Justification practice

Hey all,

So I can’t even begin to say how excited I am about the justification vs justification that @jhull shared yesterday in the writer’s room. I wrote this under the memory quad (Truth, Suspicion, Evidence, Falsehood) Let me know what you think.

Rick rolled his Harley to a stop and pushed the kick stand down. For a moment he just sat staring at the grand old house with it’s huge columns and broad porch.

“You just gonna sit there and stare?” Will’s voice came from over his shoulder.

He swung his leg over and slid his helmet off. “How you doing, little brother?”

“I suppose that depends on why you’re here.” Despite its close crop, Will’s hair shifted in the afternoon breeze.

“Just visiting you and G-pop.” He should tell Will. Be honest with him but he couldn’t.

“I’m joining, and there ain’t shit you can do about it. There’s been Kitchings in the Navy since before there was a Navy. G-pop, put my name on the list on the day I was born, same as he did for you.”

How did he tell him? He took a deep breath and the shoved the words out. “G-pop was an asshole and a liar, he never served.”

“Liar! Git the eff out of here, Rick. I’m going to Annapolis. And then to a carrier! What the hell makes you think it’s okay to shit all over G-pops memory?”

“He didn’t serve. He [TK-military term for] flunked out.

“You are an ass trying to tarnish the history of man that can’t defend himself. Where’s your proof? Cuz I’ve got a box full of his medals that say otherwise. ’

Rick hesitated. “Look, I know you worshiped him. But Gramms is the one that—

“She’s just a bitter old woman.”

“No denying. Doesn’t change what she told me. She said she hid a copy of his discharge papers before he burned the originals.”


“Attic.” Rick followed Will into the house and up the attic stairs. A thick layer of dust lay over everything. Rick searched the back wall for the painting Gramms had described. Stapled to the frame, exactly where she’d said it would be was a thick envelope. He freed it and pulled out the contents.

“Just like she’d said.” Rick handed the contents to Will.

Will flipped through the papers. “None of this makes sense, why would he lie? Why did you care if it was all lies.”

“Look, I don’t care if you join up. If you want to serve, serve. Just don’t do it on some romantic notion he fed us about carrying on family traditions. Don’t let his memory or his lies put you in harms way.

Will nodded, closed his eyes, and took a deep gulp of air. “Want some iced tea?”


My work is done here.


would you like to share the justifications and the process that got you to this point?


Nice work Diane! I read your scene last night just before going to bed, and found it stayed with me until morning. Always a good sign.

Agree with Bob, it would be great if you could share the justifications you used.

Also want to second your comment on Jim’s article (https://narrativefirst.com/articles/constructing-sources-of-conflict-for-your-story). It’s mind-blowing, a game-changer for anyone trying to come up with interesting conflict. And it’s really cool that (like all things Dramatica) you can apply it at any level, from a single scene up to a whole novel or film.

I will definitely have to review that Writer’s Room once I re-subscribe to Subtext!


Agree-great Article and great scene from Diane.


Happy to…

So tiny bit of backstory, These don’t match exactly, because they weren’t mine…but they were close enough to get me started. And apparently, even though I picked two guides from both suspicion and falsehood, I didn’t copy them into my scrivener file.

Enough caveats. This is what I started with

Military genre
A character won’t Forget the long family history of military service in order to maintain a family tradition UNLESS a character should defile someone’s memory in order to protect their family
A character should speak the unvarnished truth in order to to save another person’s life UNLESS a character should be true to themselves in order maintain their identity
A character needs to Find Affirmation of Something in order to prevent someone from making a mistake unless a character needs to collect material evidence in order to cover-up a mystery about their ancestor (grandfather)



Edited to add
I think there’s one more step I want to add/discuss. I tweaked the justifications throughout. And I don’t have the exact ones I started with. sometimes I changed the justification word (can/want/need/should) sometimes I tweaked the truth, sometimes, I bent the zero/zen part. It very much was an organic process, connected and tied to what came out as the “scene” part.


Thank you, both. You’re very kind.

I would like to say that the scene worked really well for me, so sorry for selfishly asking for the “making-of” before telling you that.

And thanks a lot for sharing this. Jim’s article was, to me, an interesting starting point, but without concrete examples (of scenes or stories), it did not seem much more helpful to me than the formula he described before.


@bobRaskoph First, thank you. Glad it worked for you.

Second, thank you for giving me an opening for the discussion portion of the thread. :wink: I knew the justifications needed to be shared and discussed, but I thought I should see if other people thought the scene stood on its own.

So, what do you think now that you’ve seen the technique in action? More helpful?


I think it is more hopeful. I will have to try to apply it myself before I can make any judgments of course, but seeing it in action gives me a better idea at least.

This scene works so well.

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Thank you, Mike. I appreciate that. :slight_smile:

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This is great, Diane. I’m a few episodes behind and now I’m motivated to catch up :wink:

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Hi jassnip - it’s a really lovely and satisfying scene and a really inspiring case use!

I’m wondering about using the Justification Unless Justification model in two ways - 1) as a way of generating brand new story ideas (using it like a story prompt, sort of like Jim’s Playground exercise) and 2) as a prompt within a developing story where the context for a scene already exists (for example, using Justification Unless Justification for the 4 PSR beats in an act - or dropping down to the z-pattern underneath a single PSR beat for a scene).

Is your scene a brand new story inspired by the single quad you picked? Or is it a scene within an existing work you already had on the go? And in either case, how did you choose to work with the memory quad (Truth, Suspicion, Evidence, Falsehood)?

