Does a status-quo Consequence need to be averted?

by Mike

I am going through your 8-Step Plot Outline exercise, and I think my Consequence is the type that is in effect when the story opens. (I'm outlining the first book in a fantasy series in which the common people are being oppressed through the systematic control of magic by the ruling class.)

Story Goal: protagonist wants to escape capture & execution so she can learn to control her magic.

Consequence: only the protagonist has the power to oppose the oppressors; if she is caught or killed, the kingdom will continue in its oppressive system, and eventually crumble.

The only thing I'm concerned about is that the protagonist's achievement of the Story Goal does not actually avert or overturn the Consequence. Failing the Goal causes the consequence, but succeeding doesn't immediately prevent/overturn it. It's more like the Goal is just a stepping stone on the way to overturning it. I *think* this is okay because it's the first book; the Story Goal for the entire series will be to overturn the oppression.

Or would it be better to focus on a separate Consequence that can actually be averted in the first book, even if averting that disaster is only a temporary reprieve from tyranny (like in Star Wars: A New Hope)?

Answer: When you are writing a series, you have a double challenge.

On the one hand, you want to make the first book a complete and satisfying story in itself. That means giving it a Goal, Consequence, and all the other elements that make a complete story.

On the other hand, you want this book to be the first act of a much bigger story that will span the entire series. The bigger story will have its own Goal, Consequence, etc.

Two stories = two synopses = two sets of elements.

I think your confusion stems from having chosen a Goal that relates only to the first book and a Consequence that relates to the series as a whole. Thus, you're mixing up the two stories.

If you just want to worry about the first book, you might look at it this way...

Goal: To learn to control her magic

Consequence: Being executed.

I.e. She must learn to control her magic in order to avoid execution. (Perhaps magic helps her escape?)

(You would have to explain why she is threatened with execution. Does her uncontrolled magic get her into trouble?)

Or you could choose a different Goal and Consequence, as long as the Consequence would be the result of
failing to achieve the Goal.

In terms of the series...

It sounds like this story is a shift in power from the ruling class to common individuals, and this this will be brought about by a hero who is powerful enough to overthrow the ruling class. In that respect it is a bit like Star Wars or The Matrix, both of which are about a hero who frees his people from an enemy determined to enslave them. (The difference is that in Star Wars the people are not yet enslaved (the Consequence is not yet in effect), whereas in The Matrix the people are almost all enslaved when the story begins.)

So the Goal of your series as a whole may be to win freedom for the people. The Consequence would be for the society to crumble under the weight of oppression. (You might include some forewarnings in the first book that this is already starting to happen.)

My suggestion is that you work out the series synopsis and the first book's synopsis separately.

As long as the first book of your series shows the emergence of a new hero, you are free to choose whatever Goal and Consequence you like for it.

However, if the series as a whole is about winning freedom, Dramatica does offer a little more help

If the series goal is to win freedom (which is an external change), then the Goal of the first act (book one) would normally be one of the following four possibilities...

1. Obtaining: this might be about obtaining a weapon, as in The Matrix, or depriving the enemy of a weapon, as in Lord of the Rings.

2. Doing: as in Star Wars, this might be about stopping or interfering with the enemy's plans, or doing something that weakens the enemy's power.

3. Learning: this might be about getting some information that could change things. For instance, they might discover the enemy's weakness or learn that the ruling class is not all-powerful.

4. Understanding: this might be about appreciating the meaning of something. For instance, understanding how the power structure or the magic system really works so it can be challenged, or understanding how events are lining up to fulfill a prophesy about the enemy's defeat.

Whichever of these options you choose for act one, each of the other three acts in a four-act structure will be about a different one of the four. (In a trilogy, the middle two are combined in one story.)

Hope that helps.

Comments for Does a status-quo Consequence need to be averted?

Click here to add your own comments

it helps immensely, thanks!
by: Mike (Winnipeg)

Thank you for your quick and extremely thoughtful response, Glen -- I printed and read through it several times! It helps immensely. I think my instincts were right that something was off but I didn't have the story-theory background to know how to address it. I love your advice about the 4 Goals for a freedom-winning story/series. I'm also happy that I was already planning some of your suggestions (e.g. forewarnings of the society crumbling), so on track with those.

You've given me a lot to think about in terms of the Book 1 Goal and Consequence. I'll chime back with another comment once I've come to a decision. I can feel the creative wheels turning so hopefully it won't be too long!

You've made me very interested in Dramatica, I may have to order that book. I've held off because I heard it has a steep learning curve; I actually ordered Michael Hauge's Screenplays book instead as it seemed easier for newbie. But I might also have to give your Planning Guide a try!

To Mike
by: Glen

You're right, Dramatica does have a steep learning curve. My aim on this site has been to simplify the presentation of it and make the theory more accessible and helpful to writers.

"Dramatica for Screenwriters" by Armando Saldana-Mora also reduces the learning curve, but only if you have the Dramatica software.

I cannot overemphasize that you should only use the theory as far as it empowers and inspires your writing. Set it aside if and when you feel overwhelmed or anxious about getting everything "right" according to the theory.

checking in and thanks again
by: Mike (Winnipeg)

Hi Glen, just wanted to let you know I have started going through the 8-step plot summary exercise for my series as you suggested. Even though I'm not finished yet, it's proven extremely valuable. Of course I'm having to do it at high level: my thoughts about the events of the next books are necessarily vague at this point, other than a few key scenes / set-pieces. I'm not even sure how many books there will be!

And thinking about the Series as a whole has shifted some of my ideas for Book 1. As an example, I had originally planned for my protagonist/MC* to fulfill her character arc in Book 1 by choosing personal freedom over service to a cause. (It is a hard decision, since she sees the cause is a noble one; but my idea is that personal freedom is a requirement for her "special" magic ability to fully develop.) However, I'm now exploring having her choose the other way, and Book 2 being the ramifications of that.

* I've read enough dramatica to know she fills both roles! :)

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.