Another thought on the RS

The recent thread on the RS had me thinking, and I noticed something that I think makes it substantively different from the other three throughlines: the relationship has no agency.

In other words, the MC has a Concern and they are trying to do something about it, as evidenced by their being a Do-er or a Be-er.

The OS has the Protagonist who is actively Pursuing their Story Goal, and the IC also has their Concern. I’m sure we can find examples where the IC is not actively doing anything about that Concern, but nevertheless, it seems like the could if they wanted to since the IC is an identifiable person (usually).

But the RS doesn’t have that kind of agency available to them. The recent advice has been to treat the RS like a character, but it’s a character that doesn’t have access to a mind that can motivate change. The RS can certainly be caught up in Desire, say, but it doesn’t have a way to go out and pursue something better.

Or does it?

Anyway, I think this is worth talking through and may lead to some insights.


Does it change or add to the conversation if I ask if you are referring to the space between players or to the RS as a perspective?


Actually you’re hitting on the trouble I have with the advice to treat the RS like a character. I understand theoretically the idea that the relationship “has a mind of it’s own” but you can only illustrate that through the intentions and actions of the characters in the relationship.

I know someone will say well, that’s just because you’re a linear thinker. Okay, but I still need some way to approach it!

To be clear, the “treat the RS as a character” advice has actually helped me. But I still struggle with it.


I’m just kind of opening the floor here, so anything adds to the conversation at this point.

I have to admit though, that I don’t know what “the space between players” means.

And, @Lakis, ditto.


Yep. I think you have a good point in referring to the missing “mind”[quote=“MWollaeger, post:1, topic:2838”]
it’s a character that doesn’t have access to a mind that can motivate change.

I’ve decided to just use the RS for my planning and plotting steps and events in the story, about the relational aspects. Then, after deep-thinking it, to the point of having scenes that address that “type” of conflict, to just ignore it afterwards and get on with the story. Too much over-thinking has shortchanged my story’s progress.

In the very clear “How to Train Your Dragon” RS, you have a relationship pass off.

“In How To Train Your Dragon, Hiccup has not one, but three relationships that challenge his personal growth: his friendship with Toothless, his crush on the viking girl Astrid, and the classic father/son relationship with his headstrong father, Stoick. While there might be some hand-off of this all important Impact Character role between the first two (especially when Hiccup uses the classic You and I are both alike to describe why he couldn’t kill Toothless), it really is the relationship with his dad that is at the heart of this story. Both don’t see eye-to-eye and in traditional Steadfast Character fashion, Hiccup manages to break through Stoick’s stoic attitude. (narrative first)

Then a paragraph later, Jim says

If there is one complaint about the story, it could be that there is too much heart. So much time is spent developing the relationship with Toothless, that there is little screen-time left to explain the Antagonist and the problem everyone is really dealing with.

In other words, this story is heavy-handed about the RS. So maybe we can identify how it works in light of this:


The re-evaluation is what they all have to end up doing. If the RS is the heart of the story, it must beat for the storymind to function.

Imagine this story without the RS developing.

Hiccup wants to be famous like his dad, but he’s a wimp. He shoots a dragon (but doesn’t become emotionally involved). He tames the dragon–but WHY? What would motivate him to do this? Let’s say he tames it so he can ride it–he uses strict measures (“breaking him” like a wild stallion) instead of being kind and learning love. No relationship. We’d stop watching the movie if it remained in the physical (“whip that beast!”) without getting into the heart of the relationship.

The overall story needs them to re-evaluate before they can conceive of a new way to live with their enemy. Stoick needs to re-evaluate his son, which he can do just by watching him fly on a dragon. But without his passion toward his son, positive or negative–the anger, the demeaning, the shame-- the victory is that much less. Hiccup’s relationship with Astrid doesn’t need to be in the story. But it takes away yet another dimension of a coming-of-age boy. You end up with a flat character who acts like a caveman, not a human being dealing with others.

So what does the RS add? It adds the meaning. The rationale for why the story showed people dealing with this difficult planet and problems on it in right and true ways.


Just a clumsy attempt to talk about, well, I don’t know what you’d call it. The relationship player? The in-story relationship equivalent to the human (or human-like) MC player.

I only ask because I don’t think any of the players within the story actually have any agency either. They’re bound by storyform. They appear to have agency because they are meant to appear as fully formed individuals, but that’s not really the case.

And the RS is to the relationship player what the MC is to the MC player. A perspective of the mind. Minds have agency, but do perspectives?

Im probably going way into left field from your question, though, which I took to be “do relationships in themselves have agency?”


Right, which is another way of saying “the emotional heart” of the story.

@didomachiatto I think you’re on the right track by looking at specific examples of stories that have strong RS throughlines.

One of my favorite go-to examples is Romeo and Juliet. The RS Concern of the play is Being, and a great illustration of this is Juliet’s “rose by any other name” monologue. I’m not sure if Romeo is overhearing her at that point (I think this is right before the balcony scene), but it doesn’t matter. Juliet illustrates the RS here by expressing the dissonance between the roles they must each play in their families and who they really are.

