Focus or direction: Reaction or Proaction

Hey everyone,

I need some help with my main character through line. I’ve got the character clear in my head now. Reaction and Proaction are definitely the Focus and Direction but I’m having trouble working out which way around they are. I’m finding myself second guessing myself.

The main character through line is an issue of Attraction, Non-Acceptance is the problem, and Acceptance is the solution.

He thinks he can get rid of his inequity (feeling like a freak and an outsider in a small village) by getting positive attention. So he does stuff that he feels will get him attention. It works and he feels good for a bit, but it doesn’t resolve his inequity. SO he decides the next thing he does needs to get him even more attention – if he gets a higher level of attention that will definitely resolve his inequity. But once again it doesn’t, so he is constantly chasing more and more attention, doing more extreme things. However, it will never resolve his inequity because it doesn’t matter how much external validation he gets it doesn’t stop him seeing a freak when he looks in the mirror. Only when he accepts himself will he be able to resolve his inequity.

So… my question is – does that sound like Focus: Reaction Direction Proaction… or the other way around?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. I can provide more information if needed.


So in the mirror he sees Non-Acceptance (problem) so he seeks attention. That sounds like him needing a Reaction, but I wouldn’t rule out that he is out there seeking Acceptance. Any chance you have your decision slotted the wrong way?

Is this a comedy?

When you say ‘decision’, do you mean, could proaction/reaction be problem/solution and acceptance/non-acceptance be focus/direction?

Yes it’s a comedy.

I did mean that. Couldn’t figure out how to word it.

You didn’t mention how Proaction would fit in. I sometimes find in comedies and thinner movies (like actions) that the Focus is invisible.

1 Like

Could it be that he suffers from being an outsider (Non-Acceptance), but what he sees is how badly people react to him (Reaction), he tries to fix it by taking all kinds of “proactive” (Proaction) actions to get approval but that just make things worse? “Acting Precipitously” is a gist of Proaction – I could imagine a lot of comedic possibilities there. (e.g. “jumping the gun” on things).


There is always a big possibility that I’ve got the elements in the wrong order ha.

Maybe I’ll give a brief description of the main character to see if I have lined it up properly.

So the main character is a bit of a nobody in a small town. He has gone his whole life going unnoticed and blending into the back ground, no one ever has ever shown any interest in what he has to say.

One day he loses his eye in a pencil accident. He is no longer invisible. Not only is he a nobody he is now (in his eye(s)) a freak. He thinks people will see him the way he sees himself so to combat this he rejects people before they reject him (problem: Non-acceptance).

Before I continue a bit of Overal Story. The small town he lives in is ‘run’ by a group of hipsters that have brought their big city ideas with them. Wanky coffee shops, craft beer, hipster barbers etc. Anyone who doesn’t conform to their way of thinking is looked down on and ridiculed.

Back to main character. James thinks he will be looked down on by the hipsters so he public rejects them and their ways. No one is going to tell him what he can do and think.

This public rejection of the hipsters (story driver) causes a ripple in the town. A few townfolk come out of the woodwork in support of the MC. No one has ever stood up to the hipsters and he is now their hero and they are drawn to him (issue: attraction). The MC discovers the more he rejects conformity, the rules, the hipsters, does what he wants and plays by now rules the more positive attention gets. He becomes addicted to the feeling. People like he cos he does and says what they wish they could.

He sets off on a noble question to create a village where people are free to do and think what they like rather than what the hipsters think is cool (I also think he wants to create an environment where everyone rejects conformity because he thinks he will feel more accepted and at home there)

Every time he takes the hipsters down a peg he gets more and more attention. He loves the buzz. He feels if he can get enough positive attention it will get rid of his personal inequity.

Instead of being solely focussed on the task at hand – the thing that will make the town a better place to live, he is more focussed on the attention he will get from doing it. He ends up doing extreme things that actually disrupts some of the good work he has done, because the attention is more important to him - his need for attention clouds his decisions. (there is a great ted talk Joseph Gordon-Levitt where he talks about this type of thing – getting attention v paying attention).

In regards to how I saw proaction. Because he is chasing the attention I felt that could be defined as proaction?


Hmm. It does seem like the bigger decision here is which dynamic pair is Problem/Solution, and which is Focus/Direction.

