Crucial element in change/start/failure stories follow up

I read all the posts here & narrativefirst articles on the crucial element and translating between a message & storyform.

My follow up question is: Does the change character move from their own crucial element over to the steadfast character’s crucial element? Or is there some other dynamic at work? How should I understand the use of the main character crucial element in the “message” summary? I ask because this MCCE to ICCE movement seems to make sense in some stories but seems reversed in other stories. For example:

Star Wars (change/stop/success): MC drops MCCE of test and adopts ICCE of trust. I can see Luke moving from testing to trusting.

Hamlet (change/stop/failure): MC drops MCCE of knowledge and adopts ICCE of thought. I can see Hamlet indulging in thought galore.

EDIT: I’m not sure about this description of the message.

To Kill a Mockingbird (change/start/failure): MC drops MCCE of equity and adopts ICCE of inequity. I don’t see how Scout moves from equity to inequity. I see the reverse.

The Graduate (change/start/failure): MC drops MCCE of pursuit and adopts ICCE of avoid. I don’t see how Ben moves from pursuit to avoid. I see the reverse.

Maybe the change/start/failure stories are the confusing ones. Are there examples of change/start/failure “messages” that make complete sense to anyone?

I’ve read these articles and the posts here that reference them & other related topics:


@HaroldLloyd doesn’t this have to do with whether it’s a Start or Stop story?

Star Wars and Hamlet are Stop stories. Luke needs to Stop testing, and Hamlet needs to Stop overthinking.

To Kill a Mockingbird and The Graduate are Start stories. Scout needs to Start striving for fairness; Ben needs to Start pursuing what he wants out of life.

Does the MC “have” the MC crucial element at the beginning of the story? In all stories? Or is it different for stop stories vs start stories? Success vs failure stories?

Does the MC “have” the IC crucial element at the beginning of the story? In all stories? Or is it different for stop stories vs start stories? Success vs failure stories?

The Crucial Element is not something the Main Character has at the beginning, nor is it something they move to at the end.

The Crucial Element is the connection between the objective point-of-view and the subjective point-of-view. It’s not a real thing in real life that would be within a real character.

It’s a way to better understand the message of your story - not what is going on with your characters.

It’s crucial to the meaning of your story, not the characters.


I interpreted this language as gaining/losing the crucial element:
“In Change/Start stories (regardless of the outcome) the Main Character’s “hole in the heart” is the lack of the Impact Character’s Crucial Element, so the story is all about that character’s “internal quest” for that element (the outcome works like this: in a Success story, she will win a Solution, in a Failure story, she will win a Problem).”

It makes it sound like the MC adopts/gains/moves toward the IC’s crucial element (especially the bold print) not the MC’s crucial element.

As one example of translating between a message in normal speak and a storyform, I think that this message:

“When you start evading the truth, failure to reach your dream and misery follow.”

Means this storyform:

But this is where I get stuck and I’m concerned I’m going to flip the OS & MC prob/solution in the software.

On the one hand, I believe the MC crucial element is Avoid (for evading the truth). But I’m unsure what should be OS & MC problem & solution. I think it should be Pursuit/Avoid because the MCCE is the MC solution in a failure story, yes? And the MCCE should be used when formulating the message summary.

On the other hand, the bold quote makes it sound like Avoid should be the IC’s crucial element because the whole story is about the MC gaining this ICCE.

Where is this quote from?

Hey Jim, it’s from your article here, but you didn’t write it; it was you quoting an old email or mailing list post by @ArmandoSaldanamora .

So yeah…I would say that quote is a bit inaccurate, or rather, misleading.

It works in some contexts and as the case here, not in all.

It’s taking what is a holistic relationship and applying linear logic to it (“winning” a Solution, “winning” a Problem).

The Crucial Element is not a thing - it’s a relationship between the Objective and Subjective points-of-view in a narrative. It can be used to build a Premise, or narrative dramatic argument, but trying to apply it to individual characters is not going to be a productive experience.


Awesome! It’s incredible how much better we understand the Crucial Element compared to several years ago.

My experience with Crucial Element is that it ends up as a super rich and meaningful part of the story’s message or Premise. It’s not just the element itself, say Logic, but it’s what you want to say about Logic – the specific gist and even storytelling that goes around that element for your particular story, and how it ties everything together (all the throughlines).

