Beats - a definition

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.

1 Like

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.

1 Like

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.

1 Like

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.

This was just a tongue in cheek attempt at showing that these terms could be defined colloquially.

  • Potential is how the world is.

  • Resistance is something that makes things better or worse by amplifying the potential.

  • Current is the back and forth of forces within the scene that lead to the shift of reality.

  • Outcome is the new reality after all the interactions of the scene and how this reality will probably create new conflicts.

My general point is that PRCO is a complicated metaphor for – what should be – a pretty simple concept. I don’t think it has to be.

I’d also say that there’s probably a dozen simple definitions such as:

  • Potential is the state or situation at the beginning of a scene.

  • Resistance and Current are the conflicts and dynamics in the scene.

  • Outcome is the state or situation at the end of the scene.


  • Potential is the Beginning.

  • Resistance and Current are the Middle.

  • Outcome is the End.


  • Potential pushes the protagonist towards a goal.

  • Resistance could be something that helps or hinders that goal.

  • Current could be the interplay between two character with incompatible goals.

  • Outcome could be hell – when we say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Whether or not my understanding or vocabulary is sufficient is besides the point. I think, with some effort, anyone could beat out a practical definition of these concepts.

As MT might have said, don’t use a 50 dollar metaphor when a 50 Rial one will do.

I think that the concept PRCO could be simplified with some work and applicable to practical use. As it stands…

Cool. I just want people who come to the board to know that your post was not anything official.

You’re totally right that PRCO is Beginning, Middle, and End.

But that’s the way it’s been taught since Aristotle—which has gotten us nowhere.

You can reduce as long as you maintain meaning and perspective. By using something like Beginning, Middle, and End you’re not only losing the meaning and purpose of each beat—you’ve switched perspective into the Audiences point of view of a story.

And that’s not Dramatica.

I don’t find PRCO to be complicated at all – it’s actually quite intuitive. It makes more sense to me than any other theory breakdowns at the scene level. For example, everyone talks about “scene goal” and while that can be a very useful concept, I often have to discover it as I go, or (on a bad day) consciously inject it.

Also I’m not sure it’s correct to call PRCO a metaphor – there is a depth of accuracy behind those technical terms that makes them more than simply analogous or metaphorical. (The theory is saying that dramatic movements actually do work like that, not just that they are similar to electrical circuits.)


Dramatica itself seems to be pretty fluid. What was labeled as being derived from official sources has been discarded, forgotten of ignored in favor of new ideas for parts of Dramatica.

But yes @MWollaeger and anyone else reading this board:

I am not a Dramatica Story Expert. If you click on the profile of the posters, you will find that some posters have that label: Dramatica Story Expert. If you click on my label, you’ll find a dude wearing a funny hat.

@jhull My way of learning is talking out loud about an issue. That generally means that my understanding is evolving during the conversation.

I think I understand PRCO? To a degree at least. As for what I’m saying not being Dramatica, ok. I can’t disagree with that statement. I don’t define Dramatica. Dramatica is a theory and that means if the creators or the current innovator (a better word doesn’t come to the mind at the moment) says something is Dramatica and something isn’t Dramatica… well that’s just how it is.

@mlucas Let’s face it. You don’t have the label Dramatica Story Expect, but you are accepted as one.

I’d say enough people have openly expressed confusion or frustration with the application of PRCO that a willingness to try to look at it from an alternative perspective is worthwhile. @mlucas Was it that way from the beginning? Did you always find it intuitive.

Honestly, I walk away from many a discussion or some articles or some writer’s rooms and I think… what? What did I just hear.

But, sometimes I wake up in the morning, and the first thought I my mind is something Dramatica that suddenly makes sense. The last time it happened, it felt like an epiphany. I don’t write these things down after having them hit me. They generally sink back into my subconscious.

This is not an attack on what you believe. It isn’t an attack on something that you have dedicated your passion and time to learning for many years, but it is discussion and people (me) trying to learn.

Even with the constitution of the USA, there are originalists and non-originalists (and a few other categories to boot).

I’ll repeat for the benefit of all people on the board (past, present, and future); I’m not a Dramatica Story Expert. Other people are.

Does that preclude me from participating in the discussions? If you say yes, I can stop talking. That’s not an issue.

No, you definitely don’t have to be a certified Dramatica Story Expert in order to participate in discussions here.

Those with the label next to their name took a certification course run by theory co-creator Chris Huntley. Anyone interested is more than welcome to join. The course requires a pretty rigorous understanding of the theory. In addition, the candidate provides a comprehensive analysis of a book, television show, or novel of their choice. This analysis ends up on

@mlucas did The Princess Bride analysis and learned a lot about Dramatica going through the Dramatica Mentorship Program I used to run several years ago. I think I recommended him to be made a Dramatica Story Expert, but I can’t remember right now the result of that discussion. If anyone is interested in going through the process and becoming a certified Expert, again, I’m more than happy to facilitate that.

Your experience with Dramatica is very familiar – probably to anyone who has taken the time to work their way through the seemingly crazy concepts.

The general experience is one of amazement and wonder at all the parts of the theory, only to hate it, and delete it off your hard drive six months later.

The writer then sets off on his or her own, determined to show how useless or arcane aspects of Dramatica are, and refusing to even think of the theory at all.

But like most things, whatever you try not to think about, you end up thinking about even more.

Eight months later, you’re driving around town, and all of a sudden you think, “Oh, that’s what they meant by Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome.”

