Brainstorming storytelling with TKAD

So I’ve been listening to the conflict corner classes but only in bits and pieces as time permits – so apologies if this has been answered.

@JohnDusenberry – in a recent class you mentioned applying TKAD (or Situation/Attitude/Mindset/Activity) to the PRCO beats in a scene which I get – but then you said also this is a great way to use your storyform to brainstorm storytelling. How does one do this? Given that you’re using all four of the TKAD, the illustrations wouldn’t be storyform specific.

I’m thinking about something from a class that @jhull did a while ago analyzing a scene from @mlucas’s story in which he suggested for the scene level Activities beat you could drop down and brainstorm from levels under that (e.g. Senses). This approach seems potentially very useful! And it makes sense that you would look to your storyform for those levels. However, that only works for one of the througlines.

I’m pretty sure the answer is it doesn’t matter that much at the scene level, as long as you have one of each (TKAD). But I’m wondering if anyone has a different take/approach though.


I don’t think I have much to suggest as I’ve never really tried it this way. Usually I come up with the scene first, and have to map what’s in the scene to the top-level Classes.

Sometimes I use different labels, like Manners of Thinking might be Psychology if it’s really psychological, or Manipulation if it’s tricking or convincing someone. For Attitude I sometimes call it Mindset, that’s a pretty good term.

I do think it could work really well to drill down when you’re brainstorming. Like if you notice your scene is missing Attitude and you’re having trouble coming up with something, looking at the Types might help as maybe you didn’t think of how Preconscious responses could play into it, or Memories.

1 Like

That’s what I was thinking. I’m actually going to be outlining (or re-outlining) some scenes soon, so I’ll be interested to see how this comes out. I do find sometimes that my initial storytelling feels anemic – it’s too easy to make everything a talking heads argument etc.

1 Like

I made similar experiences when starting too early with storytelling. The telling feels mechanic and too much intended.

One of the first conflict corner classes from @JohnDusenberry changed a lot of my writing and my approach to storytelling.

Before I start with the storytelling I break down my entire story into parts using PRCO. I do this for short stories and have done it as well for a novel I am writing now.

The breakdown I do on every level (as in the screenshot below).

  • Story (OS Domain)
  • Act Level (4 Concerns)
  • Chapter Level (4 Variations)
  • Scene Level (4 Elements)

In the breakdown part I ask for each part what’s the potential for this scene-idea here, what’s the resistance here …

In storytelling later, elements do not translate always in one unique scene. A scene might use more than element.

The most enlightening part of Johns class (the one mentioned above) for me was his remark using opposite emotions based on Plutchik’s Wheel.

In the breakdown process I do a detailed analysis (only) on the element level to find the opposite emotions.

Here is an example with illustration which I use to start my storytelling:

Breakdown for Element Production in OS/Universe/Present/Repulsion
Idea/Synopsis: Julian meets Alice the first time in the gated community. Julian wants to explore downtown but everyone knows leaving the community is dangerous.

This is the description for Current (PRCO) where Julian and Alice want to leave the Gated Community but need to pass the Guard.

Being Stuck in a Castle (Universe)
Being Ready on Time (The Present)
Forcing Someone Away (Repulsion)

While JULIAN can Making a Big Deal of Something in-order-to Sparks creativity, connection, gives energy (Joy) – GUARD can Discovering One’s Potential in-order-to Focus on what’s important to us (Sadness)


This is fantastic @Gernot! I heard a little bit of that episode but will absolutely have to go back and listen again.


Great points guys! I have to remember to use Plutchik’s Wheel when stuck or having problems with a scene.

When you say storytelling, do you mean once you start writing (drafting) the scene, or do you man still in the outline phase? Usually the scene seems great in my head & on paper before I start writing it, but I can run into this problem when I start drafting for sure.

