Scene Process: Applying KTAD, PRCO, and Justifications

I’ve been using KTAD (Situation, Attitude, Activity, Manner of Thinking) and PRCO in scene work for a while, and recently started expanding the PRCO with Justifications when necessary, as per @jhull’s recent guidance.

I thought it might be useful to show my process and some examples. There’s a lot here so I’ll save the examples for the next post(s).

One thing I find with these techniques is that, beyond the work that you do and write down to use in your scene, the most important benefit seems to be the clarity of thought. I always find the picture or understanding of my scene that exists in my head, improves further with each step. But also note that these can be overkill if you already have a great scene that feels complete, hence my step #1. :slight_smile:

###Scene Process

  1. Is the scene awesome as-is? Does it feel like it’s pretty much what I want it to be? If yes, no need for further analysis. If no, continue below…
  • First apply basic KTAD – check for Activity, M.of Thinking, Situation, Attitude. This is usually a pretty quick check. It’s rare that something is missing, but even when all four are present, it helps guide my understanding. If any are missing, make a revision note with ideas on how to include the missing item in a way that improves the scene.

  • Now do PRCO analysis. Sometimes it helps to first write some of the P,R,C,O as basic English sentences, without using Dramatica elements. Other times it helps to spot particular elements in the scene – like “ooh, this could be Inaction, and oh yeah that other thing looks like Protection”. Once I’m confident of one dynamic pair I can look at all the quads it’s a part of to find the other dynamic pair. (this step can take some trial & error)

    • Knowing the elements, I assign them all to P,R,C,O and make a list of what items/beats in the scene apply. If any of the elements are missing or not conveyed strongly enough in the scene, that makes a revision note for something to fix.
  • Finally, the Justifications step. Write an Opposing Justifcations sentence for each of the P,R,C,O elements, that captures the conflict for that element within the scene. Sometimes, even though the element was present, only a one-sided justification is apparent from the scene – no competing one. What’s interesting here is that it usually seems quite natural to come up with the alternate justification that fits the scene, and this becomes a revision note for something additional to convey in the scene (even if subtextually).

Note I’ve been using this for revision lately, but for first draft it would be similar except that you might be working off ideas or a partly-written scene, so you might have more gaps to fill in.


Here is an example from a recent scene I revised, taken straight from my notes that I used while revising.

Scene Summary
In Bertram’s car, a captive Becca debates Buffy with Mandy to try and cover her escape preparations, but discovers that Mandy is more dangerous than she thought (and pretty much insane).

Dramatica KTAD:

  • Situation: Becca is stuck, being held at gunpoint in the back seat
  • Activity: Escape activities — undoing seatbelt surreptitiously; running other activities through her head in preparation for escape; the driving car and trying to time her escape to a red light stop
  • M-of-Thinking: pretending to debate Buffy with Mandy in order to lull and distract her
  • Attitude: Becca’s opinon of Mandy (garish lipstick, etc.); both shared and clashing opinions on Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show

Dramatica PRCO:

  • CONSIDER (Potential): Becca considers how to escape
  • OPPOSE (Resistance): Becca hates on Mandy’s garish lipstick, but doesn’t mind the gun
  • SUPPORT (Current): Becca tries to lull/distract Mandy by supporting her weird game of reminiscing about Buffy, and alternating her support with non-support
  • RECONSIDER (Outcome): Becca reconsiders how dangerous Mandy is and realizes she’s in worse trouble than she thought — realizes escape is a bad idea


  • Becca (CONSIDER): I need to consider my options for escape in order to save myself UNLESS I should consider how dangerous my captor is in order to fear her appropriately
  • Becca (OPPOSE): I want to disapprove of someone’s poor taste in order to think of myself as superior to her UNLESS I need to debate Buffy the Vampire Slayer with her in order to (be able to) distract her
  • Becca (SUPPORT): I want to withhold support for my enemy’s ideas in order to keep thinking of myself as the good guy UNLESS I need to agree that I’m Faith and she’s Buffy in order to stay alive
  • Becca (RECONSIDER): In order to have a chance of escape, I need to not reconsider my plan UNLESS I need to rethink how much trouble I’m in, in order to keep Mandy from killing me

Note: all the justifications happened to be from Becca’s point of view, probably because this is a simple scene with one clear “scene protagonist” and one “scene antagonist”. For other scenes I’ve use multiple characters for the justifications.

This was just a silly, fun little scene but I had found when re-reading it that it didn’t come across quite as well on the page as it had in my head. I definitely found the techniques especially the Justifications helped me tighten it and capture my ideas so that it became what I wanted it to be.


I love seeing other people’s process. Thanks for sharing this.