Is it possible to reverse-engineer this? If I were dreaming up this story, how would I take a Concern of Being in my RS and come up with 1) the RS has a problem with their respective family roles and 2) let’s have one of the characters illustrate this by talking about the meaninglessness of the family name? Would it make sense to think of the relationship as having a “Being” goal?


This. 100%.

What is the purpose of gravity?

The Earth and the Moon relate to one another. The space in-between is important to appreciate when considering inequity. That space constantly grows and develops—it increases, or decreases, it never stays static. Unlike the presence of giant rocks in the universe which are either “on” or “off” in terms in inequity, this dynamic between the two rides a wave of inequity.

You see evidence of this relationship in the tides, but the tides do not describe gravity. They describe the effect of gravity, but they don’t address the relationship directly. Writing about the tides is akin to the “he said/she said” approach to illustrating the Relationship Story Throughline.

The work done with Dramatica is work far beneath the surface of your story—not the story itself. Write the Relationship in another document, fully formed, following the trajectory of the Storypoints identified in the Storyform. Knowing the direction of this growth as separate from your story keeps you from falling into the trap of blending perspectives.

Tangentially, it helps you start to develop a natural ability to appreciate the space between as a source of inequity worthy of exploring.


Yeah, so this isn’t my question, and I’ll try to clarify what I’m asking.

And I get that Hamlet isn’t a real person and is bound by the text, and that the job of the writer (and actor, in this case) is for him to come off as “real”.

Most writers that I know accomplish this by putting themselves into the shoes of the characters they are writing about. They effect similar emotional states before they write, they imagine themselves in the scenes, and in this way they are able to give characters agency and pursue what the characters want and open themselves up to the emotional swings that accompany this pursuit (and resistance to that pursuit).

This is not something that can be done with the RS so far as I can tell. Which, at the level of theory may not matter, but it does make it substantively different from the other throughlines in practice. Another tool must be employed to grok it, embody it, and make it sing.

So, when I see questions like this:

I know the conversation has veered into the theoretical. I know that gravity has no inherent purpose. It just is.

But when we wanted to get the Galileo satellite out to Jupiter, the answer wasn’t “gravity has no purpose” it was “I understand gravity so well that I can conceive of the Venus-Earth-Earth gravity assist”.

What I am thinking about, what I think @didomachiatto is asking about in the previous RS thread, and what @Lakis is probing, is what is the mental framework we need to develop to use and not just understand the RS Throughline. It’s clear that we don’t have the vocabulary to capture this.

[Both @Lakis and @jhull have proposed exercises in this very thread, and I don’t want to ignore that.]


YES! This, absolutely. (Mr. Absolutely :slight_smile: )

I feel like I’ve had decent success by purposely NOT looking at the RS too closely. Ahead of time I might pencil in some illustrations, signpost beats and a few PSR beats IF they seem obvious. And then, when writing, I try not to think of that stuff too much. Just let the RS build itself naturally on top of the base understanding that Dramatica gave me. Usually what comes out is heads and tails better than if I had tried to outline it ahead of time.

But that’s not a real process. It won’t translate to every project, nor to every writer, and it doesn’t help when things aren’t working.


So if you take the Truisms excercise and apply it to an RS Concern of Being, you might say “Lovers should be together”–or some version of that that better focuses on Being. From that, we know what the relationship wants. It wants to pull lovers closer together, much like the earth and the moon are being pulled together by gravity.

And then we can counter that truism with “unless their families are feuding”, and now we know that the reason they can’t some together is because of their roles within the family feud. They are on opposite sides. These roles are pushing them apart like the speed at which the moon travels around the earth is causing it to slowly, but constantly pushing the earth and moon apart.

So now we can say the relationship wants to pull together. That’s it’s agency. But what it wants is hampered by the conflict causing them to be pushed apart. Or something to that effect. Is that something like what you’re talking about?


We totally can, and I think about these kinds of things like water wanting to flow to the lowest point. I think that can be helpful. But it’s still so vague to say an abstraction or relationship “wants” something.


This is a pretty good summary…

…with this together … and clicked for me just recently…

What helps me now to keep this in mind when working on the RS is, to find first a simple question related to the OS story.

As example (OS Story in brackets)

  • Should they leave or escape (someone taken hostage is forced to kill someone else)
  • Should they follow orders or revolt (someone living in an oppressive system)
  • Should they help someone to die or not (someone is asked to help soeome to die)

When I have written a first version of the OS, MC and IC Story (not earlier) I will give the RS a first try.

The simple question for my RS usually also defines then my theme.

But Instead of thinking too much about the OS story itself (Even though I have the OS story in mind and know what’is basically going on) …

…I am trying to ask myself what does the Signpost of … could mean for my Theme … when …

  • they are taken hostage (understanding something )
  • they train shooting in a camp (doing something)
  • they try to escape (obtaining something)
  • they have to go back (learning something)

What was really mind blowing for me was

  • to look first to my simple theme and question and ask what the hack as it have to do with the RS Signpost of …
  • to look to the RS Signpost and trying to build/find a connection to the OS story.

