Breaking Down Story Units for Novels

I guess what’s really bugging me is that I don’t see how the 24/28 Magic Scenes fit into the 64 Scenes that would be created using the PSR method that everyone is so fond of.

If I were to use the 24 Magic Scenes, I would get my 96 Events, which would translate to “scenes” in the story. But then, where does that leave the 64 Scenes from the PSR? Or would it be that, instead of using the quad method, I would need to use the Six Pairs method, which would then give me 96 Scenes and 384 Events?

Plus, the PSR only talks about the Variation level. Which makes me wonder if I can just use the Elements beneath each Variation in the PSR to get my Scenes. But then that still leaves me with over 1,000 Events.

It just seems like I’m missing something.

I’ve read posts by a number of folks that have the exact question that you have. And I never walked away from any of those reads feeling satisfied with the answers given. I’m not sure anyone has a great answer.

The general answer is… forget it and write. Or, don’t worry about the math.

I say, use the math if it is useful. If it confuses you… make up a process with a bunch of magical handwaving and a pair of lucky underwear that you always wear when you write.

You may find that crusty underwear and the belief in magic carry you a long way.

I can say that there are a number of references all around such as this:

As for your next question, here is why in some areas we speak of “28 magic scenes” and in other areas “24 scenes.” In short, the 28 scenes are a storytelling technique while the 24 scenes are a structural component.

Unfortunately, my eyes start to glaze over after reading some of these articles. That’s not to disparage the author. Rather, it is acknowledging the complexity of the question.

Here is my simple, personal solution to this question. There are four POVs at work. Sometimes a scene performs double, triple, quadruple duty in this regard. Sometimes it doesn’t.

So the number could be more or less than 64 depending on the overlap. 64 more describes the average, I imagine. For me, 64 is comfortable. That’s why I stick with it. It gives me a general target.

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The answer is yes. Because the model loops in on itself, when you move into greater detail you’ll find the model repeated ad infinitum.

It was once explained to me as a train car on a track - that is, our minds can only hold four levels in context at once and be able to ascribe some greater meaning to everything.

The train “track” is the constantly repeated fractal nature of:

Domain - Concern - Issue - Element - Domain - Concern - Issue - Element -> and so on

You can’t go into greater detail of each Element without losing sight of the top, and vice versa. You can move the “track” of the story up and down, but just know that the further detail you go into the easier it is to lose track of the bigger pieces.

That’s why the model holds those four as what is needed to gather meaning.

Forget about the 24/28 Magic scenes. They mix both subjective and objective views of the storyform and therefore are no bueno. That’s why you can’t resolve it all.

Signposts and Journeys don’t mix - you’re either looking at Signposts OR you’re looking at Journeys.

The typical “28” major beats found in a story are a combination of:

  • Four signposts from every Throughline
  • Overall Story Sequences from the Overall Story Throughline
  • 4 or 5 Story Driver beats

That gets you the usual 28-32 from a STRUCTURAL perspective – without having to resort to a Journey appreciation of the narrative.

I would leave that for the Audience.


Thank you for clearing up the loop effect and what’s going on with the Magic Scenes. That makes me feel a lot better.

However, this is new…

I get the four signposts for each throughline, and the 4 or 5 Story Drivers. But that gives me 20-21 beats. Where are the remaining seven beats coming from? Is this where the Six Variation pairs come in for the Thematic Sequences in the theory book?

I think I understand this but just to make sure: what you’re suggesting here is that for structuring purposes, the 28 consists of four “structural acts” that each consists of 1 Driver scene + 3 Signpost scenes (MC, IC, and RS) + 2-3 OS Signpost scenes (using the PSR Z-pattern). Is that right?

So if you were aiming for something longer without adding an additional storyform, you could use all four variations for all four throughlines for all four acts (4x4x4 = 64). Is that correct?

When it comes to structuring your story, I would first start with the four signposts from each Throughline, and then the Story Drivers. So you might have:

OS: Past - Progress - Future - Present
MC: Doing - Learning - Obtaining - Understanding
IC: Conceptualizing - Being - Becoming - Conceiving
RS: Subconscious - Preconscious - Conscious - Memory

With Five Story Drivers, weaved together it might look something like this:

  1. Initial Story Driver
  2. Past
  3. Doing
  4. Conceptualizing
  5. Subconscious
  6. Second Story Driver
  7. Learning
  8. Progress
  9. Being
  10. Preconscious
  11. Third Story Driver (Midpoint)
  12. Future
  13. Conscious
  14. Becoming
  15. Obtaining
  16. Fourth Story Driver
  17. Memory
  18. Understanding
  19. Conceiving
  20. Present
  21. Concluding Story Driver

Right there you have an awesome story. But it might be a tad anemic when it comes to fleshing out a two-hour screenplay (and even moreso if you’re writing a novel). So you’ll want to break down those individual Signposts into the Sequences that lie underneath.