Thanks @jassnip – actually a lot of this is thanks to your help as well, getting me going with the Justifications. I was kind of skeptical about going that far until I saw your examples.

@Lakis and @Greg helped as well. :slight_smile:


These are totally cool concepts! :slight_smile:

Yesterday I watched a GOT scene analysis on Youtube. (Here, if someone interested:

The narrator analysed an Olenna vs Tywin scene in the terms of the three acts structure, character’s motivation and raising conflict, but now I see the Justifcation vs Justification everywhere. :wink:


How did you choose your PRCO quad (consider, reconsider, oppose, support) in the first place, for this particular scene?

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When I initially wrote the scene I didn’t use PRCO or anything. In first draft I only go to that level when I get stuck, and I didn’t get stuck here (probably because it was during NanoWriMo, plus the Buffy stuff made it fun). I would’ve had some of the whole-story storyform points in the back of my mind as I planned and wrote it, but that’s about it. (I didn’t use the PSR for this scene.)

So yeah, I had no idea that it used that particular quad, or heck even where this scene ended and the next began, until I analysed it on revision.

I actually find pinpointing the quad to be one of the most enjoyable things in revision. It simultaneously gives you a pat on the back (“hey, it matches a real quad!”) and guidance on how to make the scene better.


If you haven’t written the scene yet, another way is to just use the Elements under whatever PSR Variation your scene is based on (assuming you’re using the PSR). I think @jhull has suggested this works about 90 percent of the time, and I’ve found this to be the case with my current outline.


Hey @Lakis wondering if you can elaborate on how this works for you. When you’re outlining your scene, do you start with some basic ideas of the scene and then try to map those ideas to the elements under the given PSR quad? And/or do you look at gists of the elements in order to get more ideas for the scene?

How does PRCO factor into it – do you often have a sense of what the “outcome” of the scene should be, for example?

I’d also be interested to hear why you might choose a different quad than the one under the PSR Variation.

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I’ll see if I can reverse-engineer it :slight_smile: Bear with me…

The main thing I’m doing differently from before is that I’m only outlining the whole story at the highest level (Signpost PRCO e.g. Becoming/Being/Conceiving/Conceptualizing), and keeping it very abstract, with the full expectation that it’ll change as I go. The idea is to break it down only once I’ve written to that point. On the downside this means a lot of looping between outlining and drafting. The advantage though is that I’m allowing myself to come up with better illustrations as I go and not locking myself into anything too granular before I get there.

So for example, I have an OS Beat of “Value while Becoming”. With illustrations: Belinda is useful for a particular group while being changed by a particular group.

Based on what’s already going on in the story, I wrote:

Belinda and Roger wait outside the camp at Lifeboat. Every night, the call out to the guards at the gate, making the case that they should be allowed in. Eventually, because of her connection to Luz, Belinda is invited in, and Roger is brought along.

That’s probably enough to start writing a scene, but It’s still vague, and the conflict is a little weak/unclear.

So then I run an “instant scene” for Value in Subtext and get:

Having Proof / Having a Negative Effect on Something /Inciting Violence /Being Unverified

And that immediately gives me a clearer idea:

Belinda offers proof that she and Roger should be let in to the Lifeboat [PROVEN], but Marianne is worried that letting her in in front of all of the frustrated supplicants will have a negative effect on morale [EFFECT], so she arranges for them to be brought in in the middle of the night. However, when the girls with the animal masks awake and see Roger and Belinda being brought in, they freak out and start a riot, [CAUSE] causing them to be shot by the protectors. In the fast truck-ride into the Lifeboat, Marianne curses and tells the protector to get Vaselko on the phone; she says they’ll need to cover this thing up, blame it on insurrectionists. Nonetheless, she is now very dubious about having let Belinda and Roger in. [UNPROVEN]

So the key thing here is that I never would have had that idea about the riot etc. without that CAUSE element. In the past this might have caused a problem, because it brings some totally new storytelling in, which would have required me to re-outline the rest of the story. But since I haven’t gotten that granular yet, I don’t think it’ll be a problem bringing that storytelling back later.

So far I’m not doing that at all – the quad that’s there seems to be right one–which makes sense.


Thanks for the detailed answer @Lakis! Love it!

I can totally see that scene in my head, especially Marianne muttering to herself at the end. That “being dubious” outcome is so cool and so totally fueled by the Proven, Effect, and Cause that came before! :boom:

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This is true - although it’s probably closer to 95% - the Elements at the bottom fall into line with their parent issue (An Issue of Self Interest would explore Avoid, Pursuit, Control, and Uncontrolled).


