Story Drivers and the Story Goal of "Back to the Future"

I had the opportunity to watch “Back to the Future” again a few days ago and it’s gotten me thinking about the Story Drivers. In an older Narrative First article, @jhull said that the initial Story Driver “happens when Doc screws over the Libyans. Substituting pinball machine parts for plutonium effectively starts the inequity of the story and guarantees the subsequent act turns. Without that event, time would have simply marched on as it always has.”

“the Concluding Event finds itself tied to the Inciting Event. Doc cheats once again. By taping the pieces of Marty’s letter back together, Doc successfully brings an end to the problems caused by his initial egotistical blunder. Marty and Doc win. The problems of the story come to a resolution. … Essentially then, the goal of Back to the Future was to beat the space-time continuum.”

However, according one of Jim’s more recent posts, and the in-progress, comprehensive analysis for the film that someone is doing on Subtext (really excited to see the final result, by the way), the initial and closing Drivers are different:

(Note: The image on Subtext is in the documentation and is publicly viewable.)

The initial Driver was when Doc cheated the Libyan terrorists out of plutonium, and now is when Marty is invited to the Twin Pines Mall. The concluding Driver was when Doc taped the letter back together, and now is when the terrorists meet their demise. So here’s my question: will the Story Goal be different because of these different Drivers?

To show what I mean, in a different article on Narrative First, Jim emphasizes the importance of tying the Drivers to the source of conflict:

“Understanding how Story Drivers set the stage for a narrative and determine the kind of conflict and plot events to help writers and producers and directors avoid this inevitable fate of not knowing what they are doing” (emphasis mine).

This is illustrated by showing that the initial Story Driver is connected to the OS Problem in Star Wars (A New Hope): “Boarding the ship illegally during the first sequence serves as an indicator of the first Story Driver because it tells of an imbalance of Test.”

So if this is the case, then would the Story Goal for “Back to the Future” still be beating the space-time continuum? If the Story Drivers are different, and since they’re connected to the Goal, wouldn’t changing one affect the other? In the case of this film, this change wouldn’t affect which Type the Goal is (Obtaining), but both getting Marty home and beating the space-time continuum are illustrations of Obtaining, and only the latter was defined as the Goal.

1 Like

I haven’t had a chance to go through that analysis all the way…but good on you for the eagle-eyes!

That said, you can have a Concluding Event that doesn’t directly tie to the Goal, in other words they don’t have to be the same thing.

Taping the pieces together and killing the terrorists are a series of Actions that resolve the initial inequity and achieve the goal of beating the space-time continuum.

Story Drivers can be either a single instance or a series of instances. An Action or Actions. A Decision or Deliberations. The important part is the cause and effect set between Action and Decision—not a single specific instance of it.

Remember that the Storytelling is in the final result inconsequential—the Storyform is all that matters and the Audience will still interpret a Story Goal of Obtaining ending in Success with Back to the Future because of Action/s.


Ah, I see! I didn’t think of them as both being part of a series of Actions that resolve the inequity. [quote=“jhull, post:2, topic:2423”]
That said, you can have a Concluding Event that doesn’t directly tie to the Goal, in other words they don’t have to be the same thing.
Good to know.

Makes perfect sense. Thanks for the clarification! :smiley:


in other words one can illustrate story drivers throughout the narrative? Maybe even have 100 story drivers or have a story driver show up in every signpost.

There are five story drivers. I think what is being touched on is how abruptly it occurs.

I’m might be wrong, but I’d say that a confluence of events are being used to describe a driver.

Like the perfect storm.

Does that mean that in a narrative I’m writing I can only use the dynamic of either action or decision 5 times to drive my story, or it is possible to drop in the dynamic of decision or action depending on what I’ve chosen as the driver as often as I feel like in a narrative I’m working on.

I agree completely with the notion of 5 story drivers. I wonder whether it’s possible to illustrate more instances of those drivers though. THE STORY DRIVER IS AN OS PLOT DYNAMIC - meaning it affects the OS plot significantly.

From the dramatica theory book page: 261.

Each of the elements that must appear in a complete storyform is called an appreciation,
because it is necessary for the audience to appreciate the story from that perspective
to prevent a hole in the dramatic argument. Some story points are structural in
nature, such as the story’s goal, or the Main Character’s unique ability. Others are more
dynamic, such as the Main Character’s mental sex, or the story’s limit through the imposition
of a timelock or an optionlock.

I don’t think so – I think the whole story should actually be actions driving decisions or vice versa. I think the point of the five drivers though is that these are major turning points that change the context of the story (e.g. from Understanding to Learning).

In Subtext, Jim has tied the drivers to the OS throughline only.

1 Like

Does anyone know if the drivers can replace the first and last OS Storybeats or is there some danger inherent in that type of thinking?

Perhaps this is possible, but there’s the danger of having a slow starter. Or maybe a movie has a different feel, like the OS has been relegated to secondary importance.

That’s strange especially when there are multiple appreciations.


I think this Q&A should answer all your questions:

Note how it says “the Story Driver appears in at least five instances in your story” implying it can appear more times. These five instances are just the major ones that have to be there.

1 Like

Do we have any known instances where there are more than 5 drivers? Like one of the 3 or 4 hour movies that goes on forever?

And how do they deal with it not being repetitive or imbalanced?

Oh. And one more… how is a OS Storybeat differentiated from the Driver? Order? Timing? Magnitude?

The Story Driver is a Dynamic - it describes the relationship between Storybeats.

That should answer your previous question as well–yes, it can be related to the first Overall Story Storybeat.

Mike is right - at least 5 drivers. You can have as many as you want. All that matters is communicating to the audience of the cause and effect relationship between Action and Decision in your story.

The Story Driver is specifically tied to the Overall Story Throughline perspective. This is why I put them together with the Overall Story. Practically speaking, this is the quickest way to develop your story.

The Character Dynamics are tied to the Main Character Throughline perspective. These are the subjective dynamics of your story.

The Plot Dynamics are tied to the Overall Story Throughline perspective. These are the objective dynamics of your story.

Yes, the tendency is to think of the Story Judgment in relation to the Main Character’s personal “angst”, but theoretically this is an objective value judgment the Author places on the efforts to resolve the inequity.


thanks for brilliant answers.

Does illustrating a conflict rooted in action or acting automatically force decisions and vice versa.


Does one have to illustrate a conflict rooted in action forcing a conflict rooted in decisions and vice versa.

after a writer has applied these to the os and mc, can they apply them to the ic and rs throughlines for purposes of adding more dynamism to their stories?

1 Like

Not to be flip, but the answer to your question is yes - both are valid.


You can be explicit about them if you would like, but they’re already assumed present by virtue of the OS and MC Dynamics:

MC Resolve sets the IC Resolve
MC Growth sets the relationship between the IC perspective and OS perspective
MC Approach sets IC perspective
Story Outcome helps determine point of imbalance in the RS perspective.


But I thought it was different for Holistic stories-- not so much based on cause and effect, or maybe the cause and effect was more loosely connected? I recall asking about it a while ago.

EDIT: It was this thread: Does Goal determine Protagonist and Antagonist in Holistic stories?
I don’t think I really ever understood what to do with that info in practical terms when writing a story-- I feel the need to link the drivers and signposts in order to create order (sounds Linear?), but my story is about anxiety that can only be managed, not permanently solved (sounds Holistic).

1 Like