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The Complete Guide to Justification

Appreciating the building blocks of effective narrative

Most, if not all, of Dramatica exists without caveat. What you see is what you get. The theory sits in stark contrast to other paradigms of story structure that often contradict themselves when you get past the generalities. There, in those fresh pastures, vague notions of narrative concepts reveal themselves to be worthless doublespeak.

The concept of Justification in Dramatica veers dangerously close to this territory.

Read one article on How We Did It and theory co-creator Melanie Anne Phillips describes Justification moving in a specific direction. Read another article (or take her to lunch), and she describes an alternate path. One could discount the inconsistencies to age or time or both—or one could read between the lines to see the truth.

Both paths are correct because each describes the Justification process for a particular Mindset: one male, the other female.

Problem-solving for Dummies

When it comes to appreciating the actual intent of Dramatica, original terminology is always your best option. After working directly with writers and creators for almost five years now, and having written hundreds of articles on the subject, I know firsthand the amount of clarity present in Chris and Melanie's first offering. Case-in-point: the Appreciation of a story's Mental Sex, or what is now referred to in the Dramatica Story Expert application as the Main Character's "Problem-solving style." Female Mental Sex justifies through the balancing of inequities—not problem-solving. In subsequent versions of Dramatica, the Main Character's Mental Sex became the Main Character's Problem-solving Style. Mis-appropriating the act with a label biased towards a male understanding of the world obfuscates the true nature of the process, ultimately leading to this apparent contradiction in paths of justification.

If one justifies through problem-solving and another through justifying (balancing inequity), then it only follows that each would pursue a different course of action.

Think of it this way: the male Mindset adopts a Linear technique of cause and effect. Step-by-step Male Mental Sex proceeds from Problem to Solution. The Holistic method looks to the relationships within the context and balances Conditions with Adjustments, Flow, and Resistance.

These cross-intentions explain the apparent contradiction in the Justification process.

A Fair Playing Field

As defined earlier in this series on The Justification Process, we begin the process of Justification the same: observation of inequities arriving through the Preconscious. From there, male and female diverge—coloring that initial appearance with the unavoidable filter of our Mental Sex, or Mindset 1, while maintaining the context of a First Level Justification.

Both minds identify the inequity as arriving in either Knowledge, Thought, Ability, or Desire. I think that person doesn't like me, I wish this wouldn't happen all the time, and I just don't have the talent arise when we begin to justify that sense of separateness from the outside world. How we classify them separates us even further. The Linear mind sees these inequities as Problems and seeks to resolve them with Solutions. I wish this wouldn't happen all the time becomes a scheduling or task management problem, and out comes the to-do list. I just don't have the talent becomes a Problem of genetics and away goes the electric guitar.

The Holistic mind sees these same inequities as inequities—or Conditions—and resolves to balance them with mindful Adjustment. I just don't have the talent becomes a Condition managed elsewhere. Adjustments to appearance or pivots to tangential pursuits (singing, perhaps) balance the inequity making it less perceptible to constant observation. Same with the wish that this wouldn't happen all the time: constant reminders become a Condition of the universe nudging us in a new direction. Inconveniences become, not a problem to solve, but rather indications that balance lies along a different path.

Unfortunately, Justification is a process that hides from us lasting peace. The real "problem" is the sense that we are separate from our observations, that we exist apart from what we see, hear, and feel. Everything is a condition of consciousness within our experience; it's what we do with it that makes it a problem.

The Second Level of Justification

Just knowing something is a problem, or thinking it so, is not enough—if we're going to move beyond the irritation truly, we must bury it down low beneath even higher levels of Justification.

The Second Level of Justification finds us reconciling with the fallout from the First Justification. A lack of Ability becomes a leading indicator of what we can and cannot do; a longing, or a Desire for more, manifests what we want—and won't do. The purpose of this move is always to hide away that initial irritant. Left to our own devices at the First Level, we would continuously ruminate between problem and inequity, observation and appreciation. This process saves us from a lifetime of mental paralysis.

