Judgment: Subjective or Objective?

Have run into something quite confusing here regarding the Story Judgment! I realize this is similar to other threads, but I tried discussing it in another thread and didn’t seem to get any answers. Something I’ve noticed is some people are saying the Judgment is an objective Author judging whether the MC made the right decision in their Resolve…(why is it called Story Judgment instead of MC Judgment, in that case? Might be a case of trying to use new terminology vs old but it’s difficult to look into and find anything conclusive.) I’ve also seen in Jim’s article Decoding the Structure of a Personal Tragedy, that it’s more about the Author’s proof of the story’s central argument, which makes more sense to me since it is called Story Judgment. However, to throw a wrench in thing we have Melanie’s article on Story Judgment: http://dramaticapedia.com/2010/03/07/story-judgment-good-or-bad/ Here she says that essentially, the Outcome is an objective look at the story (Did the characters achieve the Story Goal or not?) and the Judgment is a subjective look at the story:

Because Success and Failure are measurements of how well specific requirements have been met, they are by nature objective. In contrast, Good and Bad are subjective value Judgments based on an appreciation of the Main Character’s personal fulfillment.

At risk of making this opening post way too long, I want to give context as to why this has thrown me for a bit of a loop. I have a story I have long assumed was a Success/Bad story, because it fits this description in the same article by Melanie:

A Success/Bad story might end with a Main Character achieving his dreams only to find they are meaningless, or Main Character who makes a sacrifice for the success of others but ends up bitter and vindictive. Each of these would be a “personal tragedy.”

However, I, as the Author, Judge that my MC changing his resolve (from Faith to Disbelief for anyone wondering) is a good and necessary thing in this story. I feel that this is a pretty important concept to nail down, as it really changes a lot within the storyform. Is Judgment the objective pov of the Author looking down at the story and judging it from there (were the problems resolved and thus “satisified”), or is it subjective, is my MC “fulfilled at the end”? I am seeing some contradictions here and would really like some clarification!

Sidenote: Someone brought up in a different thread that my story could be a case of good judgment, at a high cost. I don’t necessarily disagree, but this disparity between what Judgment actually is has kind of gotten me distracted and I feel it needs resolving :sweat_smile:

For reference, here is a link to the Decoding the Structure of a Personal Tragedy.

The Storyform is always from the POV of you, the Author. If you are trying to say that your MC’s change from Faith to Disbelief is a Good thing, then yes, your Storyform should reflect that through a Story Judgment of Good.

The Storypoints found within a Storyform are never from the perspective of the characters. So, regardless of how your MC feels at the end, if you think it’s a good thing, then it’s a Good thing.

The Costs comment is likely accurate.

The linked article from Melanie confirms the above:

  • Outcome is an objectively look at the story from the Author’s POV
  • Judgment is a subjective look at the story from the Author’s POV

How you feel is subjective.

The shortcut is to have this all play out through the area of the Main Character’s personal fulfillment - that’s why you can often find the answer to this question by asking “Did my MC resolve her/his personal angst?”

This is also a great example of why an understanding of Premise (a reduction of the Storyform) is so important. Which of the following sounds like your story?

Note: The following examples assume:

  • Story Outcome of Success
  • Main Character Resolve of Changed
  • Story Goal of Future
  • Main Character Mindset of Linear

If your story runs counter to these, let me know, and I can adjust with different examples (and very soon, Subtext will let you do this all on your own).

“You can look forward to a better life when you abandon skepticism.”


“While severe, you can look forward to a better life when you abandon skepticism.”

Is it your intention with your story to argue something quite severe? Or is it something much more triumphant


Ah, okay. That makes sense.

But then here is where I get confused. It may be the wording of ‘fulfillment’ vs ‘satisfaction.’ In a Linear story does fulfillment really matter? My MC “resolved” the inequity in a sense by changing to no longer having blind faith in things, but the very nature of losing faith is pretty “angsty.” So, it could just be semantics on my part. He has changed, I Judge it as Good, even though it’s a tough thing to change from believing in something to no longer having that belief. So, I guess what I’m saying is, the problem he had to start out with has been “satisfied,” but he doesn’t feel “fulfilled” at the end.

Also, The Future is actually the Cost. The narrative arguments I’ve got in Subtext for this story are “While tragic to the individual (Judgment of Bad), you can have an awakening (OS Premise of Becoming) by giving up having blind faith (Subjective Premise of Faith).” In your example, I’m assuming “While severe” is the wording for a Judgment of Bad? For that I guess it would be something like “While severe, you can have an awakening by giving up blind faith.” Which I feel fits much better! Something being “severe” doesn’t mean I think it’s Bad. It’s important in my story for this character to have a harsh awakening.

