Gaining a More Intuitive Understanding of the RS Throughline through Romance Tropes

So I was reading through another thread on distinguishing the RS Throughline from the others and had something to say, but figured I’d post it as its own topic rather than revive/derail a year-old conversation.

I really struggled to understand Dramatica’s concept of the “Relationship Throughline.” The oft-quoted advice is to think of the RS as if it were its own character. But this felt (and feels) counterintuitive to me. A relationship doesn’t have a physical body. How can it experience internal conflict when it has no “interior?"

In order to get a handle on this subject, I turned to the romance genre. I wondered whether writers/readers of romance had a means of discussing the ins-and-outs of the RS Throughline in ways that might help me identify how it differs in “feel” from the other fundamental building blocks of story.

For me, the answer was yes, they did.

Granted, this can be tricky. Most writers/readers of Romance don’t talk about “RS Throughlines” or “change vs. impact characters.” They talk about tropes. And since the vast majority of tropes (the orphaned hero, the damsel in distress, the love triangle, etc.) lack a one-to-one relationship with any component of the Dramatica Storyform, it can be hard to use them as learning tools. They’re a grab-bag of storytelling convention, cultural shorthand, & structural elements of narrative tied up in bizarre and completely idiosyncratic packages. However, when I just looked at tropes of the Romance genre, I noticed something interesting: many were simply descriptions of RS Throughlines with specific shapes.

Consider THE quintessential romance trope: hate-to-love.

Such romances tend to have a lot in common:

— The haters/lovers will be the story’s MC and IC.
— The MC or the IC will hate/come to hate the other for reasons that are unjustified.
— That character will come to see the error of their ways; i.e. they will change their nature.
— The romance (at least) will have a happy ending.

However, the two criteria a hate-to-love Romance MUST have are:

— The dynamic between the haters/lovers MUST be the emotional heart of the story.
— The dynamic between the haters/lovers MUST change gradually from profound mutual animosity at the beginning to profound mutual affection by the end.

Now that last point might seem self-evident (what else would you expect from the hate-to-love trope?), but think about it. These criteria describe a story with a very specific KIND of emotional tension at its heart and a very specific kind of RESOLUTION to that tension. Together they specify the precise emotional states with which such a story must begin and end.

In other words, they describe a story with an RS throughline of a very particular SHAPE and FEEL.

A hate-to-love Romance might be set in space or ancient Greece. The RS problem element might be Faith, or Speculation, or any of the other 62. The MC might be linear or holistic. They might change or remain steadfast. The overall story might end in success or failure. The RS throughline might occupy any of the four domains. But you can bet your biscuit that the emotional heart of the story will still “feel,” in some sense, the same— because in choosing to tell a “hate-to-love” romance, we have selected for a particular emotional ARC around which the rest of the narrative will coalesce.

We have chosen the shape of the wave we wish to ride, not the particles from which our wave will be built.

So if you’re at your wit’s end, trying to figure out what the hell this “Relationship Throughline” thing even is— you might consider asking yourself: can you identify when a story is (or is not) a hate-to-love romance? If so, then you already have an intuitive grasp of what a “relationship throughline” is— it’s the part of the story you just isolated and evaluated in order to answer that question.

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Some examples:

— Is Romeo and Juliet a hate-to-love romance? No, because while their FAMILIES hate each other, Romeo and Juliet never share those sentiments.

— Is Gone with the Wind a hate-to-love romance? No, because while Scarlett goes from open animosity towards Rhett at the beginning to a desire to be with him at the end, Rhett goes from infatuation with Scarlett to total indifference towards her: “My dear, I don’t give a damn.”

— Is Pride and Prejudice a hate-to-love romance? Yes, because the two leads start out disliking each other and gradually grow to regard one another with mutual affection & love— and because this change is the emotional core of the story.

Again, notice that we can answer these questions definitively without ever considering MC vs IC, Change vs Steadfast, Success vs Failure. We need only examine the stories’ RS throughlines and ask whether they have the “shape” we’re looking for.

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This is great @Audz! I’ve always thought that picturing the relationship as an arc or “graph” is a great way to understand it better. I hadn’t considered that certain shapes of that arc might be more common and thus considered tropes.

Here’s an earlier post I made on the subject:

Personally, I like the idea that you’re free to define what shape of the arc you like, to fit your story ideas. Though I’m not sure you ever want it to be flat, except maybe for brief periods where the story is focusing on other things, or at the end if things have resolved. I believe the slope of the graph is a measure of the RS conflict, so flat means no conflict = boring. (Whereas a relationship suffering from stagnation, you would graph that as a downward slope.)

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This has always been hard for me as well.

In some stories, it’s there, but it’s not directly addressed. In others, it has scenes dedicated to it.

Anyway, I use a mental graph to chart it out as well. Seems like the easiest way forward for me.

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@Audz I have missed you, my dear, so glad to have you back amongst us!

I love this because it covers more than just love relationships. I’m recalling Enemy Mine with Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. Definitely Haters to Lovers (Philia)

I can see myself tip-toeing through TVTROPES now and seeing if I can find some more of those unique shapes. I’ve already got the 8 types greek love to mark a potential side of the arc floating about my brain.

As always, insightful.

I remember at a weekend workshop, Chris was telling us about a person who wrote well-known books about writing and that person’s first introduction to Dramatica software and (probably) theory by them. In shock dismay, “This is for [people] without talent!” etc. I remember Chris smiled when he told us the story. And it brings a smile to me, recounting it. However, it does make me appreciate the successful writers of the past, without handy tools. I read that Georgette Heyer said she’d yell at her husband in total frustration when writing a mystery, “How do I end this thing?!” (or somesuch)

The reason I bring up Georgette Heyer is that I do some editing help in sentences, paragraphs, longer papers, etc. for people from other countries, at times. I like listening to books on tape/iphone to hear proper English to stay on top of doing it intuitively. I’ve just finished most of her~30 Regency/Georgian novels. She was, really, a genius at making OS, RS equally strong, and when one almost dips to boredom, that very second the story turns around to delight. I had read them thirty years ago, but hearing them on tape includes the brain’s analytical appreciation of them. I’ll think more on this.