Relationship Story Signpost of Learning

I was writing my first draft without looking at Signposts or PSR much, because I had several candidate storyforms that varied on a few story points – but of course the signposts and PSR varied a LOT between them.

Now I’ve become pretty certain about one specific storyform, and I’m finally looking at the signposts and PSR. It’s crazy how accurate they seem now! My RS Signpost 2 is Learning (Gathering Information) and I immediately see two things that happen in Act 2 that affect the relationship and seem Learning-related:

  • The MC and IC both undergo separate questioning / interrogation, which is a big deal because they both have to keep each others’ secrets to protect each other.
  • Later (but still Act 2), the IC is coerced by the badguys into becoming a spy for them, but she needs the MC’s help with the spying (Gathering Info) because she lacks the necessary security clearance.

But what’s actually happening in the relationship here? With the RS in Physics, is that sort of enough – they are relating to each other through these problematic activities that they’re undergoing together (interrogation, spying)?

Or do I need to go deeper into the Relationship in my encoding, like the relationship is learning about itself through these activities? That’s probably true, but harder to visualize.

Note RS Concern is Obtaining – recruiting him, dating her, losing each other.


What is the nature of their relationship outside of their relationship in the Overall Story Throughine?


It’s a messed-up romance, I’d say. Wanting to date each other but having things get in the way of that, yet still ending up doing all sorts of weird stuff together just because of all the craziness that happens to them. They care about each other a lot, maybe too much, and keep overthinking things.

It’s a growing relationship – they meet and feel a strong connection at the very beginning of the story, and end up very close (though she may die, they would still end up together in a weird sci-fi way).

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Ehhh, I’m not sure those fit a Learning Signpost what is their romance learning that creates tension? Learning they’re not right for each other, they’re perfect for each other, learning what it takes to stay together


Aha! That’s the stuff I was wondering about but was afraid to get into because it still hurts my brain so much to think about. (even after doing proper RS playgrounds and final encoding with you for my other story!)

I think some things do fit but have to run for the bus now, more later!

It’s tough parsing out because the throughlines are so woven together! Anyway what I see from what I’ve written is the romance learning conflicting information that creates tension. Does that work?

Learning how far they’ll go for each other (lying to interrogators) and that they’re attracted to each other (they kiss!)… but also learning their apparent attraction had ulterior motives, then learning they’re not right for each other after all.

(PSR quad is Obligation/Rationalization/Responsibility/Commitment)

Learning they’re not right for each other sounds like learning IF it’s about the steps towards learning that information.

Learning how far they’ll go for each other sounds more like Understanding, at least, the way it’s written here. Same with understanding they’re attracted to each other. It’s like you’re encoding the end of learning instead of the process of learning.

Does that make sense?

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Jim, that makes total, total sense. I was actually going to ask about that specific thing – that Learning is supposed to be about the learning itself, not what you learn, but how does that apply to RS? – once we figured out the Signpost. But you beat me to it, like you could sense what was tripping me up.

Anyway, I think “learning they’re not right for each other” was a bit of a shortcut; I borrowed your wording. A more accurate description of RS Signpost 2 is “learning that this romance is not going to be easy or simple”. This process encompasses the relationship story’s Act 2 in a nutshell.

The various things I mentioned are really the different steps toward that learning. I don’t really see them as actual Understanding or even misunderstandings; it’s like they’re brief little data points where the romance goes “did that just happen?” or “WTF?” but then moves on without comprehension (yet).

I hope that makes sense.

@mlucas, I hope you don’t mind me piggy-backing on this thread a bit, but Learning as a Signpost stumps me as well.

I’ve been working with a couple of storyforms with IC in Physics, and the Signpost order in both is Understanding > Doing > Obtaining > Learning.

To me, going through the steps of Learning without the epiphany of Understanding in the next signpost seems…anticlimactic, especially at the end of the story.

Learning as a source of conflict is hard enough for me to wrap my head around in the first place. Any insights, either of you?


I don’t mind the piggy-backing at all! But I’m not sure I have much to offer.

Could the conflict involved in the Learning process somehow be that last push the IC has on the MC to change? Or the last thing the MC resists to remain steadfast?

Just a guess, but is it because you are looking at understanding the information that was being learned?

Would it help if you could separate the two so they are about completely different (although related) subject matter?

As an example-and I’m going to do the gist version rather than stating specifically how these are a problem-say your IC sales individual gun parts as a side business and one day someone starts contacting him for multiple parts and he seems to be a bit of a suspicious character. The IC might have trouble from an understanding that this guy is building a sniper rifle. He contacts ATF about it and they want the IC to meet with the guy and lead him on for a bit. IC has trouble from cooperating with ATFs requests. From there, maybe it’s about Obtaining the guy over the one who was buying the parts or something. And the final Sign Post is about trouble from learning where the sniper attack is going to take place or learning how he can stop it.

Does that example help make it seem less anticlimactic?

I hope it was okay if I jumped in.

Greg, there are some great ideas there but your example has an issue. The IC signposts are about the IC’s influence on others, especially (but not necessarily exclusively) the MC. So the IC impacts others in terms of their (Type).

So in your example you’d want to focus on the ATF folks experiencing trouble from their own (mis)understandings, doings, obtainings, and steps toward learning – all brought about by the IC’s influence.

EDIT: although it’s definitely good to consider this way of encoding IC signposts, it appears it’s not the only way, so my criticism was off-base. See below.


Ah, yes. I definitely treated him more like an MC in the description. I think that same character could probably influence someone else, though. Maybe the MC being influenced is the one planning the attack, the one the IC is trying to stop? But it was more about using learning as something separate from understanding so that it could come after and not feel anticlimactic.