The other narrative argument I plugged in, I simply changed it to Good Judgment and so it gives me “Give up having blind faith and you can have an awakening.”

It is to argue something severe, but important and Good. The tone at the end does not at all feel triumphant, and MC feels disillusioned (because of his change to Disbelief) but it’s a necessary step for him to grow forward from there.

This is definitely the case. I think it was discussed in one of the Writer’s Room episodes, and there were a few ideas thrown out. (Not everyone liked “while severe”, but it is a great advancement from “tragic to the individual”.)

From a completely out-of-left-field idea: What are the dividends in your story?

Is it possible that your argument is more along the lines of giving up faith is more or less a bad thing, except that there are extreme benefits that come along with that turmoil?

Also, since @jhull is an expert, I defer to his advice to follow. (EDIT: Which apparently isn’t that far off from what I was going to write when I saw he was replying. :sweat_smile:)

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Then it sounds like you’re wanting to write a Success/Bad story.

Success == satisfaction
Bad == lack of fulfillment

which you have realized in your MC and sounds like what you want to say.

The “while severe” version of the Premise is the latest most up-to-date version of Premise - you can see it playing out across the Storyforms here: https://narrativefirst.com/storyforms

Your “translation” of the old Premise into the new is actually quite correct - and again reinforces the idea of thinking of meaning of your story in terms of the reduced Storyform concept of the Premise.

You’ll note that there are many posts here where writers debate endlessly about the particulars of a Storypoint - and that’s because they’re looking at a tree for the forest.

The Premise gives you the forest for the trees, which is really what you should be looking at when painting the landscape of your story.


So, even though my judgment as Author is Good, it is a judgment of Bad as seen from the perspective of emotional fulfillment for the MC?

I really am certain I’m not arguing it is a bad thing (in this particular context, of course). It’s completely necessary for the MC and characters in the story to have this realization. (To answer your question, though, Dividends are Subconscious.)

I agree that this is confusing, as it plays out a bit differently in different stories.

Sometimes Success/Bad sounds like the author is saying “achieving that goal was a bad thing” like in The Godfather. Often though, that’s not really the message. In our Hunger Games analysis, I’m arguing (at least for the book) that the ending is Judgement Bad. Katniss is not in a a good place at the end of Book 1, and frankly neither is anyone else.

But no one thinks the author was saying, “you know what, they shouldn’t have done that berry trick at the end – it would have been better if one of them just killed the other.” But it’s also not like Braveheart where Wallace is screaming “Freedom!” even as he’s being executed. Braveheart is a high cost Success/Good story – even though he dies, the story feels (and is clearly intended to be) triumphant.

It might be necessary to achieve this Goal, but is it (nonetheless) Bad (Severe)?

And if you don’t see the Good judgement (assuming it’s Judgement Good) in psychological state of the MC, how will you as the author reveal that to the audience?


Yes, it definitely seems like there are degrees to this! The way you explain it totally is making sense to me.

I see your point. It would be disingenuous of me to show that this is triumphant, I think. There would be a disconnect for the audience (in my mind, anyway).

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It’s sounding more and more like this is the case for the story you’re writing. Even more so, it sounds like you’ve objectively identified the story as scarring, angsty, severe, a Bad overall experience, that turns out to be a good thing. (Which still suggests a Success/Bad story.)

Actually, I’m wondering if you’re attributing a morality to the Dramatica terms of Good and Bad.* I made this error when I first started with Dramatica. Story Judgement is related to the Objective Story, since it’s part of the Objective Story Plot Dynamics. Thus, there is no morality inherent to Story Judgement.

@Lakis gave some great examples to relate this idea. Here are some more.

Note: I capitalize Dramatica terms, but I leave non-Dramatica terms lower case. This is especially important when dealing with common words that have specific meanings in the theory.

Think about an author writing a story from the perspective of a villain. Given the right frame, the author might stop the story when the villain has won and feels good, and even make the story feel Triumphant (Success/Good). However, the author could still frame the entire story as morally wrong, thus giving a moral judgement of bad.

Other combinations are possible as well. You can write a story that comes out feeling severe while the characters still achieve their goals (Success/Bad). Yet, still indicate the entirety of the experience as morally right, thus giving a moral judgement good.

The Story Judgement is an indication of fulfillment and severity, not one of morality.

*You might not be, but I’m writing this for when people might do so.


