If the IC is right, how are they causing conflict in the Signposts?

Shouldn’t the IC be solving problems in the Signposts? How can they make things get worse and worse as a result of their drive if the IC is right (a Change/Success/Good story)?

First an aside: note that in these stories the IC is only “right” in terms of their approach/perspective being the one that the MC needs to take in order to solve their personal issues and end up with a Good judgment (along with Success in the OS). The IC in a Change/Success/Good story could still be an evil psychopath whom the author would agree is a terrible person (for example).

You probably knew that already, but just in case. :slight_smile:

In terms of conflict, remember the IC is all about their impact esp. on the MC, pushing the MC to change. Change is hard – that’s why their influence creates conflict. Or another way to look at it, in order to push the MC to change, you need conflict.

Here are some examples. Notice how there is conflict and impact (which pushes the MC toward change) in each case.

Star Wars & The Matrix

  • Obi-Wan getting Luke to put the blinding blast-helmet on when he’s training with the lightsaber
  • Morpheus giving Neo the red pill, even though he was older than their age limit for doing so

Princess Bride

  • Westley responding to Buttercup’s haughtiness with love
  • Westley dying at sea (apparently)
  • Westley facing certain death when Humperdinck’s men surround them
  • Buttercup having a dream where the Ancient Bo-er yells at her about giving up on true love with Westley
  • Westley failing to arrive before the wedding ceremony
  • Westley having the strength to stand

Conflict isn’t always “bad”. For the IC throughline, it’s easier to just thinking of it as impact.


Here’s an experiment. Go on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media, tell everyone how right you are about a political or religious belief and see how little conflict gets generated. :joy:


By definition, the Influence Character is a challenge to the Main Character’s perspective. If their Throughline was about “solving problems” they would be the Main Character.

Right or wrong, they make things worse for the Main Character because of how they see the world.


Here’s a more serious answer. Solving problems is how conflict is generated.

Say I want to eat my cake and have it too. Those two things can’t happen at the same time because they are conflicting. They are in conflict. As soon as I engage in one of them, I will feel that conflict. If I eat the cake, I will no longer have it. If I have my cake, I can never eat it.

If I decide there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have cake then i automatically assign all of the conflict I feel to eating cake. Easy. Ill address the problem by not eating the cake. But now all I can think about is eating cake and it puts me in a bad mood all day and I’m distracted at work. But why? I have my cake. Why is this happening?

And then one day I run into Steve at the office who also wants to have his cake and eat it too! And he tells me that hes decided there’s nothing wrong with eating cake, you just have to give up having cake. Of course, since he never has cake, he can never eat any. That’s sure one heck of a conflict! I ask him how he deals with it and he says, well, it’s not too bad. Sure he wants to eat cake, but since he never has it, he doesn’t think about it all that much. It’s still difficult to deal with, but probably not as difficult as having a cake in front of you all day that you know you can’t eat.

Oh, that’s a good point, I say. Sounds like I need to switch from not eating cake to not having cake. So I do. Do I still want to eat cake? Sure. But now that the problem has been made easier, I don’t mind so much. It’s like Steve said. I don’t think about it, so I’m not distracted or in a bad mood anymore. I’ve changed and it was good!

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Is there a way to take the arc I want the MC to go through as a result of the IC (ex. Change MC learns from IC that failure has value) and extract the IC Signposts from that (ex. Think to myself, “As a result of [IC Signpost 1], MC [something]” or “What conflict does MC/people get into as a result of [IC Signpost]”.)

Something else bothers me— not sure if it belongs in a separate post but is related to why I’m having trouble with Signposts. Does PRCO mean Signposts have to linearly ramp up in problem-causing intensity until the end? I see progress as something made with little steps up between setbacks— progressively getting better. Like an initial failure leads to trying something different and making a little success, but then a bigger challenge comes along and something else must be learned to overcome that. If Signposts are things getting progressively worse (I guess until the O in PRCO), where’s the room for that progress? Does it happen in the steps when you break down Signposts into those PSR units?

If I’m understanding the question, then I’d say probably so. But I wouldn’t have any tips for it beyond understand the theory really well, or plug that MC arc into the software and trust it to pull the IC signposts for you.

