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Screenplaying Videogames: The Adaptation of Movie Scripts into Narrative Videogames Creation of Video Game Screenplays

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Abstract

Bachelor’s thesis in Video Game Design and Development at Polytechnic University of Catalonia. This research foucses around the creation of videogame narrative screenplays as well as the adaptation of movie screenplays into videogames. It is mostly a narrative analisys and study of stories and the way to create the most suited document for each genre and videogame.
UNIVERSITAT POLITÈCNICA DE CATALUNYA (UPC)
BARCELONA TECH
The Adaptation of Movie Scripts into Narrative Videogames
Creation and Adaptation of Video Game Screenplays
BACHELOR'S DEGREE IN VIDEO GAME DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT
2021 | SPRING SEMESTER
thesis by
Roger Sánchez March
roger.sanchezmarch@hotmail.es
advised by
Joan José Pons López
Barcelona 2021
Roger Sanchez March
Screenplaying Videogames - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
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special thanks to Joan Pons, Arnau Aiguabella, Daniel Castaño, Joel Cabaco, Ana Amengual,
Cristina Subirà and Clara Bassa.
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Screenplaying Videogames - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
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Table of Contents
Glossary of Terms 7
1. Introduction 8
1.1. Motivations 8
1.2. Problem Statement 9
1.2.1. Adding Gameplay Problem 9
1.2.2. Interactive Dialogue Problem 10
1.2.3. Non-linear Narrative Problem 10
1.2.4. Plot Time and Rhythm Problem 11
1.2.5. Information Continuity Problem 11
1.2.6. Game Literacy Delay Problem 12
1.3. Research Questions 12
1.4. General Objectives 14
1.5. Specific Objectives 14
2. Theoretical Framework 15
2.1. Introduction to the Screenplay 15
2.2. The Writing Process 15
2.2.1. Screenplay Terminology 15
2.2.2. Story Elements 19
2.2.3. Narrative Triangle 24
2.2.4. Story Genre 26
2.2.5. Master Plots 32
2.2.6. Old Myths Plots 38
2.3. Story Structure 39
2.3.1. Parts and Strong Script Points 39
2.3.2. Three Act Structure 41
2.3.3. Kubrick’s Non-Submersible Units 42
2.3.4. Vladimir Propp’s 31 Narratemes 43
2.3.5. Blake Snyder’s 15 Beat Sheet 48
2.3.6. Dan Wells’ Seven Point System 51
2.3.7. Hero’s Journey or Monomyth 53
2.3.8. Interactive Narrative Structures 57
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Screenplaying Videogames - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
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2.4. Narrative Principles 59
2.4.1. Story Substance 59
2.4.2. The Protagonist 60
2.4.3. The Risk 60
2.4.4. Plot 61
2.4.5. Subplot 61
2.4.6. Scene Design 63
2.4.7. The Steps Scheme 64
2.4.8. Emotions 66
2.4.9. Decisions and Choices 66
2.4.10. Antagonistic Force 66
2.5. Narrative Techniques and Procedures 67
2.5.1. Anticipation 67
2.5.2. Suspense and Surprise 69
2.5.3. Continuity 70
2.5.4. Dramatization 71
2.5.5. Point of View 71
2.5.6. Voice Over 72
2.5.7. Information 72
2.5.8. Ellipsis and Paralipsis 73
2.5.9. Implantation 74
2.5.10. Red-Herring 74
2.5.11. Contrast and Understandment 74
2.5.12. Repetition 74
2.5.13. Topper 75
2.5.14. Scrimmage 76
2.5.15. Deus Ex-Machina and Diabolus Ex-Machina 76
2.5.16. In Media Res and In Extrema Res 77
2.5.17. Chronological Rupture 77
2.5.18. Teaser or Opening Scene 78
2.5.19. The Refuter Fourth Act 78
2.6. Character 79
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2.6.1. Characterization 79
2.6.2. Identification 79
2.6.3. Character Motivations 80
2.6.4. Character Roles and Functions 85
2.6.5. Character Archetypes or Ego Types 88
2.6.6. Character Arcs 92
3. State of Art 98
3.1. Videogame Screenplays 98
3.1.1. Videogame Script Structure 98
3.1.2. Cutscenes or Cinematics 100
3.1.3. Interactive Dialogues Systems 100
3.2. Solutions Statement 102
3.2.1. Adding Gameplay Solutions 102
3.2.2. Interactive Dialogue Solutions 103
3.2.3. Non-linear Narrative Solutions 104
3.2.4. Plot Time and Rhythm Solutions 106
3.2.5. Information Continuity Solutions 107
3.2.6. Game Literacy Delay Solutions 108
4. Project Management 109
4.1. Methodology 109
4.1.1. Research Approach 110
4.1.2. Data Collection Methods 110
4.1.3. Data Analysis Methods 111
4.1.4. Methodological Choices 112
4.2. Project Monitoring Procedures and Tools 112
6.1. Analysis of Costs 113
6.2. SWOT Analysis 114
6.3. Contingency Plan 114
7. Development 116
7.1. Adding Gameplay: 10 Cloverfield Lane 116
7.2. Interactive Dialogue: Her 119
7.3. Non-Linear Narrative: Mr. Nobody 123
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7.4. Plot Time and Rhythm: 1917 125
7.5. Information: Sherlock Holmes 2 128
7.6. Game Literacy: Pulp Fiction 131
8. Prototypes 133
8.1. Ten Cloverfield Lane Adaptation 134
8.2. Her Adaptation 137
8.3. Mr. Nobody Adaptation 141
8.4. 1917 Adaptation 144
8.5. Sherlock Holmes 2 Adaptation 148
8.6. Pulp Fiction Adaptation 157
9. Conclusions 159
10. Bibliography 160
10.1. Books 160
10.2. Video 161
11. Annexed 163
11.1. Chosen Scene: 10 Cloverfield Lane [Reconstruction] 163
11.2. Chosen Scene: Her [Extract] 168
11.3. Chosen Scene: Mr. Nobody [Extract] 172
11.4. Chosen Scene: 1917 [Extract] 175
11.5. Chosen Scene: Sherlock Holmes 2 [Reconstruction] 186
11.6. Chosen Scene: Pulp Fiction [Extract] 196
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Glossary of Terms
Screenplay: The script of an audiovisual product including acting instructions, scene and
directions.
Gameplay: The features of a video game, such as its plot and the way it is played, as distinct
from the graphics and sound effects.
Medium: The means of mass communication, such as newspapers, magazines, radio, movies,
television or videogames.
Game Literacy: The ability to decode and understand meanings with respect to the semiotic
domain of games but also the ability to produce meanings.
Semiotic Domain: Refers to a distinct collective consciousness shared by people with similar
interests, attributes or skill sets.
Mise en Scene: The arrangement of the scenery, props, characters, lightning and all the other
elements on a stage of a theatrical production, on the set of a film or on a videogame level.
Ludo-Narrative Dissonance: The conflict between a video game's narrative told through the
story and the narrative told through the gameplay.
Plot: The sequence of events that happen in a story as a whole, each consequence from the
last.
Player Agency: The control the player has over the character’s actions and consequences as
well as the information he is given about his actions in the world.
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1. Introduction
This final degree thesis is about the differences between a script written for cinema and
a script written for a videogame. We will be setting the narrative basics, story elements and
narrative techniques of both videogame and cinema mediums. This serves to define the
differences and similarities between both their structures and elements.
Once we have the both mediums differentiated and broken down in the theoretical frame, we
will be defining the problems and existing solutions of adapting a movie script into a
videogame.
1
Along the process we will be describing how the work was done, ending with the
conclusions after solving (or not) the problems and questions stated.
A prototype will be developed to exemplify the adaptation process. This will consist of various
different movie scenes scripts which will be analyzed and adapted to a videogame script.
1.1. Motivations
I have been interested in narrative and storytelling since I was just a child but it wasn’t
until a copy of Story by Robert McKee came to my hands that I considered taking it more
seriously
2
. The book appeared in my life just when I was thinking of a subject for my final
thesis, some might say it was fate.
I bought a black notebook and I started writing down everything we could learn from narrative,
screenplay writing and storytelling. What I came to know was that all stories are always the
same, what changes are the details. Also, that there is a difference between story and narration.
Just as books tells the story through words in paper and movies tell it though images and sound,
videogames do both as books and movies but adding another dimension: Gameplay. It is the
interaction side of videogames that got me interested in working on this thesis.
1
For reading and academic purposes, the thesis is not structured in that same order.
2
Joan Jose Pons gave me that book and ended being my thesis director.
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1.2.Problem Statement
As we kept reading more and more books about narrative and screenplay writing, we
began to understand certain problems or let’s say collisions between a movie script and a
videogame. Cinema is, with exceptions, a lineal art which tells stories without the involvement
of the audience in it.
Your presence in front of a screen when watching a movie never changes the story, on the
contrary, the story usually changes you. This can be noticed when watching a movie in two
different moments of your life, the movie hasn’t changed but it is you as the viewer who has.
The experience is therefore somehow different but the movie remains the same.
Video Games work otherwise. You as a player can alter the outcome of the story. From
choosing different paths to a different dialogue. From enlarging the length of the story by
spending more time than required to choosing a different main character and therefore changing
the central point of view of the story. Just as a book can be adapted into a movie, and from the
original text to what the actors read and perform there is a huge gap, the same happens when
adapting a movie to a videogame. The script has to be adapted to fit the narration in the best
serve of the medium.
Many problems come when trying to adapt but changing the medium. It is not the same creating
a videogame basing it on the universe of a movie than narrating the same story seen in a movie
with the rules and boundaries of a videogame. When analyzing the adaptation of a movie
screenplay to a videogame, we have encountered the following problems which we have listed
hereafter.
1.2.1. Adding Gameplay Problem
In a movie screenplay, we have the necessary elements to tell the story so that the director
can see the same movie that the writer imagined. When creating a script for a video game, we
will have to take into account the gameplay, the things the player will have to do or interact
with. This can be a problem when it collides with the narrative. Each game has its own
gameplay and this will influence the way the story or a certain scene is told.
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The problem comes when trying to find the right balance and telling the story while having
gameplay. It is right when the player is immersed and drives the narrative himself that
videogames reach their highest point in narrative, it becomes much more impactful.
1.2.2. Interactive Dialogue Problem
It is commonly known that many videogames let the player choose what line is the
character going to say next. This gives the character a deeper sense of control and projection
of his own personality into the character. Character creation is not an easy subject and usually
underestimated. Memorable characters define good stories. If characterization fails or is poor,
can make the story fail. Leaving all that responsibility in the hands of the player is a risk.
On one hand, if the character chooses a line of dialogue and the outcome is the same as if he
had chosen any other one can result into his disengagement from the story as he will feel that
it is all leading to a same end and his decision is meaningless. But on the other hand, if the
dialogue changes the outcome, there will have to be more than one outcome. This will therefore
require all the lines of dialogue to be in line with that character personality as well as creating
different reactions and outcomes for each one. This can be a major problem in character
development and a big effort when writing the script as it gets exponentially complex.
Dialogue is a big element in cinema, and good dialogue will be forever chased by all
screenwriters. Bad dialogue is highly criticized and will disengage the viewer from a movie
but in videogames is somehow more accepted. This has been improving in the past years but it
still has a long way to go. This creates a problem of balance between the amount of dialogue
and the quality of those dialogues.
1.2.3. Non-linear Narrative Problem
What would happen if we wanted to make a videogame out of movies like Pulp Fiction
3
?
It would directly collide with the linearity of increasing difficulty of levels, the progression of
the character and player learning curve. We are not talking about creating a videogame based
on Pulp Fiction or with the characters or universe of that movie, but narrating that same story
the movie does respecting the structure in which the movie is told.
3
The 1994 movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantino featured a nonlinear structure.
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Nonlinear structures break or at least difficult the learning curve of the player and progression
in the story of the character. A player should be able to follow his learning curve without that
being an interruption in the narrative. This would imply having a character that at the beginning
of the game would have certain knowledge or power that in the following scene would be a
smaller one.
Videogames are often defined as a series of meaningful choices’, and with so, what the player
chooses will change the course of the story. Something has to be different after the player
makes a decision or otherwise, what’s the point of the interactivity?
This enters in direct conflict with the linearity of movie screenplays. The choices taken by the
characters will define the story. All the other options of what could have happened if the
decision had been different don’t exists. And neither have to, the director will only shoot one
ending. In videogames or interactive movies such as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, that is not
the case. The different endings or paths the player will have to deal with must be created. In
this case, all of those endings should respect the original feelings that it brings to the audience.
1.2.4. Plot Time and Rhythm Problem
Unlike the movies, in videogames the player is the one who controls the character and
therefore the rhythm of the story is partially in his hands as well as the duration of the story.
This breaks the relation that a page in the script equals a minute in a movie.
This is a problem and has to be taken into account when thinking the story and giving control
over the rhythm to the player and when taking it from him is a very powerful tool. If done
wrong, the player can get bored from inaction or lost when everything is at his hands.
1.2.5. Information Continuity Problem
There is a problem that appears from the difference between what a character knows and
what the player knows and how this may have an effect on how the story makes sense. Stories
are made to impart feeling in the audience and therefore, sometimes there is information that
characters know which the audience ignores.
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Also, just as usually a movie is seen in one session, or at least that’s the way it should be done,
games can be paused and resumed whenever the player feels like. This creates a need to make
him remember things that might have forgotten. Unlike in videogames, in literature or cinema
the audience is passive, there is no interaction. A movie can share some information to the
audience to create a certain feeling without being concerned. The audience will never be able
to change the destiny of a character however much they scream at the screen.
In interactive experiences some effects might lose or change its meaning. For instance, a
suspense scene where the audience knows some information that endangers a character and
therefore feel tense. When this is brought to videogames or interactive movies, the player that
controls that same character and knows that particular information will try to avoid it or will
be pulled out of the immersion having a different experience. In the end, why should you
consciously walk towards a trap?
1.2.6. Game Literacy Delay Problem
Cinema is an art that has been around for over a hundred years and in this time both the
audience and filmmakers have had time to create and adapt to certain narrative techniques.
