Timing of storybeats as Methods

One interesting aspect of using storybeats (signposts or PSR beats) as Methods as @jhull describes in this article…

… is around the timing of those beats. We’ve all had it drilled into us that Dramatica story points are not just storytelling, they represent sources of conflict in the narrative. But, thinking of it only that way, you might sometimes present a storybeat with real conflict, that comes from the right element, yet have the conflict lag behind the “act of (element)-ing” as Jim describes in the article:

The Method portion of a Storypoint is the act of that semantic item. It’s a verb masquerading as a noun. Past is not what happened; it’s the act of Past. Actuality is not what is objectively going on; it’s the Act of Actuality.
… When you see Past in Dramatica, think the act of Past-ing; when you see Sense of Self translate that into the act of Sense of Self-ing.

For example, imagine your first PSR beat of your second OS signpost was Appraisal – an initial assessment. So then you decide that earlier in the story or even backstory, someone made a limited assessment of something, let’s say it was an inspection of a dam*. Now in Act 2 the fact that inspection was just an initial cursory one, comes back to bite everyone because the dam bursts*! Everyone runs!

Now, conflict arising from a limited assessment is perfect for Appraisal. BUT what if right here, in this part of the narrative we don’t see see the “act of Appraising” occurring, only a bunch of running away from the rising water? i.e. the conflict is coming from an act of Appraisal that occurred earlier in the story (or backstory)?

The obvious fix, of course, is to put some Appraisal-ing into this section of the story, maybe assessing which route will lead safely to high ground, or how many people are caught in harm’s way, that kind of thing. And make sure it is a source of conflict too. This seems so natural, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine the scene without it…

But my question is, is this absolutely necessary for the storybeat to implement the proper Method? Thinking of it this way, I 100% believe it is necessary – some “act” of the right element type has to occur at this part in the narrative. But I’d love to hear others’ opinions.

* with apologies and sympathy to Michigan residents right now

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I’d love to know the answer to this too as I find it comes up pretty often in my outlines. Usually I just trust my intuition, but it would be great to have a more definitive answer.

To look at your example, I could imagine this sequence:

A detective looking into corrupt construction practices (Investigation) discovers that a previous dam inspection was faulty (Appraisal). Alarmed, he goes to the county commissioner to plead for a new inspection before it’s too late (Reappraisal). The commissioner, however, is on the take and therefore questions the detective’s motives (Doubt). As a result the dam bursts and floods the town.

I think that works, even though the Appraisal part is something that happened in the past.

I realize that’s not exactly your example though, as you have the dam bursting in the middle of the sequence, not the end.

I would say as long as you illustrate that the dam burst from a lack of proper Appraising, it should work. But I would be very interested to hear what others say.

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Me too! The weird thing though, is that when I think of your example, it doesn’t really feel right unless there’s some kind of Appraisal that occurs after the discovery (even if only brief). Wouldn’t he want to assess the impact of the faulty inspection – get a sense of how bad things really are – before going to the commissioner? Or perhaps make some kind of assessment about the commissioner himself?

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Thinking about this concept more, I feel like it ties in with the recent stuff on justifications in an interesting way. Not directly, but as way of helping to illustrate what conflict really is, and why sometimes storybeats (and other Dramatica story points) will be the source of only very subtle conflict in the short term. Which then grows more overt as the story continues and its weight compounds.

Going to your example @Lakis of the detective and the dam (which is way better than my example because it showed a full quad), let’s imagine there is an Appraisal beat present after the discovery of the faulty inspection. For this example, the act of Appraisal-ing is around making a proper assessment – maybe Sam Detective’s partner says “gee we better check out this commissioner first, make sure he’s trustworthy” but Sam doesn’t want to waste any time, so he says “you’ve got as much time as it takes to drive there”.

You can imagine a justification-based dilemma for this storybeat, something like:

We need to properly assess someone in order to be able to trust them vs. we shouldn’t waste too much time on assessments when we fear people’s lives are at stake.

So the cool thing is, you can have Sam and his partner make their points known and then Sam picks his way, and maybe the partner even just shrugs and goes along. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out argument to illustrate this dilemma-based conflict (though it could if that felt like it mattered to your story). Maybe it’s just a half-page and most people would hardly recognize the conflict there (but I believe they would sense it subconsciously, because of the true justification-based dilemma).

