Inequity as the Noumenon

My Problem

I’m tapping out a blog article on the structure inherent in Act I. Sifting through the different terminology that exists in the world of writing, I’ve found myself growing frustrated with different terms: hook, inciting incident, call to adventure, key event, etc. I’m ready to burn it all down and start anew.

I’m near certain that embracing Inequity as the noumenal term is the proper place to begin, and I can build from there. Luckily, during my forum meanderings, I stumbled across this discussion:


Happiness/Contentment/Equity/Zen: a state with desires fulfilled.

I originally wrote, “a state without desire or a state with desire fulfilled.” But it is a useless definition in terms of Story because all stories have desires. If they don’t, then the Story is just beginning or ending.

My Request

I appreciated your example @jhull. I wonder if I might translate what you have written into “me speak,” and if you might certify it as a workable understanding?

My Translation

I’m stealing by using the idea of Platonic Forms as a base for my translation. Forms exist in Mind and Objects or Actions That Are Seen exist in Universe. In other words, Forms are abstract ideas, and Objects or Actions That Are Seen (OATAS) are concrete manifestations of those ideas.

Below I use some of the terms from the original discussion. I’ve nixed desire because it is a constant. Desire is Story. And need/desire/want are synonymous. More or less. You can’t remove it except at the very beginning and very end of your story.

You can refocus it.

In the example of the car, @jhull said desire must be “locked away” (accepted as unalterable) before a problem is created. Alternatively, that statement suggests that the car could be “locked away” and another type of problem is created. I’m not in love with locked away terminology, but I get the gist.

But you are still just replacing one desire for another. You are still just replacing one problem for another. I want a car. I don’t have one. No, problem, I’ll get rid of my desire. Now, I desire to not desire something. You still have a problem. I imagine this relates directly to choosing a Class for your Throughline. Further, you still must have an externalized Goal.

The Forms:

  • CAR

  • HAVE (verb)

Because the above two Forms exist in Mind and as OATAS in Universe, they exist without conflict (with equity or in balance).

The Forms:

  • RED

  • CAR

  • I

  • HAVE (verb)

Because the above four Forms exist in Mind and as OATAS in Universe, they exist without conflict (with equity or in balance).

The Complex Forms:


  • I HAVE

Because the above two COMPLEX FORMS exist in Mind and as OATAS in Universe, they exist without conflict (with equity or in balance).

The Complex Form:


Because the above Complex Form exists in Mind but not as OATAS in Universe, they exist with conflict (with inequity or imbalance).

Bear in mind, I’m talking about:

Mind as a conceptual world without desire or with desire fulfilled (our concept of happiness, contentment, equity, zen)


Universe as objective reality.

That might be a pretty roundabout and clumsy way to arrive at this statement, but that’s how I got here: if the concept of desired reality does not match objective reality, there is an inequity. The moment a goal is established based on desire the Story begins. I suppose we can keep refocusing our desire, but in the end – that’s just procrastination in the world of noveling.

I also wanted to add something quickly. In regards to Star Wars. I read your article @jhull about the Inciting Incident in SW. I’d like to suggest that a Story has an Inciting Event and as many as four Inciting Incidents.

Dwight Swain (and others) would define the Inciting Event as something that could occur in three different places:

  • before the Story begins

  • at the Story beginning

  • after the Story begins

I believe that the construction of the Death Star is the Inciting Event. When the Rebellion learns of the Inequity (a Universe with ultimate power in the hands of the Empire), they take action (steal the Death Star plans). Even before the arrival of Rogue One in theatres, we knew about these things from the Story of Star Wars.

Then, each of the Throughline kicks off with an Inciting Incident:

  1. OST - Leia’s ship being boarded.

  2. MCT - Luke sees the message.

  3. ICT - Obi-Wan senses Luke’s Aunt and Uncle are killed.

  4. RST - Luke decides to go with Obi-Wan.

I am willing to concede that three and four could be tweaked.