Dramatica theory's Table of Story Elements provides a great visualization of this move away from merely noticing one's experience. Look to the Domain of Psychology to find four Types of psychological inequities: Conceptualizing, Being, Becoming, and Conceiving. These four align with the Four Levels of Justification.

The process begins in the upper right-hand corner with Being. Our talents and desires, what we know, and think of ourselves develops a persona—or role—for us to inhabit through consciousness. Our identities are not ourselves, only manifestations of our first attempt to justify away inequity.

That first quad of Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire found in Being then moves up into Conceiving: our first inclination given our previous assessment of identity. We conceive of ourselves as we are—regardless of Mindset (Linear or Holistic). What we can or cannot, need or needn't, should or shouldn't, want, or won't entrench us further into self-delusion. I can fly an airplane because I know physics. Can you? Because there's more to gliding that craft in for a landing then a basic understanding of aerodynamics. I won't sky jump because I might die. Really? There's a chance living without sky jumping is not living.

In the Table of Story Elements, Can, Want, Need, and Should show up as Permission, Deficiency, Need, and Expediency:

  • Permission is Can
  • Deficiency is Want
  • Need is Need
  • Expediency is Should

These Methods of Justification extend the original set of First-Level Justifications. We justify what we can and cannot do because of our abilities; we want or won't do something because of our desires. What we know justifies necessity or need; our thoughts justify imperative compulsions.

  • Ability -> Permission
  • Desire -> Deficiency
  • Knowledge -> Need
  • Thought -> Expediency

Note the contradiction between the development of the first quad into the second quad and the first example of flying an airplane. Thinking you can fly an aircraft because you know physics is a justification of Knowledge through Permission, not Need (though you could well imagine someone with that knowledge demanding they fly the plane when the pilot becomes incapacitated). Can, Want, Need, and Should emerge from Knowledge, Thought, Ability, and Desire—but they do not hold exclusive rights to a previous process. Once the mind becomes conscious of the availability of the Second Level, all bets are off in regards to its exact origin. Translation? When writing a story, you can mix and match between levels in support of your intuition.

The Road Most Travelled

From here, the two different Mindsets take alternate paths to full Justification—the end justifying the means.

To entirely hide from ourselves, we must end up in the one place we would never look our blind spot. For the male/Linear Mindset, that destination appears as Desire; for the Holistic/female Mindset that site is Knowledge. When engaged in holistic thought, we can never be confident that we know all we need to know. Holism assesses the relationships between things. If we don't see the totality of those "things," then we can't remember how best to proceed—which is a perfect place for a Holistic Mindset to bury a justification.

With male/Linear, we rarely question why? We climb the mountain because it is there; we want what we want until we get it. Linearity only sees cause and effect when it comes to appreciating inequity. The sun rises and sets because of the Earth's rotation, yet the motive behind the relationship remains elusive and unexplored—the perfect destination to sweep away uncomfortable justifications.

The inability to quantify Desire lends credence to satisfaction—and satisfaction alone. Solving a problem and achieving a goal provides the focus and direction when saddled with inequity. Uncertainty over truly Knowing allows the Holistic/female Mindset to rest in fulfillment. Balancing relationships and managing shortcomings encourages the flow of energy through and around the resistance encountered through inequity.

Give Me Satisfaction

Satisfaction looks to the internalization of external concerns—the "feeling" of a job well done. With the First Level of Justification, we look to the internalization of internal observation: we know what to expect from ourselves and we long for greater motivation. The Second Level finds us externalizing—or projecting—these internal concerns. We need to set a schedule to keep ourselves insulated from the intrusion of others. We want support from those closest to us. Our failure to move forward becomes their problem— "I lost the drive because you weren't there for me." Textbook justification and projection for the one seeking to resolve their inequities.

The Fourth Level of Justification for the male/Linear Mindset is the internationalization of these external projections, but first—we must cross the bridge of the Third Level.

