Story Design: Telling Decline-and-Fall Stories

How can you add more empathy and suspense to your story of tragic descent?

Story Design Volume 20 – In a decline-and-fall story, the protagonist starts out in a high position, possessed of fortune and glory, having everything they could ever desire. This could be literal or metaphorical; they might have moral or ethical riches rather than money and possessions. The protagonist then proceeds to lose it all through corruption, greed, and general foolishness. Their decline is seen as a form of justice or punishment for some bad behavior they’ve engaged in.

Examples of the decline and fall plot include A Clockwork Orange, Crime and Punishment, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, and Paradise Lost.

Story Design: Decline-and-Fall covers all of the elements you need to prepare in order to tell a story of tragic descent. It’s based on concepts explored in Story Structure for Writers and Roleplayers, also published by Dancing Light Press. It’s a big book that goes into greater detail on how to get the most out of the three-act structure, as well as developing a three-phase series (campaign, if you prefer) with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you want to use your favorite roleplaying game system to tell stories with more depth than kill monster, get treasure, repeat (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is worth looking into.

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