I haven’t looked much at PRCO, but my understanding is that it’s a spatial view of a quad analogous to an electric circuit. It’s not a view of how conflict increases from one signpost to another, but rather a view of how each corner of a quad…I don’t, affects, or interacts with conflict. The intensity of conflict in each signpost isn’t prescribed by the software. It is, as all things ultimately are, up to the author. Though it does seem like a dynamic that might have a place in a future, more dynamic model.

Things don’t have to get progressively worse. They just have to deal with conflict. Let’s say you have a story about treasure hunting. Sp1 is Obtaining. Obtaining the map to the treasure means stalling the lord of the manor while someone else sneaks in and grabs the map from the safe and the police are nearly called. But once the team is out of the house and has the map they can now move on to Doing. Obtaining the map created conflict, but it didn’t make things worse for the characters who can now start the actual treasure hunting. As far as they’re concerned, things are better. And the the conflict was intense. And then maybe hunting treasure leads to the loss of all their supplies, and now things are worse, and it was more intense. Then they learn that there’s another way to the island. Better! And the conflict was really very subtle. And then they understand that the treasure was just a metaphor for what they had all along. Much, much, worse! Though very mild intensity of conflict.

Though, to be fair, I think if you set the outcome to Success, then your characters should tend toward “successful” resolution of signposts to some degree and if you set Judgment to good, then the MC should tend toward seeing things as progressing in a “better” direction to some degree.

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I initially read your question as that you wanted to use the IC signposts to help illustrate the MC signposts, but I see now I misread that. (FWIW I don’t think that would’ve worked very well; Jim has always recommended to keep the throughlines separate as you work on illustrating each one, and only afterward do you weave them together.)

Anyway you’re talking about the MC’s change and how the IC impacts that. Which is basically what the IC throughline including signposts is! So basically, to answer your question, you can look at the IC signposts themselves AND the IC PSR items. An IC signpost of Understanding might be the MC misunderstanding something about the IC, and facing difficulty because of that. Or if you see a PSR item of Senses while Present, it might be the MC going numb because of the IC’s absence (stolen from IC SP1 of the Princess Bride). That kind of thing.

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I think it’s hilarious (and awesome) that you had them abandon the treasure at the end, since an OS SP1 of Obtaining always leads to Failure.

I don’t know, I would look more at Essence (Overwhelming Odds vs. Surmountable) for something like this.



I think you are cramming three different things into this one question.

PRCO is how conflicts interact and create different energies, and can play out at the scene level.

Signposts are perspectives on what is going on in the Story.

Intensity is probably storytelling, and not connected to meaning.

Also, what story is ever linear? I worry that you are consuming yourself with the theory and losing track of your instinct for story.

And this is an additional thing, the subjective feel of the story.

I commend you for trying to knit the theory together into something you grok, but I would step back and focus on one thing for a bit.


I’m not sure how much of one I even have. My instincts don’t lead me right or else I wouldn’t have so many questions. I’m trying to focus on one thing-- the Signposts, but I get stuck on how they are supposed to progress. I can get why S1 is potential and S2 makes things worse but I don’t understand how you can “multiply” S1 and S2 to get S3 unless that’s just a creative way of saying “things get even worse.” Then S4 is where the solution comes in.

PRCO was mentioned in the videos when working with Signposts, so that’s why I bring it up.

I wish there were explicit instructions written down somewhere on how to write them, such as “ask yourself what problem is caused by S1. How does S2 make the problems of S1 worse?” etc.

I know you want to understand Dramatica, but to tell your story you don’t really have to worry about how they progress. Just use the Signposts as a guide to say this part of the story will have conflict from X. Once you’ve fully explored that, move to the next signpost not in a way that satisfies Dramatica theory, but in a way that is right for your story. That’s where I think you learn Dramatica best, anyway. Not from trying to fit a story into Dramatica until you understand Dramatica, but from laying Dramatica on top of your story until you see that they don’t line up. Then you can adjust your story or adjust your storyform. It’s fine to think of a scene as just being about the one signpost without trying to see how the previous makes this one worse or how this one makes the next worse, or whatever.


Totally agree with Greg and Mike. You don’t need to worry about that PRCO stuff for Signposts – just apply the Signpost Type and you’ll be fine.

