Question about Relationship Throughline

Do both characters in the RS have to struggle with the same items or can it be one’s struggle that causes problems in the relationship? For example, if the Issue is Preconception, can it be one of them causing relationship tension due to incorrect preconceptions (I’m not suggesting that they sit and argue about it, but in my story there is conflict since one is more open than the other) or do they both have to cause relationship struggles with it? Or is it up to the author?

I want to make sure that I’m not accidentally letting the MC throughline improperly bleed into RS but it’s hard to separate them in my mind since MC’s struggle with fear is going to cause problems between him and the IC. If MC didn’t have his personal psychological problems, I don’t think there would be much conflict between him and IC, although they could be in awkward Situations. I find Situation for RS to be a hard concept to grasp aside from “Barefoot in the Park” falling under the “institution of marriage” since that involves psychology.

That’s a very good question. I’m still new to the theory, so I’m afraid I can only answer part of it. Throughlines seeming to bleed into other throughlines is a normal thing to perceive because throughlines are simply different viewpoints to the story problem. In terms of finding stories with an RS throughline of Situation, there are stories such as Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Wizard of Oz. You can find more here:

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Relationship Story Throughline, but it helps to remind myself that every story point in that throughline is really about the relationship itself, not the characters. It’s like the relationship itself is the character.

So with your Issue of Preconception, I think your example of one character causing tension is fine, as long as it causes conflict within the relationship. You might even find a context where you can say something like “it’s as though their relationship itself is biased against X” or “they are prejudiced against their relationship” or something like that.

The RS being in Situation just means they are stuck together in some (external) situation, and it causes problems in their relationship. I think you said in your story they are stuck together dealing with a financial situation that they have a shared interest in, so as long as all the conflict in their relationship comes from that Situation I think you are good.

The MC’s psychological problems are really only part of the MC throughline, even though they are weaved together with RS throughline in the final story. To illustrate the RS throughline, try to think of it as just about the Situation (even though you may know rationally that the MC’s psychological problems contributed to the Situation in the first place, but that is just backstory and not relevant to your RS as far as I understand).

Thanks. “Amadeus” is another one with RS of Situation. I get nervous relying on the included examples since I’ve seen some comments about some of them being outdated, so I don’t know which ones are okay. I did see examples in which the RS had some problems caused by one character, like Amadeus I think.

Is the Relationship different from the give and take of the “argument” between MC and IC?

I don’t think I can avoid characters having psychological conflicts stemming from Situations, but I guess that’s okay since Barefoot in the Park has Feeling and Logic in its RS.

If the conflict fits the story points in your throughline – so for your RS if it stems from Situation, the Future, your RS Issue, etc. – then you are all good. I just meant, if the MC’s psychological issues define the MC throughline, those particular issues are not the root source of conflict in the RS throughline.

I think the idea of the “argument” between MC and IC is outdated; it might happen in the story (between the characters) or it might not. They definitely have conflicting worldviews so you could sort of step back and see the story as an argument between those worldviews, but it doesn’t mean the characters actually argue about it within the story. At least that’s my take on it.

You haven’t given us much to go on here regarding your actual story, so let’s take this set-up:

MC: Manipulation/Conceiving an idea --> The MC is Pretending to be an inventor in a company and must generate ideas.
IC: Activity–> She is an avid quilter who spends a lot of time studying the Old Masters.

They are going to run into conflicts here based on this. For instance: The MC is forced to create things that are way out there (so nobody can understand them) and relies on “emperor’s new clothes” as a strategy: everyone is afraid to say that his ideas are terrible, since he is this “great inventor”. Meanwhile, when he comes home at night, he sees his girlfriend’s quilts getting progressively better and more impressive since she’s taking the slow, knowable road. He is frustrated knowing that his bubble is one day going to pop, and he’s going to have nothing to show for it.

They can have all sorts of arguments about this, but are those arguments reflected in the relationship throughline?

Well, no, not yet. Currently, they are just the IC’s affect on the MC.

The RS, of course, is that they are both “flesh-eating zombies”. (I literally just spun the Brainstorming button for this whole thing.) And nothing that we’ve said affects the problems they have with being zombies. On one hand, the concern is “being ready to go with something” – and you could see this being “Are you ready to go with your new idea? I’m ready with my quilt.” vs “Your quilt is boring (act one) so I can hardly see how you call yourself ready, when my idea is dazzling and I will be the hit of the party.” OR “Your quilt is amazing so I can hardly see how you could even consider that I am ready when my ideas are paper thin and would crumble under the kind of scrutiny you get.”

These ideas are very close to the MC/IC throughlines.

