Timelocks Always Fixed?

Can a deadline Timelock accelerate during the story?

E.g. the cast believes an undesirable thing will happen in five days, but side-effects of the approaching doom suddenly get worse, motivating them to reassess the remaining time. Now it seems there’s only three days left.

Or is this just an Optionlock in disguise?

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Good question. Based on the info below, I’m thinking that would work as a “Constricting” Timelock.

Narrative Dynamics 7 – Dynamics Quads

It began, as stated, with my recent ponderings as to what dynamic quads would contain. Specifically (as my mental example for a thought exercise) if the current pair of dynamics of Timelock and Optionlock were in a quad, what would the other to items be?

I tried a number of different candidates, but all of them were insufficient to the task; they did not meet all the requirements of a truly balanced quad. But of late, there was one pair that seemed, at least initially, to satisfy all the test I know for determining if a potential quad is fully functional.

This part isn’t much of a revelation – just the first step to some really astounding discoveries, but it is an essential step…. So, here’s were the best candidates I had: the promising pair of dynamics was Constricting and Loosening.

Simply put, while the current pair of Timelock and Optionlock describe narratives that are brought to a conclusion by running out of time or running out of options, the new pair describes narratives that, at the conclusion, finds time or option (space) constrictions to be becoming tighter or looser. In essence, are time or space opening up into more possibilities or are they closing down into fewer?

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Just read the whole thing…


I wonder if @JBarker might have some insight, because I thought there was a kind of delay in the Timelock that happened in his Far End of the Black script that he deemed okay?

This is from that old thread:

Also, I asked a question a while ago that is related. Not sure if that thread will help, but it has some good insight from Chris Huntley:

I definitely believe the timelock can be accelerated. Though I can’t think of any movies off the top of my head having just woken up, there seems to be plenty of instances where there’s a set timelock and then somebody attempts to resolve the issue unwittingly exacerbates the problem.

In fact, in The Far End of the Black, the timelock is getting the needed antigen for the partial anti-dote that’s inside “Faith,” the scientist who has inoculated herself with the deadly virus. There’s all sorts of real-life science in it, but the short story is the virus is predicated on “the death-switch” for program cellular death (interesting video here.)

In short, programmed cellular death is what is being done when doctors inject the polio virus to attack and kill brain tumors. In this case, it went wrong and causes cellular death (think gangrene from the inside out), resulting in something akin to a zombie.

In the story, (fresh) blood slows the effects of the virus - hence the need for blood sacrifice to ultimately save humanity (it’s essentially the theme of the need for cellular death to occur - and how it does so naturally - to produce new, healthy cells on a larger scale). So the timelock can be delayed, but with consequences and there’s only so few options.

To make it more interesting, I made the cellular regeneration rate slower than the cellular death rate - but there comes a “turning point” where the regeneration effect of the blood wears off and the death of cells accelerates as if making up for lost time. I liken it to watching a fire in a skyscraper - you can only give it so much water in an attempt to contain it before the building just crumbles (think of the Twin Towers.)

I think the key is in the approach of your story and how one peppers it with details that continually tug and pull at the expectation that has been set up. An example in real life can be seen in football: a team driving in the final seconds may have an option to kick the field goal to tie the game. Making it would delay the timelock and send the game into overtime, but one wrong move would also result in a ten second run-off.

Always look at potential consequences that can tighten those gaps in time - they often seem to result in doing something that, at first, seems to help but ultimately hinders.

This is interesting, but as Melanie suggests, these are best seen from the T super class, and I’m still writing to the tune of / wrapping my head around the K super class…

And this is where I get a bit mixed up, because the theory book says something like, “When you have a Timelock story, the characters will feel like they’re running out of options. When you have an Optionlock story, the characters will feel like they’re running out of time.” And so in the football game does it just seem like a timelock because of the big red numbers on the marquee, and it’s really an optionlock because they only have so many ways to score points before the game’s over? Or vice-versa??

My question might be superfluous - I’m asking because I’m rewriting my first draft. In my particular storyform the Limit choice doesn’t affect any other story points, so it’s somewhat irrelevant. But I’d like to choose one for the sake of consistency.

I would say time-lock because the game-clock runs out signals the end of the game. It feels like option-lock because there are only so many options for getting points on the board before time expires: Hail-Mary or a field goal. In either case, the objective is the same: put points on the board to win the game before the clock expires (or, send it into overtime which delays the time-lock.)

