Impact Character as someone in the past of the Main Character

Greetings Dramatica Users! ((First, I need to mention that I am not a native English speaker, so there may be errors in the text).
I’m thinking about how to determine Thoughlines on a type of story sometimes found in literary fiction: a story where the Main Character returns to his hometown where he has to confront memories about his past, usually painful and perhaps about an event in particular more painful (and significant) that forced the Main Character to change in a significant way. The goal of this kind of story is to reevaluate these events to understand or make sense of what happened, and maybe have a insight of the meaning of life…

My difficulty is as follows (considering the following example):

When the Main Character learns he is terminally ill, he decides to return to his hometown. While wandering around the city, visiting old relatives and friends, the character remembers important events from his old life there, until he was taken to confront the memories of some painful event - perhaps it was this event that led the character to give up his dreams and move to another city. This event may be linked to a person - a lost love, a family member who committed suicide, parents who broke up with their son after a serious family crisis, etc. Being someone important, I thought, in principle, that this character from the past would be a good candidate for Impact Character. But in this case, it would be a character that is no longer present, except in the Main Character’s memories. And even though it was someone who is still alive in the present story, the impact on the main character was during these past events.

The question then is: how to work with an Impact Character in this context? To be more specific (how to define Impact Character Throughline and MC/IC Throughline?)

I know I could take a simpler route, for example, making the Impact Character someone from the present (a current friend, or an old acquaintance, or even an enemy) who helps (or forces) the main character to deal with their painful memories. But what if I wanted to choose to define the impact character as the person responsible for this significant past event and count the MC/IC relationship as the relationship they had in the past?

I would be grateful for any ideas or insights on the issue


Hiya Delvair,
Welcome to discuss.

I don’t read enough (any really) literary fiction to know if the genre would tolerate such a thing. My instinct is to say no, please don’t do that.

If your front story is that your character is dying…then your front story is probably going to float around how the character needs come to terms with their past/memories so that he can meet his death with a modicum of peace/grace. If there are only memories then how does he do that? You would have to use an avatar for the person he needed to make peace with and there is your impact character. If you just stick him in the past or with his memories, then what? Nothing will have the ability to change things for him. No filling the hole in his heart or knocking the chip off his shoulder.

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The impact can be in a different realm than the memories. It sounds like he has a lot to work through mentally. Someone today, totally unrelated with his backstory, can spur the change, as @jassnip says, filling the hole/knocking the chip. But the impact can be secondary, subtle, behind the scenes. Something that someone does might stir up those memories. He makes analogies and DECISIONS or ACTIONS based on what happened currently and how that merges with what happened once upon a time.

For example, let’s say the waitress at a restaurant in town is his impact character. She fights with the cook, she spills coffee on the MC’s lap, she is crying on a park bench, and she pours her heart out to the MC about her troubles.

The MC’s story is something completely else. Like he’s dealing with–say, a factory that poisoned the soil and caused his son to die 20 years ago. But he did nothing about it. He’s seeing all these things around town reminding him of his son, of his own weakness, of his wife’s accusations, etc.

So the waitress story/subplot isn’t the main story. But as IC, her story pushes the MC into change/or steadfast. As he helps her he realizes that he shouldn’t curse himself for wrongs in the past but he can live in today. The memories still come, and impact him, but someone instigates those memories with their own unrelated problems.

I think this would make for a heavier plot and would put impetus into his today that could dredge up yesterday to cause change for tomorrow.

Just my 2c.

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This is not a story that I am actually writing. I just used it as an example of a type of story found in literary fiction: it starts with the main character returning to his hometown. As the story develops he meets friends, family, etc. and recalls events from when I was still living there (usually events ranging from childhood to leaving town). Usually, the climax is the revelation of a painful past event that was responsible for the character leaving his hometown and explaining the character’s current situation. Recalling this event also makes the character gain some understanding of the meaning of life (even if it is just his own life).

Maybe I wasn’t clear on my question (and I really don’t think so). My point is this: how to use this story format in a Great Argument Story?