If the ship was not boarded, the OS would still have happened. The MCT, ICT and RST would have changed – but the OS would still have happened. The existence of the Death Star is the inequity. It starts everything.

If the Empire was not arrogant, they would not have build the Death Star. Therefore, their arrogance starts everything.

It’s turtles all the way down.

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I’d argue that the creation of the Death Star is the Inequity because of the use of the sense of separateness.

Swain talks about circumstances that are unbearable for characters. When the Death Star is created, the circumstances become unbearable. The sense of separateness becomes unbearable.

Our Universe (reality) will always be different from our Mind (the conceptual idea of happiness). There will always be inequity in the Universe. But the INEQUITY is what drops the first domino in the Story. The arrogance (among other things), I’d argue, is what slowly applies pressure to the first domino and causes it to topple. But the arrogance does not start the story. I might be willing to accept: the arrogance of building the Death Star

The reason an offscreen event can be the Inciting Event is that we are completely aware of it. The story takes the time to give us the information.

This is why I urge people to discard the term Inciting Event when talking about Dramatica. You may well be right from Swain’s perspective, but from the perspective of Dramatica, the creation of the Death Star is not part of the Grand Argument Story.

I’m being sloppy with my words. I’ll say a few things that the Inequity isn’t:

  • It isn’t the decision to create the Death Star.

  • It isn’t the moment that the construction begins.

  • It isn’t the moment that the construction ends.

I think the Inequity (sense of separation) here is:

  • The moment that the Death Star becomes unbearable as an idea or concept to the Rebellion. Because it is conceived before it is physically completed.

The Inequity is a part of the GAS. It is the Inciting Incident for the GAS (the Gestalt). It is the Nuemenon. Without it, the GAS does not exist. I’d say an inequity exists in the Universe. Then it is recognized and becomes the Inequity or sense of separateness for a group of people to form the underpinnings of the GAS.

For me, the Inequity (Sense of Separation) is useful as a reference. Even if Dramatica doesn’t explicitly reference it, it affects so many different facets of the GAS. Having that information gives me a holistic view of the GAS.

People may not agree that each Throughline has an Inciting Incident, but it works for me – because we treat each Throughline as a character. I, You, We, They. They are characters. There is a relationship between each individual Inciting Incident and the Inciting Event.

Each Inciting Incident is the moment that the Inequity becomes personal and concrete for each Throughline. The Inciting Event is when it is personal and concrete for the GAS (Gestalt Story).

In some ways, Leia’s ship being boarded is similar to the sinking of the Lusitania in WW I. It isn’t the Inequity, but it was the incident that said, “yeah, this is real/personal.”

Inciting Incidents are (for me) part of the subdivision of Act I. They help me make the Story more manageable. There’s a disconnect between what Dramatica is and how it can empower a writer. Some of these concepts, although not in Dramatica theory specifically, bridge the distance between theoretical and practical.

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Also, you could look at the Inciting Event as an end of the question. Everything thing after it has to do with the argument and the answer.

I know they might not be Dramatica terms, but the setup is part of the question. The Inciting Incident is the signal to the viewer or reader that the question is complete. Now the Argument and Answer are coming.

Even though they don’t often say it, every magnification of a Story has an Inciting Incident. The GAS has an Inciting Incident. The Throughline has an Inciting Incident. The Sequence has an Inciting Incident. The Scene has an Inciting Incident. Every beat (actor’s terminology) has an inciting incident. Part of the confusion with this is terminology. That’s remedied by realizing that the Inciting Incident is a moment that tells us – here comes the argument.

There is no argument without a question. Whether the question is stated up front or becomes clear by the argument isn’t necessarily important. It’s like giving the student the answer and saying, what’s the question? But the question still IS regardless whether it is explicitly stated or not.

That’s the reason that an Inciting Incident can be before the Story. It can be referenced in passing rather than stated.

I am 41 years old. There’s my answer. What is my question?