Don’t forget to look at the nature of the obstacles to determine which is which, too. If the obstacles are causing delay, then it’s time-lock. If the obstacles cause a lack of focus and diversion, it’s option-lock.

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A very useful litmus test that I’ve never heard before. Thanks!

A Timelock means it is fixed in time. What may change is an audience’s understanding of it as it experiences the story.

KEEP IN MIND: All Dramatica story points are from the objectve Author’s point of view, one in which everything has already played out and all is known. That means the question of the Story Limit: Timelock or Optionlock? asks to identify what IS (objectively), not what seems to be from a subjective point of view.


I just want to clarify the details on this.

a) A bomb is going to go off. Twelve hours. – Clear timelock.
b) A bomb is going to go off. Twelve hours. The crew gets to work on how to disarm it. They get a phone call from the technician who was there watching it: “Don’t know what happened, but it went from 12 hours directly to 1 hour.” – Clear timelock, but the audience got jerked around a bit.
c) A bomb is about to go off. Twelve hours. The crew gets to work on how to disarm it. An hour later it explodes. The Captain says, “Call the ambulances, we have to save the injured people.” – Clearly not a timelock, probably an optionlock (“how do we save the people?” First, disarm the bomb. Second, get them to a hospital.)
d) A bomb is about to go off. Twelve hours. The crew gets to work on how to disarm it. They cut a wire – the clock goes down to 1 hour. They work to disarm it. An hour later, the clock ticks to zero. BOOM.

What is d? (The author knows that it was their mistake that made the clock jump down to one hour. They exercised the wrong option.)


Thanks for posting this Mike. I was having similar thoughts after Chris’s post but was nervous to voice them. The clarification is very helpful.

d is definitely an Optionlock – like you said, they tried the wrong option to disarm the bomb. (If instead the story was framed with their mistake being the initial story driver, so then they have one hour, it could be a Timelock.)

Now what about:

e) A bomb is about to go off. Twelve hours. The crew gets to work on how to disarm it. They find a way to add more time to the countdown through some procedure, giving them more time to disarm. (I think this is an Optionlock, and there might be some audience jerking around here too?)

f) An alien bomb with the capacity to destroy the universe is set to go off in one month. There are clues on how to disarm it but they will take years to decipher. The team puts the bomb on a spaceship which accelerates to close to the speed of light so that, due to relativistic effects, the bomb’s one-month timer lasts 50 years on Earth.
My guesses:
Timelock (50 years) - if the ship is set to come back in 50 years no matter what
Optionlock - if they can radio the ship to delay its return
Timelock (1 month) - if the protagonist is aboard the ship

You’d have to be careful not to jerk the audience around here too.

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I’ll play along, but I’m taking the opposite approach, @mlucas
d. Unless someone said ‘anybody else got any other ideas?’ And everyone else said ‘that was the last option we had’ right before the bomb exploded, I’m saying its a Timelock. The clock running out brought about the story climax.
Ditto for e IF the bomb goes off. Basically, it’s a Timelock with options to extend it.

Basically, if the bomb is diffused in time because of a good option, or goes off because of a bad option, like cutting the blue wire when it should have been the red, then it’s an optionlock because the option, whether cutting the blue wire and setting it off or cutting the red wire and saving everyone, brought about the climax of the story.

The story only climaxes because of Time IF the timer is allowed to run down. I would think that would look like a bomb going off and killing the target, or being tossed in the water and killing only fish and everyone else survives.

G. The tricky one would be if someone cut one of the wires right as the timer hit zero.

Yeah, @mlucas, I figured this was an optionlock after I posted it. It was weird how it just snapped into comprehension. Though, I think it can be dangerous to draw too many conclusions from single-sentence stories.

I’d say e) is definitely not a timelock – it’s not fixed in time, and their actions extend it. (sometimes, this is how I think about it: nobody can adjust a timelock, but people’s actions bring out the climax of an optionlock)

f) I’d say it should have been an optionlock – they should have sent the bomb into the sun! – but if they know it’s coming back in 50 years, that sets a timelock.

BTW, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to jerk an audience around, you just have to be consistent.

Nah, because the limit brings about the climax. In this case, the timer going down does this. It forces them to make a choice, but the limit isn’t about that. It’s about what forces the choice.