Eventually, years down the road, you become a fervent believer and then begin to see Dramatica everywhere – even if your daily life, away from your story.

Because really, you’re always in a story…

I don’t know these people who refer to have difficulty using Potential, Resistance, Current, and Outcome. It’s an essential part of the theory. It’s in the Signposts, it’s in the Plot Sequence Report, and it’s there in individual scenes if you want.

I’ve gone over it several times in the Writers Room and plan on incorporating more and more of it into Subtext as I see that practically speaking, it actually helps writers understand the flow of energy through their narrative. I use it all the time with the people I work with and have seen great results.

There is another interesting thing that happens a lot with Dramatica. Many who struggle with certain concepts project their difficulty understanding onto the theory itself–as if the concepts are not accurate or too ambiguous, or the definitions aren’t clear enough. More often than not, this is a result of the observer not coming into alignment with the concept, rather than an indication of a deficiency within the theory.

The only “rule” here is that we don’t entertain alternate versions of Dramatica theory. That’s why you see the Dramatica Story Experts as moderators, and why we want to make it clear what is Dramatica and what isn’t. As you can see, Dramatica is difficult enough to understand when taken as is–changing parts of the theory in a way that dilutes the concepts would only serve to confuse writers, and makes it difficult to accurately teach new writers.

We’ve had experiences in the past where some have found it necessary to create their own versions of Dramatica, and it only made a giant mess of things.

@jhull I understand.

I’m not trying to create an alternate version of Dramatica. How can I? It is a theory (right or wrong) that describes story. I can’t change it. It’s immutable (at lease in my hands).

I’m creating my own personal process that includes aspects of Dramatica theory, and even if it may be considered piecemeal, I’m happy if it works. I’m interested in the aspects of Dramatica that resonate and make sense with me.

If wearing a pink bunny suit, drinking mint tea, walking down the street at midnight in China, carrying a smart phone in my hand, dictating my story from what I recall of my Subtext beat sheet, and simultaneously thinking about your latest article helps create some words… guess who is going to be pink and have fresh breath?

Yes. All the world is a stage, and we are players.

In regards to hating Dramatica. I don’t. That’s not been my experience. I wouldn’t still be reading, listening, commenting if I did. It would be the same place as my copy of Syd Field’s Screenwriting: out of mind.

I may not be the best IC in the world in regard to challenging your thought process. I’m probably not even your IC. Maybe, I’m a tertiary character with a funny hat. That’s fine.

On the other hand, my IC isn’t someone who attacks my credentials instead of someone who provides an alternative idea. That’s an Antagonist at worse or a Contagonist at best. Whether the attack is true or not, it comes off as being insecure. It has happened more than once.

Some of your most groundbreaking theoretical musings have been inspired or stimulated by non-Dramatica sources. I am quite certain that you read other writing gurus in order to sharpen your understanding of Dramatica. Please correct me if I’m wrong?

I see a lot of confusion on the board in regard to PRCO. Maybe I’m projecting. I don’t think it is that confusing anymore.

Anyway, I just want a place to talk about writing and writing theory. That’s always been what I was looking for.

@museful I never got the impression that you hated Dramatica, nor was there ever an intention to attack.

I love challenges to my thinking process, to refer to another recent post - iron sharpens iron. The official storyform for The Sixth Sense changed because students in my CalArts challenged the original interpretation. Accuracy is my God, so whatever gets us there I’m willing.

Not really. I’ll often respond to outside musings on narrative structure in an effort to show how they fit into a Dramatica perspective. My recent series on The Hegelian Dialectic is all about showing how that approach is 100% Linear, effectively shutting out 50% of the population.

By saying something isn’t Dramatica, I’m specifically referring to the difference between an objective appreciation of story and a subjective perspective. I’m not saying that you can’t write about it, or openly discuss is in this forum – of course you can.

Beginning, Middle, End is a perfect example.

Knowing that a story has a beginning, middle, and end does not help you write a story. It’s how the Audience experiences your story subjectively, but it does not give you what you need to step away from yourself and see what it is you are trying to say.

PRCO is groundbreaking because it offers an objective perspective on what everyone has been following since Aristotle.

You can certainly transpose it and think of it as Beginning, Middle, and End, but once you do that you’re moving away from a Dramatica perspective.

So yes, please feel free to discuss and challenge!


Dramatica is not fluid, though that’s an understanding I see pop up here from time to time.

Dramatica is fairly rigid, and any changes you see are the theory and how to talk about it getting honed. Or they are in the approach to applying the theory, which is going to change to match individual style.

There are certainly things to take away from it that are less specific and perhaps more useful at times, and I think many of those things come from the discussions on this board. That’s one of the major benefits of coming here.


I was lucky in that I I could never stand any other story theories (they all made me sick to the stomach, literally). So when I found Dramatica I had very little to unlearn. When new people come to this board it’s often apparent that their knowledge of other narrative theory is holding them back.

I’m partway through the process, I just need to complete my analysis. It’s been on the back-burner for a while as I’ve prioritized finishing my own writing projects ahead of that… (Also it was probably silly of me to pick an 800-page novel to analyse! :stuck_out_tongue: )


I did not feel sick, but they did make me angry. (My wife was always like, “Why do you care so much?”)

Actually, yesterday, I saw a list of “must read” screenplay books by a guy who was 1) not a screenwriter and 2) hadn’t read one of the books on the list and I wanted to scream.