You can say that it isn’t part of the argument or answer, which is true, but it defines both.

There’s one more thing I want to add. There is a tendency, I think, to focus on the words grand argument. But in the case of Grand Argument Story – the words grand argument are adjectives. They still describe a Story. An accepted definition of Story is something with a beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning is the question. The middle is the argument. The end is the answer. I think Stories sometimes remove the beginning (question) or the end (answer) because we can do the mental gymnastics necessary to fill in the missing variable. The risk is that it can feel unbalanced. Or that we pay for it later with a loss of action (we have to take in the time to explain something that would have been included in the beginning) or that people are unsatisfied or confused (if we remove the end).

It’s true-- the argument is the most enjoyed part of the story. Not as an argument, but as a medium to experience emotions. To feel. Since finding Dramatica, I feel as though it is a tool to clear the way for emotions. It removes the barriers of disbelief.

But, I do not believe that Dramatica advocates removing the question or the answer because they are not part of the Grand Argument Story. They are part of it. I’ll concede that they aren’t part of a Grand Argument, but that is not a useful concept because we are ultimately talking about a Story.

Not really. In this case a Grand Argument Story is a specifically defined noun. I understand that grammatically these are adjectives, but that’s not relevant here.

Again, in a generic sense, sure. But Dramatica is an attempt to give a better, more thorough definition.

It does if you want to throw “Inciting Incident” around willy-nilly, which I’m not that interested in doing.


I think the important thing is that Dramatica defines one event (an Action or Decision) that sets off the story, and this is the First Story Driver.

  • This event is actually part of the story and as such should be conveyed to the audience (shown somehow, even if out of order).
  • This event creates the imbalance that disrupts the story world, setting the story in motion, and creating the Story Goal to attempt to resolve that imbalance.
    • The event itself is not the inequity, but it creates the inequity (either from scratch or by tipping over something that was already on the edge).
  • Thus, it divides the story itself from any backstory that came before.

Because of those properties, this First Driver is far more important than some other “inciting incident” that you might happen to find in the backstory, or when the hero answers the call, or whatever… (at least when using the Dramatica lens to look at story)

I’d argue that in the context of Star Wars (1977), the Empire’s arrogance and its creating the Death Star are just things in the backstory that increase the potential for inequity, like adding another card to the house or taking another jenga block from the tower. Or maybe a better analogy … It’s like we have a 12-Volt battery that could short-circuit, and then the Death Star adds another battery in series (okay, maybe the Death Star is worth ten batteries :slight_smile: ). But it’s only when they attack and board Leia’s ship that the whole thing short circuits and sparks a fire that has to be put out.


I’m more than willing to agree that Inciting Incident is problematic. I think that explains why Call to Action, Key Event, etc. have popped up over time… to compensate for and as indicators of its inadequacies. Please remember, the beginning of my post mentions my dissatisfaction with the term Inciting Incident. However, Inciting Event is addressed here (at least in passing, with what could be argued as the wrong question):

In this Q/A it is mentioned that the Inciting Incident (Inciting Event) is what kicks off the OST because the OST contains the plot points. In this short paragraph, it is even said this is the point that kicks off the story. Does that mean that if an Inciting Event does not occur right at the beginning of a film, that everything before it is unnecessary? Is it not part of the story? Can an Inciting Event happen before the beginning of the film, at the beginning of a film (as in Star Wars) or wait until the 12.5% mark or the page 11 mark in a script?

My point is about recognizing the GAS as something that is more than the sum of its parts. Recognizing it as a Gestalt mind that has its own Inciting Event. Working from the Macro to the Micro. Yes, the OST is macro, in relation to the other TLs. But it is not macro in relation to the GAS. It seems to fit for me. Further, couldn’t a herd of GAS exist in an ecosystem of stories to create something more complex than just 3 GAS. The GAS becomes something bigger and different by the fact that they exist in relation to one another. Star Wars has a Canon.