I’m actually not even 100% sure that PRCO order is always 1234 for signposts? Maybe Jim got that confirmed with Melanie or Chris, or maybe he’s learned after working with writers for so long that it always just works best to think of it that way. But anyway I’ve never seen it spelled out like that, so I think it’s possible signpost 1 could represent Resistance, for example. (?)

So yeah, to answer this explicitly, this is what your storyform gives you. Ask yourself what problem is caused by S1, and/or how everyone is driven to/by S1. Then repeat that exact same question for S2, S3, S4. If you feel like your ideas for S2 make the problems of S1 worse, that’s great, but don’t force this if it doesn’t jive.

I firmly believe you do have an instinct for story, or else you wouldn’t have such a drive to tell this and other stories.


The latter.

The multiplies thing works for me:

2 x 2 = 4

P c R = O

Totally agree with this.

I have requests to put helpful info lines like that into Subtext, but it’s my feeling that it clutters up the view and removes the opportunity for the writer to develop an understanding of Signposts (like here) rather than a plug-n-play approach.


But how can a writer move forward and learn to write without knowing how to properly use a Signpost to write with? There’s so much information on Dramatica from so many different people with different opinions and levels of experience, from different times (how many things have changed since Dramatica’s instructions were written?) that it’s difficult to know what information to listen to. Some people learn by taking a concrete step (like asking “How does S1 cause problems for MC?” and typing the answer), and once they have a grasp of it, can then consider its nuances and bring their advanced questions to the message board to further develop an understanding, so I see explicit instructions (even in the form of brief bullet point suggestions) as important stepping stones to understanding. Otherwise, you’ll get some people learning the wrong way (ex. just writing a series of events of the Signpost type rather than making it the source of conflict) or getting too caught up in theory to make something with it.

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Let me see if I can field this one.

So, let’s say for example that MC has a coping mechanism of sticking their head in the sand as a way of dealing with problems. It’s something that worked for them in the past but…

Along comes IC who has a coping mechanism of deflecting their problems onto others.

Two different ways of dealing with trouble.

So trouble comes a callin’ and MC sticks their head in the sand waiting for the trouble to blow on by.

Then IC sees trouble coming and deflects it away from themselves and it bounces back to MC, who now has no choice but to deal with the trouble because it didn’t pass them by.

So MC must learn to deal with the trouble.

Things can happen here:. MC can realize that
deflecting might work better than head in sand
they can try out running trouble, but now it’s chasing them
they can try and get ahead of the trouble
they can deal with the problems in order to make them go away

Lots of options here, too many to list.

Does that help?

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Story telling is problem solving and problem solving is human nature. If you’re a snake, you strike. If you’re a spider, you spin webs. If you’re a human, you problem solve through narrative.

Most writers would have no idea what a signpost is. They just know that they need to infuse a scene with conflict and to write toward the point they’re trying to make. You can do that, too.

For anyone reading my posts, the older the post, the less you should listen to it. :smile:. I feel like I have a decent grasp on theory (at least recently) and I reply a lot. But if my voice is ever getting in anyone’s way, please feel free to tell me to hush! It is sometimes easier just to deal with just one persons advice.


To follow up with what Greg is saying – I think an under-emphasized point about Dramatica is that you don’t need to understand every aspect of the theory or illustrate every story point for it to be helpful. And if your goal is actually getting a story written, it’s probably best that you not try to understand every piece or illustrate every story point.

The other point I’ve recently become convinced of (and this applies to every aspect of writing, not just Dramatica) is that every writer has a different process, and that what works for one will not work for another. This is incredibly frustrating, but also liberating. So you really have to feel your way into an approach that works for you. Take the advice that makes sense and feels right, and disregard the rest.

Especially with Dramatica, if someone is giving advice that isn’t clicking with me for whatever reason, or isn’t clicking with the story I’m writing, I am now doing my best to let it go. There are many reasons someone’s advice might not work at a given moment. Even the understanding of Dramatica is evolving (see recent changes in how we think about the RS).

So if the signposts are driving you crazy, maybe you could focus on another part of the model? For example, could you write a draft in which you take each throughline Issue and/or Problem in your current storyform and just ask yourself for every scene, how is Proaction (or whatever) causing problems here? I haven’t taken that approach, but I bet it could work.