Scene Process: Applying KTAD, PRCO, and Justifications

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.


Note to self. Refer to this note when we mentor.

This is super great. I’m curious about how exactly you implement this step in actual writing. Do you keep these justifications off to the side of your work to reference as you encode? Would you mind giving a example of the “final step” of your process?

  1. PRCO
  2. TKAD
  3. Justification
  4. (Final text)

Thanks John!
So, first a bunch of a caveats:

  • I usually do TKAD before PRCO (I feel like if the scene doesn’t at least have loose Situation, Activity, Attitude, Manners of Thinking, it has bigger problems)
  • It’s rare that I would use PRCO before I start to write the scene, although I think I have done it when I was nervous and procrastinating to start writing. For me, it’s more of a tool to use partway though the scene when things aren’t going well. That said, I’m sure for some writers it can be a fantastic tool to use ahead of time*.
  • Right now I’m doing revision so the examples I have are all scenes that were written first. Then I apply PRCO to make them better.

* This may depend where you fall on the plotter vs. panster spectrum. Here is a really good video that @Lakis shared with me: The Four Types of Novel Writers.

Yes, this is exactly how I do it. I use Scrivener and keep PRCO / Justification stuff in the Notes section for easy reference as I write. Sometimes my PRCO notes will even include little snippets of dialogue or whatever, so it’s nice to keep them close at hand.

Often as I write the scene, I’ll realize some of the PRCO/Justification notes aren’t quite right, and may update or just overrule them in the actual writing.

Does that help?


Do you find you do the justifications in the revision draft, @mlucas? I heard on a recent Writers Room that you write the story first, then find the storyform.

When you say this, had you been referring to any storyform? Or do you find it “already has” the appropriate elements for that storyform?

In reference to the Scrivener screenshot you show. I like how you use the notes section for this. Do you do a justification for the MC only, or do you try to have a justification for the person she is in conflict with as well? (That sounds like a lot of work, but it also seems like it would be helpful).

Yes I tend to start the story first, and figure out the storyform once I’m maybe 1/4 of the way into it. (But I do generally have the throughline domains in my head from the beginning; it’s almost hard not to. And as @jhull and @decastell have said recently, that’s where you get the most bang for your buck.)

To me Justifications are just another tool for improving scenes, an extension of PRCO. (They can be used at other levels, any story point, but I haven’t tried that or found it necessary yet.) So I would use this tool during first draft or revision, any time I’m trying to improve a scene that’s not working quite right.

Not sure I understand the question. By “pretty much what I want it to be” I mean I like the scene as-is, at an intuitive level. So not looking at storyform to make that judgement (though if I like the scene, for sure that means it fits the storyform well enough, or it would feel “off”).

The idea is to create two opposing (can’t both be true) justifications for each PRCO element, so 8 in total. Each of those 8 can be drawn from any character or group’s perspective, though often the scene’s POV character will have the lion’s share.


I know this is an older post but I would love to know what this is (can I find this in dramatica software (windows annoyingly) somewhere? I’m interested in the pattern more than anything). Thanks!:

Also, Hi Jim!
resurrecting this thread in light of the recent workshop!
I thought I would pitch in with my experience as an author new to using dramatica. I found looking at the elements below helped me to think of the level above as what @jhull calls an ‘ing’ rather than as storytelling. So looking at what rationalisation is composed of helped me to show someone rationalisation-ING and that causing conflict rather than just a scene where someone rationalizes what they are doing.
I don’t know if that is of interest but hope so!

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I generated it from @bobRaskoph 's fabulous Table of Scenes Generator. It takes some exports from Dramatica and does the rest. It’s great.

There’s a separate thread if you need to ask questions about it: Table of Scenes & every possible story point on a single page


Thank you! I wasnt aware of this!

Hope you’re well. I think that’s a stupid question, but I would like to know if in the final text (or revision draft), we have to present both justifications?