I don’t believe Swain ever uses the term Inciting Incident. He uses the term “unbearable circumstances.” I saw a correlation between this and Jim’s @jhull use of the Sense of Separateness. I still do. I feel as though these terms can coexist with each other.

I appreciate the Grand Argument here. I am not asserting that anything I say here is fact. It is my way of arriving from point A to point B. Until I can get from my current understanding to a pure Dramatica understanding in a way that works for me… Dramatica won’t be 100% useful to me. That’s not to say that it is not useful to other people, but to be useful to me as a writer it requires this journey.

I’d venture to say that each Dramatica Story Expert here has a different understanding of Dramatica’s expression despite each expression being rooted in the same truth. That’s the price of being individuals.

I imagine also that theory evolves until it becomes rules or law. The creators of Dramatica have probably said more than once, “we were wrong here.” Or, “we need to clarify here.” I am just trying to interpret a sometimes opaque theory into something clear to me.

It really doesn’t matter that someone else arrived here before I did. Or that the mountain has been climbed before me. Nobody can climb it for me. They might suggest a certain route or a certain way of climbing, but the journey is still mine to make.

I concede that it can be tiring and frustrating to watch someone make a journey from the perspective of someone who has already made that journey. It can seem relatively simple in hindsight.

But… the possibility exists that some the scaffolding and givens that a person assumes as being correct… that give them the superior vantage point… are wrong. Or the willingness to watch and see another person struggle on a journey in a different way can be equally as enlightening as the initial/personal journey.

I am intrigued by the term Inertia to describe this moment (Inciting Incident). Could it then be described as the moment a Throughline’s trajectory is altered by the desired outcome? The whole PRCO thing feels very linear in terms of two forces battling for supremacy. Can I look at the Throughline as a trajectory (Inertia) or Potential that is altered by a change (Outcome). I fear looking at it as a realization of Outcome or an adherence to Potential (Inertia).

Mike @MWollaeger, this is my way to come to terms with something. Talking about it. And sometimes talking about it incorrectly. My understanding of something changes by the second.

Maybe I can elaborate on this a bit more because even I get confused reading what I wrote. I look at each Throughline as a series of dominos falling. Even if Inertia (Potential) is never changed, dominos are still falling because of the passage of time. So, an Inequity might demand an adjustment to Inertia (Potential) in a Throughline because of the ripples that radiate out from its origin. The assumption is that the Inequity pushes for an Outcome that is different from the current projected Outcome in the Throughline that has been affected by it. Resistance reminds me of the universal desire to be happy (insofar as the circumstances are bearable). Seeking an alternate Outcome (change in circumstance) comes after the Sense of Separation (SOS)(when the circumstances become unbearable).

I guess my reluctance to place the Inequity in the OST (as opposed to the Gestalt Throughline?) is because it doesn’t really matter where the Inequity exists. The source isn’t important to individual Throughlines. The SOS is important because this creates the unbearable circumstances that incite change in each Throughline. The SOS is the first moment that a different outcome is sought. The SOS can appear at different times and different points in the Story for different Throughlines. So, the argument about whether the Inequity is in a particular Throughline or not is moot, because the SOS is the thing that counts.

I can nix the Inciting Incident term and accept the Sense of Separation (SOS) for each Throughline. Does that fit within Dramatica sensibilities?

Let’s start with the Inciting Incident before we handle the Inequity:

There are four different definitions of Inciting Incidents —one for each of the four main Story Theories.

Some Directors will tell you the Inciting Incident is the Opening sequence because the event opens the film/show. This is “true from a certain point of view” But, thank God for Dramatica!

The Original Definition of the Inciting Incicdent comes from the Hero Journey. It is when the Sword (the villain’s weakness) is stolen by the inferior antagonism (not Dramatica antagonist or contagonist). This is when Princess Leia (the one who knows where and what to do with the plans that can hurt the Death Star) is taken Prisoner by Vader (happens to be contagonist).

