Converting an "inequality" or Source of Conflict into a scene

I would love people to post a justification, and the scene they wrote from it. Of course, either as a script or novel. (I guess, you could write a fake one, if you don’t want to share a WIP).

I’m having trouble with that aspect of writing tension (writing it well) from a justification. The way it’s happening for me, it’s not subtle enough and I’m not pleased with it being crafted “subtext”. (I recall @jassnip posted one a few weeks ago, but I can’t find it.) Thanks.

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I’m not going to post the scene here because it’s both too long and unfinished, but one scene I’m working on would have a source of conflict of something like “the family should let go of the past in order to start anew unless they need stability in order to make a house a home”.

Then scene involves the family moving into a new house while remembering everything they left behind. But there’s something off about the house-something wrong with it-and something in the woods scares the child. With her feeling like the house is cold and lifeless and the child already being scared of it, the wife is wondering if they made the wrong decision. When she mentions it to the husband, he tells her it takes time to make a house a home and to try to live with it and he discusses all the things this new start will bring, how much happier they’ll be and she reluctantly agrees to give it time while knowing in her heart that as long as her son is scared and the house feels as lifeless as it does, she will never see the house as home.

Within the context of the story, the conflict in this scene just looks like a woman who is dealing with having agreed to live in a house she really doesn’t want to live in.


Probably better to call it a “Source of Conflict” or “Inequity Illustration” then a Justification otherwise people are going to continue to be confused on what to do with it (it’s not truly a justification).

Here is an example based on Self-Interest. This was explained by @JohnDusenberry and @jhull in one of the last Conflict Corner Sessions. The scene breakdown is from my perspective, yours may differ.


I recall working on that one “together” in the Conflict Corner.

  • Is this a graphic you put together for this answer, or do you function/write using graphics like this?

It’s highly informative, even as a chart like that. Of course my brain works in quadrants and chunks like you show there. Thx for the idea.

@jhull, to whom are you addressing this?

And please explain the reason you say this. Have we changed terms or definitions or am I using it wrong?

I have done this after I watched the replay to understand it better. But I do this in someway as well before I write, but usually after my 1st draft. It works like a storyboard and the graphics help me to understand who is doing what and why and how this relates to the story form, PRCO, Truth-Statement …

The app I use is Scapple (Scrivener Product). For graphics I google “silhouette something”.

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@didomachiatto Jim explains in the most recent writer’s room that while we have been calling this “justifications practice” it’s technically not accurate as justifications are a different thing (I won’t try to explain – you can watch the episode if you’re interested). So basically Jim has changed the terminology.

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I’m using more accurate terminology. :blush:


So the only thing I would say with this is that this earlier exercise didn’t reach the level of scrutiny we’ve been aiming for in recent classes.

One of the steps in proofing your conflict is to make sure you’re not repeating your context.

A long and happy life is perhaps a bit too close to growing old alone. It’s kind of just the opposite, and it’s also not necessarily that one cannot grow old and alone at the same time as living a longer and happier life.

To fix it… what is an alternate context in which either half of the conflicting truths can’t coexist?
Another way to say that might be… how do you create two different things you want (or don’t want) at the same time? What is it about being old and alone that is good or bad? There’s something more there under the surface that gets to the core of your conflict.

We didn’t get into that level of detail in the class you’re referring to, but the basic problem with that source of conflict is that it’s not a source of conflict. It’s a binary choice. And an easy one at that.

"Focusing on shaping the perfect body leads to a long, happy life."
"Not focusing on others enough is bad."

When you boil it down, you start to see how similar they really are. One half seems like something you obviously want to avoid. And it’s also not entirely about the element itself–Self-Interest. We really need a different context.

Focusing on shaping the perfect body leads to a long, happy life.
Living freely is the best preventative care.

See how both sides are about self-interest? You want to do both, but you can’t. How can you be carefree, unconcerned with shaping your body as a means of health… if you have to continually chase down those washboard abs?