There is an urban legend which some defend as true that states that a French short movie called
‘L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat’ from 1896 featuring a locomotive that moved
towards the camera, caused a panic reaction in the audience who quickly ran away as they
believed that the train was going to run over them.
As time has gone by, the public has been slowly understanding elements such as a simple cut
which moves the audience from one place and time to another. This literacy learning process
which has taken but is now highly advanced in cinema is still in its childhood when talking
about videogames. Players aren’t that used to concepts such as changing the point of view of
the character they are controlling. This can result into a problem when adapting techniques that
work in cinema but that might create confusion when brough into the interactive art.
1.3. Research Questions
From each of the problems we have stated above, there come various questions on how to
solve those problematics. The general question here is how do we adapt a movie script into a
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playable interactive experience such as a videogame. Even further, we will be spinning around
the idea of ‘how’ can stories in a broader sense which are thought for mediums such as a novel
or a movie be adapted into videogames.
The Adding Gameplay Questions
How does the screenplay differentiate between gameplay description and scene
description?
How does the screenplay identify which elements the player can interact with and which
he can only see as elements of the scene?
How do we choose the best suited gameplay for each story to make it more interesting?
Why and how adding gameplay improves or adds more depth to the story?
How does gameplay affect continuity in space terms as there are no cuts?
The Interactive Dialogue Questions
How does the script keep great dialogue when needing multiple dialogue option lines?
How does the script keep a fluid pace of the dialogue if the player has to read and decide?
How does the script keep characterization if the player chooses his sentences for him?
How does the script state dialogue so that all the options lead to a same outcome?
Do videogames need multiple different scenes depending on the player decisions?
The Non-Linear Narrative Questions
How do videogames fulfill player choices without deviating from the main story plot?
How will the videogame justify coming back to the main plot without making the player’s
decision meaningless?
How can different endings bring the same feeling and experience to the player as the
original story?
How do nonlinear structures affect the videogame flow and rhythm?
Ho do nonlinear structures affect player’s learning curve?
The Plot Time and Rhythm Questions
How do we arrange a movie length into a videogame play time?
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How do we adapt the pace and rhythm of the player in certain pace-based scenes?
The Information Continuity Questions
How do we handle information to keep the meaning and feeling of a scene in interactive
experiences?
How do we handle who knows what?
How is the information process handled when a player can alter at his will the playing
sessions?
The Game Literacy Delay Questions
When will videogames reach the literacy levels of mediums such as movies and books?
How does the literacy delay affect the videogame narrative storytelling?
Why videogames literacy delay is a barrier for certain audiences?
1.4. General Objectives
From all those problems we have detected and analyzed, we set the general objective
to accomplish in the creation of this thesis. Each problem gives a few objectives to achieve
besides the ones that lie in between the lines.
Learn about narrative, screenplay writing and storytelling in both cinema and videogames.
Achieve a prototype of an adapted script between genres.
Define which cinema script elements can be used in videogames and which can’t.
Bring narrative elements used in cinema to the videogame medium.
1.5. Specific Objectives
Create a process with steps to follow so that adapting a screenplay to a videogame gets
easier to others in the future. we will be focusing on how are videogame scripts written and
how are those different from a movie screenplay.
Improve the videogames craft and bring as much as we can from the seventh art. There are
certain techniques and tools that are yet to be embraced into the videogame literature by
the community.
Set a solution and my positioning on the dialogues problem after analyzing games and
movies dialogues and studying third party solutions.
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2. Theoretical Framework
2.1. Introduction to the Screenplay
A screenplay is a guiding tool used to define and create a final audiovisual product; it
is not the story in itself. A script serves no purpose at all besides being the promise of becoming
a bigger artistic creation. In the end it will be a story told in images. If it can be used to create
movies, it can also be used to create videogames.
2.2. The Writing Process
In this chapter, we define how are screenplays organized and written. Which are the
elements that conform a screenplay, its terminology and format. Also, we define the basic
narrative stories, structures and elements.
2.2.1. Screenplay Terminology
Screenplays as all documents, follow a certain structure, use certain elements and has to
be written under some predefined rules and format. The scripts are stipulated to be written in
black inked typography Courier and in some cases in Courier New with size 12.
Scene Heading or Sluglines
It is a one-line description of the location (setting) and time of day of the scene. It has to be
written in bold Capital Letters as it marks where the scene starts. In some scripts, the Slugline
is preceded by a number which counts the Scenes or Cutscenes and their order. It is exactly the
same for both movie and videogame scripts though a sub header can be added to bring some
extra information if needed.
The setting will be defined as [EXT] if the scene happens outdoors or [INT] if it takes place
indoors. The time is usually defined by [DAY] and [NIGHT] but can also be more specific
with [MORNING] or [AFTERNOON]. Down below some examples of a heading.
1 INT. BEDROOM - MORNING
2 EXT. FOREST NIGHT
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Action Lines
The actions lines are used to describe the events of the scene, the actual narration facts of the
story. It is placed right below the Sluglines, written in present tense with small letters and as
visually descriptive as possible. It shouldn’t feature any character internal thoughts. It has to
describe the scene but with enough margin for the director or developers to add their personal
approach.
When a character is first introduced in the script, his name appears capitalized within the action
lines. This should always appear before the character says a single line of dialogue. After the
name, many screenwriters add a brief description usually containing his age.
INT. BEDROOM - MORNING
We see a man from his back, ROGER [22], sits in an old wooden
chair and is typing focused on his laptop screen. The darkness
in the room is only shattered by screen light.
Action lines can often feature notes that the writer leaves on open decisions which can be
decided later on by the movie director or the game developers. The notes are usually placed
between the title and the sluglines and preceded by the word [Note:].
CUT SCENE 1A INTRO THE RECRUIT
Note: This could be an in-game, real-time sequence.
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Dialogue
It is straight forward; the dialogue states the name of the character and then his sentences. The
name should be the same as presented in the action line, also capitalized. If a character has to
different versions, for instance Superman and Clark Kent, the name should change depending
on which of both characters he is in every particular scene.
4
From the Ghostbusters videogame Cutscenes Script written by John Zuur Platten & Flint Dille
https://www.theraffon.net/~spookcentral/journal/gbvg_script_cutscene2007-10-08.pdf
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There are certain elements, stated in parenthesis which help dialogue achieve personality and
help the actors or voice actors recite the lines as the author intends, for instance a [(pause)] or
[(slowly)]. If a character keeps talking after an action line, it has to be indicated with [(CON’T)]
indicating that the dialogue has been continued by the same character.
ROGER
(effusively)
Hi!
He turns around and breaking the fourth wall, looks straight
at the camera.
ROGER (CON’T)
How are you?
Extensions
Those indications go next to a character’s name in parenthesis and indicate how the dialogue
is heard by the audience. Those elements are the Voice Over (V.O.), which is used when a
character or the narrator speaks over the action but it can’t be heard by the other characters.
The Off Screen (O.S.), is dialogue heard by other characters but can’t be seen by the audience.
Other extensions are the Into Device (I.D.) which features character talking through screens,
radios or telephones. The Pre-Lap is used when the audience hears dialogue from another scene
before that scene has started.
Transitions
Transitions are used to indicate how the change between scenes should be done. Those
indications are written in bold capital letters and placed on the right of the page. There are a
few commonly used transitions, the most famous being [CUT TO:] which is an abrupt cut to
the next scene. Other transitions are: [SMASH TO:], [DISSOLVE TO:], [MONTAGE:],
[INTERCUT:] or often used in videogames after a Cutscene: [GO TO PLAYER:].
ROGER
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Hey! Cut to the next scene!
CUT TO:
Shots
Shots are often reserved for the technical script. It is a very rare annotation type nowadays
but if used, it is written in bold capital letters and placed in the left of the page. It shows how
the view of the scene has changed. There are a few examples such as [ANGLE ON],
[ROGER’S POV] (Point of View), [PAN TO] …
LOW-ANGLE
Roger stands up and starts walking away.
Chyrons or Title
Chyrons are the text that appears over the screen. It is often used to indicate the setting and
time of the action to the audience. In the script, writers usually use the word [Title]. Also can
be used to stablish the end title.
TITLE: 07:30am Barcelona
TITLE: The End
INT. SECRET ROOM - MORNING
[CUTSCENE]A bird flies away through an open window, revealing
a way out.
Sometimes, game writers also add the point of view that the player has. Mostly in the first scene
and describing game action by stating ‘The Player’ in the action lines of the script.
FADE IN:
EXT. A DIRT ROAD - DAY
[GAMEPLAY] From the first-person perspective of Silas Greaves,
the player makes his way up a dusty road past an abandoned
barn overgrown with weeds.
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2.2.2. Story Elements
A screenplay is a complex document and when including interactivity, it gets even more
complicated. It has to define exactly how the writer defines the story, giving descriptions as
accurate as possible so that the final product resembles as much as possible to how the writer
imagined it. To accomplish this the following elements have to be present and properly defined.
Theme
The theme is the subject of discussion, what’s the story about. It is in a way, the soul of the
story, the message that the writer wants to transmit. . This will lie underneath the actions of
the characters. This may be hidden underneath the action of the story, but in the end, the
audience has to identify the real theme underneath the external layers.
Time
The time is the temporal length that it will take the story to make its point, transmit the theme.
How long will it take to the characters to achieve their objectives. Usually, when talking about
movie screenplays, the proportion is a page per minute of story but this relation is bended when
the story is adapted into videogames.
Character
It was Aristotle
5
who stablished the dilemma between character and story. What comes first?
Do characters make a story or does the story create the characters? This is still unsolved. What
is clear is that story implies characters. Good and bad characters, the ones audience likes and
the ones the audience hates, important characters and minor ones.
They influence the story because they have a purpose and a goal to achieve. Characters create
situations when combining motivations and dialogues. Characters are in a way, ruled by their
goals which must be difficult enough to change the character. Having a goal that both works
for the characters and is credible for the audience requires to have something at stake that he
has to fight for. Then the character’s goal must be directly in conflict with the antagonist’s
goals.
5
In his book: The Logic of the Moral Life
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Dialogue
Dialogue defines character. How do they talk, what they say and who they tell it to; will draw
a character’s profile. In cinema and theater, dialogue is meant to be read and interpreted by
actors. Even in videogames, the dialogue is in the end, a voice-over done by real voice actors
and animators who bring models to life.
Good or bad dialogue can make a good story or completely destroy it. Also, dialogue can serve
as the perfect characterization to define a character’s personality. Dialogue is used to strengthen
the images the audience see not the other way around. It is better to show than to tell.
6
Writing dialogues is an art difficult to craft, very developed and advanced in cinema but that
still needs some advance in videogames. Dialogues imply subtext, that is what lies between the
lines. Few times a character talks about what he is doing. The worse that can happen to a
screenplay is that only by reading the dialogue, the story is understood.
According to Syd Field
7
, the objectives of the dialogue are making the action move along,
communicating facts or information to the audience, establishing relations between characters,
revealing conflicts and showing the emotional state of the characters.
According to Swain, the objectives of the dialogue are giving information without stopping the
action, revealing emotions and characterizing both the speaker and the listener. The words a
character says are less important than what they really mean or how he says those words.
Dialogue has to be credible, interesting, fun and dynamic. Avoiding the alternance between
questions and answers. Characters must be reflected through their dialogue; this means maybe
not saying the truth or hiding some information (McKee, 2016).
8
Daniel Aranda and Fernando de Felipe (Guion Audiovisual, 2014) stablish a list of the
functions of dialogue stated hereafter.
6
Information extracted from interviews of Aaron Sorkin or Quentin Tarantino which are highly recomended.
7
In his 1979 book: Screenplay - The Foundations of Screenwriting
8
Information deeply described in Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert
McKee (2016)
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Screenplaying Videogames - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
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To build and reflect the characters physiology and personality:
Each character should be defined and recognized by its dialogue. The expressions, tone, pace,
melody of the dialogue will help the characterization process. Aaron Sorkin
9
, one of the finest
writers of dialogue, compares it with poetry and music. The speed and the metrics of the
sentences will define character.
To show a revelation that transmits needs, objectives and aspirations:
Despite it is through actions that characters should reflect their intentions and needs, it is
usually through dialogue in conversation with other characters that certain information can be
revealed.
As a mean of interrelation between characters and the environment:
Characters have to feel human in a way that allows the audience to relate with them. Just like
real people, characters can point out certain facts or hidden information about their
surroundings.
To help the exposition transmit information to the audience:
As we’ll see later, the first part of a story is dedicated to give information to the audience in a
process called Exposition. Dialogues are an essential way to transmit certain information.
According to Dwight V. Swain
10
dialogues are a direct and effective way to give information
without stopping the action, avoiding text or non-verbal communication which can be
sometimes misleading.
To inform the audience of certain details, clues or information from the past:
Robert McKee (2002) along with many others analyzes the 1974 classic Chinatown
11
to
exemplify among many other things the great dialogues. Mostly as a mean to transmit
information from the past to the audience. A story only captures portions of time of the life of
the characters and therefore, there is relevant information that the audience needs that just has
9
Writer of the Social Network (2010), A Few Good Man (1992) or The Trial of the Chicago Seven (2020)
10
Swain, D.V. (1976) Film Scriptwriting. A Practical Manual. (2nd ed) Routledge.
11
Directed by Roman Polanski and Robert Towne.
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Screenplaying Videogames - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
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to be told via dialogue. Chinatown is great at transmitting information along with imparting
feeling in the audience as it comes from the interpretation of actors which achieves both
intentions at once.
As a way to make the story move forward and create new events:
As stated before, character is story and story is character. They are who move the story and
keep pushing it forward. It is through dialogues that this progression feels interesting and
exciting to the audience.
To create tension and confrontation in the dramatic moments or scenes:
A dramatic moment is nothing if we can’t see how, it affects the characters. Realism is
somehow overestimated, the intention is to create dramatic confrontation and appeal feeling
and to accomplish so, it is best to have an unreal text than a real one that feels apathetic.
As a way to solve dramatic points in the resolution and close sequences.
