Story Driver

Is the Story Driver an Action or Decision when it’s just a discovery?

What happens when the "Inciting Incident" (ie. the initial story driver) is just the acquisition of a new piece of information? Is that an Action or a Decision? For example, in Joe Versus the Volcano, the Inciting Incident is presumably Joe being told that he's dying. He didn't do anything, nor did he make a decision. What kind of story driver is that?

The nature of the setup for your action/decision scenario is vague and could be delivered either way.


A seemingly innocuous piece of paper slips from a book that the teenager is reading, with only one word handwritten on it: EDISON


BOB and SARA sit in the library. We see Sara deliberating on telling Bob something, but she is conflicted.

BOB: So....what did it say?

SARA: -- OK, but you can't tell anyone I told you. It said, "Edison."

The difference is minor, but that's because your setup did not establish which it was supposed to be: Action or Decision.

Usually an inciting event won't be "just the acquisition of a new piece of information." It's usually more substantive than that, because it demarcates the beginning of the story and establishes the major causal relationships between actions and decisions for the rest of the story.

Must a new Act begin with a Story Driver?

Dramatica recommends at least five Story Drivers: before (or to start) each Act, and as the closing event. But say a story had six or seven drivers. Would four of them still have to line up as turns into each act, with the fifth as the closing event?

Or could seven drivers be evenly spaced between the four acts, with only the Inciting and Closing events lining up with act breaks?

Short answer: Yes


All act turn driver events must occur between the Inciting and Closing events in the Overall Story thoughline, which means the inciting and closing events cannot line up with act breaks because the open and close the story's argument. You can have material before the inciting event (prologue) and material after the closing event (epilogue) if you want.

The driver events in the Overall Story throughline move the throughline forward. While you can have more than the five drivers, they should be in addition to the locations of the five standard drivers (opening event, first, second, and third act turns, and closing event).


Each of the four throughlines has three act breaks, which gives you a total of twelve act breaks. When all four throughlines are synchronized, the story will seem to have only three act breaks. However, one can easily make them asynchronous and have more act transitions (though the drivers only control the Overall Story throughline). This technique is often used in television so that commercial breaks have the feel of act transitions.

Can you explain the Story Driver further?

The Story Driver drives the OS Story, not the MC per se (except in the MC's capacity as a player in the OS throughline). MC Approach moderates the MC's problem solving methodology.

The Story Driver appears in at least five instances in your story.

  1. The inciting incident -- this event kicks off the story by setting things into motion.
  2. The transition between OS Signpost 1 and OS Signpost 2 -- this event changes the direction of the story in a significant way and indicates the act break transition
  3. The transition between OS Signpost 2 and OS Signpost 3 -- this event changes the direction of the story in a significant way and indicates the act break transition
  4. The transition between OS Signpost 3 and OS Signpost 4 -- this event changes the direction of the story in a significant way and indicates the act break transition
  5. The concluding incident -- this event closes the story, or its absence indicates an open-ended story.

In each case, the nature of the event is consistent with the Story Driver. So, a story with a Driver of Action has an action as the inciting event, actions forcing OS Act transitions, and an action to bring the story to a close. A story with a Driver of Decision has a decision (or deliberation) as the inciting event, decisions (or deliberations) forcing OS Act transitions, and a decision (or deliberation) to bring the story to a close.

Consistency is important. Consistency sets up the temporal, causal logistics of the story. Consistency sets up whether actions drive decisions in the story, or decision drive actions in the story. Order has meaning and the Story Driver controls the order and is part of the storyform dynamics.

All Stories Have Actions and Decisions

Choosing the Story Driver does NOT eliminate the unchosen item from the story.

Choosing the Story Driver sets the order of cause and effect. The chosen driver describes the cause. The remaining driver describes the effect.

For example, imagine an American football game with the two teams on the field. The one with the ball is the offensive team. The one on the other side of the line of scrimmage is the defensive team. In American football, the offensive team is driven by DECISIONS. At the start of each new play, the offensive team gathers together in a huddle and DECIDES what actions they are going to take. Based on their decision, they act accordingly. If you change the decision, the actions that follow necessarily change to accommodate the new decision.

The flip-side is true for the defensive team. The defensive team is driven by ACTIONS (specifically, those of the offensive team). Once the offense acts, the defense can decide how best to respond to the actions. For example, if the offense moves all their team members to one side of the field, the defense may decide to change their plan of defense.

What Constitutes a Driver? Is There a Litmus Test?

Actions or decisions are Story Drivers if they fundamentally change the course of the overall story, such as the five events described earlier. The closest thing to a litmus I know of is to think of the cause and effect relationship between the Driver and the unchosen driver. Ask yourself, "Would the effects still happen if the cause is removed?" If the answer is, "Yes, the effects still happen," then your driver does not stand up to the test. If the answer is, "No, the effects would not happen," then that's a good indication that it IS a driver.

Let's look at some examples.

Star Wars (1977) has a Story Driver of Action. The inciting event is the theft of the Death Star plans by the Rebellion. What decisions follow that driver? The Empire decides to disband the Senate, kidnap Princess Leia, and take their secret weapon out of hiding. If the plans had not been stolen, would the Empire have decided to do the same things within the same time frame? No. The Death Star was not yet complete. The theft of the plans forced the Empire to change plans. The concluding event in Star Wars (1977) is the destruction of the Death Star. Does it end the overall story? Yes. Was there a decision that could have been made that might have stopped the Empire from destroying the Rebel base? No, not within the framework of the story as presented. (Anything is possible, but the story "rules" dictated an action must be taken to resolve the conflict in the story--not every conflict in the story's universe, but the one around which the story revolves.)

The Verdict has a Story Driver of Decision. The inciting event is the decision to give Frank the case. Since that happens before the film begins, let's say the "real" inciting event is the plaintiff's attorney's (Frank's) decision to bring the case to trial. Based on that decision, the defense attorneys send Frank's key witness to the Caribbean, hire a woman to act as a mole within Frank's camp, and otherwise stack the legal deck in their favor. Would the defense have done this if the plaintiff's attorney had chosen to settle? No, their actions would change accordingly.

The concluding event in The Verdict is...the VERDICT. A verdict is a decision. In this story, it is THE decision that draws the OS throughline to a close. Is there an action that could have resolved this story? No. If the case was thrown out, the plaintiff's case would remain unresolved and the case could come back again in some other form. The verdict, ANY verdict, resolves the story and brings it to a conclusion.

How do you determine the Story Driver?

One way to think of the Story Driver (Action v. Decision) is to think of the story events that fundamentally change the course of the story. Ask yourself, if "x" had not happened, is it likely that "y" would have happened anyway? If the answer is "yes," then "x" is not driving the story forward. If the answer is "no," then "x" MAY be the driving force moving the story forward.