Finding source of conflict at different levels-direct vs abstract

@jhull hoping you could help with two specific questions if you get a chance to answer.

Not sure I know how to word it, so I’m going to ask the questions and then give examples.


Question 1. When looking for source of conflict, is it correct that one should look for the process that most directly leads to conflict as opposed to, say, looking for a more abstract connection between process and conflict, the ultimate reason behind a characters actions or decisions?

Question 2. When looking for source of conflict at the Concern level, particularly when looking for a Sign Post, do you typically look toward every process within that scene to point toward a Sign Post, or do you separate processes by saying ‘this one is a Concern so I can use that, but that process would illustrate the Domain level so even though it’s in the same throughline it can’t be used to help find this Sign Post’?


In Shawshank Redemption during the scene where the inmates are fishing for new inmates, the character known as Fatass breaks down and starts crying and blubbering. This causes him to get beaten to death by Captain Hadley. Assuming I’m in the middle of analyzing the story and have decided that the OS is in Universe, I could say that the scene shows how being stuck in a corrupt prison leads to being beaten to death and that works just fine.

But if we start looking at the Sign Posts, it seems there’s two ways to handle that scene. Crying and making a lot of racket leads to getting beaten doesn’t feel like Future at all. It feels very Present. Fatass is making too much noise right now. But since we know that the official analysis puts the Concern in Future, that wouldn’t work as a Concern or Sign Post conflict. It would be limited strictly to the Domain (I suppose it could potentially be Issue or Element, but keeping it simple by excluding those). So the first way to handle it would be to say it’s not a part of the Plot, just an illustration of the domain.

Now, I know there’s some who would say that he’s crying because he’s afraid of his future in the prison-or maybe we should say concerned about his future to keep fear and Mind out of it. But 1, I don’t know that I accept that, and 2, if he weren’t blubbering about it, his future wouldn’t have gotten him killed. But if we allow this more abstract connection between being beaten and the future, it allows us to put that as the Concern and Sign Post 1. The problem with this second way of handling the scene is that this abstract connection seems very tenuous and it would be just as easy to place ‘having a history as a criminal’ or a thousand other things in that spot and have just as strong of a connection. So should we avoid looking at it as Sign Post, or use that tenuous, abstract connection?


So that’s the quesntions and example. Full disclosure, I’m in favor of the “direct connection” method that would place the scene squarely in OS Domain and not in Concern at all, so I may not be giving the “abstract, ultimate reason” method a fair shake in my description. Anyway, just hoping to get your thoughts on that.

Ps. There are some others who may or may not recognize some of the ideas or wording in the question from some previous discussions. Didn’t tag anyone else in in case you didn’t want to be mentioned but yes, this question arose from previous discussion.


Hey @Greg, great question! (and nicely worded!)

I don’t want to muddy the waters before Jim comes by, but just wanted to point out that while I favour this:

… I personally wouldn’t try to put that “blubbering leads to death” scene as an example of Future (Concern or Signpost) if there’s no evidence for Future. (Now, inmates fishing for new inmates does have a Future ring to it, but I haven’t seen the film in a long time so maybe I’m wrong there.) But I do agree it’s a perfectly good example of Domain and maybe something like the OS Catalyst of Openness (openly showing emotion increases conflict).

* except it’s not always abstract; some examples may be in your face while others are buried deep. The key is not abstract vs. direct, but finding the commonalities all throughout the story.


Great discussion @greg. I’m very interested to hear what Jim says about this.

Here is my take. Instead of abstract versus direct, I look at it as contextual. (I think this is another way of expressing what you were saying @mlucas but I’m not sure).

So in your example, it’s not so much whether or not “blubbering leads to death” is an illustration of Future, it’s that whatever storypoint it expresses happens in the context of the broader “future” conflict that’s happening in that signpost–which it turn happens in the context of the overall Concern.

