Arguing outside of the story

I wanted to branch off of the Distant Influence Character thread and elaborate on a lightbulb moment I had.

To recap, @mlucas had brought up the idea of getting your two justifications close-enough to be understandable as a dilemma, and then leaving petty objections aside as unreasonable.

I went for a walk and was mulling this around in my head. One thing I’ve noticed for me is that when I really lock down on the justification exercise and get two air-tight, incompatible justifications, Like finishing a huge meal, I feel a sense of accomplishment and no motivation to do anything. :smile:

The lightbulb moment I had was a core Dramatica idea popped into my head:

A story is an argument.

The way the justification exercises have been playing out on Conflict Corner (the ones I’ve seen) and the boards is:

  • Two justifications are presented
  • Everyone chimes in with why it’s not actually a dilemma
  • Author keeps addressing objections until two perfect justifications are reached

When you work through the process of getting two perfect incompatible justifications, you’re doing your arguing outside of the story. I think that’s where the sense of completion is coming from. You have successfully argued these two things cannot co-exist. All that is left is to pick one.

So, another approach to the justification exercise might be:

  1. Create to justifications that you think cannot exist.
  2. Try to brainstorm think of an easy out
  3. Show how that out is impossible and / or makes things worse.
  4. Back to step 2.

My thinking is that once you’ve exhausted all your ideas for objections you’ll have a ton of story ideas that are all part of the argument you’re making for that signpost / variation / etc

I’d be really interested in everyone’s thoughts on this, or better yet, any experience reports from trying this. I will report back my own findings for better or worse. :smile:


Whoa. :boom: Super cool idea!!!

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So this sounds like what Dramatica refers to as developing/controlling the fourth stage of storytelling: Story Reception, and I think it’s part of that. These sources of conflict need to fundamentally connect with what the audience is bringing to the story, and how they’ll ultimately appreciate the subtextual meaning of each element as a source of conflict.

What do you mean by that last part, all that is left is to pick one?

That approach you outlined sounds to me like basically what we do in CC. This is the checklist I use in class:

  1. Context vs. Complication
    1. Make sure both philosophies are coming from different contexts.
      1. Are you repeating yourself, or just making a progressive complication of the other?
      2. If so, Modify one Truth.
  2. Co-existence
    1. Make sure the two truths are mutually exclusive.
      1. Can one maintain both truths at the same time?
      2. If so, Repeat Step 2 to find another truth in another context.
  3. Element Check
    1. Check that at least one side of your conflict directly describes the Element.
      1. If not, is there a way to conform your truth?
      2. Be careful that you haven’t slid into another Quad (i.e. Obtaining became Doing or Understanding)
      3. Lastly, the opposing truth may not talk about the Element directly, but rather indirectly.

What I mean is, and maybe this is a bad assumption on my part, is that at the end of the Signpost you’re exploring, you have to go with one of those two justifications. You have one or the other, you can’t have both.

In other words, you have two incompatible things. The story mind spends the act grappling with this, trying to have both, but at the end must go with one or the other. Is that incorrect?

It is the basically the same process and the purpose is the exact same. So I’m not advocating against the Conflict Corner process. It’s just a shift in approach.

I’m suggesting harnessing the “argumentation” part of the process where you refine your justifications to generate story. So when you say to yourself, or someone says to you, “Why not just use an anonymous e-mail to fight injustice” (example from the other thread), you use that objection as storytelling and counter it in the story. You’re encoding these arguments into the storytelling.

At the end of the process, you should have a bunch of storytelling for the SIgnpost. Looking back, you’ll probably be able to pull better justifications from what’s happening in the story. Like how you could look at the storytelling from Star Wars and pull the justifications out of a signpost. “Ah, what’s really being said is …”

I idea for this was to take the focus off of creating perfect justifications, which for me is always kind of daunting on your own, and reframe the process to feel more creative.

I think Conflict Corner is awesome. I think you are awesome. :+1:

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I think you’re on to something here, but every time I try to think through it along with the conflict corner process I find myself turned around. So just trying to think aloud here:

At some point, (I think based on suggestions of @MWollaeger ), it was determined in the CC classes that when finding sources of conflict you have to makes sure that the two sides are really mutually exclusive and not simply progressive complications. Using this terminology confused me because in the the McKee/Shawn Coyne/Storygrid paradigm, progressive complications are actually what you’re aiming for as the second step of each level of story (Inciting Incident → Progressive Complication → Crisis → Climax → Resolution). The key in this paradigm is that the stakes of progressive complications must escalate.

While I still think the terminology is confusing, I’m pretty sure I understand now the difference now – CC’s “can’t have your cake and eat it too” conflict applies to the whole unit of story you’re looking at (e.g. Signpost/Variation/Element).