Just wondering if you have reviewed the definitions on this page?

Also, you may be able to infer Judgment indirectly through the story’s Essence – whether the story’s problems feel Overwhelming vs. Surmountable (which is based on the combination of Judgment and Growth). It’s a long article, but worth reviewing:

This quote seems of particular relevance:

The essence of that transition can be seen in the juxtaposition of the Main Character Growth and the Story Judgment. That feeling of Good doesn’t simply exist at the end of a story— it permeates the entirety of the storymind itself —right along with the Growth. It explains the emotional state of the mind processing through this particular instance of problem-solving.

And that emotional state can be described as either Overwhelming or Surmountable.


Okay, that’s interesting. I guess I thought the Author’s Judgment was sort of what the Author believes is correct in the context of the story, not necessarily morally, but emotionally.

But Story Judgment is more so tied to the Resolve of the MC and if the Author believes that their resolve was Good or Bad for them, is what I am getting out of this discussion. Was it fulfilling for the MC? In this case, no. So Success/Bad makes sense. I originally had it that way, but some discussion about the Author’s Judgment actually being if the Author believes the resolve to change/steadfast was Good or Bad made me question it (in this thread: https://discuss.dramatica.com/t/good-or-bad-judgement/1568), since I do believe my MC’s resolve to change is Good, though my MC himself does not see it that way. He feels utterly lost and confused and maybe a bit deceived, but it’s Good that he let go of his blind faith.

I’ve read it, and it confuses me.

He has resolved his problem of faith by changing to disbelief.

However, changing to disbelief has left MC feeling troubled and angst-ridden, now that the “blinders” he had been wearing to the reality of the world have been lifted, so to speak. However, it is worth it, in this Author’s opinion, that he changed instead of continuing to hide in blind faith.

I feel that they are a Good thing, though my MC is not fulfilled, he solved his personal problem. He just feels bad that the solution is so disillusioning. He is bitter about it and feels like he was tricked in a sense. It’s a story about a harsh awakening, I guess! Or a “severe” one. :laughing: And here I go in circles again.

And about the Essence of a Story, reading that article, definitely to me, it sounds like one of those weird “positive” sad stories, or rather Surmountable Stop/Bad stories (Mc’s growth is to stop believing).

So now I’m back to Success/Bad. I really think there needs to more clear cut ways of explaining Judgment. I can honestly see my story now both ways, depending on where you focus. If I go with the definition, it feels like it should be Success/Good, as it is the Author’s judgment on whether the resolve of MC was Good/Bad, did MC resolve his problem, etc. If I go by a lot of these other things, though, the Essence, is it fulfilling for the MC, is it “severe”, then it is Success/Bad.

I wouldn’t worry so much about this, except that it has a pretty huge impact on the order of signposts (as well as Catalyst/Inhibitors and Unique Ability/Critical Flaw) so it definitely is an important thing to nail down!

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I hear you! And can totally see why it would be frustrating.

So we know for sure that your MC has resolved his personal problem and you think it was Good that he did so – his blind faith was a bad thing.

Can I ask then, why is he left so bitter and angsty? I’m not sure I understand this – he no longer has a personal problem (it’s been resolved), and yeah, there is a cost to having to let go of faith, but shouldn’t he be happier now?

In a joking way I want to ask, why are you being so mean to your MC? :slight_smile: Especially because you said in the other thread that all the other characters are left feeling satisfied and not bitter.

But please bear in mind that this and my other questions are not because I think you are doing things wrong. It’s very possible your story is deeper than we (and maybe you) know, and that is making it hard to grasp. One possibility that springs to mind is the presence of a substory that has the opposite judgment.

Or I wonder, could you imagine one more denouement scene where he realizes that, as much as his new blind-faith-less worldview kind of sucks, there is some aspect of his life that is looking up now and it makes him smile?


This is the key right here, and why you need to know what you want to say. Everything in the story will change depending on where you focus from.


I guess this is what I was getting at earlier when I asked, if the Judgement is good, how will the audience will know that? I’m not sure @MaddyV if you took that as a rhetorical question but I meant it seriously.

The common “shortcut” to understanding Resolve is to look at whether the MC is fulfilled or if they’ve gotten rid of their angst. However, there are a number of Success/Bad stories where you it’s not exactly clear that the MC has “gotten rid of” their angst, but the story still feels bad. If Dolores in Season One of Westworld (minor, minor spoiler here) has now become a self-aware AI and is plotting revenge – it’s not clear that she is “unresolved” in terms of her personal issues (she seems pretty resolved), but we as the audience can still feel it’s Bad (as in, “oh sh*t! That’s not good!”). Same thing with The Godfather.

