How Do You Use a Quad to Write a Short Story?

I’m not sure how one is supposed to use a quad and make a short story. Does it matter what level the quad is (Variations, Elements)? Do the Variations (or whatever) correspond to anything? Does the order matter?

What if you’ve got a story partly drafted but none of the quads speak to you and your purpose is entertainment rather than a message? How do you take inspiration like that and make something of it?

Do you have need to have 4 throughlines? Signposts?

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The quad for a short story can be on any of the levels. Having 4 throughlines isn’t necessary either, because you have much less “real estate” with a short story compared to a longer-form story.

The following articles from NarrativeFirst should be able to answer at least a lot of your questions:


@jhull’s post below could help too:


One way you could do it is by finishing your first draft, and then trying again to see if any of the quads speak to you. @mlucas’s approach mentioned below may work very well for you:

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For short stories I use either only an element quad, a quad of variations (issues) or a quad with types (concerns). But consciously I only apply it after the first draft.

Which quad I use depends on the length of the short story. Here are some word counts based on short stories I have written:

  • short story with four Elements less than 1k words
  • short story with four Variations between 1k and 3k words
  • short story with four Types between 10k to 20k words

For short stories I use Dramatica mainly to get an idea about the throughlines (without including it into the story itself). If I know e.g. my protagonist has some personal issues (from the MC point of view) I could hint it somehow in my story.

I would start to look at the element level. Pick the turning point in your story or any other important point and look how you could link it to an element. Then go up the ladder and see what issue and/or what concern might be a good fit.

Another approach I have taken is to split the short story into four »logical« parts (using PRCO or beginning, middle and end as structuring element). Then I look what is visibly going on and what is »really« going on. The second part might give me an idea what variation or type quad might be a good fit.

I recently wrote a very short story with only 100 words. There is no message behind at least not in a sense of a Grand Argument Story. But the story is about learning strategy. Once I realised it I used the four elements of the Strategy issue for the review process.

If you have a first idea on what your short story might be about Jims InstaScene method is another good source of inspiration. Pick the issue and see if the elements speak to you:

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If you check the workshop category, there are several short stories that were created from a random quad supplied in this thread: Short Story Quad Prompt #1.

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Does any single appreciation speak to you? I’ve found that while playing around with justification exercises, a story will sometimes suggest itself that will fit the quad either for the appreciation you’re working with or below that appreciation.

For instance, if I wanted to write a short story about Prediction, then I would start out making two conflicting justifications.

-One should Prediction in order to context 1 unless one needs to Prediction in order to context 2.

Then I’ll write four short sentences that describe how that story might play out.

-One day MC predicted because she should. But context 2 did not happen (or did, depending on what it is).
-The next day MC predicted because she needed to, but context 1 didn’t happen (or did).
-Later, MC predicted, again out of need. This time, context 2 didn’t happen.
-Finally, MC predicted because she should. Context 1 happened and all was well LR terrible or whatever.

Then I’ll look at those four statements and it’s not uncommon that they will appear to be examples of either Predictiln, Interdiction, Fate, and Destiny, or maybe Actuality, Perception, Inertia, and Change. It’s not guaranteed to work out that way, and might you might need to stretch a bit sometimes, but still interesting when it works out.

I don’t have any experience in writing stories with the following, but the different levels represent Genre, Plot, Theme, and Character, so you could use that if you know what kind of short story you want to tell. For instance, let’s say you wanted a character driven story, one that strictly explored aspects of a character, you’d obviously use the Character level, or Elements. If you just wanted to write a genre driven story to see what it’s like for a group of people to live in a world where zombies exist, you’d use the Genre/Class level. Because you’re only looking at genre, you might not even have anything resembling a plot. Just a slice-of-life day-in-the-life exploration of your story world. Or maybe you don’t want to explore the world at large and are only interested in writing about how your characters had problems crop up and addressed them, then you’d go with the Plot/Type level.

Of course, that would just be as a guideline because once you remove the quad from the table, you lose all the relative meaning of the table. Which means you could use Universe, Physics, Mind, and Psychology as your MC character elements if you wanted, or your theme, or whatever.

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So, even if you pick a quad, the order of the 4 squares doesn’t matter?