The whole being old and alone thing… there’s no significance attached to it. So you’re old and alone. So what? Why is that good/bad? It’s not that spending time away from your partner is bad. It’s specifically that not being concerned with anything prevents bad things from happening.

The point of these exercises is to get to the Subtext of what it is you’re saying in your story.

Instead of just coming up with the opposite scenario and saying it’s bad, come up with something that will generate conflict. Two things you want/don’t want at the same time.


Focus and free living aren’t opposites in that free living isnt simply a negation of focus (meaning it isn’t just “not focus”) but they are dynamically opposed. While they are both examples of Self-Interest, one is about Control and one about Uncontrolled. And the whole thing reads to me like “Control leads to something you’re pursuing. Uncontrolled leads away from something you’re avoiding.”

Seen from the level of Self Interest, they both look like Self Interest, but when you break Self Interest into its component parts, you start to see how they’re in dynamic opposition.

What I find interesting is that the point of these statements is that you cannot hold both of them to be true at the same time. Another way to say that is that you cannot hold them both to true in the absence of time. One can be true first and the other second, but there has to be a sense of time for something to be first or second. If you can move back and forth between them at will, there is no conflict. Only when you remove time do they come into conflict, meaning these statements are a spatial exploration of a process. And when you move “vertically” through the DTSE, you are moving spatially. So it would make sense that two spatially conflicting truths about Self Interest would come from two different corners…two diametrically opposed corners…of Self Interest.

The question is, does that say something about the nature of these statements, or is it just an observation that just happens to work in this example (and maybe the couple other I’ve seen or heard in these discussions) but not in all?

And if it does say something about the nature of the statements, how would you create a statement that gives temporal conflict rather than spatial?

Hmmm…one should traverse the elements in a hairpin in order to move in one direction unless they need to traverse the elements in a Z pattern in order to move in some other direction? I dunno.

Note: that these illustrations take a look at the quad below the element has been mentioned before. At the time it just seemed like something kinda neat that could be noticed. But the more I see these statements as being one truth that negates another without being it’s opposite, the more important this connection to the items within the quad seem to become.

Self Interest in light of Future. Yep. I see it. Thanks for explaining.

I changed the question, and still would like the original question addressed. I find I’m having one person push one side, the other push the other, consider the first, weigh it. But it doesn’t feel like the conflict is the conflict. It’s more like a surface debate while the conflict is the other aspects of the unfolding story.

In thinking about it , I wonder if I need to do it this way:
Show the debate/conflict with a Situation
Show the debate/conflict with an Activity
Show the debate/conflict with a stubborn Mind
Show the debate/conflict with a manipulation.

KTAD maybe is more “appropriate terminology,” but these words are more tangible for the scene-writing.

And, (in this case of Self Interest/Future) one of these will be: Pursuit, Control, Uncontrolled, Avoid.

I’m still open for examples. For brevity’s sake (ie @Greg ) feel free to send me a scene by PM so I can see an example of the transition and how the conflict is “subtext” as @JohnDusenberry reminds us it should be.

Would you want to share the illustration you’re working with? If you don’t want to do it here, DM would be fine.

I have only written the brief outline, roughest draft. I will send it when I have it good to go. Thanks for offering.

I’m wanting to see a before/after. But I guess we all play our cards close to the heart.

If i had an entire scene, I’d share it. I just don’t have it completed yet. But would you want to share just the inequity illustration you’re working with to look at how to make it subtext? That way we could possibly discuss why you see what you’ve got as surface text rather than subtext.

I could PM a completed scene with various Dramatica scene techniques that I used (Situation/Activity/MannerOfThinking/Attitude + PRCO dilemmas). However, since I’m working on revision right now, I’m not sure I have any scenes that I originally wrote using the inequity/dilemma technique (formerly known as justifications). Mainly I’m just finding what’s already there in existing scenes, and using that to tighten things up.

Would this be helpful anyway?

Why do you think it’s not subtle enough? Think about something like Elf. MC Universe of being a human raised by elves. And that’s not subtle at all.

