Finding source of conflict at different levels-direct vs abstract

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.


I’ve typed out several replies and not been happy with any of them. I’m going to try to just keep this one simple. Also, even as i typed this reply, my view was still growing and changing, so keep that in mind. When writing the first paragraph,I didn’t necessarily plan on saying what ended up in, say, the fifth or sixth paragraph. Anyway…

The “whole story all at once” method is valid, and clearly works, but I think using it in isolation can lead to unnecessarily long connections being made in order to prove a story point. For instance, in the scene we’ve been discussing, saying that Future leads to the prisoner crying leads to the prisoner getting beaten to death seems to be starting with the Concern and taking the scenic route through one moment in one Sign Post in order to show that all of the conflict in the story is rooted in the Future.

But you don’t need every moment to be rooted in the future to have a Concern or even a Sign Post of the Future. In order to have a Sign Post with the “all at once” method, you need to be able to show that a chunk of about 7-8 minutes of screen time is rooted in the Future. To have a Concern, you need to have about 30 minutes worth of screen time.

Because you need a full 30 minutes over the course of 4 Sign Posts to have a Concern, one Sign Post can’t fully give a Concern. So rather than saying a Sign Post is rooted in the Future because that’s the Concern, it would make sense to say that the conflict of a Sign Post is rooted in X as an exploration of the Concern of the Future.

And since the prisoner getting beaten to death is only a minute or two, it can be neither a sign post nor a Concern. So it would make sense to say it happens as an exploration of the Future, but I see no reason to start building a chain of connections to the Future.

Think of it like this. Exploring the future takes time. It’s temporal. Therefore it makes sense to look at that as a holistic/non-linear connection. But being rooted in a process is a state. It’s structural. So it makes sense to look at that with as a direct/linear connection. If that’s accurate, the “all at once” approach would be best seen by making the shortest, most direct connection between conflict and source of conflict and would need to be used separate from, but in conjunction with the holistic connections. That would mean that, in any Sign Post, the conflict of the Concern would only need to be described as it relates to the whole plot while the conflict of any one Sign Post only needs to be described as it relates to that one Sign Post and the conflict of any one moment only needs to be described as what’s happening in that moment, but that everything can be described as an ongoing exploration of a more zoomed out level.

In that way, you avoid unnecessarily long connections that run the risk of creating more confusion while simultaneously keeping all of those connections in a description of how they relate both linearly and holistically to the storyform for what is ultimately a fuller, more complete picture of what’s going on.

Now here’s the thing about that. Where the “all at once” method requires you to view the storyform all at once, the other method forces you to view each part of the story as the tiniest chunk possible. The first should give you the best feel for the story overall while the second, if you can figure out where to place each of the smaller chunks, should give you the best opportunity to check your work and know if you’ve got a working storyform or not by measuring all the tiny direct connections.

No. Worded this way, it is only storytelling. It could be either conflict or source of conflict depending on whether it causes or is caused by something else. My argument is that within Shawshank, it’s the direct reason that the guy is killed, the source of conflict. Hadley doesn’t kill him because the guy has a bad future ahead of him, but because he wants him to shut up. If instead, Hadley had beat the guy to death and then the guy wouldn’t stop crying because he had lost his chance to live a full life, I’d say it was conflict.

Totally agree. Think of it as an approximation of what is actually meant.


So, only to be a troll, I’ll paraphrase you. :smiling_imp:

Hadley kills him because we wants quiet in the near future.

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Is this a good place to put the “It’s not about the nail” reference?

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This isn’t the first time I’ve suspected you of playing skeptic and/or contagonist! Lol. But to be firm in my position, no. He wants silence right now! :grin:

Okay so I actually was thinking about this again when another way of looking at it hit me. I left it alone, but since you bring it up again, I’m going to go find that thread and post on it again. See what you make me do?!

The antagonistic-y roles are usually my favorite, at least as a writer.
I’m a rebel at heart, though you wouldn’t know it in real life.

Well, Thought does eventually leads to Knowledge, but will it fulfill your Desire to amplify your Ability?
Sorry… That was a horrible pun.

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Greg, I’m not sure if you are misinterpreting what I’m saying or not (?) but in my head what I’m trying to do is extremely simple, while you seem to be seeing my method as something highly complicated. (?)

Look at it this way – in the Pitch Perfect analysis, there’s a moment where Chris asks everyone what the OS is about, and it’s like “oh, a singing competition”. I think that was about about Domain (Physics obviously). So now you look at the story and say, geez, everything in the OS is about singing acapella and trying to win an acapella competition (Concern & Goal: Obtaining).

Now, with that in mind, you can suddenly fit the whole OS story in your head and realize that everything in it stems from that Physics+Obtaining source of conflict or more accurately, drive. Events, scenes, groups of scenes, acts – none of that conflict would exist without this drive; there literally would be no story.

That’s what I mean by “zooming out” to see Domain/Concern, and I think it’s important to be able to do that.

I agree with Signposts it’s not as simple – sometimes you can see the thing driving and running through the entire Act, other times you only see a few specific beats.

Did this response even address what you were talking about or am I way off base?