The Linear Third Level of Justification

Once projected, the Linear Mindset isolates the fading inequity in the outside world. Resting comfortably with the notion that a world exists outside of one's experience, the Linear mind externalizes what are now external concerns. Situations and Circumstances pair up against one's Sense of Self and State of Being to hone the mind in on a viable solution. While appearing as mere distractions from the initial inequity to the Linear mind, these four appear as the source of all conflict.

This Third Level of Justification rests in the upper left-hand quad of Psychology. Under the umbrella of Conceptualizing, these four set the game plan for the male/Linear mind. An inability to paint (I can't ) leads a wounded creative to believe art is a waste of time—especially for a father of four (Situation). Thinking one should stay in a bad marriage for the kids reinforces ego through a sacrificial self-image (Sense of Self).

Note the disappearance and obfuscation of the original sin. This result is the precise purpose of Justification. If we were to observe and allow, instead of judge and justify simply, we would do nothing and accomplish nothing. Our work is ourselves—not the work of working ourselves (which is the unraveling of justification). No surprise then that the male/Linear mind ties self-image to untenable Situations and Circumstances on the way to more considerable justification. The job, after all, is the man.

Level Four Linear Justification

The male/Linear mind reaches its final destination with Rationalization, Obligation, Commitment, and Responsibility. Having externalized one's self-image in purpose, the Linear now buries the rationale for behavior in a sense of purpose. I can't give up this project because I made a promise. Why the Obligation? Who knows...the answer to that lies buried several levels of justification, so why ask? I'll sacrifice my happiness because I'm the only one who can get the job done. It sounds like you've taken on quite the burden...do you know why?

The Desire quad in the Psychology Domain rests in the lower left-hand corner of the model. Colored by this over-arching context of a manner of thinking, Desire appears as Becoming. Growth and transformation is a concept wholly alien to the Linear mindset. Without a foothold in cause or effect, the Linear groups the four components of Becoming into a glob inseparable in the mind. This black hole of the psyche then acts as all voids do—as an inequity demanding resolution. It appears from afar as drive or motivation, but from within, it seems not.

Justification brings the mind full circle. What began as an observation of inequity is now an internal sense of injustice with no easy solution. We manufacture problems that were once solutions to issues in an attempt to reconcile our recognition of separateness. We lose ourselves in an endless cycle of delusion brought about by the incomprehensible nature of our existence.

The Path to Fulfillment

Fulfillment affords external concerns the space to grow—without personal interference, or control. This externalization is less a submission and more a recognition that the collective benefits from the emotional well-being of the individual. Creatives know this reality when the completion of a task, the satisfaction of a job well done, remains elusive and out of reach. Only a walk in the woods, or a moment with a favorite book of poetry, renews not through rest—but rather through reconnection and realignment with one's higher purpose. Once fulfilled, the creative returns to the impossible task only to find the answer dreadfully simple and painfully obvious, as if it was there the entire time. And it was there, hidden and waiting in plain sight from the one mistakingly working to resolve a problem. By design, the Holistic intuitively understands that fulfillment rests within and rightly gives external concerns to the external—allowing the outside world to work in concert with one's desires.

The Holistic knows this, and thus, continues to participate in activities and conversations that to others—to the Linear mind in particular—appear a fanciful waste of time. The two perceive time differently. What the Linear seems wasteful, the Holistic sees essential in the natural progression of one's experience. The unknowing leaves life a constant mystery, something more akin to play than work. The Holistic sets out accordingly, working the final two stages from the inside-out and gauging "success" through fulfillment.

The Holistic Third Level of Justification

For the Holistic, the path to self-delusion swings 270 degrees in the opposite direction. Instead of moving from the Knowledge Quad of Conceptualizing issues to the Desire Quad of Becoming issues, the Holistic/female mind starts with Becoming and ends with Conceptualizing. What better place to bury your justification than in Knowledge—especially when you can't possibly know all there is to know.

Having projected the initial observation into the Second Level of Can, Want, Need, and Should, the Holistic then internalizes these projections in anticipation of their final externalizations. I can't write, so why bother setting up myself for failure with some commitment to making myself better? The refusal to Commit gels with a lack of Permission. I want a place where I feel free to write, so I rationalize overdrawing accounts to make that possible. The longing for something more opens one up to easy Rationalizations.

