ( see my article : When the Main Character is not the Protagonist ), but more often than not fans of story can find themselves arguing the same position.  You may be arguing that something is “green,” while I’m arguing that “No, in fact, it’s round!”—when all along we’re both talking about a grape.  We both see the same thing, but we’re using two different standards of evaluation.

Of course, everyone stands by their standards and that’s usually where the confusion sets in.  I’m no different.  I have my own standard of evaluation ( dramatica.com ) and will be using that in proving why I think this movie is the farthest thing from an actual tragedy.

Tragedies and Personal Tragedies

Without a doubt, the ending to The Wrestler is beautifully tragic…from an audience’s point-of-view.  Randy “The Ram” Robinson effectively commits suicide by participating in one final match with his arch nemesis, the Ayatollah.  While his death is not explicitly shown (a masterful move by Aronofsky if I may), it is pretty safe to assume that this is what actually happened.  He dies.  We feel sad.  But could it really be considered a tragedy in the strictest sense?  Did it share in common the same sort of structural bones that say Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet has?  Is that, in fact, what the story was really trying to tell us?

I would say no.

When it comes to determining whether or not a story is a tragedy or a personal tragedy (the difference I’ll get to in a second), there is a simple question one can ask.  Did the Main Character overcome his or her personal angst?  Every writer and fan of story understands that the Main Character of a story has his own throughline, his own set of problems and issues that are unique to him.  It is through these personal issues that we the audience experience the story right alongside the Main Character.  A tragic ending will have the Main Character still beset by these issues; he will not have resolved them.

The difference between a tragedy and a personal tragedy lies in the outcome of the main story line (or A-story line as it is often called).  A full-blown tragedy, like Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet , will have the efforts to overcome the problems in the A-story line fail.  A personal tragedy will see those efforts result in success.  Now, whether or not you see The Wrestler’s main story line as being either about his quest for some connection or more simply, his quest to fight that one last fight, the fact of the matter is that those efforts in the A-story line ended up in success.  Randy found his connection and he fought that last fight.

So we know that, by this definition, The Wrestler is certainly not an honest tragedy like those Shakespeare masterpieces. The question then remains about Randy’s personal throughline.  Did he resolve his personal issues or did he not?

The Dude Has Got Some Major Issues

In The Wrestler , Randy’s personal problem is clear: He’s a “broken-down piece of meat” that nobody wants.  Having been forced into early retirement with a detrimental heart attack, Randy struggles to find a connection with somebody, anybody, outside of the ring.  He tries the local neighborhood kids, fellow wrestlers, his estranged daughter and his favorite stripper Pam.  All of them reject him.  Even his one successful connection in the film (the date with the girl from the bar) requires that he dress up like a fireman.  Even those that want him, don’t want him the way he is.

Lost and alone, Randy agrees to fight once more, to return to that connection that will always be there for him, his fans.  He grabs the microphone and explains as much to his fans - they’re the reason why he’ll keep fighting, no matter what anyone tells him.  Pam arrives and tries to convince him not to do it, but Randy refuses to listen to her.  The cheers of the audience beckon him into the ring.

So he fights the Ayatollah and his heart gives.  But he still carries on, struggling to pull himself up to the top rope in preparation for his signature move, “The RamJam.”  For a second, he looks out to the stands and searches for Pam.  She’s gone.  We cut back to Randy and see that his suspicions have been confirmed - nobody wants him.  Nobody, that is, except his fans.  As he stands tall, the roar of the crowd grows intense as they give him the connection he has so desperately longed for.  His final leap is proceeded by a tearful smile…

...and that’s precisely why it is not a personal tragedy.

Randy has resolved his angst.  The key is that look on his face right before he jumps.  Sure, he feels awful that Pam isn’t there and that he ultimately couldn’t connect with his daughter.  But he did find solace in his fans, he found where he belonged.  That smile betrays the entire meaning of the story.  If instead his face had been filled with pain and torment, like say Mel Gibson’s did in his version of Hamlet , then the story would have taken on an entirely different meaning.  That, to me, is where the bittersweet feeling of the film comes from.  Here you have this guy who is knowingly going to his death, but going there with his heart full.