One bit of weird advice, kind of a writer mind trick, is to focus on the setting of the scene and making it come alive in your head. Common wisdom says this helps because setting is important to readers and sure that’s true. But I think the real reason it works is that as a writer you have to feel like you want* to “be there” when you’re writing the scene. Once you’re actually “there” in your head, all the elements of the scene (action, dialogue, whatever) come alive more easily.

* negatives apply, of course – a setting you hate or fear or feel disgust for, would work just as well, probably because a secret part of you wants to feel those things. So any emotional connection. (I guess Plutchik’s wheel would help here too. Even a scene in an office cubicle you could amp up the apathy, then maybe juxtapose an adventure photo of a mountain summit push-pinned to the wall.)


This is often the case for me. And there can be multiple reasons for this. One of the main ones is that while I’ve identified what I think is the source of conflict, the illustrations don’t feel that interesting or tangible. Which leads to…

This is actually my usual approach – sometimes this works, but other times I find that I’m repeating a less-than-interesting pattern of description -> dialogue -> description.

Another challenge lately is “translating” the objective point of view into character POV storytelling. Like, I think I’ve figured out the source of conflict for this scene. But my character only knows so much. What do I reveal? What do I withhold? Do I need a different POV scene to bring this all out? Etc.

A related challenge is conveying character emotions and thinking. I may say the objective source of conflict is X, but my character may not be consciously aware of that. But she is aware of something, and her feelings are going to drive her actions at the storytelling level. So how to connect those two?
Donald Maass’ books (especially Emotional Craft of Fiction) have been helpful on that front.

Finally (and I just realized this) is getting into the heads of the other characters enough to know what is motivating them overall and in the scene – and then figuring out how to get that across without resorting to another POV.

1 Like

I think what you’re referring to is when you’re stuck with writer’s block, trying to encode your storyform. The storyform is there to guide you… and you can look to any level to brainstorm when you’re stuck.

Ex: You’re at a story beat, PSR level… a broken down beat from a Signpost. And you get stuck. You use Subtext/Dramatica to find the sources of conflict… you’ve figured out the PRC, but are coming up short on the O.

One step is to apply Situation, Activity, Attitude, Manipulation to the PRCO. If you’re still stuck, look at your problem quad to see what’s motivating things. Still stuck? Look above at the broader-scale: what’s the dilemma seen during the Act (Signpost), or at the Issue level, or the Concern, Domain… your premise.

What’s most important is that it feels right to you, that you’re writing something that you’re interested and excited about (whether or not it follows the storyform).

the Plutchik Wheel is good if your justification has to do with the Desire part of Being… but that may not always be the case (and why I haven’t pulled it up lately in CC). My PERSONAL writing usually leans toward emotional justifications, so I use it a lot, but it’s totally valid to justify something based on Knowledge, Thought, and Ability too. And if you’re looking for the counter to the classic Concieving in order to Being, you’ll be looking at the Conceptualizing Quad which the Plutchik Wheel won’t provide too much help. MAYBE with State of Being/Sense of Self.

Subtext/Dramatica are really useful tools, but I really think being free and creative and relying on your instinct usually prevails. I love Dramatica for its ability to pinpoint WHY something does or doesn’t work… fill in the gaps… help with writer’s block, and it can even act as a Road Map (like we’re doing in Conflict Corner right now), but I have plans in Conflict Corner to show alternate approaches down the road.

The next series after the Gladiator Story we’re working on will have to do with using Subtext to improve and craft something that was written without Dramatica.


Oh, that’s interesting. I’ll have to think about that. I haven’t really done the full justification process at all lately, but I think I need to pull it out for my current scene.

That sounds great. I think delving into different outlining/drafting/revising approaches (because different writers have different approaches – and event the same writer might have different approaches depending on the project) will be extremely useful. Looking forward to it (assuming I can ever catch up on the current series :slight_smile: )


This sounds great! This would also be useful for when someone did use Dramatica to write a first draft, but maybe found after that the draft didn’t match their original storyform, or they wrote the story without using Signposts/PSR, etc.