I often find figuring out which item in a dynamic pair is Focus and which Direction, is very difficult at the storyforming stage. It’s usually a lot easier to figure out how the MC and OS Domains align (which also tells you Start vs. Stop). In your case you have MC Universe, and your problematic hipster way of thinking, clashing with other ways of thinking, does sound a lot like OS Psychology (and probably Permission).

So going back to the MC quad, your explanation of Non-Acceptance being his Problem definitely made sense. But on the other hand this:

… could also be a Problem of Proaction. He’s taking initiative action (and keeps doing so). But of course it’s tricky, because if his problem is Non-Acceptance, this might be a Focus of Proaction.

Does one of the items in the quad feel like the Solution and why? This is a good question to ask because if you can grok the Solution, you’re really zeroing in on the meaning/message of the story you want to tell, or as @jhull & @decastell might say, reconciling yourself to a single context for your story. (To me it feels more like aligning than reconciling, but I love the concept.)

1 Like

I think sometimes Focus/Direction ends up in a kind of rapid feedback loop where it’s hard to tell which one is which (like @mlucas) said. In this case it sounds like in order to stop the hipsters from ruining the town before it’s too late, he takes bolder and bolder actions (Proaction) which gets him attention (Reaction) that encourages him to take even more extreme actions (Proaction) to get more attention etc.

1 Like

I would call this Proaction.

I would call this Acceptance

These thing are tricky, and I may be wrong, but in general I find myself pretty satisfied with this level of storyform before I tackle a first draft. The questions are usually answered already in my psyche somewhere, and seeing things on the page draws out the arrangement.


It is interesting you say this, because the reason I set this question up In the first place is that I had MC down as

Problem: Nonacceptance
Solution: Acceptance
Focus: Reaction
Direction: Proaction

In regards to Focus/Direction I felt like he was focused on his “fans” reaction to him and the direction was his proactive nature – constantly doing more and more stuff to chase the reaction. However, Focus and Direction is something I do struggle on (direction more).

However, those selections put the OS in activity and concern of learning – which isn’t right to me.

To me the Overall Story is Manipulation, Conceiving, and Permission.

Everyone has a unique way of thinking. Every group has conceived ideas about the others. The hipsters think the James’ crew are losers who are jealous, James’ crew think the hipsters are big city snobs. The older locals think both groups are part of the self entitled youth who wouldn’t know a real problem if it hit them over their heads. Everyone has an idea of what would make the town great and are not willing to compromise.

As a success change story, I see the goal of conceiving as “they need to conceive the idea that putting away their difference, compromising and being open to new ideas will lead to the town being a great place to live”. Or something less wording. Not sure what the consequence of learning would be yet, but hey, one problem at a time.

I think the issue of Permission works really well. The hipsters decide what is permitted in the town (definitely from a psychological point of view). Also, James standing up to the Hipsters grants others the permission to stand up to them or publicly go against the grain.

I think you are all right it gets really tricky working out what is the source of the problem and want seems to be the source of the problem. I could make an argument for proaction and Non-acceptance.

For me it is still non-acceptance because that’s how I envision the true source of conflict to be. Proaction as a problem makes the main character steadfast in a Manipulation OS which isn’t right. Plus, being a success story, non- acceptance as a problem and acceptance as a solution in the OS makes sense.

Every group is not willing to accept any other group’s ideas or views. Everyone thinks they are right and will not buckle. It’s only when people start to be more accepting of ideas, open to help, collaboration that the problems go away.

What I really love about discussing stuff on this forum is that it really forces you to identify the sources of conflict etc and to be very concise about your ideas. I think I made a mistake when I said “he rejects people before they reject him”, that’s not quite right. In my mind, there aren’t really any examples of him rejecting other people before they reject him.

It’s just that public rejection of the hipsters. I’ve mulled it over the last few hours, to work out what really drives the public rejection and it became more clean – and helped me decide on non-acceptance as the problem element.

James’ situation changes – he goes from being unnoticed, where no one has any conceived ideas about him, to losing his eye and everyone noticing him – making judgments and assessment. He sees himself as a freak, assumes everyone sees him like that. Realises that he will now never live up to the idea of what is cool and acceptable – he will never belong in the hipster’s world, so he rejects them, their views and whole way of life, wants nothing to do with it.

