Differences between Class, Concern, Issue, and Problem

Inspired by Jim’s recent Genre kick, I’ve been looking at the differences between different throughline levels (Class, Concern, Issue, Problem) again. Not sure how many others look at the differences in each level vs just looking at everything as source of conflict, but as I continue to work on grasping the differences I become more and more surprised that there hasn’t already been more of an emphasis on this area.

Just to be clear on what I mean, I’m referring to how Class is the throughlines’ Genre/Purpose, Concern the Plot/Methodology, Issues the Theme/Evaluation, and Problem the Character/Motivation.

Knowing the differences and keeping them in mind seems like it would go a long way in aiding one while analyzing and perhaps writing as well. For instance, to steal from another thread (was it the one for Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?), let’s look at the process of being inconsiderate. I think in the other thread someone thought that it might be a Problem and someone thought it might be a Concern. Now say you were trying to write a story where being inconsiderate was a source of conflict, but you weren’t sure how to storyform it. Regardless of what Problem element ‘inconsiderate’ might or might not illustrate, wouldn’t it be helpful if you could look at how you think it might be used in the story and then be able to say ‘this character definitely is or is not driven to be as inconsiderate as she can(Problem)’ or ‘oh, being inconsiderate definitely is (or is not) a means the character is engaging in in order to fulfill a purpose (Concern)’?

@jhull, now that you’re on your Genre kick, do you also look at the other levels differently? I know you mentioned somewhere that it might be time to stop looking at everything as just source of conflict.

I think this might be the next area I delve into for my own sake so just hoping to start some conversation to make it a little easier and a little more exciting.


So something I’ve been pondering is how the Class level feels like a problem while the Element/Problem level does not.

Both are a source of conflict, but at the Class level we are dealing with Purpose, or a desired and intended result. Since I typically think in terms of source of conflict, I might look at Universe and illustrate it as something like “a giant meteor headed toward earth causes society to break down”. That gives me a Universe source of conflict, but says nothing about the Purpose of the story. In order to illustrate that Purpose, then, I figure I need to address that desired and intended result. Is the purpose of the story to deflect the meteor? To get out of its way? To survive the collision between it and the earth? I need something like “With a giant meteor headed toward earth, society breaks down until the meteor is deflected, or until everyone gets relocated to Mars, etc”. Something to that effect. Now we know not only why society is breaking down, but also what direction this story wants to move. And the source of conflict of this level combined with the purpose of the story is, I think, what makes this level feel like a problem that needs dealt with.

Move down to Concern and things take a quarter turn. We are still dealing with sources of conflict, but not Purpose. Now we’re dealing with Methodology.

Move down to Issues and we have another quarter turn and get source of conflict combined with Evaluations.

And finally, move down to Element and we have the final quarter turn and we get source of conflict mixed with Motivation, or the underlying given which drives a character. Like Purpose, Motivation helps add direction to the source of conflict. But unlike Purpose, it doesn’t give the direction of a result but the direction of the efforts. For instance, one might be driven toward Proaction or away from Proaction. Either way Proaction (or the lack thereof) is the source of conflict, but the character may be driven to find more of that element or less.

Anyway, this combination of source of conflict with being driven by something I think makes the Problem feel AT TIMES more like an attempt at a solution by or for the character.

As a very minor bit of evidence, I’ll point to Miguel (Coco). Miguel, whose family hates music, is driven toward Proaction. When he doesn’t have a guitar for the upcoming show and can’t find one, he takes action and grabs a guitar from the mausoleum. If he needs a guitar, how can taking action to get one be anything other than a solution? Because being driven to take action by stealing the guitar causes him to be cursed.

And just as with Purpose, I think adding Motivation to the illustration will only serve to tell us more about our story. If we know Miguel is driven toward or by an abundance of Proaction, we know that taking action to get a guitar is what will cause him to stumble into a curse. Compare what this might look like to a Miguel who was driven away from or by a lack of Proaction and never gets to play music because he isn’t proactive enough to get a guitar, I guess.

I know that these concepts aren’t all new on their own. We already know that Problem is seen as a source of drive, for instance. We already know about the ability to have an abundance or lack of an element. But I think learning to look at what the characters are moving toward or away from in an attempt to fix their issues at a motivation level-and to see the equivalent at other levels-can both assist in the illustrating of story points and potentially increase ones ability to analyze stories to find correct storyforms.


Continuing with this, I find that adding Purpose gives a story its direction. For instance, if you want to write an OS Psychology story where the source of conflict stems from ‘driving someone mad’, that’s a good start and maybe enough for some to start writing. But people like me might see that and be stuck wondering what exactly it is about driving someone mad as a source of conflict that we’re supposed to be writing about. I suspect that’s because “driving someone mad” offers nothing in the way of an intended and desired result.

But what if we say that the Purpose of the story is for Marcus to be driven mad? Or for Marcus to escape being driven mad? Or to have Marcus embrace his madness? That’s much better. By simply adding a desired and intended result (which seems like it probably happens naturally much of the time, anyway), we know what it is about driving someone mad that we are supposed to say. If I decide to go with a Purpose of ‘driving Marcus mad’, I will say something different than had I gone with a Purpose of ‘Marcus escapes unscathed from being driven mad’. Same source of conflict, but the two different Purposes tell two different stories.

Also, once I have decided on a Purpose of “driving Marcus mad” I won’t just be filling in my Signposts with random illustrations of Conceiving, Conceptualizing, Being, and Becoming (although that will still get you to a story). Instead I can now determine that each Signpost might get Marcus a little closer to being driven mad. Or maybe none of the Signposts drive him closer to madness individually, but rather the cumulative effect they have is that he will be driven mad. Both of those ways work toward a Purpose of “driving Marcus mad”, so I can do one, the other, or mix and match. I also know to stay away from illustrations that argue a Purpose of Marcus escaping being driven mad. And I already know this even though I have not picked out a Methodology (Concern) yet. Instead of struggling with what to say, I’m now overrun with possibilities for how to say it, just by adding a Purpose.


I don’t think I’ve seen this alignment before - Class = Purpose, Concern = Methodology, Issue = Evaluation, Character = Motivation - but at first glance I’m liking it a lot.

So if I’m getting the idea, thinking of Class as Genre = Purpose, the purpose of a horror genre story is to scare us, the purpose of comedy is to make us laugh, etc. So more broadly, the purpose of an Activities Class story is to tell a story where actions are the source of problems, etc.

Tell me if I’m getting you right - that you’re getting more specific with thinking about “What’s my purpose as a writer for this story?, or What’s this story’s purpose?” And an answer might be, “To see what happens when a bunch of venomous snakes are released on a plane”… “To round up a bunch of corporate CEO’s and test them for sociopathic tendencies”… “To treat the story for Psycho as a comedy”… or to use the logline approach you’ve used, “Two present-day teenagers are released into a town that lives by the norms of 1950’s TV and the town’s moral codes and repressions start cracking open”.

I might be straying out of the Class level of conflict into the other levels with those. But what’s grabbing me about thinking of Class/Genre as purpose is your examples sound a lot like the initial idea a writer might have for a story when it’s just in the musing around stage. “I want to do something with a western set on Mars…” “I want to do a political story around a water crisis to get at environmental vs capitalism concerns…” “I have this idea for a police procedural set in a border town but I don’t know where I’m going with it yet”

Instead of asking “Okay, why do you want to write this story?” which often leads to a black hole of self-questioning, your Purpose question, seeking to find “what direction this story wants to move” feels like a really nice exploring technique that nudges that initial idea into plot and the beginnings of theme.

Let me know if I’m missing your point, but either way I’m looking forward to you exploring these ideas further.


Thanks, @Flight.

I’ve found this in a few places. I might try to find links for it later. I think everything I’ve posted regarding Purpose is pretty grounded in theory, but there are some things I’m throwing out there that I haven’t read elsewhere and am coming up with by extrapolating from things I have read, so feel free to ask about anything I say and make me back it up.

I think you’re close to using Purpose how I’m using it, but maybe looking too much at the front end. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but what I mean is that rather than saying the Purpose of the story is to “see what happens when a bunch of venomous snakes are released on a plane”, we should look more at the back end of that. Once the problem is in place, what is it that the story will achieve, or will try to achieve. Is the story trying to tell us how to land a plane full of snakes? Is it trying to tell us how to assassinate someone with snakes on a plane? What is it that the story is trying to tell or show us?

Another way to think of it is like this. When you have a problem, you will see it as being a problem of Universe, Physics, Mind, or Psychology. You will have to decide which of those your problem is and you will have a Purpose for choosing that area. The Purpose of choosing Universe might be to correct the Universe. The Purpose of choosing Mind might be to correct someone’s attitude. So once the problem is in place, Purpose should tell us where the story intends to take things, where the story hopes to get to with the characters.

This is what I was getting to toward the end. That adding a Purpose to the Domain will also help add a direction to the Plot/Methodology of the story. Of Purpose is telling you where the story wants to go, Methodology is telling you how the story will get there. So having that Purpose in mind shouldn’t limit your storytelling, but it should direct it. So if your story’s Purpose is to assassinate someone, but you want to write about the people on the plane and not the group carrying out the assassination, you can. The Methodology, when guided by the Purpose, will tell us how to get to assassination by way of a plane full of passengers trying to survive being trapped with snakes. Does that make sense?


I think it does! I’m taking this as a writing tool for a new story rather than an analysis tool for a finished story (although I’m sure that would work too). I like your idea of seeing a story in development from the back end vs front end, I’m kind of liking the perspective shift of jumping from one view to the other - like the front end is the “author’s intent”, as I try to figure out what I want to say with the story - but then I can switch to the back end - more like the “story’s intent” and ask your question - “Given the story has snakes has snakes on a plane, what does the story want to show us or get at?” Which is very freeing, I think.

So if we let the back end drive and drop down to Plot/Methodology, and we’ve already decided the Purpose is pointing us towards the passenger’s Self-Preservation, we’re in problems created by Obtaining - and we know there’s going to be fear, panic, as the passengers try to survive - and protect their loved ones - from snakes already when a terrorist attack erupts. Which is pointing the passengers - and crew, and maybe even the terrorists - towards of Evaluations of am I a hero here? Do I save my own skin? Or let the marine beside me do it all themself? How many have to die before we act? Stay calm, God will provide… And since the story Purpose is pointing towards Self-preservation, it wants to focus in on the passengers who Evaluate and decide to stay safe and let others charge the terrorists - and the problem that causes is the wounded and dead on board with the remaining terrorists still in charge on a wounded plane choosing a new closer target…

Admittedly I’m using a pretty easy unoriginal example to try out your Back End approach. But right off the top what I like is that whereas I usually get into trouble with a Production problem of producing way too many options and exploring every possibility (What if it was Openness? What if it was Commitment?), by letting “what the story wants to get at” drive the choices, I found a sense of a nice narrowing of focus - Reduction zooming in towards the next choice instead of Production zooming out towards endlessly multiplying choices. I expect that this would work for jumping to the other throughlines as well - every choice in Dramatica reduces the other choices available, so early choices directed by “Purpose” should continue to narrow really quickly towards a first iteration of a story to try out.

Again, let me know if what I’m playing with is actually what you’re talking about. I’m starting a new project in the next couple days that’s just barely at the Genre/Purpose blue sky level - might be a nice chance to try it out in the field.

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I thought about posting some work I had done with a storyform or starting a new one on here just for fun. If you think it’ll help, maybe I’ll go ahead do it after all.

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Either one - I’m definitely curious!

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