Inverting Elemental Story Points (the "existence" or "lack of" something)

Hi. Below is the storytelling for my novel’s Main Character thematic story points. I suppose I’m just wondering if anyone else readily uses or employs the LACK of story points with their storyform. (sometimes, it feels like I’m “cheating”, like I should simply work harder to make the default terms fit. Other times, though, it feels like this is EXACTLY what the theory was designed to do). Thoughts? (on this and/or my ramblings below). Thanks.

Issue as it relates to Denial:

To me, finding Truth irrelevant is very different from being in Denial. (Or is it?)

Whether she’s dealing with the fact that people find her extremely attractive, or with the hazy glimpses she’s been getting of what may be buried memories of her father (sexually) abusing her as a child, [this MC’s] response is always basically, “So what if it’s true? What am I supposed to do with that information? How does the truth of that affect the next decision I make—be it what to eat for dinner, or whether to go left or right at the end of a street?”

Yes, maybe she is lonely deep down, aching for companionship; but if the majority of people annoy her, or if she finds the banality of most folk exhausting, should she nurture relationships with those around her just for the body count? [there’s a correlation here with the well-worn axiom of the single black woman’s, “I can do bad all by myself” mantra.

(and there hangs an anthemic platitude)

In short, [this MC’s] basic outlook on life is: “Yes, that may be true, but so what?” It’s pretty much her motto:

“A woman’s attractiveness is currency in this world. And you’re incredibly attractive, [MC].”
“Yes, that may be true, but so what?”

[ I’m suddenly thinking of an extremely tall man, over eight feet, and how everyone will just assume he can play basketball, or wonder why he doesn’t if that’s the case; that constant pressure to follow the so-called logical conclusion, the psychosocial equivalent of letting the other shoe drop when it comes to behavioral expectation. But what if he just likes to read? ]

There’s that word again: Expectation. See, THIS gets to the heart of why it pisses [the MC] off so much: her Issue with The Irrelevance of Truth is really her thumbing her nose at the so-called relevance of Social Expectation. Society expects her to cash in her “I’m pretty” card; society expects her to milk the “my daddy molested me” ticket; society expects someone as smart as she to have a more demanding job than that of a […], etc.

The Irrelevance of Truth IS the Irrelevance of Social Expectation.
That’s [the MC’s] Personal Truth, but Society just sees her as being in DENIAL on so many things.

Counterpoint as it relates to Closure:

Acceptance (Closure) Eludes Her

This is the thematic counterpoint to [the MC’s] emotional argument of The Irrelevance of Truth. Meaning, if truth is irrelevant, than it is also fluid. If Closure can be seen as a continuous loop of behavioral acceptance (eg, reaching closure with an ex is basically entering into a continuous loop of accepting that the two of you will never get back together). But [the MC] exhibits no such behavioral acceptance; with her, there are no foregone conclusions. [quick shorthand: think of her as the OPPOSITE of an Ebenezer Scrooge or better yet, Popeye (ie, she would never say, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am”)]. For example, [the MC] lives in virtual friendless isolation and says it’s because she finds most people boring and banal. But it’s clear she longs for companionship (both romantic and otherwise). [Thus, despite her having a clear point of view and stance on most issues, she’s quite unpredictable in this way].

In short: [the MC] never gives up. Because giving up is a form of behavioral acceptance, which is a form of Closure. [Worth mentioning, her Unique Ability in this story is HOPE].

Again, if truth is irrelevant, than it is also fluid; and the fluidity of truth is the beginning of Hope. This is why acceptance (ie, Closure) proves hard for her. [This is my literary conceit: to try and create a character that on the surface or at first glance appears skeptical, negative and basically unlikable; only to reveal an undercurrent of Hope, Morality and Goodness in everything she does]

Thematic Conflict as it relates to Denial vs. Closure:

The Thematic Conflict here is not Denial vs. Closure, but its inversion:

[1] The Irrelevance of Truth (non-Denial), vs
[2] Acceptance Eludes Her (non-Closure)


  1. [The MC] is not in Denial; she doesn’t deny that a truth exists, only that the inherent truth of a thing doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
  2. [The MC] isn’t very keen on Closure (or behavioral acceptance); she does NOT accept the current state of things, because her Unique Ability is HOPE.

