Story Goal vs. Signposts

I have always thought a goal of the story should show up at the end of the story. However after playing around with Dramatica I often find the goal showing up as the first second or third signpost. How should I interpret this?

The story goal is a SPECIFIC instance of the Overall Story Concern (or Signpost) about which the Overall Story characters represent differing approaches to achieving it by resolving the underlying conflict.  The Story Goal should be explored in each of the four acts (signposts) of the Overall Story throughline followed by the resolution of the effort to achieve the goal identified by the Story Outcome (Success or Failure) somewhere toward the end of the story.

The Overall Story Signposts describe the various approaches toward achieving the goal while also exploring the alternatives, one of which is of the same nature (Type) as the story goal. 

For example, your story might have a Story Goal of OBTAINING, such as Finding the Lost Treasure.  It will also have an Overall Story Concern of OBTAINING, which is a more generalized concern that might include finding a map, winning the lottery, losing an election, losing a job, etc.  The various Overall Story Characters, some concerned with one thing while the others concerned with the other things, explore these in general. 

The signposts provide a broad context for a period of time in the story (an Act) that frames the effort to achieve the specific Story Goal, broad Overall Story Concern, and resolve the story's OS Problem(s). The Signpost that explores Obtaining might be thought of as "what do the characters gain or lose while trying to find the lost treasure?"  Another signpost -- such as Gathering Information/Learning -- might be thought of "what do the characters learn or what information is gathered while trying to find the lost treasure?" Thus all four acts are explored through the signposts within each throughline. 

There is no general difference if the Type (the structural item associated with the Story Goal and OS Concern and one of the Overall Story Signposts) shows up in the first, second, third, or last signpost.  The difference is the context in which the Type is found: whether it is the narrow focus of the Story Goal, the general area of the Overall Story Concern, or the temporary context provided by the Overall Story Signposts.

Do the Signposts and Journeys have to sync up between the Throughlines?

Do the signposts and journeys from a given throughline need to correspond time-wise with the same signposts and journeys from the other throughlines? If so, how do you illustrate the Influence Character's impact on the main character at Signpost #1 if the IC isn't introduced until somewhere in MC/OS Journey #1?

In a perfect story world, the signposts happen simultaneously. HOWEVER, in the real world we dole them out in bits and pieces over time, and thus the need for Storyweaving. There are no RULES for storyweaving, only guidelines. For example, it's generally acceptable to finish weaving all four throughline signposts (e.g. Signpost 1) before moving to the next signpost. However, the Journeys, by definition, embody the transition of one signpost to the next. So, though it might be clearer 'logically' if all signposts are completed before you move on to the following journey or signpost, the reality is you can follow your gut and inter-cut and overlap them as you wish.

Do Static Story Points Repeat?

Yes, static story points DO repeat -- at least once per signpost (ideally). Each throughline has its own static story points, which need to be explored within the confines of the respective domains.

For example, the Story Goal and Story Consequence should make an appearance at least once in the Overall Story Signpost 1, the Overall Story Signpost 2, the Overall Story Signpost 3, AND the Overall Story Signpost 4. (The same is true of all other static story points with the caveat that some works do not have the 'real estate' to explore everything in every Signpost.)

Why? Because each signpost creates a different context within which to explore / expose the static plot points in an attempt to discover the source of the inequity at the heart of the story. They can also be seen as ways to test the imbalances created by the story inequity by discovering what works to re-balance the conflict and what works to further push the conflict into greater imbalance.

By the end of the story, the source of the inequity is revealed by the various testing and retesting of the static story points within the changing contexts manifested by the signposts.

Is there a different storyform for Hamlet that would support the idea of him going nuts?

In the answer to this question about leaps of faith, Chris mentions that he believes Hamlet does not actually go crazy. Is there a storyform that would underlie a very similar play, but make you more convinced Hamlet does indeed go crazy?

A different storyform would create a different story, though one could dress it up to look similar.

However, I do not think it would be necessary to use a different storyform to reach those ends. The example storyform for Hamlet has one story point that could make the difference depending on how it is interpreted and illustrated by the author. The Benchmark for the Main Character throughline is Changing One's Nature. A benchmark indicates the progress through the development of a particular throughline. One could choose to emphasize Hamlet's transformation into some other psychological way of thinking (crazy or otherwise) by emphasizing the MC Benchmark.