It is usually a dialogue line that becomes the perfect climax to close a scene or sequence or
even the story. A line that defines a clear ending and breaks the expectations of the audience
leading them to a place where they find emotion. One of the great examples is the ending line
of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’
12
performed by Nicole Kidman.
Setting
Setting is a four-dimensional story element; it is the group of details that define and give
personality to the locations and ambience of the scene. is the time and geographic
location within a narrative, either fiction or non-fiction.
The setting initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story, it can be referred to as story
world to include a context beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting
may include culture, historical period, geography, and time of day. Along with
12
The last Stanley Kubrick movie released in 1999.
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the plot, character, theme, and style, setting is considered one of the fundamental components
of fiction.
13
Duration
Is the inner time length that the story will take in the lives of the characters. A story can sum
up thousands of years or expand a minute into hours. It is the story length in time.
Location
The space where the defined action in the screenplay takes place. The setting for a scene or an
action has to be properly chosen to better define the state of the characters and the moment in
the story. As we’ll see later on, scenes need a location that along with action that defines them.
It is the physical dimension in the script that can either be real or fictional. In both cases the
screenplay needs to have a clear and properly defined locations even if it is a fictional planet
or a New York Street.
Level of Conflict
It is the human dimension in setting. The position of the story on the hierarchy of human
struggles. It is the social dimension. Does the story focus on an inner unconscious level or on
a higher level of the character’s feelings and emotions and personal conflicts?
Action
Actions are what the characters do. Activities are movement and this is no news, it was Aristotle
back in ancient Greece who defined stories are actions. Every event that happens is related and
interconnected. Action must replace thought in every moment. The doubts, thoughts, dilemmas
of the characters must be reflected in their actions.
For Syd Field, a screenplay is someone somewhere doing something. Action is everything in a
story, what happens in every moment must be well explained and detailed in the script, using
as many details as necessary.
13
Wikipedia contributors. (2020, November 12). Setting (narrative). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Setting_(narrative)&oldid=988337443
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Lightning
The narrative script will barely define lightning besides stating the moment in the day that the
scene takes place. Despite the responsibility of specifying lightning falling back onto the
technical script, the narrative script has to transmit the mood of the scene.
Sound and Music
Besides stating diegetic music which has to be included in the descriptions of the script, non-
diegetic music is up to either the technical script or up to the development of the final product.
Sounds on the other side are more common than music in screenplays.
2.2.3. Narrative Triangle
Stories though infinite are mapped and limited in their own possibilities as plots. Those
boundaries of the art create a triangle of possibilities. Each story is placed in a corner of that
triangle and falls inevitably into its rules.
We’ll explain the three corners of the triangle, each representing a type of story design. The
first triangle relates to Archplot or Classical Story Design, the second is the Miniplot or
Minimalism and the last is the Anti-Structure or Antiplot.
Roger Sanchez March
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Archplot
The Classical Design placed in top corner of the triangle as it is the
most common and accepted story type, is as described by McKee
14
as ‘Having the story that turns around an active protagonist that
struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue
his desire, through continuous time through a consistent and causally
connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute irreversible
change’. Most movies or stories fall under the category of archplot,
good examples are ‘Hamlet’ by Shakespeare or ‘Ready Player One’
by Steven Spielberg.
Miniplot
The Miniplot or minimalism, placed in the bottom left corner of the
triangle, features open or half-open endings with usually multi
protagonists with very deep internal conflicts and a passive
protagonist. It is called minimalism as it strives for simplicity and
economy while still maintaining a close relationship with the
archplot. Good miniplot examples are ‘Queen of Earth’ by Alex
Ross Perry or ‘Hereditary’ by Ari Aster.
Antiplot
The Antiplot also known as the absurd narrative or
anti-structure, is placed in the bottom right corner of
the triangle and it is based on the chaos. There is no
lineal time line, the causality turns into chance and
the reality is not coherent neither cohesive. It is fully
experimental and revolutionary search for
extravagance. Good examples are the novel by Bret
Easton Ellis ‘Less Than Zero’ or the movie ‘Un
Chien Andalú’ by Luís Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.
14
In his book Story
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Screenplaying Videogames - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
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2.2.4. Story Genre
Genres are just another way to classify stories, based on the setting, characters, plot,
mood, tone and theme. It comes from Aristotle who made a basic classification that separated
between tragic stories and fortunate stories that could be either simple or complex.
From literature to cinema and videogames, genres have been expanding until this point where
we have many different classifications and genres. It is recommended to respect and dominate
the genre in which the story is set on.
Just as it happens in music, genres are getting mixed and interconnected in order to create new
stories. When writing over a certain genre, it gives limits and boundaries of what can and what
can’t be done. These limitations help writers work in an easier position when having more
limited options.
We have listed all the different plot genres I’ve found. We include in this list the subgenres that
derive from either a mix of two genres or just an extension of the main genre. We include the
three basic genres based on a character arc defined by Norman Friedman which are the
Education Plot, the Redemption Plot and the Disillusionment plot. We will explain those arcs
more in depth later on.
Love or Romance Story
It is either focused on an archplot when based on a
single character or an miniplot when based on a
character ensemble. The focus is on a relationship
between characters that spins around a central love
story. A subgenre of the romance story is the Buddy
Salvation which exchanges the relationship of love
to one of a friendship.
Horror
The genre is clearly focused on frightening the audience, very accepted and used in
videogames. The genre can subdivide in various subgenres.
Roger Sanchez March
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The Uncanny Horror stands from a rational explanation of the horror
for instance a monster or a maniac. The Supernatural Horror stands
from an irrational point of view of the phenomenon such a presence
or a spirit. The last is called the Super-Uncanny which is a mix of
the two, which remains unclear to the audience. Good examples of
horror stories are Silent Hill, The Shining or Resident Evil.
Western
This genre is traditionally set in the latter half of
the 19th century styled as the old west but it spins
around the topic of an armed cowboy or
gunfighter. Westerns were the major defining
genre in the American film story that has
transcended into videogames with a great fit.
Good examples are Red Dead Redemption, Call
of Juarez or Django.
War Genre
Although war is usually the setting for
another genre, it is specifically about combat
in the battlefield or near it. Pro-war and anti-
war are its main subgenres. It is strongly
associated with the 20th century wars. Good
examples are Call of Duty, Gears of War or
Full Metal Jacket.
Maturation
This genre is centered around the growth or
maturation of a character in some way. It may
be a perfect representation of adolescent’s
change into adulthood. Or an adult
transitioning into a new level of wisdom. In
this genre, the turning points or beats become
really important.
Roger Sanchez March
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Modern Epic
This is genre is defined by heroic or legendary
adventures presented in a long format. This is
a very horizontal genre in the way that it can
reach from theatre to videogames, it works in
all mediums.
Testing
Stories of willpower versus temptation to surrender.
The character is tested to challenge his personal
strength and will for good against a tempting bad
force. A great example of this story type is Silence
by Martin Scorsese in which a priest’s faith is tested
to his limits.
Education
This genre arc is on a deep change within the
protagonist’s view of life, people or self from the
negative to the positive. This is also known as a
positive character arc in which a good character
becomes better. The main character grows
through a journey that changes his view of the
world. Harry Potter is a good example.
Redemption
Here the plot spins around the idea of a
character transitioning from bad to good.
The story turns around the character arc and
its journey from evil back to the bright side.
The best exemple is The Return of the Jedi
15
from the Star Wars saga.
15
In which Darth Vader redeems to the good and jedi side just before dying as Anakin Skywalker.
Roger Sanchez March
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Disillusionment
A deep change of worldview from the
positive to the negative. The character
breaks bad and commits to evil. Becoming
in every beat more of an antagonist of his
own story. The world that the character
knew at the beginning and the principles
that ruled his world fall apart.
Comedy
Based on events that are intended to make the
audience laugh, it doesn’t matter how is the story
presented. Mockumentaries are a subgenre of
comedy in which a documentary that is
something serious is brough to the satire.
Crime
The crime genre can adopt very different forms
which can be considered subgenres by setting
the point of view on one or another character. It
can be focused on the detective point of view or
on the criminal’s point of view, creating
subgenres such as the Thriller, Gangster or
Noire for instance L.A Noir or Seven.
Social Drama
This genre identifies problems in society
such as poverty, the educational system,
diseases, social disadvantages… The story
is built to show a cure or solution to the
problem in a certain situation.
Roger Sanchez March
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Action
Is defined by risk and stakes. The majority of the
story must include action sequences such as
fights, stunts, car chases, violence and physical
danger. Including a fight scene doesn’t make it
an action story. Good examples are Assassins
Creed, Die Hard or John Wick.
Adventure
This often borrows aspects from other
genres but including ideas and concepts
such as destiny, disaster or survival. Good
examples are Life is Strange, Uncharted or
Jurassic Park directed by Steven Spilberg,
a great adventure director.
Historical Drama
History is an inextinguishable source of
material for stories based on real stories.
What is past must keep being present. This
genre can be used to set under any of the
other genres but will give more depth and
maybe different approach and color to the
story.
Biography
This is similar to the historical drama but focusing
on a person rather than an era. It must never become
a simple chronicle. The biographer will have to
interpret a life and dramatize it and interpret facts
as if those were fiction. Good examples are Forest
Gump, The Wolf of Wall Street or the Founder.
Roger Sanchez March
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Musical
It is a direct descent from the opera, this genre
presents a reality in which characters sing and
dance their stories around. It is often linked to a
love story or a social drama. It is mostly
accepted in theatre and cinema. Good examples
are Moulin Rouge, La La Land or The Greatest
Showman.
Science Fiction
It is based on a hypothetical future
which is usually technological and
dystopic. It is usually linked to a
modern epic or an action-adventure
genre. Good examples are Alien,
Bioshock or Half Life.
Sports
This genre is usually combined with maturation
or redemption plots, lonely or lost characters that
are going to change throughout the story. Good
examples are FIFA, Rocky or Fire Carriages.
Fantasy
Also known as high or epic fantasy
this genre is often set in a fictional and
usually medieval universe featuring
magical and supernatural elements
that don’t exist in the normal world
tough fantasy can also be juxtaposed
with the real world. Good examples
are Zelda or The Lord of the Rings.
Roger Sanchez March
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Art
The art genre is centered in the other two other
story types in the triangle: Minimalism and
Antistructure. This genre is out to experiment
and create new complex forms of art that will
have to be different from anything done
before. Good examples are Loving Vincent,
Funny Games.
2.2.5. Master Plots
As said before in the introduction, all plots are the same. The only thing that change are
the details. The number of stories that can be written is infinite, the number of plots is limited.
Roland B. Tobias states them a in his book ‘The 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them’ in
which he defines in detail those plots and how to build stories on top. We have listed down
below the 20 plots with a brief definition and with a videogame and a movie that follow that
master plot in their story.
Quest or Search
In this first master quest very common in
videogames, the hero is looking for something,
someone or something. The hero might as well be
looking for an inner change which will be mirrored in
their external journey. Good example of this master
plot is ‘The Wizard of Oz’ or ‘The Last of Us’.
Adventure
This is close to the Quest but with less focus on the
end goal of the character but in the journey itself.
There is usually more action than in a Quest Plot.
Good examples of this master plot are ‘Indiana Jones:
Raiders of the Lost Arc’ and ‘The Secret of the
Monkey Island’.
Roger Sanchez March
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Pursuit
The focus of this master plot is on the run. The
hero is chasing something or someone, even
multiple or alternating objectives.
The objective that is on the run might be
caught or escape from the hero depending on
the story. Good examples of this master plot
are The Fugitive and Super Mario Bros.
Rescue
Somebody is captured by an antagonist and
must be captured by the hero. This creates
a triangle between the hero, the antagonist
and the kidnapped. Usually there is a final
battle after the victim is rescued. The hero
explores the world as he gets to where the
victim is kept. Both the hero and the victim
depend and react on the antagonist actions.
The steps or acts are the Separation, the persecution and the conflict between the hero and the
antagonist. Good examples of this master plot are The Princess Bride and Super Mario Bros.
Escape
The hero is the victim and has to rescue
himself. There may be a little help from
others. It gives more room to appeal
feeling as the hero may explain why he
has been imprisoned unfairly.
There may be a pursuit after this escape
carried out by the antagonist. Good
examples of this master plot are The
Shawshank Redemption and A Way Out.
Roger Sanchez March
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Revenge
A character longs for justice for a past crime.
This plot depends on moral outrage for gaining
sympathy from the audience. The steps or acts
for a revenge are a crime, then the plan of
vengeance and the battle avenger against
antagonist. Good examples of this master plot
are The Revenant or Red Dead Redemption.
The Riddle or Enigma
It follows a puzzle structure, with a cause-
effect relation that leads the story. It is
very important to hide the important
information naturally. It both entertains
the audience and challenges them to find
a solution before the hero who will be
uncovering clues and, in the end, will find
out the final solution.
The story might also be spiced out by adding terrible consequences if the riddle isn’t solved in
time. Good examples of this master plot are Virginia or LA Noir.
Rivalry
Two characters are pursuing the same objective
with their own personal motivations. They are
faced as bitter enemies. The rise and fall curves
of both the hero and the antagonist are opposed.
Usually, their competition implies that there can
only be one winner. So, the loser will also lose in
honor. Good examples of this master plot are Ben
Hur.
Roger Sanchez March
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Underdog
It is similar to rivalry but with the difference that one of the two
has a little disadvantage and is expected to lose. This character,
the underdog is usually the hero who wins due to a great
determination, a greater moral condition or with a little help from
his friends or a third party.
It requires a final battle in equal conditions for both. Good
examples of this master plot are Rocky or Karate Kid.
Temptation
It is about the rupture of the moral code of the
hero after being put in check. If the character
takes the temptation will be diminished in power.
The battle is therefore internal, fighting against
the inner voices which will tell them to succumb.
Good examples of this master plot are Amadeus
or American Beauty.
Maturation
It is similar to transformation but applied to children
and teenagers. The character grows up, the younger
times are lost faded into the past and a new and
different future comes up. The maturation of the child
may help another character re-find his purpose. The
steps or acts those maturations follow are the stability
which is for the character its childhood, the break off
which may happen in a different world, rejection of the
new situation and finally development of a new belief
which he will test. Good examples of this master plot
are Good Will Hunting or Trainspotting.