However, you still need progressive complications! This is where @glennbecker’s approach possibly comes in. Each attempt to resolve the irreconcilable conflict at the higher level fails, until there are no more options left, and one is forced to choose between one or the other. When you do that, you’re pushed into the next unit of story (Signpost/Variation).

Incidentally, this is what McKee/Coyne call the climax (of scene, act or story), which consists of a “best bad choice” or a choice between “two irreconcilable goods”. Because they don’t separate structure from storytelling, their paradigm describes this at a climactic moment of choice for the characters, whereas the CC/Dramatica approach sees it more objectively as the dilemma that drives the whole unit of story.

Does any of this make sense? (Or maybe I just need a nap too @glennbecker :laughing: )


It’s kind of moving backwards and tricking your brain.

You have some dilemma or two justifications that make sense to you. But if you go through the checklist above, you’re going to find they fall short. That’s what the process is for, either way.

This approach is saying, harness the analytical part of your brain, and try to pick apart your justifications, Then say, “Alright, you can try that. But this is why it’s not going to work here”. Each objection you’re addressing through the story is like planting a fence post around your dilemma. You’re mapping out the territory.

Once you’ve addressed all the objections you can think of, you can step back and say, “Oh, if I strip out the context here, this is what’s really being said”.

You’re going to end up with something different than your original justifications, just like the other way of working through the process, but you’ve harnessed your critical brain into helping you write instead of fighting you.

That’s the idea, anyway. I definitely need a nap. :smile:

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Ahh I see. So no, you don’t go with one of them. At the end of a PRCO, the mind does not choose one side of the source of conflict or the other. I think this is one of the most common Dramatica misunderstandings.

The point of the beat’s dilemma is that there IS a dilemma. None of the mental processes ever “solve” if that makes sense. One mental dilemma pushes the mind into ANOTHER mental dilemma, on and on all the way through the end of the story, which ALSO “ends” on a mental dilemma. It’s more that the audience leaves the story than the story “ending.”

This is totally justifiable… however, part of the reason I started Conflict Corner came from seeing so many people do a sort of paint-by numbers, surface level storytelling that wasn’t necessarily being driven by the more “hard to figure out” sources of conflict.

This technique works, but I’ve always felt it’s extra guess work on the Author that is often misleading. So if you start stripping away the context first, you get to the heart of what universal truth you’re trying to say, then you can more objectively think of another context that conflicts with the first half.

Lately I’ve been using the most basic versions of justifications for the pieces of the conflict, not unlike many of Jim’s illustrations that read “be afraid of something” or “achieve something.” You get to the more fundamental mental process the mind is going through.

I need/want/can/should element in order to know/do/desire/think something UNLESS
I conceiving something leads to situation/circumstances/sense of self/state of being (and the element folded in there somewhere)

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I’m with you.

I have zero ego about this approach. I’m not even sure it is useful for anyone. I just wanted to throw it out there as an approach for people to experiment with. If doing things this way helps you write your story, great! If not, chuck it in the trashcan.

Bottom line, I’m running out of stuff to watch on Netflix. Let’s get those stories done, people! :smile:

OMG yes, if you can fix the content on Netflix (or anywhere) PLEASE!!! I don’t care how you get it done. Haha.


Why wouldn’t it? The process is about building up and tearing down justifications in order to address an inequity, isn’t it? The whole point of the exploration is to determine which way to solve the problem, how to justify this path or that path. That is a different topic from…

Choosing one path-or one justification-does not “solve” the dilemma. It just gives a way to approach it. But the dilemma still continues. The end of the story may find that the inequity is no longer an irritant to the mind-meaning the problem appears solved-but the dilemma (the inability to have both) would still remain.


I had a whole new thread drafted about this, but decided to sleep on it before posting.

Another thing that came to mind thinking about this was that not commiting one way or another feels like a third option.

You can have A or B or Neither.

Yes, but the overall inequity is indescribable. The individual sources of conflict seen at different levels are not the inequity. They’re not even conflicts in themselves, they’re sources of conflict as the mind moves through a specific order of mental dilemmas which seen as a whole conveys the narrative argument.

The mental processes seen at the end of the final PRCO’s are not the overall inequity, just as the others along the way are also not the inequity.

Depending on the other dynamics (like Success, Good, Changed, Steadfast), the end of the story either describes the “I” perspective finding a new source of conflict to live with, or sticks with the one it was driven from at the start. Is that what you meant by the inability to have both would still remain?

Also—in Failures and Bads, the source of conflict driving things IS still seen as an irritant to the mind. In something like a Steadfast/Good, however, it’s not. In a Changed, the mind has given up one source of conflict for another that is not an irritant.


Okay, this is true for the overall inequity. But at each unit of story, you still have the Outcome of the PRCO. Doesn’t this “resolve” the Potential of that circuit, at least insofar as it pushes the narrative into the next unit? Practically (storytelling) speaking, I am imagining that this usually expresses itself as some kind of “best bad choice” for the POV character, which then sets up the potential for the next unit.

