Encoding Objective Character Elements

Main Question

How do I program my objective characters to pass a reader’s Turing test without ending up like Nathan and Caleb from Ex Machina when I screenwrite?

Artificial Subjective Intelligence

@MWollaeger, here is the thread I was hoping you and @jhull can help me process. (I figured out how to quote on an iPad :sweat_smile:). Also, I hope we can celebrate when I clear this goal because My Narrative First Mentorship started in 2016 after Melanie’s quad theory class and this question is the last theory question I haven’t resolved, yet.

Ironically, this is the very first question I asked that night. But, back then, film school teachers asked us to use pivotal triangles where one character locks the other two In conflict and Melanie showed me splays and displays.

In film school, they had us use protagonist, antagonist, and pivotal character subjectively for any character we wanted to develop. But, the BS grad school definition of conflict was “somebody wants something badly and someone is trying to stop them from getting it”. I even tried asking Aaron Sorkin this question over email after a interview at our school because he uses the same BS definition for conflict.

(Dramatica has the best definition for conflict by far of any lit theory, in my opinion)

My Current Approach

Jim taught me to use the goal and give each person an element as an approach to solve the OS problem. Chris got me one step closer in DUG by realizing they need a Social Role, too.

The words in quotes mean I don’t know what to call it, but this is the closest word to what I know in Dramatica.

Is this Social Role just a “purpose”?
Is the Objective element a “method” to solve the problem given the goal?
Is there a “motive” or is that just the focus/direction or the Problem/solution?
Is the ”problem solving style” the means of “Evaluation”?

I just mean this loosely so I don’t mean these would go with the PEMM element choices at all. I just want to overcome the BS of ‘every character is a main character’ or ‘every character is their own protagonist’ from film school.


I’m trying to get a clear handle on Objective Character function. Is it as @actingpower Describes where a character seems to be a guardian and is really a contagonist because of who knows what when:

I’m specifically interested in reducing a sub story to two objective characters or producing a sub story for two objective characters I want to escalate to their own overlapping GAS.

Faux Arcs for Objective Characters
(is there a Dramatica term for this so I can quit using “air quotes” on abused terms?)

I’m trying to clean up my own technical debt for theory application. I asked this question differently in 2017 using Hero Journey terms. I just realized I have a book that shows how transactions between characters works for that. But, I would rather do it right in Dramatica before going there:

My Goal

To summarize, I would love to be able to get into a character’s “head/heart” as I write them. And, be able to step into the OS view, too.

Melanie’s Videos

I want to make 4-D complex characters that feel like they “grow” even though I know they don’t grow. Is there anyway to uses growth as a metaphor like Melanie does when she talks about a “Do-er” vs a “Be-er” for objective characters?


No need to explain that characters don’t grow and don’t have subjective perspectives. I get that. I just want to write better objective characters that I can manipulate like NPCs, but I need to occupy them long enough to think through what they’re concerned about.


As a movie example, I really liked how Little Miss Sunshine gave every Objective Character, in the family, a concern. So, when I say feel like they “grow” or “arc” as characters, this is a great example of what I want to do.

@mlucas I would imagine you know how to do this as a novelist.


In an Ideal world, I would treat this like Rifts RPG or DND and create characters with personality profiles. (Someone asked about enneagram archetypes on the Dramatica site). But, I would rather write complex characters and use the MBTI/Socionics with Dramatica.

Also, if I need to go read something and come back, I will do it. I have Melanie’s expanded theory books and they make sense conceptually. But, I don’t feel like I have mastery when I try to apply it.

I realize this long, even for me. But, I would really appreciate the help as it Is the last thing on my list to understand before moving forward with writing.

Finally, I believe resolving this post for me will lead to distinguishing A story from a story with a substory. Ideally, I wouldn’t have to wait for @chuntley to tell me how many stories are in a Movie before I analyze the storyform for each.