But what about: They are zombies and need to be ready to go with a serum that will restore their life and humanity? Then the arguments are going to come from that. When the serum isn’t ready, they argue. When it is ready, they celebrate and get nervous that it’s all a pipe dream that won’t work.

This idea is far from the MC/IC stuff.

Although, to bring it all together, you are probably going to want to blur the lines by having all of the serum work they are doing happen in the lab where the MC has a job (it’s why he pretended to be a great inventor) and, you know, she was earning all the money with her quilting to buy stuff to make the serum. So in act one, maybe the issues of “being ready to go” are related to “ready for your job interview?” and “you don’t make quilts fast enough” but by the end they are more serum related.

Interestingly, the RS Catalyst I got was “doing a job for something” – his job brings them closer together because it is their way forward and the RS Inhibitor was “Being doubtful” – her early quilts are a problem for them because they both doubt they can earn money with them. I hadn’t looked at them before I wrote this paragraph, but they fit almost too perfectly.

Can you see how the doubt about the quality of the quilts is both about the quilts and puts a damper on the relationship, which so badly needs the money she can earn with her work (but not yet)?


This. 100%.

The Relationship Story is often presented as “the argument between the MC and IC” but I think that is better handled with the dynamic between the Main Character Throughline and the Influence Character Throughline. To then put “their argument” in the relationship is redundant.

I’ve found massive improvements in quality of storytelling when the author focuses on the relationship as if it is its own entity - the relationship suffers problems because of a Situation, not because one person or another has a problem with the Situation. When you start thinking of one to the exclusion of the other you start to collapse the potential of that Throughline.

A Situation Relationship Throughline often deals with classism – upper class vs lower class.

Many of the examples were written 20 years ago and trend toward a more simplistic understanding of the Relationship Throughline. Yes, it can be “an argument between two people” but again–you’re just repeating what is in other Throughlines and you’re missing out on a key part of your story that will elevate the quality of it 1000x.


Or predator class vs. prey class, like say a fox and a rabbit? :wink:

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I’d thought that MC and IC were two opposing perspectives (one of which changes at the end) and the RS was them interacting until they get to that point of change. If RS isn’t about that changing perspective, what is it for aside from making sure that the Overall Story has a dynamic pair? If IC is trying to help MC with something, is that actually in the IC throughline, or is it half in IC (“That poor MC needs my help”), half in MC (“I have this problem I need help with”), or if everyone’s concerned with the Future/Obtaining/whatever the help might fall under, should it be in Overall?

I’m not sure I can imagine a relationship without the people and their baggage involved in it.

(please take my comments with a grain of salt, as I’m no expert here… hopefully Jim will be able to reply as well…)

It’s not that the relationship doesn’t have the people and their baggage involved. That was part of @MWollaeger’s zombie example above, how the doubt about quilt-quality could also seen from the context of the relationship throughline’s conflict. Remember “doubt about quilting” is just a bunch of words, but Dramatica sees that in the IC throughline as conflict stemming from quilting (Activity) and in the RS throughline as Doubt that slows down the development of their relationship. (The quilting might even have its place in the OS, maybe the fixed attitudes of the quilting bee, but in the OS the Activity wouldn’t be the source of conflict, the Fixed Attitudes would be.)

Have you seen The Devil Wears Prada? Although it’s not my favorite film ever, in it the RS throughline stands out as being very different from the MC and IC throughlines. The IC (Miranda Priestly) is so Fixed Attitude that you can’t help but notice the development of their relationship separately from the other throughlines, an undercurrent of two very different people coming to appreciate each other through a shared activity, despite the terrible behaviour coming from Miranda in the IC and OS throughlines.
EDIT: It also has a great moment at the end of the film that is 100% RS throughline resolution. It’s just a shared gaze across the street, no words spoken, but that moment is truly the heart of the story. (And it’s great for us learning Dramatica because it’s so clear what it is.)

I’ve never seen the movie, but I could check it out. I don’t know if it matters, but my perspective in asking these things is as someone with a mess of ideas for a story (with holes in it) trying to use them to figure out the Story Form and looking for a practical understanding and steps to take in order to do it right… as opposed to analyzing something finished or looking to turn a random form into a story.

I wish there was a way to get updates in the software that would amend outdated concepts and examples. I feel like I can’t trust anything I read and it’s frustrating since I don’t want to take up people’s time on forums with questions because of uncertainty.

