Story Goal

Story Goal vs. Signposts

I have always thought a goal of the story should show up at the end of the story. However after playing around with Dramatica I often find the goal showing up as the first second or third signpost. How should I interpret this?

The story goal is a SPECIFIC instance of the Overall Story Concern (or Signpost) about which the Overall Story characters represent differing approaches to achieving it by resolving the underlying conflict.  The Story Goal should be explored in each of the four acts (signposts) of the Overall Story throughline followed by the resolution of the effort to achieve the goal identified by the Story Outcome (Success or Failure) somewhere toward the end of the story.

The Overall Story Signposts describe the various approaches toward achieving the goal while also exploring the alternatives, one of which is of the same nature (Type) as the story goal. 

For example, your story might have a Story Goal of OBTAINING, such as Finding the Lost Treasure.  It will also have an Overall Story Concern of OBTAINING, which is a more generalized concern that might include finding a map, winning the lottery, losing an election, losing a job, etc.  The various Overall Story Characters, some concerned with one thing while the others concerned with the other things, explore these in general. 

The signposts provide a broad context for a period of time in the story (an Act) that frames the effort to achieve the specific Story Goal, broad Overall Story Concern, and resolve the story's OS Problem(s). The Signpost that explores Obtaining might be thought of as "what do the characters gain or lose while trying to find the lost treasure?"  Another signpost -- such as Gathering Information/Learning -- might be thought of "what do the characters learn or what information is gathered while trying to find the lost treasure?" Thus all four acts are explored through the signposts within each throughline. 

There is no general difference if the Type (the structural item associated with the Story Goal and OS Concern and one of the Overall Story Signposts) shows up in the first, second, third, or last signpost.  The difference is the context in which the Type is found: whether it is the narrow focus of the Story Goal, the general area of the Overall Story Concern, or the temporary context provided by the Overall Story Signposts.

Protagonist or Antagonist? I can’t decide.

As I understand it, Protagonist is the one trying to achieve something. The Antagonist is the one trying to hinder him. This makes a lot of "bad guys" be Protagonists. In Transformers, the Decepticons would often be the Protagonists. This makes James Bond an Antagonist.

It's all in how you position the goal. If you say the goal is to Stop the Decepticons from doing "fill in evil deed here", then the protagonists are the ones pursuing that goal, and the Decepticons ones trying to prevent or avoid that.

Keep in mind that the Story Outcome is tied to the Story Goal. This is a good indicator as to how the author wants the audience to understand who the protagonist and antagonist are.

Which “Goal” is the Story Goal?

When studying "Goal," I came to understand that, for Dramatica software, the story goal could not be the same as the Main Character's goal. That made sense, finally! But then the tutorial went on to say that "Dramatica software insists that the "Objective Story's Chief Concern" also be the "Story's Goal" (even though this does not have to be the case in Dramatica theory). OK, I believe it. But then...

If I write a story whose protagonist is not an archetype but is a "complex character," is he still an "objective character"?; and if so, does that make his goal the goal of the "objective story?"

Please forgive the ignorance. I think I'm brain dead after so much studying of this difficult theory!!! Please respond and save me from discouragement meltdown.

Each of the four throughlines has a Concern. Concerns can look an awful lot like a Goal, especially if it is a very specific concern. Therefore, the MC can seem to have a "goal" that is his own personal goal, the IC a different "goal," etc.

The Overall Story Concern will double for the Story Goal. The Story Goal is the thing that everyone in the Overall Story is, to varying degrees, for or against. So you are right in seeing the objective characters relating to the Story Goal, and certainly to the Objective Story throughline's "goal."

Here's one caveat that I believe is worth mentioning. Each grand argument story has four throughlines, and each throughline has a Concern which is similar to a "goal." Some authors prefer to emphasize one or more throughlines over the others. For example, Hamlet emphasizes the Main Character throughline, while 48 Hrs. emphasizes the Subjective Story (Relationship) throughline. Though the OS Goal is the same as the Story Goal, it may not appear to be the most important "goal" of the story because of the degree of emphasis or de-emphasis the author chooses to use when storyweaving the pieces together.

And "yes," the protagonist is an objective (Overall Story) character whose is concerned with the OS Story goal.

Can you clarify the difference between the Goal and the Concern?

In "story goal" and "story goal explained" (see help: index: goal), Dramatica states that the story goal is said to "share the same Type as the Objective Story Concern" and "be of the same nature as the Concern of one of the four Domains."

Don't these two statements contradict themselves?