Additionally, the Signposts for the MC throughline are as follows and give more areas to play up or play down the crazy card:

  • Developing a Plan (Figuring out how to deal with one's father's death)
  • Playing a Role (Pretending to be crazy)
  • Changing One's Nature (Slowly changing into the character one pretends to be)
  • Conceiving an Idea (Coming up with the idea that one's fate is in the hands of Providence)

As you can see, it is set up to easily be one way or the other, depending on how you illustrate "Changing One's Nature" in the context of the story. One could equally interpret that as going from playing crazy to being crazy, as well as going from passive to active, or growing up, or anything that fits within the broad context of "Becoming" someone/something.

How do I convert Signposts and Journeys into chapters or scenes?

Proceeding with my first attempt with a novel story up to Storyweaving in Level 2, I find Scene Creation, Scene Tutorial and Scene Label under Storyweaving; and in Plot Progression, I find SignPosts and Journeys.

How do I convert these into Chapters?

The terms "scenes" and "chapters" are defined fairly loosely and can be used interchangably--the difference is the medium. There are many ways to build chapters/scenes. The instructions in the StoryGuide are one way. Examine the suggested chapters in the Novel Structural Template to see another.

Chapters/cenes can be defined in many different ways and therefore there can be many different "appropriate" numbers of them. Personally, I think you need as many (or few) chapters/scenes as is necessary to tell your story. You can wing it and do it by "feel," or you can use some sort of "logical" approach such as following the structure template, the storyweaving suggestions in the StoryGuide, etc. There is no "right" or "wrong" number of chapters/scenes.

With that said, I'd like to point you toward a resource you might find helpful - Armando Saldana Mora's book Dramatica for Screenwriters. You might find Section 5 of particular interest. It is called: 3 Acts, 16 Sequences And 48 Scenes—How To Get The Complete Plot From Dramatica. I think you'll find it easily readable, highly entertaining and surprising informative.

Where do Signposts and Journeys interact with the screenplay template?

Where do the natural act breaks of the signposts/journeys (coming to an initial Dramatica-suggested 28 scenes) intersect with the screenplay template (which stands at a Dramatica-suggested 38 steps)?

The 28 scenes suggested in the StoryGuide are a straightforward, uncomplicated presentation of the signposts in each of the four throughlines. When one begins to mix things up a bit by taking part of one signpost and putting it here, taking part of another signpost and mixing it with a third over there...etc., things begin to blend and become less distinct.

The "traditional" three-act screenplay structure presented in the screenplay structure template has some clearly identifiable transitions, while the other throughlines are a bit fuzzier. My take on the structure template is this:

  • The transition between OS Signpost 1 and OS signpost 2 is Step #9 -- Plot Point 1.
  • The transition between OS Signpost 3 and OS signpost 4 is Step #30 -- Plot Point 2.
  • The transition between OS Signpost 2 and OS Signpost 3 is a bit mixed up with the MC throughline and the other throughlines, but it seems to fall somewhere between Step #19 -- Subplot Development and Step #21 -- Rising Action.

This is not an exact translation, but it seems fairly close.

How can I reconcile 3 Act Structure with how Dramatica sees plot?

How can I reconcile the 3 Act and 4 Act ways to look at a story's structure using Dramatica? How does this fit with Dramatica's StoryGuide and its Signposts and Journeys?

The short answer is that the paradox or dichotomy between the 3's and 4's (taken to their extremes) is actually like mixing oil and vinegar. The 3's point of view is the experiential (audience) point of view. The 4's point of view is the logistical (author) point of view. The StoryGuide with it's Signposts and Journeys is somewhat of a cheat, kind of like mixing the oil and vinegar. The signposts are 4's and the journeys are 3's. If you mix them up enough they SEEM to blend to create a smooth homogenous consistency, but let them sit still for a moment and they appear to separate back into oil and vinegar, 3's and 4's.

How do Act progressions compare to traditional screenplay rules of thumb?

A way to correlate the 30/90/120 page rule in screenplays to Dramatica is as follows:

  1. Pages 1-30 = Signpost #1
  2. Pages 30-60 = Signpost #2
  3. Pages 60-90 = Signpost #3
  4. Pages 90-120 = Signpost #4

This is a PURELY structural view and does not account for Journeys as independent "pieces." The structural view is also the "author's" view and therefore the least touchy-feely way to analyze a story.

