Blog Post

Why Building from a Signpost Doesn't Work

Apr 5th, 2021

Some writers familiar with Dramatica and the application Dramatica Story Expert lament that they can’t develop a Storyform from a single in Signpost. With DSE (Dramatica Story Expert), if you know your second Act Signpost of the Main Character to be Subconscious, you can select it directly and build out from there. With Subtext, you can’t.

And that’s a good thing.

The Trap of Confirmation Bias

After years of helping writers engage with the Dramatica theory of story to develop meaningful stories, there is one thing I strongly suggest: don’t build a Storyform from a single signpost (there are other suggestions, but this would be near the top). 

By focusing on one Signpost to exclude others, the writer strips all meaning from their selection. A single Signpost only means something in the context of the other three Signposts in that Throughline—it means nothing on its own. You may think Subconscious is your Main Character’s second Signpost, but you can make any narrative Method fit that Storypoint when you choose it on your own. It’s when you try to balance it out with the other three Signposts that you start to run into trouble.

In short, basing a Storyform on a single Signpost to the exclusion of others is an act of confirmation bias—you see what you want to see. What you want to do is see what you want to say.

Building from Intent

Subtext is meant to help writers connect with their intuition. By removing from oneself the ability to encourage subjectivity and bias, the writer avoids the inevitable onset of writer’s block—the realization that what you’re writing is not what you want to be writing. 

This blinded approach is one of the stumbling blocks of Dramatica, and what Subtext sets out to clear up. By setting intention first, you assure yourself that your eventual Storyform forms around what you want to say, not what you subjectively see in a Storyform (which, by definition, is wholly inaccurate). 

If what you’re looking at is a moving target (a single Signpost without consideration of the other three), and where you’re looking from is also a moving target (your personal biases abs subjectivity), how can you possibly be sure that you’re making the right choice?

You can’t.

Choosing Signpost first is the equivalent of making an argument based on time, not space. The current interactive part of the Dramatica model is structural—spatial, not temporal. The model currently sweeps time under the rug and blanket understanding of Character Dynamics and Plot Dynamics.

Even more of a reason to build from intent—to build from a Premise.