Alternate way of crafting Justifications (better, imho)

Please, please, please don’t hate me, but even after watching the 11/25/20 Conflict Corner, I was/am still dissatisfied with the way we’ve come up with designing conflict. It’s gotten too complicated and it’s only hit or miss and I can’t see how any of us would build conflict outside of committee. The process has issues, man. So, I went back to the drawing board to design/come up with an alternative. Of course, I’d like feedback, if you feel like it. Although, I don’t think I have (or that it needs) exact phrasing worked out.

So what elements does it take.

Well, first the movement quad I came up with:
Abandon (Stop) | Use
Adapt | Embrace (Start)

Next the quad that we actual use when we justify (these can correlate to can|want|should|need) at least, I think they can.
Better Than | I Deserve
Must Be Seen As | Worse Than

Gists from Subtext which I’m bolding

Cornerstone words: because, until
The word until really is the lynch pin in altering context, not just context but connecting the contexts. I am throwing out unless as ineffectual and confusing. My hubby just explained to me why unless is problematic; it’s because it’s a condition that may never happen, whereas the word until implies that the condition will be met at some point.

So how does all this work together?
I’m gonna show you on each of the levels of the Story Table.


Characters embrace getting revenge because those in power are destroy everything (worse than),
characters embrace finding the chosen one because it gives them (better than) hope that they can resolve things peacefully.

Until relates these two gists and makes them mutually exclusive. either you can go after revenge, or you can work with the chosen one, but you can’t do both.

Stepping down a layer:
A character gives new purpose to baiting because (deserving) changing to more more deserving targets makes them feel more powerful(seen as)
a character being genuine saves someone from a fate (worse than) death.

Stepping down a layer
A character uses not changing their mind about something because it keeps others/the world from ignoring them (feeling worse than)
A character is forced to reconsider their actions because they are (seen as) selfish when their obstinance causes someone else harm.

You can play mix and match with the (better/worse than, seen as, deserving) or negations of the gists to design the justification anyway you like. I find these to be more suggestive of conflict than anything else we’ve come up with.

Play with it. Tell me what you think.


“Until” implies a temporal progression (passage of time), which is not what we’re looking for when it comes to illustrating a source of conflict. What you’ve written sounds more like the difference between Problem and Solution. It’s a great way to contrast the beginning and end of a story, but the description of an inequity (which is what we’re working on) exists throughout the entire process.


I believe there is a good reason for this. What we are trying to do is codify a process that we are not aware of, that our minds do naturally all the time.

It’s to be expected that, for writers who do their best to put conflict in their stories all the time (and who are also avid readers/watchers, able to appreciate good conflict in stories) this process will seem clunky, obtuse, wholly unnatural. It’s like, once you know how to ride a bike, if someone tried to explain the exact physics of what you were doing to balance etc., it would just seem bothersome and useless.

The difference here is that, while we all know how to ride to some degree, we’re trying to gain tools to fix our blind spots and ride like masters at the top of their game.

BUT we have to consider what this tool is for. What we’re doing in Conflict Corner etc. is building up and learning how to use the tool by applying it over and over, purposefully. All good, when the goal is learning.

When you’re just trying to write a good story, however, you would only break out this tool when you need it – when you sense that something is off or weak with your conflicts. At least that’s what I’d recommend!

(I was going to add some examples but this is getting long enough and I should probably give you a chance to respond! :slight_smile: )


This is a great topic! :slight_smile:

I found an interesting article about how to brainstorm moral dilemmas:

I’m wondering, if we can construct dilemmas first, than turn them into justifications.

(Sorry for my bad grammar. :blush: )

Disagree (respectfully, of course). Until is a conditional change. I’m surprised that as a software coder that didn’t jump out at you. Do this XYZ code UNTIL ABC condition is met and then jump over to LMN. Time is, of course, a condition that can be met but so are zillions of other things.