This gains him a following, support, people who look up to him to make a change. He realises that if he can continue to bring down the hipsters he can create an environment where he feels he belongs, improving his situation.

The reason non-acceptance is such a problem for him is he is rejecting for the sake of rejecting, which is never gonna lead to him being his truself. For example, if the hipsters say the best milk is macadamia milk, James will say it is almond, even if he believes or not.

The solution of acceptance is the one that feels right to me. I feel a lot of his problems would go away if he had his peace with his new deformity.

I think the form of the MC through line that feels like it makes sense (especially with how it is linked to the OS) is the following

The Present

So I just need to get my head around Focus: Proaction & Direction: Reaction, and how that will look like.

I like this idea of him doing more and more bold actions which leads to more attention – but how would that look? Which one would need to be the focus and which one is the direction?


I think I’m getting caught up in the details, and you’re probably correct if you’ve decided that your problem is Rejection and the solution is Acceptance. But based off the way this quoted paragraph reads, maybe you’ll want to factor in this possible MC Problem Quad:

James rejects for the sake of rejecting (Problem: Reaction, only rejecting things in response to the hipsters and his newfound attention. He might like macadamia milk, but he won’t drink it in public)
James sees a lack of acceptance from the hipsters (Symptom: Acceptance. Because he’s already denied them the chance to accept him by reacting so negatively to them)
James responds by rejecting the hipsters (Response: Rejection)

The hipsters are all like, “hey man, we seriously don’t care about you. Can you just leave us alone?” and James is all, “NO! I will REJECT you until you ACCEPT me!” because their Reactions, and the Reactions of the people who start paying attention to him, are what motivate James. Even if the hipsters were to accept him, he would still find a reason to reject them (or reject something else).

It’s only through being Proactive about his choices, regardless of what the hipsters and the crowd want, that he finds peace. James publicly drinks that macadamia nut milk, people think he’s some hipster loser, and he loses his attention. But he doesn’t care, because he likes that macadamia nut milk. Now he can be his true self. (Solution: Proaction)

Again, it’s your choice. I think you have a clearer picture of the overall progression of the story than I do. Any individual moment of your story can be interpreted as representing something different to anyone else. I could make an argument for each and every Dramatica element to be your MC problem if I wanted to. The truth is, no one truly understands the message of your story until they view it as a whole. And you’re the one who sees and decides the big picture, not me.

As for the storyform that you seem to have decided on (which is great!):

When the hipsters take charge, They are unabashedly true to themselves, not following anything but their heart (Symptom: Proaction). James sees this as a threat because he’s ashamed of who he is, and knows that they hipsters will further shame him. (Problem: Rejection, Universe). Thus, James goes on the “defensive” by fighting back against the threat of the hipsters (Response: Reaction). They might Proactively try to come up with ways to shut James down, but he’ll just keep hitting back harder each time.

For example, they might say “Macadamia nut milk is the best!”. James will then react by “debunking” the lies about macadamia nut milk, allowing him to garner a lot of attention. This could also end up creating a really divisive environment in the village, and if Acceptance is not embraced, then the OS Consequence of Learning might come into play as all sorts of misinformation is spread about different people (and about macadamia nut milk)


Hey Billy, Thank you so much for your comment – It’s actually been quite eye-opening for me.

I found your vision of the story really funny, I could see that working well. However, it’s not quite the story I was going for, which I think is down to my explanations on things (the quote is really badly worded and even my example isn’t quite right haha).

I think it might help if I go into detail about the hipster’s control on the town, because I don’t think I’ve really explained that.

I do feel the understanding of the hipster set up will help with the MC through line.

I’m totally open in regards to the order of the quad – I just want to make sure it fits what I’m going for.

So in regards to the overall story, I’ll give a bit more detail. So it’s essentially a small town. These “hipsters’ have moved back from a big city (due to rent prices etc). They feel they have downgraded having to move to a small town. One way of dealing with the cognitive dissonance is to bring their big city ways with them and “upgraded” the town. There is definitely a sense that they are a higher class of person (in terms of culture etc) and look down on the town folk and think they know best – they will bring them up to their level.