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Metamorphosis
A character changes physically its appearance and this is
reflexed in its inner life. The story may then continue with the
change present either struggling to come back to the original
form or adapting and using it with a particular purpose.
The steps or acts are: the initial curse that is cured with love,
the conflict and the final crisis. Good examples of this master
plot are Dracula or Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Transformation
The hero makes an inner analysis and ends up knowing himself
better. It is focused in the changing process of the character. The
change is often driven by an unexpected circumstance or event.
After the setback, the character learns and usually becomes
someone better, as an improved version of himself.
Forbidden Love
‘Boy meets Girl’ followed by a big ‘but’. Conflict comes after the introduction. They get
separated in the way to get reunited eventually in the end in a joyful final.
The love conflict causes the breaking of
a social, cultural or moral rule. The story
may turn around their inner conflicts and
the relation with the society they live in.
Good examples of the forbidden love
master plot are Titanic or Romeo and
Juliet.
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Sacrifice
The main character immolates himself
in order to save someone or a bigger
cause. The character gives much more
than ordinary people would give.
Empathy is what will bring the
character to make a sacrifice in the end.
The character starts out with his strong principles, a moral dilemma which is followed
eventually by the sacrifice. Good examples of this master plot are Casablanca or The Green
Mile.
Discovery
The hero finds something out either great or terrible that will make him make a difficult choice.
The importance of the discovery might not be known at first hand the process of revelation
might be important for the story.
The objective of the hero is to understand
the meaning of life throughout an inner
purification. The steps or acts of a discovery
plot are the world and state of mind before
the revelation, then his uncertainty and
finally a teaching. Good examples of this
master plot are Unbreakable or Spotlight.
Descension
In opposite to the ascension, the
character starts out in a decent and
high standard and slowly descends to
his ever-lowest point. Usually as they
are unable to handle stress. Good
examples of this master plot are The
Godfather or Citizen Kane.
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Wretched Excess
The hero tries to reach the extremes of some
restlessness. The protagonist goes beyond
accepted or legal behavior as the world looks on.
It can happen when an ordinary character is
placed in an extraordinary world or vice versa.
The steps or acts of the wretched excess master
plot are the stability in which the character
starts, slow and gradual loss of control and
finally a total and irreversible loss of control.
Good examples of this master plot are The Wolf
of Wall Street or Macbeth.
Ascension
The character starts out as a sinner of some
kind and slowly turns into becoming a better
person often due to overcoming the stress that
would have destroyed an ordinary person.
He achieves a heroic status. Good examples of
this master plot are The Elephant Man or The
Social Network.
2.2.6. Old Myths Plots
To the screenwriter, it may be easier to follow a classification of stories based upon old myths
or stories. The names given to those plot types are just a way of summarizing the general idea,
usually due to genre or traditional bonding.
Afterlife Love: Tormented characters find in love the escape from their everlasting pain.
Life as a Dream: The characters mix a made-up world and their reams with reality.
Dramatized Life: The fate and future of the characters is stablished by a greater force.
Enchanted House: The place where the world of the dead meets the world of the living.
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The Eternal Return: Human condition cycle that usually involves the punishment of the
main character.
Descent into Hell: A journey to the underworld or enemy territory to live a purifying
experience.
Alien Invasion: A character from another world invades the main character world or
environment.
The Hecatomb: It is a bloody crisis or disaster with a purifying nature.
The Game: Life is taken as a real and dangerous game that the characters play in.
2.3. Story Structure
Structure is the skeleton and articulation of the story even if the author didn’t think about
it consciously. Most of the stories share a single structure build around a three-act structure
which we will be analyzing in depth later on, but there are many more structures depending on
the medium. Structure serves to both create the story in the best suitable way for the story and
create pace and rhythm in the most dramatic way for the audience.
2.3.1. Parts and Strong Script Points
To talk about structure, I will first list and explain the main elements of a story structure.
It is important to clear out some concepts before talking about in depth and how they are
interrelated.
Continuous Progression
The story has to be like some stairs that always go up. Each event must be higher and more
dramatic than the previous ones. Each step has to solve previous questions and create new ones.
The story has to start from the lowest point in the story but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring
or low. Hitchcock said ‘Start out from an earthquake and go up to the climax’.
Exposition
It is the initial part of the story, the starting point is used to inform the audience and set them
in context. The first minutes in which we have to give as much information as we can in the
smaller time possible. The communication of information has to be dramatized in order to fit
better to the player.
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It doesn’t have to look like an exposition, it has to come natural to the player. We as screen
writers will have to stablish what the player needs to know and then give him the need and urge
to know it. Finally, to smoothly give that information, we will need a character that needs that
information as well and that will learn it along with the player.
Beats or Pulsations
Beats as defined by McKee and also defined as pulsations, are the smallest elements of structure
inside a scene. This is not the same as the word ‘beat’ that some writers use to define a short
pause in the character’s dialogue.
‘A beat is an exchange of behavior in action/reaction. (McKee, 2002) The scene changes beat
by beat until it reaches the desired objective. Inside the videogame world, it could be defined
as every small act the player has to carry out to get to the end of a mission or quest.
It creates a shift in tone or pace of the scene and that will slowly shape the character’s arc. A
bit can simply be when a character realizes or accomplishes something. A beat can reveal a
twist in the story or when something important happens to the character. Every beat has a
unique function in the story. There are a few functions that a beat can fulfill:
Make the plot move along
Give some new information
Introduce a Character
Relate or link to or more characters
Characterize a character
Reveal an objective or wish
Show a plan
Show an obstacle or difficulty
Present, develop or solve a conflict
Bring rhythm and movement
Introduce questions or expectations
Plant and prepare events
Create emotion
Reveal Something
Create a turning point
Reveal another point of view
Void or Gaps
In the void also known as gap, the objective and the subjective get in contact. It could be defined
as the space between the expectations and the result of a certain scene. The void slows down
the protagonist and stops him from getting what he wants which creates a more complex and
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tense situation. The result of the previous scene places the character in a situation or place
which he did not expect.
The inner conflicts coming from personal and extra personal conflicts push the void to happen.
The void leads the character to a new action and a new risk situation which will be the only
way to the object of desire. After every story beat, a void proportional to the narrative strength
of the beat is created.
Scenes
Scenes are where the action happens through conflict. All of which have to be identified by
space and time. Each scene needs a narrative purpose, each scene is an event leading to
accomplish that purpose. When this happens, the scene has to end. In every scene the character
must have something at stake. Every scene must change something, if it doesn’t that scene is
meaningless and should be removed.
Sequences
When we have a group of scenes that fulfill a single purpose, we have a sequence. Sequences
are the largest parts of the story design after acts. The final scene of a sequence has to create a
clear and important change in the story which leads to the next sequence, those scenes need
good toppings. Usually, sequences are composed of around five scenes. Naming those scenes
helps structure the story.
Acts
Acts are the biggest parts of a narrative structure; it is a group of sequences that fall under the
same purpose in a story. Depending on the medium, we will have more or less acts. The end of
an act matches with the end of a scene and a sequence. That particular scene is very important
to the story as it must imply a change in value with a bigger impact to the characters and the
story than the other scenes. Each act must end with a narrative climax. Each one bigger than
the last one that has to bring and irreversible change.
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2.3.2. Three Act Structure
As we said before when talking about structure, every story has one and the most used
is the three-act structure. Popularized by literature and cinema. The three-act structure is a
model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts (acts), often called the Setup,
the Confrontation and the Resolution. It has been described by Syd Field in his 1979
book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.
16
The origins of the three-act structure go back to the dramatic structure that when Aristotle
defined that ‘A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end’ (Poetics, 335 BC). The
three-act structure is directly related to the story conflict.
The First Act
The first act or Setup is usually used for the exposition, to establish the main characters, their
relationships, and the world they live in. This information is essential to know the starting
conditions, how things are before the development of the story; what the protagonist is like,
what motivates him, who the antagonist is, what he is like, what conflict he has with the
protagonist...
Between the approach and the end of the first act, information is often included that at first
seems irrelevant or that, at least, does not advance the story, but it will be essential to justify
and give coherence to events and actions that will take place in development.
It presents the conflict and how it affects the characters and their world. It is usually the first
25% of the story, it is defined by the inciting incident and ends with the first plot point. It has
to hook the audience into the story.
The Second Act
The second act or Confrontation and also called middle, is used as a payoff for the first act and
a setup for the third act. It typically depicts the protagonist's attempt to resolve the problem
initiated by the first turning point. It usually runs until the 75% or 90% mark of the story so it’s
16
Three-act structure. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 14, 2020,
from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Three-act_structure&oldid=967058895
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a fair two quarters of the story. It creates a rising action that leads to some story-changing event
at the midpoint and ends right at the second plot point.
The Third Act
The third act or Resolution features the ending of the story and its subplots. It closes the
narration with the last 10% or 25% of the story. It is defined by the climax and the resolution.
With the conflict resolved, the story will be out of fuel and will have to end before things slow
down too much and the audience gets bored.
2.3.3. Kubrick’s Non-Submersible Units
Stanley Kubrick, considered to be one of the best filmmakers of all times, defined what
came to be known as non-submersible units as his perfect structure. He stated that a story can
be constructed from six to eight non-submersible units.
17
A non-submersible unit is a fundamental story sequence where all the element that are in
themselves not essential are put aside. These units are themselves so compelling that would
keep the audience interested from one to the other.
Containing only the essential elements for the story which don’t have to be connected to any
bigger structure such as the three acts neither have to be fully understood by the audience to
appeal feeling. A great example of this appears in his most acclaimed movie 2001: A Space
Odyssey that has the following units:
1. The monolith appears on earth at the dawn of mankind.
2. A first ape finds the monolith and evolves creating weapons.
3. Another monolith is found on the moon by astronauts.
4. Mankind sends a manned spacecraft to Jupiter following a clue.
5. Hal 9000, the spacecraft AI endangers the mission.
6. David Bowman beats Hal and contacts with the monolith.
7. The first star child is born.
17
Spyhunter200 (2016) Reddit.
https://www.reddit.com/r/Screenwriting/comments/3f91z6/nonsubmersible_units_structural_storytelling_via/
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2.3.4. Vladimir Propp’s 31 Narratemes
1. Assentation: Someone goes missing
This first step usually serves as the hero's introduction, typically portraying them as an ordinary
person. A member of the hero's community or family leaves his security zone or environment
for some reason.
18
2. Interdiction: Hero is advised not to get involved
The hero is warned against some action about the abstention. Usually, the hero trying to find
the absented character. This may be the hero themselves, or some other member of the
community that the hero will later on have to rescue.
3. Violation of Interdiction: Hero decides to get involved
The hero doesn’t listen and ignores the interdiction either by accident, following his temper or
by a third party. It usually leads to negative consequences as the villain enters the story here.
4. Reconnaissance: Villain seeks something
The villain makes an attempt to obtain the thing he desires. This might be to get something
valuable, to capture someone, to speak with someone or to meet the hero. This is used to show
the strength and power of the villain.
5. Delivery: Villain gains information
The villain succeeds, his effort gives him his payoff. He gets some kind of useful information
usually about the hero or about a McGuffin. A map is often involved in some level of the event.
It can also be the intentions of the hero. It is a lucky strike for the villain, which creates tension
in the story.
6. Trickery: Villain attempts to deceive the victim
The villain goes further and attempts to deceive the victim to acquire something valuable.
Usually by using the information obtained before. Sometimes the villain makes little or no
deception and instead ransoms one valuable thing for another.
18
Everald, J (2007, February 12) Mindsigh. http://lostbiro.com/blog/?page_id=522
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7. Complicity: Hero helps the enemy
The hero or victim is fooled or tricked and helps the villain, who is now free to access
somewhere he couldn’t before. This goes from actively giving something to the enemy like a
weapon or a power to working against some allies even to the point that may seem villainous.
8. Villainy and Lacking: The Need is identified
There are two parts in this stage. In the first one, the villain harms an allied. In the second part,
a lack in the heroes’ environment is identified, something’s missing and the villain is present.
9. Mediation: Hero discovers the Lack
The hero finds out about the evil act of the villain or the negative factors around himself. He
might even find his community devastated by the antagonistic force.
10. Beginning Counteraction: Hero chooses positive action
The hero tries new options to solve his conflict, to resolve the lack in his world. This is a
defining moment for the hero, one that shapes their further actions and marks the point when
they begin to fit their noble mantle.
11. Departure
The hero leaves the home environment, this time with a sense of purpose. Here is where his
adventure begins either voluntary or against his will.
12. First Function of The Donor
19
The hero meets a Donor, who is a magical helper on their path. The hero is tested in some
manner through interrogation, combat or puzzle. The Donor may give the hero a magical object
for his journey.
13. Hero's Reaction
The hero responds to the actions of the donor usually disparaging the lessons and failing to his
tests. This may also be when the hero comes to understand the villain's skills and powers for
the first time.
19
Arvidsson, A. (2003) Diva Portal. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:156802/FULLTEXT01.pdf
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14. Receipt of A Magical Agent
The hero receives a magical object as a consequence of his good actions. This may be a directly
acquired item, something located after navigating a tough environment, a good purchased or a
hard-earned resource, an item crafted with found ingredients. It can also be a spontaneously
summoned item from another world, a magical food or drink, or even the earned or aid.
15. Guidance
The hero arrives to a vital location maybe via some magical transport, perhaps related to one
of the above functions such as the home of the donor or the location of the magical agent or its
parts, or even to the villain’s place.
16. Struggle
The hero will struggle in a direct conflict against the antagonistic force. Usually, face-to-face
combat in which there is no escape. The hero will fail at many points but still get away.
20
17. Branding
The hero is marked in some way, perhaps by receiving a distinctive permanent scar or granted
a cosmetic token which will modify his being or body such as a wound from the villain.
18. Victory
At last, the villain is defeated by the hero in some way, either killed in combat, outperformed
in a contest. The villain may as well be sent to a distant land where he can’t do no harm.