This is really cool – I like that folks using the PSR can feel confident about the element quad. 90-95% is a great number because it lets you feel confident while also knowing you can pick something else if you want.

For certain stories though, there may be some other factors in play:

  • A story that has more than 4 scenes for a particular throughline within a single act – so more than one scene per PSR Variation. I think it’s unlikely you would have several different scenes repeating the same element quad – it would get boring. (As far as I’m aware, Dramatica doesn’t suggest a limit to the number of scenes you can have.)
  • Scenes that deal with multiple throughlines in the same scene, and it’s not obvious whether they were, for example, “more OS” or “more IC.” In this case the element quad’s parent Variation might be an OS PSR item or an IC one.
  • Similar to the above… In a story that includes one or more substories, you may have a scene that deals equally with the main story and a substory.
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FWIW something interesting I’ve noticed is when weaving PSR variations from different throughlines is that sometimes there are “crossover” Elements under the different Variations in close proximity. So for example (making this up) the MC Signpost 1 might have “Equity/Inequity” under a Variation of Interdiction, while the OS Signpost 1 has “Equity/Inequity” under a Variation of Falsehood. I don’t know if this is just coincidence or if there’s something in the model that brings these points together.

However, I could imagine a MAM moment in which you’re working through an OS Beat of Falsehood -> Equity/Projection/Speculation/Inequity while either Equity or Inequity is also serving the MC Beat of Interdiction -> Ability/Equity/Inequity/Desire.

Just an observation. Not sure how practical it would be to try plan it out that way – but it might land that way organically.

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Changing the set of Elements explored underneath would have the same effect as choosing alternate Variations for various Signposts—which is to say the meaning would change. The “boring” factor has more to do with repeating the Variation. You can do it, and sometimes you can learn a lot be revisiting the same topic, but after awhile it becomes repetitive.

From top to bottom, the scope of the model is a quad:

  • Domain/Genre is Knowledge
  • Concern/Plot is Ability
  • Issue/Theme is Thought
  • Problem/Character is Desire

Signposts and Variations are therefore in a Dependent (or Co-dependent) relationship. The time spent exploring thematic issues relies on the order of plot-level concerns. Likewise, the sequence of plot-level concerns is reliant on the order of thematic issues (its a dependent relationship, not an if…then causation).

This is why you see apparent discrepancies within the Plot Sequence Report. Signposts and Variations move out-of-phase with one another because of their dependency with one another.

Variations and Elements (Problems/Conditions) exist within a Companion relationship—which is to say they work in concert with, and support one another. Pursuing and avoiding amplify selfish endeavors in the same way that procrastination intensifies pursuing and avoiding. The two levels support each other as if members of a family—splitting them up dilutes and detracts from their companionship. You wouldn’t suddenly talk about faith and disbelief when it comes to selfish pursuits UNLESS you were shifting the conversation to something more psychological in nature (as in commitments, or dedication).

This is why the InstantScene feature in Subtext works so well when breaking down Variations into scenes. That Companion relationship is an essential dynamic of the model.

In short, always use the default set of Elements for every Variation (what you see in Subtext). The 5% differential only refers to the order of those Elements within their family—Theme and Character always stick together (birds of a feather and all that).


AAAH! Holy crap. Mind blown!!! :boom:

Let me explain why. I was starting to write a post that both validated and complicated what you were saying, Jim. Validated because, even though I wrote this draft without using the PSR*, when I pore over my scenes to figure out my element quad, there have been cases where I realized (after pinning it down) that it “happened” to match the parent PSR item for the OS at this point. Recently this happened with both Appraisal and Reappraisal.

However, there were some other scenes that seemed to have element quads from out of the blue, including the example one in my post #2 above. That one is the quad under Rationalization. I had noticed that Rationalization happened to be the RS PSR item at this point, but I thought that was just a fluke, since I thought this was an OS scene. It doesn’t have anything to do with the “messed-up romance” that is the main RS, or any of the other surrogate relationships I’d noticed…

…except now I just realized there is an RS relationship between Mandy and Becca, a kind of “frenemies-enemies” relationship that grows and has a strangely heartfelt resolution. Weird! I never noticed that before! Geez, it even fits the RS Problem of Consider. And this scene ends with the line “I knew we could be friends”. :slight_smile:

How crazy that I identified a whole relationship story because of a scene’s element quad!

Okay, so then I looked at another scene whose element quad seemed “out of the blue” and lo and behold, it matches the MC PSR item of Instinct. Not sure why I didn’t notice that – I was thinking OS but it makes total sense it’s MC.

