Dramatica plotting in a first-person narration series

I think I discovered something.

As some of you know, I’m writing a 13-part series. At present, I’m plotting book 5. Now, this series is multi-faction noir: think a far future Game of Thrones type story (no magic) with mobsters. I have the series plotted in broad strokes as far as what the MC and major factions are doing, and have a series storyform already set.

I’ve chosen a close first-person narration, and something I realized while writing book 4 was that there were actually two levels in the story:

  • what the MC sees and
  • what’s going on behind the scenes with the crime families and other various factions.

What I realized while reading this thread is that if you’re this far into one person’s POV (in this case, the MC), that the MC Throughline is almost indistinguishable to the audience from the OS.

So in this case, the situation is:

  • one overarching storyform for the series (can’t think of a better term for this)
  • with two storyforms for each book in the series:

A. the signpost or journey of the overarching storyform you’re in (what’s really going on),
B. what the MC is seeing

I’ve found this useful to tease out the motivations and actions of the other characters considering where they are in the overarching storyform for the series. This is especially helpful if the book has a different IC than your overarching storyform does, which was true in book 4 and it turns out is true in book 5.

I’ve struggled with how to implement this, though. With book 4, I discovered this idea of multiple storyforms during revision, but now with book 5, I have an outline to write! And for this one, other than how it starts, a few major points, and how it ends, I was drawing a blank.

So I began with the MC. If I look at the overarching storyform, right now at the signpost she’s at, her concern is Obtaining. So since as far as the audience is concerned, the OS = the MC throughline, I put the OS Concern to Obtaining.

(that’s the key)

Then all I had to do (because I know the kind of story I’m writing: a Failure/Bad with a Steadfast character, etc.) is to tweak the storyform until it matched what I envisioned.

Now I have the Signposts and Journeys set up, which is a big help in deciding what to put where.

Only then do I approach the big picture: what are all the factions up to? That is the underlying/hidden storyform (“hidden” because the OS = MC throughline as far as the audience is concerned). This hidden storyform is determined by the Signpost or Journey I’m in for the overarching story.

Now right now, everyone (including the MC - remember, this is what’s really going on) has a Concern of The Past. So I set up a new storyform with a Concern of The Past, and off we go!

The only objection I can find to doing this is that the MC type orders don’t match. But I’m approaching this as if they both apply - yes, she’s concerned about Obtaining, but it has very much to do with what happened in The Past. As it turns out, this gives even more structure and help when plotting!

I don’t know if anyone else is attempting anything as complicated as what I’m doing, but I thought this might be helpful to anyone writing a close first-person narration story who’s feeling confused with their storyform. Approach it as if there’s two layers of story and how to proceed should hopefully become clearer. :slight_smile:


This is really nice @pattyloof !!! How then do you handle exposition in the narrative? Say, showing the OS signposts as opposed to the MC throughline.
I have a fair idea how I might do it, but it is for this same reason I’m avoiding the First person POV. I want to have the narrator a bit distant from the characters.
It would be interesting to see how you make the shift in your work.


Oh and do you use the PSR? …


Re: Signposts - I act as if all of them apply, just like you do in any story. For example, in book 4, Signpost 2 is as follows:

Audience storyform (where OS = MC) - “OS”: Doing, MC:The Past
Real storyform - OS: How Things Are Changing, MC: Understanding

What happened: The MC’s estranged husband is a mobster, whose ruthless sadistic father basically owns the city. In book 3 the MC left her husband, got into trouble, and is now under house arrest in a building she owns.

The Signpost is one of her husband’s high level men being dumped on her doorstep dead (while she’s supposedly being heavily guarded) in the middle of the night. There is tons of Doing, trying to Understand what happened in The Past (most pointedly how they got past the guards), while being appalled at How Things Are Changing, that someone would dare to kill this man. :slight_smile:

Not sure what PSR stands for.


Plot Sequence Report


I’m still on the demo version, so I don’t have that. :confused:

It’s a great tool to have. It gives a character-based view of the storyform. You know how the Storyform is from the Authors perspective. The PSR helps you see what it looks like from the inside. How the characters see/act in the storyform.


PSR is in the demo verision too. (Reports > Advanced Reports > Plot Sequence) :slight_smile:


Patty, I’m impressed that you were able to find a process that seems to work for you even when it’s so complicated.

However, I’m a little confused and not sure that you’re on the right track here.

The storyform represents the AUTHOR’s point of view only. (There are minor exceptions for some story points: Symptom, Response, and PSR variations are related to the characters’ points of view, but they are still first and foremost the Author’s perspective on e.g. what the characters focus on.)

