The Four Modalities of Scene Construction

Hey everyone!

Super excited about something I extrapolated from Chris and Melanie over the years that I want to share with you.

For years, writers new to Dramatica hit the Plot Sequence/Scene abyss in the current application of the theory and wonder what happened. They see how Signposts define Acts, and they kind-of, sort-of get the Sequences identified in the Plot Sequence report, but when they get to Scenes and the Events in those scenes they find that similar supportive material is non-existent.

With my first post on [The Narrative Code Behind Scene Construction] ( I hope to change all that.

We still don’t know exactly the order of Events or which one fulfills which component relationship in the dramatic circuit–however, with these four modalities of Scene Events I feel like we can get closer than we ever have before.

For years I ignored the topic because let’s face it–it’s difficult enough working four Throughlines at once, let alone one or two Plot Sequences–especially within a 105-page screenplay. But I’m starting to realize that if the “writing by numbers” that exists within the Plot Progression of Signposts or within the Plot Sequence report is productive and inspiring, why wouldn’t the same effect be felt at the Event level?

And I realize I skipped over Scenes to get right to Scene Events, but I’m pretty sure those are just the quad of Elements under each Issue in the Plot Sequence. To me, knowing the structure of a scene as seen through Dramatica is a compelling and exciting development.

In the next couple of days I’m going to go through some example scenes and explain how this all plays out. I’ve already got a couple great examples in mind.

Hope this helps you out somehow!


Very interesting article. I would love to see these scene development modalities implemented in Dramatica Story Expert. I think it would be very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

It may or may not be related closely to your modalities, but since I have been struggling with scenes of my actual piece, please brief me on the following:

When I am going down to character element level - and what element is being attributed to what a character is depending on my earlier decision - I am to realize that f.e in MC troughline at SP 1 the Evaluation: elements have been attached to different OS characters:

MC:Christopher - Contemplating -
exploration s-b-s:
Evaluation: Worth, Value,Confidence, Worry

Worth:Sister:Expectation inConfl Director:determination

Worth:Sister:ending inConfl Director:unending

Value:Researcher: proven inConfl Peasant:unproven

Value: Researcher: effect inConfl Peasant:cause

How would you resolve this discrepancy?

Should Christopher be contemplating on what the other four is bickering about?

And how would the other four know what to bicker about if Christopher had not aired yet those what trouble him ?


Hi Jim,
This statement in your article series blew my mind:

Note that the Power of a dramatic circuit does not necessarily mean
equity returns. In fact, if caught in the midst of a larger argument,
the retention of greater Potential in subsequent moments is the
Outcome’s primary function. In other words, try not to zero out the
Potential for conflict with every Outcome.

This is awesome because it helps me understand the point behind the partially-valuable, but misguided, writing advice to always have your scenes end in “disaster”. For example, here is a quote from’s Writing the perfect scene, which is based on Dwight V. Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer:

A Scene has the following three-part pattern:

  1. Goal
  2. Conflict
  3. Disaster
  4. Disaster: A Disaster is a failure to let your POV character reach his Goal. Don’t give him the Goal! Winning is boring! When a Scene ends in victory, your reader feels no reason to turn the page. If things are going well, your reader might as well go to bed. No! Make something awful happen. Hang your POV character off a cliff and your reader will turn the page to see what happens next.

I think it can often be pretty good advice to end your scenes in “disaster” but that is really only a subset of valid scene designs (kind of like Hero’s Journey is only a subset of valid story structures). There seem to be piles of counter-examples, take for example in the first Harry Potter book where Harry often “wins” and gets what he wants (e.g. saving Neville’s Remembrall when Draco threw it; getting chosen for the Gryffindor Seeker instead of being punished). Yet these don’t cause boredom because even these “winning” scenes end in a way that further expose the conflict potential inherent in the story (will Harry be able to fit in and succeed on the Quidditch team?).