This is how I understand “mental relativity” – each point can only be understood–only has meaning–in relationship to the other points of the storyform.


One hundred percent this.

I was going to say that you really can’t determine direct or abstract by a single point–because you can always see that point in several other contexts. That’s that floating feeling you’re having, or at least, it sounds like you’re having with that Shawshank example. You can’t really lock your feet down because the context is constantly shifting.

I rarely know a storypoint when I’m experiencing a story (Three Billboards would be the only film where I knew what was going to happen next because of the storyform). Well, and maybe Spider-Verse, but that’s hard one to avoid when they spray paint the Main Character’s Problem across the walls!

I don’t tend to look for those points while experiencing because I can’t make heads or tails of it until I’ve seen the totality of the film. The storyform is the entire story all at once. So, like @Lakis said, it only means anything in context of its relationship to everything else.

In regards to your specific example of Shawshank, the first Signpost of the Future breaks down into these Storybeats:

  • Work
  • Attraction and Repulsion
  • Attempt

So, yeah. I would say Fatass is absolutely terrified about working as someone’s fresh fish! And then, of course, the guards get to Work beating him because–that’s their job :slight_smile:

This sets up the Potential for what’s to come in Shawshank. It leads to a fair amount of Attraction and Repulsion among the inmates, and eventually to Andy Attempting to reach out to the Captain of the Guards on the rooftop.


If the story is both constantly shifting perspectives AND taken as a whole, then wouldn’t all perspectives have to simultaneously describe the storyform?

Even accepting that you can’t lock your feet down on what the perspective is, you can still lock your feet down on “this thing is the root of that conflict”. I mean, whatever process it illustrates, I think you have to agree that Hadley beat the inmate to death because he wouldn’t shut up. Maybe I’m wrong, but…that seems pretty concrete. You don’t really need any other part of the story to tell you that that’s why Hadley beat him.

Totally agree with this and get it. But it seems like Mental Relativity would suggest that this is only half of the picture in that the storyform describes both the story as a whole (a state) and as a flow through various points in sequential order (a process). If that’s accurate, then it seems that in order to analyze a story you would need to view the story as both a single unit and a flow. Without both halves of the picture, the storyform would look both right and wrong at the same time depending on perspective. (can you tell i’ve reading that memo from 1992 or whenever that was posted earlier?)

What I mean is that if you look for direct, concrete connections-like making too much noise leads to death-then it becomes difficult to see the connection to the overall plot that’s looking at the Future. You start talking about things that happened before that, and before that, and then you start asking questions like doesn’t this just lead to an infinite regress and can’t you really point anywhere on the quad?

But then, if you’re looking only at the overall picture, maybe you start pointing to individual pieces and either forcing them to fit somewhere they don’t fit because of this overall picture, or start making unnecessarily long chains to show that actually it was the Future that caused Hadley to beat the inmate to death and not his present noise making.

Combining the two, then, should give the fuller picture. That making noise leading to death isn’t a process specifically rooted in the Future (and is therefore a better descriptor of Domain than Plot on an individual moment level), but that it does play into an exploration of the Future by looking at the Future in that, I don’t know, they’re seeing a man lose his future by being beaten to death? They’re seeing what kind of future things they can expect to deal with in prison?

So the danger, then, seems to be in taking one view over the other and getting it wrong. Like if you tried to take an overall picture view that they were all dealing with Past because they all committed crimes then you would ignore all the future conflict like the kid being willing to testify and Norton losing his number man or his corruption getting exposed. Or if you took a direct connection view that because present noise making is in the OS it can be used in isolation to describe the OS Concern and not be strictly an illustration of the Domain.

***hope that makes sense and didn’t ramble too much. I was going to go in a whole different direction when I first started typing, but I like this train of thought much better.

Except, I don’t think that the current form of Dramatica views much of the flow of the story. I think it only sees part of that flow, and otherwise views the whole structure at once. After all, there are four possible views on structure and dynamics:

  • Structural view of Structure.
  • Structural view of Dynamics.
  • Dynamic view of Structure.
  • Dynamic view of Dynamics.