The events are tragic, but the story is not.  In fact, by the definitions given above, The Wrestler is a story of triumph - the complete opposite of a tragedy.

The Easy Answer

So what was the film I thought he would answer with?  Why, The Dark Knight of course.  From what I can tell from the box office receipts, that was a pretty successful film!

Bruce Wayne/Batman begins the film tormented with the kind of influence he has had on Gotham.  Is he a force for Good or is he instead a catalyst for Evil?  He spends the entire film mulling over his role as the Batman, desperately trying to find someway out or someone to replace him.  In the end, he takes Two-Face’s place as the villain - someone the people of Gotham can hunt and chase down.  As the closing narration tell us, he becomes the Dark Knight.

In that film, Bruce Wayne has failed to resolve his angst.  No smile there.  He’s still stricken by the fact that he has this negative influence on the city of Gotham.  That’s the very definition of a personal tragedy - a Main Character still stuck with the issues that they began the story with.

The Triumph of Spirit

The Wrestler is more of a triumph than a tragedy, for Randy and for Mickey Rourke, the actor who plays him.  That is why the film is so wonderfully unique.  We know the story of the actor behind the character, of the struggles he’s gone through, and we have witnessed firsthand his return in a wonderful film.  Both character and actor were broken down and counted out, yes, but the triumph of will shines through in Mickey Rourke’s performance and elevates this film to something much more than a simple character study.


The Headline and Heartline of a Story  

A great story consists of two fundamental arguments: theheadline and the heartline. One argument plays towards the logical sideof our existence; the other plays more towards the emotional. Both areessential. Why? Because you want to create stories that are bothlogically satisfying and emotionally fulfilling. Leave one side out andthe audience feels cheated.

The two major arguments in a story can be referred to as the Objective Story and the Subjective Story .  The Objective Story, often referred to as plot, engages the audience from the point of view of logic.  Here the artist behind a story attempts to prove their argument by presenting characters as chess pieces, logistically weaving their way in and out of plot points in their attempts to achieve or prevent a common overall goal.  From this point of view the characters seem cold to an audience member.  While we may care about them, it is more their influence on the overall plot that we are concerned with.

On the other hand, the Subjective Story attempts to engage the audience from the point of view of feelings or emotions.  Here the artist argues their case by creating empathy between the audience and two major characters.  From this point of view we are more interested in how these two characters work together towards creating some level of fulfillment (or unfulfilment as the story requires).  This is the heartline of a story and without it a story becomes cold, dispassionate and forgetful.


Stories Without Heart

The Kingdom - One Sheet Two films from last year unfortunately suffer from this dispassionate lack of heart.  The Kingdom , directed by Peter Berg and written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, does a terrific job of presenting the problems and chaos surrounding the investigation of a terrorist attack in present day Saudi Arabia.  And while the kidnapping of Jason Bateman’s character Adam Leavitt and his eventual place in front of the camera as a potential beheading victim certainly elevates one’s anxiety level (I was scared s—-less!), it does little more than that to really suck us into the film on a personal level.  I have no idea who Adam is, what his personal problems are, or why I should really care about him (beyond the fact that I’m a huge Arrested Development fan).

Jamie Foxx — The Kingdom Besides he’s not really the one we’re supposed to be identifying most with anyways—Jamie Foxx’s Ronald Fleury is.  But beyond a little moment with his son in the beginning, we really have no clue as to any personal baggage he may be carrying with him into this story.  This is how you engage an audience’s heart—by presenting them a character with which they can identify with, one they can have empathy for.

Secondly there is no opposing character with which to challenge Fleury’s personal viewpoint.  There is a character at the beginning of the film, the Saudi guard beaten for his apparent connection with the crime, who would have fit perfectly into this role.  Yet for all the time spent setting his character up, he disappears for most, if not all of the second act.  As such we are left with a very visceral yet disappointingly frigid connection with this film.

