Should a signpost be a dilemma or is being a problem enough?

I’ve been watching that Subtext video on writing the MC signposts and there was mention of signpost 1 being a dilemma. I too am working on a Change story, so I wanted to know if all the signposts have to be dilemmas or maybe just the first one, or is it enough to just illustrate a signpost as a problem?

The one I’m working on goes “MC conceives of a happy life as having a job and a family that make him feel useful, but can’t concieve of ever getting those things without job and social skills, so he wallows in depression instead of trying to work around his limitations.”
I figure that counts as a problem because Conceptualizing is leading to wallowing, but I’m not sure that’s any kind of dilemma since it’s not a choice between two things.

Edit: I guess a dilemma of Conceptualizing might look like “conceiving of a happy life as one sheltered from risks and pain, but also one of adventure”-- those concepts contradict each other and force a choice. Does that sound right? I think that could drive some conflict.


I think you’ve mostly figured this out. My .02 anyway is closer to your edit.

People need (the perception of) a risk free life in order to be happy unless the (imagining) a life of adventure makes them more fulfilled.

Does that fit for you at all?


I think what you have is a decent start. Though I don’t quite understand why you’re trying to phrase a Conceptualizing signpost in terms of Conceiving? I think they do fit Conceptualizing – he can’t figure out a way to implement his grand ideas, to make them real – so it may be better to phrase it that way.

Now to take it to the next level, it may help to think about how you would show these things in the story. Obviously you can’t have a “MC sits around wallowing in depression” scene. You need to show how his wallowing in depression is a problem, probably by making it interfere with something he wants. For example, his friends invite him to go out and he really doesn’t want to let them down, but he just isn’t in the mood and he knows his depression will just drag everyone down … that kind of thing.


Something that clicked with me a little while ago is how important it is to think in terms of a dramatic unit (PRCO) if you can.

So instead of thinking trying to figure out the Signpost 1: Conceptualizing on its own, ask how does Conceptualizing -> Conceiving -> Being -> Becoming (or whatever your signpost order is).

  1. The main character has this desire for achieving a happy life, but as hard as he tries, any time he visualizes taking the steps to make it happen, he is crushed by self-doubt, leading him to self sabotage, making him feel worse about himself;

  2. This goes on until a friend presents him with a completely new idea of faking his resume and changing his name. He resists this idea at first until something happens to make him feel utterly desperate;

  3. So he fakes his resume and goes on a job interview; to his shock, it works, he gets the job, but now feels like a complete fraud;

  4. He loses his job, but in the process realizes that he was actually more capable than he thought; he returns to school with the goal of becoming a PhD.


Great advice. It’s an ‘all are one and one are all’ kind of thing. The magic happens because of the relationships between elements in a quad. If you try to think of an element sans relationships, there’s no magic.


Does black and white thinking count as conceptualization?
What about not fitting in? Fitting in is a gist, so why not the opposite?

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Hmm. I’m not sure about that gist. It think it depends on the context. I would be interested to hear from others, but I think it makes sense if it means something like “picturing how to fit in” or even, trying to fit in. I think of Conceptualizing as a problematic process of planning, scheming, visualizing, imagining in detail, telling your story, etc.

That sounds more like Mind to me, but again it probably depends on context.


I think the “fititng in” gist must refer to figuring out how things fit together, i.e. the piecing things together aspect of Conceptualizing. So fitting in, as in fitting in with others (or society etc.), definitely could work if it was about “figuring out how to fit in.” (I guess this is basically what @Lakis said :slight_smile: .)

EDIT: Not fitting in should work in a similar manner. You can imagine the other people in some group looking at your MC and being unable to figure out how he could fit in.


It’s worth pointing out that Jim defined the Conceptualizing Goal as “integrating into a new environment” in his Knives Out analysis (not sure if this was brought up in the Knives Out thread, I didn’t read that thread as I haven’t seen the movie).

