The Story Limit describes the “size” or “scope” of a story and brings about the story’s climax. It clues the audience in to when the story will be over. Without a Story Limit, there is no structural reason for a story to come to a close. Therefore, the Story Limit plot dynamic plays an important part in defining the story’s limitations. Those limitations come in two forms: Timelocks and Optionlocks.
Timelocks are unchangeable limits on time that draw the story to a climax. There are two forms of Timelocks:
- A Deadline — A deadline is a specific time, such as 8:00 AM next Monday or 12:00 noon (e.g. High Noon).
- A Fixed Amount of Time — A fixed amount of time is a quantity of time allotted for the story to take place, such as one day or forty-eight hours (e.g. the TV show, “24,” and the film, “48 Hrs.”).
Optionlocks are unchangeable limits on options that draw the story to a climax. There are two forms of Optionlocks:
- A Destination — A destination is a specific location that brings about the story climax when reached, such as the Rebel Base in the original “Star Wars,” or Los Angeles in “Midnight Run.” This type of Optionlock is often used in road pictures.
- A Limited Number of Options — A limited number of options consists of a finite set of variables to be explored before the story is drawn to a climax, such as three wishes in the short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” and seven deadly sins in the film, “Se7en.”
Though all stories may contain both Timelocks and Optionlocks, only one may be the Story Limit within a given story. For an example of what happens when a story has more than one Story Limit read, A.I. Wars: The dueling visions of Stanley Kubrick and Stephen Spielberg in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
NOTE: As a gross generalization and general rule, female audiences tend to find Optionlock stories more involving than Timelock stories, while male audiences tend to find both Story Limits equally involving.