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Ok. So why does that stop one from justifying a course of action? Choosing how to address the inequity is not itself a description of the inequity.

I mean that in the statement “I need to Pursue1 in order to X unless I should Pursue2 in order to Y”, I cannot have P1 and P2 at the same time. If I choose to stick with P1, or switch over to P2, I still would not be able to have both P1 and P2 at the same time. I can pick one side or the other, but the inability to have both would remain. Even if picking one side stops Pursuit from being an irritant, it still remains true that I cannot have both P1 and P2 at the same time.

Everything you’re saying about the dilemma continuing and processes never being “solved” is right. I just don’t see why that means one side of the source of conflict isn’t chosen. Every time a character does something in the story, it’s because a side of the conflict has been chosen.

In Shawshank Redemption, one of Red’s dilemmas is probably something like “I need to tell the parole board whatever they want to hear so they’ll grant me parole unless I need to do something else for whatever reason”. And we know which side he chose the first couple times he goes to a parole hearing.

One of Andy’s is probably “I need to tar the roof so I don’t get thrown off the roof unless I should talk to the guard in order to get him to give us some beer”. We know he chose to talk to the guard.

One of Woody’s (Toy Story) is probably “I should not move so humans don’t know I’m alive unless I need to scare Sid in order to stop him from mutilating more toys”. We know which side he chose.


If we’re talking about the same thing, I think what I mean is that the underlying subtextual inequities are not a 1:1 to the analogy of the Dramatic Circuit being a way to understand PRCO. From what I understand, it’s not that the Outcome is the “answer” or “solution” to the Potential. It’s that the Potential is one mental dilemma, which moves in a specific order to the next, which adds a feeling of resistance to the mind, which leads to the Current… which has its own dilemma, until finally the “Outcome” is that the mental focus shifts to the last element in that quad.

I could be conflating the idea, but I believe it works the same way that the problem quad works. The “Solution” is not an answer to the “Problem” … the mind has stopped processing the first motivation (Problem) and instead now processes a new motivation (Solution).

Throughout the story, the mind travels on a journey in a specific order, which in the end has meaning. It’s not problem-solving the individual mental processes along the way. They simply lead into each other in a specific order until they’ve explored everything… which when seen as a whole carries a certain meaning.

It’s like what we illustrated in the first season of Conflict Corner. By the time we brought the mind to the final few mental processes, everyone could just FEEL the meaning behind the journey. You can feel it even when you strip things of their context.

The reason it has meaning isn’t because the mind solved, or went with one side of the source of conflict. It’s because the mind saw the series of sources of conflict in that order, which ends up meaning something.

This is where I would suggest stripping away the context, because you’re putting the illustration into the source of conflict. These example don’t reveal a full source of conflict yet. You’re presenting the mind with a binary choice, not a conflict. A real conflict will not have a possible solution. That’s why it’s a dilemma. The context in these examples are all talking about the same thing, and as a result overlook the underlying source of conflict; conflating the illustration with the subtextual forces driving it.

To strip away the context in your example:
Woody: I shouldn’t do something so others don’t know something, unless I need to do that same something in order to stop something bad.

That’s a choice. That’s only talking about one context of “Doing”

A source of conflict would read more like:
I want to do something to keep others from knowing something, unless some new notion leads to a lack of knowledge about the situation.

So now you can see the source of conflict is: Is it a good idea to do something when I realize I don’t know the situation?

There’s no choice to be made with the sources of conflict. They’re mental dilemmas. They’re “feelings” … with one feeling leading to the next, sending the mind on a journey until finally all the feelings add up to a grand argument.


Oh man, there’s so much to catch up on in Conflict Corner! My brain is melting just reading this thread.


I’m all on board with the stuff about dilemmas not being solved and leading to the next one and so on. But the point about stripping away the context is well taken but misses the point. The examples I gave were just placeholders for “properly stated subtext statements” so I wouldn’t have to put in the time or effort to come up with those proper statements. But the point is still there.

Since I feel like we’re both saying things that are accurate, here’s my attempt to better express what I’m saying in a way that let’s go of the “chooses one side over the other” language and incorporates what we are each saying.

If a bear is charging at me and my problem solving process says “here’s what getting chased by a bear looks like from four directions” in temporal order and stops short of giving me a course of action to take, then the process has been of no use.

If the process ends with a decision to play dead, maybe I can survive the brutal mauling im about to incur. If it ends in a decision to run, maybe I can outrun something else of interest to the bear.

In that sense, the problem solving process is about choosing a way to handle the dilemma. “You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Here’s why you should go ahead and eat the cake instead of having it.”