What about Static Plot Appreciations? Do you need those?

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The order matters in that affects what your story is saying, and the events of the story itself. But the order is not proscribed, if that’s what you mean. I think Jim would say that the most linear way is to go:
1 2
3 4
…using the shape of the quad in the model (table of elements). And that tends to be the way it shows up in story scenes, especially in Linear stories. I’d guess that tendency would be similar for short stories, since scenes are short stories, at least in one sense. But you can use any order you want.

In a single-quad short story, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to talk about static plot points. (?) I do find dynamics like Outcome and Judgment, while not as absolute as with a complete story, can often be determined. e.g. the Piper short film is definitely a Success/Good.

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I’ve been doing some thinking. Could you start with a Solution (or something like a Crucial Element-- I guess it depends on the Judgement and Outcome you’re thinking of) that ties an MC and OS together? Like when TV shows have an A-plot (OS) and a B-plot (MC) and something that ties up the B-plot leads to solving the A-plot. In the case of my short story idea, I want there to be a crime (OS) that gets solved when the MC learns the value of hobbies (he starts to paint, and somehow, in some way I can’t figure out yet, this new behavior leads to thinking of a new angle on the crime and then solving the crime, thus demonstrating how making time for hobbies leads to creative problem solving).

In this case, if you wanted to write dueling justifications, would they be about the OS or MC, or both at the same time? Or would you need a different pair of justifications for each? Would they concern the same element?

I imagine that the justifications in my story would look like this:
One needs to see the value in things that others value in order to creatively problem solve UNLESS one should value their time more because time is too precious to waste on unknowns.
I guess that would belong to the MC stuff, but is there a way I can use something like this to fill in the holes of my OS?

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In my short stories, sometimes a signpost ends up being just a simple sentence. For example, in my 400 word “What Frank Knew (or, Don’t Vex the Cat)” Act 1 IC SP1 “Frank chronicles past events,” it showed up in my story as “And if Frank knew, she’d never get away with it. Not again.”

I try to have each of the elements there, somewhere.

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Do you use the justifications for the whole thing like it was an OS or can you use it for something like an MC or both?

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You can write out the justifications wherever you’d like. You don’t have to write out two justifications for every point, but the idea behind Dramatica is that the Storymind has justified a solution to a problem (seen as the Problem) and the story is showing us how keeping or changing those justifications will lead to Success or Failure that is seen as Good or Bad. So whether you write them out or not, they’ll probably be there.

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By “turning point,” are you talking about something like when something at the end of a B-plot (say, MC stuff) leads to the solution of the A-plot (say, OS stuff)?
I’m thinking of Value, like the detective sees the value in learning to paint, and somehow that leads to solving a crime (catching the crook and recovering stolen paintings).

I still don’t understand what you do with a quad to write a short story. Is each Element (or whatever) in the quad a different Signpost and you ask how is (Element) a problem in this Signpost?

Do they ever represent Problem or Solution like the crucial element? Can you create a short story around a Crucial Element?

Say I want to make a short story with an A-plot (OS) and a B-plot (MC). The MC learns something towards the end that helps solve their B-plot and the main A-plot.

For example, the A-plot is solving a crime (stolen paintings—the perp is caught and paintings recovered), and the B-plot is about a detective who doesn’t value hobbies but has to learn to paint and when this (somehow) leads to coming up with a fresh idea that helps solve the crime plot, the detective learns that hobbies have value (they lead to new ways of thinking and thus creative problem solving).

IIRC, in a GAS, having a Change MC in a Success/Good story gives you a crucial element shared by the OS Solution and MC Solution. So, can I choose a Problem and Solution Element and build from there? I assume my example would concern Proven/Unproven or Cause/Effect since those are the elements found under Value. But I don’t know where the Signposts would come from.

Turning Point in a short story (and scene as well) is the moment when the direction of the story changes. Husband goes home with flowers to celebrate birthday with his wife but (turning point) when he opens the door he finds her dead in living room. The turning point also changes the main character emotion at the beginning fo the story. Emotion usally changes from positive to negative or vice versa. In the beginning the husband is happy, at the end he feels devastated.