Many point to this film’s subject matter as being the cause of its disappointing box office performance.  While it may be true that it is a subject many are not yet ready to explore, I would advocate this lack of heart as the real reason audiences stayed away.

Sunshine - One Sheet Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (Written by Alex Garland) also suffers from this dilemma.  And I have to say it comes as a huge disappointment to me as I loved the film—really really loved it.  The visuals, the concept, the sound design, the music, all of it was just so perfect…yet there was still this lack of heart I had to contend with.  There is absolutely zero time spent on Cillian Murphy’s Capa.  Zero.  We have no idea who he is, where he came from, or why he makes the decisions he makes.  We know he doesn’t get along with Chris Evan’s Mace, but their argument never moves beyond the purely physical “I don’t like you” stage.

This film would’ve been a masterpiece if we had come to empathize with Capa’s personal baggage; if we had somehow been brought into his story.  Again, I loved the film, but it is not one I’m anxiously wanting to watch again because I know that emotional argument is missing.  If only they had spent as much time developing his character as they did playing that awesome music whenever he jumps into his spacesuit, I wouldn’t have been left as cold as the frigid space he so desperately tried to avoid.

Sunshine - Cillian Murphy

Bringing Heart to a Real Life Situation

Michael Moore’s Sicko might seem like a strange film to examine in this context.  After all it is a documentary and not a straight piece of fiction like The Kingdom or Sunshine (your definition of fiction may vary).  Still, it is a fantastic example of a film that argues both logic and emotion effectively.

Sicko - One Sheet In Sicko director Michael Moore presents us with two arguments.  The first is the argument that the American health care system doesn’t work.  This is the headline or objective story behind Sicko and the part of the film that provides the fodder for many a political argument .  Moore, of course, has his own viewpoint and in a systematic and step-by-step manner argues the case for free universal health care.

The second argument, and the one that makes this piece so effective, is his argument that we’re not taking care of each other.  This becomes less easy to argue against.  Notice the use of the word we .  In the Dramatica theory of story this is precisely the point of view one takes when examining the Subjective Story Throughline of a film.  Contrast this with the impersonal They perspective that is used when looking at the Objective Story; as an audience member we are more emotionally attached to the former.

Sicko - Laughing Patients Consider how weak this documentary would have been without this emotional argument.  Sure, we would’ve felt sympathy for the guy who had to choose which finger he wanted re-attached.  And true, we still would’ve laughed at the confused expressions on the faces of Canadian and British patients when faced with the question of how much their hospital stay cost (If you haven’t seen it, the answer is zero).  But we would not have cared so much if he hadn’t presented us with this argument of me vs. we.

Notice the pull on your heart when he asks, “When did we stop taking care of each other?”

It’s a wonderful piece of propaganda to place us, the audience, at the center of the story.  Each of us individually becomes the Main Character of the piece.  At times, Moore assumes our position and asks questions that we might ask, but for the most part we are the central character of the film.  Whereas we sorely missed the personal baggage present in Cillian Murphy or Jamie Foxx, we all came to Sicko charged with our own baggage connected to the idea of universal health care.

In a future article I’ll go into more detail on how effective this documentary is from a structural standpoint, but for now it’s enough to recognize the presence of both heartline and headline.

Appeal to Both, Appeal to All

At first glance it might be an relatively easy concept to understand—stories must be argued both to the heart and to the mind.  Unfortunately it more often than not is a concept that is drowned in the excitement that surrounds creating a motion picture.  I’m sure this is what happened with Sunshine ; so much attention was spent on creating the reality of a world suffering from a dying sun that they forgot to give the audience an emotional touch point.  And the same with The Kingdom ; there is so little we know about that corner of the world that the fascination with the unknown overcomes the emotional needs of an audience.