21
19. Liquidation or Resolution
The earlier misfortunes or conflict of the story is resolved. The magical spell may be broken,
the treasure found, the castle conquest or the princess rescued. It brings relief and satisfaction
as the main story plot is completed.
20
Dogra, S. (2017, August) Research Gate. The Thirty-One Functions of Valdimir Propp’s Morphology of the
Folk Tale. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319293980_The_Thirty-
One_Functions_in_Vladimir_Propp's_Morphology_of_the_Folktale_An_Outline_and_Recent_Trends_in_the_
Applicability_of_the_Proppian_Taxonomic_Model
21
Propp, V. (1927) Morphology of the Folktake (Extract). http://www-personal.umich.edu/~esrabkin/Propp.htm
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20. Return
The hero travels back to their home although with a bag of experiences or with the treasure at
his hands. The hero has no suspicion that some bandits or some antagonistic threat may be
waiting for him.
21. Pursuit
The hero is chased by some threatening adversary, who wants to capture him and maybe get
the treasure back. It might not be a good idea to fight as he already won but the alternative is a
race home with the antagonistic force.
22. Rescue
The pursuit ends as the hero is saved from the chase. Something may act as an obstacle to delay
the pursuer. The hero may find or be shown a way to hide, up to and including transformation
unrecognizably into another form with a higher state of mind.
22
23. Unrecognized Arrival
The hero arrives, whether in a location along their journey or in their destination, and is
unrecognized either willingly as he no longer seeks adoration or because of his outside change
due to the journey.
24. Unfounded Claims
A false hero presents unfounded claims as if he had completed the mission himself. This may
be the main antagonistic force or an unrelated party. This false hero might be an already known
character that turns out to be a traitor in the last moment.
25. Difficult Task
The hero may be asked or forced to completed a final task consisting of riddles or a test of
strength and worth. A last effort for the hero to prove himself.
22
Brenann, O. (2020, April 7) The Functions of Fairytales. Into The Script
https://www.intothescript.com/2020/04/the-function-of-fairytales.html
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26. Solution
The hero accomplishes the difficult task assigned successfully and becomes worth deserving
of his position. It provides relief and a feeling of closure to the story.
27. Recognition
The hero gets clearly differentiated from the false hero. He is given recognition for his work
and effort. This recognition might even come from the antagonist.
28. Exposure
The false hero or villain is exposed and publicly recognized as a traitor or as what he truly is.
This usually happens in the final battle. They often expose themselves through their non-heroic
actions such as cowardice or lies.
29. Transfiguration
The hero gains a new appearance, it serves to improve their looks. Their wounds are dressed
and their bodies cleansed. Whereas they may well have arrived tattered and dirty, they now are
clean and attractive.
30. Punishment
The villain suffers the consequences of their actions, he gets a deserved punishment. Perhaps
at the hands of the hero, the avenged victims, or as a direct result of their own acts.
31. Wedding
The hero marries and is rewarded or ascended by the family or community, typically rising to
a throne. In some stories, the acknowledgement of victory is enough. At this point will either
go to live a quiet live or go adventuring again.
23
23
Scott, L. (1968) Morphology of the Folktale. Trans., University of Texas Press.
http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/propp/propp.htm
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2.3.5. Blake Snyder’s 15 Beat Sheet
After reading many script theorists and watching many movies Blake Snyder
24
decided
to stablish his own structure system though to have more specific and defined beats that help
write and create a story.
1. Opening Image
The introduction to the world and a counterpoint to the final image, it should stablish the
message to transmit or theme of the story. It is the very first impression of the story the audience
will get, its tone, mood, style and type of story. It shows how the character is right at his starting
point.
2. Theme Stated
This sets the moral of the story, the thematic premise that will guide both the protagonist and
the audience through the journey. It is usually stated via dialogue, not directly but between the
lines. That dialogue will become more meaningful as the story advances.
3. Set-Up
This beat has to grab the audience attention as quick as possible. The audience gets to know
the hero as well as identifying with him. The status quo of the world is stablished as well as the
conflicts both internal and external that define both the characters and their world. Most of the
characters of the main story are either hinted or presented. This beat stages the elements that
are wrong and need fixing, have to be changed.
4. Catalyst
This bat sets the plot in motion. It is the first time that something interesting happens in the
story. It must happen in the best moment possible, not too soon neither too late. It has to be
important enough for the hero to place him in motion and forcing him to consider starting a
journey.
24
Snyder, B. (2005). Save The Cat! The last book on screenwriting you'll ever need. (6a ed.)
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5. Debate
The hero is undecided whether to take the quest or turn back. He has to understand the risks of
going on that journey and overcome the fear of the dangers that it involves. The debate must
raise a question of some kind that usually revolves around the theme of the story relating it
with the hero.
6. Break into Act Two
Once the debate is answered with the hero leaving for his adventure, the story enters the second
act. The hero sets off on their journey, leaving his world behind. This is represented by a very
important event, something big must happen. The world that the hero enters is the antithesis of
the hero’s initial world, that’s why the stepping into it must be definite.
7. B Story
Once in the second act, the secondary plot or helper story is introduced. Which is usually based
on a love interest, a mentor but above all used to challenge the hero’s beliefs and with a
presence of the story theme. It gives a blow of fresh air into the starting to be obvious plot, as
it talks about something else (apparently). It also introduces a bunch of new characters.
8. Fun and Games
The hero explores the new world but finds himself outmatched; he understands that the journey
is going to be more difficult than expected. This is the core of what would appear on the trailer,
the interesting and striking events. It is in a way the heart and essence of the story; it should
give the promised. The hero tries and shows his powers.
9. Midpoint
From that point on, there is no turning back. The stakes are raised, either with a false victory
or false defeat. Often a time clock is introduced to add pressure and tension in the story. The
midpoint can either be very good for the character as a false high moment or very low as a false
collapse. It changes the course of the story as the fun and games beat is over.
25
25
Reid, A. (2020, November 27). Save the Cat, an Overview. Arc Studio Pro.
https://www.arcstudiopro.com/save-the-cat-an-overview/
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10. Bad Guys Close In
Before things get better, they will get a little bit worse. The antagonistic forces either internal
or external become present. This comes as a hit of a hard truth that brings the hero to a low
point. The bad guys being whatever the antagonistic force is, it strikes harder than ever. It's the
point where internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy begin to disintegrate the hero's team, leaving
him alone.
11. All Is Lost
The hero’s chances for success are put at their lowest point yet forcing him to question
everything. It is often labeled as the false defeat; no hope seems to remain. This beat is often
used to kill a character or a symbol, usually a mentor. This clears the ways to prove that the
hero can overcome his fate on his own as he’s had it in him all along.
12. Dark Night of the Soul
The hero has lost all hope which recalls the theme stablished in the second beat. This beat is
where the hero shows how he feels about the last beat. How he reacts when everything seems
lost. The hero must be and feel beaten before finding the solution.
13. Break into Act Three
The hero discovers a revelation or idea which constructs into a new plan. It is the solution to
his problems and situation. Usually and most likely thanks to the characters that appeared in
the B story. The only thing he has to do is focus his new knowledge into a plan.
14. Finale
The hero finishes what he started by first gathering his team with who they’ll execute the plan
leading to a high surprise or counter event. Then is when the hero finally digs deep down in his
soul and executes a final new plan. The thematic conflict of the story is resolved. It is not
enough for the hero to triumph; he must change the world.
15. Final Image
This beat is the inverse of the opening image and a snapshot of the world left after the journey.
It is the proof that the hero has changed and that it is a real change.
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2.3.6. Dan Wells’ Seven Point System
Dan Wells stablishes this structure to create and organize stories in a more efficient and
canonic way. As the title says, there are seven plot points that move the characters from the
start to the end of the story creating a story skeleton.
The points can be divided as when presented in the story, meaning in order and with their lineal
structure, or when writing them. In a conference at ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’ in
2010 Dan Wells explained those points in the order that should be written or at least in the way
that he recommends writing those.
We establish them in the order that will be seen in the story which is how are meant to be
structured, not without mentioning the outline writing order.
1. The Hook
The character is at the opposite state from which he will be in the end. This point shows the
state of the character in his ordinary life before the action begins. Its only purpose is to grab
the player and don’t let him go. It has to be some impressive event, weird surprising and
enigmatic. It can be either plot points or beats in the story that keep the audience trapped in the
story. It consists in creating curiosity and not resolving until that a new intrigue has been
planted.
2. The First Plot Turn Point or Catalyst
Something changes that sets the story in motion as a starting event. It is a call to adventure also
known as the initiating incident or catalyst. It is the first big event in the first act of the story
so the player will notice it and it should grab his attention. It has to be dynamic and completely
developed.
It is a door to the second act which will metaphorically destroy the normal world, tearing apart
his stability and safety as well as forcing him out changing radically the balance of forces that
exist in the life of the protagonist. In the more or less stabilized life of that certain character,
the catalyst has to break that stability and move him to an uncomfortable position.
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3. The First Pinch Point
A negative event occurs that stops or slows down the character who will have to focus on this
problem that’s keeping him from moving. It is usually used to introduce the enemies or
antagonist force. The audience is reminded what the character is against.
4. The Midpoint
This is when the character moves from reaction to action. He decides to move towards the end
state. It is usually in the middle of the story in the extern real time and is defined usually as a
revelation that will change the story in a new direction.
5. The Second Pinch Point
Something goes very wrong. The plan the character had fails, a mentor may die or the
antagonist accomplishes something important.
6. The Second Plot Turn Point
The character gets or learns something or even achieves some power that pushes him to the
resolution. It is the last piece of a puzzle.
7. The Climax or Resolution
The climax is the point where the character’s ambitions and the danger in he is in reach its
limit. After the climax there can’t be more tension, it has to go down. It will be the peak of
tension of the story so it will have to be carefully planned.
The last 20% of the story is the most important part of the story. We have to leave the best for
the end. If there is no climax, there is no story. The better the climax, the better the story. This
is what all the story leads to and therefore what the story is about. The antagonistic force is
defeated and the character becomes a different person, achieving or not what he came for.
It is the readjustment when the character reaches his goals. The conflict has to be solved and
all the questions answered. The resolution has to come from inside the main plot. The story can
end with either an open ending which doesn’t answer all the questions and leaves them to the
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interpretation of the player. The other type of endings are the closed ones which solve or at
least should solve all the questions raised along the story. Often, the resolution comes at the
hand of a final plot twist that surprises the player and gives a new perspective to the story.
2.3.7. Hero’s Journey or Monomyth
The Hero’s Journey consists of a common template that serves to structure story acts and
plot points in narratives with a present hero which goes on an adventure, is victorious in a crisis
and comes home changed or transformed. The monomyth is a universal concept commonly
shared and accepted by all cultures and narrators worldwide.
Other people have created variations of the monomyth not included them in this thesis are
defined by Phil Cousineau (1990)
26
and David Adam Leeming (1981)
27
.
Joseph Campbell’s 17 Stages
This concept was popularized in 1949 by Joseph Campbell
28
in which he describes 17 different
stages organized in three acts. First, the Departure or Separation, then the Initiation or Descent
and finally the Return.
Departure or Separation
1. The Call to
Adventure
2. Refusal of the Call
3. Supernatural Aid
4. Crossing the First
Threshold
5. Belly of the Whale
26
Cousineau, P. (Dec 2013). Burning Midnight Oil: Illuminating Words for the Long Night's Journey into Day.
27
Leeming, D. A. (1990). The world of myth. New York: Oxford University Press. (6th ed.)
28
Campbell, J. (2012). The Hero with a Thousand Faces (3rd ed.) New World Library.
Initiation or Descent
6. The Road of Trials
7. The Meeting with
the Goddess
8. Woman as the
Temptress
9. Atonement with the
father
10. Apotheosis
11. The Ultimate Boon
Return
12. Refusal of the
Return
13. The Magic Flight
14. Rescue from
Without
15. The Crossing of the
Return
16. Master of the Two
Worlds
17. Freedom to Live
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Those steps have been rearranged in the most modern version which was defined by
Christopher Vogler in 2007
29
and is composed of 12 stages. This is the version I will be
analyzing in depth as it’s the most accepted one nowadays.
Christopher Vogler’s 12 Stages
1. The Ordinary World
The character is in his daily life before his journey begins, in a safe but boring place. He is not
aware of the adventures yet to come. In this first stage we learn about his true inner nature,
abilities and perspective on life. We get to identify with him as he lives in a world most similar
to ours and that contrasts to the darker adventure world in which he will dive into.
The setting in the ordinary world provides context and sets a first impression on how does that
world work specially in stories with new worldbuilding for the audience. The ordinary world
will define a standard which the audience will use to compare to how the world is in the end of
the story. At first, it will seem perfect but later reveal to be dark in some way.
2. The Call to Adventure
The hero journey begins when he receives a call to action, a challenge that alters his world and
places him in a situation of danger. It has to be something that cannot be ignored.
3. Refusal of the Call
The character fears the challenge and even denies it often because of fear. He will feel that he
is not ready or up to the challenge. He will rather stay at his safe place than hit the road to
adventure. The refusal will make him suffer somehow.
29
Vogler, Christopher (2007) The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Studio City, CA: Michael
Wiese Productions.
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4. Meeting the Mentor
At this point the hero will get the help of a mentor figure who will give him something he needs
whether it is physical, spiritual or emotional. Usually, wise advice which will give him the
courage and strength to begin his quest.
5. Crossing the First Threshold
The hero abandons his normal world to dive into the unknown, doing what he is scared to. This
step means that he commits to the journey and whatever may come for him.
6. Tests, Allies and Enemies
Finally, out of his comfort zone, the hero is confronted with challenges that will test him in a
variety of ways. Obstacles are across his path which he will have to overcome. He will earn
allies and make some enemies.
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
It represents the danger towards the protagonist. This can come from an enemy or an inner
conflict which up until now the hero hasn’t had to face. The hero will have to prepare to make
the step of getting into the great unknown that it is the heart of the unknown world.
