Beats - a definition

Only meaningful change is going to advance the story, illuminate character, shape character, etc.

For example, the plot requires an elimination of a limited number of options or an expenditure of time using the best options – especially from the perspective of the OS.

Beats are the mechanism by which we do this. In life, we learn. If we never experienced that moment of clarity, painful realization or whatever – we’d never change our process.

It’s interesting when you look at Storybeats because they don’t always represent beats as we are discussing them. At times they do; but, sometimes, they use negative space to show the beat (i.e. negative space art). Negative space art is :drum: drumroll :drum: subtext.

I think you asked a really great question that requires a tailored and personal understanding. For me, this kind of question helps me advance my process.

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I totally get what you’re saying about that space in between @museful - subtex :).

Sometimes the storypoints are in that space, sometimes they’re in the known space. Beats are hard to pin down!

From the practical perspective, ideally we’d be conscious of WHAT and HOW to nail down the subtext (but I guess that’s what learning the craft is all about). With that in mind, I was thinking that the progressive storypoints which are focussed on the scenes - SRCA - could possibly be the Signpost Beats(?)

So, going back to the progressive storypoints section of the storyform…lets say Strategy is the setup storypoint in SP1. Strategy could be the moment of change - turning point - in the setup portion of the Signpost (Act 1).

Possibly! Maybe!?

(I know scenes will incorporate other storypoints but I’m looking to zero in on the scenes which go to create the signposts.)

Okay so this is the thing that I wasn’t getting for a long, long time, but is KEY to making it all work in my opinion.

Everyone at first makes the mistake of encoding story points as storytelling, not as a source of conflict. But even once you get the source of conflict piece down, you still have to show how that conflict progresses (“turns”) to the subsequent points (PRCO) when you’re looking at plot progression. I think some writers do this intuitively. Others of us find it trickier.

I know you’ve discussed PRCO a in few recent writers’ rooms @jhull but speaking for myself I could still use more discussion and examples of how this works in practice to get the feel for it.

  • A beat is contained by two pauses. Like two commas.


  • The pause is the beat (take a beat or take a moment).

In other words: a beat is self contained or the moment that contains.

I wonder: if a scene contains more than one beat, could the PRCO be said to reset after each beat? I think so.

It is interesting, I think, that a beat suffers from the same thing as a scene in terms of definition.

I just read the definition of a scene according to Dramatica. Two parts of this definition were interesting to me:

  • In keeping with the most common definition, Dramatica uses “Scene” to mean everything that takes place consecutively in a single place and time.


  • A less common usage of “Scene” is as a unit representing a complete dramatic movement, such as an argument that begins, develops, and resolves.

Just to add to that, maybe a beat could be defined by modifying the definition of a scene:

  • A less common usage of “Scene” is as a unit representing a complete dramatic movement, such as an argument that begins, develops, and resolves.

Then a beat could be:

  • Part of a scene (a complete dramatic movement) that is self contained (begins, develops, and resolves).

I still like the idea that a beat has two workable definitions, that it can be contained within two moments or that it can be the moment itself.

I thought we were supposed to ignore all that PRCO stuff (whatever that is… searching it here didn’t clarify) and just focus on signposts and sequences: Difficulty understanding PRCO

Potential is reality and why it sucks.

Resistance is what makes the suckiness more or less bearable.

Current are the forces that interact to maintain or dispel the suckitude.

Outcome is the altered state of suckdom at the end of the scene. Because no one should outright win until the end of the script. All outcomes generally lead to more Potential (another sucky situation).

Goal is a separate thing and shouldn’t be confused with Outcome, but it is useful in a scene as storytelling.

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PRCO is an analogy.

My issue with this analogy is that most analogies are intended to simplify an explanation. PRCO doesn’t seem to do this very well.

In many ways, this is where I struggle with Dramatica.

However, this struggle can lead to a stronger overall understanding with time. It can also lead to hair pulling and frustration.

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I think this is a case, as with many elements of story, where Dramatica is both more precise and harder to understand than other explanations.

Goal-Conflict-Disaster is a lot easier to understand than PRCO and therefore potentially more useful. But does every scene end in disaster? I guess it depends on how you define “disaster” etc.



I think disaster lacks nuance and that’s why people dislike it. But, if you watch a show like “Lost in Space” it really is that way. It, at least, it is often that way.

