Dramatica MC point of view versus novel storytelling "POV"

Okay, so I get the idea that the MC represents the “I” perspective. In films, (where it’s not immediately obvious) you can often figure out who is the MC is because of what is revealed or what is withheld from the audience (like in The Prestige).

My question is about novels. If a novel is told in the first person, the narrator is most likely the MC. If a novel is told using a traditional third person omniscient, you probably figure out who the MC is the same way you would for a film.

But most modern novels are written with in the free indirect style – third person, but “close” through the eyes of one or more characters. Depending on the genre, the novel might have the POV jump among many characters.

So in such cases, how do you tell who the MC is?

More importantly, when writing a book like this, how do you make sure you convey clearly to the audience who the MC is?

In my own case, I have an IC who is also the Protagonist. I am imagining scenes that will have to be told though his point of view. Will this confuse the reader as to the storyform? Or does it matter?

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I don’t think that’s actually true. Certainly in the two genres I’m the most involved in, which would be fantasy and mystery/thriller, you get 1st person at least as often as 3rd person. Omniscient 3rd is incredibly rare these days, though it does happen sometimes. James Patterson and Maxine Paetro’s “Private” novel is actually told using both 1st person and close 3rd person POVs. Kind of remarkable that they can make it work, actually.

I think it’s important to remember that a novel is, on average three or four times the length of a movie in terms of content. For me as a novelist, this is how that plays out:

  1. A novel often contains more than one storyform.
    You can’t possibly read the Game of Thrones books (more properly called “A Song of Ice And Fire”) and declare there to be one MC throughline. Each book in that series is like three or four books threaded together, each with their own storyform.

  2. Those other storyforms may well be incomplete.
    My rule of thumb in my own books is that the main storyform has to be complete. Often others might have an MC and IC throughline, but no discernible OS. I could be wrong about this, but I think that may actually be preferable: if you have three complete storyforms in a novel, it might be hard for the reader to feel like anything was truly central to the book. However if none of the storyforms are complete, then it’s going to feel like a bit of a mess.

  3. Novels can tolerate extraneous scenes better than a movie can.
    I find a movie that suddenly has an extra scene between two characters that isn’t directly connected to the storyform can feel a bit odd – distracting even when you enjoy it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but given how much it costs to make a movie I suspect filmmakers prefer not to have scenes that don’t advance the actual story. In novels, however, there’s lots more room for “taking a breath”. If you just had 100,000 words of non-stop storyform-driven scenes, I suspect it would feel a bit claustrophobic.

This is just my perspective, and I’m often wrong about Dramatica’s inner workings, so take it with a grain of salt. That said, to answer your two questions directly:

  1. The MC of the novel as perceived by the reader is likely to be the one that fits in the complete storyform.
    So if you’ve got three storyforms and one is complete (i.e. all four throughlines) and two are incomplete, then the MC of the complete storyform is likely to feel like the “true” MC to the reader.

Again, not sure if this is correct in Dramatica terms, but my experience both as reader and writer has always been that whoever ends up as the MC of the complete storyform feels like the MC of the novel itself.

Hope that helps!

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Just as an FYI, Diana Gabaldon was the first I know of that did this…and that was all the way back in 1993…so almost 25 years ago.

@Lakis Forgive me for saying so, but they’ll know because you do. Yes? it will feel like the story belongs to someone. For example, while Atticus is driving the OS in To Kill a Mocking Bird, the story “feels” like it’s about Scout.

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Definitely - I was unclear. Pure omniscient is less common now, but there’s plenty of first person novels.

This was actually a “yes!” moment for me when I first discovered Dramatica – it was the only theory of story I’d found that had an adequate answer for what was happening at that scale. Unfortunately I was over-optimistic of my ability to understand it so I ended up biting off more than I can chew – so I’m trying to keep it to one storyform for the moment.

That’s extremely helpful (or will be for future projects anyway). Out of curiosity, are those additional throughlines related to the full story OS in some way?

That makes a lot of sense. And I’m suddenly remembering that Armando Saldaña-Mora has a chapter on creating substories just using the OS story character elements – I could imagine that working too without messing things up too much.

I’m in the middle of reading a novel now though (Lexicon by Max Barry) in which there are alternating chapters from different points of view. I suspect that one of these characters will end up being the MC and the other the IC, even though you do spend some time seeing things from the IC’s perspective. There might be two storyforms, but I kind of doubt it just from the way it reads.

The way it actually seems (at the moment) is that for the chapters which are told from the character (who I think is) the IC, she actually “feels” like an MC–because its through her eyes. But when I step back and ask myself, who is the MC of this novel it doesn’t seem like it’s her. (Which, now that I write it sounds like maybe I’m just restating what you said.)