So your storyform always tells you what is REALLY going on: the true sources of conflict, what’s driving the characters in the different throughlines, etc. There is no such thing as an Audience storyform. The Audience is always trying to piece things together to find the TRUE structure (often they’re doing this subconsciously), and accepts that new information may change how they see the entirety of the story. Example: finding out at the end of the Harry Potter series that Snape did EVERYTHING for love of Harry’s mother, the Audience feels the IC throughline “snap” into place as they more fully grasp the IC story points and act order (again, subconsciously, unless you’re Jim Hull).

So even for close narration you as author still need to figure out everything that’s really going on, as you understand it, without worrying about the audience. The OS signposts for example tell you what all the characters are truly dealing with at those parts of the story.

After that, you can still layer on the filter of close narration which obscures the OS for the Audience, however much you want. (Technically, it could obscure the other throughlines too, including the MC.) Eventually, though, I think you want to reveal enough of the “truth” for the audience to get an appreciation of the actual storyform.

All that said, you may be doing something more advanced than I understood. Are you actually trying to tell two stories? Does your “Audience” storyform have an actual message / argument to it? I could see that a first-person MC may sort of tell herself one story of what’s going on, and that story could be a full complete story even if it only exists in her head/perceptions. But to convey that along with the actual story seems incredibly complex to me!


This is an unreliable narrator, so actually, yes, now that you mention it.

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I think that ultimately both of you are talking about a similar phenomenon, i.e. when the audience’s apprehension of the story in real-time ultimately faces a wake-up call when all the information is on the table.

I think it’s interesting to use Dramatica in this way – to apprehend the subconscious narrative building in your audience’s mind due to the limited POV, all while planning to surprise-twist with the “real” storyform.


You might enjoy Searching for some tips and tricks. The movie is told via first-person (but, in truth, they cheat somewhat when they show the “bigger picture POV” as news stories that are implied to be on the MC’s computer screen).


Never heard of this one!

(LOVE your handle, btw. One of my favorite actor/comedians.)

My WIP is first-person narration and I am struggling a bit on my IC signpost & journey in the first act because my MC (narrator) and IC didn’t originally encounter each other until the end of the first act. But I can’t tell the story of the IC unless my MC is there to witness it using first-person narration. I think I have figured out a solution that brings them together as strangers but it feels a bit forced right now.

I’m curious, have other novel writers abandoned first person narration for this reason? Or what methods have you come up with to solve this dilemma?

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Sounds like what the IC is doing is sort of like backstory? Perhaps you could bring it out somehow after they meet.

For example, a kids’ story: MC and IC are both at summer camp. IC is in a different cabin but gets moved partway through the story because there was an issue (maybe IC got in a fight) in the other cabin.

So the MC/IC throughline doesn’t really begin until they meet (obviously) but the IC could tell the story of what led up to the fight, and the MC might react to what happened after the fact. This could even be part of their conflict, the way the two react differently to the same event which led to the IC being in the picture.

Does this make sense?


Does it have to take place as the narrator is telling it? Look at Shawshank Redemption. Red is telling the audience about Andy before he meets Andy, but it’s because he’s looking back on the story he’s telling rather than telling it as it happened. Since Red is telling it after it happened, that gives us a chance to assume that Andy told Red everything.


If the IC does influence the MC within the first structural act, then you should be fine – you can tell it however you want and you don’t need to force anything. This encounter would be the IC Signpost 1 “beat.” (Don’t worry so much about IC Journey 1, it would continue into structural act 2 anyway.)

Does that make sense?

Also, I really like Greg’s answer too.


I was having this exact thought about one of my WIPs, too. My conclusion was that you can always have a proxy for the primary IC. In my WIP, the issue was that the end of the first Act was the MC leaving her isolated community, with the IC being in the main area with everyone else. What I can do is either a) have a character in the isolated community who expresses the IC Elements in a similar manner, or b) have the MC contemplate the IC’s world and how much different it will be. In the first case, the IC Perspective is being represented through the proxy, and in the second, by the “totem” the MC has created in their mind.

Does that make any sense? :sweat_smile:


This is perfect, as this explains my situation exactly.

I like this. I’ll have to watch Shawshank Redemption again. It’s been a long time.

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Also keep in mind that MC and IC aren’t people, but perspectives…specifically, they are both perspectives within the same Storymind. That should mean—and I believe there’s a thread on here where Chris Huntley confirms, though I didn’t look for it—that structurally, it’s fine to have your IC scene take place outside of the MCs knowledge. This is because, as a perspective, the IC isn’t meant to have an impact on the MC player so much, but on the I perspective of the Storymind.