Driver: Action or Decision?

Action or Decision describes how the story is driven forward. The question is: Do Actions precipitate Decisions or do Decisions drive Actions in the Overall Story throughline?

At the end of a story there will be an essential need for an Action to be taken and a Decision to be made. However, one of them will be the roadblock that must be removed first to enable the other. This causal relationship is felt throughout the story where either Actions would never happen on their own, except that Decisions keep forcing them, or Decisions would never be made except that Actions leave no other choice than to decide. In fact, the "inciting event" that causes the story's Problem will also match the kind of Driver required to resolve it. This "bookends" a story so its problem and solution are both precipitated by the same kind of Driver: Action or Decision.

Stories contain both Action and Decision. Choosing one does not exclude the other. It merely gives preference to one over the other. Do Actions precipitate Decisions, or do Decisions precipitate Actions?

This preference can be increased or nearly balanced out by other dynamic questions you answer about your story. It's a matter of the background against which you want your Main Character to act.

The choice of background does not have to reflect the nature of the Main Character. In fact, some interesting dramatic potentials emerge when they do not match.

For example, a Main Character of action (called a Do-er) forced by circumstance to handle a deliberation-type problem finds himself struggling for the experience and tools he needs to do the job.

Similarly, a deliberating Main Character (called a Be-er) would find himself whipped into turmoil if forced to resolve a problem needing action.

These mixed stories appear everywhere from tragedy to comedy and can add an extra dimension to an otherwise one-sided argument.

Since a story has both Actions and Decisions, it is a question of which an author wants to come first: Chicken or egg? By selecting one over the other, you direct Dramatica to set up a causal order between dynamic movements in the Action line and the Decision line.

The Story Driver drives the Overall Story, not the Main Character (except in the Main Character's capacity as a player in the Overall Story throughline). The Main Character Approach moderates the Main Character's problem solving methodology.

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


1.The inciting event--this kicks off the Overall Story by setting things into motion.

2.The transition between Overall Story Signpost 1 and Overall Story Signpost 2--this event changes the direction of the story in a significant way and indicates the act break transition

3.The transition between Overall Story Signpost 2 and Overall Story Signpost 3--this event changes the direction of the story in a significant way and indicates the act break transition

4.The transition between Overall Story Signpost 3 and Overall Story Signpost 4--this event changes the direction of the story in a significant way and indicates the act break transition.

5.The concluding event--this event closes the story, or its absence indicates an open-ended story.

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

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


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

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

For example, imagine an American football game with the two teams on the field. The one with the ball is the offensive team. The one on the other side of the line of scrimmage is the defensive team.

In American football, the offensive team is driven by DECISIONS. At the start of each new play, the offensive team gathers together in a huddle and DECIDES what actions they are going to take. Based on their decision, they act accordingly. If you change the decision, the actions that follow necessarily change to accommodate the new decision.

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

What Constitutes A Driver? Is There A Litmus Test?

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

Let's look at some examples.

Star Wars (1977) has a Story Driver of Action. The inciting event is the theft of the Death Star plans by the Rebellion. What decisions follow that driver? The Empire decides to disband the Senate, kidnap Princess Leia, and take their secret weapon out of hiding before its completion. If the plans had not been stolen, would the Empire have decided to do the same things within the same time frame? No. The Death Star was not yet complete. The theft of the plans forced the Empire to change plans.

The concluding event in Star Wars (1977) is the destruction of the Death Star. Does it end the overall story? Yes. Was there a decision that could have been made that might have stopped the Empire from destroying the Rebel base? No, none within the framework of the story as presented. (Anything is possible, but the story rules" dictated an action must be taken to resolve the conflict in the story--not every conflict in the story's universe, but the one around which the story revolves.)

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

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

Examples of Story Driver

Action Driven Stories: Hamlet; The Silence of the Lambs; Being There; A Christmas Carol; Rain Man

Decision Driven Stories: The Verdict; Chinatown; The Glass Menagerie; Casablanca; The Godfather; The Story of Job; Charlotte's Web; A Doll's House

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