Thank goodness I knew from experience not to doubt you, Jim, or I wouldn’t have triple-checked what I was saying… :slight_smile:

I’ll see what happens as I go forward, I’m guessing as the substories gain steam it will sometimes be tricky to know which storyform a scene “belongs” to, and I only have one substory full storyformed. Still, this is super exciting!!!

* it was during NanoWriMo and I was kind of just flying from scene to scene, and didn’t fully trust the PSR yet as I wasn’t 100% sure on Judgment or Outcome. Though I think by this point I was pretty sure, and could tell that the whole PSR quad felt right, but didn’t know “where I was” in it.


This thread answers so much for me. I’ve been having trouble wrapping my head around using PRCO because it seemed like everyone was just picking random quads and going at it, and I didn’t understand how it fit into a grand argument storyform.

But knowing you can just drill down to the elements under the PSR variations to structure a scene is beyond helpful. Thank you everyone!


One question Jim… I remember in the past you talking about the Element level (beneath PSR) having been removed from the Dramatica software because it was too fine-grained and proscriptive for most folks, and did not affect the meaning. You made a fantastic analogy to a table – regardless of the pattern of the wood grain, we’ll still understand that it’s a table.

Has your thinking on that changed?


What? Do I have to S P E L L … I T … O … U …T … F …





In other words, no, my thinking hasn’t changed. It won’t affect or improve the meaning…but it will help you write better scenes.

Working scenes at that much detail is basically “spelling it out” for the Audience so that they don’t miss a thing – and also probably spelling it out for the Author new to dramatic narrative.

If you mess it up at this level no one will notice. That’s why it’s super easy to swap which on is Potential and which one is Resistance and the scene still holds up in terms of the bigger picture.

Your biggest biggest gain is the Four Throughlines.

From there, it’s up to the artist what is too much and what is just right - the Premise (the meaning of the story) - is wrapped up in the bigger picture.


Wow. Working on my revision the last couple weeks I have been utterly astounded with this PRCO stuff.

For example, the scene I did yesterday. It’s just this little 450 word scene. When I read over the first draft version I knew it needed some rejigging and wrote “cool but needs fixing, a PRCO quad, incl. Disbelief I think”.

Now, I knew that none of my PSR Variations at this point were from lower-left, so Disbelief couldn’t be one of their elements. But the Disbelief was so obvious that I decided it was ok, this scene was just a short bit highlighting the Skeptic character’s penchant for disbelief, which becomes really important later on. I figured it wasn’t part of the structure.

So I tried to figure out which quad, and picked the Dream one (Disbelief/Faith/Support/Oppose). But after going with that and starting to write I had second thoughts and realized the Commitment one (Disbelief/Faith/Pursuit/Avoid) fit way better. In fact, all those elements were already there in the first draft – but recognizing where they were made the rewriting much easier. (There were a couple wandering paragraphs where MC Devin struggles with his loyalty to Becca, and knowing that was Faith made it easier to tighten.)

I finished rewriting the scene, and was about to post about how it’s ok sometimes to just use a random quad that’s not part of the structure, for a short little scene highlighting character. I don’t disagree with that, but… Then I realized the Commitment quad was in the PSR at this exact point in the story! Once I again, I had missed it because it was part of the RS, and I wasn’t thinking of this as an RS scene, because the main RS characters weren’t both present.

In hindsight, that was kind of stupid – this scene is basically “the aftereffects of the huge salting-the-earth rejection that just happened in the relationship (previous scene)”. But I was so into the MC’s POV that I was thinking of it more as an MC scene. (Which may explain why I gravitated toward the Dream quad, actually, since Dream is the MC Counterpoint.)

Anyway, after all that I started wondering if the previous PSR item of Responsibility had shown up already. I had identified the Rationalization scene in the posts above (described in post #2, PSR-matched in #16). But for my recent scenes I hadn’t done any PRCO analysis, as they were really strong in first draft, and I didn’t need to change much.

So I started hunting. The obvious candidate was the big rejection scene I mentioned, which comes right before this one. Control and Uncontrolled were there for sure, but I had trouble seeing Conscience and Temptation at first, so I looked at some other scenes before coming back. Then I realized Conscience was HUGE in the subtext of this scene – it’s all about their guilty consciences over what happened between them, which ties into the Responsibility i.e. blaming.

And then, with that snapping into place feeling we’ve all come to associate with Dramatica, I realized what the Temptation (Outcome) was. Incredible, really – vastly different from anything I could have come up with consciously. It was basically just “being tempted to give up and just go home”. After all the pain they’re tempted to give up on the relationship, and they do (for now).

I just think it’s so cool how accurate the storyform can be, even down to the elements below the PSR – and all by following the main throughline story points, not even using the PSR in first draft.