The most effective way to reach an audience is to provide them with both.  Give them the logistics while also capturing their hearts with a fulfilling emotional argument.  And while not every writer may be seeking to persuade an audience in the same fashion as a Michael Moore, I can guarantee you that many opposed to free universal health care had their minds changed by his film.

Regardless of what kind of story you are writing, there is still something you are trying to say, something you want to communicate—an argument you are trying to make.

Why not make it the best?


Every Character Should Have An Arc  

But not every character should necessarily change. This runs contrary to the prevailing wisdom in modern storytelling. From screenwriting gurus to studio executives, a successful screenplay is thought to be one in which the principal characters in a story undergo significant change. But is that really true? Must every character grow in such a way that they see the world through different eyes? Partly yes, and partly no.

My first stab at putting into words the difference between growth and change came with my article, Character Arc is Not All About Change. Looking back it’s clear that my original post was a bit light and maybe a tad belligerent in its execution (it was supposed to be slightly humorous - sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t!). The reason why I’m taking another crack at it here is because that difference between the two clouded my judgment during a recent analysis.

An arc, as understood and accepted by most in the industry, represents a significant change to a character’s way of being. Compare the way they are at the end of the film to the way they are at the beginning—if they’re a different person then they have “arced”. If they aren’t, then you’ve got a problem with your story. This is where conventional understanding of a character arcing falls short.

Powerful stories exist with characters who don’t follow this model of growth.

My understanding of story now is that you can split this concept of “arc-ing” into two separate items: resolve and growth. The idea being that you can have growth in a character while at the same time they maintain their resolve. Characters like this dig their heels in and bolster their courage in order to “stick to their guns.” There is no significant perspective change in this kind of character, but there is movement. In this way, you can have growth without significant change. Conversely you can have so much growth in a character that they ultimately throw away their cherished beliefs and resolve to see the world in a different light. This would be the commonly accepted use of the term “arc.”

Deciphering between these two is not always as cut and dried as the above explanation. Especially if you come into contact with a wonderfully rich story.

Recently I had the extreme pleasure of finally seeing the Sony Pictures Animation film, Surf’s Up. For various reasons I had avoided it—the primary one being the fact that I was completely burnt out on penguin films at the time of its release. From afar I always appreciated the great sense of character design and knew of course, that the film was in good hands (both directors were teachers of mine during my CalArts days). But little did I know how wonderful the story would turn out to be. Looking beyond all the the witty, sincerely charming character moments (any scene with Tank in it, the smashed sea urchin, etc.), one can find honest character development that is both meaningful and fulfilling.

When referring to characters arcing, it’s important to realize that we are really only talking about the two principal characters in a story. These should be the only two who experience significant emotional growth. The rest of the characters in the story need to remain static emotionally as they provide the logistical backdrop for these two to develop against. If other characters grow significantly, it’s safe to say that there is probably more than one story going on. Unfortunately, multiple stories in a single piece, especially within the confines of a 2-hour film, often result in incomplete and meaningless stories.

Thankfully this wasn’t a problem in Surf’s Up .

Without a doubt, the easiest part of this story to identify was the Main Character. If there is any character we are to empathize most with, the character through which we experience the story’s events, it would have to be Cody Maverick. From the very beginning we get a sense of what it is like to be in Cody’s world. Here we have the classic penguin-out-of-water story: a penguin with aspirations of surfing finds himself stuck in the doldrums of a cold and bitter Antarctica. Voiced with charming sincerity by Shia LeBeouf, Cody rebuffs the scorn of his older brother and other penguins as he dreams of surfing in a championship like his hero, Big Z.

The other principal character in the story, the one with which Cody will share a deep and meaningful relationship with, is also easy to identify. Although there are moments when his role as that special character is handed off to Lani (the “love interest” voiced by Zooey Deschanel), Big Z (Jeff Bridges) represents the character who has an alternate way of seeing things to Cody. The function of this character is to impact and influence the Main Character to grow in such a way that their personal viewpoint is challenged. Big Z fits that role perfectly.