During the DUG for The Help, where I saw three when there were two stories and this left me confusing Physics for Mind, and The Accountant, where I saw one story when there were two and it caused me to pick the wrong concerns.

This probably should be it’s own thread, but I don’t know how to change it if I can despite trying… Actually, I think this thread is perfect because all the other posts were the lead up questions I had on my way to Dramatica. All that Want/Need stuff is programmed subjectively using a Triangle for each Want and Need separately.

Melanie seemed to think those two triangles made a quad. But, I don’t think the subjective want and need work with the OS elements based on everything we always say about the OS elements being approaches to problem solving. Also, does this mean these characters justify or problem solve since they don’t change their elements. If there is a distinction between building up and tearing down the OS justifications, Does this change at all in a failure story? I know the OS is justified differently from the subjective characters. But, that seems like a much deeper dive than needed to woo a reader.

You need to break this post up as it’s all over the place. There are at least 3 different things you’re going over here that would be better served in separate posts. Please cut them up, put them in separate posts with the appropriate category, then refer back to this post.

When/If you break it up, please consider rewording the questions. Take Einstein’s approach of trying to always talk to five-year-olds.

• Program a character?
• A reader’s Turing test?
• You think you’ll end up inescapably boxed in when you write?

I don’t understand what any of this means. I think it means you want to create characters that feel real to people, but the language makes me think you have something else in mind.

• Pivotal triangles?
• splays and displays?

• “subjectively”?

I’m sure you find it frustrating to be asking questions and not getting responses, but you’re asking me to respond to something that has six words or concepts that I don’t understand all in the first six sentences.

I apologize for presuming. I’ll avoid humor, too. I don’t think 5 year olds are my audience here, and if I could explain it to one, I wouldn’t be asking the group about it. I’m not sure how to split it up without further questions. It’s all the same to me. But, I will rewrite the questions and see if it helps…

Simply Restated:

How does one write the OC Characters from the Objective view given their elements, the goal, and their social roles?

Does the concern play a part if at all as it seems to in Little Miss Sunshine? If so, in what way? If not, why not?

How does one write from the OC character’s POV given the elements assigned or some other method without treating them as full subjective characters? Does personality play a role? If so, how?

What is the term for the “Character Arc” commonly referred to in film schools when the characters are not the MC/IC/RS. Or, is there a better term outside of Dramatica that is less confusing?

Note: Please don’t tell me this doesn’t exist in film school because it is why many above spoke about want vs need confusion. The best I can think of is “Faux Character Arc” because it looks like the audience or characters are “tricked” until the real element is revealed. But, if there is something else, I’d like to know. Also, I am not asking about Resolve and Growth unless it is somehow used outside of the Subjective Character Arc because OS characters don’t actually change or grow unless I am mistaken.

I think the answer lies in short stories.

Basically, you do treat them as full subjective characters, but at a different scope than the full story of the novel or script. Now, they might be an MC or IC in a complete-GAS substory. But I think it’s often the case that the POV character’s little substory is more like a short story and not a full GAS. In this way you can also have a Character Arc since the short story may illustrate points like Resolve, Growth and Judgment even though it doesn’t go to the detail of a full GAS.

For an example, see Jim’s article on Piper.

This is an interesting area for exploration though. I would like to understand more how narrative works in short stories because of how this applies to subplots in longer works. I’ve read some older articles on the subject, but I’m not sure I understand all the ways that a shorter work can feel complete (nothing missing) when it’s not a full GAS.

Note: I was thinking from a novel writing point of view, where POV character’s “arc” can be really important. I’m not sure how much room there is to do this kind of thing in a screenplay (even at low resolution, you can’t fit that many substories into a 2 hour movie).


FWIW Armando has a chapter on creating subplots (Chapter 10) using just OS Character Elements. Basically you assign a bunch of characteristics, use these to illustrate mini-conflicts between the characters as little scenes, and string these scenes together. I think this would work even better if you oriented all of them to the OS Goal or at least the Concern.

