Characteristics as MC Solution? And identifying domain/concern

Is the MC P/S/F/D tied to his character as opposed to a subplot?

I came across this post, listing the Problem/Solution/Focus/Direction as part of the characteristics section of Dramatica, tying it to a general ‘type’

Further on in the post, I found @kf27 had organized it by character-trope/ character ‘genre’ so to speak

So as I wrestle over identifying quads and issues for my story, should I keep the MC as a character related issue? I’m learning Dramatica as a spiral, and am back to the domain level, wondering if I’m mixing my protagonist’s goal with the MC issue. I cannot easily separate them.

Related, is the MC issue internal? Or is it just a side-plot?

Here are details:
OS: Dystopia, centered over a prejudice against a certain people, trying to make the future right again after those people messed up the world. Interdiction is somewhere in this. The Trilogy OS characters are involved in a social system that is cleaning up society. But in the first book, that system doesn’t show up directly until act 2. In act one, the Protagonist is making her way to the city.

MC: She is left alone when her family is taken as part of the clean up. She doesn’t want to rescue them (too big of a job, too big of an enemy), but to stay safe until…she is guilted into helping them/ pushed in to find them.

End: Good. But she doesn’t find them (yet). Instead, she is in a safe-for-now place.

Not sure if she succeeds at the goal, because the goal is to be safe but also to find her family. The OS people are working at cleaning up society, so her family’s arrest is part of that.

But also, the MC has issues she is dealing with besides being alone. Doubt and fear. All the while, we have a Trilogy storyform going on overhead.

With all this ‘obtaining’ it seems like we are OS Future/Obtaining. But with the interdiction, making up for the past, it seems like maybe OS Past/Interdiction.

If that’s the case, and OS Interdiction,

Which works, because she is a math person, always calculating, trying to think her way out of the problem of inequity. This would mean Characteristics as @Gernot listed them is the key to decoding the MC issue. (@jhull which may help improve subtext)

But is that, then, the UA instead of the problem?

When I set up this storyform on Dramatica/Subtxt, I get the following premise:

Virtuous are those who keep focusing on how the outside world is letting others know they are not desirable (Character : DESIRE) even if it means being forgotten by a group (Plot: MEMORY)

I’d say, “Yay! I found it,” because in truth Memory is the thing she is trying to avoid…

…I have made about twenty storyforms (or more) over the past years of trying to identify this story’s elements,
…and each time it felt right.
…And each time i outlined the story accordingly, spending hours on thinking it through,
…and each time I hit a brick wall. (documented on discuss.dramatica by my questions over the years)

Any advice would be appreciated.

I’ll leave better qualified others to address the dramatica stuff, but I wondered what the wall looks like?
It seems to me that in your quest for the perfect storyform you’re using the ‘brickwall’ as a form of evidence about if it is ‘the one’ or not…but is it possible that there are other reasons you might get stuck? At what point do you hit the wall? Are you revising or writing a first draft?
In sympathy because I am prone to reconsidering my storyform and getting stuck before I get any real writing down.

I have the story written. Beta draft given to people. But I don’t want it to end where it ends. I don’t like the way it wraps up, like it’s out of sync, leaving readers with a bitter taste in the mouth.

Also, the first time I wrote the novel, the ending was a bunch of talking, like what kind of climax is that?! So I rethought it, pushed that scene even farther into the series, pulled in more to the front.

So based on feedback, I “unzipped the story” to make an important change in the beginning, basically adding a RS in the first act.

But as that change happened, I realized the story (as part of the trilogy) slipped forward, meaning where I’d ended the story was (again) part of book 2. So I’m trying to understand what ‘my story is saying to me,’ to speak crassly. Where does the first story end?

There was discussion last month on the Lord of the Rings and how the trilogy is one storyform, even the author wrote it as one story, but the length required it be cut into three–also publishers make more money from three than from one.

My trilogy has a storyform, OS Obtaining Success/Good. But call me brave or idiotic, my trilogy protagonist is the IC (like Anakin/DarthVader). So I do go deep POV for the IC, not as much as the MC. In fact, he has a lot of secrets the MC has to get out.

This superform is what is hard to separate, because it is also happening and has its say in almost every scene of book one.

The final brick wall was the ending.

I’m so ready to burn this book, except I’ve put so much time into it, sacrificed so much for this, that I have to finish. Plus, I have a vision for what I want to say.

Back to the post, if I use the storyform (interdiction) per above, I end up with

Act one
the characters progress toward something
the Main Character accumulates information

Okay. That works.

