Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Chinatown. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

Never one to leave things open-ended, Jake pursues the ‘answer’ to his questions relentlessly.  Even after Evelyn is killed and Noah takes his granddaughter away, Jake’s inclination is to keep on going.

Main Character Growth

Jake is trying to hold out for the inequities in life to end.  This is difficult because he is in a business that focuses on people’s troubles.

Main Character Approach

“Act first, pay the consequences later,” could easily describe Jake’s general approach.  When given a choice, he clearly prefers to solve problems by doing something (e.g. jump the fence near the reservoir, tear the page out of the county land registry, trespass on the land in the San Fernando Valley, slap Evelyn to get the truth, etc.).

Main Character Mental Sex

Jake looks for clues to see where they will lead him.  Though this helps him locate and identify Evelyn’s daughter/Noah’s granddaughter, he misses the big picture (the intermingled relationships) that a person using female mental sex problem solving techniques might have picked up.

Story Driver

Noah’s decision to use Jake to find his granddaughter forces the subsequent actions to take place; Hollis’ decision to oppose Noah leads to the breakup of their friendship and to Hollis’ eventual murder; Evelyn’s decision to trust Jake with the truth leads to her death; etc.

Story Limit

There are only a limited number of clues from which Jake can determine what is going on.

Story Outcome

Jake discovers the identity and location of Noah Cross’ granddaughter.

Story Judgment

Jake remains clueless as to why events turned out so badly for him—“Forget it, Jake.  It’s Chinatown.”

Overall Story Throughline

""Land Grab Conspiracy""

Overall Story Throughline

Many years ago, Noah Cross had relations with his daughter, Evelyn, and got her pregnant.  To protect Evelyn from scandal (and because he was a caring person), Cross’ business pal, Hollis Mulwray, took Evelyn to Mexico where she had her baby.  Hollis eventually married Evelyn.  Now, Hollis and Evelyn are back in Los Angeles where Hollis is the head of the Department of Water and Power.  His interests (and those of the Angelenos) is in direct conflict with Noah Cross’ plans for making lots of money by buying up the San Fernando Valley and then annexing it to L.A. County to get cheap water for irrigation.  The family troubles become intertwined with the business troubles and it is left up to a private investigator to sort the mess out.

Overall Story Concern

Noah Cross, Hollis and Evelyn Mulwray, and the mysterious young girl are all connected by the scandalous, incestuous past; Jake Gittes and the police have a long past together; Jake had past interactions with Chinatown as a detective; etc.

Overall Story Issue

Noah Cross’ predictions of the San Fernando Valley as a gold mine for him are in conflict with Hollis’ (and others) efforts to stop the building of the dam that will make it possible; Jake’s efforts to intercede on Evelyn’s behalf conflict with the predictable, tragic end that past events foreshadow; etc.

Overall Story Counterpoint

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Interdiction vs.Prediction

Overall Story Problem

Noah’s desire for his daughter led to her getting pregnant by him which estranged his business buddy, Hollis; Jake and Evelyn’s desire for each other creates conflict of interest troubles for them; Noah’s desire for more wealth (it’s certainly not needed because he already has more than he knows what to do with) drives the entire water/land grab conflict; etc.

Overall Story Solution

Jake’s abilities as a private investigator allow him to find and properly identify the “mysterious girl”; Noah’s money buys all the people with abilities that he needs to get custody of his granddaughter—including the police; etc.

Overall Story Symptom

While the source of the real troubles in “Chinatown” are familial, most all of the characters’ attentions are drawn to the shady dealings surrounding what is going on in the San Fernando Valley concerning water.

Overall Story Response

Hollis, aware that something is going on, tries to identify the wrongdoings in an effort to set the course straight; as a private investigator hired under false pretenses, Jake tries to find out the truth and set things right; the police (with a few exceptions) try to uphold the law by bringing the bad guys to justice; etc.

Overall Story Catalyst

Jake is destined to repeat his past errors, and his struggles to avoid that destiny push the investigation forward at a faster pace; Noah’s convictions that it is his granddaughter’s inevitable path to live with him drives the man to take more aggressive actions which eventually exposes his illegal dealings; etc.