To complicate matters further, the Dramatica Dictionary says that the Goal is, in part, "that which the protagonist hopes to achieve." I am, therefore, still not clear on whether or not the story goal is a concern that stems from the objective story domain (class; throughline), any of the other domains, or simply "that which the protagonist hopes to achieve."

Since the protagonist is an Objective Story throughline character, it is natural that he would be involved with the story goal which is, structurally speaking, located in the same Type as the Objective Story Concern. This is particularly true in the software implementation of Dramatica.

The confusion seems to stem from the implication that the "Story Goal" can be something other than the same Type as the Objective Story Concern. The simple answer is "no," they must be one and the same (though the storytelling for each will be different).

Why then does the theory book say that the story goal will "be of the same nature as the Concern of ONE of the FOUR Domains?" I'll try to explain.

First of all, each of the throughlines has a Concern. Though it is not explicitly stated, the implication of the theory is that each of the four throughlines can have its own goal. This means the Overall Story throughline might have a goal, the Main Character throughline might have a goal, the Impact (Obstacle) character throughline might have a goal, and the MC v. IC (Subjective Story) throughline might have a goal.

Secondly, when you determine a Concern for one throughline, you effectively determine the Concerns for all four throughlines. Structurally speaking, the quad position of the concern in a given domain/throughline on the chart will be the same for all of the concerns. For example, if you choose "The Past" as one throughline's Concern, then you are also choosing "Memory," "Understanding," and "Conceptualizing" for the other Concerns. That is why we wrote that the story goal will "be of the same nature" as the other Concerns.

What, then would be the "Story" goal?

In general terms, the Overall (Objective) Story throughline "goal" is most akin to the traditional, non-Dramatica definition of Goal. When examining specific individual works, however, the Overall Story throughline is often NOT the most emphasized throughline and therefore doesn't necessarily have the greatest prominence in the storytelling. In such a story, the "goal" of the most emphasized throughline may appear to be the "Story Goal."

So, the confusion grows out of two standards of reference when defining "Story Goal." If you use the "traditional" definition, then the Overall Story Concern will be the same as the Story Goal. If you base the definition on the throughline with the greatest emphasis, then ONE of any of the throughline Concerns would be the Story Goal if it is in the throughline with the greatest emphasis.

Which point of reference is right? If your working with the Dramatica software, then the Story Goal will always be the same Type as that of the Objective (Overall) Story Concern. The other point of reference is helpful in understanding why the goal that seems to be most important in the "story" may not be tied to the efforts of the protagonist, antagonist, and other characters' efforts in the Overall Story throughline.

Can you explain Negative Goals?

How do they relate to the Protagonist and Antagonist?

In the strictest sense, the protagonist is for the goal and the antagonist is against the goal, so who is who is completely dependent on how the author defines what the goal is. If the goal of Rosemary's Baby, for example, is to bring the Devil's child successfully to this world, then the cultists would certainly be for that. If the goal of The Stepford Wives was to make all wives complacent, agreeable, and controllable, then the men of Stepford would be in the protagonist camp.

HOWEVER, part of what is NOT explicit is the commentary or "spin" that the author puts on the story. Is the author for the son of the Devil, or against it? Is the author for marital automatons, or against them? The author's intent is usually built into the goal. It is obvious in some cases, and not so obvious in others.

In The Stepford Wives, the author seems to lean in favor of preventing or avoiding the outcome -- thus The Stepford Wives is a Failure story because Joanna (played by Katherine Ross) becomes a Stepford wife, and therefore the story acts as a cautionary tale.

In Rosemary's Baby it's not so obvious and leaves room for interpretation. I believe Mark Harrison (the Dramatica story analyst) chose the pro-devil way of looking at it (Story Outcome = Success) because it seemed more consistent with the time in which the story was written/filmed, as well as the sensibility of the author/director (Ira Levin/Roman Polanski). This is not to say that the author(s) was for bringing the devil's child to our world, but more likely that he put that message out there to shock audiences' sensibilities and create moral outrage.

There's a fine line between being straightforward by saying what you mean and saying something inflammatory to provoke discussion, but the important aspect of it from an author's point of view is to be consistent. Pick what the goal is and what you want to say about that goal and then place the overall story characters appropriately in relationship to it.

What if I don’t agree with Dramatica’s choice for my Story Goal?

I can't seem to make my story work with the Goal I have chosen.

If you are set on a certain Goal or Concern, yet it doesn't seem quite right, try it as the Benchmark. For example, in the Objective Story throughline, your objective characters may spend a lot of time over the course of the story gathering information (Learning), leading you to think that Learning is their concern or the Story Goal. Yet Obtaining may be the actual concern/goal, and the gathering of information is just the standard by which their progress is measured towards achieving the goal or solving the problem.