8. The Ordeal
It is a dangerous test that the hero will have to face with the help of the experiences he has
gathered in his journey so far. Only through some form of ‘death’ will the hero reborn,
experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that gives him the necessary strength to continue his
journey. This is the most important step in his journey because if he fails, he will either die or
become part of a worse world. It has to be the hero’s most feared nightmare that he will have
to face.
9. Reward
The hero sees light at the end of the tunnel after his long journey. The reward can be an object
or some knowledge or even another character. This step is usually referred as seizing the sword.
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10. The Road Back
The story is not over yet. The hero will have to use the reward, to go back to the ordinary world.
In his way, more dangers will come in the way. It is the start of the third act and a direct
consequence of the underworld, the hero will have to defeat a final enemy with his reward.
Those evil forces will try to steal the reward or try to kill him.
11. Resurrection
It is the climax of the story. Everything that has happened before was only to lead to and build
up this moment. It is a final test for the hero who will have to defeat the great dark force and
win. If the hero survives, he can look to a bright ending and get back to his ordinary world with
an accomplished mission.
12. Return with the Elixir
The character comes back to his world as a hero with the reward that makes his world better.
He is a different person that brings usually some knowledge with him. The main characters are
not the same anymore, they have matured. There are many things that do not end, they just
begin again in a new way
30
.
31
30
Quote by C. Joybell C.
31
Image from the Wikipedia page Hero’s Journey. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey
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2.3.8. Interactive Narrative Structures
The function of narrative in video games exists to both structure the game flow and to guide
the players all the way through. The type of games can alter and influence the structure of the
narration. In big terms, there are two types of interactive narratives depending on the amount
of freedom that the player is given.
Linear Narrative Structure
The player cannot change the storyline or ending of the story. Linear games are the closest to
cinema as they tell a story without considering that the choices that a player can make will
influence the plot. If properly designed, using a lineal interactive experience is a perfectly valid
and effective way to tell a story alongside with interactivity. Steve Ince (Writing for
Videogames, 2006) exemplifies the linearity in video games using the following figure.
Linear Gameplay
Linear gameplay will have a player who can only solve a gameplay situation in a single way.
Both the story and the gameplay are linear. It has the player tied to the story and has no ability
to decide anything that influence its outcome.
Non-Linear Gameplay
But there is also room to keep a lineal story using non-linear gameplay. In this case, the player
will have at least more than one way to solve a situation through gameplay. Whatever the player
chooses will get him to the same point. This means that his decisions are not meaningful in the
wider sense of the story.
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This creates an obligation to have in each story branch some kind of meaningful decision for
the player. It has to make a difference. In this case, the structure will follow the figure similar
to the one below where the squares represent the different gameplay situations the character
can choose.
Branching Narrative Structure
The more decisions and options the player is given, the bigger and longer the development
becomes. Branching basically means giving choices to the player. Choices that must make the
difference and therefore be meaningful to the story. There are many types of branching
narrative structures.
The Exponential Branching
This type of branching will create multiple choices from every choice. This will eventually end
up leading to multiple endings. This type of structure leads players to repeat the games in order
to discover other endings but also implies having a smaller number of users that finish the
experience. The perfect examples for this type of structure are The Stanley Parable (Galactic
Café, 2013) and Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream, 2010) which depending on the player choices,
the story ending changes and which could be represented as in the graph below.
The Parallel Branching
Also called Limited Branching which from an early decision in the story or in a certain mission
beginning, will turn into two or more different linear stories.
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The choice can be choosing a character for the mission like they do in Call of Juarez: Bound
in Blood (Ubisoft, 2009) or by choosing a type of Pokémon or another in the beginning of the
game yet in the first Pokémon Red (Game Freak, 1996). Those create the illusion of freedom
and decision early.
Open Narratives
Those are very common in open-sandbox games where the player can complete any thread of
the story whenever he feels like. The order becomes irrelevant to the point that some games
feature the possibility of deciding which threads to complete and which to ignore. This can
lead to a confusing spot with many possible permutations of the story.
The great example of this is the Grand Theft Auto series (Rockstar Games). This type of
gameplay allows the player to access more side-quests and subplots. Open narrative games
are often described as Sandbox or Open-Ended.
2.4. Narrative Principles
All stories are composed, in the end, of the same elements. Those elements below, define
story and conform its structure.
2.4.1. Story Substance
As Robert McKee describes in his books Story, just as painters have their canvas and
their brushes writers have language. But that’s only a way to share what they’ve got inside.
The same story can be adapted and moved to other arts such as cinema, theatre or videogames
as long as the story keeps the substance which in a way, is what lies beneath the story. The
story in the story.
The substance is in a way, the soul of the story. What the author has to say. The substance is
found through the character. The character is the way the author has to transmit the story, the
means by which he will show and explain the story.
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2.4.2. The Protagonist
Usually, stories have only one main character but it can also be a story with two or more
protagonists called multi-protagonist story when each character follows his own objective.
Also, the protagonist can be a multitude or social group of people that are bonded by the same
objective, which is called as plural protagonist. Those create a dynamic picture of a certain
society or group of people. From now on, either if it is a single one or multiple protagonists, I
will be referring to the general concept as ‘the protagonist’ or ‘leading/main/central character’.
The protagonist needs determination, quality that will be acquiring as the story goes by if he
lacks it in the beginning. He will use that determination in order to achieve the thing he wants
which comes from either a conscient or inconscient wish he has. The most interesting
characters have both kinds of wishes which makes them controversial and contradictory as one
wish may be opposite to the other.
The objective he sets himself can be either external when he wants to get a certain item or
internal if it is an inner change. We will be talking more in depth about what characters want
and what they need in the Character Arcs section.
The protagonist will chase his objective in the most convenient way for his characterization.
He will have at least an opportunity to reach his objective, which he will have to take. This will
create hope for the player who will be empathizing with him.
2.4.3. The Risk
What is the character willing to lose? What is the worst thing that can happen if the
protagonist doesn’t achieve his objective? Answering those questions is vital to check if the
narrative is properly proposed.
The value of the objective that the player has is directly proportional to the risk that the
character takes to achieve it. The bigger the value of the objective the more dangerous will be
the risk. That feeling of risk has to be present on every scene until the character achieves what
he wants.
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When creating a character, its past has to be empathized to accomplish the tension that has to
be felt in the present. How he got there and how he felt in his past.
2.4.4. Plot
The Plot is the story, what actually happens in the narration. Everything else, is used to
strengthen the plot and help it shine in as many fields as possible. All with one and only
objective: To create a better narration of the plot.
2.4.5. Subplot
The subplot is self-defining. A plot that lies beneath and supplements the main plot. It
can be used with many purposes that both complement and help the plot move forward.
A subplot can be used to contradict the central main plot and add irony to it, mainly to let the
plot breathe and let the story release some tension which the audience may thank. It also can
be used to add details, depth, shades and variations to the story.
It can help slow down the plot, if necessary, mainly to help create anticipation by delaying
certain events or beats such as the catalyst. The subplot can also be used to develop the
antagonist and all around him. To show how he will complicate the life and will of the
protagonist.
When creating a subplot as it cannot under any circumstances be any more interesting than the
main plot nor its main character create more empathy than the one from the central plot. To
accomplish this, we may need to leave the subplot without of one of the main elements that
create tension such as the climax.
Conflict
Conflict is in itself the essence of drama. It could be defined as a battle of forces and
characters. It is the challenge main characters need to solve to achieve their goals.
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32
Nikolajeva, M. (2005, May 12). Aesthetic approaches to children's literature: An introduction. Scarecrow
Press.
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Types of Conflict
Each theorist classifies conflict in his own parameters. We have put together a few points of
view creating a broader list of the types of conflict. Linda Seguer defines five different types
of conflict.
Internal: A character has a conflict with himself. He might not be sure of himself or his
goals. All the other types will be external conflicts.
Relation: This mean relation with the antagonistic force goals, those must be contrary.
Social: A character is in conflict with a group of other characters.
Situation: The characters are in conflict with a situation, usually of extreme danger.
Supernatural: A supernatural force is in direct conflict with the character. Usually those
forces are projections of the character’s frustrations.
Ronald B. Tobias defines conflicts as Physical or Psychological. The Physical Conflicts have
a higher rhythm which creates anticipation to know what will happen next.
The Psychological Conflicts treat the human nature and human relations usually represented
through inner journeys to human beliefs and behaviors.
Doc Comparato separates conflict in Human Conflicts if the main character is in conflict with
another human being, Non-Human Conflicts if the character is confronted by paranormal or
no human forces and last Inner Conflicts when the character is confronted by himself.
Besides those definitions, conflicts can also be organized as Circumstantial Conflicts which
represent momentaneous and punctual tension events and Essential Conflicts which are deep
in the heart of the plot.
The Three Levels of Conflict
Conflict is directly related to Character, as it is him who has to overcome it and to whom it
affects both directly and indirectly. Robert McKee (Story, 2002, p.147) divides conflict into
three levels that analyze the character’s relationship with himself and with his environment.
The three circles are perfectly represented on this image below.
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33
The first level is the center and most
internal conflict, the inner conflicts. Those
spin around the character’s mind, body and
soul. How he sees himself and how his
own physique can create deep conflict.
The second level identifies interpersonal
conflicts, with relatives, friends or lovers.
Characters which could be tagged as allies.
The third level is centered around extra
personal conflicts which go from his
relation with the physical environment, with social institutions or with other individuals in
society.
2.4.6. Scene Design
A scene or mission, is a story in miniature. Each scene must have a story like structure
following the steps of Desire, Action, Conflict and Change which matches the three-act
structure of set up, confrontation and resolution.
Each scene has to accomplish something, and consequently has to end when the objective is
reached. This creates an inflection point which changes something in a bigger or smaller degree
creating a story paradigm shift.
This is important because new directions and perceptions in the story it create feeling in the
audience from surprise to a new and bigger curiosity. The audience will give new meanings to
scenes seen before as new information comes up.
33
[The Three Levels of Conflict] (n.d). https://autoedit.gitbook.io/how-to-tell-compelling-stories-out-of-
interviews/story-concepts/levels-of-conflict
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When designing and creating a scene, we must set clearly which is the purpose and objective
of that scene and on who’s side the audience will be on. In every scene there is a winner and a
lesson or information the characters have to learn. All of this have to be planned out to create
the most compelling scenario for the characters to accomplish so. Every scene must take as
long as needed to accomplish so, not more and not less.
The scenes have to be designed both thinking on what the character has to learn or accomplish
and what the audience have to learn and the reactions they will have. We will get more in depth
when talking about the different narrative techniques.
Many creators use boards in which every scene is defined methodically with its beats, and
distribution of information. Down below we set an example of how a scene could be planned
out through what is known as the Steps Scheme in which we define what the audience knows
and how they should feel trough showing or hiding information that the character may or not
know.
2.4.7. The Steps Scheme
Daniel Tubau
34
exemplifies what we will be using as an example. He proposes a scene with
two characters A and B meeting for the first time in a bar. The objective might be to have the
two characters get to know each other as well as introducing and showing their personality to
the audience.
This scheme illustrates beat by beat, every scene considering what all the characters and what
the audience know, think and act. When designing a scene, we must know what to show and
what to hide, what information does the audience and the characters have and what will they
learn.
To better understand the reactions of the audience, there is a code to represent different
thoughts. In standard font, we write what the audience can note and see objectively.
34
Tubau, D. (2015). El espectador es el Protagonista. Alba Editorial
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In cursive font, we write the audience anticipations, what they think will happen.
In bold, his doubts, what they are not sure about, their curiosity.
Also, when writing the actual script, we can use certain techniques such as crossing out what
the audience will or doesn’t know.
As the script moves along and the audience learns certain information, we will start uncrossing
information. This is used mostly in the technical scripts rather than in narrative scripts.
Scene
Number
Scene Beats
Shown
Information
Audience
Reactions
Character B
Thoughts
Scene #12
1. Character A
sees Character
B.
Character A
enters a bar,
sees and
directs his
attention
towards
Character B.
Do they know
each other?
Who is
Character B?
Character A
will go and start
talking.
Scene #12
2. Characters B
sees Character
A.
Character A
stands next
to Character
B ignoring
him.
Character B
looks at
Character
A.
They are not
talking.
Character B
likes Character
A.
Will Character
B start the
conversation?
Who is
Character
A?
I like
character A.
Scene #12
3. Character A
talks to
Character B.
Character A
looks at
Character B
and starts
talking.
Surprise!
Character A
started talking.
How will
Character B
react?
They will end
up together.
Wow! Who
is Character
A? He is
talking to
me, let’s
play!
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2.4.8. Emotions
At the end of the day, all emotions are reduced to pain and pleasure. To accomplish
emotion in the audience we must have them engaged and feel empathic towards the character.
The audience must want the character to complete and get the thing he wants as well as
understanding his view on life and his values and morals.
When achieving this, if the character changes his values due to the events in the story, feeling
will be created in the audience. This is why as the story moves closer towards the climax, the
moral changes will be bigger and therefore there will be new and stronger emotions.
Emotion dissipates quickly. This is why every time a beat creates emotion; the story must move
into a new direction to a more dramatic situation. If we repeat a cause of emotion, it will create
a smaller effect on the audience. This is known as the Decreasing Performance of Emotion.
The biggest peak of emotion will take place in the climax. Where the tension will not get any
higher and everything will be at risk. Stories must be built towards that peak of emotion in the
audience.
2.4.9.Decisions and Choices
Maybe the best way to create emotion is through a choice the character has to make. The
choice has to create a dilemma in the character. A choice between good and bad doesn’t get
interesting. But a choice between two different and incompatible either good or bad options is.
A decision is a dilemma that moves between a triangle of love, hate and indifference. It gets
interesting when whatever a character chooses, he loses.
2.4.10.Antagonistic Force
This is one of the most important narrative elements in a story. What opposes to the
character in his will to achieve his desires? The stronger the antagonistic force, the better the
plot will be. We say antagonistic force instead of antagonist because it can be the main
character itself as an antihero or even a natural disaster that opposes to the character.
