MC vs Protagonist


I understand that the MC can be different from the Protagonist. Should all the objective characters be plotted under the OBJECTIVE STORY plot progression. And how does one work out the main character’s want (as per the conventional story telling theories) whether they are the protagonist or not?

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Look to the Story Goal. Once you know what that is, simply “tag” the characters in your story with Elements that refer to the Goal.

For instance, a story about Earning the Admiration of the Scientific Community:


  • Pursuit: As head of the project, George motivates everyone to push harder to earn the respect and admiration of the scientific community.
  • Test: Never one to settle for anything less than perfect, George constantly challenges every idea and approach the team comes up with
  • Perception: George could care less about how much they really deserve the admiration; as long as everyone perceives his team as worthy, he’s quite satisfied
  • Acceptance: At heart, George is a people-pleaser, and will do anything, even if it mans cheat, to be accepted by his peers.

You go ahead and do this for all your characters and always think of the Element in reference to the Story Goal. This will keep your story honest and consistent.

Ignore the Archetypal Characters and the settings they suggest within the application. They do more harm than good as they confuse the way these Elements work in a story.

For instance, you could assign a character as the “Skeptic” because they’re skeptical…even though they might fully support and believe in the Story Goal. You can’t just be a “skeptic” to anything when it comes to artfully crafting a narrative. It needs to have purpose, and the purpose of the Overall Story elements is to show the relative appropriateness or inappropriateness of these elements in the efforts to resolve the story’s central inequity.

You always have to think of the context.

Sorry for the long post, by coincidence (not really) I was working on this same exact thing with a client this week and came up with all these great ideas to make it easier for people to understand what all of these objective character elements mean. I’m planning on writing a series of articles on this after my current series.

Hope this makes sense!



This does help a lot, thanks. A few more things…how do you plot these elements across the film. If you give a character 8 elements do they have to show up equally across each act? If my main character is the skeptic character, do they not have a “want journey” across the film, like in the other screenwriting theories? Or to match up with the objective journey and subjective journey does Dramatica give the objective journey to the objective characters and the subjective journey to the main character? And the change they experience has nothing to do with the pursuing of the goal?

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How do you think this works with the crucial elements, particularly in a steadfast-MC story?

  • write the character elements in context of the Goal first. Then go through and write them in context of each Signpost. That’s the whole point of Signposts to show how elements play against each other in terms of doing in terms of learning etc
  • they don’t have to show up equally. Unless you’re a robot. I would assume the pursuit and avoidance should be there at the very least in each act
  • objective characters do not change over the course of a story. That’s why they’re objective. You don’t see change there.
  • the change they have can often be tied to the Goal (or growth of Steadfast) but that has more to do with the author making explicit the connections between the throughlines

(cross-posted with Jim)
Hi Sechaba,
I am not well-versed in other screenwriting theories, but I believe the “want journey” is mostly equivalent to Dramatica’s Main Character Throughline (although Dramatica expresses it from the Author’s perspective).

The fact that the person or “player” who happens to be your Main Character is also the Skeptic in the OS throughline has little to do structurally with his journey* as a Main Character. (Unless Disbelief or Oppose happen to be the Crucial Element – then the two are intimately related.) But you could show him embracing the OS solution along with other OS characters, if that’s what you mean by “objective journey”.

The change the main character experiences has a lot to do with the pursuit of the goal, but how directly they’re related depends on the particular story, and the storytelling. Dramatica does define a few specific overlaps (Unique Ability, Critical Flaw, Crucial Element) but the rest is up to you.

* I think what most people consider “journey” would be a combination of Growth, Resolve, and Judgment, although all the MC story points are involved.


Jim, this might be controversial to some people, depending on how they define “change” … I think you do see objective characters adopting different approaches (the OS Solution), changing their Attitudes about things, coming to grips with their Situation, etc.