@didomachiatto You answered your own question here, but I want to second this: making sure I’m using TKAD (Situation, Activity, Mind, Manipulation) at the scene level has been extremely helpful for me lately. In the past I’ve usually skipped this step, and I still forget to do more often than not. But I think that’s a mistake!

@Gernot’s example that we did in the writer’s room is a great example.

Without going into too much detail, I’m working on a scene where one character realizes that she can no longer Trust another character. Initially this was coming out as very blah dialogue. So I changed it – instead of telling him she doesn’t Trust him, she tricks him (Manipulation) and locks him in a shipping container to make sure he can’t do something stupid. This spontaneously lead me into a beat where he is stuck in the container (Situation) and is convinced that she’s done this as some kind of Test for him. I don’t actually use the word Test – I just have him thinking, what is it that she wants from me? (It makes more sense in context, but there’s too much to explain here).

Along these lines, something I think @jhull mentioned in the writer’s room where he was analyzing @mlucas scene was the idea of brainstorming scene level TKAD ideas by going down further – so if you’re looking at Physics, you could look at Understanding or Senses to get ideas for “Activities” illustrations in that one part of the scene. (I think that’s what he said – hope I’m understanding that right). Anyway, that’s on my list to try the next time I get stuck.


Sure, @mlucas Mike, thanks for that. We see a lot of theory spinning around, but subtlety is something we learn from seeing This–>That. And the “token drops” as we say here in Turkey.

Maybe it’s cool and I’m doing it “accordingly.” But the way I do conflict is more from the plot of the story, with a hat-tip to the Issue/Problem/Solution/ or Symptom/Response, referencing the signpost somehow. The PSR part clogs up my joints, like arthritis.

But these days I’m writing some short stories with the impetus of “getting this.” So seeing the craft of people who have an example would be a good motivation.

It’s one thing to create a scene about a woman fighting with her husband then goes on a run, etc. But when you have the STORY already it’s a different craft.

Okay, here’s the scene. (Short story, YA)
MC has to climb the face of a cliff, fight off a phoenix, and drop a gem into a cave. Also going on is concern for his sick mother back in camp and his girlfriend who has gone missing. IC is presently passed out, the mind-talking phoenix is taking over trying to stop him.

Obtaining (Rationalization, Commitment, Responsibility, Obligation). This is the commitment/responsibility scene SP4. Because…that is what has to happen right here right now.

[Coming from Rationalization-Mind (Knowledge)]
Commitment-Responsibility- Activity/Manipulation (Ability, Desire)
[Leading to Obligation-Situation (Thought)]

If he “wastes” his time climbing the mountain, worse things can happen to his abducted girlfriend in that lost time, so he should give in to the suggestions of the phoenix; The gem is controlling him, if he doesn’t take care of this first, he can’t be freed of its power and get back to help his mother and the others who are trapped.

I forgot to add, InstantScenes would be, all during this climb (since this is a short story)

Going Beyond The Point Of No Return (climbing)

  • Being Driven to Pursue Something-K
  • Believing in One’s Country-T
  • Spurning Someone-D
  • Eluding Someone-A

Taking Care of Someone’s Responsibilities (drop-off)

  • Having One’s Actions Limited-A
  • Being Haunted by Someone’s Conscience-T
  • Tempting-D
  • Living Free of a Particular Group-K

That’s a lot of dialogue, internal and external. The way I see it, as the climax, it needs to be the tightest scene, so I want to make sure to have an inequality as clear and present.

Do you have a “people should _____ unless ______” statement that you were wanting to work with as well?

Which part of this scene makes you feel like Obtaining (or whichever appreciation) isn’t adequately subtext?

Cool, I’ll post it in the Subtext section of this forum. If you (or anyone else who wants to see) don’t have access let me know and I can PM you. I don’t have any problem sharing with whoever, but the issue with posting something in a public forum where no login is required is that it can be considered “previously published”.

This is pretty much what I do when writing a novel. Since I rarely know “where I am” in the PSR, I usually just look at the whole quad and try to see if my current scenes have the same feeling as that quad. Meanwhile the Problem, Symptom, Response etc. are SUPER useful.

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