How to explore an RS, when a person is only half of the time in the story

Hi, my story is about a mother, who’s daughter disappears.
Her best friend has helped her to get by, and deal with this loss.
Then halfway through the story, the daughter returns, and she is acting strange.
The mother is in conflict, in the end, to choose between her daughter and her best friend.
Her best friend is afraid for her daughter and goes to the extreme, becoming the Antagonist.

MC thinks first like her best friend.
In the end, she thinks that her daughter is right.

I have trouble in how to explore the RS, due to the fact that the daughter is only half of the time in the story.
I think the RS is most interesting between mother and daughter.

But that would mean that the first S1 of the RS is explored, the OS/MC/IC throughlines will be in their S2/S3.
Or do you need to fill the Signpost gaps of the daughter RS with some other person RS? But then the RS also feels half-done. Not full, not empty.

The only example I could come up with, although not really my case, is in the Godfather? Where in Act 2 Kaye is still in love with Michael, hoping to return from his hiding, while Michael falls in love with an Italian girl in Sicilie. From an RS point of view Michael is not working on his RS with Kaye in that act, while Kaye keeps on hoping.

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Don’t despair! It’s actually a lot easier than you might think.

First, you can still explore a relationship even when the two people aren’t together. Especially something as powerful as mother-daughter relationship. Imagine the relationship as a person, how is it feeling during the period of separation? What is causing it conflict, what is it wondering about or worried about? Then try to explore that as best you can with the characters you have (I’m guessing the mother MC is your POV/narrator). As an example, the mother might wonder what would happen if the daughter was found after so long, would they even relate to each other the same after so much time has passed and the daughter has grown? That kind of thing.

Actually, the current thinking is that “some other RS” is very common and totally normal – most stories especially novels probably have some other relationship represented by the RS throughline. It can even be team relationships, or someone’s relationship with their country, that kind of thing. I bet your MC & best friend relationship is part of the RS somehow.

This is not what happens – you explore the same-numbered signposts together (in the same act). If there is a new relationship introduced in act 2, that relationship’s first beat would relate to RS signpost 2, not RS signpost 1.


I like to think of the RS as an omnipresent force between ALL the relationships. Thematically, it can (and often is) handed off and represented by anyone.

I always go to Back to the Future as the best example. The RS there is in Becoming>Commitment>Temptation

The forces at play between people deal with transforming the nature of…

  • tempting the commitment between George and Lorraine (what tempts them toward or away from their commitment to each other)
  • George and Biff (tempting commitment between their dynamic as bully and bullied, making george do his work for him, handing over the girl)
  • Biff and Lorraine (tempting the commitment to THEM becoming a couple rather than George and Lorraine)
  • Marty and Lorraine (same thing as Biff’s)
  • Tempting the commitment between Doc and the space-time continuum itself (Doc is hesitant to hear information about the future because the universe could fall apart)
  • Tempting the commitment between Marty and Doc, how far are they willing to go to save their relationship and become friends both in 1955, but in a way that’ll last through 1985 saving Doc’s life.
  • And even the relationship pushed by Doc between Marty and 1955 parents to commit to stopping things from falling apart… committing to getting his parents together, while somehow not interfering to screw things up more.
  • It’s even present on a small degree between Marty and Strickland … Strickland tempting Marty away from the audition…
  • Jennifer to Marty, her love note to him and going camping while he’s promised his parents he won’t do that.

It’s literally found in every character dynamic… and that’s the part to focus on. The dynamics between the characters.

Also what @mlucas said:

Thinking of the RS as a person might seem odd, but that’s exactly right. It may help to give the relationship a name. “The Friendship” or whatever.

And yeah, like @mlucas also said… the Signposts in every throughline move to their next processes when the OS Driver happens.

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I still remember when you brought this up and my first reaction was NOOOOOO, the Relationship is always between the MC and the IC…so many of analyses were off because if I didn’t see that relationship between them I figured the story was incomplete.


