Trouble with confilct exercise format and certain storypoints

The most obvious example is Preconscious, but I think I ran into some others.

Basically, how do you express something like “panicking” as a source of conflict with can/need/should/want?

"You want to panic in order to …
"You need to panic
"You should panic
"You can panic…

None of these sounds right, because “panic” is an impulsive response, not something that it really makes sense to apply philosophy or judgement to.

What am I missing?

I think first of Knowledge, Ability, Desire and Thought before I combine it with Can, Need, Should and Want.

Here is an example for Panic for Worry following the Z Pattern

  • You know you can panic when you see spiders (Accurate)
  • So, You are better able and need to manage any panic impulse before its too late and you ran away (Result)
  • But, even if you want to run away so desperatly you should better stay cool and don’t Start to panic until all Spiders are away (Process)
  • Finally all spiders are gone … as suddenly you see something little black … on your finger and you want to scream and panic, but keep cool, it’s just a fly (Nonaccurate)

Thanks @Gernot. This is helpful and gave me some ideas, especially thinking of the Potential of the circuit as the potential to panic.

I probably should have clarified – for the exercise I was thinking of the one they do in the Subtext Conflict Corner classes with two different illustrations of the same story point. But your example has actually helped:

“You need to tolerate (accurate) spiders without panicking in order to be thought of (thought) as cool unless you shouldn’t pretend to be numb to fear in order be authentic to who you really are.” (or something…)

However I think the exercise just uses the one storypoint.

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Another way which also helps me in the process is to ask a corresponding question, like …

  • Someone enters the hotel room, the room is full of spiders … How can you know?
  • Someone can feel that something is running up on his legs … What do you (need to) do?
  • Someone opens his eyes and sees a black spyder on his pillow? How should you react?
  • The hotel manager asks you if you had a nice stay at the hotel… What do you think?

Here’s an idea:

A gang gets disrespected by their rivals.

Do you lash out immediately to defend your reputation or does playing it cool give you the element of surprise later down the line?

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I love it! My only question is – actually this is the heart of the question – is it still Preconscious if there is a dilemma/decision involved?

To put it another way – in Star Wars (episodes IV & V), Obi Wan and Yoda are telling Luke over and over to be calm, control his feelings, not lash out in anger. I can see this conflict phrased as a dramatic question: Will Luke be able to control his fear and anger as Yoda has implored him to, or will he lose control and lash out when provoked?

However, I can’t quite see this as a dilemma.

Thinking aloud: “I shouldn’t put myself into situations where I might give in to anger because my master doesn’t think I’m ready unless I need to risk losing control in order to save my friends.”


I see what you’re saying. I think it’s a dilemma in the sense of that you’re choosing between potentially losing your friends and potentially becoming an agent of the dark side. You can’t avoid both of the potential tragedies.

@JohnDusenberry wasn’t there to crack the whip and get them to design perfect justifications at LucasFilm. :smile:

I think it’s in the ballpark of close enough. I think the justification exercises are a good muscle to build, but they always grind me to a stand still.

It’s like in drawing. You want to practice in depth, perspective and construction, while also practicing really loose, fast gestural drawing. One is all about logic, one is all about feeling. You want to have both.

If it feels like you’re close, run with it. You can always post ideas here and people can help you kick them around and make them stronger.

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I’ve been summoned! Haha.

So, I think @Gernot was onto something with bringing up the different contexts, which is what these conflicting justifications are all about.

Panic isn’t just an impulsive response, it’s definitely a justifiable mental process just like all the rest. It just matters what the context is!

People should panic to stop a child from getting hit by a truck.
People can panic to draw the attention they crave.
People want to panic because they think they operate better that way.
People need to panic in order outrun a hungry lion.

It’s not about applying some big philosophy or judgement about the element. Most of the time it goes back to those primal emotions I brought up in the first Conflict Corner class.
And it doesn’t matter if the justification is “right” or “well thought out” by the mind justifying it.

I justify all sorts of stupid things all the time, don’t you? These might not be the sexiest dilemmas, but i think they still basically work:

  • I should order Postmates again because it’s easy.
  • I need to put off finishing my short story to give myself time to get it perfect.
  • I want to binge watch Ted Lasso because it makes me laugh.

And the cool part about all of those is that there’s an easy counterpoint that puts my mind into a dilemma over the elements at play:

  • Delivery drivers are getting screwed, or ordering out so much makes me gain weight.
  • Nothing can compete with raw, unbridled creative flow.
  • Staying up late makes me groggy and unfocused the next day.

The trick is to find those really basic, but incompatible mental states that throw the mind into a real dilemma.


Me too – however, I’ve been binge-listening to the Conflict Corner classes over the last week and have realized that a lot of my WIP illustrations were too close to storytelling – not that they don’t technically work (or get me to right place eventually) but I was missing out on more “subtextual” conflicts that also drove the story better. If I could zero in on these earlier, it would save a lot of time! So I guess now I’m just working building up my muscles :rofl: .

Okay, I think these make sense to me @JohnDusenberry . Thanks.

After all this time with Dramatica there’s still always something new to learn.


realized that a lot of my WIP illustrations were too close to storytelling … missing out on more “subtextual” conflicts

Thanks for the reminder @lakis. This is what I also have observed, that you get immediately into story telling when looking at dramatica / elements. It seems so »logical« and it is very tempting.