@jhull It’s also really weird that you think my examples feel like problem solution, because I did them the way we’ve done all of them, with 2 gists from the same category, and I wonder how much of ME (my POV) that is, rather than a failing of the technique.

If only this were true. Unfortunately for me, my confidence in my ability to create any sort of meaningful conflict has be absolutely obliterated by the “how is that a conflict?” question, leaving me unable to write, and second guessing myself all the time. So, I was really excited when this all started; thinking, hey, we’re gonna have guidelines I can follow to help me figure out how do this right. And then the rules just kept piling on and piling on…and NOTHING felt like it was “justifying” anything.

Remember when we did that first one @JohnDusenberry first workshop the one about being healthy…

A character is happy they are exercising regularly and eating right and taking care of themselves because they deserve to live a long, empowered life, until the person they love more than anything else confronts them; they’re miserable, they’re jealous and lonely and because they feel they deserve the couch potato they married and want the character to put on 20lbs and go back to normal.

@JohnDusenberry would say there is way too much context here…but this starts to feel like story to me. I can see the conflicts/difficult choices that will need to be made.

I don’t see the point in stripping things down to unemotional uncontextual phrases that are meaningless and uninspiring. Not ONE of us has been able to create anything that way. Things are always created in context of the imagination of the person offering up the suggestion and then a bunch of time is spent trying to make it generic. It was a little insulting to be told that unless I could make things generic that I couldn’t possibly know what I was doing. Although, ironically, I do realize that was the person justifying,

I’m mildly vexed that the responses have been a dismissal/ignoring of this alternate technique in favor of explanations of how I must not understand the purpose of the techniques and that’s why they’re failing me.


Glad you are getting something out of it.

No clue if we can turn dilemmas into justifications.

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“I will eat yoghurt until the moon is made of cheese.”

“Until” in the colloquial sense would imply a progression of time, in the sense that A comes before B, and then A stops while B might keep going. (And in engineering the UNTIL often implies that B is the result of A).
And I don’t see how “until” implies that the condition will be met any more than “unless.”

I have my issues with “unless” but they are not recovered by “until.” The problem I have with the sentence construction is scope; it is not clear from the way it is written, what the “unless” applies to.
“A in order to B UNLESS C in order to D.” The UNLESS is ambiguous at best. Does it apply to (A in order to B) or just A? This is why I thought of the circuits in the other thread. That way it’s clear to me what conflicts with what, what leads to what, and any other important connection.

The rest of your explanation (the two quads) I don’t see issue with. I see them as helpful.

@kf27 the dilemmas spoken about in that link of yours seem to work pretty well with the justification process. (the construction in the following examples might be off, but the gist is hopefully clear. the desires/convictions are the the second half of each justification)

A woman “needs to confront her husband about his cheating” in order to “have openness between her and her husband” UNLESS/BUT She “needs to keep quiet” in order to “have peace in her home.”

A pastor “needs to take justice into his own hands” in order “get justice” UNLESS/BUT he “needs to forgive the perpetrator” in order to “remain pacifist”

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As someone who hasn’t been able to participate or had time to watch the episodes other than in snippets/on fast-forward, I am inclined to agree. As for myself, I’m on the fence about whether this process as it has evolved is an advanced technique worth devoting time to or if it’s just another iteration of the Dramatica-as-Resistance rabbit-hole (for me).

I was interested in your alternative proposal @jassnip , but I confess I find it equally confusing. I agree with Jim that at least in common usage (for me) “until” suggests passage of time (we won’t be able to discuss this until tomorrow) although I get how your programming analogy is technically correct.

I’m having trouble with this too. I thought the whole point of the original technique was to create an inequity by pitting two incompatible contexts against each other. I don’t yet understand how you can do that by stripping away the context. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the meaning of “context”.


