Plot Progression

How do I apply the concept of Justification Levels to my story?

I am thrilled with Melanie and Chris having come up with a way to define steadfast and change character growth instead of just making them be one-note. In a tape cassette lecture series, they explained the four levels of justification... which are different between steadfast and change. However, I'm foggy on how to sync what they said about shifting paradigms with my IC and MC

I'm not sure which part of which cassette you have referred to, but here are some general thoughts.


Steadfast justification is the process of building up internal walls (barriers) in an attempt to resolve a resistant inequity. The effort to try new ways to resolve the "problems" require greater and greater effort to stay the course. Ultimately, a steadfast character remains steadfast and their inequity (drive) is left unaltered -- even though the apparent internal/external inequity may appear to be in balance.


A change character begins with a back story where it was a steadfast character who built up justifications in order to hide the inequity to create the appearance of balance. The change character comes preloaded with these justifications and the character growth comes in the form of having those justifications (internal barriers) torn down, act by act. Ultimately, the change character has all justifications removed and addresses the original inequity (established in the back story) by choosing the alternate approach to resolving the inequity.


One area I think you are getting into trouble is treating the Change and Steadfast characters independently in your story. That is not the way it works. The Main Character is the center of the personal thread (whether change or steadfast) and the Influence Character is only important in its capacity to impact the main character.

In Star Wars, Obi Wan goes from having Luke think about the Force, to getting Luke to let the Force run through him, to being remembered by Luke, to instructing Luke to follow his feelings and use the Force. The IC throughline is not so much about the IC but how the IC influences the MC so that the MC GROWS.

What is the reason for seeing Act Transitions as Bumps and Slides?

I've been reading your presentation of Dramatica Act Structures, with some fascination. However, in among the bumps and slides is a basic question: To what end? By analyzing color changes brought on by these patterns, are you providing a way of instantly knowing where dramatic patterns are most effective?

I'll tell you what the bumps and slides mean to me.

Dramatica is a VERY logical and objectified view of story. It presents a way to analyze and structure stories in a manner that allows me to build stories like I might prepare a cooking recipe. It gives me categories of ingredients, procedures, order of preparation, etc. What is does NOT do well is give me the FEEL of the story (a view almost exclusively that of the audience).

The bumps and slides logically indicate to me what I can FEEL is going on in a story when I view it. It provides a fairly concrete connection between how the story is put together logically, and the feel of it when experiencing it. So for me, the patterns of the bumps and slides helps me connect the way I want the story to feel (or not feel) with the overall structure of the story. This gives me a general ideal of how my story may play with an audience.

For example, the Z-pattern (bump-slide-bump) explains the FEEL of a traditional three-act story BETTER than the three Journeys Dramatica uses. It does not negate the value or use of Journeys, it just explains the feel of a story more accurately than the explanation of Journeys ever did (which is one of the reasons I continued looking for other explanations in the first place.) Secondly, I can use the "feel" of the story an another standard of measure when I analyze a story. If it feels like an episodic story but is structured like a z-pattern, then that might indicate I should recheck some of my storyforming choices--as well as look to which throughlines are emphasized and which are not.

The short answer is that bumps and slides give me more ways to understand what goes on in a story, whether I'm creating one from scratch or analyzing a finished work.

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.

Can you use Dramatica to structure a 7-Act story?

Any suggestions for taking the four-act story and changing it into seven acts, e.g. TV movie?

The simple answer is to break the piece up into its Signposts (4) and Journeys (3) so that it goes Signpost-Journey-Signpost-Journey-Signpost-Journey-Signpost. That's seven segments or "acts". TV acts, like chapters in a book or acts/scenes in a play, are arbitrary units of measure imposed on the "story". The one rule you can follow is to break for commercial at a natural break in the story. This can be a break in the Objective Story throughline, the Relationship Story throughline, the Main Character throughline, or even the Influence Character throughline. With 24 transitions between signposts and journeys (12 if you look just at signposts or 8 if you look at only journeys), that gives you plenty of opportunities to find a natural break for commercials.

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.