IN CONCLUSION: Both of these issues illustrate how [the MC] is capable of drawing conclusions that no one else can see; as such, she is not a slave to social expectation nor social pressure (and the hope is that all of this makes her both unpredictable and wholly unique]

When trying to put a storyform to an idea, I often try out the lack of an element. But I usually find it doesn’t work as well as the presence of one. But that’s just my personal experience. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work just fine given the right idea.

Sorry, I forgot that I read your post during a break from work and was planning to reply when I had time.

I use “lack of” or “not X” quite a lot, though I usually find that there is also another source of conflict that matches the element in the positive.

That said, I had some trouble with the rest of your summary. Are you saying her Issue of Denial is that she denies that being attractive matters, denies her own attractiveness? And that maybe she is denying the importance of repressed memories of her father abusing her?

I feel like you were wrestling really hard to make things fit the official Dramatica dictionary definition, which is commendable! But it may be more helpful to review the gists. Also note Jim Hull’s Subtext app gives a nice short form definition of Denial as simply “the refusal to let something go.”

Some of the other stuff you wrote didn’t really sound like bottom-left Concern elements to me; it was closer to something like Expectation. (But of course I could way off base.)

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Yeah, I don’t like that definition at all, actually. :slight_smile: [No disrespect to Jim: Please know that he, along with Melanie, Chris and especially Katharine Monahan Huntley (whom 15-20 years ago I used to {I’m sure} annoy with my pesky emails and blog comment posts) they all hold a God-like status in my mind. But, as with any god or religion, some personal, subjective agency is usually required to stay both sane and afloat].

So, DENIAL. I’ve always felt like that definition (refusal to let something go) puts way too much focus on the OBJECT being “denied”—as if the thing you’re holding onto has somehow CHANGED or is no longer there (which is why you need to “let it go”), like a job, or a lover, or the good favor of a king. The Dramatica Story Expert (DSE) definition, btw, had the same problem for me, if not more so: “the refusal to admit to oneself or others that a previously held view is no longer true.” Again, the object has changed, devalued—whether that object is your view on something or a tangible thing, both definitions suggest that the CURRENT STATE of said object had to transform in some way and is now worthy or deserving of Denial.

However, my counter-argument to this has long been: But I (or my characters) can easily be in Denial of something that is CONSTANT and UNCHANGING.

See, the DSE and Subtext definitions work great for, say, a spouse that dies, or a political campaign that failed, or a horseshoe-maker who’s loathe to try the Model-T Ford.

But what if Greg in Shipping has a crush on your straight male Main Character? We’re talking from beginning to end, throughout this entire story; nothing changes, Greg is Smitten AF.

And maybe our Main Character (who works in Billing) has a very progressive, open-minded Influence Character (Louise) who goes on and on and on… about how adorable Greg in Shipping’s crush is, or how cute a couple Greg and the MC would make, etc, etc, etc.

What becomes apparent is, not only does our MC have no interest in accepting the advances of Greg in Shipping (owing to his particular orientation), but he doesn’t even want to ACKNOWLEDGE any of it, and ignores his IC’s playful taunts each day.

So, what do we have?

An MC existing within >> Fixed Attitude / Innermost Desires / Denial

And I’m kinda already established that Louise has a Unique Ability for Openness. And maybe we can say her Problem is that she’s driven to Help. (and often argues that the MC should just give into the Temptation (MC Solution) and let go of all his “straight male” Preconceptions (MC Critical Flaw).