For example, the events of The Matrix force Agent Smith to believe what he previously only scoffed at, that Neo really is The One, and capable of defeating him. Some people might consider that Disbelief -> Faith a “change”, even though he’s still the same old Agent Smith.

EDIT: if we’re just talking about the OS Character Elements here, I agree the objective characters should not change in regards to those.

While we’re talking about objective characters changing, I had a bit of a revelation in this regard recently. So here’s my example: Imagine a character serving an evil Empire–let’s call him Cecil. He has an ally who Helps him game the system, Tempting him with the ill-gotten gains of corruption and tyranny–Lilith, say. (Note that’s she not the IC.) At the start of the story, while Cecil is still fully under the sway of the Empire, he primarily sees Lilith for her Help component, so her primary role appears to be the Guardian. But as he goes through his arc of redemption, he begins to see the true monstrosity of the Empire, and in the same way, he begins to see Lilith’s true nature, how her Helping was really undermining him through Temptation. Now we see her primary role as the Contagonist.

All this to say, perhaps objective characters don’t change, but as the story develops, different aspects of the characters shine more brightly.



This is exactly how objective character elements play out.


I was just asking about this today and saw this after. I think that there may be shapeshifting with respect to the goal abd shapeshifting with respect to the judgment.

Like Han Solo in Star Wars could be explained by his own tale.

The accountant in the Dark Knight that choses not to betray Bruce.
Harvey Dent (IC) in the Dark Knight -could be his IC growth.

The brothers in LOTR

The betrayer in the Godfather.

Lorraine in Back to the Future?

Basically, the Shapeshifter archetype from the Hero Journey. What is that in Dramatica terms if anything?

I would love a way to track groups and allegiances. But, am thinking this is mostly Storytelling.


I have a main character who moves from disbelief (problem) to faith (solution), in the OS, but Dramatica states that “A Character Cannot Serve Two Masters”, but my main character needs to serve these two elements. Does this mean that when the MC is disbelief there is another OS character who fights him wanting him to believe and then when he “changes” to faith, another character pops up wanting him to disbelief?


Yes, but it’s not an OS character; it’s the Influence Character. And once the MC changes from Disbelief to Faith, there’s no need for a character to pull him back, because the story should be wrapping up at that point. You can think of a story in two ways: removing the Problem (Stop) or doubling up on the Solution (Start). Once either of those two happens, the Outcome should be evident.

Also, regarding the serving two masters, the MC and IC bend that rule just a little bit. From the first Driver, the MC and IC are placed into a position of cognitive dissonance. All of the other characters are meant to be more-or-less static, so they can’t represent two opposing traits simultaneously. So if, say, the Skeptic Supported the Protagonist in some scenes and Opposed them in others, we’d think that character was inconsistent. But if the Main Character begins the story demonstrating Support but has some scenes here and there where they Oppose, then we understand that they’re going through some growing pains. By the end of the story, they’ve either completely changed to the new perspective or completely rejected it–and the IC does the opposite.

Now, you can have characters with Complex traits. For example, a Skeptic who Opposes the Main Character but also has Faith–that’s not inconsistent. In fact, I believe that exact combination is described in the book with one of the characters in Gone with the Wind. You just can’t have one character demonstrating both Support and Oppose. That’s “serving two masters.”


Thank you this makes sense. So a MC does not have a “want” with the elements we give it from the OS? He can be sceptical about what the Pursue character is doing but has no outer want? I’m trying to relate this to the other story theories where the main character always has the want and drives the story (becoming the hero)?


