Is Every Plot Sequence Item a Conflict?

I don’t get the idea from the PSR instructions in Dramatica that every beat is a conflict, but from here and Subtext, I do. So, if every beat really is supposed to be illustrated as it’s own conflict (or am I wrong about that and the conflict is at the Signpost level?), when do the characters get to make any positive gains? I imagine a story as having a series of ups and downs, not characters being pounded by relentless conflict.

How do you even know that you’ve encoded a proper conflict for a PSR scene? I saw the Writing with Subtext videos, including #7, but that aspect is the point where the series left off.


You’re assuming all conflict is negative.

The storyform–a snapshot of conflict with the mind–does not indicate positive or negative gains, or a series of ups and downs. These gains and interpretations of emotional highs and lows are subjective observations of the mind as experienced from an outside observer (i.e., Audience).

Use the storyform to solidify the purpose and Premise of your story.

Use your experience of writing and reading your story to determine Audience engagement.

Every single Storypoint within the Storyform is an indication of imbalance–that’s what motivates the energy through the story.

Your interpretation of that imbalance as either positive or negative is strictly that – your interpretation.

(Until such a time when we can develop a Dynamic model of narrative).


You may think it’s obvious what you mean by “conflict” but I do not. So, I think the first question to answer is what you mean by conflict.


By conflict I guess I mean something that stops a person from getting what they want or what they intend to do. Could be a dilemma or maybe an antagonist getting in the way.

What would a positive conflict be? “I won the lottery but don’t know what to spend all that money on”? Or having to choose between 2 equally amazing suitors?

I’m not sure how to use that to fill in a PSR correctly. I’m not sure what audience engagement means-- how they interpret something?

In other words, the Plot Sequence Report has nothing to do with Audience engagement, and whether or not a particular beat is positive or negative.

It’s up to your intuition.

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If you look to the heart of conflict, you’ll see the mind’s appreciation of an inequity - the “conflict” is the means by which the mind works to resolve that inequity–either by problem-solving, or justifying.

Negative conflict sees that might makes right.

Positive conflict sees that iron sharpens iron.

And these are just examples of Dynamic Conflict.

We also see Companion Pair Conflict and Dependent Pair Conflict.

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Trying to solve a problem is a conflict? I thought conflict = an unwanted inequity. I’m more confused now.

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No, trying to solve a problem is not conflict.

Conflict is the process of working through an imbalance (wanted or unwanted).

Some inequities are resolved through problem-solving, others through justifying. This resolution process is sometimes positive, and sometimes negative.

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For some reason, this reminds me of the idea of discordant and concordant notes in music.
Probably because they both “conflict” in the general sense of the word, but…

Not sure if this adds anything, but sometimes Negative and Positive have an emotional aspect and mean bad or good-as in having too much money is a positive/good thing, or when we say that person is always so negative. But they can also have a…i don’t know if logical is the right word, but…they can also have a logical component as in an electric charge, or the results of a test.

I don’t know exactly what the latter would mean but maybe +/- could move the story closer or further from the goal (as in ‘there’s really heavy traffic but at least the bank robbers we are trying to catch will be delayed long enough for us to set up a road block’) or maybe +/- refer to building up or tearing down justifications. Or maybe not. I don’t know. Just tossing stuff out.

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I think the general term for this is Obstacle.

FWIW, I see Conflict as something much more dynamic (or rather, as dynamic as it has to be to fill the allotted time it’s going to take up).

I want to go to Vegas, but my car has no gas and I have no money. That’s an obstacle.
I want to go to Vegas, but my wife doesn’t want me to go because she knows that my old flame lives there and this has caused problems in the past. This is a conflict.
These things are not discrete—an obstacle can be a conflict, and vice versa.

I haven’t done much thinking about positive and negative conflicts, but here is my stab at it:

An alcoholic desires booze and lacks the ability to handle it. Combined, these things amplify and result in massive uncontrol: a drunken night with friends. (At the beginning of a story, this could be experienced as subjectively good; at the end and a failed go at treatment, as subjectively bad.)

An alcoholic desires booze and lacks the ability to handle it. Combined, these things result in massive control: a long night in the kitchen of your sponsor. (How does one experience this? A good night with someone trying to recover, or a bad night with someone desperately struggling?)

Hmm… having written this out, I found it useful, but not as a way of understanding positive and negative conflict. Both seem to amplify what’s going on. Maybe without a Goal or a Concern we can’t really think about this very easily. It’s like everything in the story is linked! :wink:


The car reminds me of the basic inequity example: wanting a car but having no money to buy it. Is an inequity an “obstacle” as you define it? Come to think of it, are “conflict” and “inequity” interchangeable when talking Dramatica terms?

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Generally I think of obstacles as being discrete units: I have to get through a locked door. In this case, that would not be an inequity. It would be solidly in “storytelling”.

But obstacles can be “my mother won’t let me see the boy I love” and that could take two acts to work around—it’s likely that this “long” obstacle would have serious ties to the storyform and yes represent an inequity.

Still, I would not generally say that an inequity was also a conflict. An inequity is a potential; the conflict arises in the resistance and the current.

I think when most people talk about obstacles, they are referring to specific, short term problems that are most likely to be storytelling-dominant. But that does not mean that they are independent of the storyform necessarily: In The Prestige, Robert Angier gets his hands on a journal and cracking the code in the journal is an obstacle that takes a bit of time. But, this story is RS>Memory so you can see that a journal is also representative of a major, objective theme.

I think it’s wise to think about this two ways again: storytelling and storyforming.

In storytelling, conflict tends to be related to characters and their contrasting and competing goals.

In storyforming, conflict is intimately tied to the pairs in a quad. Most people see the dynamic pair as the pair in conflict, but the other two are also conflicts. (To be honest, I don’t see them as conflict, and try to wrestle with them as dependent and companion, but that may be my storytelling bias coming into play.)

I hope that helps!


So is “illustrating” storytelling or storyforming?

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It’s the step between.

You have your story points: Cause/Effect

Then you have your illustrations: Divorce is causing problems, and the way to deal with it is by tending to its effect on the children (making them feel abandoned). Etc…

But how you make this entertaining for the audience: that’s the storytelling.


You might try the book “Understanding Conflict (and what it really means)” by Janice Hardy. I got the ebook from Amazon. It goes into a lot about what conflict really is, and that is really is specific to the imbalances of your story.

“Plot-driven novels typically have conflicts that are more external and plot based, so the challenges frequently revolve around external issues. Character-driven novels typically explore internal conflicts that lead to character growth, so the challenges will be over internal issues and support a character arc more.”

And that’s why it can be hard, because external imbalances require conflict to be treated differently from internal imbalances. There’s no one-size fits all.

Here’s from one of my stories I’m working on in Subtext.
Barbara Street longs for someone (hope) that leads to aspiring for something (dream) while responding without thinking (Preconscious).
There’s nothing negative or positive about that, except that in Barbara’s mind she HOPES to make Gary fall in love with her even though as her professor it’s not allowed. The conflict is that she hopes her actions or words will cause him to fall in love and be with her, and he knows that if he breaks the teacher/student barrier, his career can go down the drain. I can write this positive for her, where she proves her love and he falls. I can write this negative for her, where she proves her love but he says he can’t, and so she fails. Whichever way I write it, I’m trying to prove whether HOPE is a good thing or a bad thing to have, and do that through the result of the conflict.

Make sense?

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