I’ve found that getting to that deep meaning around the Crucial Element is something you discover as you write your story. I actually think you’re better off if you don’t really get it at the beginning – it’s GOOD that you have to write your draft to get to it! This will give you more purpose and motivation as a writer – a reason to actually write your story. At least that’s what I’ve found.


Given this message, what should I input into the software as the OS/MC problem & solution?
“When you start evading the truth, failure to reach your dream and misery follow.”

MC/OS problem = ? Is it pursuit or avoid? It’s not intuitively obvious which one it should be.

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I think the Problem is Pursuit and the Solution is Avoid, since the MC starts evading (avoiding) the truth and that’s Bad.

Of course, that’s assuming that everything else in your candidate storyform fits the story you’re trying to tell, especially Pursuit being a real source of conflict. (“Evading the truth” could fit other elements, like maybe Non-Accurate?)


Hmm. Or Non-Acceptance (“rejecting the truth”), or one of the Actuality/Perception quads… maybe even Probability/Possibility…

@HaroldLloyd do you know what your Domains and Concerns are (i.e. are you selecting from a limited number of options?)


For the OS, I think innermost desires since it’s a comedy of manners with clashing biases. And for the MC TL, I think psychology (she easily gets envious and it causes her angst) and becoming as the concern because she’s wants to destroy someone (and this keeps causing problems for her).

Thank you all here once again for helping me understand the dramaticals better.

EDIT: I think I have to revise something because a start MC with an OS of mind made the MC a do-er, so such a MC can’t be in psychology.

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I agree that Hamlet needs to stop overthinking. In other words, my hunch is that the Hamlet message should center around the “badness” of too much thought. But the MC crucial element is knowledge. That confuses me. More generally, the MC crucial element as it relates to the “summary message / anthem” of the storyform confuses me.


Hm, yeah. I see what you mean, and I remember now that every time I think I understand the CA I realize I don’t.

Jim has been tweaking the way he words his narrative arguments and I haven’t yet unraveled how they work (and I’ve missed a few recent writers’ sessions). But what he has for Hamlet right now is:

When you get out of your way and accept what you know to be true everyone suffers the consequences of keeping the past hidden.

So the crucial element here is “accepting what you know to be true” (Knowledge) which resolves the story (tragically).
So to blatantly contradict my earlier post, while Hamlet does have a problem of overthinking, the element that moves the story to conclusion is Knowledge. I am not sure how Dramatica figures out which is which though.


My experience with the crucial element is that you have to go REALLY deep with your understanding of the story in order to grasp why it’s so important to the story’s meaning.

Understanding why the MC Crucial is more meaningful than the IC Crucial also requires that depth, because an element’s dynamic pair is so close to it thematically.

I don’t remember Hamlet well enough to comment on that story. But for The Empire Strikes Back: Enemies & Allies storyform, which is also Change/Failure/Bad (although Start instead of Stop), Accurate just cuts through the whole story in a super-meaningful way. Non-Accurate is still meaningful of course (it’s the OS/MC/RS Problem, after all) but Accurate just takes over with the moment that everyone remembers, Darth Vader telling Luke the truth about being his father. This is all made possible because Luke engages in being a passable (within tolerances) Jedi, good enough to face Vader.

Then you can look back to the very beginning on Hoth, when Obi-Wan’s ghost says “you must go to the Dagobah system” – Luke is the son of the Jedi and he must try to live up to that, he must be good enough. He is driven by Non-Accurate and his Focus/Direction of Proven/Unproven, but that shadow of Accurate and what it means cuts through the whole story.

Does that help at all?


I can see this interpretation, but I can’t say I would think of it by myself and I don’t yet know how to generalize the concept (never mind apply it to a new story).

I think I never really thought through what the MCCE means in start stories until now. I suppose the key fact I overlooked is that the MCCE in a change/start/success story is the MC solution and this is what the MC “lacks” and needs to “gain.” I mean “lacks” and “gain” in an adequately loose, nebulous, Zen-like way in case I’m accused of pinning it down to something coherent. :wink:

And I gather that this is different from the MCCE in a change/stop/success story when the MCCE is the MC problem and this is what the MC “has” and needs to “lose.” Again, “has” and “lose” are meant to be adequately mystical & indefinable.

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Well put. Also consider that “needs to” is just as nebulous, it implies a value judgment which might be different in some stories, especially if Judgment is Bad.