Relationship throughline

“Relationship Story Throughline
the subjective point-of-view of a relationship in conflict
In order to properly address our mind’s understanding of conflict, a complete story must account for four distinct perspectives. The Relationship Story Throughline offers the subjective third-person “WE” point-of-view. Often left out of most Western narratives, the Relationship Story Throughline is about a relationship—NOT about the individuals in the relationship. Here, the Author explores the emergent properties of bonded pairs, focusing on the growth and direction of the coupling”

Was just thinking about this. Thinking of two magnetized iron bars, either drawing each other together or repelling each other. The RS perspective isn’t about Bar A or Bar B, it’s about the magnetism, how it works, is it operating in a pure way or are other forces interfering with it. It’s about the space between the two bars. The space and the forces operating in that space are the proper subject of the RS throughline. That’s actually a useful handle: what is the proper subject of a given throughline. (Reading the MC definition twisted my head around this morning.)

*Also helping me: thinking of how each throughline is LOOKING at a perspective in the StoryMind. It’s not about ‘experiencing’ the Perspective, it’s about seeing it. The MC character is doing the experiencing. The StoryMind is seeing him doing it. the IC is about the conflict with the MC, and the Story mind is impartially seeing it. The RS relationship is about a relationship that’s askew and what the issue is, as related to the story problem, and the Storymind sees that perspective. And the OS is about the ‘plot’, the problem this story world is facing, and the StoryMind seeing that perspective, without judgment of good or bad, just seeing it with the writer’s ‘open eye’.

In a story about people, all the personal, family, social forces that press down HARD on people and force their relationships into specific shapes, exchanges, compromises, madnesses, tragedies, foolishness. Your throughline is about what that relationship is “off” and what will set it right. What is wrong with it? Why can’t they see it? Or if they can see it, why don’t they do something about it?

I think, like other perspectives, there’s an inequality at work, that relationship has a problem because of an inequity in the story, and something either inside or outside will change, and the nature of the relationship will change.

In OOP design, a relationship is a key idea, sometimes described as an ‘is-a’ vs a 'has-a" vs “uses-a” relationship. Describes the relationship between objects. @jhull

Am I making sense? These new notes from Jim are making me understand the Perspectives better. I’m trying to think how to answer the question “What’s a Perspective”? Easier to answer specifically than generally.


This is exactly it! The easiest way for me to understand the RS is to think about it as the “force” between things. Some more recent analyses have shown it doesn’t even have to be (and often isn’t) between the MC and IC. There could also be (and often is) multiple relationships in a single story that all share the same structure. Back to the Future, or The Force Awakens (in which the RS between Han and Ben has all the feels, neither of whom were IC or MC).

Personally, I find it helps to remember that what we call the “RS” is really just one of four facets of the storymind. Stripping away fictitious characters, encoded story points, etc. you’re left with four ‘unlabeled’ facets of the mind looking at the same overall inequity. Like a cube with a specific lens on each side. One side is wholly Subjective, one is wholly Objective, another describes the subjective looking at the objective, and the fourth (odd one out) describes the subjective forces “felt” between things.

Assigning I, They, You and We to the facets helps in the storytelling part of using Dramatica, but I feel like it also serves as a distraction in looking at the narrative structure. The model of the mind.

It’s so easy to start thinking of “Character A” and “Character B” in regard to the RS, and it can be even trickier to think of “their relationship” as being some sort of conscious entity.

But like you pointed out, describing that magnetic force between things is much easier. What is that force doing? What’s stopping those magnets from snapping together or what’s keeping them from pushing away from each other? It’s something between them, and whatever is interfering with that force as well. Slowing it down or speeding it up.

Describe that, and you describe the nature of the inequity in the RS.


And from a book writing POV, I see it as First Person Plural. Best way to look at it for me.
1st person: Subjective.
Plural: We/Us/Our.

That doesn’t help me much. to be honest. I think labeling these perspectives with the pronouns is quite misleading, without a lot of explanation.

Goes back to Shakespeare Phoneix and Turtle. A “we” is always trying to collapse into a One, and must not, because erasing the difference destroys the “we”. I’m going to post a great talk by Alan Grossman of Brandeis about the poem. One of the most profound lectures I’ve ever heard. Came across it in 1990.