They bring these new ideas but it’s a bit like a dictatorship. They own the café, the pub, the barber etc etc. In the café they only serve macadamia milk because almond milk ruins the coffee (a barista smugly said this to me once – true story). If you request another type of milk they make you feel stupid and inferior for even asking the question. Ends up getting to the point that people go along with it because they want to be seen as cultured and also don’t want to be made to feel stupid for liking almond milk. There is a sense of “these guys are from the city, I better conform to their ideas”. There are very little options in their establishments – the bar only serves craft beer, god help you if you ever request a Budweiser. We know the ways, come up to our level.

That’s essentially the set up, however, obviously some people are secretly dishearted by the hipsters but don’t have the guts to stand up to them in case they are publicly ridiculed. There will be people who don’t really want to be made fun of because they like fosters beer.

Then James, who has been ignored all his life, loses his eye. People start noticing him. People are curious about him, stare at him open mouthed when he passes, want to know what happened etc, look at him like he is a freak. I think there is real jealous from him. Everyone notices me because I’m a one-eyed freak, where the hipsters have got it lucky – they are good looking, cultured, talented (one’s a musician, one’s a street artist, and one’s a barista). Not only that, but they are also smug about it.

To deal with his newfound attention, he creates this persona I guess. He doesn’t want people to see him as a loser freak, so he puts on attitude in public (yeah I’ve only got one eye, deal with it). Badass. He would prefer people to think of him as a badass loner that does what he wants, than a clumsy ass one-eye freak.

He comes face to face with the barista hipsters, and his new persona takes over. He is no longer taken any more shit. He demands almond milk, the hipsters try to belittle him and refuses. He storms off, comes back 5 minutes later, he jumps behind the counter, makes the coffee himself, pours in the almond milk and struts off. He gets a shit load of positive attention, the first he has ever had.

He likes it. He realises that he if keeps playing this bad ass character and keeps taking down the hipsters the more positive attention he gets.

He has a lot of support at first, because what he is doing is perceived to be a good thing as he is standing up to the hipster, providing a platform for others to do the same, creating an environment where there is choice and you can do and say what you like without fear of ridicule.

However, because he is more motivated by bringing down the hipsters and making them feel as inferior as he does rather than being motivated to changing the town in a positive way, it means he does some really bold actions near the end that cause issues for the town.

In regards to James and hipsters. As mentioned before, I kinda see them both in the wrong and it would be best for them to both be a bit more open and work together to my the town a better place.

I guess in regards to the hipsters – it’s good to bring new ideas, but don’t be Nazis about it and belittle people who think differently.

To James – don’t reject new ideas just because they make you feel inferior.

I feel a bit more confident with this explanation.

In regard to the quad, how do you see the positions of the elements?


This story is awesome by the way.

I guess my point is that you might not need to worry about it too much at this stage, especially if you’ve decided what the Solution is. (Have you run it through Subtext and found a premise that works for you?).

I agree with @mlucas that this story definitely sounds more like a Psychology story than Physics (I think OS Concern of Conceiving is perfect). So that means the Focus must be Proaction and the Direction is Reaction. And it sounds (to me, anyway) like your illustrations all fit that storyform nicely (which may have been how you came up with them? If not, then it’s pretty amazing how well they fit):

OS Problem of Nonacceptance

OS Psychology:

OS Conceiving:

OS Issue of Permission:

OS Focus of Certainty:

OS Problem of Nonacceptance:

MC Problem of Nonacceptance:

MC Focus of Proaction:

MC Direction of Reaction:


Everything @Lakis said! Especially this:

I wonder if the Learning Consequence might be something like the hipsters teaching everyone a lesson / teaching everyone they’re in charge.

Don’t worry about the Focus/Direction seeming backwards sometimes. It happens so often, I’ve started to feel like it’s a good sign! And it really is a feeback loop as Lakis said – more like dividing a rotating wheel into two sections than putting things into two separate boxes.


Thank you very much, guys. It’s has taken a while to work it all out in my head but it is definitely getting there.

I feel pretty set on this storyform now, feels like it fits together.

I never really got down this far on the OS through line, but it does fit really well. I wonder how potentiality will show itself. Something for me to think about.