If I recall correctly, the model presented to us with Dramatica is the first, with shades of the second. Thus, I would argue that Mental Relativity would tell us that, actually, we only get 1/4 of the picture with the current form of Dramatica, plus a little bit of the flow.

I think we are starting to scratch the surface of that remaining 3/4 with those unusual, and awesome, articles that Jim and Melanie are posting in their efforts to build the quads for the (currently) binary dynamic choices, though.

I’ve read that memo as well. It helped me significantly with the idea of Holistic Problem-Solving Style, but I’ll have to re-read it every time for that. From what I gathered, though, that memo was exploring how the few dynamics of current model work – how things actually get twisted and why. Due to that, I’m not entirely sure that it holds the answers to the questions posed here. Though, there’s always a chance that it does.

On this, I think it’s the difference between the experiences of the minutia of a large-scale event while it is happening and an understanding of the whole after all of the events that make it up have transpired. That is, within the moment, there are many possible interpretations for what is happening. However, once this experience has completed, and some distance is gained, a greater understanding of what has happened can be reached.

That’s probably why documentaries are so interesting. They show the in-the-moment interpretations that different people with different contexts had at the time, while also reviewing the large-scale event through the greater understanding that distance from it has brought.

It seems like Dramatica functions similarly to a documentary in the sense that it focuses on the overall event, while having the capability to see some of those smaller, in-the-moment experiences.

Now, I await to hear from Jim and/or Chris where I went wrong in the above.


Sorry for the double-post, but it made more sense, as this hits different concepts than my previous one.

Except, you do need it. I’ve never seen Shawshank. I can only trust you that the reason that Hadley beat him is because the inmate wouldn’t shut up. From my point of view, it could have been just as easily that Hadley beat the inmate because it was fun, or because he was dared by someone, or maybe he’s just mentally ill and didn’t actually know what he was doing. Any number of reasons would make total sense to me.

Without having seen the story, I have no context. I can’t tell why Hadley beat that inmate from these posts alone. There’s nothing that directly connects the blubbering to the beating. I must guess that they are connected or trust someone who has seen the movie when they tell me that those events are connected.

The context definitely matters.


But why was the inmate crying? Why were Hadley and the inmate both there at the same time? Refusing to explore past “he wouldn’t shut up” is like saying the bullet killed the victim, case closed, and not asking who pulled the trigger.

Now, if you looked at the story as a whole and saw lots of occasions of overabundant emotion causing trouble, then your conclusion might be correct (Problem of Feeling). But in this story you have to look a little further, to the idea that the inmates are looking for future pawns and this guy really doesn’t want to be their future pawn.

I know sometimes it seems like you can keep asking why forever, but the context of the whole story tells you when to stop.


Or, if you hear silence and see I “liked”’your post then I totally agree with you :slight_smile:


Pick any storyform, look at the sign post order. Then start a new form, pick a different sign post order, and try to recreate the first storyform. Order matters. Even in a structural view. That’s why there are dynamic questions.

It specifically describes a (story)mind as being seen as both a state and a process. It specifically describes observations being explored in sequential order. Of course that’s relevant to a discussion about Sign Posts.

Clearly you have to have experienced the story to know what’s in it. Watch the movie and then argue with me about whether Hadley beat him for making too much noise or because he thought it was fun.

This is a very bizarre argument to make, by the way. I’m trying to assume that you’re just trying to make the point that context is important—something we all already agree with—but you were doing the same thing in the August thread where you said you hadn’t read it yet and yet were somehow still trying to tell me why I was wrong.

When you know what the plot is as a whole, you can say the scene is an exploration of dealing with future prison corruption, but you have to have already figured that out to say that. If you are trying to analyze the story that isn’t helpful because it’s saying that you have to know the storyform in order to to find the Storyform.

