Story Quadrants: Definitions and Examples

What is a Story Quadrant?

Dedicated writers often want to know how characters, specifically the protagonist, change throughout a story, so they can create compelling arcs that will grab and keep the reader’s attention. Typically, storytellers outline a basic plot that can force a change based on their personal instincts, rather than masterwork examples based on story quadrants.

At Story Grid, we understand the importance of creating compelling character arcs, but it is also important to define those arcs before we begin writing our story.

That’s why we divide the whole story into four parts called quadrants. Quadrants establish the mindset of a character, or avatar, and how that changes over the course of a story. This is useful because we can use our understanding of an avatar’s perspective to determine the SCENES that will build a captivating story.

Story Quadrants: Definitions and Examples

Quadrant Structure

A quadrant is a unit of story that demonstrates the stages of development for an avatar through their ability to adapt to change in the global CONTEXT. Quadrant One includes the INCITING INCIDENT of the global story. Quadrant Two contains the global TURNING POINT PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATION. These first two quadrants generate excitement and intrigue for the SINGLE AUDIENCE MEMBER or SAM. Quadrant Three includes the global CRISIS, which in addition to creating excitement and intrigue, brings SAM to catharsis. Quadrant Four contains the CLIMAX and RESOLUTION of the story and resolves the universal meaning of the catharsis for SAM.

Quadrants are not the whole story, but four parts that make up the global story. They are also different from SEQUENCES, which demonstrate a change in the stakes as an AVATAR pursues their OBJECT OF DESIRE.

Quadrant Function

Each quadrant demonstrates the protagonist’s perception or approach to the story’s global conflict. As the AVATAR (or character) recognizes a problem, they must generate a strategy to deal with the problem and then implement it through their ON THE SURFACE actions. The insights the avatar gains from the reaction of the source of conflict, or antagonist, permanently changes them, and they repeat the process of engaging with the conflict.

Quadrant Organization

Quadrants are built from two to six SEQUENCES. The alteration in sequence stakes culminates in a larger shift that forces the protagonist to change the way they approach the problem caused by the global inciting incident. Quadrants conform to the FIVE COMMANDMENTS OF STORYTELLING. Those five scenes within each of the four quadrants combine to form the 20 SKELETAL SCENES and the global story.

  • Quadrant 1. The protagonist is incited to engage with the global problem and applies good practices. They might choose to engage and solve the problem or be forced to continue engaging by an external factor they do not control.
  • Quadrant 2. The protagonist engages as if the problem can be solved with a fix it and forget it mission and applies best practices. Their current framework breaks as their initial strategy either fails to resolve the problem or fixes the immediate problem but has unintended consequences.
  • Quadrant 3. The protagonist reckons with the uncertainty that they might never know how to solve the global problem and applies novel practices. They start to form a new mental framework based on this realization to help solve the problem despite the uncertainty.
  • Quadrant 4. By applying the new mental framework to the problem, the protagonist applies emergent practices and discovers that sacrifice is required to solve the problem. They choose a need over a want or visa versa to resolve the global inciting incident.

What are the Key Features of a Story Quadrant?

  • Goals and Practices. The protagonist pursues their global OBJECTS OF DESIRE through their ESSENTIAL TACTIC while applying different practices in each quadrant. 
  • Change. The change in a quadrant occurs when the protagonist chooses to engage with the global problem in a different way.
  • FIVE COMMANDMENTS OF STORYTELLING. The Five Commandments of Storytelling are five universal structural components that exist within every UNIT OF STORY. At the quadrant level, they work together to communicate changes in the protagonist’s cognitive frame or worldview.

What are the Benefits of Using Quadrants?

When we apply the framework created by the four quadrants, we can create compelling avatars that experience growth that compels the audience to continue reading and leaves them feeling deeply impacted.

Example of a Story Quadrant

Quadrant 2 of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Quadrant Event Synthesis

Bilbo reaches the point of no return after the dwarves have abandoned him when he decides to return to them despite the fact that this means embracing his status as a thief within the party.

The Five Commandments of the Quadrant

Inciting Incident: Thorin sends Bilbo into a dangerous confrontation with nasty trolls who capture the party, but Gandalf arrives to save the day.

Turning Point Progressive Complication: While fleeing the goblins, the dwarves drop Bilbo and leave him in the dark tunnels.

Crisis: Should Bilbo try to make it on his own, or should he try to find the dwarves?

Climax: After Bilbo outsmarts Gollum and escapes the goblins with Gollum’s ring, Bilbo sets out to find the dwarves.

Resolution: Bilbo catches up with his crew, but he’s now more powerful than they are (except for Gandalf). He’s not the same Bilbo. He’s become who he was pretending to be, a thief. Gandalf then leaves the party in Bilbo’s hands.

Additional Quadrant Resources:

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