Your explanation seems to gives the full account: the advice is not necessarily to always end in disaster, but to keep the background Potential for conflict alive. (I sometimes find, in books that follow the Disaster advice too keenly, the conflict-potential keeps getting amped up and up and it almost becomes ridiculous. Instead, it seems like the better advice is to be aware of that conflict-potential as a writer, and make it work for you; set it to what feels right for this point in the story – usually above zero. And maybe don’t aim for ten billion unless you know why!)


One-hundred percent yes.

“Make something awful happen” is about as helpful as “mush your fingers on the keypad and see what comes out”.

That said–here’s a NEW blog post continuing the Scene discussion with a bit more about the space-time continuum and narrative!

The Relationship Between Acts Carries a Message


Sorry, could you elaborate a bit on the PRCO of your Separation Scene Analyisis?
Nader refusing to reconsider seems a lot like Resistance, husband and wife arguing seems like current, Simin wanting out seems like the potential and the judges decision seems like outcome.
I haven’t seen the film, so it’s possible that this is more obvious to someone who has. And it’s entirely possible that I’m just rephrasing the SRCA. But even using the Problem/Symptom/Response/Solution analogy I can’t really see how you arrived at this assignment. Not saying you’re wrong, obviously just that I don’t see the connection.

I notice that you’ve edited your post. Not only elaborating a bit, but changing the modalities. It makes more sense to me now. (In the Conclusion you have Activity twice though)

You have to think of Author’s intent - I agree his event is presented as Resistance (really Revelation), but in term’s of the storyform - what the Author is trying to communicate - his convictions are the inequity of that scene. Remove those and there is no scene–as far as the Author is concerned.

I’m actually in the midst of clarifying that right now - so I should have something later on today.

And definitely watch the film if you can - I’m in the process of getting a clip to put on there - but your life will be immensely improved by watching it (its unbelievably great on so many levels)

(Oh, and thanks for the typo!)

Here is that clarification of PRCO

This clarification helped a lot. Thank you. Trying to position myself in the author’s seat can be a rather difficult task, especially since it’s entirely possible that the author might come out and tell us that we got it all wrong.

Something else I’ve been thinking about. The Genre part of PASS is the “Modes of Expression” they talk about in the Theory book, right? Do you think that a scene’s PASS and TKAD are connected? I thought about this after reading how they defined these modes of expression:
Drama (serious tone which focuses the audience on thought),
Information (educational tone which focuses the audience on knowledge),
Comedy (humorous tone which focuses the audience on ability) and
Entertainment (diverting tone which focuses the audience on desire).

Then again, I have a hard time imagining “A Separation” spending 1/4 or 1/8 of its scenes on Comedy (or Entertainment).

Oh, and do you think that a certain rhythm and/or percentage of PASS scenes/sequences “should” be present for the “perfect structure”? As in “should” there be one Active Structural Scene, one Active Storytelling Scene, one Passive Storytelling scene and one Passive Structural Scene in every Sequence?

Awesome, glad it helped! More to come…

Yes, the Genre part of Pass is the Modes of Expression and they play out exactly how you have written.

That’s the thing with PASS - it’s up to the Author to decide the particular mode of expression for structural scenes. They can be Drama or Information or Comedy or Entertainment. I don’t believe the storyform dictates that it has to be one, or that all four must be explored.

There is very little Comedy in A Separation. :laughing:

I’ve been watching the scene creation articles roll out from the sidelines, a little hesitant to dive in and engage…but I caught this nugget from your latest blog post:

This is where paradgims of scene construction that look simply at the
wants and needs of characters fall short for many Authors. Butting one
character’s wants against the wants of another (A man wants a delicious taco, another won’t let him have it) can lead to a zero charge for that scene. They effectively cancel each other out.

THIS. I was constantly frustrated with the “make two opposite characters and throw them at each other” approach to scene creation at university (and work) because it was irrelevant to actually making interesting scenes.

Might have to dive in soon…


I just finished outlining my first scene using this process. I have to say, the end result is truly awesome. And by that I mean, inspiring awe–with each additional layer the original StoryEncoding found in your PRCO enriches and expands until it becomes this force of dramatic nature.

I’ll work on providing a detailed step-by-step.


That’s what I was hoping you’d say!