I guess that’s the answer I was looking for. :slight_smile:

Thanks @decastell and @jassnip

Hi @Lakis,
Great question. @jassnip and @decastell have already give you great advice, but I just wanted to add a bit as I’ve been thinking about this a lot since learning Dramatica.

Initially (months or a year ago), I was thinking that you should stay away from showing scenes from the IC’s point of view, or if you did, you should focus on the IC’s OS role and not their IC story points. But I don’t feel that way anymore.

I read a superhero novel recently that, just like you stated, had scenes from the IC’s point of view and showed her personal issues and everything, yet I never once doubted that she was the IC and the other principal character was the MC. Partly because of how the story was setup from the beginning, and what the story was (a male-oriented homage to the '80s X-Men).

I’m also pretty sure there was only one storyform in that book (X-Generation #1 by Brad Magnarella).

I think readers are simply mature enough to accept that they can temporarily be in the shoes of the IC, even reading the IC’s thoughts around the issues that drive her to influence the MC, but then when that scene ends and they pull back to the bigger story, they can ignore the “personal” nature of those thoughts and feelings. They can take what they learned from that scene and re-orient it to a You perspective, and doing so doesn’t take away from the experience of the story. But I think that requires that the Author understands (at least subconsciously) who is the MC, so that in the big grand-argument picture they communicate that, like @jassnip said.

In the novel I’m working on now, I’m writing scenes with the IC’s POV, and really enjoying them. I sort of feel like the IC is a bit of a “black box”. She has personal issues and I can mention them and show her thoughts and feelings in her POV narration, but there is a level of depth that I don’t need or want to go to. There’s an ineffable, unknowable quality even when in her shoes. I think her personal issues are personal to serve the storytelling, but not so personal structurally, if that makes any sense.

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Will the scenes that have to be told through this characters perspective be protagonist (OS) scenes, or IC scenes? Remember, they’re two different things structurally. If these are OS scenes, I wouldn’t hold back. Say what you gotta say.

If they are IC scenes, keep in mind that the IC is the you perspective as seen by the I perspective. As long as you don’t show all of this characters cards, even if this character narrates or the audience gets a glimpse into this characters thoughts, I think it works. As long as the audience is metaphorically wondering “what are you up to?” I think it should still fall into the right perspective.

Think of all the scenes you see in a movie where a character gets an idea and then grabs their keys, or runs into a building, or otherwise starts putting some plan into motion, and then the scene cuts to something else so that the audience doesn’t see what this character is up to. That seems like a pretty easy way to have an IC scene from the IC’s pov but without the audience knowing everything.
(note:I speak as though I know what I’m talking about, but I am, of course, guessing about most of that)

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Hmm… A couple more thoughts.

First, I think when doing a scene from the IC’s POV, it’s great to show the potential for the IC’s influence on the MC. (“IC’s mother is dying.”) But I think you should be careful about showing the actual influence, the interactions that affect the MC. (“IC gets MC to betray his friends to help her mother.”) Those moments should probably be from the MC’s POV.

In fact, thinking about this I found an IC POV scene of mine that needs fixing! It was definitely appropriate to begin the scene from the IC’s POV, but then I should have switched to the MC halfway through. I even know the exact moment to switch: a bunch of people draw weapons on the IC, and I think that threat to her is part of the IC influence. (It explains why, even though the scene overall is cool, the MC comes across wrong in the last half.)

EDIT: geez, I just realized that Threat is part of the IC PSR Variations for that act (Signpost 2)!! I guess I should have been looking at the PSR more carefully, maybe I would’ve realized I needed to show that threat felt by the MC!

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I was totally thinking this (and slapping my forehead) as I was writing my first response but then I hesitated. OS scene – that totally makes sense. But then I also have my IC in some situations in which his IC throughline characteristics come into play, but where the MC isn’t present. I’m not sure if this is right, by the way – I got the idea from one of @jhull’s gist exercises where I thought he was suggesting (paraphrasing) creating the IC not as someone specifically designed to impact the MC, but as an “impactful” force on those around him. So in my case the IC/protagonist is being held captive by some bad guys, and he provokes one of them to remember certain things (Memories). And he also is trying to get a message to the MC that is also memory-related. I felt inspired as I was coming up with these ideas, but I’m wondering if I’m thinking about this in the right way.

Yes, that’s exactly the feeling I’m having with the current novel I’m reading (and I guess what I’m hoping to convey in my book). Of course my IC’s throughline points are there, but I’m imagining them less as personal issues and more as things that upset and disrupt the people around him.

[quote=“mlucas, post:7, topic:1241”]
But I think you should be careful about showing the actual influence, the interactions that affect the MC.
[/quote] …

This gets me thinking about some of the pre-Dramatica scenes that I wrote of my story … there’s some kind of intuition about when to make POV changes I was trying to get in touch with – just a feeling, but maybe this was it!

