Relationship Story Signpost of Learning

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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Thanks for all your thoughts, Greg. I should have mentioned that the scorching the earth stuff was just figurative, just a way for me to express how it felt they were treating each other and teaching a lesson within the relationship.

Also, I’ve got this part of the story written already (first draft at least) and so I know what’s happening on the surface anyway.

Act 2 has them learning various things about their relationship, and the process of learning is kind of tough, but it makes their relationship grow … until Becca’s had enough of Devin’s misguided help and rejects him utterly*, which is like teaching the relationship a lesson, that they need to stop considering that they’re close. That’s the earth-scorching, which happens near the end of Act 2, so far as I can tell. Then RS Signpost 3 is Understanding, so I think that lesson moves into them understanding that they can’t rely on each other, that they’re going to have to be careful trusting each other. (I’m right around the midpoint in my first draft.)

* some of that rejection is in the IC and OS throughlines too. The OS is mostly where his inept Help was. (Some of his Help was good too, but even that she found annoying. That’s the OS Problem for you! :slight_smile: )

Of course, I’m aiming for a big Understanding moment later on in Act 3, which is when Devin has to talk Becca out of committing suicide by jumping off a rain-swept bridge. That’s where they’ll begin to understand that they really do share a special bond, that they need each other.

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Just casually jumping onto this thread four months later, no big deal.

I also find the RS throughline to be a nightmare to illustrate. The big revelation of ‘think as the relationship as another character’ has only made the mental hurdles even larger. Can someone give me an example of a good illustration of an RS signpost? Maybe that’ll illuminate things for me.

I always tend to have one of two variations on the RS signpost, and I don’t really like either of them:

  • “The relationship finally gets a grip on its true nature: a cold work relationship, not the loving friendship it thought it was.” – feels really distant and way too abstract to actually write.
  • “Character A discovers that he has been stripped of his shares by Character B, coming to realize that this relationship is not the friendly one he had thought.” – feels too he-said, she-said and not especially interesting.

Is there a middle-ground to this at all, or do I just have to somehow come to grips with one or the other?


What is the nature of the relationship? Is it growing or dissolving? Is it new or continuous? What kind of relationship is it?

It’s closer to your first example. The second is already taken care of in the MC and IC Throughlines. You’ll know when you get it because you won’t feel like it’s too abstract. This might seem weird - but it’s not that the concept is too abstract, it’s that you’re interpreting it as abstract.


Ah, okay. I simultaneously understand exactly what you mean and also feel like I’ve missed something very important (which is the process of learning Dramatica in a nutshell, basically). Let me try and work this out.

In the example I gave above (which I shamelessly stole from The Social Network, naturally), I’m looking at it as an abstract concept because my general understanding of a relationship is essentially the ‘emotional space’ (or lack of) between two or more people – something that we, in reality, can only really see from our ‘I’ perspective (maybe unless you’re a marriage counselor, or something similar). So, specifically (and I think this may be the root problem, as it was for the IC a while back), I’m trying to view it from the personal MC perspective and that makes the relationship seem very, very abstract and kind of ethereal.

But Dramatica wants me to look at the relationship as the process between those people, as its own thing that must progress through the four signposts (kind of like trials) to eventually work itself out or remain unresolved. In this throughline, there is no Main or Influence, but only the dynamic between them that grows stronger or weaker.

Am I on the right track here or has my flu medication taken me halfway to Siberia?

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Not sure if this method helps, but it’s the one I use to try to get me into the right frame of mind when illustrating the RS throughline.

When I was in high school, my best friend’s mother said about her daughter and I:

“As individuals the girls are really well behaved, but when they get together something happens and they just cause all this trouble.”
(paraphrasing of course, but you get the idea).

It’s the “something happens” that is defined by the RS throughline.


Anne, that’s awesome! I love how this can help you to really think about a relationship being in any domain (internal or external), while still keeping it focused on the relationship rather than what the individual people are doing.

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One more update (this is the thread that never dies apparently :slight_smile: ).

It’s been months since I finished drafting structural act 2 and the RS Signpost 2 of Learning, but I still keep having more insight into what I already wrote. The “scorching the earth to teach a lesson” was awesome BUT it was a bit one-sided. I now have an even better gist for my Learning signpost.

This happened RANDOMLY after importing my storyform into @jhull 's Subtext, yet it turned out to be the absolute PERFECT gist:

I love it because it makes the relationship the subject of the sentence, and it so perfectly represents what’s happening from the relalationship’s perspective at that point!

Funny note, there were several other signposts that also came up with insanely accurate gists at random. Some made laugh out loud because of how hilariously well they matched what I’d already written. Dramatica is crazy sometimes. I’ll have to do a “Subtext Awesomeness, Part 2: Insanity of Accuracy” blog post to go over these!

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Oh, also in hindsight, I can see that my posts in the beginning of the thread were off the mark because I mistook my Act Turn Driver (1 -> 2). It was actually later than I thought, so some of the stuff that I thought was part of act 2, actually wasn’t. But the earth-scorching and learning how bad things really are is definitely act 2.

I’ve worked out a framework to help one wrap their heads around unearthing a source of conflict in a signpost term. posting soon.

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