If vs How Tension
Does the drama come from whether the conflict is resolved or how the conflict is resolved?


(permanent link) added: 2012-03-15 11:39:38 sponsor: Westrim (last reply: 2014-08-21 19:01:45)

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One of the fundamental principles of storymaking is deciding how to balance where the tension comes from; if the characters resolve a conflict, or showing how they do so. If the story leans towards showing if, there will be more secrecy in the plot leading up to the reveal of its aspects. With a focus on how, the story will allow more of the plot points to be known and focus on the process of reaching them.

This can apply to any story in any size, even movie trailers - in fact, If vs How is a primary reason for the existence of Trailers Always Spoil, since in such trailers If is disregarded to show a taste of the How of the story.

This also applies to spoilers psychologically- regardless of how a story is set up, it can become a how story if the plot is sufficiently known before hand.

Listed below are tropes that, if present, strongly indicate that the plot is one of the two types.

If Plot Tropes:

How Plot Tropes:
  • Showy Invincible Hero: Since we expect them to win, the question is HOW they will win.
  • Police Procedural: The mystery element of if the crime is solved takes a backseat to HOW it is solved.
  • Thriller: We want to see HOW the antagonist will be stopped.

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