But the cool thing is that this very subtle conflict then sets up the conflict in the next scene(s). In that way the Appraisal lends the strength of its current to the rest of the story’s river.

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I was thinking the same thing actually. And given that the goal is to wring as much conflict out of every story point that you can, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use something like your example of the detectives arguing about checking out the commissioner.

Just to be difficult though :slight_smile: , let’s imagine the example not as the two detectives arguing whether to check out the commissioner, but did something like this:

Police officers need to take an existing assessment at face value in order to be able to keep their jobs unless they should expose a bad report in order to think of themselves as good people.

In this example, the detectives already know or suspect that the commissioner is corrupt. The partner argues that confronting him with this information could very well cost them their jobs, to which the other detective counters that he won’t be able to live with himself if something happens and they didn’t say anything.

Does that count? That feels like a legitimate source of conflict to me, but we’re still drawing conflict from something that already happened and is a noun (the report) rather than “assessing” the situation in the present. (Although mabye not really – even though they’re talking about the report, one could argue that they’re still really arguing about how to assess what to do in the current situation with the commissioner).

Or, what if the detective says “we gotta report this” and the partner says, “no way man. I’m up for my sergeant’s exam next week (assessment). I can’t afford to rock the boat.” Now we have a process that won’t begin until some time in the future. Would that work?

Of course, if I took the time to think about it I would probably dump all of these illustrations in – the more conflict the merrier!

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Wow, that is a fantastic example. (The first one, with the justifications, I mean – I’ll touch on the future-based one after.) Very illuminating because it definitely seems like appraisal is a noun there, with the act of appraising having occurred earlier. YET it feels like it could really work in this story – not like it’s wrong or missing the point, but conflict that totally fits.

(And I don’t think it’s because of the “how to assess the current situation” working as Appraisal – that feels like too much of a stretch.)

So perhaps conflict arising from an Appraisal-ing that happened previously is okay…

…Or maybe what’s happening here is that you’ve shifted the Z-pattern order slightly, and your justification-dilemma is actually between lack of Reappraisal (just take the report at face value) and Reappraisal (exposing the report = making everyone reassess it).

If right, that would make the next beat the Appraisal one. I could imagine the detective planning to expose the report going into the meeting, but after sizing up the commissioner he decides to keep quiet because something tells him the guy is dirty.

This is interesting too … but honestly this feels weaker to me for some reason. Hard to pin down why. Maybe the “we should expose a bad report” side is represented well but the other side is weaker because the stakes aren’t as clear. Or maybe because it’s hard to phrase a justification I can get behind

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Actually–and to your original point–I often find it’s hard to separate the points chronologically. If the Investigation leads to the Appraisal, then Investigation is still an ongoing (or at least residual) source of conflict in the Appraisal scene, isn’t it?

Oh, I like that one! That’s a great sequence because it doesn’t just repeat the same illustration for Appraisal/Reappraisal.

I agree. Okay, so what if we changed it and gave the detective a backstory. Maybe his wife is sick, and they have medical bills piling up. He really, really, needs that promotion–it would change everything for him. So now we can use two different illustrations of Assessment:

A police officer needs to do well on his promotion test in order to provide for his family unless he and is wife agree it’s more important to expose a bad report in order to think of themselves as good people.

Does that work? Is it weird to contrast such dramatically different illustrations of Assessment or is it something that you wouldn’t even notice as a reader?

EDIT - actually when I think about this example, it sounds like more like Self-Interest vs. Morality actually. Does that mean the illustration doesn’t work for Appraisal? Or maybe it turns out that Self-Interest vs. Morality is actually the MC Issue, something that we see playing a role throughout the story, and this is just one example of it?

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Oh yeah! I forgot about that, but it’s definitely the case that the earlier items are still “present” through the rest of the dramatic circuit.

It’s really hard to say … I feel like it’s not quite right, maybe because the appraising isn’t happening during this beat. But I might be just imagining that because that was my hypothesis in the first place. This is definitely a good dilemma, in any case. (Oh, regarding Self Interest vs Morality, I think you’re right that could an overarching theme of the story, an Issue, whereas this example is one storybeat.)

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