So we can totally try that and I love that idea.

However, I’m still having the same abstraction problem that @MWollaeger expresses.

So I’m imagining if I were trying to come up with an RS Concern of Being in this context, it would go one of maybe several (unsatisfactory) ways.

  1. I would say the RS is having problems with roles. Then I would come up with a scene in which Romeo is trying to convince Juliet that their families don’t matter and that she should run away with him. Then I would think “wait, I’m just repeating the MC vs. IC” or wonder if what I’m writing is MC throughline.

  2. I would think “oh, the relationship is having problems with it’s role.” And then I would think, “great, how do I express that?”

  3. I would realize that the problem is obviously the roles they’re forced to play because of their families. But then I would wonder if that really isn’t more OS? And I might come up with plot points that sound more OS than RS.

It’s only looking at the finished work that you realize that what you’re really doing is looking at “feuding families” from two different perspectives. “Everyone” is concerned with the fighting (Doing) whereas from the RS perspective, it’s all about the roles (Being) we’re forced to play in our families.

Edit – as I was writing this I saw that @Gernot posted. I need to think about your approach especially this:


To be clear @Gernot, in this example:

the OS is Psychology and the RS is Physics?

This are three different Stories:

OS Universe, RS Mind

  • Should they leave or escape (someone taken hostage is forced to kill someone else)

OS Obtaining, RS Becoming

  • Should they follow orders or revolt (someone living in an oppressive system)

OS Psychology, RS Physics

  • Should they help someone to die or not (someone is asked to help soeome to die)

Got it – I wasn’t reading carefully enough!

This is really interesting though, and quite a different approach from trying to illustrate the throughlines completely separately as Jim recommends. I need to think about this more.

What if it’s not about what you’re looking at, but where you are looking from? If you and I are facing each other, and I look to the appendage on the left side of you, that’s your right arm I’m looking at. How can that be? It’s because it’s not what I’m looking at that puts your right arm on the left side of your body. It’s where I’m looking from that does it. If you face away from me while still standing in front of me, then I can look to the left side of your body and see your left arm or the right side of your body and see your right arm. It’s not about what the arm is, but about where I look from.

We can abstract it a little more and look at light. By shooting photons through a double slitted plate and measuring where they land on the plate behind that, we are measuring for a wave. By first measuring which slit the photons go through, we are measuring for a particle. A photon is a photon, but depending on how we observe it—or where we are looking from—we will see a particle or a wave.

Now carry that to a storyform. The RS problem is the OS problem is the IC problem is the MC problem. They are all the same problem. They look different not because of what we are looking at but because of where we are looking from—different perspectives. So just as the MC, IC, and OS players have no agency of their own but are subject to the agency of the mind in which they exist, so, too, is the agency of the RS subject to the mind in which it exists.

The same mind that Pursues an OS Goal or Concerns itself with matters of the MC and IC also views the problem not AS, but FROM a perspective of “this is a relationship that is growing together while being pulled apart”.

We talk about the RS as a character because it gives the Linear mind a way to begin to grasp the idea, and we talk about the RS as being about or wanting growth and ever changing space, but these things do not override the idea that the RS is the direction from which a mind is viewing the inequity.

So when we say “the relationship wants to grow this way” because we are looking at the story, what we should be hearing is “from this perspective, the mind observes this inequity to be a relationship that is growing this way”. In this way, you remove any notions of the desires of some seemingly abstract concept and replace it with the more concrete concept of “this is what a thing looks like when I stand here to look at it.”


Could it be a boxing match going on in a busy city?

The idea that perspective doesn’t have any agency is intuitive to Western thinking, but some Eastern philosophies argue in the other direction: Perspective is the source of agency under those ideas.

For me, the Relationship Story is the energy, tension, and dynamic between certain players in the story. Under this guise, the RS is not a character, but has character, an atmosphere that waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows, all of it’s own volition. (This volition is key, as there are energy, tension, and dynamics among all players in a story, but only the RS has this volitional feel to it.) When I write my outline, this is what I write about.

Transferring this to storytelling comes by conveying that atmosphere when the player components of the RS are on stage. It’s less about the words, and more about the mood, movements, and specific demeanor in deep moments between these players. This is most often done subconsciously, but sometimes there is a zen clarity to what a scene should be, especially for those that need to be pure RS, that I can write about that.

Somewhere on this board, someone said that describing the RS when focused is likely similar to using colors and feelings. I’ve found that to be surprisingly accurate. Quite often, the strongest word to use for the conflict happening within the RS is a color, or set of colors, or a reference to Feng Shui or something similar to such a conceptual framework. Then, that feeling can be transferred to the storytelling.

That is, unfortunately, the best I can do to explain a practical measure based on how I view the RS. I must admit, though, that I feel like I intuit the MC and RS throughlines rather easily. The IC and OS throughlines give me more trouble, especially the IC, as odd as that may be. I wonder if that could be due to my attempts at understanding East Asian ideologies while in was in middle school…

I wish I could better explain my approach based on my intuition, but that’s about all I can say on it so far. My hope is that this at least helps add to the conversation, though.