Timelocks Always Fixed?

If escaping the city with the enemy plans is the story goal, the question is:

  1. If changing time of the hurricane’s arrival – once it has been established – changes the MEANING of the story, then Yes, it is a Timelock.
  • If changing the distance, or the number of conditions required – once they have been established – changes the MEANING of the story, then Yes, it is an Optionlock (aka Spacelock).

  • If both of the above are true, you have multiple Story Limits, which means you do not have a functional Story Limit.

  • If neither 1 or 2 are true, you do not have a Story Limit.


True – if you show an indicator, such as a sun dial, that translates the relative position of the sun into time. Otherwise the position of the sun merely indicates the relationship of the position of the sun relative to the Earth. If “sunset” truly was a measure of time, it would indicate the same time in all locations.

I always hated taking meetings with Einstein, because he was always three miles late.


Language gathered from too many PBS and BBC videos about the nature of gravity and such. It’s outside the scope of Dramatica so I won’t post here, but I promise the idea is out there (or, I should say, the statement has been made before, the actual ideas are perhaps more complicated). So maybe just look at the comment about them being in the same spectrum.

Thanks Chris. I think I see the key now is in the encoding of the limit, (i.e. can I describe it). The real problem in my early synopsis of this story was having multiple story limits.

I suspect being forced to describe the limit and how it’s illustrated would eliminate most of the confusion.

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Okay, apparently I wasn’t clear enough when I said, “the sun passing through the sky literally is time.” Let me re-explain:

An alien touches down right next to my house. They point to my digital clock and ask, “What is this, and how does it work?” I would explain it thus. “Our planet rotates in space, creating the illusion that the sun is ‘rising’ and ‘falling’ up and down the horizon. This pathway was broken up into 12 segments, followed by 12 of the same segments during the night. The point at which the sun rises is approximately 0600, the peak of the arc is approximately 1200, and the point at which the sun sets is approximately 1800.”

So if you say, “Meet me at the time when the sun is at its peak in its arc,” you are literally saying “Meet me at 1200.” Literally. Definitionally. If the sun moves across 1/12 of the way across the sky, time has passed by one hour. Literally. Definitionally. The fact that the sun deviates slightly from a perfect clock matters not a bit. The words we use for time are a construct based off of physical phenomena.

There’s an early scene in The Croods where the father character holds two fingers up to the sky to measure the amount of time until sunset–by his law, the family must be safe in their cave before the sun sets, or else they will surely die. I personally know that “two fingers above the horizon” means approximately 10 minutes, but that doesn’t matter. “Two fingers above the horizon” is sufficient to say, “We only have a limited amount of time left until sunset.” And then how are we told the deadline is getting closer? A physical phenomenon: a shadow creeping over the cliff sides. Again, so long as the creep of the shadow is approximately constant, it works as effectively for a temporal countdown as the character audibly calling out, “Sunset in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!”

I just… I get it. Time for Timelocks, Space for Optionlocks. It’s all very clever. But I refuse to believe these four are notionally any different:

  1. I loudly announce, “You have four hours to complete this task, or I will kill you.” I press a button, and a huge digital countdown starts, displaying four hours.
  2. I loudly announce, “You have four hours to complete this task, or I will kill you.” I turn over a massive hourglass, and the sand trickles down until, after four hours, the last grain trickles into the bottom.
  3. I place four candles in front of me, each marked with a red stripe. I announce, “Each stripe represents one hour. Complete the task before all four candles run out, or I will kill you.” As soon as each candle hits the stripe (after one hour), I knock it over and light the next one.
  4. I loudly announce, “You have four hours to complete this task. Coincidentally, these four hours will elapse at the very moment the sun sets. The moment the sun sets, I will kill you.” Then I sit down and stare meaningfully at the west horizon.

These are four different representations of time, but they all mean the same thing: four hours. But you can twist the last three into different representations by space: by millions of grains of sand, by four candles, or by the distance covered by the sun as it moves from wherever it was in the sky at that point to the horizon. But they’re–they were designed to–time is just a construct to–I don’t know how to explain it any more clearly. In the third example, we’re not Optionlocked, we’re Candlelocked, and since the candles are, by definition, a measurement system for time, Candle=Time! To say “four candles” is to literally say “four hours.” To say “two fingers’ worth of distance between the current position of the sun and the horizon” is to literally say “10 minutes.” Distance is directly proportional to time!

EDIT: Because, look, here’s an example of an Optionlock: “Carry this ball from one end of the room to the other. Every time you drop it, I knock one of my candles over. I have four candles, and when they’ve all fallen over, I kill you.” Same cue to kill you, but this time it’s tied to a character’s physical actions instead of the passage of time.

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Only at that location, and it still requires the translation you have indicated to turn it from a spatial representation to a temporal representation.