In this case though, it sounds like you might want to do the opposite – show that it’s Good, even if the MC doesn’t feel fulfilled.

Maybe the answer to see if you can find a story that’s been analyzed that has a similar feeling to what you have in mind, and see what the Judgement is.


Also, in addition to everything else that’s been said, I’ve noticed a common theme here that might also be helping to confuse the issue. Unfortunately, once I write it out, things might become ever more confusing. But, to paraphrase Melanie, Dramatica doesn’t make writing easier, it makes things harder.

We’ve commonly been asking about the MC and talking about this as one of the characters in the story. This houses a subtle problem – the MC is the Main Character Perspective of the Storymind, not the main character. Often, the main character shortcuts things related the Main Character Perspective, but that need not always be the case!

So, what is the overall mental state in terms of fulfillment of the Story(mind) itself?
Would the Story, if you could ask it, say after the entire experience:

  • They succeeded, and I feel Good and fulfilled about it?”, or
  • They succeeded, but I feel Bad and remiss about it?”

Also, I fully have the same questions as @mlucas and @Lakis.

Is Judgement the only Story Point you’re unsure about? You could try writing a brief synopsis or outline using the Signpost orders for each, and figure out which one fits your story better.


It would require going into a ton of detail that I’m not terribly comfortable doing, but I promise I’m not being mean just for the sake of having a “gritty” ending or anything like that. I believe his disillusionment is important because if the audience picks up on what I am saying in my message, they will likely be feeling a little disillusioned too. That’s how I felt, when I experienced what I am writing about. To say the other characters aren’t bitter is a bit of an oversimplification. They have been bitter for a long time, but are being freed from something that has held them back - in that sense, they are satisfied. There are characters in the story who have lived with this new, harsh worldview to the MC for a long time and have made their own versions of “peace” with it.

Which is why both of these would feel very disingenuous to me. At the risk of sounding like a complete cynic, the story world I am writing in accepts no platitudes. To answer @Lakis question, no I cannot imagine a scene like that. That is not what I felt when I learned this lesson.

@Greg Can you extrapolate? I feel very confident I know what I want to say. I want to say, “Giving this thing up that you have held so tightly, that has protected your mind for so long, is very, very hard, but you need to do it in order to free others, and ultimately yourself as well. You will hate it, because the freedom is overwhelming. You don’t know what the rules are anymore, if there were ever any rules, and it doesn’t feel good. It feels scary.” To say anything else would be lying. This probably doesn’t make sense, but there is a context here.

@Hunter I guess…the story would feel fulfilled. And yes, this is the only one I am stuck on. I really thought it was Success/Bad. And looking through the signposts, the Success/Bad ones seem to make more sense to me, especially regarding where my MC ends up. (The signposts are the same here, but the sequences within are different.)


This fully sounds like a Success/Bad story with extremely high Dividends of Subconscious:

In oversimplified shorthand: He needed to give it up. He did. He Success-fully gave it up.
A rational argument. (Outcome of Success)

In oversimplified shorthand: It’s Bad. It’s overwhelming. It’s scary – it’s Bad.
A subjective argument. (Judgement of Bad)

In oversimplified shorthand: Even though it was Bad, is Bad, will have been Bad, it was worth it for the rewards of the experience [true happiness or some other kind of satisfied/fulfilled desire].

Some good things on the way to the goal. (Dividends of the Subconscious)

Even the way you’ve explained your source material suggests high Dividends, due to the fact that the Subconscious decomposes into Closure/Hope/Dream/Denial, which all sound like elements of why it’s good in your eyes. In fact, I’d even say that what you’re trying to say is that it can be Bad, and will be angst-y, but what you get out of it is worth it.

And, I take this as additional confirmation:

This is my interpretation of what you wrote, though. So, I’m excited to see what others say.


Perfect. This is a really good confirmation – the fact that you can’t even imagine a scene like that is a super clear sign the Judgment is Bad.

The “surmountable odds” essence from Stop/Bad, and the additional confirmation of the Signpost order, makes it even clearer. I think you can be confident your storyform is Success/Bad.

What Hunter said about the Dividends is a really good point. We’re used to seeing how high Cost can temper Success/Good, so it makes sense the high Dividends can temper a Bad Judgment.

I honestly think, based on this thread, that we should reconsider the idea that Judgment is always going to match “does the Author feel like the efforts to solve the problem were a Good thing or Bad thing?” Because here you have a story where the Author feels the efforts were a good thing, but the Judgment is Bad.