But just exactly what kind of growth occurs is the most interesting part.

In any complete story one of the principal characters will undergo a significant change in the way they see the world, the other won’t. This is not to say that the one that remains true to themselves won’t undergo some degree of growth. Characters, like the people they’re often based on, must grow if there is to be any honesty in their portrayal. Stagnancy is death. But growth in a character is seen here separately from a complete change of heart. As defined earlier, one can grow in their resolve to stay devoted to the way they see the world.

So it was with this knowledge that I confidently approached my initial analysis of Surf’s Up .

At first, it was clear to me who changed and who remained steadfast. At the beginning of the film Cody is so excited about surfing that he tends to over-control everything. Cody was the kind of surfer who would force his way over any wave. He meets Big Z and as their relationship develops, Cody learns to stop trying to master every wave that comes his way. His climactic moment occurs during that wonderful point-of-view shot during the final race. Ignoring the voices of disapproval in his head, Cody focuses on simply riding the wave - just like Big Z taught him. Consequently, he rides the wave out to great applause. By learning to subvert his controlling tendencies, Cody overcomes his own personal problems.

Pretty cut and dried - Cody was the one who changed. Sounds right, doesn’t it?

Not exactly. Not if you look deeper into what is really happening.

As that climactic wave builds in force and Cody begins to breathe harder and harder, voices from his past start voicing their disapproval, threatening to dissuade his resolve. And therein lies the key to what is really happening internally to Cody, and additionally the source of my initial error in analysis. Those voices were challenging his resolve - his initial drive to surf like a champion. Had he given up then yes, he would’ve been a change character. But he didn’t. Instead, he had learned a new technique to better hold on to that resolve. His perspective, his unique point-of-view that winners always “find a way” remained the same.

Contrast this with another famous Main Character who learned to “let go.” When Luke Skywalker turned off his targeting computer in the original Star Wars , he was seeing the world in a completely different light. From the very beginning, Luke was always testing himself and his abilities against others—Biggs (in the original screenplay), the Sandpeople (“Let’s check it out”), and even Han (“I’m not such a bad pilot myself”). It’s only when he finally lets go and trusts in something outside of himself that he ultimately finds the outcome he had always been searching for.

But unlike the stories of Luke and others with Main Characters who have undergone the same sort of “letting go” process (Steve Martin’s Gil Buckman in Parenthood comes to mind. That film ends with a very visual representation of his character learning to “ride the rollercoaster” that is parenthood), Surf’s Up still had more story to tell. That key moment with Cody on the surfboard was not the penultimate emotional moment that every story works towards. If you watch the film, note how different that scene is when compared to the one with Luke in the trench. The latter is rich with resolution, the former still feels like there is more left to say.

I sensed this when I was first watching the film, but figured I was just out-of-practice when it came to analysis. Turns out I was, just not in the way that I had thought!

Big Z starts out the story alone - a recluse who would much rather live in isolation than live as a loser. Faced with an apparent loss to Tank, Big Z went against everything he stood for, and quit. Faking his own death, he determined, was the only acceptable option when confronted with the ultimate shame of being called a loser.

But then Cody comes into his life.

And through this relationship with that young idealist, Big Z discovers that there can be salvation in losing. During the climax of the story, Cody throws the race in order to help out his friend, Chicken Joe (Jon Heder). The moment Cody has worked so hard and so long for is quickly tossed aside for something he believes even more strongly in: standing up for his friends. Cody sets the example of a true winner by losing—a meaningful gesture that unfortunately results in him surfing into deadly rock-filled waters.

Big Z has no other choice than to risk exposure. Going against everything he stood for at the beginning of the story, Z heads out to save Cody from certain death. He has no idea how he’ll be received by the other penguins, but at that point he doesn’t care.