Why are there similar questions in the Story Guide found in Dramatica Story Expert?

I'm finding similar (identical) questions in the story encoding stages i.e. Story Goal and OS [Objective Story] Concern. Why?

This is because the Story Goal will be the common Concern shared by all the characters. When not seen as the Story Goal, however, Concern (in the Objective story) is descriptive of the broad category in which all of the objective characters' personal concerns can be found. For example, a Concern of Obtaining might have one character concerned with obtaining a diploma and another concerned with obtaining a raise at work. In each case, "obtaining" describes their concerns, but the specific illustration or "encoding" is unique to each.

In contrast, the Story Goal is the singly encoded concern SHARED by ALL of the objective characters. For example, all the character are concerned with obtaining a lost treasure. In this case, the specific treasure is of interest to every character in one way or another. It doesn't have to be the prinicpal concern of each character as an individual, but the one common concern shared by them all. Some may be for it and some against, but all share an interest in that singular concern which is, by definition, the Story Goal.

In stories, it is possible to have any one of the four throughlines' Concerns be the Story Goal. (The four throughlines are the four perspectives of a story from which an audience seeks meaning - Objective, Relationship, Main Character, Influence Character). Which throughline holds the story's overall Goal is simply a matter of the author determining which points of view he or she wants to emphasize - in essence, where the author wants the most commentary as the story unfolds. For example, if all the other characters are focused on the Main Character's Concern, that becomes the Goal of the story as a whole as well.

In most storys told in Western culture, the Objective throughline will be home to the Story Goal, simply because it is easier in our culture to visualize a shared goal from an outside perspective. Because of this convention, the Story Goal provided by the Dramatica software will ALWAYS be doubled up with the Objective Story Concern.

Since Dramatica, as a theory, is a completely new paradigm for story structure, when creating the software it didn't make sense to clutter the already daunting prospect of learning new concepts (such as the four throughlines) with too many alternatives - at least not at first. Once more people are familiar with the basics, future versions of the software will open up to allow the Story Goal to be selected from any of the four throughlines.

What if you can’t decide on “Success” or “Failure”?

I have a hard time assigning a simple "Success" or "Failure" label to many stories, because the success is often tempered with failure, and vice versa, and sometimes it is hard to tell which one predominates. In Rob Roy, for example, Rob stays alive -- success -- but he fails to make life better for his people, which was his original goal. In fact, a tremendous number of his people are much worse off than they were when he first decided to try to change things for the better. I suppose it depends on whether the Story Goal is "Staying Alive" or "Making things better for all of MacGregor's people." (I'm sure you have some specific terminology that covers both of those goals, but I haven't learned it yet.)

Actually, you should treat the issue of Success/Failure in a completely non-judgmental way. If the goal was achieved: Success. If it was not: Failure.

There is another question in Dramatica which is where you make the judgmental call: the Story Judgment. If the MC resolves their personal angst, then the judgment is Good. If the MC is left having to cope with personal issues, then the judgment is Bad. The degree of Success, Failure, Good, or Bad is completely up to you. Combining the two questions gives you four different kinds of endings: Success/Good = Triumph (Star Wars). Failure/Bad = Tragedy (Hamlet). Failure/Good = Personal Triumph (Rain Man). Success/Bad = Personal Tragedy (Silence of the Lambs).

As far as Rob Roy goes, my take on it is that the general concern (for EVERYONE in the story) is to protect one's honor (abstracted as the honor of the Scottish) and one's own to prevent destruction of the family line. This is true of the peasants (tracking down and killing cattle robbers) as well as gentry (both English and Scottish). More specifically, it is the concern for Rob Roy and his friends and family (Story Goal). If that is the story goal, then it is a Success / Good story. HOWEVER, Dramatica also discusses a story point call the Story Costs. In Rob Roy, the costs are very high. This offsets the "triumph" feel of the story by bringing the value of the goal down

What about stories where things end up the same?


In some of Harlan Ellison's stories the only consequences for failure to reach the goal seem to be that things will go on exactly as before. Are these Ellison stories breaking the rule? Or am I misinterpreting something?


The Consequences in a story, such as in many of Harlan Ellison's works, are that a potential avenue of relief or escape has been denied or prohibited and therefore the quality of "spirit" has been degraded. There is a limited potential for hope or chance of relief in a story such as that, and when a Goal to escape is thwarted, some of that hope is lost. Consequences do not need to be tangible items. That's why items like Being, Becoming, Memory, etc. can be Consequences.