Identifying the Throughlines

I was also not a fan of this litmus test… until I got much better at separating my MC out from the OS.

For instance, it sounds like the throughline you’ve chosen for your MC is really just part of the OS. Stuck on an island? Try to sneak across the border!

If I were your development exec on this, I would aim for something like, “Petros has to Understand the value of his past before he will join the revolution or lead the revolution” or something.

That said, I’m not 100% sure it’s a fail-proof test.


To me the problem is interpreting what “take them from this story and put them in another” even means. For me, the natural way to interpret it immediately disqualifies it, because it implies the same character can’t have a different MC Domain in a sequel.

You might argue a sequel is special because they’ve changed/grown in the first story. But what about an “inquel” – e.g. a story that takes place on Tatooine after the droids arrived but before Luke left on the Falcon? He’s the same Luke, but in this new story maybe his problem is Mind/Subconscious (grieving his aunt & uncle on the way to Mos Eisley) or something.

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Ideally, transplanting him to New York and seeing that he still needs to find the old house with the photograph of the girl or whatever-can’t remember the specifics (for context, I’ve read the book Lakis is referencing-August in the Vanishing City-very good, highly recommend) should help you see that his trip into enemy territory is separate from being stuck on a divided island. While you can bring to the story the idea that the photographs are symbols for whatever, because Petros would carry the discovery of these photographs to any story he went into you know that you don’t need to show that everyone would see these photographs as symbols.

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So, this is all still treating the MC Throughline as a real person. As if “Luke” is really going to be pulled from “Star Wars” and put into the plot from “E.T.” Remember that none of these characters are real. They’re a way for an audience to appreciate the dilemma in the throughline. They’re stand-ins, metaphors, encoding.

The easiest way that I’ve found is to break down what’s going on with the MC Throughline in a more universal statement devoid of context. If your MC is dealing with a concern of Understanding… what’s the dilemma there? What’s are the details of his journey of Understanding?

… Say your storytelling with the refugee is about a dilemma about crossing the border like you said. So what’s the problem with that? Maybe they have to trick the border patrol to sneak across. But the more they interact with the border patrol, the more they come to appreciate why they’re protecting the border or start to see that they’re really not as bad as they first thought.

“Conflict Corner” participants might recognize this dilemma… If you break down what’s going on there, sans the context of your crossing the border story, you can see that the MC convinces themselves it’s okay to mislead others to cross the border, but understanding their foes brings them closer together.

That construct, that dilemma, is the thing that’s your MC’s personal dilemma in this story. And hopefully that’s a much easier thing to envision being dropped into another story’s Plot.


I think @JohnDusenberry and I are doing the same thing a different way.

The trick is not to find a different story that they can be in as Luke. Because if you were really going to do that, of course you wouldn’t want it to be repetitive and you’d look for something slightly different to learn about Luke.

The point is to find the thing at the heart of Luke that could be moved to another story.

For instance, I’m writing a story about a girl—Annie—in a mining town who believes life ends at 18 because then you take on a terrible, life-long, low-paying job. Which is a huge bummer because she’s a great singer.

If I took Annie and put her in NYC, I’d want to explore her attempts to get onto Broadway. But this is the wrong way to look at it.

What we should be transporting is this fear that life is over when you are very young. I could put that into just about any story. And once I have the thing I can extract, then I know I have my MC.


I really wish I had more time to join and/or listen to more of the Conflict Corner classes. I can see that you’re onto something here but it’s not quite clicking with me yet (or at least, the process still feels too labor intensive). I hope to remedy that in the coming year.

Anyway I wrote a long response to this and ended up disproving my own point. So there you go. :slight_smile:

Okay, that’s really helpful.


It’s been an eye opening workshop for a lot of people, myself including–giving an hour to explore and exercise that muscle of coming up with proper sources of conflict.

If there’s a better time/day for you or others, I could shift things around.

The process isn’t so much labor intensive as it is mentally intensive. Like Dramatica itself, it really forces you as Author to stop and think about what it is you’re actually trying to say.

The other approach is to be more exploratory, and use Dramatica as a quick tool to double-check your work–work out any kinks or missing pieces… but I think the power of Dramatica offers so much more than that. It’s worth it to Authors to really take the time to dig in.

This week’s Conflict Corner is a bit of review and I go over the benefits of the theory–if you care to catch the replay.


I think others might have said this, but DESIRE the way you mention it is already part of every theme. What i want. In the case of desire as a Concern, that means the story pivots on desiring itself, not that a character has desires. It’s not “the mc desires (a car)” but "desiring causes problems for the MC_ " and the MC’s life has to be upset because they desired in the first place, and they have to get over it or hold firm to the desire though people try to knock them off that hill.

@kirro05 I put together a little book related to finding your quad. Take a look at this and see if it helps you figure out which quadrant your story is in (upper right/lower left), and possibly even which domain each is in.

But first figuring out the set of four helps you identify which of THOSE the RS most is like or the IC is most influential in might help you figure it out.

It’s not “the mc desires (a car)” but "desiring causes problems for the MC_ " and the MC’s life has to be upset because they desired in the first place, and they have to get over it or hold firm to the desire though people try to knock them off that hill.

It very well could be that the MC desires a car being the problem. It’s not so much that desiring is the root of the problem, it’s that the process of desiring describes some dilemma in the mind.

For example, the MC is itching for a new car so they can look appealing driving it, but people with fancy new cars tend to be perceived as lacking by others.

And therein lies a dilemma.

Is this what drives the first justification?

The inequity is between desiring a car and not having a car.

• Choosing to work toward getting a car is problem solving.

• When you cannot get a car and choose to pursue another way/step to get the car, such as getting money to buy a car, this is when problem-solving turns into justification


Because the next problem-solving choice would be to try to get rid of the desire for a car, which would remain in the problem-solving realm.

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