For screenplays, and most stories, I suggest only doing the Overall Story Sequences. These are the sequences found in the Plot Sequence Report. The other Throughlines I only look at if I need to “cheat” and I can’t come up with something on the spot that feels right. If you’re nearing a deadline, the Sequences become your best friend. :slight_smile:

So, if we take the PSR for the Overall Story Sequences we get:

  • Past: Approach, Self Interest->Morality, and Attitude
  • Progress: Prerequisites, Strategy->Analysis, and Preconditions
  • Future: Senses, Conditioning->Instinct, and Interpretation
  • Present: Wisdom, Skill->Experience, and Enlightenment

What you do is you REPLACE the instances of the Overall Story Signposts with these Sequences. In the first Structural Act you will now have THREE beats of Past: Past in terms of Approach, Past in terms of Self-interest to Morality, and Past in terms of Attitude.

Your structure might now look something like this:

  1. Initial Story Driver
  2. Past in terms of Approach
  3. Doing
  4. Past in terms of Self-interest to Morality
  5. Conceptualizing
  6. Subconscious
  7. Past in terms of Attitude
  8. Second Story Driver
  9. Learning
  10. Progress in terms of Prerequisites
  11. Being
  12. Progress in terms of Strategy to Analysis
  13. Preconscious
  14. Progress in terms of Preconditions
  15. Third Story Driver (Midpoint)
  16. Future in terms of Senses
  17. Conscious
  18. Future in terms of Conditioning to Instinct
  19. Becoming
  20. Future in terms of Interpretation
  21. Obtaining
  22. Fourth Story Driver
  23. Present in terms of Wisdom
  24. Memory
  25. Present in terms of Skill to Experience
  26. Understanding
  27. Conceiving
  28. Present in terms of Enlightenment
  29. Concluding Story Driver

From there you might add an extra beat or two from the Main Character Throughline or the Relationship Story Throughline - whatever feels right for your story.

I’ve also found that as you get closer and closer to the end - these beats tend to weave tighter and tighter with each other, especially in comparison to where they began in the first Signpost.

With this approach you end up with 28-32 STRUCTURAL story beats from which you can start to write a treatment/master outline or even the story itself. You’ve kept the perspective of Author consistent throughout the structuring process.

Plus, it’s a ton of fun.


:astonished: This is AMAZING!!

Thank you so much for this!

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WHOA! :boom:

Now just imagine what it’s like to have Jim actually working on your story with you…


Gotta throw the love back atcha, great GREAT note.


I’m editing my novel’s outline given the information you just shared with us, but I’m confused on a point. The idea of replacing signposts with four variations was something I had already intuited, but the only place I’ve seen Dramatica use the term “story driver” is action vs. decision.
What do you mean by five story drivers?

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I had the same question when learning Dramatica. See the footnote here:

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Thanks and now that question leads to another question.

What function does the fifth story driver serve given that the story is over?

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The story isn’t over until the fifth Story Driver. That would be the Concluding Event.


Permit me to rephrase my question. What is the function of making the concluding event a story driver?

Only an action can solve a problem which was created by an action, same for decision. It’s about consistency I guess.

The problem has already been solved by the time we get to the concluding event.

Wait, why do you think that?

e.g. The concluding event in Star Wars is Luke blowing up the Death Star. The problem was most definitely NOT solved before that.

I see it this way:

The first and last Story Drivers “bookmark” the scope of the problem and (possible) solutions being explored by a story. The first driver gives the sense of “There’s something to explore here,” while the last Story Driver says, “This problem has been explored as far as possible in this context (whether or not it was solved).”

Since each Story Driver means to shift the direction of the narrative, making the concluding event of the story a Story Driver gives the event a sense of finality. It is the shift that shows there are no more directions to take.

There’s one caveat: Starting with one type of driver, and concluding with the other (i.e. Action -> Decision or Decision -> Action) marks the story as feeling incomplete or open-ended. I suspect which it is depends on the skill of the writer.

Anyone may feel free to correct me if I am off somewhere, though.

The final driver is analogous to what non-Dramatica story structure calls the Climax – which happens near the very end of Act III and is (maybe) followed up by a brief denouement/wrapping up. Is that correct?

I’m pretty sure that the concluding event in Star Wars is when everyone gets their medals.