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I have found that this is difficult to talk about without talking about something specific.
In general, I think that a character element has to be tied to something in the story. It’s easy to see that a Protagonist is pursuing something, usually the story goal, but something else when necessary.

An element can probably be anything that falls “inside” the GAS being explored. I think about Woody Harrelson’s character in Zombieland that was always going after Twinkies (Temptation). It wouldn’t get them any closer to the goal, but the lack of twinkies was certainly because of the zombies.

I don’t know what a Social Role is.

There probably isn’t a universal answer to this, since authors can choose to focus on the story at whatever ‘depth’ they want to.

I did not go to film school, so I can’t answer this directly.

I think most arcs are

  1. non-existent, and people only see them because of confirmation bias
  2. seen only in subject matter: the super lonely person who finds deep love is still the feeling character. Their context has changed.
  3. Converts to the goal. “I don’t believe the monster is real” to “Let’s go kill the monster!” But again, this is the same element in a world with new information.

I would need to know why we want a better name for this. If Film Schools are wrong, why bend to them? It’s the same kind of thinking that led to Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, Act 3. That’s four acts… denying it holds us all back.

I think the Want vs Need confusion is nothing more than an early attempt to sort things out, and it has a sticky name. It’s just “misunderstanding” to “understanding”, no?

The trick is to treat them like objective pieces. They aren’t subjective characters.

Does their personality play a role? In vaudeville, the actors had to be memorable or the stage manager wouldn’t bring them back, so they did things to stand out. But vaudeville was not a meaningful kind of comedy: it didn’t comment on society. I think objective characters are like this. (Vaudeville today has relocated to YouTube, Vine, TikTok. It can be funny, but it’s not deep.)

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That was it! Plus, you confirmed the concern add-on for me.

Looks like everyone is right.

That just leaves one last Quad of technical debt for me. Thank you!!!

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Social Role is what I, and a few others, call the objective Role/Job the character has in the OS. Like, Parent, Firefighter, Accountant, Master of the House, Civil Rights Ambassador. (Not the RS relationship)

The Concern thing works for Chris in DUG and when I combine it with Armando’s work it let’s me write an “arc” as they call it in Film School. It is as Mike implied a thin subjective story that won’t qualify as a sub-story, but our minds can fill in the gaps as if it were one like a “Short Story”.

  1. Happens, but Armando shows how to increase the Author’s control over it. (Chapter 10…I need to read the scene examples still).
    2 and 3 are what I saw you @jhull and @actingpower discuss. So, I would love more info on practical application because it is certainly more efficient than what I am doing. But, I need the effectiveness first before the efficiency means something to me. But, I greatly benefit from you showing me how to be more efficient.

I just want to be effective in the writer’s room. And, without translating in the common tongue, I don’t know how to consult. So, that’s one reason. The other is because they aren’t always “wrong“ in so much as they are using a different model or don’t know the terms we use. For me, I compensate for non-visual with verbal terminology. A dyslexic does the opposite. So, ideally, I would be able to help anyone express themselves…including me.

Great analogy. I’d like to learn this better. I think this is true for the Goal and the OS POV. But, Personality seems different from playing a role because we default to it. So, I think it is closely tied to PS Style. I think it is just two different levels of NPCs in a video game. Ones that arc and ones that don’t have a relationship conflict. Like dayplayers and minor actors (forgot the production terms).

Yes, this is actually what drove me to pursue Dramatica. There are four versions of these in the model

Want is objective goal and need is a subjective goal (usually unconscious).

Change vs Steadfast Character
Throughline Problem/Focus
Story Outcome/Judgment
Objective Character Function/concern arc

The last one was missing because I didn’t understand Armando at first glance. But, it works.

But, as you say, the misunderstanding is the Can/Want/Need/Should gives us all that in Dramatica. let me know what you think. That chapter in Armando’s book was amazing.

Looks like Personality typing is my last stop once this sinks in.