But Dramatica doesn’t look at the process as it unfolds. It looks at the process as having already unfolded, the choices already made. In the case of a bear coming at you, it looks at the choice to run (or to play dead or whatever) as already made and the outcome as already having played out. The order of events is a result of having already decided that the bear tripped and fell into a ravine and died as you ran away from it. The order of events occurs the way it does because the mind has already decided that.

So maybe in that context it would work better to say that each iteration of the dilemma builds toward a choice already made rather than saying the mind chooses one side. But that choice, whether seen as already built in or playing out in time, is part of the process we’re talking about. Everything in the story is geared toward proving that the decision to run is better than the decision to play dead. When you remove time and leave only structure, then no. No choice for one over the other is being made. But the choice of one over the other is being accounted for.

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I’m finding it a bit hard to comment on this because Dramatica doesn’t deal with an inequity in any describable thing like a bear charging at you.

Do you mean to say that the four perspectives as a whole describes the “choice” made in the overall Narrative Argument/Premise? I think that’s what you mean by Dramatica looking at the process as having already unfolded–which yeah. I’m just not sure were the selection of a choice comes into play (other than Dramatica illustrating the mental process of either the MC or IC “choosing” to give up being motivated by the problem element, and latch on to a new motivation).

My concern with what was being said this thread was the suggestion that when looking at the individual sources of conflict, the mind chooses one side or the other. It certainly WANTS to choose one over the other, but it never does. Everything in the story is geared toward describing the Premise. The overall “choice” is being accounted for… the moving from Problem source of conflict to Solution source of conflict–but not the individual sources of conflict.

Perhaps I misunderstood, but I was trying to answer:


The way I’ve come to understand this is that it is NOT that every time a character does something in the story it’s because a side of the conflict has been chosen. There are no characters, they’re not real. The Players are just stand-ins, metaphors to illustrate what the source of conflict feels like.

If a source of conflict for Progress is:
I want to make forward movement in order to be someone, but progress leads to the destruction of the present.

Then the author chooses to illustrate that angsty dilemma by saying, “You know what that feels like, Audience? It’s like as if there were a farm boy named Luke on a planet in the middle of nowhere called Tattooine. He’s dying to join his friends and fight the galactic empire. But his uncle says no, doesn’t want him repeating the past mistakes his father made. He needs him to be here and now. But he still wants to make progress and goes after it… which leads to the murder his uncle, illustrating the flip-side of making progress toward something. So now you can feel, Audience, the subjective mental strife surrounding a source of conflict of Progress.”

Nothing is chosen. No one character picks one side of the source of conflict. Luke STILL wants to progress toward being a freedom fighter, and Luke’s progress STILL destroys his present.


Isn’t this “choosing”?

To take an example you gave in another thread:

Okay, so a source of conflict is “Luke needs to be smart about facing Vader if he’s going to come out ahead, but he lacks the wisdom Yoda tried to impart while rushing into battle.

The way we got here though is that Luke made a decision not to follow Yoda and Ben’s advice to complete his training. You could see that decision as a “best bad choice” – “If I don’t stay here and complete my training, I’ll be vulnerable, but if I do stay, my friends may be killed.” He makes the choice to go, which is part of what leads to Failure.

If Lawrence Kasdan were writing this using your approach :slight_smile: would Luke’s decision be something that emerges in the storytelling once the unsolvable subtextual dilemma is articulated? Is there any more direct connection between what I’m talking about here (best bad choice) and PRCO (or maybe SRCA?).

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It’s an illustration of the ongoing process of “Progress-ing” … which is still happening even when the other side is happening.

Luke doesn’t make a choice to be smart, nor does he make a choice to lack wisdom. In fact, Luke doesn’t really make the choice to do anything. Looking over this example again, the source of conflict may be a touch incomplete. The underlying source of conflict there (when you strip away the context) should be more like:

I need to ignore wisdom in order to do something, but a lack of wisdom leads to bad situations.

The idea is that the mind is dealing with both sides of the inequity from start to finish. And really, to put a finer point on it. This “two sides” thing is just a means for us to better describe the source of conflict. Another way I often try to talk about it in Conflict Corner is to ask “so what’s the problem?”

“Should I ignore sage wisdom to do this if it leads to a bad situation?”
… and THAT’S really the mental dilemma. Perhaps an easier way to understand how there is no choice to be made. I can see how the mind would want to say “Yes” or “No” to this, but that’s not how it works. Instead, the mind moves on to the NEXT dilemma.

A whole story would feel like this… the mind travels between sources of conflict:
“Should I ignore sage wisdom to do this if it leads to a bad situation?”
“Should I fight to win if fighting leads to making enemies?”
and then the story “ends with”
“Can I feel hate to fuel my desires, if high emotions lead to dangerous predicaments?”

The mind is like… “reasoning” with itself. Thinking something out. There’s this dilemma, but then there’s this dilemma. And now that drove my mind to this OTHER dilemma.