But then

Act two
the Main Character hikes somewhere
the characters predict the future

And my head gets twisted around. Yes, she hikes somewhere–but is the MC throughline a subplot? The protagonist hikes and does things. The MC … isn’t the protagonist. The MC’s conflict is exacerbated FROM the protagonist’s hike, yes. But…the gists/illustrations are leading me astray.

Ah look at me projecting my own issues onto you.
It sounds like you’re struggling to interpret how the trilogy’s superform Signposts fall across the three books?
And this is part of the superform:

So ‘hikes somewhere’ sounds like a conflict of doing in signpost 2 for the mc, and you’re wondering how to make that truly MC and not IC or OS?

I’d love to hear discussion about this too. My brain is struggling with disentangling a similar issue in my story.

And also, you’re curious if using focus and direction as characteristics is the best way to think of these storypoints?

If I’ve understood the questions accurately, perhaps that’s a start atleast.

But I do have thoughts on the characteristics / problem quad question. As I currently understand it, the problem quad is about motivations. This could be seen as a characteristic, in the sense that it is a motivation that the character is driven by due to a process of justification in response to the conflict of the concern of their throughline.

So it’s a characteristic in that it’s driving the character’s behaviour due to how they’ve responded to the underlying inequity seen as a concern of their throughline. And in a change character, that motivation unravels across the story due to going through the conflicts of each signpost.

Maybe it would help to get abstract and just brainstorm some conflicts of doing unrelated to your story?

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An exercise for this is to imagine two very different stories for the protagonist and the MC so that you can clearly distinguish the two.
Let’s say everyone is concerned with space exploration and the protagonist is the one pursuing a piece of technology that will allow humans to reach a nearby star. But the main character is concerned with being stuck in a loveless marriage and is pursuing a new partner. Should be pretty easy to keep those two separate, right?
Now imagine that the protagonist and the main character in those examples are both the same person.
Now do the same with your story. Start by figuring out what makes the OS wildly different from the MC. Then figure out what the protagonist is pursuing and what the MC is pursuing. If they don’t look any different, use the opportunity to make them different.

It sounds like you’re trying to figure out what your story says. My advice would be to take the bull by the horns. Figure out what you want the story to say and then make the story say that.

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I think I chose the illustration incorrectly–“the Main character hikes somewhere” showed up as a default. And she does go on a long journey.

But maybe I’m not mistaken. Maybe I just need to remember that this is the SOURCE of the conflict for the MC. It’s also part of the story.

The OS, ultimately, doesn’t need the MC to hike. It needs the protagonist to get somewhere, but the method is unique to the MC and her own fears.

So as I wrestle over identifying quads and issues for my story, should I keep the MC as a character related issue? … Related, is the MC issue internal? Or is it just a side-plot?

What helps me is to layout all scenes I have in mind using a table.

My process to get there is:

  1. Outline all scenes for the story by using a short summary what happens (Alex is asked by the school dean about a anonymous letter)

  2. Break down all scenes into meaningful PRCO units (How a potential problem turns into something bigger and is the outcome for more problems… Alex freaks out after talking to the school dean)

  3. Find a Storyform either with Dramatica or Subtext

  4. Layout the scenes using a table as described above …

This would mean Characteristics as @Gernot listed them is the key to decoding the MC issue

I general I would try not to overthink it and flip the perspective. Instead of figuring out every single item (I have done this in the past myself) … I just discovered for myself the premise builder in Subtext. I just pick a view options and go… and once subtext has build the storyform I need to figure it out. If the system says Unique Ability=Work than I dig into my story to find the answer.

…I have made about twenty storyforms (or more) over the past years of trying to identify this story’s elements

You should be prepared for more story forms to come. I working on a 5th draft for a novel and I am now with version number 153. I always was thinking like »Yea, now I got it, finally, its so obvious, how couldn’t I see it before«. The learning here for me, once I »feel« good with a storyform I go ahead and write.

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i’d guess that at least part of what’s causing this (projecting my own issues here) is that you were looking for what the story says and not telling the story what to say. The story is an analogy for the message and it’s all relative. If you see the OS as being about Physics, the RS is going to look like Psychology. If you start seeing the MC as about Physics, then suddenly the OS that you KNEW was Physics is going to look like Universe or Mind. And then when you wonder if your RS might actually be Physics, you’re going to think “Of course the OS has been Psychology all along, how did I not see it before???”

But if you decide you want to tell a story about how everyone is concerned with the Physics of something and shut your mind off to any other messages, then none of the storyforms that place the OS in something other than Physics is ever going to look right.