Overall Story Inhibitor

Misinterpretations constantly slow the progress of the investigation: Jake’s inaccurate assessment of the first “Mrs. Mulwray”; the farmers in the San Fernando Valley think Jake is one of Noah’s men that has been harassing them and almost kill Jake (which slows him down); the misinterpretation of what the salt water in Hollis’ lungs means; and most importantly, the misinterpretation of the Mulwray’s gardener’s comment, “Bad for glass,” which really meant, “Bad for GRASS.”  Had the gardener’s comment been properly interpreted, the investigation would have moved along at a much greater pace.

Overall Story Benchmark

The future of the San Fernando Valley and the future of the “mysterious girl” are the two standards by which progress is measured in the objective story throughline in “Chinatown.”

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

A rich man, Noah Cross, hires a private investigator, Jake Gittes, to get compromising pictures of his son-in-law Hollis Mulwray (who was a former friend and business ally and is now a business opponent) with his granddaughter.  The pictures are leaked to the press with the intention of creating a scandal for Mulwray and thus diminish his potential for thwarting Cross’ dubious land dealings.  Things go sour.  Mulwray is murdered.  It’s up to the private investigator to find out what went wrong and why.

Main Character Throughline

Jake — Private Investigator

Main Character Throughline

Jake is an investigator—he investigates.  It is just this kind of activity that leads him into hot water.

Main Character Concern

Jake wants to understand how everything fits together: why he was set up; what is going on with the water in L.A. County; why Hollis Mulwray was murdered; what the relationships are between Hollis, Evelyn, Noah Cross, and the mysterious girl; and most importantly to him, why bad things happen even when everything possible is done to prevent them from happening.  He never gets his understanding in this story.  All he is left with is a recommendation to ignore his ignorance, “Forget it, Jake.  It’s Chinatown.”

Main Character Issue

Jake’s personal truths are drawn from the conflicts he finds between what he sees in the world around him, and what it all means.  He is sensitive to flaws and imperfections (Evelyn’s eye, for example), but frequently assigns meaning to these objects where no meaning exists.  This consistently sets him up for disappointment and failure.

Main Character Counterpoint

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Interpretation vs.Senses

Main Character Problem

Jake tries to make sense from the senseless which always gets him into trouble.  In his past, he tried to save a woman which contributed to her death.  His job as a private investigator is motivated by a need to create order (and understanding) in situations that are naturally chaotic (family troubles, missing persons, etc.).

Main Character Solution

If Jake was willing to identify (and accept) the clearly defined social/political/financial organizations that exist in his world, he would be able to recognize that corruption and inequities come part and parcel with them and could then learn how to work successfully within the system.  Instead, Jake refuses to see patterns in the way society is set up and ultimately fails to resolve his personal issues.

Main Character Symptom

Jake’s attention is focused on how unfair life can be.  He tries to help those people to whom life has not given a fair break.  Jake has little tolerance for privileged people like Noah Cross and Evelyn Mulwray.

Main Character Response

As a private investigator, Jake tries to right the wrongs that go on or are done to people.

Main Character Unique Ability

Jake has a lot of experience investigating crime and crimes of passion in Los Angeles.  When his instincts tell him that he is in serious peril and that he should stop pursuing, his conditioning keeps him calm and hot on the trail of the case.  This eventually leads him to setting up Evelyn and her daughter which was Noah’s goal from the beginning.  Jake’s conditioning, however, also makes Jake be as straight as possible with the police (except for the sin of omission), which ultimately leads to his own personal failure.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Jake’s attempts to intercede on other people’s behalf consistently undermines his efforts.  Trying to help the “fake” Mrs. Mulwray ends up creating a scandal and almost gets him sued by the real Evelyn Mulwray; trying to intercede on Evelyn’s escape by calling in the police to protect her gets her killed; and even the “ghost” (woman) in Jake’s past died as the result of his attempts to intercede on her part.  In each case, Jake’s efforts to prevent the inevitable caused the inevitable to happen.

Main Character Benchmark

The more evidence Jake collects, the greater we see his concern for understanding what is truly going on.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

Jake is a former cop who retired early and started his own detective agency.  He is fairly successful and is in it because he wants to do ‘good.’

