What is meant by ’the gap’ in a story? And how can it help you create tension of your tale?
The gap refers to the distance between the protagonist’s subjective evaluation of the achievability of the goal and its objective evaluation by the reader or audience.
From the protagonist’s point of view the path to the goal seem initially achievable and efficient. But as he or she initiates action to achieve it, the resistance of the world creates a tension which is proportional to the effort expended—like a rubber band that is being stretched form side to side.
“The gap refers to the tension between intention/expectation and result in character action.”
The more the effort the more resistance. The result is that his initial evaluation of the goal, too, begins to change. Inner and personal conflicts combine with external conflicts to open a gap between his action and its effectiveness.
Back To The Future makes masterful use of gaps, especially in the scenes around the clock tower with Marty being unable to start the DeLorean, while the doc desperately tries to connect the power cable to the clock tower so it can capture the lightning that is destined to strike and send the car through time.
This constant expansion of the gap also changes the protagonist. He begins to doubt his ability to achieve success. He starts questioning his values and resources. He is forced to take more desperate action, take more risks, in order to try and reverse each failure.
Without a gap between expectation and result in stories, without increasing risk, there would be no tension and conflict. There would be no drama.
A gap between intention and result, therefore, is the space in which interesting and engrossing conflicts play themselves out. Additionally, the gap is not only the generator of inner and outer conflict, it is the motivator of change in the protagonist.
A gap creates tension between action and reaction, intention and result, as a by-product of the protagonist pursuing the goal.