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.