It is common in Hollywood to go super subjective and use the same term (Inciting Incident) for the Point of Attack. The Point of Attack is when each Throughline recieves the first clue of the inequity. For Luke, this is when Aretoo plays Leia’s message to him. For Ben, it is when he gets the same news from the Droid. The Point of Attack for the OS is likely when we see Leia record the message. For the RS, it is likely when Ben tells Luke that Vader betrayed and murdered his father.

Finally, Dramatica borrows the Inciting Incident term to get us to rethink how we approach narratives (just like it does Protagonist) and gives us a super objective definition. It refers to the Inciting Incident as The first Story Driver. This is always fun because it may or may not occur onscreen and it may or may not occur in present time as the narrative roles out. If I am not mistaken, @chuntley referred to the first Story Driver of Star Wars, at the last User Group meeting, being when the Rebels obtain the stolen Plans to the Death Star (Notice how this is an Action Driver and in response to the fact that the Empire built the Death Star). It kicks off the Story Goal of Doing. And, although it occurs in the past and off screen, it is part of the Natrative and not back story (I believe it is in the yellow word scrawl).

It is not advised to mix these theories. In Math and Physics, we don’t apply two conflicting models at the same space/time. So, don’t do it in Story theory either. However, I can show you how they relate to one another since each one contains all the other theories as metaphors within.

For example, The Stolen Plans from the first Story Driver will serve as the hero journey boon post atonement (retrieving the plans from the droid with Leia’s help). This ends the sixth sequence and likely fades to black to show the end of Act two (I just linked all four theories using topology here). But, I’m not commenting on what one has to say about the others because they all just infer each other.

Let me know if this helps and then we can do out the Inequity. I believe Luke’s 4th level justification is wanting to join the rebel academy to test his skills, but being stuck on the farm doing chores instead (Do-er).

@jhull, is the following true? Regardless, how does one write out the Inequity for the OS the way we do it for the Change Character.

Since the inequity sits between all four throughlines and the IC and RS are slaves to the MC and OS, the Inequity may be described in terms of the Expectation of the MC throughline and the occurence of the OS. —theorizing

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Is the Point of Attack a Dramatica term? I find that really helpful and that’s what I was trying to point out. Each Throughline seems to acknowledge or become aware or be affected by the first Story Driver. I thought perhaps this was the Sense of Separation on the level of the Throughline. The reverberations of an overall something (Inequity I thought) came to the scope of the Throughline in question.

I had thought that the Death Star was the Inequity because when the Rebels became aware of it, they stole the plans.

I really appreciate you taking the time to share those things with me because it makes me feel less crazy. It seemed clear as day to me that there is a specific point in each Throughline that is important and it is useful to at least acknowledge that it is there – regardless of what you call it.

Thanks a bunch. I’d enjoy hearing the explanation of Inequity from your perspective. I imagined it was the Death Star because it’s kind of an analogy for Nukes. That would definitely fit with throwing off the equilibrium of the Universe.

Thanks again.

The story starts when the Empire illegally boards a diplomatic ship. The initial stealing of the plans would be the first Story Driver if the story was about Obtaining, but it’s really about Doing.

Everything else is Backstory (as far as Dramatica is concerned)

This whole thread feels like words upon words upon words.

My approach has always been the opposite of what is going on here. Dramatica is a complicated theory, and approaching it with a slew of other bits of jargon that do not exist in the theory or are super advanced (point of attack, sense of separateness, 4th level justification, Inertia qua Potential) is, from my POV, a good way to get confused.

If you want to make progress, look at a simple movie where things are on screen and clear. If you find yourself relying on outside terms, take a walk around the block and start again. This includes “Inciting Incident” which people throw around loosely, but is actually not part of the theory. It was coined by Syd Field and refers to the break into the second act. Drivers are a more powerful tool, so learn them.