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

Jake Gittes, a former member of the L.A.P.D., is a relatively successful private investigator.  He sees injustices, great and small, all around him and he feels it is his duty to do what he can to bring a little balance back into the world.  The world is a mystery to him, however, a mystery that he feels compelled to try and understand.

Influence Character Throughline

Evelyn Mulwray — Suspect

Influence Character Throughline

Evelyn’s primary modus operandi is through manipulation.  She “play acts” the role of the cool sophisticate ignorant of any reasons why her husband might have been murdered, while deep down she is a desperate mother trying to protect her child from the clutches of Noah.

Influence Character Concern

Evelyn knows that she must get Catherine (her daughter) away from Noah, but she doesn’t know how.  Evelyn’s chief concern is to formulate a plan that would keep them safely away from Noah while still being able to provide for food and shelter.  This becomes increasingly difficult after her husband is murdered (by Noah) and Evelyn becomes a prime suspect.

Influence Character Issue

Evelyn’s station in life as an aristocrat, and the moral superiority that is associated with that social class, is in direct conflict with the scandalous immorality of her dark secret (incest).

Influence Character Counterpoint

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Circumstances vs.Situation

Influence Character Problem

Desire for her father got Evelyn pregnant and ostracized to years in Mexico.  Desire for Jake destroys her plans to save her daughter from Noah.  Desire for her daughter’s safety drives Evelyn to attempt to escape from the police which gets Evelyn killed.

Influence Character Solution

If Evelyn was given the ability to provide for her daughter on her own, she would be able to escape her father’s reach and live a life free of fear.  Unfortunately, Evelyn never looks to her own abilities to provide for her daughter and eventually fails.

Influence Character Symptom

Evelyn initially refuses to speculate as to who or why someone would want to impersonate her and create a scandal for her husband.  When her husband is murdered, there are many speculations made about Evelyn’s possible involvement and what her motivations might have been.  Her lack of effort in dispelling these speculations ends up drawing Jake further into the mystery, casts greater doubts on her character, and makes it difficult for her to carry on with her secret plans for escape from Noah.  Additionally, Evelyn’s lack of speculation as to the extent Noah might be willing to get his granddaughter back sets her up for an eventual downfall.

Influence Character Response

As a suspect in her husband’s murder, Evelyn anticipates how the investigation might prevent her secret plans to disappear with her daughter.  She hires Jake to find the murderer which should, from her point of view, take the heat off of her (she IS innocent of THAT crime) and create a diversion sufficient to hide her exit.

Sense of Self
Influence Character Unique Ability

Though Evelyn acts superior and she is quite attractive, she actually has a very low self-esteem, primarily due to her incestuous activities in her past.  This poor sense-of-self is just the type of thing for which Jake is a sucker.  He’s a rescuer and she’s in need of being rescued.  It is this quality that makes Evelyn uniquely able to impact Jake.

Influence Character Critical Flaw

Evelyn’s efforts to save her daughter from Noah and social ridicule are completely undermined when she comes under suspicion of murder.  Additionally, her impact on Jake is impaired by her suspicious behavior and his suspicions that she isn’t being completely honest with him.

Influence Character Benchmark

Evelyn starts out as a cool, controlled, sophisticated woman of means and becomes an increasingly shaken, fearful, desperate mother as the story progresses.  This change in her persona is directly tied to her failing efforts to conceptualize a viable escape with her daughter.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

A wealthy, sophisticated woman.  She is the wife of Hollis Mulwray and the daughter of Noah Cross.  Her deep, dark secret is that she had sex with her father which resulted in pregnancy.

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

Evelyn is desperately trying to get her sister/daughter away from the clutches of Noah.  Because of the time in which this story is set and the scandal it would create, however, it is imperative that nobody find out the true identity of the “mysterious woman” (her sister/daughter).

Relationship Story Throughline

""Jake Investigates Evelyn""

Relationship Story Throughline

The general area of conflict between Jake and Evelyn comes from the difference between Evelyn’s firm belief that she has been wronged (by Jake and Noah) but is otherwise innocent, and Jake’s belief that people like Evelyn are always guilty of something.