In principle, I thought of two alternatives: 1) all past events constitute the whole story, so the storyform would be all about what happened in the past, but in the exposition, it would be told in the form of flashbacks by the main character. In this case, the story of the main character’s return to his hometown would be a “frame story”.

However, since Dramatica allows you to work with multiple Throughlines, perhaps it could be the case of developing the story of past events in one or more Thoughlines (as it is about events that impacted the main character, the best candidates would be IC and IC / MC Throughlines), while the story about the character’s return would be explored on MC Throughline.
In simpler terms: the plot development of some Throughlines (IC, IC / MC) would be counted via flashbacks …

So the question is: is it possible for the development of Throughline plots to occur at different times (some in the past and others in the present)?

The plot progression (actual events) of all four throughlines should happen on the same timescale, though you can rearrange the order in which you tell them. But I don’t think (for example) you can have an OS Signpost 1 that happens in 2005 and an IC Signpost 2 that happens in 1980 (unless the story involves time travel or something).

You could, however, have a deceased IC exert influence on the present moment – you’d just need to figure out how to illustrate that.


That is all. I think that a ““frame story”” to the principal story maybe is the more suitable (or easy) way to make this.


The other exception would be if Act 1 (all the Signposts 1s) took place over a long period of time. For example if the First Driver (start of story) was in 1978 and then the Second Driver (moving from Act 1 -> 2) was in 2006.

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So it might err toward the abstract, but I don’t see why one couldn’t do this, with or without time travel. I believe (and someone jump in here if I’m talking nonsense) that the timescale you refer to is the space-time or time-space of the mind working through the inequity. It’s the plot progression of the StoryMind, not the “plot” progression of the characters in your movie/book/play. Whatever that’s represented by in the work–anything goes.

The important part is that the Storymind is communicating with the mind of whomever read the text or watches the movie. An author could creatively jump around with no consistency in the storytelling and still communicate the GA.


So glad you said this as I agree! This is a model for the way the mind processes a problem and the mind isnt restricted by a linear movement through time…I dont know if that makes sense.

I was thinking that the distinction between story form and story weaving is relevant here.
My understanding is that story weaving is about how you choose to present the story form to the reader. To me, it includes thinking about the narrative device. In this case the narrative device is a man wandering around having flashbacks basically. Although you could integrate them, and have all this engagement with the past influence the decision he makes now.
In literary fiction, that’s a very familiar device. The mind associating story present with memories and associations and replaying them.
I dont really know enough about dramatica to say if this is what dramatica would say, but it is something a lot of novels that feel like grand arguments do. I’m thinking of The Remains of the Day in particular as I’ve recently read that.


Perfect sense.

If you haven’t already, I would invite you to check out the pulitzer winning novel “All the Light We Cannot See.” Without giving too much away, the IC and MC basically never meet. After I read it, I was blown away–not just by the book itself, but by the fact that it reinforced the fundamental principles that make up Dramatica Theory. And that is that these are “perspectives.” Different lenses from which we can look at the overall inequity in a work.

In theory, you could make a story about an MC on Earth, and IC on some distant galaxy, an RS between two inanimate objects drifting in a void, all in an OS that exists in an alternate universe… and it will still work as a Grand Argument Story.

Your assessment is spot on, it’s the StoryMind at work. It’s abstract to think that way, but the Main Character Domain is not the same thing as your “Main Character.” It’s a perspective on the overall inequity. That is to say, all the subtextual inner workings of inequities describing an overall inequity are just the “engine” underneath your body of work.


It’s the plot progression of the StoryMind, not the “plot” progression of the characters in your movie/book/play. Whatever that’s represented by in the work–anything goes.

I was thinking that the distinction between story form and story weaving is relevant here.
My understanding is that story weaving is about how you choose to present the story form to the reader.

I think you’re correct. But practically I could still seeing it potentially causing confusion for the writer, but we might need more concrete examples to see how it would work.

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Absolutely. Practically speaking it’s a bit harder to visualize how that makes the jump from form to page, but that’s exactly what I’m hoping to achieve through the Conflict Corner.