Basically, @jhull’s concept of severity is shown to be the most accurate here. You’re not saying they made the wrong choice, but that the right choice was a severe one.

Thank you for this thread @MaddyV! I think we’re all learning something. :slight_smile:


This is because you are taking two different perspectives. In order to know what you want to say, you need to know which perspective you stand on and give that perspective to the audience. Do you want to make the argument to your audience that addressing the issue the way your story does will be a good thing or a bad thing? Once you know what you’re saying to your audience, you tell the story in such a way everything that happens works toward making that point.

I haven’t been following this thread super close, but it seems like you were saying something about the character feeling it was Good, but you as the author feeling it was Bad (or maybe the other way around). You need to know that it DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THE CHARACTER THINKS OR FEELS (note that I’m not yelling at you, just trying to emphasize the point :blush:). It only matters what the point of the characters thinking and feeling is.

I don’t know the storyform for 1984, but I’m going to use that as an example. If you haven’t read it, basically the story is about a guy who tries to break free from the oppressive government that controls all aspects of life. He hates everything about this government. But in the end (spoiler alert, I guess, so turn back now if you haven’t read but soon plan to) the government brainwashes him. If I remember correctly, not only does he now love the government, but he knows that they are going to kill him for his past transgressions and is totally okay with it because he loves the government now. And I think maybe it’s even implied or perhaps implicit that he is shot dead by the govt. This is the definition of a character that has let go of his personal angst, and yet it is clear to the reader that this is a bad thing because this is exactly what the character was against in the first place. So DO NOT WORRY ABOUT YOUR CHARACTERS! ONLY WORRY ABOUT THE MESSAGE!

Now, it’s not bad that you can see your story as being both Good and Bad. In fact, it’s really great and useful to use that to tell your story. What I mean is you don’t want to make a statement to your audience. You want to make an argument. So you address both sides.

Now using Judgment in the way I’m about to describe might be a bit difficult because we get it at the end, but it can be done and it needs to be done with all story points. So the way you make an argument rather than a statement is to show both perspectives and compare them. This is why the MC needs the IC and why the OS needs the RS. But since what you are judging in Judgment is the way the inequity was addressed, you really only get one Judgment to give to your audience. You don’t get a Good and a Bad to compare against. But you can suggest along the way what a good ending might look like and what a bad ending might look like so that the audience gets to see why this story is Judged the way it is. And you don’t have to be blatant about it. You can be subtle. For instance, in 1984, we know that the character having his thoughts controlled by the govt would be a bad ending and breaking free would be good. So when we see that he loves the govt because they’ve brainwashed him to and is fine with being killed by them, we know that things were bad despite the character being perfectly fine with it.

Let me describe what I mean when I say everything in the story will change depending on where you focus from. But first, go get a ruler or a tape measure or a yard stick or something that can stand in for one. I’m sure you can imagine one just fine as well.

Got one? Ok, now lay the ruler on the floor at your feet such that the 1” mark is toward your left shoulder and the 12” mark is toward your right. What is this ruler measuring? If you’ve done it right, it should appear to be measuring width. If you place something next to the ruler that measures 6”, you would say that it’s 6” wide.

Now leave the ruler exactly where it’s at, but walk around it and stand next to the 1” mark such that the 1” mark is near to your feet, but the 12” mark is away from your feet. Now what does the ruler measure? From here, it should appear to measure length. So why the change? You’ve done nothing to the ruler. It’s the same ruler laying in the same place as when it measured width. All that changed was where you were looking at the ruler from. The ruler measures a “line” and we name that line length, width, or height based on the lines orientation in relation to something else.

The inequity at the heart of your story is exactly the same as the ruler. Turn it one way and it looks like an OS problem of Universe. Turn it another and it looks like an OS problem of Mind or Physics or Psych. It’s the same inequity, but just like with the ruler, it looks different depending on its orientation in relation to something else. In other words, it’s ALL RELATIVE. So yes, as you change perspectives on the inequity, it may well look both Good and Bad. But once you define your perspective, as long as you never move from that spot, your story will only look like a Good story or a Bad story.


@Greg for what it’s worth I think @MaddyV knows exactly what she wants to say. I don’t think it was a problem of perspective, but of definition. Her message was always clear in her head (see second-last paragraph of this post); she was just having trouble translating that to the Judgment point in a storyform, because of some conflicting information about what Judgment is.

At least that’s how I’m seeing it now. :slight_smile: