Doing vs Obtaining confusion

I’ve seen other threads about this, but I’m still slightly confused. The subject line says it all.
I get that Doing is supposed to be about the journey rather than the destination, whereas Obtaining is about the goal. I thought I understood that. But I looked at the analysis of Star Wars for a little clarity.

For overall story signpost 3 (Doing) it says: “Obi-Wan leaves the group to find and disable the tractor beam. Han Solo, Luke and company rush to save Senator (Princess) Organa from termination”.
Obi-Wan is trying to disable the tractor beam. How is that not Obtaining?
Han and Luke are trying to save Leia. How is that not Obtaining?
Both seem to be about the goal.

For the overall story concern (Doing) it says: “The Empire is building the Death Star and searching for the location of the Rebels; the Rebels are attempting to keep their location secret and are trying to transport the plans of the Death Star to their home base.”
Building a death star seems like an objective. Searching for the rebels as well. Transporting the plans to their home base is an objective. All of those seem like Obtaining!

Help with my confusion, Obi-Wan! You’re my only hope!


Welcome to the forum. And great question. Haven’t watched Star Wars in a while, but try this.

Why might a dwarf that has fought in the goblin wars have PTSD? From winning the war? Maybe…but it might make more sense that he got it from the actual fighting.

Why might a dwarf be unable to make money from slaughtering goblins? Is it because he’s fighting goblins? Maybe…but it might make more sense that he already won the war and no one needs to pay dwarf mercenaries to get rid of the goblins anymore.

Here, fighting would be Doing while winning is Obtaining.


Hi @VanHammersly

This is a great question. Regarding Doing vs. Obtaining as an OS Concern, check out this article by @jhull that specifically talks about Star Wars (and other examples):

Long story short, Star Wars is more about fighting back against the Empire than it is about destroying the Death Star. This can be a tricky distinction to see at first. In addition to what Jim says in that article, two things that help me are

  1. Looking at the Concern Quad – in Star Wars, it’s easier to see that the OS Concern is Doing when you see how much better Progress/Preconscious/Being work in the other throughlines than Future/Subconscious/Becoming do.
  2. Looking at the Issues underneath. Star Wars is more about Skill vs. Experience than (say) Morality vs. Self-Interest.

Regarding the Signposts – it’s true that in the right context, “saving the princess” could be an illustration of either Obtaining or Doing.

For me though it’s more useful to think of Signposts in terms of the progression of the plot: Understanding (that the Empire is about to do something terrible) leads to Learning (attempting to gather/transmit information) leads to Doing (running around on the Death Star) leads to Obtaining (blowing up the Death Star). Because Doing and Obtaining are a dynamic pair, there’s more of a “slide” than a “bump” between them (one flows into the other). I’ll need someone else (@Greg? @mlucas?) to confirm that my thinking on this last part though.


I should have known Jim Hull would have an article about that. And thank you for the information! I will read this and think about it some more.


That is a different way of looking at it.Thank you! I need to give some thought to how this applies to what I’m working on.

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I’ma go out on a limb and try and channel my inner @jhull . Where is the conflict coming from?

Marching into the detention block causes them problems.
Rescuing the princess (obtaining) doesn’t cause them any problem – she’s happy to go with them, though a bit miffed they aren’t “doing” it right
Escaping into the trash shoot causes them problems
Running from the stormtroopers causes them problems

For obtaining to be the storypoint it has to be causing the problems.
I’m not sure if the end of Infinity Wars is Obtaining or not…but it’s a least a decent example of how obtaining can be problematic. Failing to obtaining the stones, means everyone is still gone, obtaining the stones means Tony dies putting things right, playing hot potato with the gauntlet makes you the focus of danger.

So I think that’s how you can tell–where is the conflict coming from getting/losing/having something or just doing stuff?

Oh, and welcome to the party @VanHammersly .

Ugh! I did NOT reply to @Greg


I always thought they were obtaining freedom from the evil empire.

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This was the initial poster’s confusion. But the official storyform is Doing, not Obtaining. In context, it really is more about fighting back (and also the evil things the Empire is Doing) than it is about Obtaining freedom.


To add to this, they don’t even Obtain her. Darth Vader convinces Tarkin to let them go so they can track the Millennium Falcon. They only think they’ve Obtained her.

If you read the above, I hope you’ll see that it requires omniscience to see what is really happening.

I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, so I can’t recall the actual goal the Empire has with the Death Star. I think it has to do with consolidating power in the Senate? If that’s the case, then destroying the rebel base isn’t actually their goal—it’s just a way to prove their device is powerful, which is something they have to do before they can then go scare people into submission in the government.


“To add to this, they don’t even Obtain her. Darth Vader convinces Tarkin to let them go so they can track the Millennium Falcon. They only think they’ve Obtained her.”

I get that, but… Doing is usually defined as engaging in an activity without a specific goal or purpose. This is clearly not the case if, in act 3, Luke and his friends are specifically trying to rescue the princess. They are not fighting the stormtroopers and deactivating the shield for the sake of simply doing so. They are doing it for the sake of rescuing the princess, which really REALLY feels like obtaining.

“Doing” has always caused me problems as a signpost. I have no trouble with it as a story goal–like if the character has a goal to keep doing their job, or whatever. But as a signpost, I struggle with having them engaging in an activity without an objective.

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Defined by who or what? The below definition is taken from the Dramatica Dictionary by Chris and Melanie. It says that it does not require purpose, but it does not say it prohibits one either. In fact, here’s the phrase that might unstick things for you. Doing “… whether for pleasure or by necessity or compulsion.” I’m sorry, but I think you are making this harder than it is.

Doing – [Type] – Obtaining<–>Doing – engaging
in a physical activity – Doing is the process of being
physically active. In and of itself, Doing does not
require any purpose but simply describes engaging in a
process, task, or endeavor, whether for pleasure or by
necessity or compulsion. – syn. performing, executing,
effecting action, acting

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Okay, fair enough. So what, then, separates it from Obtaining? Going back to Star Wars, if the characters are attempting to rescue the princess in act 3, how would act 3 be different if the signpost was Obtaining rather than Doing?

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Obtaining would be causing the problems, but why do you care?
Focusing on obtaining when your story call for doing seems counter productive to me.

Check out my new hammer. (Choose one)
ABANDON Doing Your Own Thing in order to XXXX
EMBRACE Doing Your Own Thing in order to XXXX
REPURPOSE Doing Your Own Thing in order to XXXX
DEPLOY Doing Your Own Thing in order to XXXX

Then just hunt for the problems inherent.

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Have you gone into Dramatica and come up with a storyform that gives you 3 as obtaining, and then see what other storyforming points end up changing and what to? That could give you a clue how to emphasize certain things in the rewrite, using what the film provides as objects in the story. Do you have a new storyform?

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Alright, these are some solid questions you are asking and I’ve been thinking them over for a couple of hours.

First, I’m going to address this:

I disagree with @jassnip here. The Problem is causing the problem. That’s why it’s got that name. Obviously, the Problem can ping-pong off other things are create other issues that are problematic and show up in different ways. (For instance, two droids can argue about which way to walk on the desert planet, which does not scream OS Problem>Test.)

A Signpost is a perspective on the problem. What does Doing>Skill>Test look like from the perspective of Obtaining or Learning? That’s the probing question that a Signpost wants you to consider.

Anyway, let’s look at Signpost 3>Doing in Star Wars (a movie I have not seen in a long time).

It’s understandable why you’re thinking like this, but Luke (and his friends) are not the story.

What if we looked at the story like this:
Act 3 involves the destruction of Alderaan, a disaster that our small rebel crew stumbles upon. They then chase a ship and find themselves caught in the tractor beam of the Death Star and have to escape detection by hiding and escaping the M. Falcon.
Then, they find the princess and get her.
Meanwhile, the Empire is putting a tracking device in the ship, and when Luke et al. escape with Princess Organa, they are merely delivering her to the rebel base that the Empire plans on destroying momentarily. In other words, they haven’t rescued her at all—they’ve delivered her to a certain death.
This entire act is really about how the Empire goes about it’s dirty work: moving prisoners around and tracking down their enemies.
Now that the rebel base has been located, it’s onto the next act, where the Empire plans to obliterate them.

How does that seem?


Sorry to be a contrarian, but I’m not sure I buy this. Whether the princess goes with them willingly or it turns out letting them go is just a ruse by Vader, couldn’t that all still be problematic Obtaining? There’s a lot of conflict in the whole process of rescuing her, one way or another.

So to put what I think @MWollaeger is saying about Doing>Skill>Test a little differently, I think the answer here is in context and the resolution you’re looking at. It’s almost impossible to be 100% sure what any one story point is illustrating without looking at the other story points for context.

Looking at Signposts, it’s the high level progression that matters (PRCO). Interestingly, if you change the order for the 3 and 4th Signposts to Obtaining -> Doing, Dramatica forces a Failure/Bad story. There are only three analyzed storyforms that have that pattern (King Kong, Doctor Zhivago, and Mother).

So what would happen if you kept most things the same but changed the ending of Star Wars to have the Death Star sneak up and destroy the rebel base, killing everyone before they could react? In that case, “rescuing the princess” in Signpost 3 might, in retrospect, look like misguided Obtaining that leads the Empire directly to the base, allowing them to Do terrible things and creating a tragic ending.

EDIT: If I were writing this story, I would have the Rebels focus a lot more on the critical importance of rescuing the princess in Act 3 to highlight the tragic irony of how that rescue leads to their downfall in Act 4.


There’s another factor that may be adding to the confusion here. Star Wars has a substory about “paying off Jabba”, with Han Solo as MC. It has an OS Concern and Goal of Obtaining, plus its 3rd act (which I believe coincides with the main story 3rd act) is also Obtaining.

So some of what you are seeing as the Obtaining source of conflict may be from the perspective of that substory.

That said, when I think about the 3rd act of Star Wars I have trouble even remembering why they’re running around on the Death Star. (That’s what act 3 is to me, “running around on the Death Star”.) It takes some thought to recall that it’s because they had to wait for Obi-Wan to disable the tractor beam, and decided to rescue the princess as a side hustle.

Finally, it’s natural that as we get close to the act turn that leads to the main story Act 4, we will see things take on an Obtaining flavor. Especially because it’s a slide. Prior to this you have a lot of problematic Doing where the getting away and hiding is easy (hiding in the Falcon’s compartments). But once we get closer to act 4 the escape is a real challenge, and causes problems for everyone (including the Falcon being tracked).


Keep in mind that the analysis was probably one of the earlier ones written. If it were written today by someone with a more up to date understanding of the theory, it might be a lot more clear.

That said, I want to address the idea that “rescuing the princess” “really REALLY feels like obtaining.”

Rescuing the Princess without context can be Doing or Obtaining. Or anything. It’s easy to see a word like “rescue” and think “oh, they’re going to GET her, to POSSESS her, so it must be Obtaining”, but “rescue” is an activity just like “walking”. And if they were walking with the princess, it might really really feel like Doing. But again, without context, “walking” could be anything. After all, one can achieve “walking with the princess” just the same as they can achieve “rescuing the princess”, just as one must engage in either in order to achieve them.

So the difference between rescuing the princess as Doing vs Obtaining, then, comes down to whether conflict arises from engaging in or achieving rescue.

I haven’t seen Star Wars since at least 2017, so forgive me if I get some of the details wrong. But as previously mentioned, the fights they engage in aren’t to stop the rebels from taking the princess. The empire let’s them take her. When Luke and Han dress up like Stormtroopers and pretend to be transporting Chewbacca, they don’t get stopped and then have to fight with the bad guys because they are achieving rescue, but because they are engaged in it, because they are trying to gain access to an area they are not supposed to be in. When Obi-Wan runs across Darth Vader and has to sacrifice himself as Luke and friends watch, it’s not because he is achieving rescue, but because he is engaged in it. He is just walking through the hall when he comes across Vader.

To make this scene more about Obtaining, you might add a bit of dialogue where Vader tells one of the officers to be on the lookout for a plot to rescue the princess and to make sure no one gets to her. With that one line, the whole scene could potentially be about who possesses the princess rather than stopping rebels from sneaking aboard and following rebels back to their base. Or you could have Vader refuse to let them go with the princess. Instead of a plan to follow them back to base, he says to follow them until they can get the princess back unharmed. Just something small to shift the focus slightly is all it would take.


Are you kidding me? I feel like I’m the one being contrarian!

They would have been tracked either way, so does the Obtaining even matter?

My bigger point was that it’s not always good to look at the story from the perspective of the Protagonist/MC.

I also think it’s important to remember that this is not exactly a deep movie—it’s a lot of fun but it’s like one edit away from being a weird kids movie. Focusing too hard on it might not be the most beneficial.


Obi-Wan is trying to disable the tractor beam. How is that not Obtaining?
Han and Luke are trying to save Leia. How is that not Obtaining?
Both seem to be about the goal.

You’ll notice that neither of those story examples are the Story Goal, so it’s best not to use them to define the goal. They are steps along the path. The goal involves continuing to live, to rebel, to fight for the Force, etc. It is the process – the DOING – that is the goal, not the end.

It’s best to think of any dynamic pair, e.g. Doing v. Obtaining, as a continuum rather than a binary choice. Like a teeter-totter, the perfect midpoint is a fulcrum of perfect balance (no conflict or potential), but any point on one side or the other shifts the balance. This is why it can be hard to distinguish between one side and the other, especially when they are close to that hypothetical midpoint.

The point of a storyform is to identify WHICH side of the balance represents the author’s intent. The story encoding (storytelling) can obfuscate the distinction, and any single point may be inconclusive, which is why one should take the entirety of the examples to understand the author’s intent when analyzing, or create a multiplicity of examples when creating.