The emotional intensity of a character will be directly linked to the antagonistic forces and their
relation with the character. The stronger the antagonist force the better. It represents the limit
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situation which the character will have to face in the climax. Most stories will have a character
represent the antagonistic force, creating the figure of the antagonist itself.
The morals of the antagonists are usually conducted by a double negation. The freedom of an
antagonist will in fact be slavery of his ideals or convictions. His cowardice will be at first seen
as courage and love might be self-hate. What is important is that the antagonist is well
developed and has its motivations and reasons to oppose to the main character and his ideals.
It shouldn’t just be because he is bad. Ans most importantly the audience must understand those
motivations and find a bit of truth in him.
The antagonist must be seductive for the audience, gifted with ambiguity and mystery. The
hated antagonistic force must have its own moral and point of view that creates impotence in
the audience.
2.5. Narrative Techniques and Procedures
2.5.1. Anticipation
Every player pretends to be smarter than the authors of the script or the game designers.
People like anticipating to what’s about to come and predict the upcoming events in the story.
Anticipation has three purposes
35
:
Anticipate the Outcome: When the viewer or the player know how a character journey ends,
they want to know how they got there. The interest is on how they got there, on the journey.
Announce what’s about to come: Announce a situation to the player in which we know what
is going to happen or what the characters are going to do. We make a promise to the player, he
will have to stay to the end. It is usually used alongside with a time trial, when the announced
moment is getting closer the tension increases. The audience has curiosity to know how will
the character get to the announced situation.
35
Creative Anticipation: Narrative Sermon Designs for Telling the Story by David Enyart (2002).
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Anagnosis or Revelation: It can be a revelation for the character, for the player or for both.
Depending on the information each of them have, it will create different effects.
With this in mind, the plot has to make the player believe that he knows what will happen, this
will create anticipation. But this is it, the player will only believe he knows but will never have
to actually guess the next or final scene.
Anticipation is playing with the curiosity of the player. Curiosity about the past and the future.
It creates tension and expectation for an event. The player will keep playing to see if what he
guessed is true or he is surprised by something unexpected. This is why the story should have
a promise on every scene, on every beat. There always has to be a future. It mostly works at
long term; the player will predict the end of the story. This is why the goal of the story has to
be set as soon as possible, to create anticipation. There are seven main principles in creating
anticipation:
Anticipation by Repetition: It has a safe effect. It has happened so many times before that
it will also happen the next time. It is commonly used in comedy.
Anticipation that becomes true: Something that is unavoidable. If we hear a thunder, it is
going to start raining.
Anticipation by Contradiction: The player expects something that does not occur,
something unexpected and surprising happens.
Anticipation by Delay: A prevision that happens as the player expected but that takes way
longer than expected which creates tension.
Anticipation by Contrast: The player knows something that the character doesn’t,
creating a weird tension in the anticipation to see how will the character react.
Anticipation by Wish: The player is wishing that something he predicts will happen. This
will give pleasure to the character; it will feel good.
Anticipation by Fear: The player fears that something he predicts will happen and wishes
that it doesn’t. It creates tension when not knowing what will happen.
Anticipation and curiosity inevitably lead to tension and suspense. The doubts and the needs to
guess the intentions of the player are the basics of the script.
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2.5.2. Suspense and Surprise
First of all, lets differentiate between suspense and surprise, and for this I will have to
quote the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock in his conversations with Francois Truffaut:
There is a distinct difference between
"suspense" and "surprise," and yet many
pictures continually confuse the two. I'll
explain what I mean.
We are now having a very innocent little chat.
Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath
this table between us. Nothing happens, and
then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an
explosion. The public is surprised, but prior
to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely
ordinary scene, of no special consequence.
Now, let us take a suspense situation. The
bomb is underneath the table and the public
knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the
bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see
that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes
fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn
the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a
bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!
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Suspense is a reaction the player has because of what he sees. To accomplish so, the player has
to know certain information. Suspense disappears if the end of the scene is not shown and the
effect becomes useless. It has nothing to do with bombs neither with blood, suspense can appear
in any story if it is correctly built to create so.
36
Good Reads (n.d). A Quote by Alfred Hitchcock. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/728496-there-is-a-
distinct-difference-between-suspense-and-surprise-and
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To create suspense, we have to drag the player. He has to know the final objective of each
particular scene or mission. The player’s attention stops when the objective is accomplished so
we need to delay it as much as possible. To drag the player through the scene we need rhythm
changes that flow through continuity. A narrative technique used to create tension in an explicit
way to the player is the Countdown that puts pressure on the characters linked to a clock that
is inevitably ticking.
2.5.3. Continuity
Continuity connects and leads the rhythm and pace between the scenes. It is called
Raccord. There are ten types of continuity that have to be considered when writing the script.
Action Continuity: The action is the same though the space changes. For instance, a
persecution that occurs in different sets.
Movement Continuity: The same action begins and ends in different shots.
Velocity Continuity: An action keeps the same pace and speed. Its purpose is to show
speed.
Setting Continuity: The details have to remain coherent from one scene to the other, taking
care of the environment and the scenario.
Looks Continuity: It allows the viewer to follow a conversation between two or more
speakers and know who is talking to who.
Light Continuity: The lightning of the scene has to be consequent to keep time
consistency.
Contrast Continuity: Contrasted opposite situations will create a mental connection and
therefor continuity.
Similitude Continuity: Two scenes are shown that despite not being equal, they are similar
enough to create a logic continuity.
Sound Continuity: Two scenes are interconnected due to music or sound.
Psychological Continuity: Two apparently very different shots keep a psychological
connection that connects them. It creates multiple and personal interpretations.
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2.5.4. Dramatization
It can be applied to any situation either real or fictitious. It is not enough with telling a
story to appeal feeling. Something apparently harmless or uninteresting can create feeling and
emotion in the audience. To dramatize from a single anecdote to a script there are certain steps
that can be followed:
Concentration: With the purpose of gathering together as much information as possible
and giving it to the player in the smaller amount of time possible.
Emotionalization: The story will have to be told in a way that appeals to emotional
interaction that will try to identify the player with the main character.
Competition: There must be something at stake. Something the character desires and that
the player will have to chase. Terrible things will happen if he doesn’t.
Intensification: Exaggerating the feelings and the lived situations.
Hierarchy: The most important things will be highlighted in relation to other details that
will remain in second term. Not all the information will be given in the same way, neither
the same intensity.
Ascending Curve: The narration will be structured into parts leading to a climax where the
punch comes and sentences the story.
2.5.5. Point of View
The story changes with the point of view that it is told. It is one of the first decisions to
make in order to tell the story in the best suitable way. The story can be told with or without a
narrator that can be in first person, second or third person.
A first-person narrator is a character which typically the protagonist, that tells his own story. It
has a very personal approach. It can be used to reveal secrets or information that otherwise
would be difficult to transmit.
A second person narrator speaks from the point of view of a character that is present in the
story but is not the protagonist. Both first and second person narrators are intradiegetic.
A third person narrator also known as omniscient is external or extradiegetic. It usually answers
the central question of the film and reveals the point of the plot.
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2.5.6. Voice Over
It is a very coitized resource said to be a coward and easy solution when showing the
character’s thought and feelings. It is the voice of the narrator appealing directly to the
audience. The voice over may change from diegetic to non-diegetic depending on the type of
narrator chosen in the point of view of the story. It can be used so that the audience understands
two parallel plots, to give him information that the audience wouldn’t otherwise possibly know.
2.5.7. Information
Selecting the right information is an art that will make the story better than what it might
be. A not very exciting peace of information might be exciting if made a secret. Telling a story
is selecting what information to give and what not to and when to give it. The information has
to be clear and concise as it is not a book where the reader can go back and re-read something.
The lack of information will intrigue the player and make him stay desiring more and will keep
him hooked paying attention for small details. Besides that, most of the information is assumed
by the player and implicit in the scene or scenario itself.
Each bit of information has to be given to the player via the best way possible either the
narrator, the dialogue or the mise en scene. It is vital to know when to give certain information,
the exposition is a good moment to inform the player.
The player will make his own conclusions from what he sees. This is important to consider as
we can temporally cheat him to believe what we want which may lead to a later dramatic shock.
This is known as implicit information which can be more or less obvious for the player.
The information is accumulative, so if we repeat information we will have to do so in a different
way, with variations. Also, the information given is considered to be true unless the opposite
is proved.
The knowledge of characters is also key to the plot. Who knows what and how they got that
information is vital so that the story makes sense? The contrast between what the player knows
and what the characters knows leads to different effects.
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2.5.8. Ellipsis and Paralipsis
One of the most important and most commonly used narrative techniques is ellipsis.
Everything in a story follows a cause and consequence structure and for a better pace we must
use it. Ellipses with an ‘E’ are voluntary omissions of a fragment of the story that the player or
viewer will be able to fill himself mentally as he will take certain actions for granted.
Not everything has to be shown to the player, he will mentally connect the plot on his own. It
important knowing what to show and what to hide. There are two types of ellipsis, the
continuous and the discontinuous ellipsis.
The Continuous Ellipsis is the one that we don’t catch at first glance, it is so used and we
as spectators have interiorized so much that we assume it without thinking. It is used to
avoid long taking tasks or obvious ones.
The Discontinuous Ellipsis is the one that is perceived clearly as we make a broader jump
in time or space. It is used to link scenes and to save story time. It can be used to create
intrigue.
Ellipsis can be made in a way that the viewer is aware that some information has been skipped
which is called a visible ellipsis. The opposite of that is the invisible ellipsis, in which the
spectator is not aware that some information has been hidden from him. Ellipsis have a few
purposes and uses:
Accelerate the pace and rhythm of the story.
Surprise or intrigue the viewer when avoiding or showing certain information.
Avoiding useless scenes for the viewer, as he may already know certain information.
Paralipsis is a particular case of ellipsis in which the viewer or the player have access to the
character’s feelings. This consists in skipping a thought, so that only the character knows that
information creating a later surprise effect.
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2.5.9. Implantation
It is planting a seed, with the purpose that it will grow up to be something important later
on in the story. It can be a character, a detail that the viewer notices or an idea that though when
it is shown is meaningless, it will become important in the end.
Those implantations have to be hidden from the viewer who doesn’t have to feel as that will be
important unless this is what the intention is. Also, the viewer will subconsciously remember
if some implantation hasn’t been resolved in the future and will leave loose ends.
It will avoid problems such as using a Deus Ex Machina which we will explain later on, or
leaving winks to the audience that will engage them in the story.
2.5.10. Red-Herring
This narrative trick also known as ‘Hareng Saur’, consists in misleading or dodging the
attention and anticipation of the viewer to surprise him better later on. It can be a false clue
deliberately stablished or a temporal suspect character. It is a trap placed deliberately to the
audience like something that appears to be dangerous or a big deal that in the end turns out to
be smoke. This only has its effect if the distraction serves to surprise the audience later on.
2.5.11. Contrast and Understandment
Contrast consists in having two or more elements that contradicting each other.
Everything in the ‘mise en scene’ can create contrast. It is an effective way to express
something. Its use leads to creating new or deeper characters, parallel or complementary
situations. Contrast works when there are also some aspects in common.
2.5.12. Repetition
It is the basic medium of narration. It consists in repeating important information so
that the player doesn’t forget. It is also useful to give a feeling of unity and cohesion in all the
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narration. These repetitions have to be
made with variations so that it doesn’t
confuses the player.
If we repeat a scene after the story, it
may change its meaning completely
and help the player see how
everything has changed. It will create
feeling as appealing directly to the
human condition of change over time.
It is very used in comedy when a character tries once and over doing something which he fails
to accomplish. It’s the repetition that creates humor. Usually, repetition follows a triad structure
in which the third try of a certain action is different from the first two. We Went Back is a great
example of this.
2.5.13. Topper
This is a narrative resource mostly used in comedy which consists in adding a little coda
or grand finale at the end of a scene that is already finished as its purpose has been
accomplished. The topper
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will not be necessary but will make the player smile and relieve
tension. It might be a line of dialogue from a non-important character that refers to the scene,
an object or a certain event that will give close some loose ends in a simple yet effective way.
Whatever it is it will have to cap the scene and not spoil it, so it will have to be deliberately
prepared to get the desired effect.
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In Spanish it is known as Calderón or Énfasis.
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2.5.14. Scrimmage
A scrimmage is a scene in
which all the important characters of
the narration appear all together, each
with the intention of resolving their
own personal problem. It might happen
in the climax which will create
increasing tension as many of the
characters may have opposite
objectives.
2.5.15. Deus Ex-Machina and Diabolus Ex-Machina
Both elements are used to accomplish a forced ending usually caused by being unable
to find a suitable justification to a certain plot situation. It has also been used in some cases to
content movie producers that desired a certain ending to a story which may have had a
politically incorrect initial ending.
The Deus Ex-Machina, meaning ‘God
in the machine’ is maybe one of the
most famous narrative techniques. It
has been highly criticized for abruptly
solving expected endings in an easy
and external way to the main plot.
It is used to bring a happy ending or even an ending at all to a plot that the writers couldn’t
justify or didn’t know how to solve.
The Diabolus Ex Machina is the negative effect of a Deus Ex-Machina. An unexpected event
or revelation that is used to ruin the character’s problems leading them to a tragic ending.
Both of the Ex-Machina resources must be avoided to prevent the story from being incoherent
or illogic to the audience. Neither of those can’t be confused with the surprise resource even if
an Ex-Machina surprises the audience.
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2.5.16. In Media Res and In Extrema Res
One of the most common advices in storytelling is to enter late and leave soon, in
everything. Not everything has to be shown to the audience, it is better to show an action, scene
or even a story when it has already started creating a In Media Res.
In Media Res means ‘into the middle of things’ creating a need in the audience to pay more
attention, which gives a perfect setting for the exposition. It may require of a flashback to
explain how the characters got there if it is necessary for the story.
In Extrema Res also known as In Extremis means ‘at the end of things.’ It is used to show the
ending of a story to later catch up to tell the story of how those characters got themselves in
that situation. That situation is usually tragic or a limit and tense moment.
