Timelocks Always Fixed?

I probably shouldn’t answer since I’m just getting it myself, but wanted the practice. So…

That’s what I’m getting. If you look at the movement of the sun to indicate time, it’s not about looking at a number of moments of time-specific language, it’s about the space between where the sun is and where it’s going to be. It’s an indicator of time, but Timelocks, as I’m getting it, have to be tied to time only, not the indication of time. The fuel in Dunkirk is an optionlock because it’s about the space between fifty gallons (or whatever the number was) and zero gallons, or maybe it’s about the miles left that the plane can still fly. He could land on the beach and buy himself more time before the plane runs our of fuel, but he couldn’t land and buy himself more miles before the plane runs out of fuel without breaking the limit by adding more fuel.

Time and Space seem to be the same thing, or at least on the same spectrum. So running out of one feels like running out of the other. Time without space is an abstract-y kind of thing that space flows through. So getting closer to 5:33 might look like running out of space between the sky and the horizon. Or the sun getting closer to the horizon might look like running out of minutes or seconds. But you can only lock time with measurements of time (seconds, minutes, etc).[quote=“LunarDynasty, post:60, topic:1450”]
Maybe if the story communicates clearly that the fuel consumption is constant, and doesn’t get sidetracked with “well we can do one of these or two of that on the remaining fuel,” it might be a Timelock.

That’s not how I’m understanding it. Measuring time with constantly draining fuel is still looking at the space between full and empty or here and there. A timelock would have to be something like, “I need the fuel to last for sixty minutes and then someone else can take over” or something like that.

Yeah, I agree with that. It was a very iffy ‘maybe’ to start with.

the last thing bothering me here is still why Timelocks need to be specified up front while optionlocks can seemingly be unfolded as the story progresses rather than stated all at once. I don’t know that I have an answer, but if anyone else is bothered by it as well, I’ve found that assuming it has something to do with how Time flows and Space sits is satisfying enough for me.


Sorry for going on and on here. I have a problem, guys. I’m aware of it. :joy:

So it isn’t specifically said in Dunkirk what options Tom Hardy is looking at, but it seems clear he’s looking at the number of miles he can fly in order to increase the number of enemy combatants he can shoot down and the number of lives he can save. But suppose he took a bullet to the fuel tank. Could he then change it to a Timelock by saying “at this rate the fuel tank will have drained completely dry in X minutes”? In that example each minute would look like a specific number of gallons being drained, but he’d still know he was fighting against the clock and not the miles. The difference between this and fuel draining at a constant rate just because he’s flying is that landing wouldn’t change the fact the his plane will be empty in a given number of minutes if there’s a bullet hole in it.

I don’t think this is true – if you have an Optionlock story but don’t communicate any kind of limit, the audience won’t have a sense of how long the story is going to be. Somewhere in the first act you need to hint that there’s a limit to the story’s scope.

I think the difference is that an Optionlock can be communicated subtly*, while a Timelock, just by its nature, tends to be fairly obvious. But both should be communicated sometime in act/signpost 1 and reinforced in each act.

* i.e. you don’t have to come right out and say “the Empire only has these options for finding the rebel base”, you just have to show them looking for it, and getting closer to reaching it.


This is getting a bit theoretical for me, but I would suggest there is one major difference between Time and Space… and perhaps this difference is why there is a structural difference between Optionlock and Timelock.

We can control our movement through space. We can’t control our movement through time.

We have “options” when it comes to space. We can take this route or that route, we can stand over here or over there, we can sit still or drive fast. But our movement through time is fixed at one second per second forever. (Even relativistic velocities can only change the passage of time you observe for others, not that you observe for yourself.)

The sunset thing ticks me off the most, because “the amount of degrees in the sky the sun has to pass through” is time. Like, literally, that’s what time is. If the passage of a minute and hour hand around a clock is acceptable, then surely the passage of the sun through the sky is, too.

Maybe that’s my point. The words “day, hour, minute, second” are not sacrosanct, the only way to measure time. Saying, “Meet me when the sun is at is highest peak” and “Meet me at high noon” are the same thing! That’s what high noon is! Just because one literally says 12:00 and one uses a physical reference doesn’t make one a Timelock and one an Optionlock! They’re both limited by the passage of time.


I wouldn’t disagree with you on that, Mike. Maybe I should have said it different. I suppose saying ‘this story will climax when we’ve rebelled against the empire’ is specific to the goal. ‘We have to blow up the Death Star’ is just how they are going to exercise the option of rebelling. Works for me.

I get it. That’s pretty much where I was coming from too. Try to think of time as just an abstract intangible number that is steadily passing. We can’t see time, but we can see how things change IN time.

The progression of the sun through the sky is how we see time, but time is really just the number behind that movement. Degrees of movement across the sky indicates the number of time-language moments from seconds to hours to days but is not time itself.

The hands on a clock, similarly, are not time. Just a physical representation of the numbers passing that allow us to measure time. The reason a clock works better for showing time than the sun, I’m guessing, is because the clock shows us the time in numbers whether it’s a digital clock or an…would it be an analog clock? Take the numbers off a clock face and you can still see time passing, but now you’re just looking at hands swinging through space unconnected to a number. Now instead of ‘noon’ you’d be focused on ‘when both hands are pointing directly at the top of the clock, whichever way that is’, which is space.