CONCLUSION: The theme of Denial in this story is palpable—the MC is “denying” that this person has feelings for him—but of the Subtext definition (refusal to let something go) and the Dramatica Story Expert definition (the refusal to admit to oneself or others that a previously held view is no longer true) … neither really makes much sense here—and, if anything, leans too far into the Storytelling I’ve created for the IC, ie, LOUISE believes the MC is in Denial, perhaps about his own sexuality, but that doesn’t make for a good MC Issue of Denial. In fact, I would argue that a better thematic definition of Denial in this particular story might be:

Refusing a point of view because it holds little value or applicable truth.

But this is where the word IRRELEVANCE comes in…

Greg from Shipping’s affection for or crush on the MC is constant and unchanging. It just happens to hold little value or applicable truth to the MC. But is that “Denial” of a thing? Or is it more about the irrelevance of it?

THIS IS HOW I CAME TO THE CONCLUSION that the Irrelevance of Truth = Lack of Denial in my novel (which, to clarify is not this story, which I just made up on the fly, but the one in the original post).

[And, to move away from my more subjective interpretations for a moment, were we to get into the “foundational quads”: Lack of Denial = The Irrelevance of Truth = Lack of Thought = Lack of Energy = Lack of an Internal State. ALL of those terms work/fit to describe how our MC in the Billing Dept feels about his office crush]

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Sorry Malthus, I didn’t realize you had given it so much thought! I think if it works better for you, go ahead and use it. But just be careful if your ideas stray too far from the accepted definition(s), because that might be a sign they belong with another Variation or Element like Value, Worth, Accurate, etc.

In your example, I don’t see what you’ve described as a source of conflict for the MC if he just ignores Greg’s behaviour and doesn’t care. He might try to ignore it, but the conflict would come from denying to himself how much it bothers him – being unable to let it go. You can see how this might simmer for a while and then eventually boil over to him rejecting (another form of Denial) someone or something – possibly rejecting Greg’s advances, but maybe he rejects the IC’s advice/friendship, or rejects a promotion that would mean he’d have to deal with Greg more, etc.

Totally agree. This still works fine with any of the definitions. The constant, unchanging thing can be something that is closed, or something which you held a previous view on – i.e. something you refuse to let go.

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So, my previous post’s “Office Crush” scenario was focused on a Thematic appreciation (Issue) of my “the Irrelevance of Truth = a Lack of Denial” argument. As such, I wasn’t attempting to flush out the complete storyform or its conflict(s) (cuz I was, gulp, makin’ it up on the fly) but that said, let’s have some fun and keep it going…

[see attached Storyform]

Let’s imagine this main character (let’s call him Eric), is an office manager who frowns upon dating in the workplace. That’s Part 1 of his Fixed Attitude. He also has a personal philosophy that everyone has an ideal mate. (that’s Fixed Attitude Pt.2). He’s single, but clearly has an image of his ideal girl: demure, modest, a “lady” in the classic Hepburn sense of the word. That’s his Innermost Desire (Concern). The ACTION that serves as the opening Driver of this story: Eric sends out a memo prohibiting office romances (Issue: Denial). This also sets in motion the Story Goal of Changing One’s Nature (ie, a group of people in an office now have to try and NOT fall for one another). Also worth noting about Eric: he doesn’t casually date, mostly for fear that, while “slumming it” in some “nowhere-going” tryst, he may miss the opportunity to meet his “ideal girl” (Problem: Conscience).

Enter Louise, in Billing. I previously established that not only is she good friends with Eric, but that she’s the one who starts this outrageous, UNCONTROLLED campaign (her IC Response to the office memo) to relation-“ship” Eric and Greg from Shipping, and that she’s Driven to HELP Eric (IC Problem), for fear that he’ll spend the rest of his life alone, waiting on some ridiculous “ideal”.