Can time be translated to space and vice versa? Absolutely!

Can a Timelock become an Optionlock within the same storyform? Never.

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I agree, given the proper context.

In the theory on which Dramatica is based (Mental Relativity), the idea of time and space being seen as a spectrum is part of the definition of how a mind with Male Mental Sex (Linear problem-solving) blends time and space (Desire and Ability as the mental equivalence) into a constant. However, Female Mental Sex (holistic problem solvers) do not see the world that way. They see time (and desire) as flexible – a concept foreign to Male Mental Sex/Linear thinkers.

I’m sure Melanie has some sort of document about that on Dramaticapedia.com.

But I digress…


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The thing about those four examples is that they each give a specific number of hours even though they all show a different form of countdown. Even explaining to the aliens that when the sun is there this is what time it is is assigning a time number to the Suns position. And I think that’s the point. In order to be in agreement with Dramatica, you have to stop looking at the movement of anything as being time and look at how much time it is representing. That’s why I started thinking of it as being tied to numbers. The passage of time in particular seems…gotta watch how I say it…secondary to what one is measuring.

If you hold up three fingers and say ‘I have three fingers of space left’ and that only, then you are measuring space over time. If you hold up three fingers and say ‘each finger represents five minutes. I’m holding up three fingers, so that gives us fifteen minutes’ then you are measuring time in minutes but using the space of your fingers to do it. Knowing the number of minutes is what is important. (I’m thinking that should work as a Timelock, btw, but wouldn’t be surprised to hear it wouldn’t) If that’s what you meant when you asked about conversion earlier, then I misunderstood or something. Because that’s how all representations of time work. We know that on a clock each small mark is a second and each large one is an hour.

Going back to Dunkirk, if the pilot had said ‘each gallon gives me 10 minutes of flight time’ and then he used minutes to say how much time was left after he calculated how many gallons he had I think it works, or works better. But saying ‘60 gallons gives me an hour of flight time’ and then only measuring the gallons he has left doesn’t. Sure the audience can do the math, but it’s not about the audience. It’s about the Storymind and what is being measured.(edit: it’s about how the limit is being conveyed to the audience, so it is about the audience in that sense)

I’ll add that it can be frustrating to see Jim say that stories are constructs and not real life and then see Chris say that sundown doesn’t work because it’s not sundown every where all at once. Because it’s true that it’s not sundown every where all at once in real life, but that seems irrelevant when writing a story. If you use sundown as the limit, then your characters, wherever they are, should know exactly when sundown is because sundown is whenever the Storymind says it is. If the characters don’t know when sundown is, then it’s not a good limit to give the story. (I realize this thinking could possibly lead to a story where characters all over the globe have to know when sundown is at one specific place. Yes, people will say that’s not realistic. What they will mean is it’s not consistent with real life. As long as it’s consistent within the story-like if every one has an alarm set to go off at sundown time for the same city-it should still work as a story. At least I’d think it would)

Last thing, you said something about the language of time not being sacrosanct. I’m still pretty much guessing as I fumble along here, but I’m thinking that as long as you do it properly, you probably can have something like ‘four fingers til sun touches horizon o’clock’ but you’d have to do it such that you are indicating a number of moments to the audience and not a spatial position. Like maybe your characters could be like ‘that was a long movie, two hands and two fingers at least!’ Or ‘I’ll be there in a pinky’ or something. I don’t know that that would work, but it at least seems plausible that you could relate time to your audience that way. But you’d have to spend the whole narrative teaching them your counting system so they knew what they were measuring.

@actingpower, you did a great job of getting your perspective across in that post.

But I’m not sure on what part you disagree with Chris? I don’t think he’s saying sundown can never be used in a Timelock, just that you have to emphasize the time aspect by highlighting the deadline time (5:53pm) or amount of time (four hours until sundown; now three; now two…).

Or are you saying you don’t think sundown (or the movement of the sun across the sky, or grains falling through an hourglass) can be used as an Optionlock?

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It’s not irrelevant – it goes directly to Chris’s tip before about whether it changes the MEANING. Take this example:

Initial Driver: “Ha ha! You have vampire venom in you now, professor! As soon as the sun goes down, you will become a creature of the night!”

  1. The professor boards a westbound flight to stay within the daylight, giving himself more of a chance to develop a cure while on the plane. Optionlock.

  2. The professor is about to board the plane when Mr. Evil Vampire calls him. “Did you think the venom was prevented by daylight? Haha. No no, I meant it takes ten hours to work. You have three hours left.” Timelock (possibly with audience getting jerked around)


Right. It’s not going to work in every story. That’s why I also said if your characters don’t know when sundown is, it’s not a good limit. Your example falls under that. But if your entire story takes place in Springfield, or on a flat earth, or everyone is watching sunset on a television in different parts of the world but it’s all being filmed by one camera, then it doesn’t matter that it’s different in other places because your story is only looking at one specific place.

