Emotionally Conflicted Success/Good Stories

I wanted to open up a discussion about films/series that are able to achieve a powerful emotional punch to their ending, but are Success/Good stories. By powerful emotional punch, I mean a story that would make you cry at the way things turned out.

At first it feels like the mixed bag is achieved by a Success/Bad or Failure/Good, evoking a bittersweet feeling. Only films like these kind of disprove that:

  • Shawshank Redemption
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Toy Story 1 & 2
  • Braveheart
  • Casablanca
  • Iron Giant
  • Frequency
  • Monsters Inc
  • Field of Dreams
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Kramer vs. Kramer
  • Arrival
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Paddington 2

In all of these, there is some sort of conflict of emotion at the end which drives the audience to tears. And my gut tells me that it has more to do with the Relationship Storie(s) than anything in the OS. But probably also tied up with the resolve of the MC too.

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts/theories on “rules” or arrangement of elements in a storyform that have anything to do with that.


Shawshank made the list twice but not a single mention of Lord of the Rings?!?!?!?!


I can’t say much about the storyforms, but it seems like many of these are stories where people are held back from getting what they want/need and then finally get it at the end.

That doesn’t apply to The Iron Giant though, and it made me bawl. (It doesn’t apply to Arrival either.)

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Hah! Well look at that… No I’d definitely throw LOTR in there, but we have yet to do the storyform for that.


I feel like an idiot admitting to it, but I’ve found myself becoming a bit verklempt at both Sixth Sense and Wreck-it Ralph. And it was definitely the RS scenes that did it.

In LOTR, they succeeded and everyone’s happy BUT all t heroes are sailing away never to be seen again.

In Sixth Sense, Malcolm was able to make peace with his wife BUT he’s dead and they’ll never see each other again.


I’ve had this longstanding theory that people cry at movies when there’s a shift in equity/inequity.

Something unfair happening to someone who doesn’t deserve it, and then finally justice. Or vis versa.

  • The good-hearted robot who sacrifices himself, so he can finally be Superman.
  • The good-natured inmate who gets strapped in the electric chair (Green Mile).

But that doesn’t account for this specific Success/Good --> Crying since EVERY story is a shift of inequity to equity in some form.


So I wonder… is it something to do with stories in which the Static Plot Points dependent on a Success stir up more conflict? Looking over some storyforms, the Requirements jumped out at me:

In Iron Giant:
Requirements = Future. Maybe this could be having no future, not having a future together, or having a future as a martyr?

In Shawshank:
Requirements = Past. Getting a chance at the past you never had.

Maybe the other Static Plot Points factor in too? Maybe it’s more to do with things in the RS?
Maybe it’s just a case-by-case combination of all these factors? The beauty of certain individual storyforms seen in their entirety?

Seems like a fun area to explore.


Yes! I think this, as with Braveheart, has to do with the high Cost of achieving the Goal. (Perhaps also the high personal cost to the MC for remaining Steadfast.)

However, I think most of the time it’s the RS that brings people to tears. The other day my daughter finished watching this Netflix series for kids called No Good Nick, and I had only seen one other episode – yet the last episode brought me to tears. All because of the RS.

I think a huge part of it is the audience not knowing how the RS will end up, especially the together vs. apart dynamic, until the very end. Or sometimes, even better than not knowing, you have the audience thinking it’ll be one way, and then you switch it.

  • Audience hopes against hope that boy and Iron Giant (or boy & ET, or Frodo and Sam) will somehow be able to remain together, but in the end they can’t
  • Audience is convinced that there’s no way the couple can be together, but in the end they make it work
    • This can work even with tropes, like romance genre, making it so you “know” they’ll end up together – the end of Notting Hill still moved me to tears

We actually did come pretty close last fall; for example see this post toward the end of the discussion: Lord of the Rings - Frodo's drama

It would be similar to The Matrix’s storyform but with a Steadfast MC (Frodo). For a while we were looking at Temptation as the OS Problem but then Disbelief -> Faith really clicked into place for both OS Problem -> Solution, and for Sam as Changed IC.

I think the only thing we were missing was a few more people in the conversation to make it official (assuming there was consensus :slight_smile: ).


Yeah, I really like that notion of thinking it’ll be one way and the switching it. That feels a lot like what I recognized in the equity --> inequity thing.

Without spoilers, the series Fringe had an astounding ending like that. You think things are great and in the clear for the most significant relationship in the story, but then they pull a fast one on you and it switches.

But it’s interesting… in all these cases, it’s not so much to do with the Players in the relationship coming together or being separate. There’s actually this competing dynamic going on where though they are physically apart by the end, they’re emotionally as close as they’ve ever been.