Sorry Diane. I should have mentioned that I read over it carefully, but felt like it didn’t really work for me. But maybe that’s not a fair evaluation because the current form of Jim’s/John’s justifications actually do work really well for me…

…with one caveat (and this gets to your other point) … they work as long as I keep all the context! So I’m also unsure of the value of stripping away context. Maybe it would help those who have less Dramatica experience be able to separate the storytelling aspects from the true conflict? Not sure.

This sucks! (I’m impressed that you could admit this publicly – shows courage!)
FWIW I don’t think you should feel this way. From watching the earlier Writing With Subtext it seemed like your subconscious/muse was able to come up with the foundation of a GAS story quite naturally – piles of conflict inherent there. I got the sense that, like me, you needed help from Dramatica more at the lower level – to make your scenes and sequences really sing.

If it helps, 9 times out 10 I only do super-loose justifications in the format of illustration vs. separate illustration. If I can tell the conflict is there – it logically works as a dilemma, or even better, I can feel it viscerally – that’s good enough. Most of the time I know what I write down would take some explanation if Mr. Hull :muscle: asked why it’s a conflict. But that’s okay – better to focus on the story itself than fancy justifications in a scene outline.


As the author, you are defining the shift in context. Until marks the introduction of the alternate

A character is headed down path A, humming a merry tune, with their justification in hand, feeling good about life the universe and everything. Their pathological maneuvers (as Corbett calls them) intact
They are confronted with a) a roadblock b) an alternate path and justifications that suggest the path they are on is dangerous/not optimal, creating conflict

Thank you. I’m glad.

I worried about that. It was a lot to rollout all at once.
Let me try a slower demonstration. I’m going to use the element of Fact from the Dramatica Table of Story Elements

Dipping over to Subtext for a couple of gists.
Finding facts about something
Seeking facts that contradict something

Now the question becomes what do you do with them, how do you find the conflict in things that aren’t in and of themselves conflicty. That’s where the first quad comes in. The four things are ways of interacting with the gists. So we have Abandon, Use/Deploy Adapt Embrace

A character abandons finding facts about something
A character embraces finding facts about something
A character uses finding facts about something
A character adapts finding facts about something

Each of these would lead you to different story focuses. The one that interests me the most is abandons so that’s the one I’m going to continue to develop, but the process would be the same

A character abandons finding facts about something because (<–this signals the reasoning/justifying). The question running under the surface is why would someone abandon finding out facts?)

This leads us to the 2nd quad Better than, Worse than, Seen as Deserve (<these are what we do when we justify)

Basically, it’s the same as choosing between the first quad

A character abandons finding facts about something because better than
A character abandons finding facts about something because worse than
A character abandons finding facts about something because seen as
A character abandons finding facts about something because deserve

This is where you then build in the context of your story elaborate on whatever one you choose.

A character abandons finding facts about something because knowing the facts would make things worse/cause a civil war

A character embraces finding facts about something because they know the facts would make things worse/cause a civil war

A character uses finding facts about something because knowing the facts would make things worse/cause a civil war, letting them sneak into power(better than or maybe deserving)

A character gives new purpose to finding facts about something because showing the facts in an alternate light would make things better/end a civil war

Then you’d build the other context in the same way.
Hopefully that demystifies it. Truly it’s not meant to be complicated at all.


Context is a mechanism for conflict. A shift in context is a dynamic that describes something else. Still valid for the story, but not for simply outlining the conflict perhaps.

I think Diane has captured the energy of a conflict and the conflict corner is trying to capture the mass of a conflict.
That is either very profound or very stupid of me

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I’m gonna own my ignorance here. Huh? Those were words and individually I understand them, all together, not so much.

Justification against justification just says “the relationship between these two describes the conflict”. If you start trying to shift context…this conflict until that conflict…that describes something other than “this is what the conflict looks like”. Universe vs Physics. Mind vs Psych.

That shift still describes a temporal aspect of the story. But it just doesn’t describe how one justification occupies the same space as another.