@Flight Thank you so much.

So, this scene was from me teaching the JvsJ concept (with full attribution to @jhull and narrativefirst) in a workshop on creating story conflict.

My students randomly picked the Genre, the quad and the 4 truths of the parent and first two story elements. We ran out of time, so as a class didn’t finish the exercise, but I wanted to them to see what could be done with it. So next morning I sat down with what I had, and started writing with those pieces. I picked the elements and built the JvsJ for the last two pieces, but apparently I had them in my head because they aren’t in my notes section of the scrivener file, or I would have shared them here.

So this is a brand new scene/story piece that was created whole cloth from the memory quad JvJ

However, I have also taken the concept and started applying it to an existing story with an established setting, characters and storyform with PSR. It works exactly the same because you’re working with what’s underneath. This is the difference between storytelling and a story point. I REALLY get that now. I really take care with the truth and zen pieces that I am trying to establish because if you’re working with the wrong truth, you’re not telling the story you want to tell. That was my really weird epiphany from yesterday.

Once I’ve established my JvsJ the writing goes superfast. I always thought dramatica took so much development…but it’s really looking at instances…that was something I didn’t really realize either.

And Dramatizing actual conflict…omgs so freaking easy! You just make them chase the zen

I feel like I’m rambling now…did I answer your question? Y’all can ask me anything, you know that, right?


That is so brilliant! Thanks for sharing the story of how it came about - that’s fantastic teaching!

Okay, my questions:[quote=“jassnip, post:15, topic:2858”]
. I really take care with the truth and zen pieces that I am trying to establish

Looking at Jim’s article Constructing Sources of Conflict for Your Story, “The truth” part of a justification is “A character should/wants/needs/can do this or that”… and what you’re calling the “zen” part is what the article calls “the context” - the part after “in order to” - have I got that right?

That context/zen part seems to me to be the really powerful thing Jim’s article introduces - and even more so the one he dropped just this morning Building Greater Sources of Conflict. But the Dramatica language there is tricky - can you talk more about how you understand this great line:


LOL. I just read Jim’s article from this morning, and we’re talking about the exact same thing.

I can give you my understanding and the way I’m thinking about it. I don’t promise it’s right. Although, @jhull and I tend to be very complementary. I’ll walk you through how I would build a justification.

There are two quotes I keep on my wall that are relevant. You’ll see in a second why they are relevant.

All tension/conflict we feel is created by the dissonance between what is right for our personal narrative vs what we are demanding of others or are ourselves obligated to do ~Melanie Anne Philips

The Fatal Flaw is a struggle within a character to maintain a survival system long after it has outlived its usefulness. ~ Dara Marks

The truth part let’s look at understanding. Here is a partial list from Subtext

Now I’m going to pick a couple of these that look interesting to me.

First one I like is Refusing to understand one’s limitations
Second one…the romantic in my likes misunderstanding someone’s romantic interest.

Okay so now I have my truths and I’m leaning toward a genre of romance

So now I’ll pick which of the justification words I want (Knowledge/Can, Thought/Want, Ability/Need, Desire/Should)

I really like knowledge for the first one and need for the 2nd

So I have
A character can refuse to understand their limitation’s in order to
A character needs to misunderstand someone’s romantic interest

And now the questions comes up…
why would a person willfully misunderstand their limitations (potentially a romantic partner?)
why would a person willfully misunderstand someone’s romantic interest ?

And this is as you surmised where it becomes important to decide on the context you want to argue for.

So I’ll come up with a couple of reason for each of them…what about it takes them toward zen/peace?
in order to find the love of their life
in order to live a life of adventure

in order to protect themselves from heartbreak
in order to live a quiet and peaceful life

So, I now have the two I like…sort of.

A character can refuse to understand their limitations in order to live a life of (romance and) adventure
A character needs to misunderstand someone’s romantic interest in order to protect themselves from heartbreak

I like them both, but they don’t quite feel mutually exclusive to me. And I would continue to tweak them until they feel right.

I throw them out to the group. How would you change/tweak them in order to get something better/stronger?



This is terrible! @jhull and @jassnip are giving away all the secrets to writing good stories. Somebody stop them!


Seriously, though – love the new article. Adds so much clarity to the concept.


Okay, I think I see what you mean by “take them toward zen/peace”. But this part -

I know from some article by @jhull or Melanie I read way back when said something about the psychology quad starts at the top right corner with Knowledge, Thought, Abiltiy, Desire and then moves to bottom right with Permission, Deficiency, Need, Expediency (or Can, Want, Need, Should) as the first level justfication, and then the bottom left as second level justification and finally the top right as third and fourth levels… but I have no idea what it meant or why would Knowledge move to Can instead of to Ability moving to Can and Desire moving to Should instead of to Want?

But to take up your challenge - I think your two justifications might be mutually exclusive enough already? I’m thinking they work if:

The character refusing to “understand” their limitations is refusing to go along with societal norms that would see them as an unsuitable romantic partner - limited I suppose by conventional ideas about physical appearance, disability, race or caste or gender conventions?

Meanwhile the other - “a character needs to misunderstand someone’s romantic interest” might be the justification of the first character’s parent/friend/guardian who doesn’t want to see the first character be hurt… or might be protecting themselves if they are afraid of losing the first character to love of another… or it might be both justifications are at battle in the MC’s thoughline, courage struggling with fear over breaking out of their shell?

Do those require tweaking to sharpen the conflict? I throw Diane’s ball back to the group!

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So, this is the same character? Or these are the two characters in the scene?