Also, you can say that the FULL scene-the scene as a whole-is an exploration of future corruption. But that’s no reason to force this one moment within the scene to be about the future when this one moment might only be showing that conflict comes from being in a corrupt prison (or might only be showing Delay, etc). While the whole scene might be an exploration Futuring, he didn’t die because he was Futuring. He died because he wouldn’t shut up.

And finally, seeing the plot as a structure shows you the plot all at once, that the plot all as a single thing is simultaneously exploring Future Present Past and Progress and that the Concern is Future. You can’t take a simultaneous view and extract a sequential order. In order to determine which sign post this is in, then, you must necessarily look at the events in the scene in a way separate from the view of the plot as a whole.


Greg, are you saying that someone not shutting up could never be Futuring (source of conflict of The Future)? Or just that in this particular scene it isn’t?


There I was attempting to string together the context that was being provided through those posts along with the synopsis. That was more or less an experiment in attempting to be an “objective” viewer of the “subjective” experiences presented by the readers. I felt it was fair in that context because far more information about the plot/story is given within an analysis thread. Of course, it did not take much until I felt there was a point where I could no longer add to the discussion without having the full context, which is why I did start reading the book.

For the argument I made in this thread, it was meant to be taken at a much more limited, scene-level scope. As that appeared to me to be what the thread was about: How to use an analysis at the scene level to support choices for a greater context.

I’m not denying that. That’s the exact reason that I said “plus some of the flow” in my earlier post. Some order, some flow, is baked into the model. The way that I read the original question was whether it makes sense to attempt to suss out the flow during the experience versus trying to determine the flow based on the overall context. The whole context, is of course, needed at such fine-grained levels, which is again, why it came to a point that I felt I could no longer contribute to the discussion in the other thread.

For clarity, the above two paragraphs meant that I saw the question thus: How should a scene-level analysis be used to support the choices of a greater context, and should that be done using the experiential flow of the scene, or with the whole context of the story in which the scene is in?

Perhaps that was too limiting, considering the scope of the discussion, though.

Isn’t this another way to say, “Once you have seen the whole movie or have read the whole book”? In other words, have access to the whole Storyform, even if not consciously?

You can when it’s baked in. This made me think of concurrency and parallelism in software. Those are, in effect, simultaneous views of the system running all at once, especially on a multi-core processor. In order for a system designed in that way to run, in any way that makes sense, there must be order baked into the running state. Which elements should be taken care of first? Which elements and states are more or less independent from one another? Which elements need to be synchronized, and when? Without baking in that order, such a system isn’t possible.

Of course, that’s an extremely linear-based way of thinking, but it has holistic elements, as the system must be viewed and balanced as a whole to get any workable design.

I’d like to respond to this, too, but I don’t feel like anything but a real-time discussion would be conducive to my thoughts on this one, unfortunately.

And, just because it’s such a good question: I wish to ask the same thing that @mlucas did.

1 Like

I’m going to take this part of your question out and answer something else! :blush:

What I am saying isn’t necessarily all that clear because I’m still trying to see into the space between my own two questions. Lol. But I think there’s a couple things I’m saying.

I’m saying that this idea of context without a direct connection between conflict and the source seems overly complicated to me. Much easier is the idea of conflict having a direct connection to the source (blame it on my preference for linear problem solving!). While I can see how the idea of “the guy gets beaten to death as an exploration of Future” can be helpful, I can also see much more how it can be confusing.

And that’s why what I’m saying regarding the Future is that this particular moment in Shawshank doesnt need to be seen in terms of Future. The scene at large gives us inmates getting placed in the system where their lack of a future hits home and we’re told/shown that most new fish come close to madness on the first night. This is a direct connection between concern and Future.