What if i say say “this conflict for a day until that conflict for a year”. Now we’ve gone up another dimension. But it’s neither a context for conflict, nor what you are trying to do (I assume…still reading through some posts)

It did jump out at me, that’s why I signaled it as insufficient for what we are describing here.

UNTIL statements execute code within a block “until” a condition is met:

x = 0

UNTIL (x=5) DO {

  x = x + 1
  print 'looping'


print 'done'

The above block of code will run 5 times before finishing, resulting in the following output:


Objectively speaking, the UNTIL statement is a temporal dynamic, defining the scope of a process. That’s why I likened your examples to Problem and Solution in Dramatica. The structural Solution “breaks” the Throughline out of its consideration loop.

Illustrating a Source of Conflict (inequity) as we’ve been doing in these classes is something entirely different. We’re defining why the above loop even exists.

Progressive complications are merely more appearances of “looping” within the Storymind, which is why they too are insufficient for portraying an inequity.

I found this interesting as in a Change Success story it would feel to me, like the progressive complications escalate until they force a character to consider a different strategy, the structural solution, I guess.

The idea that there is a breaking point of the loop, but that the looping itself isn’t precipitating that breaking point…is thought provoking and not something I had considered. I was seeing the progressive complications as coming up against the blind spot over and over until you have to concede and see, you have a blind spot.

Which is why I was wondering if the progressive complications (and the story itself as a whole) are the energy of a conflict and the two justifications in different contexts are the mass of a conflict.

But I also feel, familiarly, out of my depth.


This is a great observation, and I would agree with it, particularly if you think about the PRCO Z-pattern within a quad. The inequity sets the Potential, the R and C is the looping, and the O is a progressive complication that sets up the potential for the next scene.


Yes, this exactly. I feel like we are talking past each other.

If you have a context with a justification, It just runs its merry course until some alternative condition/context with justification takes it out of loop/stasis to be considered. That was even part of your original description of this process, justification included heading back to zen.

I’m a very character-centric writer, so when I brainstorm plot ideas, I tend to thinking about the characters’s personalities, motivations, backstories etc. So that’s why I like to think from a storyteller/non-dramatica perspective at first.

Example: I have a MC Signpost1 - Past

  1. Storyteller perspective:

Let’s say we have a retired warrior-wizard, named Bob. Bob is struggling with PTSD, and hates his dark past as a battle mage. There is a new war coming with the trolls, and the king wants him back. But Bob now is a pacifist and lives as a simple gardener in the provinces.

At this point, I reread the article, and try to brainstorm some dilemmas:

a. Bob hates the bloody chaos of the war. If he rejoins to the royal wizard-army, he will be able to save many innocent lives (Dueling Desires)
b. In the past, Bob had a hopless romantic relationship with the queen. She desperatly asks for help, because she is in deadly danger. Bob secretly still loves her, and afraid for her life. (Test on character’s convictions)
c. Bob learns about an ancient prophecy: The new troll king (Pippin the Dark) is the Troll Chosen One, who destined to destroy the human kingdom and enslave humanity (Force the character into a corner)

Now I will go with option a.

  1. Dramatica perspective:

I read the gist list, then I try to build the justifications based on Bob’s dilemma.

Bob wants to bury his dark past, in order to live a peaceful life
Bob needs to repeat his past as a battle mage, in order to save innocent lives

My english is not perfect, but I hope I am getting my point across. :slight_smile:


I’m pretty sure we’re talking about two separate things.

is NOT what we are doing in the Conflict Corner/Illustrating a SOURCE of Conflict exercise.

There’s a reason why The Lorax ends with this:


and NOT “until”.

UNLESS signals a paradigm shift. Until is a temporal condition.

There is a huge difference between “People need artistic freedom in order to thrive until they want to reliably provide for their family” and “People need artistic freedom in order to thrive UNLESS they want to reliably provide for their family.”

The first describes the abandonment of a previous thought for a new one (Problem/Solution). The second describes a paradigm shift of contextual meaning (Inequity).