This is a significant emotional change in Big Z’s internal nature and represents a huge fundamental paradigm shift in the way he approaches the world. It’s no longer about winning or losing for Z, it’s how he plays the game. It’s the kind of emotional change that I had anticipated when Cody took that big wave, the kind that makes a story feel complete and meaningful. While Cody certainly grew emotionally, it was Big Z’s growth into change that was at the heart of this story.

Cody brought Z out of his shell and forced him to confront the lifestyle he had chosen for himself. No matter what obstacles were thrown Cody’s way he always kept steadfastly true to those words he had heard when he was a little kid, “A winner always finds a way.” Words that Z once believed himself, but had forgotten in an effort to hide from certain shame. Cody takes every opportunity, whether consciously or not, to remind Z of his own inspirational words. Eventually he was transformed by them.

Every great story shares this dynamic: Two characters come into contact and influence each other in such a way that one’s worldview is significantly changed. Why don’t both change? Because you measure the change in one by the steadfastness of the second. If both change then audience members will have no reference point from which to meaningfully measure that amount of change. It’s like trying to measure the distance between two moving cars with a rubber band —you have to keep one constant for the measurment to be meaningful!

There is a difference between growth and growth into change. By all means you want your principal characters to grow, to “arc,” but you also want to clarify precisely what kind of growth is occurring. Take your two principal characters and compare the way they are at the end of the story with the way they were at the beginning.

One will seem to behave completely different. Their former self will seem almost alien to them, as they now see the world through different eyes.

The other will behave the same whether we find them at the beginning, middle or end. The subtle difference is that now, at the end, their behavior will be a more informed one. They will have learned something, perhaps better coping skills or new techniques, but ultimately they will be going about things the same way. This is what it means to grow into one’s resolve; to grow but to remain dedicated to one’s worldview.

Cody grows. Big Z grows into change. And it is Big Z’s throughline that gives this story the fundamental paradigm shift it requires to be meaningful. While Cody grew internally, he remained steadfast in his belief that a winner always finds a way.

And in doing so, he helped Big Z find his.


The Importance of the Story Limit

AStory Limit is one of the most important things you can put into yourstory. Whether it be a Timelock or an Optionlock, a writer must let theaudience know when the story will be over; to leave this out istantamount to lying to your audience. And while it is important to pickone of these and stick to it, it turns out that there are some storiesthat are a bit more nebulous when it comes to defining how theirendings will come about. I've written more than one post about theimportance of a Story Limit. Why is that? More often than not, when astory doesn't work it's because there is no limit or the limit is notclearly defined or worse -- the limit is broken. Quick recap:Meaningful stories are arguments; successful arguments are made withina set amount of borders. They have clearly defined endings that helpone decide the value of such arguments.

However, while it is important to clue the audience in to when the story might end, it turns out that there are some stories that can go either way.

Take for instance the wonderfully acted and confidently written, The Queen . For those unfamiliar with it, the film centers around the tragic events of Princess Diana's death and the response, or lack thereof, from the Royal Family. Recently elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) believes the Royal Family should break tradition and respond in a way that shows the rest of their country that they actually care; Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) and those who surround her believe a more "reasonable" response is required.

In the end, the Queen decides to give her subjects what they want and makes an unprecedented appearance at the makeshift mourning taking place in front of Buckingham Palace. But what exactly brings about this climax?

While watching the movie I had the distinct feeling that there was a Timelock placed upon the Objective Story. Progress in the story is marked by days of the week; a title card appears every now and then, announcing the days of the week as they pass. It was my feeling that these cards were put there to emphasize what little time the Royal Family had to react. Princess Diana's funeral was to occur the following Saturday and the closer they got to that deadline the greater the tension placed on the Royal Family and specifically Queen Elizabeth to engage in some kind of public reaction.


An interesting thing happens with a story that has a Timelock on it -- as time runs out, the characters in the story will feel like they are running out of options. At first this may sound like I'm just muddling the two concepts together but if you put yourself in place of a character in a story, or if you've had an important deadline recently, you can see how as the minutes tick away you'll feel like you're running out of things you can do in that set amount of time. This is the kind of pressure a Timelock puts on characters.