I kind of like the following when talking about a protagonists goal at the end of a scene.

Yes he succeeded, therefore…
Yes he succeeded, but…
No, he failed, but…
No, he failed therefore…

I think the first will never happen, because everything comes at a cost.

The protagonist will be tired, beaten up, make an enemy, lose a friend, etc. There are always consequnces. That’s like the second.

The third is silver lining territory.

The fourth is just plain disaster.


I would say end with Resultant: Goal, Conflict, Resultant. I use the PRCP ( cos I prefer this to PRCO, even though the Outcome is very easy to understand). The P here is the Resultant. It has a charge. This is the Potential for more negativity to occur or a more positive happening to grace the next scene. This helps with control of pacing , mood of the work in general. etc.

Another school of thought, like @museful stated see the nature of this “Potential” as either:

  1. Yes,
  2. No ,
  3. Yes but,
  4. No and furthermore.

The last two are great in moving your fiction forward- especially great for novelists.


See, that sounds practical and useable. Do you use it at the end of every PSR item or just the 1st or 4th?

I wish more of these theory things were elaborated upon with simple concrete examples. Are there any? I get the feeling that following Dramatica’s open-ended instructions on what to do with the PSR isn’t enough to make a good story (for someone like me who gets inspired by cool ideas but doesn’t know how the pieces go together)… but maybe that’s because my instinct is to solve conflicts, not make them worse.


This was just starting to click for me watching a recent @jhull Writer’s Room where he explained how to apply PRCO to an RS plot sequence. Some of Armando’s examples are also great for this. I think in the past I’ve made the mistake of hand-waving away the important part of this process which is the potential to outcome loop (the turn). Probably because that’s the hard part. :slight_smile:

Hi SharkCat. I use this with every single scene. But you should vary their use for effect. Unlike most popular beliefs, not every single plot element has to end in something truly negative.
Every once in a while you need to give the POV character (perhaps the MC, Protagonist or Hero etc) a win.
There is a difference between conflict and adversity. No one can withstand adversity for so long. Not even your reader. So a simple yes will do in these scenes.
No’s can be used in tragic scenes or in the ending of a tragedy story.
“Yes, but” scenes are the most common. These ones move the plot forward.
“No, and furthermore” scenes are best used when doing plot twists and so on.

The PSR naturally is a guide for your scenes. So you have 64 of them. But depending on the kind of story you’re writing (if you are an epic fantasy writer like myself) you’ll be needing much more than 64 scenes to make a novel.
So for this I just look at each one of these variations as either Cause or Effect. Then I add a companion filler scene to fill in the void.

Hope this helps.

That’s good. I started a separate thread on that.

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Ahh, yeah. I meant furthermore. Yes and no are therefore.

This clicked for me when I found it in Jack Bickham’s book.

I have a vision in my head like in the Princess Bride of a grandfather telling the story to his grandson.

I can just see the grandson saying, “he failed?!?!?!”

And then the grandfather saying, “yes and furthermore he had made a mortal enemy out of Jake because he accidentally destroyed his favorite garden gnome, but he wouldn’t know that until much, much later.”

So, putting these ideas into practical terms helped me. But, I think that PRCO says that exact same thing. Just in a different way.

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I was watching those (not sure I’d gotten to that one), but I was getting lost because they’re long. It can be nice to see the process played out, but I’d love to see the salient points of such videos summed up in an article with some instructions on what writers can do when it’s their turn to do it. It’d be a good way to catch up before the next video in a series.

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I’ll try and plan out time when I can make additional videos shorter in length. I like the current format as it allows for collaboration and input from other writers. I’ve learned a lot from those conversations that I’ve then been able to roll into Subtext.


The definition which works for me is from Dave Mamet in “On Directing”

A beat is a step in the road to the objective of the scene.

A beat focus on an activity (e.g. arrive early) rather than on a result (e.g. a failed attempt)

Every scene has one scene objective. And one scene has one to many Beat Objectives.

He gives an example:
Scene Objective: Ask teacher to change a grade
Beat Objective 1: Arrive early at school
Beat Objective 2: Present the case to the teacher
Beat Objective 3: The teacher judges the case


Where are you getting this? It’s not how I think of these terms.