If you really want to understand, then go slow. Start with the big picture. Watch a movie, read a book and see if you can isolate the domains. See if you can find when people are doing and when people are being. See if you can isolate what the OS Goal is.

Move on to the next story. Do it again.

Move on. Do it again. This time think about what the Driver might be. Prove it to yourself. Ask questions here to make sure your understanding is right.

This thread feels like someone trying to swallow it whole. I don’t advise it.


Thanks, Jim. Can you say more about the distinction on the Story Goal/Concern you are making because it seemed like Chris was pretty clear at the last meeting about the plans being the First Driver. Do you disagree? If so, why?

My argument would be that the search for the Plans cause them to board the ship. They don’t just board every ship that they come across.

I think it is important to acknowledge that confusion alteady occurred and the way forward is to disambiguate regardless of how one approaches things.

My personal preference would be to not use the term Inciting Incident in Dramatica and stick to Story Drivers as terminology.

Point of Attack is used in the definitions in the Dramatica software. I believe it is on the hover over the CF or UA.

But, being able to translate to other theories is helpful in a room full of confusion where people may not be up for learning Dramatica directly. For example Syd Field is refering to the Second Story Driver as the Inciting Incident because that is where the subjective Goal is confirmed. (Where Luke’s loss of Aunt and Uncle lock him into the Story in Star Wars). This Story Driver in the Sequence method is called the Lock-in.

We shouldn’t be afraid to address other theories and remove the confusion. That is where Dramatica’s strengths really shine.

The problem comes from trying to apply all of the theories in the same space/time. That leads to disaster.

For example, when you showed me how Growth effects the OS Consequence and Goal in The Jungle Book. It was amazingly helpful and I couldn’t have heard you unless I was totally focused on Dramatica and not on the noise of the other less formalized theories. When I went back to the theory book and confirmed what you said, it was a huge leap forward for me.

Boarding the ship illegally works better because:

a) the Throughline is Physics - blasting shield arrays, immobilizing a ship, blasting your way into that ship - all inequities in the physical domain shown ON-SCREEN and PART of the narrative we are shown
a) the Concern is Doing - so its an Empire doing things that infringe on people’s rights
b) the Issue is Skill - the Empire is way better at beating up on these Rebels then they are at fighting back - the Stormtroopers had to crawl through a small opening to fight against a force in a superior position (defending) and STILL beat them
c) the Problem is Test - let’s see what we can get away with here. An Empire pushing boundaries

Searching for the plans doesn’t really CAUSE them to board the ship - there isn’t a direct cause and effect relationship there. Searching for my cars keys doesn’t force me to look under the bed.

You could likely go back and back until the Big Bang to find the start of Star Wars, but in the end what happened isn’t the basis of the story, the story is the basis of what happened.


@MWollaeger I guess that’s part of my process – as chaotic and foreign as it might be. I imagine this world as a place where people are trying to say the same thing.

For example, the world is round. At one point, people thought it was flat. It’s important to know that one is right and one is wrong (I agree with you). Even looking at the idea that the world is flat is absurd (for most). But it is also important (for me) to know why people think/thought the wrong idea is/was right (and how that could be reasonable from their perspective). And I feel as though that gives me a greater understanding than knowing that the world is round.

When I do that, I often find other concepts are useful to me – even if they are wrong. I was just reading the definition of Backstory when I thought of a relationship between it and this. Maybe it is noise, but it provides a greater understanding overall.

I have a hard time discounting Backstory, as it would seem to be the thing that defines what the Storymind solves. Like it is the context. One shows the path to the problem and the other shows the path out of the problem. Like an inverse twin.

And believe it or not, I’m extremely satisfied with the results in my writing even with the chaotic way that I am consuming Dramatica. Additionally, I am sincerely grateful for every person that has added to the conversation. Whether he is the skeptic, the sidekick, or the guardian or uses reason or emotion to convey their points – it has been helpful in my personal journey of making sense of the world.