The "audience" view of a story, the MOST touchy-feely way to experience a story, would be to look only at the journeys:

Journey #1 == begins somewhere between pages 1 - 30

and ends somewhere between pages 30 - 60

Journey #2 == begins somewhere between pages 30 - 60

and ends somewhere between pages 60 - 90

Journey #3 == begins somewhere between pages 6 - 90

and ends somewhere between pages 90 - 120

The leftovers before Journey #1 and after Journey #3 become the "prologue" or setup, and the "epilogue" or payoff/author's proof.

The Aristotelian "3 Act" structure is most akin to the 30/90/120 form with which you are familiar. It happens to be a blend of both the author AND audience perspectives and sort of fits the following format:

Pages 1-30 = Signpost #1

Pages 30-90 = An amalgam that consists mostly of Journey #2

Pages 9-120 = Signpost #4

The primary advantage of this approach is that it provides partial author and audience perspectives meaning that you can (to a limited degree) both logic the story and feel the story. The disadvantage to this approach is that it is neither fish nor fowl and therefore you cannot DO anything SPECIFIC with the story. You can only get generalized impressions about the story.

Since a finished work MUST account for both the author AND the audience perspectives, and should work for BOTH of them, there are specific guidelines you should follow. These, however, are not unbreakable RULES and, in fact, the guidelines have pretty fuzzy edges. Specifically, the guidelines I am referring to are both the Signposts and the Journeys provided in the Dramatica approach to story. Where one Signpost leaves off and a Journey begins is a matter of debate. In point of fact, each are coexistent in a story and it is only our perspective (as author or audience) that impinges these "edges" on the seamless continuum of a story.

As tools, use either Signposts or Journeys as your primary act progression reference "aid." Then use the other one to check your work and/or fill in any gaps you may find. By doing this, you are less likely to inadvertently slip into a blended view that might allow for inconsistencies or "plot holes."

Does Dramatica call for 28 scenes or 24?

I'm confused about Plot Progressions and the Plot Reference. The former has 7 parts for each throughline: 4 signposts and 3 journeys. The latter has six combinations of signpost considerations per four acts. That's 28 versus 24 scenes.

  1.     How do I reconcile the number of plot events (28 vs. 24) when I write a story? Or perhaps I'm comparing apples to oranges.
  2.     Regarding the Plot Reference Comparisons, when I'm asked to contrast, oh let's say an analytical look at Understanding to a passionate look at Becoming, do I have to do that in the same scene (perhaps by finding an issue that combines them both), or do I have to compare them in two separate but juxtaposed scenes?

Signposts and Journeys are a bit like apples and oranges. Signposts are more structurally oriented, while Journeys are more oriented on story dynamics. Signposts focus on content/subject matter; Journeys focus on experiences and transitions. From a COMPLETELY analytical point of view (God's eye view or Author view), each of the four signposts appear to consume the entire "plot" of the story which leaves the journeys to be viewed as "turning points." Conversely, from a COMPLETELY experiential point of view (Audience view), the three Journeys appear to consume the entire "plot" of the story which leaves the signposts to be viewed as, well, signposts that mark progress along the story journey.

The differing interpretations presented by the two approaches is the cause of confusion between the 3 Act and 4 Act methods of understanding stories. The reality is that we, as authors and audiences of our own works, alternate between both views. This alternation has its advantages and disadvantages. The principle advantage is that we can see both the logic and feeling of the story, predict the events and understand the meaning. The disadvantage is the confusion that is created when we get the two mixed up either as author or audience.

Theme tends to be associated with "meaning" more than "prediction." Therefore, the six thematic comparisons are best worked into the journeys (on average 2 per journey). OR, if you prefer the more structural signpost approach, you can weave 3 thematic comparisons for each HALF (2 signposts) of the story. The bottom line is that material for each signpost and journey and thematic comparison (and everything else in the storyform) need to be woven together in the finished product.

We created the Signpost/Journey methodology in Dramatica to accommodate both techniques so that ALL the bases were covered. Authors will naturally emphasize one over the other.


The answer is that you can accomplish the comparison both ways, either by direct comparison or by juxtaposition. That is COMPLETELY a matter of personal preference and is done during the storyweaving process. What Dramatica is trying to say is that a comparison should be made between these two perspectives and the context within which each is to be shown. How you accomplish this is truly up to you as author.