The Terminator

by KE Monahan Huntley

"I'll be back." The "Ahnuld's" ominous warning and forbidding persona in James Cameron's The Terminator makes it one of the most memorable sci-fi pictures in our pop culture consciousness. Its staying power, from a Dramatica standpoint, can be attributed to a solid underlying story structure.

The backstory, set in the future, is introduced up front. It describes the objective story's problematic activities (physics domain) that are carried out into the present:

"The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate [hu]mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight."

"I think there is someone after me!" Main character Sarah Connor is pursued (mc problem) by a futuristic cyborg-the terminator. She is the woman it (antagonist) is fixated upon (mc domain-mind)--the woman it must eliminate. Letting its fingers do the walking through the telephone book, the machine has detected all L.A. based Sarah Connors (os problem-pursuit) and is systematically executing any that answer to the name.

Influence character, Reese, is also from 2029 AD (ic domain-universe). He is time travelling to keep Sarah Connor alive (story goal-obtaining). Reese disseminates mind-blowing information (relationship story domain-psychology) to Sarah: "It absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead."


The terminator's an infiltration unit. Part man. Part machine. Underneath it's a hyper alloy combat chassis. Microprocessor controlled (os response). Fully armored. Very tough.


. . . . Are you saying it's from the future?


One possible future (limit-optionlock).


Then you're from the future, too. Is that right?




. . . . Why me?

Succinctly put, Sarah is ". . . the woman who will conceive the child destined to become the great liberator and arch-enemy of the Earth's future rulers" (Videohound, 1999, p. 885). A Bob's Big Boy diner waitress, Sarah is an unlikely heroine. When faced with a tormentor-a snot-nosed kid lobbing an ice cream ball into her apron pocket, or a date that stands her up on a Friday night, her approach (be-er) is to immediately adapt. (Note: In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor is not the main character--but she is definitely a do-er. With better hair and a buff bod.)

"I'm here to help (ic driver) you" Reese declares to Sarah. Initially resistant to his far out story, she reconsiders (mc symptom) as the terminator begins the chase. Halted by the LAPD, Sarah is taken into protective custody (os response-control). After Reese relays his part to the cynical criminal psychologist--he is well on his way to being committed (os inhibitor).


This is great stuff. I could make a career out of this guy (os concern-obtaining; os thematic issue-self-interest). Most paranoid delusions are intricate. This is brilliant!

Meanwhile, the terminator rebuilds itself to return to the business of search and destroy (os benchmark-doing). It does a drive through shooting at the police station (os symptom-uncontrolled). In the firestorm Reese locates Sarah (rs catalyst-responsibility) and they escape from the cyborg--temporarily (rs benchmark-being).

A brief respite grants time enough for Reese and Sarah to commit--body and soul (rs thematic issue). He assures the reluctant "legend" she is the embodiment of what he and her son, John Connor, dream (mc unique ability) of for the future (ic concern). Sarah's female mental sex allows her to create new life and bring closure (mc thematic issue) to her mundane existence.

Naturally, the terminator tracks them down. Once more on the run (mc solution-avoid), Sarah must survive (mc concern-subconscious). Over the top action (story driver) and spectacle fill the screen until the villainous terminator is vanquished (os solution-prevent). Heroic to the end (ic resolve-steadfast), Reese dies for the future (story cost).

Alive (outcome-success) and no longer vulnerable (judgment-good), Sarah Connor has changed. Armed, organized, and prepared to start (mc growth) a new life, she has become (rs signpost 4) "the mother of the future."

NOTE: Since the time of this article's publication, it has been determined that the storyform presented above was inaccurate in regards to two key story points: the Main Character's Problem-Solving Style (now Linear) and the Story Judgment (now Bad).

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

Prev Articles Home Next

Dramatica Story Expert

the next chapter in story development

Buy Now