I don’t use A and B Plots in Short Stories. For Short Stories I focus on only 1 character, 1 conflict, 1 setting. Usually there is only one or two other characters who come in conflict with my main character (point of readers view).

When I write a Short Story I use the same structure as for a Scene (Novell, Screenplay).

  • Starting Emotion
  • Setup (set desire, goal, expectation)
  • Complication (the wife doesn’t open the door)
  • Beats (new beat occurs when the situation or a behaviour clearly changes)
  • Turning Point (something turns upside down)
  • Climax (character fights for his goal based on his expectations)
  • Resolution (character looses or wins)
  • End Emotion (opposite of starting emotion)

To build the structure I learned a lot from forum our discussions around PRCO.

Here is an example for a Short Story:

Synopsis: A busy man takes the train from Downton to the Airport. As it takes only tow stops he doesn’t buy a ticket. When the conductor comes he tells him he haven’t had time to buy one. The conductor replies he should have waited for the next train and gives him a fine of 70 bucks. The man complains. A ticket for two stops costs only 2 bucks. The conductor argues that this is only the fine for the short distance ride. For the long distance ride the fine would be 90 bucks. The busy man nods in agreement, that’s a real bargain.

The Quad I used to write the short story is Approach. Each element represents a character or an object.

  • Consider, the busy man who considers not to buy a ticket
  • Reconsider, the conductor who forces the man to reconsider his decision
  • Logic, the rules of public transportation
  • Feeling, other passengers feeling amused/sorry observing the discussion

I never do the definition for each element. It just gives me an idea what to illustrate and write when using a certain quad. For the example the Quad of Rationalisation, Attempt or Hope might also work.

I don’t see how to apply it for Short Stories even though I find it useful for longer stories.

When writing a Short Story I consider the following elements from Dramatica without actually plugging it into the Software: Element or Variation Quad, Approach, Goal, Outcome, Judgement.

For more complex and longer Short Stories I may plug it into the software and try to find a complete storyform. Knowing something about my characters or their relationship without explicitly writing about it might at least spark some ideas for a line of dialogue.

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If you want to write a story that explores less than the entirety of a storyform-by, say, exploring only a single quad-then you remove all of the relative meaning of that quad. If you want to explore the quad of Knowledge, Thought, Order, Chaos, then those four can be Elements or Issues or Class or whatever, because they no longer have the same relationship to the rest of the Storymind. And they can be signposts or not, or you might not have Signposts in your story at all.

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Yes, that’s the idea. Each element in the quad is like a “signpost” in your short story. It’s the same idea as when you write a scene.

You could try to assign PRCO to each element, but if that doesn’t work for you don’t worry about it. Just 1234 (the signpost order) is good enough to get you writing.

Question though, how long of a short story are you writing? Longer short stories may actually contain multiple “scenes”. I’m guessing somewhere around 2000 words would be the threshold but it could vary a lot depending on the story and your writing style.

EDIT: I just remembered I had a draft post on my blog from over a year ago, that I forgot to publish until just now! It contains a 500-word flash story I wrote for an anthology, and at the end has some notes about the Dramatica quad & PRCO.

@SharkCat maybe it will help as an example for how to use a single quad for a short story.

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I was hoping to make something that would fit within 8 or so comic book pages. But if it’s longer than that, I don’t care because I’m trying to figure out how to write…something at all.

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Out of curiosity, why 8 pages of a comic and not a whole issue?

I’ve been wanting to make a comic book for a while now, but none of the ideas I come up with feel comic-booky enough.

I saw some 8-page comic stories based on a TV show and was trying to see if I could make some small things like that. I’m trained as an artist, so I hoped to write something short that I could illustrate to help my portfolio and practice writing. I keep seeing generally what I want to do, but I can’t make the pieces fit together when it comes to actually plotting something. There are always logic problems.

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8 comic book pages isn’t a lot of real estate to work with. I’m not sure how you’d fit more than the smallest bits of Plot into that. But that would give you an average of two pages each for Problem, Focus, Direction, and Solution. My first approach would probably be to find the item I want to explore and treat the appropriate quad as the problem quad. For instance, if I want to write a story about someone obtaining something, I might treat Self Interest as the Problem, Approach and Attitude as Focus and Direction, and Morality as Solution.