Progressive vs. Static Story Elements in Creating an Outline

by Dane Tyler

Question: The last time I asked a question, you explained the difference between progressive plot elements and the static plot elements. To follow up on that question, I'm (still) trying to figure out where each of those elements comes in the process.

I understand the articles in the "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps" only address the static plot elements. I also understand how those things can be placed anywhere in the story to help form a plot outline, and are not dependent on the order in terms of the structure.

I also (think) I understand how the drivers and signposts are the progressive plot elements, which ARE dependent on order and form the chronology of the story. All the first signposts from all the throughlines must appear in Act I, the second signposts in Act II for all throughlines, etc.

Where I'm confused now, I believe, is in how the drivers relate to the signposts and the definitions of the signposts. Whether each signpost is a stand-alone element or whether one signpost can function for multiple throughlines (i.e., the same event is the signpost for more than one throughline) is another question I have.

So, more specifically, at what stage of planning are the drivers determined and placed in the structure? If the drivers were added to your "Create a Plot Outline" series, where would they be added/come into the process?

And further, ANY help understanding the other throughlines (aside from the overall throughline) would be VERY much appreciated.

Thank you for your site, your help, and your patience!

Warm regards,
J. Dane Tyler

Answer: Generally, you should not try to make a signpost (or any other element) do double duty. Each of the signposts for each throughline should be illustrated separately.

However, there are stories in which the signposts can be close together. For instance, you may have a long scene in which several events take place, each of which illustrates the signpost of a different throughline.

For instance, in the film Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back there is a scene which goes something like this...

1. Luke defeats Darth Vader (Relationship Signpost 3).

2. Luke refuses to kill his father and become a Sith Lord (Main Character Signpost 3).

3. Darth Vader kills the Emperor to save Luke (Impact Character Signpost 3).

This is followed by...

The rebels destroy the Death Star (Overall Signpost 3).

Regarding the drivers, there is no set point in the creative process where you determine these, or any other element. The ideas come to you in the order they come, or sometimes in the order in which you ask yourself questions.

Of course, if you have already created a little synopsis using the 8 static elements, you could address the drivers next.

To figure out your drivers, you might ask yourself questions like...

1. How does this story begin? What event sets it all into motion? What needs to happen for there to be a story?

2. After we first meet the characters, what event sends them in a new direction? What gets them involved in pursuing the story goal?

3. What's the next big change in direction - after which there's no turning back?

4. What event brings about the crisis?

5. What is the final event that determines once and for all the outcome of the story - whether or not the goal is achieved?

I've written elsewhere about the four throughlines, but to recap...

The main character throughline concerns the arc of the main character's inner conflict. The four main character signposts are concerned with...

1. What kind of person is the main character at the start of the story? What's his/her way of approaching problems?

2. How is the main character pressured to change?

3. What decision does the main character make at his/her personal crisis? Does he/she change or stay steadfast?

4. Is the main character better or worse off in the end because of the decision he/she made?

The Impact Character throughline shows the arc of the impact character's influence and moves through the following signposts...

1. What kind of person is the impact character at the start of the story? What's his/her approach to problems (it will be different than the main characters's).

2. How does the impact character's influence grow?

3. What's the impact character's personal crisis? How does their influence reach it's peak?

4. Is the impact character better or worse off in the end?

Finally, the relationship throughline moves through these four signposts...

1. What's the relationship between the main and impact character like in the beginning?

2. How does the relationship evolve?

3. How does the relationship experience a peak or crisis?

4. What's the relationship like in the end?

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