What I didn’t mention was that Louise—while she won’t ADMIT it (IC Critical Flaw: Denial)—is that she’s really doing all this taunting because she likes Eric! I also see Louise as battling an illness; maybe cancer, but it doesn’t have to be; and it’s not a secret to the office (her coworkers, incl. Eric, know). This plants her securely in a Domain of SITUATION with a Concern of The Future (and, if I’m feeling frisky, this “late-stage” illness might also serve to support the story’s Timelock Limit).

In Conclusion (skipping over so many other goodies): Eric (owing to his Benchmark of Contemplation) over time figures out what Louise is doing. And despite the fact that Louise is the EXACT OPPOSITE of his ideal girl (read: a loud, unabashed, socially/morally open tornado, that may sadly not even be around to “grow old with”), he finds himself charmed by her Approach (RC Catalyst).

By story’s end, Eric falls for Louise, which in effect CHANGES his MC Resolve (on his dual Fixed Attitudes on office romances and on having an ideal mate), causing the Story Goal NOT to be reached, and the Story Outcome to result in FAILURE. But in the end, it is something he’s okay with and feels GOOD about (MC Judgment).

(well, that was fun!)

I appreciate the comments, but the idea of being careful not to stray too far from accepted definitions… I’m afraid that’s a bit too proscriptive for my blood. See, I view Dramatica as a tool that an artist can study, use, and then bend in the direction of his or her creativity. As mentioned, I have been using Dramatica for about twenty years; I’m pretty sure I’ve logged my 10,000 hours. Now of course that doesn’t mean I’m an expert, but it should imply that I’m very comfortable in both my skin and my art—at least as comfortable as early Thelonious Monk, with all of his dissonant idiosyncrasies; or say, some artist choosing to lay his canvas on the ground and drip and splatter paint from his brush. (I by no means share the genius of those I mention, only the desire to see differently at this level in my work).

That’s how I view Dramatica, again, as a tool an artist can study, use, and then bend in the direction of his or her creativity.

In short: I’ve shown up outta nowhere on these boards just to get a friendly sense of how others play with the theory, and the software, and to share a couple of the creative ways in which I myself mess around with and/or think about all of it.

Thanks so much for having me.

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Yes! Although I find with Dramatica, just when you think you’re bending it, it turns out that it actually worked that way in the first place and you only thought you were bending it. :slight_smile: But yeah, I take a similar approach, what I like to think of as an “open” approach, in that I mostly assume that my subconscious ideas fit the storyform (or a storyform, if I haven’t narrowed it down to one yet), and that it’s my job to figure out how they fit.

I should have been more clear that the “be careful” warning was mostly to do with figuring out your storyform. So for example, if you bend the definition for one story point in your storyform that might be fine. But if you are bending a whole bunch of things, it may be there’s a different storyform that describes your story better.

Super confused as to this discussion, because this:

is saying the same thing as:

Unless, I’m missing something…

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Hi @Malthus. Great observations. Although I think they’re different.

Irrelevance of truth seems more like justifying away either the value or worth elements to me. In terms of either being a modality to evaluate the MC’s condition in this context, it’s not quite on the money.

If say, we stick to the official definition, digging to the core of some iterations such as the “refusal to let go” etc, point to a mindset in relation to a specific object/situation. And said object is often at the centre of the inequity thematically.
From my findings, our values are things that are vital to our survival; in this case the MC’s. So Denial in this example doesn’t seem accurate.

If we’re to bend the theory to our will, then let’s have a basis ( Merriam-Websters définition): The refusal to satisfy a request or desire.
Again the refusal shows a mindset or mental effort directed toward something. Irrelevance = unrelated to. But in this case, Greg’s affections are in relation to the MC.
Denial will become an issue if Greg is incessant in vying for the MCs attention at every turn, and the MC keeps turning him down in return.

I think there are many ways to spin it. A lack of Denial = a lack of refusal to satisfy the desire = an issue of worth(subjective appraisal of stuff/ not of personal importance). Thus, agreeing with the thematics that Greg’s affections don’t align with the MCs values in the grand scheme of things.

Just my take on your post.