Just over a week left until the close of the Immersive Writing Lab Storyworld Writing Competition.
No Entry Fee, International Competition and the Prize includes having your storyworld developed with Portal Entertainment with an initial 6k development fund. Plus the top 5 will have their storyworlds read and reviewed by Sarah Clay, BBC Multiplatform Exec Producer. Read the full rules here.
Exciting huh? But writing a Storyworld isnt easy…
The great challenge of constructing a viable and dynamic Storyworld lies in creating sustainable motivation; how to ensure the reader/player/viewer is continually engaged and motivated to progress through your Storyworld. For all the talk of non-linear storytelling in new media forms, there is still an underlaying, and undeniable, bedrock of causality - of progression in a cause and effect chain. Whether your audience is watching, interacting or moving across platforms, they will be compelled by cause and effect as a pattern of things happening and actions taken which prompt responses and revelations.What then motivates and entwines audiences in a causal chain are dramatic questions - these are the questions they are prompted to ask by the events that take place.
“Will X be able to do Y before Z..?” .
These dramatic questions then lead to Answers and Revelations. Which in turn prompt new dramatic questions. And so on and so on…*
But in a Storyworld these dramatic questions have more complex implications than they do in a simple straight-forward feature film script. The most important thing to recognise is that Storyworld dramatic questions operate at 3 levels - Scene, Episode and Series.
The definition of what comprises a ‘Series’, ‘Scene’ or ‘Episode’ can vary from medium to medium but we might say that a Scene is the moment by moment experience, an Episode is the collection of Scenes experienced in one ‘sitting’ or ‘session’, and the Series is the full arch of the experience watched/read/played over time.
Series Level dramatic questions stand for the whole series and remain open questions for that duration. Episode dramatic questions are triggered by events of specific episodes. The event-based manifestations of the series-level dramatic questions. Scene Level dramatic questions are those that provide scene by scene level motivations.
So lets use the easy and obvious example of Star Wars to illustrate.
The Series Level dramatic question is that which remains open right until the end of the series (6 films and countless books, games and other media). As a question it has to be big enough, with stakes high enough, that it can go unanswered until the end yet still be a motivational force. In Star Wars this Series level dramatic question is quite simple; “Will the Rebels triumph over the Empire?” This is the macro-level question the viewer is asking the entire way through the Star Wars Storyworld.
The Episode dramatic questions are those posed at the level of the individual films and which remain open for that ‘episode’ but which are answered or resolved in someway by the end of the film/episode. In Episode IV: a new hope, the key dramatic question is “Will Luke embrace the force and his destiny?” This question is open and challenged all the way through this film, yet at the end of this film/episode he has indeed embraced his destiny, used the force to blow up the Death Star and triumphed. The Question is Answered (but as posed new questions for the next episode)
Of course at a Scene level there are numerous dramatic questions; “will the Princess get her message out?”, “Will R2 and C3PO be able to find Obiwan?, “Will Han, Luke and Leia escape to trash compactor?” and so on…
The more dynamic the pressures of the Storyworld the more scene level dramatic questions you will be able to spawn.
The key principles to take away from this are first, that your master series-level question must be BIG and it must be unanswerable until the very end - this is fundamentally about the sustainability of your storyworld. Also, that the clearer you can articulate the dramatic questions of your Storyworld the more sustainable and motivated your audiences will be.
(*with credit to Karen Pearlman from the Australian Film TV and Radio School for her superb articulation of dramatic questions structures)