Is the the RS purpose in the Grand Argument just to have a subjective version of the multi-character perspective on the inciting incident inequity to compliment the OS because it would be weird if MC and IC didn’t have interaction, or is it to show them working through some non-OS issue (ex. getting the zombie serum ready) by using their different approaches (each of which is perhaps illustrated in their own throughline: MC uses bluffing to access the lab while IC makes progress in quilting through actual practice and learning, so I guess RS would be them trying bluffing and learning approaches to best go about preparing the serum?) and then that influences MC to Change or remain Steadfast at the moment of truth when dealing with the end of the OS? Does the inciting incident cause all the throughline problems or is it exclusive to the OS?

I read that an MC’s problems shouldn’t have anything to to with relationship or any other throughline, but since most stories don’t have MC locked in a box where he can just brood alone about personal problems without them in any way affecting what he does in the relationship or overall story, is that just a warning not to encode an Element the same way in 2 different throughlines (ex. everyone has a Conscience problem of avoiding love while MC has that problem in addition to a personal problem of feeling excessively guilty)? If fears (Fixed Attitude) are causing the overall characters to run around doing story stuff, does that mean MC can’t have a personal struggle with fear or RS can’t have fears coming between them?

Great questions, SharkCat. I understand where you’re coming from, as I was in a similar boat earlier this year. I was able to get to the right storyform for my story on my own (almost - I had PS Style and Driver wrong), even though I did not understand the RS at that point. So hang in there.

Can you post your RS throughline and then we can go through it with examples? If you’re worried about theft of your story ideas, you could change the names and genre (like make it sci-fi or even zombie), that tends to make it hard to recognize. Or we could do it in a private message.

I’ll try to answer your questions individually:

  1. I think a LOT of what’s in the software is correct. The dictionary is all good, though the Elements are often focused more on the OS (as though you were using them in Build Characters), but you can still get the gist enough to understand how to apply it to other throughlines.
    From what I remember, the biggest thing you need to change is to throw away the concept of “main vs. impact” and consider it “relationship story”.
    Also, “intuitive” is not the right term for Problem Solving Style, “holistic” is much better and its definition has to do with balancing things. Logical/linear thinkers can sometimes make intuitive leaps (sort of skipping a step in their logical process) and still be linear.

  2. As for the purpose of the RS in the Grand Argument… First off, I don’t like to think much about the Grand Argument, the Inciting Incident or the Inequity – I find them great for the theory but not very useful for actual writing, in fact they get my muse to turn off. Kids don’t need to know that Finding Nemo or Star Wars are grand arguments to enjoy them; knowing that might actually make the stories less enjoyable! However, the First Driver (and all the Drivers) are very useful, as are the exploration of each throughline’s problems through Domain/Concern/Issue/Problem [1].

  3. Anyway, to answer your question, you have to understand that the We perspective is not just adding the I and You perspectives together. It’s the perspective of a relationship, a story about a relationship with conflict and growth in the relationship. Your example does work but the real RS is about how the relationship has problems stemming from being zombies and how it develops from their response to that situation. Although arguments can come into it there don’t need to be any arguments at all [2]. The RS is not about the IC’s influence on the MC or vice versa, it’s about the relationship’s conflict & growth.

  4. As the author it’s good if you can get to a place where you can see all the throughlines separately, even though the final story might blend a lot of things together. So yeah, if the OS Problem of Conscience is about avoiding love, you should give the MC a different encoding for their Conscience problem, if at all possible within your story idea. At the very least, the MC’s Problem should be shaded by their different Domain/Concern/Issue to seem different. (I think Star Wars is like this – Luke’s constant testing himself is fairly similar to the Empire & rebels testing their limits but it’s very shaded by his Situation, and issues of Progress, Fantasy and Unending.)

  5. Fears can come into every throughline, just that in the OS the root cause of the fears is the real deep Innermost Desires subconscious fears, those fears that are kind of stuck in people’s minds deep down and difficult to change or get rid of (Fixed Attitude). While in the RS throughline the fears are fears coming from or about the relationship a result of the relationship’s Situation and/or its Future; and in the MC throughline the fears stem more from a problematic way of thinking and/or a fear of Becoming something / destroying someone / being destroyed / transforming etc.

1: to me, that’s the closest you can get to the story’s inequity – there is no single perspective that unifies all 4 throughline perspectives so trying to see the “actual root inequity of the whole story” is chasing rainbows. The closest you can get is experiencing the entire story – you still can’t define the root inequity but you can feel it. EDIT: note this is only my personal opinion based on my current understanding – I could certainly be wrong especially because I purposely avoid thinking about this! :slight_smile:

2: There definitely don’t need to be arguments in the RS. And I don’t think they’re even needed in the whole story, as long as the MC and IC can influence each other some way. In The Lives of Others the MC and IC practically never even meet. That said, a lot of stories do have arguments between MC and IC, and sometimes those arguments are part of the RS.