It’s also the reason why I ended up writing this giant series on the concept: The Relationship Story Throughline

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And make sure you check out Nomadland this year for a really sophisticated take on the Relationship Story Throughline

Thanks, I see I can continue with my story.
And as homework, I will watch Back to the Future again, Nomandland and read the articles of Jim.

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I’ve watched Back to the Future and I understand now what JohnDusenberry says. And yes this is a clear example of having several relationships between different people.

I also found the Dramatica story form of it:

There isn’t a link to a podcast or “videocast”. So I assume it’s created before the DUG started to also record it’s discussions.

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It was based on a group analysis we did in a previous forum which I have yet to bring over.

I’ve read the Article Serie of Jim on the RS line.
Nice to see that the discussion between John and Jim resulted in a better understanding of the theory.
I still have to get my head around to see the RS as a person.
Any good examples to share?

Another thing I noticed and I’m not sure if I’m seeing this correct but, but do I understand correctly that just like explained in this thread about the RS between different people, can you fill in IC’s as well? The example of A Christmas Carol where the IC’s are Marley and the three ghosts of Christmas seems to suggest that.

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Yes, IC handoffs are quite common – probably necessary in a lot of stories where (for example) you may not have the “main” IC player in the same location as the MC for certain parts of the story (though technically, you can present the throughlines entirely separately).

Another pattern that doesn’t get talked about much but which I suspect is valid is where the RS is a group rather than a couple – for example the family in The Incredibles, or probably any number of “love triangle” stories. I suppose this could look like an RS handoff though or different relationships.


It might also help to remember that thinking of MC and IC as “characters” is a bit of a misnomer. A helpful one, but one that can be hindering. (See what I did there? :wink:)

Replacing throughline with perspective is closer to the truth.

A Main Character or Influence Character perspective can be one or many characters, as long as they share that personal I or challenging You perspective.

The same goes for relationships that explore the same We perspective.


^what @Lakis said. Yes.
Technically, any through-line can be handed off. Some of them are less palatable than others if you hand them off too much (MC and OS), but there’s no theoretical reason why you can’t.

As long as you’re talking about the forces between group of people, and/or the group of people and something/someone else … and not the people/group.

If there’s a love triangle, you’re talking about the forces working in that relationship, not the characters as points of the triangle. It’s like talking about gravity, propulsion, magnetism… Is the force strong? Weak? Is it growing?



Hi @jeri, I only skimmed through the responses so forgive me if I’m repeating something, but here’s my $0.02 on how to handle an RS when one of the characters is absent.

First off, it’s not about the characters. It’s about the (emotional) space between them. As such, you can discuss the relationship without either character being “present”.

Say you have two friends who get mad at each other. One of them tells the other they never want to see them again. This causes them to drift apart, causes their friendship to weaken. One character saying they don’t want to see the other is not what the RS is concerned with. That the friendship has been weakened IS what the RS is concerned with.

Now imagine the character that didn’t want to see the other decides they want to offer forgiveness to the other character, so they call them up only to find out that the other character has died in a sudden and unexpected way. That character will now be absent for the rest of the story and yet the relationship between those two characters lives on.

The character that is still alive who, only pages ago, never wanted to see this person again is now wondering how they’re going to live on never seeing their best friend again. Despite one of the characters not being there, the friendship has actually grown stronger!

But as the story goes on, the character grows bitter and decides that the dead character should have been there for them. Now they are bitter and holding a grudge against the dead character, which weakens the friendship and pushes them apart.

Eventually the living character realizes that they had a special bond and goes to the dead characters grave to offer the forgiveness they never had the chance to offer because the bond between them was so strong that nothing should have been able to separate them. And now, though one of the characters has been completely absent for most of the story, the relationship between them is stronger than ever.

By showing how the relationship changes and evolves, you are fulfilling the RS. Whether the characters are actually in the scene has nothing to do with it. The actual characters only matter in as much as we look at them to see the movement of the RS, like watching two leaves floating on the water to see whether the waves push them together or apart.

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