forewarnings or costs?

by Becky

Question: Thanks so much for all the valuable information on this site. I'm loving every minute I spend here, but as I try to plan out my novel using the 8 steps, I find myself a bit confused when it comes to distinguishing between forewarnings and costs. Can they sometimes overlap? For example, if lack of money threatens the success of the goal, it seems it would be a forewarning, but if the lack is caused by the protagonist previously using up his money to reach the goal, then it sounds like it would be a cost. Perhaps an example involving something other than money would be better. How about a situation where threatening notes put the protagonist in the position of having to decide whether to continue to pursue the goal? The goal is in jeopardy because of the cost, so does it fall into the forewarning or cost category? Or, can it do double duty? I hope I've explained my dilemma well enough for you to understand what I'm struggling with. Thanks again for making all this wonderful teaching available to those of us who desperately need it! :)

Answer: To review:

Costs are incidental hardships that test the hero's resolve.

Requirements are things that must happen for the Goal to be achieved.

Forewarnings are signs that the Consequence is approaching.

Sometimes you have to look at the feeling generated to tell the difference between the elements.

For instance, the need to obtain some cash might be a Requirement which the hero must meet in order to achieve the Goal. On the other hand, if paying a load of cash was not strictly a Requirement, but is incurred tangentially in the course of pursuing the goal and represents a sacrifice to the hero (for instance, if it was money he was saving towards a dream) then it would be a Cost.

Incidentally, being threatened is a rather weak cost. A stronger choice would be
for the hero to have his tires slashed, or his assets frozen, or his girlfriend leave him so that he must experience genuine suffering and still keep going.

Remember that Forewarnings are the opposite of Requirements. Just as Requirements are a list of things that must be accomplished for the Goal to be achieved, Forewarnings are things that show the Consequence is drawing closer or stages in its approach. The relationship between Forewarnings and Consequences is similar to the relationship between Requirements and Goal.

For instance, if the Consequence is that the ship sinks, a Forewarning might be that the lookout never receives the binoculars he needs, or that the steel used to build the ship was substituted for an inferior grade, or the wireless breaks down so the Captain doesn't get the weather warning, or that a huge iceberg appears in the ship's path. In other words, with each Forewarning the Consequence draws nearer.

A Cost in that scenario might be that the hero gets punished for insisting the ship is in danger. This would not be a Forewarning, because it doesn't bring the Consequence any closer, but it would test the hero's resolve.

It's almost always a mistake to let one illustration do double duty (represent two elements). Drama comes from an arrangement of distinct and different elements, sometimes opposing, sometimes complimentary, and sometimes acting as catalysts for each other. Double duty flattens these differences and makes the story emotionally flatter too. If you illustrate each element separately, you'll find the story becomes more interesting.

The Goal should never be threatened by the Cost. If the Requirements are met, the Goal will be achieved, regardless what Costs are inflicted along the way.

For instance, if there are three steps required to diffuse the bomb, the fact that the hero must burn his fingers getting the cover off may be a Cost, but it's not a Forewarning. The Forewarning is the progressing countdown.

Hope that helps.

Comments for forewarnings or costs?

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Oct 27, 2017
Incidental vs. Conscious Costs
by: Anonymous

Great question, great answer! I wonder, though, are Costs stronger when they are a choice the protagonist consciously makes, rather than an indirect result of a different choice?

Oct 29, 2017
re: Costs
by: Glen

I think it's safe to say that costs are effective if the characters keep going in spite of them.

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