There’s a lot to unpack in that. Let’s start with this: one of my favorite distinctions in Dramatica theory is the difference between the Main Character and the Protagonist. In many traditional stories, the MC–the emotional perspective of the story–is also the Protagonist–the character driving the story towards the Goal–but Dramatica theory doesn’t require that. In a blog post I wrote elsewhere, I coined the term “Ishmael Effect,” where the Main Character is distinct from the Protagonist. You really get this feeling of the MC being a small piece in the larger machinery of the plot. Moby Dick is the clear example, or The Great Gatsby or How to Train Your Dragon. (EDIT: Here’s an example from my own writing. I have this story where a… let’s call it a magic spirit possesses the body of a man who has been killed in order to solve his murder. This is the IC, and the Protagonist. The MC is the dead man’s sister, who helps the spirit with its case and along the way learns a little bit more about her brother and his relationship with the spirit. With a Goal of “Understanding the murder,” the MC is really only a bit part, while the Protagonist leads the charge.)

Second, Dramatica doesn’t demand that the characters “want” what they apply to the OS. The Contagonist doesn’t necessarily Hinder because they “want” things to be hindered–that’s just the result of their actions. They Hinder because, to quote the scorpion, it is their nature. (So in my story, the sister is technically the Antagonist. Would she call herself that? No. She’s just confused about why her brother is acting so strange, and trying to keep him from wandering into police stations and saying he’s dead. I mean, that’s not Prevention, that’s just common sense… right?)

Third, because of this, the “want-need” concept also isn’t necessary to Dramatica theory. I think I’d like to see @jhull and others discuss this in more detail, but basically, instead of want vs. need, we have Problem vs. Symptom. The temptation is to conflate the two, but I think there are multiple ways of displaying the Problem and the Symptom than by “want” and “need.” The Symptom could be a surface-level issue and the Problem the real conflict, or the Symptom could be a necessary prerequisite to solving the Problem. The Main Character could want to solve the Problem but be stuck by their situation fixing the Symptom first, or perhaps the Symptom affects everyone and the Problem just affects them. What I’m saying is, the Symptom doesn’t have to be the thing the MC thinks they want, and the Problem the secret thing they really need. The Solution can be obvious, but the MC can’t do it for whatever reason.


The tricky thing about comparing Dramatica to other story theories is that other theories often make assumptions that don’t apply to all stories, while Dramatica is general enough to apply to all complete stories.

So breaking down your statement:

  • The main character always has the want…: this basically says “there is a main character with personal issues” which Dramatica covers in depth by having a Main Character Throughline. More than just a “want” it’s a whole set of story points (Domain, Concern, Issue, Problem, Symptom…)
  • …and drives the story (becoming the hero): in Dramatica this is the concept of the Protagonist, the character in the Overall Story who most strongly pursues the Goal. HOWEVER, as @actingpower mentions, while it’s possible for the Main Character and the Protagonist to be the same person*, it’s not REQUIRED. Many great stories have the Protagonist as someone else who’s not the one with all the deeply personal issues.

* in fact Dramatica refers to this as a Hero, when the MC and Protagonist are shared by the same person/player


Your Main Character likely switched from Disbelief to Faith in the Main Character Throughline not the Overall Story Throughline.

Context is everything in Dramatica. You’ll note that Disbelief and Faith show up in each Throughline. You’ll have Disbelief in context of a Situation, Disbelief in context of an Activity, Disbelief in context of a Fixed Attitude, and Disbelief in context of a Manner of Thinking. Assuming your story features a Main Character in Situation and an Overall Story in Activity, the shift from Disbelief to Faith will happen in regards to the MC’s Situation, not the Activities needed to resolve the story.

They will feature prominently in that resolution through the Crucial Element which you can read about in these articles:

The Want you search for is carried in the MC Symptom. Their Response is their attempt to satisfy their Want. You can also find Want in the MC Concern as that is the closest thing to a personal goal for the Main Character.

The Need you search for starts with the MC Problem.

However, @mlucas is right when he says this:

I wrote about it a bit here: The Mechanics Behind Want vs. Need

but essentially, Want and Need are too reductive when it comes to structuring a story. They’re great from a Subjective point-of-view, but unfortunately carry with them blind spots that leave you making false assumptions when it comes time to outline or write your story.


14 posts were split to a new topic: Encoding Objective Character Elements