The reason I ask @LunarDynasty if he was thinking of Understanding in terms of the information that had been learned is because of something in the way it was worded, but also because that’s an issue i had for a while and that type of example helped me, I think.

I don’t mean to derail the conversation too much either. I’m still really interested in this part of the question:

Sorry to step in, but are you sure about that? Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but a lot of the examples used for Dramatica aren’t like that.
For instance, for Ex Machina, Jim talked about Ava’s situation, her predecessors (past), what can be predicted about her infuencing Caleb. Or in one example of his playground exercise:

I was only talking about IC Signposts (not as much about other story points) but I may have been too strict. See this:

I could have sworn Jim told me to focus on the latter, like an Mind IC’s signposts were about influencing others’ subconscious desires, memories, preconscious responses, and conscious thoughts. But the above article is pretty clear that it should be fine to do it either way – e.g. the IC’s (mis)understanding impacts others, and/or the IC impacts others through their own (mis)understandings.

Still, remember to focus on that impact.

Sorry @Gregolas! And nice catch @bobRaskoph – I may feel more free about encoding my own IC Signposts now. (In fact in my current Act 2 my IC is totally troubled by the Progress of her mom’s fight against cancer, and I kept wishing I could use that as my IC Signopst 2 encoding. Now it seems I can! As long as I encode how it impacts the MC – but it totally does. Sweet!)


I haven’t seen that article before. Thanks for the share!

Brant (@LunarDynasty) I had a couple more thoughts. If Understanding is the IC Concern it’s also the Cost, or if it’s the IC Benchmark it’s also the Preconditions. So maybe there is some understanding gained from the Learning the IC impacts people on, and it’s either a terrible understanding (a price they pay) or it helps meet some restriction that stands in the way of the Goal. In that way it might not seem so anti-climactic.

Or if it’s neither, there can still be some understanding that follows the learning – it’s just that Learning is the signpost, and the understanding is something else (just storytelling, or best seen in the light of another story point).

(Sorry, I had this draft post from 10 days ago, I guess forgot to submit it. Just noticed it when I came back to this thread since I’m writing a scene that hits on my RS Learning signpost.)

I was listening to @jhull’s awesome podcast with the Dramatica (+Lord of the Rings) inspired story he came up with on the spot. I got a chill up my spine at the Signpost of Learning: the halflings teaching the dwarves a lesson, teaching the dwarves to fear them. Not just because it’s a really cool illustration of conflict from Learning, but because that is exactly is what my RS Signpost 2 feels like to me.

Of course, there’s no dwarves harmed in this relationship – what I mean is that feeling of scorching the earth to teach someone a lesson is what I ended up with.

I’m still not totally sure how to phrase the illustration, because the Relationship Story is so weird. If the verb is “scorching the earth to teach a lesson”, who is the subject and who is the object in the RS? Does the relationship have to be the object?

The best I can come up with is: “Becca and Devin try to teach each other that they’re not to be trifled with, and end up scorching the earth of their budding relationship to do it”. That’s pretty accurate, though in the actual story it’s not quite so even – Becca does a lot more earth-scorching than Devin does. But I don’t think the evenness matters, as long as the Learning-based conflict is felt in the relationship.


absolutely. every time I feel like i’m just starting to figure out how to look at it, I instead end up feeling like i understand something else a little better and then totally lose any progress I thought i was getting in the RS area.

No idea. But i’m going to try to walk through it to see if anything comes of it.
Way I understand it, it would be difficult to give a satisfying answer because, like all things in Dramatica, the answer is probably something like “You can handle it any way you want, making one or the other the subject or object, both, or neither, as long as you handle it properly.”

That said, here are a few desperate attempts to illustrate this in various ways. I don’t know if any of them are really accurate.

  1. Becca and Devin have a scorched earth policy aimed at others and implement it as a team. This policy drives a wedge between them as one gets overly into it and wants to go after everyone that’s ever done them any little injustice while the other feels that perhaps they’ve been taking things too far and should tone it down. The relationship grows closer or further apart because of this.
  2. Becca has a scorched earth policy against Devin, but Devin just wants to mind his own business. This builds the relationship between them by maybe A.) turning them into bitter rivals that thrive on getting under each others skin, or B.) creates a weird sort of tension that leads to the two of them falling madly in love with one another.
  3. Becca and Devin have a scorched earth policy against each other. I suppose A and B from above could work just as well here, but I’ll try for a C.) their mutual desire to utterly destroy each other manifests in a super competitive nature within the…office? space station? Shire? Pirate ship? Anyway, this competitive nature between them looks to everyone around them not like two people trying to destroy each other, but two people who want to be the absolute best they can be at whatever they do. It ends up inspiring everyone around them to work harder which then leads to whoever is in charge above Becca and Devin to notice and decide that the best thing for the company (space station, whatever) is to make them co-managers, or team leaders, or captains or whatever, again, forcing them closer together.
  4. Neither Becca nor Devin have a scorched earth policy. Someone else has one (which may or may not be aimed at Becca and/or Devin) which has the effect of causing B and D to turn away from or toward each other because of how their relationship is affected by this other persons scorched earth policy.

Okay, so the third one got a bit long, and a bit lost in the storytelling. I guess #2 two would be closest to what you’re going for with Becca doing the scorching and Devin not. I would agree that it doesn’t require both characters to be scorching the earth because, as you know, it’s not about the MC vs IC as at least one version of the software lists it, but it’s about the relationship between them. Imagine a couple that seems genuinely happy until one finds out the other has been cheating. It only took one to screw up that relationship. Imagine someone pursuing a relationship with someone else who doesn’t even know this person exists, but they eventually get married. Or maybe a couple ready to get divorced when one decides to give it one last go and ends up sweeping the other off their feet again. Only took one to affect the relationship, but that was enough to make it an issue of concern for/to/within the relationship.

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