Got it.

Except for now I contend that they don’t really arc.

In horror movies, people one by one typically recognize the monster is there. Then they argue with people who don’t yet believe. Is this what you’re talking about?

I don’t see the relationship to want vs. need.

I think that is all just confusion and revelation as you mentioned.

An arc is having a character find or not find satisfaction and fulfillment even if it is just a short story as @mlucas said. So, it is all throughout the model. But, when someone tell us to make two characters arc in a writer’s room, I will now say, “do you want me to do four scenes in the OS or something grander?” That way, I don’t end up having to write a whole sub-story when all they want is to feel the sizzle of change without eating the whole steak.

There’s a sales adage that goes “give‘em what they want, but sell‘em what they need.”

Armando’s approach let’s us do both your way, exactly how you do it now, and gives me what I need to give the room what they want.

Do you have Armando’s book? I have it on Kindle and it is an incredible resource. (Chapter 10 goes step by step with an example from encoding all the way to script and it does it real fast)

Want is usually the Direction the character is going in based on their Focus. Need is usually the Problem they are blind to that will eventually be solved.

But, Want gets used for short hand for conscious/subjective pursuits of an objective goal. And, Need gets used for short hand for unconscious/objective avoidance of a subjective problem.

In school, we would do triangles for three characters In conflict over the want and another for the need. A triangle consisted of a “protagonist”, “antagonist” and a pivotal character locking them in conflict over it.

Sometimes the first act turn is called the “want” of the film for the audience because they know the MC goal. Like when Luke leaves the farm. But, the “need” won’t become clear until he trusts the force.

Then want and need get used all over the place as justifications in Dramatica. But, especially for the change character.

The outcome is usually the want of the protagonist and the need is the judgment.

The last one is tricky because it is a model inside a model. But, given a concern, two characters and their 4-D character elements in the OS, we just write out their arc as if one of them changes unless we can do a confuse and reveal on the goal as I am now calling it.

All of this is from memory. I will formalize it all when I go through and write it all up.

But, it took a village to find that last one because Armando left out the concern part. Chris doesn’t go into that in DUG. Jim agrees with your POV. But, when I put it all together with a little bit of Melanie’s mental relativity and it solved it all. It would take me a long time to share it all and I need to go onto the last frontier of my current horizons—MBTI Personality Type. I have a good theory going for it, but to prove it, I need a boost on Problem Solving Style because I have too many interpretations of it in typing as of yet.

If I still don’t make sense, can you skim the Armando chapter? He is an amazing writer and I don’t want to paste his book in here for fear of the copyright gods.

This is in no way how I would describe an arc. I would describe an arc as a person’s actions being different.

If you want to be understood in a writer’s room, this won’t work. They won’t talk about a number of scenes or the OS.

In this case though he gets what he wants and what he needs.

I would think this is the opposite. They need success, but did they get what they want? I mean, especially if the need is objective.

I don’t know what a pivotal character is or how they lock anybody into conflict.

It’s just how they do it at LMU since the profs came from USC. I’m sure the Dramatica crowd is more accepted at UCLA. LMU was open to Dramatica when I improved and demonstrated my ability to translate.

I believe Frank Daniel’s work on sequence tension was what started it all. It even came up at AFI during my interview and again when I did some TA work there.

I’m just sharing my experience of being in those writer’s rooms. But, the earliest posts of this thread talk like they do there.

Usually Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is used for the needs. This psych is outdated, but it’s common. And, was part of our curriculum.

The Arc can be action or decisions that shift. It’s all in Armando’s book and matches my experience. I agree with you I should’ve used different words as those are technical terms in Dramatica. The room is just asking if they got what they wanted, needed, none or both. Kind of like a mini-outcome or mini-judgment for a short story about only the two characters superimposed on the throughline.

Yep, that’s how they talk and that’s exactly what they would say.