The goal is to work through more abstract examples of conflict as they become more and more nested in a storyform, until we reach a place where it can then be translated, or “encoded” into a story that represents that raw structure.


I’m wondering if some films where we put the temporal craziness (pulp fiction, memento, that sort of thing) down to story weaving might actually be just picking and choosing from the chronology to illustrate the beats as determined by the story form. So maybe the chronology (literally what happened told chronologically) isnt following the PSR but the way the story is told is…
AAAand I am way out of my depth.

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I’m not totally sure, but I believe Pulp Fiction’s PSR would appear out-of-order from what Tarantino showed. It would read as it does in chronological order.

That being said, you really don’t have to worry about it too much. If you want a scene to be a flashback, have it be a flashback. What’s important is the progression of the conflict in your story.

@jhull would likely have much to say about Memento’s dealing with time.


Exactly. The storyform doesn’t care about the storytelling. That doesn’t mean the storytelling couldn’t confuse the form, I guess. But I suggest approaching storytelling with wild abandon. Just, you know, adhere to the storyform while doing it! Haha.


So, using some VERY quick inequities, let’s just go with a random quad… and forgive me if this isn’t totally coherent:

Evidence. The PRCO of a story beat might be straight down–Ability, Aware, Self-Aware, Desire.

P - Ability - One should stick to what they’re good at so they feel happy, unless discovering a hidden talent brings real joy.
R - Aware - One must focus on their surroundings to feel safe, unless being on autopilot enables your instinct to guide you safely.
C - Self-Aware - One must focus on their every move in order to conquer fear, unless lacking self-awareness eradicates apprehension.
O - Desire - One must remain fearless about their task in order to remain vigilance, unless one must allow fear to pass through them in order to remain fully mindful.

You might construct the following scenes:

  1. A young knight in training faces a trial by combat, but they’re blindfolded and come to discover a new skill that they would have never known before.
  2. The knight stands before his people as King, surveying the crowd for a suspected mercenary sent to assassinate him and his family as he performs a traditional ceremony.
  3. Years earlier, the boy who would be King climbs a treacherous cliffside with his father without a care in the world, making it to the top safely… though his father hesitates and stumbles and falls to his death before his eyes.
  4. Two weeks after the ceremony, the King strolls through the black woods unguarded with his grandson. He listens to the birds as they sing, then go quiet… and without ever seeing the killer approach, spins and impales his assailant as he fell from a tree high above.

Are these memories? Flashbacks? Flash forwards?
It doesn’t matter… the story beats describing a conflict of Evidence are felt by the reader. The reader’s mind fills everything in and you “get” the message.


The reason the order is important is that the mind attributes meaning to order. For example:

  1. There is a clean spoon
  2. Person with infectious disease sneezes on spoon
  3. You use the spoon to eat

123 and 132 are very different stories.

So whether you use a flashback to show beat #2 or you show it in order, the true chronological order matters to the Storymind, as it determines what story you are telling.


Right, obviously the order matters – that’s why it’s not possible to have a Signpost 1 Obtaining story that ends in Success.

I guess in the case of flashbacks, however, I’m wondering if the order that you reveal things could actually be the structural order (I thought maybe this was what @JohnDusenberry was getting at). Especially if what’s happening in the past is (for example) the IC throughline, and we see it primarily as a flashback through the eyes of the MC player … each memory could maybe influence in the order in which it was revealed.

Similarly, this example only make sense to me if we see how one beat influences the other. So I could see #3 is great as a flashback that informs the current moment.

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Hey, to help add to the discussion, I found this related thread:

Ahh, memories. Haha. Whoever asked that clearly didn’t quite have a grasp on things :wink:

So whether you use a flashback to show beat #2 or you show it in order, the true chronological order matters to the Storymind, as it determines what story you are telling.

@mlucas Right… and admittedly I could be really off in my example. This is a tricky topic… BUT isn’t it the true chronological order of the Storyform that matters, devoid of encoding?

@jhull, please tell me I’m wrong, haha.