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If i understand your meaning right, I think we agree on this. By calling it “we” it seems to demand a comparison between the two entities “in” the relationship. Rather than describing the nature of the inequity of the force between them.

Here, have the whole set. They were dropped from the Teaching Company long ago, after 1990, I believe, and Alan is strolling the Elysium fields these days, so I can’t see the harm in making sure these live on.

The Shakespeare Phoenix and Turtle lecture is in the first set. Grossman is wildly eccentric and you will have to spend some time ‘getting’ him. Totally worth it. Other poets covered are Keats, Dickinson, Yeats and so on.

(This is a little off topic, but related to the RS issue. Apologies. But, you know, free stuff.)

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Thinking about it this morning…

The RS throughline is ABOUT the relationship, the ‘magnetism’ force that drives them apart, puts them together. That’s the topic of the throughline.

So what about the IC? Doesn’t IC have a relationship with the MC? Sure, and the RS and IC may be represented by the same character (remember, an throughline is perspective, not a character).

But the relationship with the MC is not the “topic” of the IC throughline. We have a ‘relationship’ with all kinds of people, but it’s usually not the center of our attention, and it’s maintenance or failure is usually a matter of practical concern, not a matter of identity and worth.

For me, even talking about the “them” in that statement starts me down the wrong path. Yes, it’s the force between things (maybe between two encoded things, maybe three, maybe more!) but it’s not the relation to the encoded things that matters or should be considered. In some stories it’s definitely the force between the IC and MC. In others, it’s not at all. In every case, the RS describes the force at play between “things” when looking at the overall inequity.

I wanted to share my journey/process of seeing the RS for what it really is:

Working with @jhull during my mentorship program, we were looking at the RS in different movies and came to Back to the Future as an example. Marty is clearly the MC and George is clearly the IC. But, there was definitely a VERY strong relationship between Marty and Doc, too. Only, Doc clearly isn’t the IC! So how does that work? Is there another storyform in there? It became clear to me that Marty and Doc shared the same dramatic elements as Marty and George. So there were… two RSs? Is there a second storyform, or a “B-story”?

What we discovered was very clearly: No. It’s the all the same RS POV.

Marty and George’s relationship inequity is in:
Psychology : Becoming : Commitment : Temptation > Conscience.
Or in other words: An inequity over the manner of thinking surrounding the urge to embrace immediate benefits despite possible consequences while believing one is best suited to accomplish a task while transforming one’s nature.

The relationship grows in terms of that inequity. The force at play in the relationship is afraid to embrace the benefits of being a healthy father/son dynamic, while believing it’s not cut out to embrace those benefits as the relationship transforms over the course of the story. Transforming the relationship from Technically Related to Family.

That’s one way to encode that Throughline with those two fictitious characters. But wait… An inequity over the manner of thinking surrounding the urge to embrace immediate benefits despite possible consequences while believing one is best suited to accomplish a task while transforming one’s nature also sounds exactly like what’s going on between Marty and Doc too. All the debate over how to think about the responsibility to keep the space-time continuum intact at the expense of the relationship itself.

Doc has several key lines about it, not least of which is the line where he finds Marty’s letter and says, “What’s the meaning of this?! It’s about the future isn’t it?.. I warned you about this, the consequences could be disastrous! No! I refuse to accept the responsibility!”

  • Commitment vs. Responsibility?
  • An inequity over the urge to embrace immediate benefit of information about the relationship’s future?
  • Temptation to know information about the future that’ll save their relationship?
  • Transforming their relationship from Partners to Friends.

It’s almost like Bob Gale used Dramatica to write that dialogue about the major conflict in the relationship! And the force at play in the relationship between Marty and Lorraine is the same thing, but that involves some weird stuff Disney wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, so I won’t either, haha.

It’s as if they treated the RS in BTTF as a “handoff” situation, or even had 3 fully developed RS’s that all basically say the same thing. All of them growing within that same space.
If one were to strip away the encoding, strip away the characters and the plot and the rest of the “story”… all that’s left is the pure POV. One of the four ways to look at the overall, indescribable inequity.