2.5.17. Chronological Rupture
As it is self-defining this consists in breaking the continuity of the narration moving
back and forward in time. There are three ways to accomplish that: the flashback, the
flashforward and the temporal restructuring.
Flashbacks or Analepsis are used to reveal the backstory of the characters or the world they
live in. It is commonly used during the exposition of information. There are two types of
analepsis, the Internal Analepsis which is the flashback to an earlier point in the story and the
External Analepsis which moves the story to a point in time before the narrative started.
It has to be clear for the audience where are they chronologically in the story. This is often
carried out with a filter, a change of color or with a narrator. It also causes trouble as it stops
the flow and pace of the story usually to give information or context.
The Flashforward or Prolepsis is basically a jump into the future, advancing temporally to see
something that hasn’t happened yet in the present of the narration. Prolepsis can either be
internal which show something that will eventually happen later on in the story and externa if
we see something that will never get inside the narration.
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For instance, a character who sees how he will die. Though we know that he will die, the story
ends before we see him die. In this example, it could be defined as a Personal Flashforward as
it is used with the excuse of a premonition in which the audience see the future from the point
of view of a certain character. An impersonal flashforward is maybe the most used as it doesn’t
involve any special mental power of any character and is used as a simple narrative resource.
The audience can see the future but the characters don’t, this can be used to create suspense.
2.5.18. Teaser or Opening Scene
This is typically used in tv shows before the credits pop in. It has diverse narrative
functions and uses. It creates anticipation and tension for an upcoming event that is inevitable.
That scene is usually in the future but it also can be something that happened and that will have
consequences. A good example is the starting shot of Fight Club.
It is also used to present a character and its objectives, the theme of the story. A scene that sums
up the intentions and soul of the narration, what the story is about. It can introduce a new theme,
situation or character if the story is divided in chapters.
2.5.19. The Refuter Fourth Act
This is a final twist in the plot. It is considered to be
a fourth act that is usually a single scene or small sequence
that will contradict the whole story and give it all a new
shocking meaning. It can be used as a Cliff Hanger if there
is or will be a continuation in the narration or what is
commonly known as a Plot Twist.
This narrative technique is the bigger expression of
breaking anticipation and the final result of plantation all
along the narration. The audience will have to fully
understand they have been tricked and buy it. If well
justified and deliberately prepared it will create an
impressive effect while if used wrong it can totally blow the end away. It has to contradict the
previous climatic ending and has to increase its power.
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2.6. Character
2.6.1. Characterization
First impressions count. The characterization of a character is in essence, how our
character is. Who is he and how does he behave? The presentation of the character is done in
what is known as The Characteristic Moment (Creating Character Arcs, 2017). This moment
is used to impress the audience.
The characteristic moment is usually aligned with a major plot point which will define how the
character behaves in such a strong situation in the story. This moment has to show how he
really is and will show his real face. A failed characteristic moment is a failed story, the moment
has to be used to convince the audience to invest their faith in that character.
The characterization has to be used to introduce the protagonist as main objective and this
usually implies revealing his name, age, gender, nationality, social status, physical
characteristic All of this, is only to state his role in the story. The audience will react to his
personal treats and create an opinion of him which will lead to the identification process which
we’ll define and talk about later.
2.6.2. Identification
First of all, we have to make the player identify with the character. Why? Because then
we allow him certain things that we wouldn’t if we disliked that same character.
A cheerful character is no better, it’s all based on the way we present them. As Boileau said:
‘Give big weaknesses to the big hearts.’. We can identify with the enemy of a story if his
characterization is well build. To make the player identify with a character, we can place him
in a situation of misfortune to himself or the ones he loves. When this happens, we will tolerate
and morally allow his violence.
Also, we can make the character commit a small mistake or a little crime. For instance, if we
are shown a character searching for something in a room. Any character who is looking for
something, has any kind of objective will be liked.
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If we make the character human in a universal way, the player won’t help but to identify with
him. We are equal in a sense. If the character envies a younger one or is abandoned by an older
one, we will empathize. We identify with a character when we feel mercy for him.
2.6.3. Character Motivations
What moves characters to do what they do? If this question is not properly answered and
justified, we may end up with a player who doesn’t believe the story or doesn’t understand the
character actions. The motivations justify the goals that the characters have.
Character motivations will make the story make sense as well as making it easier to write a plot
if we understand them better. A proper character can make a great story.
To accomplish real motivations, we can build them upon Maslow’s Hierarchy Needs according
to which we have different levels of motivations.
Maslow build a pyramid ordering motivation from the more basic physiological needs to the
self-actualization needs:
Physiological: Breathing, Food, Water, Sex, Sleep.
Safety: Body Security, Employment, Health, Family.
Love and Belonging: Friendship, Family, Sexual Intimacy.
Esteem: Self-Esteem, Confidence, Achievement, Respect for and By Others.
Self-Actualization: Morality, Creativity, Problem Solving, Spontaneity.
The character will always be motivated if he lacks any of those needs. The character will try
fulfilling his motivations either they are Intrinsic which have to do with his psyche or Extrinsic
which have to do with his survival.
To make a story work when build upon a character’s motivations, we need to keep those
motivations real and alive. To make our motivations work we can:
Make them complex: There must be an element of both internal and external in each
motivation and have them connected.
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Have more than one: Having more than one motivation makes characters more interesting
giving room for plot twists.
Make them change: Once a character has fulfilled a motivation, there either has to be
another one waiting or make that one change and evolve to something new.
Make motivations rational and irrational: Humans have both, so do characters. Some
irrational motivation will make the character human.
Make them believable: We must believe the motivations in order to buy the actions some
characters carry out.
Make them linked with the character’s past: Our past builds up who we are. Experiences
craft our personality.
Make them matter: Motivations need a purpose; they have to be worthy. If not, we won’t
know when it’s fulfilled.
The player has to fully understand why is he doing what he is required to. He has to empathize
with the character and put himself in the character’s shoes. There are a few types of motivations
that will move the character forward and justify his actions to the player:
Fear
A huge motivation for characters is fear. Aristotle called it Phobos and along with Éteos are
the two actions that must be carried out to purge the soul. Fear goes from chills to panic divided
in five stages. In each stage of fear the character is, the player has to feel it as if the danger that
threatens the character could happen to him as well. For the sake of the rhythm of the story, the
plot can jump to certain stages or speed up the timing to have a character quickly get to panic
if the story needs it.
1. Actualization is the first stage in which there is an absence of fear. The character is happy
and calmed, he is not aware of the problem to come.
2. Coping is the second stage in which is the understanding of a problem. The character thinks
that he can deal and solve that problem.
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3. Striving is the third stage in which things start being bad. The character is starting to struggle
with that problem as stress appears.
4. Inertia is the fourth stage in which the problem becomes so overwhelming the characters
starts consciously avoiding it. Due to this, the problem not only expands but multiplies.
5. Panic is the fifth stage in which the problem is so significant the character starts striking out
emotionally on other people. Rational feeling is gone and there is only room for animal
irrational emotions.
Change of Fortune
An unexpected circumstance creates a change in condition and fortune. Usually from a low and
normal situation to a high extraordinary one. When we have an ordinary character placed in an
extraordinary situation, we relate and empathize with him.
Recognition
It is a process of anagnorisis by which the character goes from ignorance to recognition. He
understands and comprehends some important information. This might be the recognition of a
character who the character thought it was another person which can lead to a tragic
development of the story as it happens in King Oedipus where the character kills his father as
he doesn’t recognize him.
Mistakes or Misunderstandings
A character is present as how he is not at the start of his journey. The hero can fight against his
imposed reality or assume it and roll with it. There are a few types of archetypical mistakes
plots:
Undignified: The character can be presented as worthless or a liar, as someone he is not.
He will try to prove this wrong and prove his innocence.
Mistaken Murder: The hero kills a false enemy or chases a false clue. The antagonist may
be hidden behind false identity until the hero discovers him in the climax.
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Sexual Misunderstanding: This is commonly used in comedy with a humoristic tone. But
can also create a dramatic plot.
The Man’s Too Strong: A man is misunderstood to be a hero or a villain. Other characters
expect things that he cannot deliver and this will make him chase those expectations.
Debt
The character can be involved in debt that can be either money, services or life debts. It can be
and old or forgotten debt. It usually needs a flashback to set the player in context. The character
is against the wall, bad things will happen if he doesn’t pay it back.
Vengeance
It is similar to debt but it has a more personal approach. It is also in the need for a flashback.
The character has the inner need to get vendetta from a past event.
Mercy
In Greek, éléos. The more we know about a character story and his past, the more we identify
with him and the more mercy we feel for him and his luck.
Social Condition
A character who is fighting against other social classes or to get up to a higher status. It is often
connected with a sentimental drama usually a love story having each lover be in a different
social class.
Moral Values
Characters have to be moved by inner moral values which they have to defend. Cynical
characters which lack of moral values lead to interesting plots but those have to be very
carefully crafted.
Perturbation
The story turns around the perturbation of the character. The character starts out in a non-
perturbated state as his initial status quo. Then something happens that disturbs him which
leads into a conflict. A final readjustment changes the character.
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The story can start at any step of the perturbation process giving room to different approaches
on the characters arc.
Difficulties
What creates a good story is the contrast between what a character wants and what is getting
on his way, the difficulties he finds. The more interesting the means that get on the characters
way to his goal the better. There are three types of difficulties:
The obstacle: Accidental and temporal nature difficulty that makes the character path lead
to nowhere. The character will have to take a new direction.
The complication: It is a circumstantial and static difficulty. It will create a reaction later
on the story. Creates anticipation and can start a subplot.
The contra intention: Human difficulty that’s opposed to the character’s objective. It will
cause the story to take a180º turn to a totally new direction. This should only be used once
in the script or else it might confuse the audience.
Difficulty creates tension in the plot. Tension is what keeps the player playing or the reader
reading. Narrative tension has three components: anticipation, uncertainty, and investment.
There are two types of tension:
Topic engendered tensions: Particular and mechanic problem.
Character engendered tensions: Tension due to opposite personalities.
Dilemma
A dilemma makes the character be in a position where he has to choose between two options
that have to be either both good or both bad. It creates a cornelian dilemma in which the
character never wins because he never gets all he wants.
Antagonist (As a Motivator)
The antagonist or opponent force is always against the hero’s will and goals. It is the force that
forces the character to move. In many plots, the antagonist is the perfect motivation for the
player.
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MacGuffin
It is what is at stake in the story. It is of total importance for the character but it has none to the
player or the narrator who may not even
know what that is. It can be undefined
and abstract as long as it is vital for the
character. It is used to justify the
character’s actions so that they look
credible for the audience. It is merely an
excuse to tell the important story.
2.6.4. Character Roles and Functions
There are many that defend that character equals function and the other way around. It
is clear that the function of a character is the story in itself. But what do the other characters
do? Which is their function in the story? Each character must have its role in the story, each
one of them with their motivations, aspirations and back story. There a limited number of roles
that a character can carry out in a story. Tim Stout states in his website
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eight different roles
of characters
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. A single character can play different roles an many characters can carry out one
single role on the same plot.
Protagonist
He is the character responsible for carrying the lead and handling the main problem. He is the
reason of telling the story or in other words, he is the story. He is the star of the show as most
of the action centers around him.
The protagonist can be a hero like
Nathan Drake from Uncharted and
Guybrush Threepwood from Monkey
Island or an antihero like Trevor in
Grand Theft Auto and Walter White in
Breaking Bad.
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His website is: https://timstout.wordpress.com/graphic-novel-writing/eight-character-roles/
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Also found in the book ‘I Could’ve Written a Better Movie Than That’ by Derek Rydall
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Antagonist
This character is the representation or incarnation of the antagonistic force in the story. He
opposes to the character, doesn’t have necessarily to be the bad guy. It is the force that opposes
to the character’s goals. This character is often known as the villain if the antagonist is evil,
has bad intentions like Voldemort from
Harry Potter and Glados in Portal or
counterpart which isn’t necessarily an
evil character but is opposed to the
protagonist like the Teachers in The
Outsiders or Miles Edgeworth from
Ace Attorney.
Mentor
The mentor represents the lesson that must be learned by the protagonist in order to change and
achieve his goal. The mentor has
knowledge that the main character lacks
and he will guide him until he can function
on his own. The most famous examples of
mentors are Gandalf from The Lord of The
Rings and Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars
or Professor Oak in Pokémon.
Tempter
He is usually the right hand of the
antagonist, or at least a character that clings
to his ideals as he doesn’t necessarily need
to know him. He will try to stop the
character by tempting him to the easy thing.
He will be the representation of the weak
point of the main character. The tempter is
usually the opposed sex of the character and could eventually end up joining him in the good
side in the end. A good example is Tony Stark in Ironman or Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction.
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Sidekick or Deuteragonist
It is the unconditional friend of the protagonist. His friendship will be at stake at some point,
causing him to doubt of him but eventually
will always end up by his side. This character
embodies the good and the story theme and
expresses it through his actions. The most
famous sidekicks are John Watson from
Sherlock Holmes and Bilbo Baggins from
The Lord of the Rings.
Skeptic
He is a lone objector of the intentions and goals of the protagonist. He simply doesn’t believe
in the theme neither in the possibility
of achieving it. He will be at the side
of the protagonist but without being
as loyal as the sidekick. He may have
a change of heart at the end of the
story. Han Solo from Star Wars or
Leonard McCoy from Star Trek often
play skeptic roles in their adventures.
Emotional or Impulsive
This character is brave and thrown by his
inner feelings and acts according to his guts.
He is impulsive, explosive and reactive as he
will not think twice his actions. He will
sometimes be right and surprise the other
characters in ways that they might have
never tried. The perfect examples are
detective David Mills from Seven.
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Logical
He is the character that thinks everything
before acting, he plans out everything. He
has logical, reasoned and contrasted
answers to questions. He will be
frustrated by the emotional at first but will
end up learning from him. Famous
reasoner character examples are Mr. Spok
from Star Trek or Hermione Granger.
2.6.5. Character Archetypes or Ego Types
John Truby (Anatomy of Story, 2009) defines the different characters in stories in
Twelve Archetypes instead of roles despite sharing many of the types, it is