Reading your comment I just checked some recent outlines … and see a lot of storytelling … its obviously not so easy … ;o)

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It is definitely just a muscle to exercise :muscle: and exactly what we do every week in the workshop. There’s a tendency to talk about the surface level stuff, which can sometimes be in the ballpark of the element, but kind of misses the point. Other times, it’s way off the mark and you miss what’s really going on underneath the surface entirely—confuse subject matter with the mental conflict happening beneath it.

For example:
Your illustration of panic might be something like:

Tom panics when he sees the hungry lion running after him.
But that’s not quite enough to make an interesting moment from which to write. And it’s not phrased in a way that addresses the justification to panic. It’s just a “paint by numbers” illustration. There’s no mental dilemma happening.It’s half of the potential source of conflict, and if you write from that you MIGHT touch on the part that starts making it interesting. But why risk overlooking it? Finish off the conflicting sources of conflict.

Ask yourself WHY is Tom panicking when he sees the hungry lion? It might seem obvious—because the lion is going to eat him. But so what if the lion eats him? Somewhere in there is a mental justification to panic.

The easy one is that the lion is going to eat him if he doesn’t run, and he doesn’t want to get eaten alive. So then write that version down… THAT’s the mental process at work. The “thinking” happening in that moment of panicking.

Tom needs to panic to outrun the hungry lion and avoid being eaten alive.

That’s ONE side of the source of conflict, but there’s still no conflict. That’s just a justified mental state. So change the context of panicking and you can start to throw the mind into a dilemma.

What’s some other instance of panicking not tied to the hungry lion, in which panicking is bad? Or some other version of good that negates the first?

Tom needs to panic to outrun the hungry lion and avoid being eaten alive, UNLESS panicking makes him clumsy, making him vulnerable.

Now we’re talking.
Tom needs to panic to outrun the hungry animal poised to eat him alive, but if he panics he’s liable to trip and he’ll get eaten.

So now we can see that panicking in two different contexts doesn’t mesh.
One one hand panicking enables him to outrun the predator.
On the other hand panicking makes him clumsy, liable to trip and fall.

It’s important to note as well that there’s no solution here. The point of the beat is to put the mind through that mental dilemma. Then, when you put that dilemma in the context of the OTHER sources of conflict before and after it—your story takes the mind on a specific kind of journey that means something in the end.


This is another great example @JohnDusenberry.

In truth, if were writing this just from “Tom needs to panic to outrun the hungry lion and avoid being eaten alive” I might find the subtext by intuition/trying to make the scene dramatic. But then again, I might not!

Right now I’m with @glennbecker that the process often grinds me to a standstill. I think it’s getting easier though …

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Right. And it just takes a minute to make sure you’re writing from a source of conflict, rather than throwing darts in the dark for a while until you hopefully stumble on what makes that scene really interesting.

Yes but…
A writer should plan out the sources of conflict for his scene to be sure it’ll turn out great, UNLESS careful planning makes him lose touch with his creative essence. :slight_smile:


Indeed! Which is exactly why I try to tell people to write first, analyze later.
For me, Dramatica is a great tool… not necessarily a launching platform.

People CAN start a story by using Dramatica to ensure their story is solid, but following directions doesn’t allow for totally unbridled creative exploration.

It’s just twice the amount of work, or more :slight_smile:


As someone who spent many years of his life working on productions who chose to “write first, analyze later” only to find out they had no story with only 2 months left to finish it…I would strongly suggest figuring out what it is you want to say sooner than later (it’s not called Narrative After Creativity for a reason :blush:)

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I’ve been on all sides of this process-wise. I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out. :grimacing:

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Cool that you bring this up. I think the “sooner than later” sweet spot varies based on context, and the particular writer in question. Probably good to experiment, but some good starting points would be:

  • Group project (more than one writer or storyline influencer) – as soon as possible since storyform helps to keep everyone on the same wavelength
  • New story – develop the idea using just the 4 throughlines and Domains (maybe Concerns too) until you reach your “sweet spot” for figuring out the storyform aka Subtext Premise.
    • For me that sweet spot seems to be, the point where I literally can’t resist storyforming because exciting common elements have started to appear. Often happens about halfway through writing Act 1, but if you outline in detail it may be before you start writing.
    • If you really do want to start with a Premise and no other idea / subject matter, I guess you could figure out what you what to say as a first step. “I want to tell a story about abandoning Production in order to Learn.” (This way of doing it seems alien to me, but to each his own!)
  • Planned substory – follow same advice as new story
  • Substory that arises on its own organically – just roll with it, let it continue to flow and don’t try to figure out the storyform. Unless you hit a point where you’re stuck or you have a really strong feeling that some aspect of the storyform will help you.
    • Definitely do figure out the substory Premise / storyform prior to revision – it may help you strengthen or add missing pieces.
  • Scene (PRCO/KTAD) – write the scene until you get stuck or something feels off. If the whole scene flows well, then finish it and don’t worry about PRCO (although you could analyze afterwards for fun). If you’re short of ideas to start the scene, you could use the quads to generate ideas.

The above is from my own experience, not sure how well it will jibe with others. Let me know what you think.


I would pretty much point everyone to this post as I agree with it all 100% :slight_smile:


Totally agree that it depends on context and the writer themselves. Some writers have a much strong intuition about storytelling, and would naturally choose things more often than not that are in line with the storyform.

For other authors, that’s a struggle, and having those rails would make sure they don’t write themselves into a corner or create an unmanageable mess.

It’s a double-edged sword for me.