Yes it is (assuming the timer ran out). I’ll explain, but first…[quote=“chuntley, post:9, topic:1450”]
KEEP IN MIND: All Dramatica story points are from the objectve Author’s point of view, one in which everything has already played out and all is known.

Doesn’t matter if the clock is set for 12 hours and goes off in 1 or set for twelve hours and goes off in 13. The author objectively knows what time it will go off. The characters can shorten or lengthen the time on the clock, but it’s still ultimately set in time when you step back and look at the story as a whole.

This is exactly why I say it would be the tricky one. Which one brought about the climax? Timer running out or wire being cut? If they happen simultaneously there’s no way to know. This is the point where the wave becomes a particle. It’s both and neither. They ran out of options at the same point that they ran out of time.

If the author doesn’t communicate this, then it’s as if they didn’t know it. I mean, to put a straw man argument out there, I can’t write this one-word story : Goombah! and then claim that it’s a timelock because I know what it means. If it’s not clearly laid out in the text, then the author doesn’t get to claim they knew it.

It’s just that I think it’s clear. It’s the ticking clock that brings about the climax. They cut the wire because they are about to run out of time. The climax is before and up to when they snip the wire, it’s not just the tension the audience feels when they see the wirecutters in the hands of the hapless technician.

I’m assuming there’s some sort explanation within the story along the lines of “Hey, guys, there are four keys that we can insert into the bomb, each of which will give us an additional 15 minutes!” or “Holy crap, I just did this thing and it put an additional 15 minutes on the bomb, wonder if we can do it again?” Doesn’t matter when the audience gets the info, or even if the author knows about it until he writes it. The story has it’s own mind. Once the story is complete, the Storymind knows how the whole thing plays out all at once.

Can you point to where the options are clearly laid out in Star Wars? I’m of the opinion that they are more obvious after the fact.
Is Rocky still a Timelock story if he goes down in the first round by KO just because the rounds are still timed? Or would the option of KO be what brought about the climax in that version?

Right, a story that is running out of options will look like one that’s running out of time to the characters and audience.

But in this case, if they didn’t cut the wires, the bomb would go off, right?

I’ll think about the other questions overnight. I think you bring up an interesting idea: if you had a bomb, and the option to add 4 15-minute chunks to it to help you figure out how to disarm it…

At first blush, that just seems like a timelock to me, because it is fixed at whatever time plus one hour. It’s still fixed.

I didn’t sleep on this, but here is my quick and dirty answer about Star Wars: It’s not really a question of knowing which options are laid out, it’s just a question of knowing that they are working their way through options. So, the details are more obvious after the fact (if not impossible before the fact). But it seems pretty clear to me that people are working on options even as it is happening.

A different example would be Ex Machina: it very clearly lays out the Timelock even though it then goes on to play it out like an Optionlock… at the end though, it’s still a Timelock

If the wires weren’t cut, yes, the timer would run out. And if the timer wasn’t there, they’d still cut the wires.

To the Star Wars example: I think you could have a soft-edged Timelock that does the same thing. How about instead of a clock running down, the climax is brought out by someone’s life running out. That’s still something that’s fixed in time, and you could try to extend or shorten the persons life and see that the characters are working against time.

To Ex Machina, I dont remember the climax–at least not in relation to time and options-- so I can’t speak to it.

I think an example of G. might be something like Disneys animated version of Beauty and the Beast. There’s a rose with a limited number of petals. It’s also tied to the Beasts 21st birthday. Technically you can look at the rose and see how many petals there are, but I’ll be darned if I could tell you that number. I also have no idea how long it is until his birthday. So is it an Optionlock or Timelock. It seems that it doesn’t matter. It can be one or the other, both, or neither. By falling in love with the Beast as the last petal falls, Belle is essentially cutting the wire as the clock reaches zero. She takes the final option just as she runs out of time.

Not necessarily. Maybe they’d build a fence around the activating mechanism. (Unlss that was an earlier, exhausted option.) BUT, more relevantly, I think if you could construct a story with an ideal coming together of option+timelock, then I think it would come down to the storytelling. The author would tell the story a certain way.

Typically no, because the point of a timelock is that the out has to be a hard out. If you don’t know exactly when someone is going to die, then it won’t cut it. I think this is a good example of when something feels like a timelock (“I just want one more day!”) but it’s really not.

The flower is a storytelling device, to remind us, but it’s not the real limiter. I don’t remember the thing about the birthday.