LOTR - Frodo and Sam say goodbye to each other, yet they’ve never been closer.
Iron Giant - Hogarth and the Giant… same thing
Fringe - Same thing
ET - Same thing. In fact, this one is super on the nose with it with the tearjerker line, “I’ll be right here.”

So maybe there’s something to that. The inequity of the RS growing together, despite the Players being pulled apart. Like The Notebook

… only that doesn’t account for Shawshank or a lot of the others on my first list.


Oh wow, how did I miss this? Was it for the book or the film trilogy.

Both have been on my list of storyforms to tackle.

Shall we resurrect?!


I’m not sure if we ever made the book vs. film question official but we definitely settled on the books, as those were easier to pull quotes from etc. Plus, we need more book analyses!

I’d definitely be up for resurrecting!


But everyone that read the books knew that the last journey of the ship was when it came back for Samwise, years later, at the very end of his very long life. It took him to join them. That brings tears to me, even now. I was totally bummed they did not film that!

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For the movies that I recognize on that list, I’d say that to me it’s felt like the relationship itself “ends” in a positive way. The kind of thing where you know, you feel in your heart, they’ve overcome whatever would have kept them apart, and they are psychologically able to truly be friends, lovers, family, whatever.

Except for Casablanca, which has a similar feel, but different result. That one felt more like they’ve “fixed” everything except for that Ilsa remains married. Psychologically, they now have the ability to be whatever they’d be, now, but physically, they no longer can. But even then, the final lines about always having their history kind of closes off the relationship.

More simply put, each of those that I’ve seen have this kind of feeling like, “We’ve overcome that turbulence, and we are moving on to the next chapter of our lives. Whether we’re with each other, or not, we’ll always be together in our hearts.”

So, in Dramatica terms, for the movies that I’ve seen in that list, it seems like the RS Solution comes into play, balancing out or resolving the major cosmic turbulence within. Add that to an objective Success and emotional resolution, and you have a powerfully emotional and fulfilling statement on the longevity of human interaction.

Though, that’s only for the one’s I’ve seen, so I don’t know if would carry over to the others.

Note, that this suggests to me there is an emotional “judgement” of sorts in the RS, one that Dramatica doesn’t necessarily cover, at least in its current form.

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I mean… technically that’s in the Appendices/History of Middle Earth. But the book does end the exact same way as the movies with Sam saying good-bye to Frodo, returning to Rose and saying “Well… I’m back.”


I’m not sure that there is an emotional judgement/or RS Solution. The simple fact that it grows one way or the other (and in some stories multiple RS’s grow in opposite directions) is where one might derive any meaning. The RS deals with an emotional shift/growth, probably wrapped up in some arrangement of the 8 basic emotions. The dynamic pairs of JOY & SADNESS, FEAR & RAGE, ANTICIPATION & SURPRISE, TRUST & DISGUST.

The RS is entirely subjective, and the interpretation of those whether Joy or Fear are Good or Bad or Succeeded or Failed would also be entirely subjective.
One might have a story in which the characters are consumed by Joy at the end after they get together… but some people would consider that union Bad. Others Good.

Perhaps the conflict present in the growth contributes to the emotional overload in some stories?

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Hey, reading that in 1969, (the time of acquaintances lovingly sharing the fantasy’s location being an astral realm - and not on drugs - just reading it gave so much more), it remains the official end of the book for me … haha. And the request was for something that brought the tears.

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K-9 because it may be over the top with musical chords, it captured human animal bonding. And the tears came that they didn’t [you know what] to the audience and the dog. Brilliant acting and production!

That is why language falters in what I mean to say here, and why both the quotes and the phrase “of sorts” were attached to the word ‘judgement’… The word ‘manifestation’ is closer, but still not quite there, while Zen goes too far from what I mean.

As regards the RS Solution, that was and is meant to be the Dramatica term, though I believe neither Problem/Solution nor Balance/Imbalance are correct pairs to describe those pieces of the RS.

My interpretation of the RS at this point has come to be as follows. A relationship isn’t static, of course, but that means even at its birth, it exists in vibration, with both dissonance and consonance. Then, in a given story, there is a certain element that, when increased in the relationship, influences and strengthens the dissonant vibrations. Decrease the element, and the dissonant vibrations weaken. Similarly, there is another element that, when increased within the relationship, influences and strengthens the consonant vibrations. Decrease that element, and the consonant vibrations weaken.

Neither the consonant nor the dissonant vibrations are ever gone, nor is dissonance necessarily “bad” and consonance necessarily “good”. They just are.

I suspect that the feeling we’re exploring in this topic is most strongly felt when the consonance and dissonance vibrate at a resonant frequency such that each shines through. (Like a Major 7th Chord.)

P.S. - My suspicion is that dissonance is handled by the RS Problem, and consonance is handled by the RS Solution. However, that is pure speculation.

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What you’re saying is… it’s over.