Immigrants integrating into a new environment sounds pretty close to fitting in, I’d say! :slight_smile:


Would this count: “MC has opposing conceptualizations of what a happy life looks like: one sheltered from risks and pain, and another made of novelty and adventure. Being afraid to pick either leaves him paralyzed with indecision and unhappy.” or is that just the structure of a Change character?

The way you describe it, the source of conflict here sounds like the MC’s fear and not their Conceptualizing.

Two opposing concepts lead to indecision.

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I think it works great. Greg’s right that there’s fear and worry in there for sure, but I think if you keep it focused on the manners of thinking aspect of two opposing concepts, it’ll be perfect.

But it’s only the first step. Now you have to use that to figure out what actually happens in the story, in one or more scenes. (You could also look to the PSR for ideas.)

Okay, so the existence of two opposing concepts is the source of conflict here. But is it just the presence of two opposing concepts? What about there being two opposing concepts makes this an example of Conceptualizing? To get right to the point, how is choosing between two concepts itself an example of visualizing how an existing idea might be implemented?

I got the sense the MC is visualizing how a happy life could be implemented, and is running into trouble because he’s envisioning different things that are at odds with each other. Isn’t that what you were going for @SharkCat?

Anyway I think the reason it’s hard to see how this works is because it needs to go down to the next level of what happens in the story.


I thought that part came after the basic PRCO stuff. I’m still stuck on making one thing lead to another without possibly bleeding into OS or RS (wanting to feel useful and to belong to a group despite raging anxiety would involve other people, so I don’t know what belongs in MC or not). It’s a holistic story form, so I don’t know if that’s part of the problem.

But having two different plans or concepts to choose from isn’t Conceptualizing any more than having two different paths to choose from is Conceptualizing, or two different answers, or two different desserts, or two different anything, because making a choice is not Conceptualizing. A concept is not Conceptualizing and two concepts is not Conceptualizing.

Trying to see how two opposing concepts (or plans, or paths, or answers, or anything) fit together is Conceptualizing, as is being unable to see how two opposing concepts fit together. Even holding on to one concept while living the other might be Conceptualizing. Or coming up with too many plans for how to live a happy life might be Conceptualizing. But the way it was worded-

-doesn’t express any of those. IF the idea is that visualizing too many paths to a happy life leads to indecision, then I’m just trying to make sure we’re pointing to that.


It seems to me that Fitting In could be the subject of nearly any domain.

Just thinking out loud:
Situation could be about the need to fit in, how some are fitting in and others are not and how that affects how other people relate to them.

Activity could be about the actual act of fitting in, what one has to do and the complications that arise from trying to fit in.

Manner of Thinking could be about what it means to fit in, figuring out how one would go about it and what type of people would or would not want to fit in.

Fixed Attitude could be about the desire to fit in and why someone would or would not want to.


I think this is absolutely key, and is the reason why it’s probably a mistake to focus too much on one story point without taking the rest into account.

We saw this in the Knives Out analysis. “Being the child of someone undocumented” sounds like a Situation, unless the real problem is one’s Mindset (and the Mindset of others toward you).

Maybe the other approach is get really specific with the illustration to show that it’s the visualizing part that’s creating conflict rather than the fear part (assuming that’s what you want to say @SharkCat)

Yep. Just depends on what you want to say about ‘fitting in’.

Just as long as Conceptualizing is the cause of conflict. Specific or not, having “concept” in the illustration isn’t enough (there’s a thread where CHuntley explains how it works to me, I’ll have to dig it up and post a link), and that’s what I was trying to point out.

Also, looking at the thread title-“Should a signpost be a dilemma or is being a problem enough?”-I’m not sure how “dilemma” is being used, but I think SharkCat is asking if a signpost needs to be a choice between two of whatever the signposts are. (@SharkCat?) if that’s correct, then I would say not to make a signpost a choice between two. You want whatever the process is to be the problem. So a choice between two concepts is not Conceptualizing, but seeing how those concepts fit in (or being unable to see) is.