And now I’m thinking I should remember to check the PSR…

Thanks @Gregolas and @mlucas.

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I’ve done those IC exercises, and they worked magic for me both for that story and for my understanding of Influence Character in general. So I love the idea of the IC being “impactful” to everyone, even if it’s not required. It shows their potential for influencing the MC and also makes them a powerhouse in the OS when you weave them into that throughline, which is great when you have an IC Protagonist.

Thiis sounds awesome! You’re totally on the right track.

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I read that book a few years ago. The female character is almost definitely the IC in the classic Dramatica sense, because for most of the book she knows stuff that we don’t know. The guy is the MC as we’re really experiencing the story through his eyes – following him along as he finds out what’s really happening. As I recall, she’s the protagonist, whereas the MC is not.

Another good example that operates in a similar fashion is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (both movie and book). Michal (sp?) is the main character – we’re seeing the story through his eyes. Lisbeth is the arguably the protagonist who drives the story. We have scenes from her perspective, but there’s always a sense that we don’t know what she’s thinking the way we do with the other character.

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I never sat down to brain this one out, but I’m fairly certain that Emily Ruff is the MC.

No… I’m taking this back. I sat down to think about what I really remembered about the book, and it’s not enough to make a stab at anything.

That is certainly my impression in the book so far (though I haven’t finished it). What’s interesting to me is reading a book like this with my new-found Dramatica eyes how on the one hand, you do follow Emily for a lot of the story, but even when it’s in her point of view it feels like she’s more of an IC. Whereas (at least so far) I’m actually getting less information and backstory from the Wil character (he seems to have memory issues) but the story feels more “through his eyes”.

And of course it’s probably ridiculous for me to be hypothesizing on a book a haven’t even finished reading yet …

Okay good! At least I’m not completely off-track …

I think the one thing you should be able to figure out before getting too far into a work is who the MC is.

When I think back and remember the book, I remember her so much – and almost nothing else. I think that’s why I remember her as the MC, even though she might be the IC.

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Thank you thankyou for this post, I suddenly felt able to breath again - I realise I have been contorting my novel to fit it into a single story form. Multiple storyforms but only one complete spine one make perfect sense. Can’t wait to give this a go.

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Well, I’m pretty sure I got it from @jhull so the thanks should probably go to him.

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Well, I finished Lexicon. Somewhere in the middle I started to think I was wrong, that Emily is the MC. Reaching the end, I flipped back, but I’m not sure. Part of the problem in understanding a book like this is that the storytelling jumps around to different timelines a lot, and at any given point on a timeline, one of the two characters (IC/MC, whichever is which) is off-screen for a long time. It doesn’t feel like there’s more than one story going on either.

It would be interesting to puzzle this out if anyone’s else has read it recently and is interested. I think understanding how a book like this works would be helpful to see how a multiple-POV novel can work within one storyform (assuming I’m right that there’s only one).

It’s been several years since I read it, but I suspect you may be right that there’s just one storyform dominating the narrative. My reason for thinking the guy is the MC is that, as I recall, there’s lots of stuff that Emily knows that’s withheld from the reader, and that the guy’s POV is the one we see her through. However that might be wrong – especially if, as you surmise, that it’s the use of time jumps that actually hides what she knows from us.

It’s hard for me to think how – from an audience perspective – that Emily would be the MC. On the other hand, Jim Hull is perpetually reminding me that an objective view of story specifically doesn’t look at it from the audience standpoint. So I could see it going either way.

Yeah I think the time jumps make it unclear – I just read it and I still can’t remember if there are any scenes where she’s “onstage” but withholding information (in her POV). I think if you spool it out and put the timeline in order though, there isn’t, but it’s confusing because the novel is all about manipulation, causing people to lose their memories and being programmed to do things by others – so it’s a little unclear (within the conceit of the book) if characters are withholding information or if they don’t have access to it.

The other thing that is that Wil appears to be the steadfast character and Emily the change character. There’s very little backstory to him (justification process) – even after his memories return. So I think that made me feel like he was the IC – but that’s obviously not necessarily the case.

What’s really interesting to me – as relates to this discussion – is that a “non-Dramatica” analysis of this book would probably conclude that there are two “main characters” in the story and leave it at that.

Having too many main characters has been a creative problem for me that I’ve been trying to figure out for a couple of novels now. When I first discovered Dramatica I thought “oh, I just need more than one storyform.” But reading this book makes me wonder if I’m looking at it the wrong way – that you can have a single-story book in which more than one character has a lot of pov time, as long as structurally you still have a “grand argument” and you (the author) know who’s who in the story (if that makes sense).