And then the actual plot portion of SP1 is not just everyone getting checked in (work), but the inmates placing bets and rooting for their bet to win (attraction), The guards being attracted to the noise and telling everyone to shut up or get sent to the infirmary (repel), and Andy asking what the dead man’s name was (attempt). I’d prefer a better way to word it and connect everything, but the plot shows us that when a man’s future is taken away because of the brutal beating he recieves, the inmates tell the new fish that it doesn’t matter what his name was, he’s dead.

So that’s a direct connection for Concern and Sign Post 1 showing an exploration of Future by looking at Future. No other example of Future driven conflict is necessary. Therefore, it makes more sense to me to see if the inmate getting beaten to death would work as Element, Issue, or Domain, and leave it out of discussions about Future.

Now, I don’t know that that approach would be helpful to anyone but me, but it does seem to be pretty necessary to me to be able to look at scenes that way.

To be fair. The thread was probably as much about me trying to figure out exactly what I’m trying to get at as anything else. Ultimately, it seems it’s about me getting around this idea of needing multiple connections between conflict and source, or of saying ‘well, there’s not a direct connection, but the context of the scene is that they are exploring future’. Again, I can see the use of that, but if I have to rely on that, then it becomes practically useless to me personally.


Very cool Greg. This is exactly how I would approach it when figuring out the storyform – you definitely don’t need to see everything in every scene. So you just note down what you do see and move on. Later, once you’ve got a candidate storyform, that’s when you might go back and see how Future was there in the background of that scene.


This is really cool. Creating connections between the source of conflict and conflict itself has always been tricky for me, especially when writing my own stories, so I like seeing this practical example with “The Shawshank Redemption.”


I feel like I probably shouldn’t open this can of worms, but since the rest of this topic is out of my system now, here’s my answer to this question.

What I would say is that, as a source of conflict, no, someone who is currently crying and making a lot of noise could NOT be an example of Future. However, as conflict-not the source of conflict, but the actual conflict itself-yes, someone who is right now crying and won’t shut up could find its source in the future. The way it plays out in Shawshank isn’t that the future is making Fatass cry, but that Fatass crying makes Capt Hadley shut him up.

What are your thoughts, @mlucas and @hunter

I think I agree with this as stated, because of how careful you were to state it like that. But I think the more holistic view would include Future as a source of conflict, like this:

  • Future considerations (fresh fish = future pawns) leads to Fatass crying leads to Capt Hadley & guards beating Fatass to death.

Which can be simplified to:

  • Future considerations leads to Whole episode of prisoner getting beaten to death

So that second bullet is an example of the “zoomed out” Concern-as-source-of-conflict level. While if you zoom into the scene level you may not see the Future considerations as easily or at all, you see other story points (maybe PSR items or Problem quad stuff).

So, I would say it’s both.

EDIT: re-reading your post I think I sort of just repeated what you said? Seems like the only difference is that I’m saying something in the story can be both a conflict and a source of (another) conflict.


Worded like this, though, is it even conflict? There’s no noticeable inequity, just some guy balling his eyes out.

Together, you have made it sound as though the crying shouldn’t even be interpreted as just “plain ol’ conflict”, but instead, only as something that happens in between to allow for the later illustration of potential and actual conflict.

That is, only once we know that someone doesn’t want to see or hear the crying do we know that it is trouble. However, now you must ask why these two things can’t co-exist. Why is he crying, and why shouldn’t he be crying? That sounds like where the source of conflict lies. By both your posts, it appears that the generic answer to this question is “future considerations” (both for the dude who is crying, and for the dude who beat him up).

The above leads to the hypothetical question, though. What if “future considerations” were not the answer? Say, for example, that the answer were more akin to “due to prejudice”… That’s an exercise for later, though.

All of this is another way of saying what I think you both are saying. Some context, something where there can be a “between”, is necessary to find a source. But, I add to that, it seems to be that “leads to” is too specific and linear.


Sorry – I was not trying to describe why it’s a conflict or what makes it a conflict, only referring to the events/items from the story in as few words as possible.