Relationship Story Concern

Jake and Evelyn come into conflict over Evelyn’s recollections of the events that transpired around the time of her husband’s death, and later about her recollections of the intermingled relationships between Hollis, Noah, and herself.

Relationship Story Issue

Though Jake collects evidence that indicates Evelyn’s innocence in her husband’s death, he becomes increasingly suspicious of her motives and alibis.  All evidence indicates she is a good person, but there is something very suspicious about her behavior that hints at some sort of duplicity.

Relationship Story Counterpoint

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Suspicion vs.Evidence

Relationship Story Problem

Speculations made about Jake and Evelyn’s relationship creates friction between them—even before any relationship exists.  From the introduction of the “fake” Mrs. Mulwray, to the introduction of the real Mrs. Mulwray (“Do you know this woman?” “No.”), clear through to the famous “Sister…daughter” slapping scene, the conjecturing about their relationship causes tremendous friction between Jake and Evelyn.

Relationship Story Solution

If at any time Jake or Evelyn extrapolated where their relationship would likely lead (meaning probably nowhere beneficial), they would have been able to call it quits and live to tell.

Relationship Story Symptom

Jake and Evelyn believe their problems grow from the disparity in their social and financial backgrounds: he’s middle class, she’s upper class; he’s crude, she’s sophisticated; he’s new money, she’s old money; etc.

Relationship Story Response

Jake and Evelyn work to create parity between them to develop their relationship.

Relationship Story Catalyst

Lies and deceptions draw Jake and Evelyn tighter together: their introduction was the result of the “fake” Mrs. Mulwray’s claims and actions; Jake and Evelyn begin working together when Evelyn lies to the police and tells them that Jake is in her employ; Evelyn’s attempts to dodge Jake’s investigation of HER involvement in her husband’s murder draws the two of them together resulting in romantic entanglements; Evelyn’s attempts to mislead Jake as to the identity of the “mysterious girl” and, more importantly, Evelyn’s “relations” with her own father, move the relationship irrevocably to its doomed end.

Relationship Story Inhibitor

Evelyn’s recent bereavement (and change of marital status) reduce friction between she and Jake.  Under those circumstances, Jake is a little more willing to cut Evelyn some slack.

Relationship Story Benchmark

The degree to which Jake and Evelyn succumb to their basic drives and desires (libido) indicates the growth in their unfortunate relationship.

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

Jake, a man looking for answers, and Evelyn, a woman with secrets, become romantically involved against both of their better judgment.

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

There is one event from the past that ties Noah, Hollis, Evelyn, and Catherine together that explains the current situation.

Overall Story Consequence

Should Evelyn successfully escape with her daughter, Noah will be left only with the painful memories of his estrangement from his daughter and the shameful incest that produced Catherine.

Overall Story Cost
Overall Story Dividend
Overall Story Requirements

In order for the relationships between Noah, Hollis, Evelyn, and the mysterious girl to be discovered, the investigation must uncover the plans for the future of the San Fernando Valley annexation.

Overall Story Prerequisites

Jake must discover why Hollis is so driven to oppose the building of the dam; Noah uses Jake’s drive to right apparent wrongs to get the pictures of Hollis with Catherine; the “Love Nest” scandal is created to divert attention from Noah’s real motivation to kill Hollis; etc.

Overall Story Preconditions

IN NOAH’S EYES:  Noah must become “grandfatherly” and protective of his granddaughter;  Evelyn must become “dead” to him—metaphorically (“I’ve lost her”) if not literally; Hollis must become literally dead; Jake must become irrelevant; etc.

Overall Story Forewarnings

Noah is buying up all of the land in the San Fernando Valley.  This is being done quietly, and illegally.  Jake, however, slowly picks up clues as to the goings-on and should he blow the whistle on the land deal and the identity of Noah’s granddaughter too early, Noah might not get either.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1
Overall Story Signpost 2
Overall Story Signpost 3
Overall Story Signpost 4

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1
Main Character Signpost 2
Main Character Signpost 3
Main Character Signpost 4

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1
Influence Character Signpost 2
Influence Character Signpost 3
Influence Character Signpost 4

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1
Relationship Story Signpost 2
Relationship Story Signpost 3
Relationship Story Signpost 4

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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