I’ll try this experiment. The “sandbox.” thx

I honestly suspect any storyform could work with any story, we just have to spin it that way.

I have so many layers of all the deeper scene elements from previous versions, that the story is about to die.

Honestly, I underestimated to not look bad. Most of Jim’s Subtext server is full of my previous drafts.


yep. This :100: % :raised_hands: :raised_hands:


@mlucas Mike, could you explain how this would work if the protagonist/MC is on a journey somewhere? Obviously, both want to get there, right?

If you’ve ever unzipped a completed story, you know it’s the same as not having a story at all.

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Let’s say the MC is in Mind and is in love with the Protagonist player, and the OS is in Physics. They are attacked on the journey and have a superhero-style fight with their ambushers. The fight is in the OS (so you’d want the ambush to have some meaning in the OS plot, probably tied to the Antagonist).

Meanwhile, certain stuff that happens during the fight or because of it is part of the MC throughline. He sees how beautiful the Protagonist looks when she’s kicking ass and his heart does somersaults. After the fight he sees she is hurt but she won’t let him get close enough to dress her wounds, and he feels rejected, that kind of thing.

So the OS perspective “sees” the ambush & resulting fight but is blind to the MC’s hurt feelings. The MC perspective “sees” the growing infatuation and hurt feelings, but doesn’t care about the Antagonist’s ambush or what it means.

Does that help?


I almost hesitate to offer this as advice, because I don’t want it to discourage you, but the situation you’re describing reminds me a lot of the trouble I encountered while working on my previous major project.

A few years before I learned about dramatica, I started writing a novel. It was about a ghost trapped in a house by a fox spirit, and the boy who discovered the ghost and tried to set her free. I began researching story theory about 50% of the way through the first draft, because I’d gotten stuck. Nothing I did with the structure seemed to satisfy me, and I was becoming desperate-- so desperate that I temporarily set the project aside and did a six-month deep dive into dramatica, hoping it would help me untangle the threads.

In a way, it did, but I jumped to storyforming long before I had a solid grasp of what I was trying to do. Much confusion ensued. I bounced from one form to another, and eventually selected two-- as I’d come to the conclusion that my story had two separate MC-IC pairs in it, each of which must (logically) require its own storyform. Then I was off to the races! I drew up an outline, finished the draft, reread what I had written and was … bitterly disappointed. The story still didn’t work!

But how could that be? I’d done all the research! I understood MC-IC pairs now! I had internalized the concept of the four throughlines! I’d spent months identifying the right storyforms. I’d even begun to comprehend the plot sequence report! By all accounts, the story should be fully operational.

And yet, it wasn’t.

It took a few more years (years!) of wrestling with the project for me to realize what was going on:

My story had a faulty premise.

You see, I had settled on the project’s foundations long before I understood how stories actually worked, and my narrative senses were not honed enough then to recognize which pieces fit together and which were incompatible. And in my ignorance, I had selected fragments of several conflicting ideas and was now struggling to meld them into a “single” story.

It’s like I was trying to build a jigsaw puzzle, but with pieces from two different boxes.

This is why I had one story with two MC-IC pairs in it, each fighting for narrative supremacy. This is why I couldn’t get the story to come to a satisfying conclusion, no matter what I tried. The trouble was that I was (unwittingly) attempting to do the impossible. No amount of time I spent rearranging those pieces would ever allow me to form a complete picture out of them, because nothing I did would change the fact that they came from two different puzzles.

Of course, I couldn’t admit that to myself at first. The story made sense in my head! And the longer I labored on that “single” story, the more convinced I became that the pieces had to belong together. They must; otherwise this had all been a complete waste of time!

Unfortunately for me, the latter proved to be true.

Or, rather, it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I learned a tremendous amount about story through this process, and sharpened my story-crafting abilities to a razor’s edge. I just didn’t have a working story to show for it.

Eventually (after putting the project away for a year or two) I got enough perspective on it to see what was causing the problem. I finally accepted that while I could faff about making cosmetic changes till the cows came home, the only real solution to the story’s woes would be to rip the whole thing apart and sort the puzzle pieces back into their proper boxes, THEN pick which puzzle I actually wanted to build. Did I want to tell a story about a girl getting trapped in a house by a fox spirit, or did I want to tell the story of a boy trying to set a ghost free from a haunted house?

As of writing this, I still haven’t had the heart to choose one or the other. Instead, I’ve moved on to new projects with foundations built upon a solid understanding of story theory. They have been going much better.


Marion Chesney had a successful run of short novels overlaying, interlacing, and connecting different character stories. I’ve always wondered if she worked out a successful storyforming system.