Good stuff! I’ve been following along with Shawn Coyne’s “Story Grid” podcasts where he, as a long-time story editor, has developed his own methods and formulas, some based on Robert McKee’s stuff. The one thing I find very true that he espouses is, master the scene and you’ll master story (which makes me think of the fractal nature within).

The one thing that caught my attention in his most recent podcast was where he took McKee’s concept of the value in the scene going from positive to negative (or vice versa), but using the value itself as what’s at stake within the scene. Of course, it’s much less regimented than with Dramatica’s PSR, so I went back and reread Armando’s chapter and realized, with the “Z” pattern, it’s essentially a scene, scene with a turn, scene - but as Jim mentioned, it kind of becomes a black hole when dealing with those independent scenes and from my own personal experience, they may have been perhaps set-ups and payoffs or static, ultimately more “sequence” driven than scene driven.

This gives me a new perspective to be able to shape those “scenes,” though I haven’t given much thought to using the variations as “stakes” vs. concepts explored. For instance, Worth, Confidence, Worry, and Value equates to Confidence/Worry naturally opposed and fitting together in a single scene. PRCO, however, can be applied to “Worth,” making it more dynamic, fuller, and less likely to be explored via a single line of dialogue.


Exactly. It becomes less of the Author trying to beat the Audience over the head with their “message” and more about showing it through Character, Plot, Theme, and Genre.

I’m pretty sure that the order in which you go through PRCO determines the positive or negative charge. And by charge I mean the charge the Author sees as the charge of the dramatic circuit. McKee, I’m guessing, is speaking about the Audience’s interpretation of such.

This charge is more in relation to the purpose and meaning of the storyform (ultimately Success or Failure)

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Correct, but again, in his theory, it’s much less regimented; essentially, the change in charge is to ensure the scene isn’t static. “If nothing changes, throw it out,” he’ll say, but it doesn’t necessarily speak to the bigger picture, just that scenes comprise sequences that comprise acts, each culminating into a larger turning point until the story arrives at its conclusion.

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Oh. Well that’s nothing like what I was talking about lol

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Gotta give a huge thank you to Jim Hull for increasing his blog posts and spewing forth his accumulated insights. I’m loving the posts about scene structure. I graciously accept your gifts, Mr. Hull and greedily await more! :slight_smile:

I follow Coyne’s Story Grid podcast, too. Highly recommended.

Anyway, just wanted to pop in and say that I am sure there are more lurkers like me who truly appreciate what you are doing and encourage you to keep the fountain of knowledge flowing. Thank you!

Somewhat, lol, I was just providing more of a contrast.

McKee points to audience interpretation through the turnpoints via emotions within the context of what’s come before, which makes sense with regards to understanding (it’s not the tears that make us feel the emotion, it’s knowing what caused them.)

As audience, we experience an emotion when the telling takes us through a transition of values. First, we must empathize with the character. Second, we must know what the character wants and want the character to have it. Third, we must understand the values at stake in the character’s life. Within these conditions, a change in values moves our emotions.

Those turning points aren’t that different from the concept of the “Z” pattern, but where the two theories differ greatly is McKee states the scene-objective is tied to the “super-objective” or spine, “the story-long quest that spans from inciting incident to story climax.”

That’s pretty broad whereas with Dramatica, you know individual scenes are working toward the signposts of four different through-lines that makes them much more specific and movement-oriented. McKee’s thought comes across as everything being tied to the OS with no regards to whether the meaning shifts from gathering information to understanding to doing to obtaining or whatever the case may be.

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This is some exciting stuff!

How exactly would this play out? I’ve been outlining Acts and Sequences in Excel, but never even dared to think the resolution of the plot could be multiplied by going down to the Elements. So, yesterday, I did just that! Act 2.pdf (351.1 KB)

Attached is the second act of my story, with the Elements under the Sequences in the “Z” pattern.

Now, I don’t have a clue if this is even right or if it has any releance at this resolution. Obviously, the Elements being most character-like, laid out like this, they aren’t just a finer version of the Sequences, right?