How do you turn message into the right storyform?

Have you seen Zootopia? Ask yourself how they do it.

Don’t forget the storyform is a holistic thing. If you started writing from a storyform with OS in Mind, and the source of the problem somehow “shifted” into Physics, it would be because you, the Author, shifted it. Subconsciously, maybe, but it would still be you. So, you’d probably find that the rest of the story shifted appropriately too and you were still following a valid storyform, just not the one you thought you were. (@MWollaeger has some anecdotes on this I think)

I feel like you keep coming up with reasons not to write this story. I don’t think anyone ever feels confident in their storyform when they start a work.

I think you have to pick some things to let go and just trust in the process. For me, that’s the message – I pick a storyform based on the idea for characters and plot that I see in my head, and don’t give a crap what the message actually is because I know that if there is a storyform, there’ll be a message, and that it will have come from the same place deep inside me that the ideas do. For you, I think you care about the exact argument you want to convey, so the same process likely won’t work – but you still have to let go of something. That might include your worries that the OS Domain will shift on you.

A key part of Dramatica is that we all recognize a complete story and its narrative argument subconsciously. There’s no point in using the theory if you don’t believe that. And if you believe that, you also have to believe that the same subconscious appreciation will help you tell your story, given the alignment that comes from working with a storyform and thinking about four throughlines.


I was just trying a Playground Exercise with the storyform I’m thinking of to get a feel for it/practice and wanted to make sure I encoded it right. I had a struggle with that when learning and am rusty.

I care about my argument more as a guide for the right storyform.

Oops! Sorry, I might have jumped on you a bit too much there. Oh well, you can come back to that post if you find yourself doubting again.

If you’re doing a playground exercise, just make sure the stuck mindsets are the source of the problem – the reason that they’re passing legislation, etc. In story-encoding you can actually cheat and come right out and say it “because of their belief about X, they end up doing Y. This causes problems with…”

Try to get it clear in your head that if you took away the stuck mindset, the problem would go away. If that seems to fit with your encoding, you’re good.

Do you think I encoded Mind ok in the example or was it too Physics because those attitudes fuel political meddling?

I think you encoded Mind perfectly, because you made it the source of the problem. Take away the clashing beliefs, and there’s no legislation passed, no prohibitions, everything’s hunky-dory.

Oh, cool. I wasn’t sure if meddling was the source. There was a thread on source vs root cause of problem, but I can’t find it.

I do have anecdotes and experience with this.

But for me, personally, I have never solved the problem @SharkCat is describing here by working on the storyform. Though believe me, I have tried.

So… how much of the story has been written?

And, if you insist on solving this via the storyform, then my guess is that you are going about it by tackling too many storypoints at once and/or, you have locked in some storypoints that are incorrect and they are holding you to a storyform that is wrong. Like, it’s not going to be pursuit/avoid at all.


@SharkCat Just my two cents as I do really understand your struggles:

I also had issues with finding my argument but the advice from @mlucas is excellent:

My advice (based on my long struggles as well): If you feel your story form is “acceptable ok” start with your first draft. And don’t focus to much on the Element Level for the first draft. In any case, you most properly need to change the storyform again.

For my current book, where I have written the first draft last year, I am on version number 46. Last week I found an argument for my storyform which now seems to work - and - and that’s explained my struggles, I understood as well that I needed to have 2 storyforms. If I would explain my storyform today to somebody I guess they would say “yeah, for sure – but why did it took you so much time?”

There will be a moment, once you get to the argument, but – it takes time.


Without a storyform, how do you know what ideas in a great big pile of ideas to stick to or try cutting? I don’t want to end up with a sloppy story because whatever theme is bugging me personally at the moment comes to the forefront. If I try to just write, I get stuck on where to go after a certain point past the beginning and don’t know how to bridge the beginning and end.

That’s what I’m afraid of and why I waffle with the storyform, but I need structure to focus. Has something like the “picking something for now” advice worked for you too or are there different ways to get structure (and confidence) in a first draft that I’m not thinking of? Just trying to get an idea of where to start.

I’m exactly the same. I’ve written without an outline and found I cannot work without structure. But I’ve also written with an extremely detailed outline and found I cannot work with too much either. I had a real Goldilocks situation and had to find a middle ground (Jim’s PSR beat sheet/sequence method has worked wonders for me). Ultimately, you have to try a lot of stuff and find what works for you.

I storyform before I write, but I’m not beholden to that first one (when I did stick to it, my writing suffered because I was – as @MWollaeger warns against – usually locked into the wrong storyform). In fact, my chosen character/plot dynamics and domains are generally the only things I never change from the beginning of a project to the end. Everything else is up in the air until that first draft locks everything into place. I just use the signposts to make the beat sheet (ignoring whatever the elements I chose were), go and write, and then come back to make adjustments to the storyform and rewrite accordingly.

First drafts are always going to be messy, and they (in my experience) always suck compared to the final draft. The confidence and structure I think you’re looking for comes from rewriting and rewriting. Just try stuff out and see what works for you.

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Won’t using the wrong storyform as a foundation warp your story ideas in the wrong direction? I’m afraid of getting locked into ideas and then being unable to reconcile them if I have to fix something.

@SharkCat In my experience you should focus on one story for one bigger idea. You also can try many forms and take the one which “speaks” to you to diver deeper - and give it a go. First drafts are always messy but it gives you marerial and a better understanding what you “need” to write about.

Once you have a story form take the plot progressions and try to illustrate your story. This gives a pretty good structure to start with.