The storyform means the IC is in fixed mind, contemplation, appraisal. I haven’t thought too much about the IC character yet. My guess is she will be part of James’ crew – wants to create a town where the hipsters have less control. But is motivated more about making the town a better place for everyone, rather than a vendetta against the hipsters.

She is constantly assessing the situation and James’ actions. Maybe she has a first impression of James where she questions his motives. Her drive is reaction, which could be that she gives an honest reaction to whatever James does – unlike the others that constantly kiss his butt and shower him with praise. If she thinks he has done something wrong she will tell him. She will be a constant pain in the ass to him.

With the relationship through line, my thinking it will be James and the IC. They will be working together for a common cause, which works with the domain of Activity. I still struggle with the relationship through line, but I’m thinking the concern could be something to do with learning to trust each other? And in regards to issue of prerequisites – I’m thinking maybe it’s something to do with the steps they have to go through to trust each other. They both start off with a healthy dose of skepticism and end up with full trust for each other.

Before I put some serious work into the IC and relationship through line, I just wanted to check if I was heading in the right direction with some of my early assessments?


That sounds like Potentiality to me :slight_smile: .


Yeah that all sounds really good. I love the idea of the IC influencing James by reacting differently than everyone else around him, giving an honest reaction. And being a pain in the ass, which is almost part of the IC’s job description :slight_smile: .

The RS sounds like it has a lot of cool potential too! And I find the RS is the most intuitive throughline – if you have the big picture understanding (like you seem to with Learning and Prerequisites), you can often just wing the rest without a lot of planning.


That’s really helpful, thanks! I’ve been spending a lot of time recently trying to get my head around the relationship through line. I’m getting better but still think I’m quite far off. For now it might be best, as you say, to make sure I have a big picture understanding of the through line and just go with my instincts.

Just one last question. In regards to IC – I have a general understanding of the through line. It’s the objective view of the subjective. It’s mainly about the impact the perspective has on the main character and others around them. I think it makes sense In regards to concern, issue and problem (drive in my case). What I’m having trouble with is understanding Focus and Direction in terms of the IC through line.

It’s clear what focus/direction means in terms of OS and MC. With the OS, it’s where the objective characters think the problem is and focus their time. The direction is what the objective characters do to solve the problem. And the same with the main character. But it’s unclear to me how it works in terms of IC.

Is the focus where from an objective point of view, it looks like the IC thinks the problem is. So it looks like the IC is focusing their time on (in my case) certainty. And the direction, is what it looks like the IC is doing to solve it?

For example, say my neighbour got robbed and the next day I saw him installing security equipment. From my objective viewpoint I could surmise that he thinks the reason he got robbed was that his house wasn’t secure enough and to solve that he has gone out and bought some equipment. Now, I can’t know that for sure unless I get into his head, but that’s at least what he looks like. Is that how the IC through line works?

I think it hard for me to think of focus and direction without making it subjective (Main character by a different name).

1 Like

@Myster82 Have you read Jim’s playground articles? Not that you necessarily need to do the exercises but it might be worth reading how he illustrates several variations of the same IC throughline to get a sense of how it’s different from the MC.

He explains the difference here:

When it comes to the Influence Character Throughline you’ll want to focus on their influence or impact on others. Too many times those new to Dramatica simply write that Throughline as another Main Character. The Influence Character only exists as a challenge to the Main Character’s way of doing things , so write that difference. Instead of “The unfair working conditions of Chinese immigrant workers drive Frank the railroad man to drink” as an exploration of Inequity as a Main Character Problem, think “Sam delights in treating the Chinese immigrants unfairly and makes sure the railroad men under his command watch and even participate” as an example of an Influence Character Problem of Inequity.2 One is personal, the other impersonal, and challenging.


Ah, I must have missed this one. I’ve read the MC playground articles but haven’t come across this one. This is super helpful and clears things up… I think… can I double check?

Say we had a character who has a source of drive/problem of reaction. They always give honest reactions (like in my story).

If this character was MC, we would be focussed on how this causes problems for them.

e.g they always give honest reactions which has meant all their friends have disowned them leading to bouts of depression.

However, if this character was IC, we would be focussed on how this impacts and causes problems for others.

e.g they comment that the necklace their friend has spent days making looks like a turd on a string, leading to the friend feeling shit about themselves and questioning their talent.

Am I on the right lines?