Conversely, a story with an Optionlock on it will have the characters feeling like they are running out of time. If you're at the mall and you've got to find a present in one of those stores, the more stores you go through empty-handed the more you'll feel like you're running out of time.

Understanding this, I believed the Story Limit for The Queen was a Timelock. The Royal Family was aware that they were running out of options as Princess Diana's funeral grew closer and closer. Surely, they must provide some sort of response before that deadline.

That being said, there was another way of looking at the Story Limit.


You can also see the Story Limit in The Queen as an Optionlock. How? Well, the crisis at hand is much more than simply dealing with Diana's family. The story starts with the election of Tony Blair -- that's when problems really begin for the Royal Family. The central problem in the story is now How are they going to survive in this new progressive environment? The limited options they have towards dealing with that (meeting with the new Prime Minister, responding to Diana's death, etc.) are, in fact, the narrowing options of the Optionlock.

The days of the week that I thought were indicative of a Timelock were really simply indications of how the pressure was mounting against them. Instead of seeing the "Wednesday" title card and thinking, "Oh, wow, they only have 3 days left to react," the Royal Family in fact was thinking "Wow, it's been 3 days since we've done something to show our support. We're taking too long (feeling Time slip away) to respond."

It is a subtle difference but a difference nevertheless.


It was so subtle that during our initial analysis I wondered if perhaps this would be one of those stories where it didn't matter whether it was a Timelock or an Optionlock - that the meaning of the story would essentially stay the same.

When you use the Dramatica software to create a story you are first presented with over 32,000 possible stories. As you answer the basic 12 questions those possible stories are narrowed down until you finally reach the one unique storyform that you are looking for. The storyform is the DNA of your story; it contains all the information necessary to create a satisfying and fulfilling story.

When answering these questions, it is a good idea to leave blank any that you are uncertain of. Often, by virtue of your selections, those blanks will be filled in by the software. This is the voodoo or magic behind Dramatica that makes it so powerful ((Trust me. It works.)).

This is what we did with our analysis of The Queen . We left the Story Limit question blank and answered all the others. Guess what we discovered?

The Story Limit was still open to interpretation! See where it says only 2 storyforms remaining? One will have a Timelock, the other and Optionlock. Some stories will require a certain limit to be put in place; this one apparently didn't.

Just to be sure we also checked the Plot Progression screen for this particular storyform. The Plot Progression scene is where you can view the different items that will be explored in each Act and in which order they should appear. If there would be any effect on the story due to the Limit, it would be there.

Looks like the Act Order has already been filled in for us which means...the Story Limit will have little to no effect on the basic meaning of the story. If you were writing your own story it would be important to know what it is and to reveal it to your audience; but for the purposes of analysis the Story Limit has no effect on the essential meaning of the story behind The Queen.


The storyform is a very unique way of looking at and interpreting a story. But every story is not created equal. Some absolutely require a tragic ending while others insist that the Main Character remain Steadfast in her resolve. Some maintain that the plot must be driven by actions while others state that the Main Character must solve his problems linearly. The important thing to take away is that every storyform is unique in its own fashion and therefore every story will emphasize certain parts over others.

In The Queen , the Story Limit was not emphasized as it was not essential towards the meaning of the story. Sure on the micro level there might be some miniscule difference, but in the grander sense of things (which is really all that matters in a screenplay or a movie) the limit turned out to be not all that important. It's why I sensed or felt that the story was limited by Time while others saw it limited by Options. Even though I fully accept the argument for an Optionlock now, at the time I really felt that both interpretations were valid.

Whether limited by Time or limited by Options, the structural and dynamic meaning behind a story like The Queen would essentially stay the same. While I still maintain that every story should have a Limit and that Limit should stay consistent throughout, it is clear to see that not all stories rely so heavily on this concept in order to provide a meaningful experience to the audience.


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