I disagree with this. You can have an example of any story point in any amount of screen time / words. When Vizzini shouts “Inconceivable!” it’s an example of OS Concern & OS Signpost 1 & OS Problem and probably Direction too. Of course you could never see that on its own, but it’s evidence you can use to figure out the storyform when you start looking at the commonalities throughout the story.

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So first off, if it seems like I’m picking on your method specifically, I apologize. I do kind of think of you as the face of it, but not as the one championing it or as the only one who does it that way. I think that is the direction Jim and Chris and probably Melanie push people in. So it probably is the best way to view things. But I think Mental Relativity almost demands that there be another perspective. One that is different, yet equally valid and such that when the two are combined equal something greater than the sum of its parts.

That said, that method certainly CAN be simple. But I thinks it’s also been shown that it can be extremely difficult, or extremely confusing. There’s no shortage of threads on here where someone was unable to see a given conflict as an example of a given process (Nevermind that many of those people were me).

Take Coco as an example. There was confusion about whether the MC story was Present or Past. For many, the story appeared to be about the conflict that arose from the Past. Sure Miguel is without a guitar right now and decides to steal one causing him to be cursed to the land of the dead, but none of that would have happened if his great great grandmother hadn’t forbidden music, a process of the Past, they might say. The same type of statement you made about Pitch Perfect (haven’t seen it so can’t use that one). But his great great grandmother isn’t there to stop him. Her past hate of music has nothing to do with him. But his family’s present hatred of music does. The process of taken a zoomed out view isnt wrong here, but it did allow for a mistaken view of the story which made things more complicated. All I’m saying is that a zoomed in view maybe would have shown that the Past wasn’t the root of any of that conflict and would have then allowed one to change that zoomed out view. I’m really in agreement with you, but just saying the process needs another view to complete it.

Correct. My fault for speaking in averages and generalities. I shall concede this one to you in theory, sir. However, are you saying that Vizzini shouting ‘inconceivable’ is the entirety of an entire throughline? I haven’t seen it in a while, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t more to it than that. Just that one line showing Conceiving may well be a broken down zoomed in view, though, which would mean you actually agree with me! (Here’s where you shout a reply of “inconceivable!”)

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No, no, I just meant it’s one small example, that’s all. (But a memorable one!)

Anyway, I think I agree with everything you’re saying. You’re right that sometimes zooming out can lead you astray. But it’s funny, I remember watching Coco and knowing within about 20 minutes that the Concerns were bottom-right. There’s absolutely no way I would EVER have put it top-left, but not because of any logical reason about source of conflict; I just knew it had to be bottom-right because of how it felt. (I almost got the whole storyform right, but put the OS in Conceiving instead of Learning.)

This may be a bit controversial… but you know whole “fire causes smoke” analogy, where the source of conflict (e.g. Present) is the fire, and the conflict is the smoke? It’s a great analogy, but I don’t think we take it far enough. I think the fire has a certain character to it, imbued by the type of wood, etc., and you can smell that on the smoke. So you might be able to make some reasonable argument about why the smoke came from Past-fire, but you just know it can’t be Past-fire because it smells like Present-fire.

However, it’s damn near impossible to communicate “smell” over the internet so that’s not much use except on your own.


It took me all of 3 seconds to figure out the storyform for Mississippi Burning this week–and it was all because I had the same “feeling” you had. That “feeling” you describe is the familiarity we have with the personalities of storyforms - how the bottom right stories feel completely different from the upper left.

It’s not something you can logic or talk your way through – it’s something you intuit, based solely on hunch. But a hunch based on experience - that’s why I had you walk through the various different kinds of stories when you went through my Dramatica Mentorship Program. I was specifically giving you the experiences of what certain story structures feel like. That’s an invaluable process that everyone should go through, especially if they want to stop running around in circles trying to talk themselves into an understanding of narrative structure.

Mississippi felt so much like A Bronx Tale, I almost sensed it was the same exact story. There were elements that similar (Holistic Problem-Solving Style, Steadfast Start Do-er MC, Preconscious Concern) but there were slight differences at the bottom that pulled them apart from one another.

That said, when you scale back and look at the whole thing, the general or Genre-al personality of the two stories, they felt like the same person.

Coco is nowhere close to an Upper Left “Knowing” story. It doesn’t feel like a Usual Suspects or Inception or Memento kind of story. It follows the current trend of “Thinking” stories in the bottom right.

This sense is only something you can develop by exposing yourself and experiencing for yourself hundreds of different stories and grouping them by Genre/Concern. Use Subtext or Google search and find stories that have similar Domains and Concerns. Watch them over a weekend and start to recognize the heaviness of a story in the Upper Left, or the playfulness of a story in the Upper Right.

Eventually that sense will become second nature, and you won’t have to worry about your mind steering you in the wrong direction. You’ll be listening to your gut.


Actually it sounds like a more advanced version of this exercise would be to find stories with different Domain arrangements but in the same Concern quad. Something on my list to try.

Speaking of cans of worms I probably should not open, reading your post made me wonder if one of the (many) reasons hard core Star Wars fans hated The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi was that they were both lower left, whereas three out of four of the storyforms in the original trilogy were upper right (and the last one was lower right of course). Even if they’re still full of space battles and explosions, Obtaining/Future etc. feels a lot different than Doing/Progress.


I’d like to reply, but perhaps this is a good topic for a new thread?

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Sure … though I don’t know how much more I have to add!