The fading of the initial observation is less a disappearance (as with the Linear approach) and more a reconciliation, or alignment, with the dynamic forces of thought within. The Holistic knows that over-spending is an excuse, but a necessary one to free up resistance. Same with the inability to commit, the Holistic knows that the overwhelm from Failure is enough to sink any chances of future improvement permanently. The lack of dedication is a coping mechanism meant to protect the heart.

All of these Third Level Holistic Justifications—Rationalizations, Commitments, Responsibilities, and Obligations—shore up the individual for the final stage. The Holistic approach is all about bringing the Self in alignment with the outside world. This Third Level is the last moment where the Holistic remains in charge of any adjustment. From here on out, the Holistic's initial problem becomes wholly someone else's problem.

Level Four Holistic Justification

By walking around the quads of Psychology, the Holistic arrives full circle to where Justification started: the external world. Only now, the external no longer exists as an unfettered initial observation—the external is now a condition. Unhappy marriages, unfulfilling careers, a self-image dependent upon the validation of others. These are the conditions the Holistic accepts as a justification for not knowing. " He didn't mean to hit me", or " The Universe is telling me to do something different with my life" stand out as the final rationalization of one given to fulfillment.

The Holistic buries justification in Knowledge, and in the Psychology, Domain Knowledge appears in the upper left-hand corner as Conceptualizing. The essence of one's self (State of Being), Sense of Self, Situation, and Circumstances prove sufficient hiding grounds for one who can't possibly know it all. We remain secretive about our emotions because that's how the stars were aligned when we were born. Astrology, it turns out, is simply a means by which the Holistic can know one's State of Being. We disappear into nature and travel the world to break free of distraction. The life of the peripatetic, or wanderer, is merely one big distraction meant to alter one's Situation or Circumstances. When justifying, the answer is always "out there"—which is why the Holistic always seeks external vectors for validation; what better way to form a more accurate Sense of Self than the perceptions of others who know the real you. I need you to reflect what you see in me.

With that final step taken, the Holistic rests in justified fulfillment. The initial inequity persists, but now lies buried so far below that the Holistic can't possibly grow beyond it without measured intervention. As with the Linear mind, this self-imposed blindness is all by design. By focusing a mind that works in relationships on the infinite abundance of said relationships in the outside world, the Holistic avoids the endless loop of working on one's relationship with self.

The Path Taken

Not all Justification is terrible. Whether Linear or Holistic, these paths of justification allow us to thrive and survive by enabling us to move on from pure observation. Their hardwired nature makes life easier—if we accept our original programming.

Skipping a level or taking a path incongruent with your root operating system makes it difficult to hide through justification. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? is a crude example of what happens when a Holistic Mindset gets into a Situation before the Commitment. Relying on a handshake agreement and verbal commitment before being stabbed in the back is a real-world example of what happens when a Linear mind intuits an Obligation before assessing a partner's actual State of Being. In both of these examples, the mind remains fully aware of the incongruence—we know the other side's path and can see right through it. That's why we pair up, so we can watch each other's backs and see through our justifications.

This insistence on trying the other's path fails to serve us. If it worked for her, it'd work for me is less a justification, and more a recognition of a fait accompli. We know we're fooling ourselves as we deceive ourselves, and it always ends in disaster.

Justification is a way for us to fool ourselves that serves our deepest desires. For the Linear mind, the end of the road is satisfaction; for the Holistic, there is no end—just a constant unfolding in the direction of fulfillment. By tuning our minds to the path most appropriate to our psychology, we assure growth in the direction of our strongest-held intentions.

Make no mistake—we need those justifications to be torn down from time to time, whether through story or partner. Not all is good, nor all bad. With this measured influence from the outside, we can then build up new justifications.

The evolution of the mind depends on it.


  1. Subtext, the application of Dramatica theory from Narrative First, adopts the Appreciation of Mindset instead of "Problem-solving Style" to signify Mental Sex .