I was thinking about stuff like the Argument and inciting incident to keep myself on track. Since my concept of the OS is a loose collection of ideas I’m not sure how to separate into throughlines, I keep questioning if I picked the right Elements for Problems. I wanted to be able to reverse engineer (well, maybe forward engineer) the correct Elements since I’ve imagined a mishmash of characters dealing with control, unpleasant feelings, uncertainty, Dramatica’s definition of Conscience (which sounds like temptation in the conventional sense, but resisting it), incorrect ways of dealing with stuff, etc.

I guess we could use an example like MC is a fish-out-of-water exchange student from a planet of space slugs and IC is a regular Earth guy taking care of him at school-- showing him the ropes of Earth life, being a good friend, and pushing tiny buttons or whatever that alien slugs don’t have the fingers to work. That seems like Situation to me. I’ll have to look at my form again before posting whatever comes after a Concern of Future, which I guess would be them trying to ensure that MC settles in comfortably… or does that sound too much like an IC throughline thing? Maybe IC thinks that volunteering for this will help him Obtain some kind of college-resume-boosting award, so that’s his focus.

Your example seems a bit tricky to be. The MC’s “being a space slug exchange student” CANNOT be one of the main sources of conflict for him personally, otherwise MC throughline would be Situation. Meanwhile, Mr. Space Slug and Regular Earth Guy would have to be stuck for some reason in this situation together, i.e. someone has paired them up and forced the Earth Guy to help him? And that is causing conflict in their relationship.

If the situation of their relationship is voluntary, I really can’t see it as a stuck Situation. Oooh… unless the IC volunteered thinking he would be helping some regular new student and it turns out to be a Space Slug? And he can’t back out now, so they are stuck together? (maybe that’s what you were thinking in the first place?)

I was thinking that the other throughlines could be something like:

OS (Fixed Attitude, Innermost Desires) - Fears about growing up and leaving behind home and the familiar?
MC (Manipulation, Changing One’s Nature) - wanting to become an Earth citizen? (too similar to RS?) Wanting to be a different/better person due to bad self-confidence might be better.
IC (Activity, Obtaining) - I don’t see activity being so much a problem for him but the area in which he operates. He thinks that helping MC will get him an award that would improve his transcript to get into prestigious Spatial Relations University.

Maybe no one else will help MC, IC sees this and feels obligated to help out of pity. MC then comes to rely on IC and IC would feel like a jerk if he didn’t help. And/or IC wants that award for acting as a school ambassador or whatever.

I’m confused about whether they’d have to be forced kicking and screaming together to count as a Situation, but I agree with it being an arrangement in which neither would be able to just comfortably back out of, whether due to the school forcing it or the inner pressure to be polite. On the one hand, the program says “A SITUATION Relationship deals with an unacceptable situation - one in which the Main and Influence Character’s relationship is seen in terms of an external environment which is problematic.” which works with the example Story Form for Hamlet (murdered king), but many other examples have Situations that don’t sound so much like they’re problematic as they are “The area in which the relationship between the Main and Influence Characters takes place” such as MC and IC living near each other (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Great Gatsby”) and marriage “Barefoot in the Park.” I wouldn’t consider the marriage in “Barefoot in the Park” to be an “unacceptable” situation, but they voluntarily entered into it, it makes them interact, and their issues are causing problems within it.

Hi SharkCat, I’m still learning this stuff too so I may have been too adamant about how stuck together they are.

Looking at the examples you sent, maybe the stuck situation for an RS in Situation can just be that they have a relationship based on difficult-to-change external aspects about themselves, like their differing social classes, or being zombies. So the relationship is stuck being defined by that situation. (I have to keep reminding myself what the RS is, it’s about the relationship, so the people themselves don’t need to be stuck by the situation, only the relationship does.)

So maybe with one being a Space Slug and the other a Regular Earth Guy that would work fine and doesn’t require them being totally forced together. (Note that for Barefoot in the Park, marriage is definitely a situation you’re stuck in. The unacceptable part is just the problems within the marriage.)

EDIT: Maybe for When Harry Met Sally a better explanation would be to say their relationship is “stuck being friends”, or what’s that modern expression, “stuck in the friend zone”? I think that sums it up better than the on and off chance meetings (although the chance meetings plays into the just-friends thing).

Hi @SharkCat. First off, I’m not an expert on any of this even if sometimes I post things that might sound like I think I am. :smile:. Just my way of joining the discussion to learn from others.