I have almost 100 different forms for ideas, but finally it’s only a handful of stories I consider as projects for the near future.

The frustrating part with dramatica - still by today - is, there are so many things you don’t know yet - but the beauty is you know already more than without out it.

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It’s actually one novel, but I’ve had a lot of ideas for it that I’m not sure how to cram together smoothly, while having some holes I don’t know how to fill.


If I pick a passable storyform (which is probably the wrong one no matter how I try to change it), and make a Signpost chart as recommended, what do I do with the inevitable blank holes that I can’t encode? Do just make up something even if it feels wrong and risk losing time trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole (wrong storyform), or should I change the storyform and risk never following through (maybe storyform was right, but maybe I’ll think of a better encoding later)?

Maybe your instinct is creating a series. I was in a critique group in the 1990’s, and one member experienced that book agents were only interested in writers who had series worked out, or some such.

That’s why I find it generally helpful (for me, anyway) to not rely completely on one storyform until I have a finished first draft to pick apart. If I know my dynamics, domains and concerns, then I can look through the draft and locate the source of the conflict. It’s easier to shift the conflict in a signpost from Understanding to Learning than it is to shift the conflict of a story from an OS Problem of Perception to one of Logic. The latter takes a LOT more work to try and fix because it connects to many other story points.

I think of it as tailoring a box to fit the story, rather than forcing the story into a box.

I used to think up lots of ideas for comics and cartoons, back when it was low-pressure fun, but had to be realistic and start small. One person can’t make a cartoon series and an inexperienced nobody like me wouldn’t be able to sell an idea, so I tried to draw comics of my idea, which took too long to be viable (fussed over 1 or 2 pages for a year), so I adapted it into a play (not bad, I guess. A low-budget college thing) and then a script into a book-- a meandering 500-pg pile that failed to convince me of my own tacked-on point that had become tainted with personal baggage as stuff that bothered me crept into the writing (perhaps because I had no storyform to keep me on track), so I gave up on it and tried to move on before I even heard of Dramatica and fell in love with my current story years ago. If I can’t even write one book properly with a clear direction, then I have no confidence in writing any kind of series. Maybe someday?

So for practical steps, do I make a “close-enough” storyform, then make an outline? I do have something of an outline, but arranged by order of events and not organized by throughline because I can’t tell them all apart. I can’t even pick one title for each to focus them because I can see different but similar but different meanings for them. I don’t know what to do beyond an outline unless I’m supposed to just go write chapter by chapter.

No, writing using the wrong storyform won’t warp your ideas in the wrong direction. Weird, huh?

Okay, yes, you can wrestle your ideas into submission to a storyform if you want. But generally if you listen to your gut and go with “but this is what I want to write” then you will not do this, and you will end up with a rough draft that’s in okay shape to build up from.

But, I think I have diagnosed your issue here:

No! There are no ways to do this. But it doesn’t matter. Ready for the magic spell? You have to cast this on wherever implement it is that you work with: your computer, your desk, your special pen

Abracadabra, abracaduck
First draft, I know you’re gonna suck

Abracadiddle, abracadee
I’m not gonna take it personally

Abracatussle, abracadice
You’re actually being very nice
Because one day
I’m gonna throw you away

Abracanoodle, abracalaft
You’re just a step toward the second draft

I’m serious about this. Your first draft is you, just about to get in the shower, paint in your hair, armpits smelling… and your date shows up early. Be nice to it. It is being way more vulnerable than you would ever want to be in public, yet here it is, baring itself to you knowing that you are going to turn around and critique it and come on the boards and tell people that it’s got no structure or meaning. Would you do that for another person? I sure as hell wouldn’t. So be nice to it, say thank you every day, and then when you type the last paragraph of the last chapter, turn around and take the knife to it.


A little secret in the industry. Everybody I know of has that one book, usually the first book - the one that never sold and that they are ashamed to ever take out of its box.

It was a stepping stone to becoming a better writer. Don’t avoid it.

Try this (and I know that you’re gonna look at me like I lost my mind), try to write a page (or maybe a chapter or whatever) that sucks. I mean sucks major ****, the real gangrenous kind. Make every effort to make it a flaming turd.

Then, when your internal editor is confused as F**** and whimpering in the corner (your internal editor, “this really sucks!” you, “oh, I know! evil laugh”), then write what you want to.

You’re doing JuJitsu on your inner editor and let him know in no uncertain terms that, if he dares to pick himself up from the corner and come at you again, you’ll do it again.


Last but not least, to add, if you fear to run into the wrong direction, Dramtica will guide you even if the Storyform is not 100%, take the form which feels right, and follow your instincts and your story. There is also the concept of a first shitty draft from Anne Lamot, just google it. This may also help… just get that story out and written on paper (or into your computer)

Wow! That sounds like a series to me. You might want to hand it over to a wife-type person in your life and ask for all the different stories to be circled, whether just sentences or paragraphs. What got me into Dramatica in the first place was my husband’s outrageous little snippets of his life encounters during the 60’s. I started using them to develop stories, but they were turning into my screenplays, mixing my tastes and background into it. When I heard him share a snippet with a friend over the phone, I realized he had shared it with me the wife just differently enough to lose some of the charm. And I ran with it in a different direction. I’ve let time go by, and I’m brainstorming how to get him together with Sandy Stone, whom I’veworked with in the past. But that is another story…haha. The bottom line, those closest to you can see the stories, while you see a mergander. 500 pages, amazing