Yep, so did I until I begged Jim to help me learn how to talk to them. The need is emotional or primal. So, it’s objective for the author because it isn’t in the MC or Protagonist’s awareness. I personally hate the overuse and abuse of Maslow’s triangle. I agree with you, Dramatica can help a lot with character development. All of this is about tension, though.

“I don’t know what a pivotal character is or how they lock anybody into conflict.“ …this is actually the definition of it.

The pivotal character or pivotal whatever is the “stakes” of the conflict

Here are a few triangles: X conflicts with Y due to Pivot.

Luke is in conflict with Old Ben because Leia’s in trouble on Luke’s want to rebel.

Luke is in conflict with Ben because of his Father on his need to trust the force.

Vader and Ben are in Conflict because of Luke watching about some want. …you get the idea.

It’s all POV switching. When I met, Melanie she showed me how to use the build characters screen for this in Dramatica for the OS.

All of this is unreal and clunky.

I didn’t mean it that literally. More like…

Still clunky but not about scene count:

Room:Hey can you make these two characters arc?

Me:Sure. Are you happy with Bob (MC) and Sue (IC)’s arc?

Room:Yes, but we want these other two to arc as well. Can you fit that in without increasing the page count too much?

Me:Sure, as long as they don’t overshadow Bob and Sue.


Obviously this is bad dialogue and not real life, but the point is just being able to handle the terminology without forcing our terms. I’m sure you can do this better than me and do it without thinking as you are far more experienced at it than I am.

When I worked at Intel I counted 15 acronyms in a single sentence during my first week as an intern. I was pretty scared at the time simply because I didn’t know what it meant or how to find out and there was no stopping the meeting without stopping the production line. We didn’t have google and the acronym dictionary was crap. So, I learned to speak acronym fast by asking all the technicians what things like CBT and ERT meant.

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Writer’s rooms have a different meaning in a professional context. It’s rooms breaking story.

I understand this now. Is this when people use triangles to mark out three characteristics and leave a fourth blank or something?

I think the main thing you have to know is that nobody says “can we make these two arc?” They say, “It’s really boring that Bob and Sue are exactly the same in your Teaser and then two episodes later in your second act when they go to the BBQ. Are we doing anything with them?”

We often refer to the writer’s room as the team of people and not just the place or the activity that occurs there. But, yes, this comes up in the room during story breaking, too. And, it came up in professional rooms and not just school. I think more and more of this is virtual with the pandemic’s influence.

Right on! Yes, like a love triangle. But, we all know there’s a fourth one as Dramatica enthusiasts. It’s similar to victim, tyrant, rescuer in psychology projections.

I think you mean, it’s uncommon to your ear and that most often you hear them say that or you’ve never heard them say what I heard. I have had someone say it in a professional writer’s room. So, it happens.

I really appreciate you writing out the dialogue there. Your experience sounds amazing. What does Teaser mean? Is that the short scene from one episode setting up later potential for another episode? I presume you don’t mean it like we do in film or scenes from next/last week or recaps. I was just taking stand alone episodes or film. But, I like how you applied it to a season arc and provided context for the episode if I read you, right.

I’m glad we have your insight into more rooms and how they work.

I’m sure it does.

It’s the set-up scene or stand-alone scene before the first commercials. In Law & Order, it’s where they discover the murder and deliver a witty line.

Shows that have long arcs have them too.


So, this is the opening scene most of the time, right…like before the title sequence in Law and Order?

In Battle Star Galactica, there is a recap. And it is less procedural. So, it might help if you could say what it is in something more serialized, too.

Thanks, again. It sounds like you know all the ins and outs of the shop talk from all your experience!

It’s the set-up scene or stand-alone scene before the first commercials. It generally has a hook. In a sitcom it can be stand-alone and just be quirky or funny, and then sometimes it’s called a Cold Open. It probably only exists to make you not change the channel.

It’s not a recap, and it’s generally only 3-5 pages of a script. If a show doesn’t have a Teaser, it doesn’t have a Teaser.

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