This is going to be getting theoretical again I suppose, but the way I’ve been thinking of it the last day or so is like Space is one extreme of a spectrum, Space-Time is in the middle, and then Time is the other extreme. Space just is. It sits where it is, unmoving, as it were. Kind of like matter. Time is a number and it flows. Kind of like energy. When we see space moving, it’s Space-Time. So Timelocks have to be about a number moving and that number has to be a time number, not a space number. I think that’s why CHuntley says sundown only works if you say specifically what time it is. If you don’t give a time number (hour and minute) then you are giving a space number (degrees). So anythin that isn’t specifically about an abstract number passing ends up being about space and options.

*take note that I’ve only just figured this out…or still am figuring it out…so take that with a grain of salt. The reason I’m sharing is because this is the thinking that took me from disagreeing with @MWollaeger and @chuntley to mostly being able to come to a conclusion that lines up with what they are saying.

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I agree that some of these could go both ways. You could also make a clock into an Optionlock, e.g. a character is strapped to the hour hand of a Big Ben-type clock and will be crushed when it reaches a certain spot. Even though it’s a clock, you could make that story about the space rather than the time. (If it was an Optionlock, slowing down the clock by messing with the gears could be an option; if it was a Timelock, that possibility wouldn’t be part of the story’s scope*.)

I think for these ones where space and time appear to be measuring the same thing, it becomes about the framing (in terms of illustrating it to the audience), while structurally what matters is the Author’s perspective of whether the true limit is time or space.

* except perhaps after the climax has been reached. Once time has basically run out and “she’s about to die” then messing with the gears doesn’t change the fixed deadline because it’s already arrived.

Isn’t the first a reference to spatial awareness and the second temporal?

What are waiting for? The sun to reach a specific place or the sun to reach a specific time?

The first I’m looking to the sun’s place in the sky, the second I’m looking to the passage of time.

I agree that this should be thought of in the most simplest of terms and the realization that a story is a construct—not real life.

Very sorry to weigh in so late in this discussion but it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to get clarification on this…

Actual version of a story I was writing last year has people living in a dystopian future New York that people cannot easily leave. Advanced weather forecasts say a massive hurricane is coming that will destroy the city, within a week. The MC has to escape from the city with the enemy plans before it’s destroyed.

I was writing this when I first discovered Dramatica and I thought “oh, this must be a timelock” because the time was counting down to the day the hurricane arrives. (I was even imagining titling the chapters “Day 1. Day 2.” etc.)

But from this discussion, it sounds as though the story would actually be a clear optionlock (the hurricane is getting closer and closer…). Is that correct?


1 and 7 (or whatever number is in the chapter title) are specific numbers. Week and day are specific units of time. I’m going to say it’s a Timelock. The more time runs down, the more it looks like the characters are running out of space between the hurricane and the city.

I’d say optionlock if you were looking at ‘this hurricane is 300 miles away’ or ‘there’s a 90 percent chance the hurricane will hit and wipe out NYC’ or even just ‘we have to leave before the hurricane hits.’ The closer the hurricane got, the less time it would look like they had.

Can’t wait to see how I did on this one.


Here are a couple things you can ask yourself:

  1. How were you treating it in the story (illustrating it to the reader)? Did you set a fixed day (it’s coming on Day 7 / Friday) and count down to that, like your chapter titles suggest? Or did you talk about how far away it was, how much closer it was getting?

  2. Did you treat it as though the hurricane was coming on Day 7 no matter what? Or did people keep checking the forecasts, thinking “maybe it’s going to veer south”, “maybe it’ll slow down”?

  3. Like any story point appreciations, the above two questions are only getting at clues to the Author’s intent. Since you’re the Author, you can ask yourself directly – was it about counting down the time until the hurricane’s arrival time (fixed within the context of the story)? Or was it more about the hurricane getting closer and closer?
    (But don’t feel bad if you’re not sure – it’s kind of like figuring out if your own story is Action or Decision driven, sometimes it feels like chicken and egg.)

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I’m going to guess here that one of the reasons people are having problems is that they are trying to balance timelocks and optionlocks, and that’s not going to happen. There are only select ways to have a timelock, but unlimited ways to have an optionlock.


So that’s the thing – I got concerned that I was accidentally creating a timelock story when (for audience appreciation reasons and my own preferences) I would have preferred an optionlock. And the last thing I wanted to do was accidentally break the story limit. Concern about this led me to abandon the idea. But I guess if it were done correctly, it could be the premise for an optionlock.

This was all before I understood that the really useful part of knowing this from a pre-writing story creation perspective is to articulate how options or time is running out. If I worked that out, everything might fall into place.

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You can do both. It sounds like both. Just emphasize the second (the space). Check out Ex Machina for an example of this.

Really, it doesn’t matter which one you emphasize—the selection doesn’t actually change any of the items we have access to in the current version of the app.

I would say in an effort to attract the largest audience I would make the Optionlock more prevelant.


Every so often you get an answer that’s exactly what you want to hear. :slight_smile:


Im assuming you want this story to reach the holistic problem solvers as well?

I started thinking of different ways this story might be Optionlocked. One idea was that instead of counting down days until impact, this hurricane could be going up the coast, and you could count down seven major cities being destroyed with NYC being the last. It struck me funny at first that a female mental sex audience would be better reached by naming each city being destroyed instead of counting down time. But I guess that makes sense since it’s about the audience being empathetic over sympathetic.

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When is your appointment? (Time)

How far is it to get there? (Space)

How much time to do you have to get to your appointment? (Time)

What errands to you have to do before you can go to your appointment? (Space/Options)