Sundown is a moment in time. Grains falling through an hourglass is a measurement of time. The only way I could see “sundown” and “a certain number of grains falling through an hourglass” being Optionlocks is if those were somehow unhinged from the passage of time–but then they wouldn’t really be “sundown” and “an hourglass” as we know it. For example, the story of Amaterasu and the Cave is an Optionlock, and the endgoal of the story is sunrise, but that’s because the Sun Goddess Amaterasu is throwing a hissy fit, and (solar) time has stopped because of it. Similarly–and to jump examples, my apologies, but I can’t do it with the hourglass–if two characters were fighting in a stopped clock, and another character had the power to make the clock jump forward a notch at whim, then yes, that would be an Optionlock. I’m imagining a character tied to one of the gearteeth, and each time the bad guy is… I don’t know, reminded of his lost love, he pushes the gears forward another tooth, towards the crunchy intersection. But again, this is a clock unmoored from time, less a “clock” than a steampunk gearbox in the shape of a clock.

The actual time, the numbers, don’t really matter to me. That’s what I meant by them not being “sacrosanct.” What matters to me is that hinging with time, that constant progression towards the climax. If I need to finish a task before sundown, and I can see the sun right in front of me, the actual numbers don’t matter, because I can make up my own versions in my head. The sun is… “that” high. And now it’s, like, “half that” high. Is that 5:00 to 5:30, or 3:00 to 4:30? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is I had “that” much time left, and now half of it is gone. (Like, who cares about the distance the sun travels in the sky? What matters is the time it represents having passed.)

This is also the difference between a story where the characters visit X cities, and story where the characters travel Y miles, passing through X cities. The first is an Optionlock, because the time doesn’t matter. They stay in city 1, twiddle fingers, then eventually leave. Once they hit all X cities, the story ends. But a story about a pilgrimage, where they have to travel Y miles and the cities are just rest stops, has a different feel. In the second story, distance (which is an analogue for time, here) is constantly closing. As they travel along the road, they keep getting nearer and nearer to their destination. Even if they stop, it doesn’t matter, because they know they can’t stay.

The difference is between this:


and this:

EDIT: Or to use my previous explanation, in the first example, “30 miles away from the holy site” and “29.5 miles from the holy site” don’t make a difference, because we’re measuring the story in cities, and individual miles don’t matter. But in the second example, “29.5 miles from the holy site” is exactly 0.5 miles more somber than “30 miles away from the holy site,” because we’re 0.5 miles closer.

EDIT: And to take your airplane example, the moment he sets foot again, he’s back under the yoke of the flow of time, so it’s still a Timelock. At least how I see it.

Okay, communicate that time to the audience. [quote=“actingpower, post:93, topic:1450”]
Like, who cares about the distance the sun travels in the sky? What matters is the time it represents having passed.)
Fair enough. Why would you want to do something before sundown? Because it’s dark (spatial position of the sun) or because it’s late (time/numbers). Communicate that.

“I’ve gotta get this done before this story can end”
“How much time is that going to take?”
“At this rate it’ll take until the time of sundown.”
Wide shot of sun moving moving from sunrise to a quarter of the way across the sky.
‘Wow. A quarter of the day is already gone’
A quarter of the day, by the way, is a specific number.

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They matter to a Timelock. If you have to finish a task before sundown, how much time has passed? If you can’t answer that question, you don’t have a Timelock.

It’s really not as difficult as everyone is making it out to be.


I had no idea how this would all shake out when I posted.


My cheap and inaccurate rebuttal: North and South are both found on the globe, but they are not on the same spectrum.

More accurate rebuttal: Space and Time are related in that objects approaching light speed appear to travel through time at a different rate to an outside observer. Since stories are told from the inside, space and time are distict.

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Unfortunately, this thread has an optionlock, so who knows how much longer it’s going to go on.

“Another corollary of special relativity is that, in effect, one person’s interval of space is another person’s interval of both time and space, and one person’s interval of time is also another person’s interval of both space and time. Thus, space and time are effectively interchangeable, and fundamentally the same thing (or at least two different sides of the same coin), an effect which becomes much more noticeable at relativistic speeds approaching the speed of light.”
That’s just the first source that pulled up using that language to express a more complicated idea. Maybe I shouldn’t have left that comment in to hang out there by itself (I comment a bit stream-of-consciousness style and should maybe edit a bit more) but I don’t think we’re really in disagreement.

What is the lock for this thread and where was it communicated to the audience?
(Edit: I’m afraid that looks like I’m trying to have a ‘come back’ or something. Just to be clear, that’s not the intention. I’m just not sure why this thread would have a lock on it at all at this point).