That said, I’d like to add some thoughts to this one. I think where I have trouble with the RS sometimes is that it’s about the IC and MC relationship (like @mlucas said, think of the relationship as a character itself) but the IC story is about the ICs influence on the MC which is a relationship, as well. So when you ask about arguments, if there is any argument to be had, I think it could fall in the IC as well as anywhere (the IC through line is where you might see the lines ‘we’re just alike’ or ‘we’re nothing alike’). The purpose of the RS then is not to have an argument, but to explore the ‘we’ perspective and complete the Grand Argument.

In your example about the space slug, the relationship is that one is an ambassador to the other. I don’t think they HAVE to be forced into that, maybe just that they both have committed themselves to it. The problematic situation should stem from regular Earth guy taking care of him at school, etc. maybe the REG doesn’t want to be seen with the space slug at school and tries to avoid the cool regular earth guys when the slug is around, or maybe the slug is slow and always showing up late for class and REG has to wait on him which makes him late for class too and causes tension between them. These tensions would be unrelated to the ICs concern about college resumes or the MC concern of whatever the MC is concerned about, but will appear to weave in and out of those stories as the IC considers not being an ambassador to the slug etc.

That’s the whole thing–it isn’t a relationship at all. YOU coming at me is completely 100% different from what WE have going on. Being able to appreciate the difference is one of the most important things to understand when it comes to learning Dramatica

Baggage in their relationship–definitely. Baggage from the MC or IC Throughlines–technically, theoretically no…but as a writer you’re eventually going to make all these connections between the Throughlines anyways when you start Weaving and writing so it’s eventually going to happen.

The idea behind the suggestion to keep them as separate as possible in the beginning is so that you can explore and develop and create something unique that would most likely get lost in translation if you tried weaving and encoding at the same time. You could possibly be able to do both at the same time, but if you can hold off it has been my experience that you will end up with a more robust story.

You don’t waste anyone’s time asking here on the forum any questions you have. That’s the whole point of setting this all up! Trust me, you’re not the only one confused about certain aspects of the theory.

Yes, those examples were written and vetted 20 years ago and for the most part are accurate. Actually I would say they’re accurate, but could stand a going-over to improve upon them and actually clarify where the source of conflict in certain Throughlines is coming from.

(And of course, Toy Story needs that Resolve changed!)

The purpose of the Relationship Story Throughline is to communicate to the Audience what the central inequity looks like from a WE perspective. Remember, Dramatica sees story as an analogy to your mind’s problem-solving process–a single human mind trying to solve a problem. Inciting Incident, etc. are affectations of others trying to define this process without that model.

In truth, the inequity is an instance–something that pops up and our minds either problem-solve or justify it away. The different Throughlines offer an Audience the chance to see this inequity strung out over the course of two hours or 9 hours in a novel so they can better understand the best way to approach it when they come across it in their own lives.

Your best bet is to come to terms with plot, character, theme, and genre as analogies to what goes on in our heads. Trying to mix and match Dramatica’s concepts with conventional notions of stories ends up confusing the issue because 9/10 (10/10 really) they’re looking at story from an experiential/Audience point of view instead from the Author’s point-of-view. They simply don’t work well together.

Thanks for clarifying @jhull. Maybe relationship isn’t the word I should have used there. It’s not a relationship between characters, but it is a connection from one character to another, right? Not necessarily a two-way connection, either. Just a connection that allows one character to influence another, even if neither are aware of it. So definitely not a WE perspective by any means.

But as I said, this is one area where I sometimes stumble. That influence connection feels, even if only in my mind, like a sort of relationship. And when you have one story about how one character influences another, and another story about how the two characters work within a relationship, there’s a tendency on my part to see them as so similar that they begin to become one.

But consider my wrist slapped and I’ll refrain from referring to the IC as a relationship,

Ignoring Domain for a moment, would one of these arrangements be more a more structurally appropriate way to separate throughlines?

OS - Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere (in OS, I guess MC and IC’s relationship would be that of fellow students as opposed to the one in RS centering around friendship)
MC - some kind of personal hang up like not believing in one’s self. (Not sure if alien culture differences interfering with fitting in could go here or belongs in OS.)
IC - show space kid the ropes and teach about Earth customs
RS - MC and IC becoming friends?

OS - Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere (includes IC showing MC the ropes)
MC - personal hang up like shyness (if it interferes with the fitting in stuff, does it belong in OS instead?)
IC - personal concern that inspires MC, like IC keeps getting rejected from colleges but keeps trying and applying.
RS - MC and IC becoming friends?

OS - Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere
MC- personal hang up
IC - personal concern that inspires MC (college applications)
RS - IC and MC have a relationship of ambassador and exchange student. IC shows MC the ropes. Is that too one-sided? I’m not sure whether or not this would belong in OS since although it’s a subjective view, it’s part of a quest to belong.