The Emotional journey – PART 3 – “Blocks & Events”

Flow can only truly be achieved when we are willing to let go of the outcome and just play.

Sandra Taylor Hedges

17 Beats to a Story

The proposed model breaks down the narrative structure as follows:

  • 11 blocks of time of action driven by the protagonist.
  • 6 short transitional events that disturb the momentum and the predictability of the story and the protagonist’s journey.

11 Blocks + 6 Events = 17 different beats.

The blocks are the moments of action where the focus is on the protagonist overcoming obstacles.
The events are moments of pivot, eliciting narrative emotion during which things are happening to the protagonist.

If an experience has only action, no matter how compelling, it will become tiring and boring. The player will lose interest and disengage from the experience. If the momentum of the action doesn’t have time to build, the emotional climax will feel rushed, thus creating a distance between the player and the experience. Our challenge, as storytellers, is to find the right balance between these two types of moment and to maintain the player’s engagement throughout the experience.

To give an analogy, imagine a calm body of water. A rock falls, disturbing the surface. Ripples spread out across the water but over time, the water returns to calm.

Each rock that falls is an event. The moments in between rocks falling, the rippling and calming of the water, are the blocks of time.

If the water stays calm for too long between each event, it becomes boring.
If rocks fall too quickly, all the time, we can’t appreciate the ripples of each rock. Everything melds together, creating chaos and confusion.

Timeline

Any engaging and emotional narrative follows the steps below. Whatever your content may be, try to map it using this structure.

SETUP: Moment to set up where the protagonist is and why; possibly an exciting incident.

WANT: Give precise motivation to the protagonist. What does he want? What is her goal?

ENGAGE: Once the protagonist knows what he wants, he has a reason to move forward and engage in what lies ahead.

OBSTACLE: First obstacle the protagonist encounters.

END OF ACT I REVEAL: New information or discovery that will Change or Reinforce the protagonist’s motivation.

PLAN: Variety of challenges and encounters, big and small, fast or drawn out.

MIDPOINT: A dramatic twist or turn, that raises the stakes. It could be a piece of new information or discovery that will Change or Reinforce the protagonist’s motivation.

CHALLENGE: The protagonist faces her greatest challenge yet.

SUCCESS: Feeling of accomplishment, a “Peak” in the emotional journey.

BREAK REVEAL: From the apparent success, a piece of new information or a discovery that will lead the protagonist to an apparent defeat.

BREAK: The apparent defeat, the darkest hour, “All is lost”. A clear break in intensity from what was before; this is a “Valley” along the emotional journey.

POST BREAK REVEAL: New information or a discovery that spurs the protagonist back into action with renewed motivation; a new boost energy, hope or help from allies.

ASSAULT: Anticipation and tension build up in crescendo towards the Climax.

THEMATIC REVEAL: New information or discovery, linked to the main Theme.

CLASH: Memorable culmination, including the greatest struggle of the experience.

RESOLUTION: The moment when the protagonist reaches his goal from the beginning; or, fails to achieve his initial goal but is given a new one.

NEW STATE: The protagonist accomplished something during this journey. What changed for her? What comes next for him?

There is freedom within each step as long as we understand the role each step plays in the flow of the experience. The individual steps should not be judged literally but rather followed like an emotional roadmap.

  • The CLASH doesn’t have to be a boss fight, but it must be the biggest emotional struggle within the structure. While not necessarily the most difficult challenge, it should be the most emotionally costly and draining.
  • The BREAK might not be the moment when the player is closest to the defeat. It could also be a radical break in the momentum; a time to reflect, explore and discover something that helps us get to the next step.

Intensity

Depending on the length of the narrative experience, some beats can be very short, or even absent. The general variation of intensity, however, does not change. This familiar curve roughly represents what the pacing of the experience should be.

Key Things to Keep in Mind

Twists

The experience must feel like an epic adventure with surprises and twists. These surprising, unexpected moments keep the player interested and on his toes.

Expectations

The key to a memorable narrative experience is the emotion created by the relationship between expectation and the deception of those expectations. Make statements and promises to the players that will be fulfilled or not. Create expectations and play with them.

Drive

The protagonist is the agent of change in the world. He wants something and fights to achieve his goal. His motivation drives the action. His action should impact the rest of the World.

Missing beats

Some experiences can work without all those beats. It’s always a risk and it has to be intentional and well thought out.

No ASSAULT/CLASH

In Zelda: Breath of the Wild the Shrines act as a tutorial without a complete ACT III. This is an example where an experience does not have any ASSAULT or CLASH but still has a resolution.
Since this experience is more like a tutorial it makes sense that there isn’t a real climax.

No NEW STATE

In Whiplash, a movie by Damien Chazelle there is a Resolution without a New State. At the end of the movie, Fletcher tricked Andrew to come to play on stage to humiliate him. After being taken aback initially, Andrew seizes power and imposes his drum solo. Fletcher is powerless and, at that moment Andrew earns back Fletcher’s respect. They are finally in sync and on the same level for a little more than a minute. We see in Fletcher’s eyes, the newfound respect for Andrew (RESOLUTION) The end credits roll when we are at the height of emotion, leaving the audience without the release of the tension.

CAUSALITY CHART

Each step happens because the previous step has happened. A relation of causality is required between each step.
“This happened; because that happened, now this other thing is happening.”
I use this chart to work with collaborators as we map out the flow of the story. As with any structure, there is some flexibility, providing you adhere to a few rules:

  • Don’t reorder a step. The order in which the audience goes through each step matters. If you move one and break the order, you weaken the momentum that you’ve created.
  • Avoid copy and repeat steps. You can’t have several of the same steps to try to match your story. Not all events have to be present. Consider the storyline you are mapping out and what are the relevant events for this storyline.

STEP

CAUSALITY

ACTION

SETUP – Who, What, Where. What we know from before that has led us here, now.    
WANT – What do we want? Why are we here, now? Therefore / But  
DRIVE – You are moving forward because you want to… Therefore / But  
ENGAGE – Moving forward in the world, going after what we want. Therefore / But  
OBSTACLE – What is between us and what we want Therefore / But  
END OF ACT I REVEAL Therefore / But  
DRIVE – You are moving forward because you want to… Therefore / But  
PLAN – We execute what we decided to do, pushing through obstacles Therefore / But  
MID POINT – Twist, turn. Stakes raised Therefore / But  
CHALLENGE – Biggest challenge so far. Therefore / But  
SUCCESS – Short moment of success and encouragement, brief relief of tension. Therefore / But  
BREAK REVEAL Therefore / But  
DRIVE – You are moving forward because you want to… Therefore / But  
BREAK – Setback, criticism, crisis, defeat… things go awry Therefore / But  
POST BREAK REVEAL Therefore / But  
DRIVE – You know what to do! You are moving forward because you want to… Therefore / But  
ASSAULT – Confrontation on the way to the final obstacle Therefore / But  
THEMATIC REVEAL – Thematic revelation Therefore / But  
CLASH – Final battle against the last obstacle Therefore / But  
RESOLUTION – We reached our goal, or we have failed Therefore / But  
DRIVE – You are moving forward because you want to… Therefore / But  
NEW STATE – New status quo. We won; we lost, things are different now. Therefore / But  

Next > Check the examples of application listed here: The Emotional journey