THEN… @jhull and I started hunting around other movies looking for multiple meaningful relationship dynamics to make sure this wasn’t a fluke. We came across many, but stumbled on something REALLY interesting when we got to The Force Awakens. In that film, we found that just like in Back to the Future, the strongest, most meaningful relationship between two characters wasn’t between the MC and IC. In fact, it didn’t involve EITHER of them. It was between Han Solo and his son Ben Solo/Kylo Ren.

What is most interesting about TFA, is how little the MC/IC relationship even existed. Finn is clearly the MC, Rey is clearly the IC… But a relationship between them growing in the space between Psychology : Becoming : Obligation : Logic > Feeling? At first glance, one might find a few loose connections between Rey and Finn that matches that POV, but it’s grasping at straws.

One might even stop themselves and think “oh maybe this isn’t the storyform, or maybe it’s broken–lacking an RS.” But the 93% on Rotten Tomatoes might disagree with you.

And that’s really when it clicked. The RS is almost completely the familial relationship between Han and Ben. Growing from estranged to reunited between Logic and Feeling.

In Dramatica terms: An inequity over the manner of thinking surrounding a rational sense of how things are related while accepting a task or situation in exchange for someone’s potential favors while transforming one’s nature.

In the Script: “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.”

Sure that also seems to describe the same relationship theme as a stormtrooper turning into a rebel because of the forces between himself and the new Anakin Skywalker. But it’s not nearly as strong as the relationship between Han and Ben.

And that’s the key.

You can encode the RS with whomever or whatever you want. The characters in your story are simply pieces of encoding to represent the storyform. What we call the RS POV is a description of the inequity of the force between things in the storymind, not the inequity of the force between the two pieces of encoding you invented to represent the storyform.

Technically, the MC could never interact with the IC, the OS could be on the other side of the galaxy, and the RS could be about something in a parallel universe. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that once the storyform reaches its fourth stage of Audience Reception, that the reader/viewer is able to download the storyform in their heads and piece it together to see the underlying structural meaning in the narrative argument.

The RS really is just the “blank” 4th POV of the overall inequity, the odd POV out that describes the subjective forces between things instead of the subjective or objective POV alone. Every quad in Dramatica has the odd quad out, which doesn’t obviously fit with the others. The RS is that part of the quad.

I believe at the storyforming stage, one should divorce their mind from the “character” ties to the RS. It’s pretty easy to use encoding when storyforming for the MC, IC and OS. But it’s super hard for the RS because you start thinking of those encoded pieces, pulling from the MC, IC and OS. It’s tricky, but I find it helps to free your mind from those ties and focus on what it is you are trying to say as the Author. Storyform the RS first, then encode it in whatever way you think is the most clear way to communicate your GAS.


Awesome, awesome post John! Fantastic stuff. I had heard of the possibility of non MC-IC relationships because of a comment Chris made in Jim’s podcast discussing The Jungle Book, but I’m SUPER grateful to you and Jim for the work you did to expound it. It’s so incredibly important that this idea has been brought to the fore. So thanks very much to both you and @jhull. :heart:

Here’s another example from my (author’s) point of view. In my science fiction novel, the RS is super important (I knew from the beginning it was a sci-fi romance) and I had focused entirely on that relationship during encoding and first draft. Then I was towards the end of (structural) Act 3 when I noticed all this relationship-y conflict between the MC and another OS character (the Sidekick). At first I thought the conflict was just part of the OS but then I realized how well all the RS points fit (even the signpost and PSR items at that point in the story). The most obvious was the RS Problem of Consider and all this conflict with the friends relationship being supplanted by the MC and Sidekick’s individual romances (sort of, their friendship was considered to be less important, or they weren’t considering their friendship at all, that kind of thing).

Yes! One thing I would suggest too, is that if you have one “big” relationship in your story that you know is the focus of the RS, you can storyform based on that, even if you’re uncertain whether there might be others. I think the others will just come in naturally if they need to or want to (either later during outlining, or during first draft).

Case in point – just the other day I found ANOTHER secondary RS relationship in my draft, which fits the Actiivty-Obtaining-Attitude-Consider points to a tee. (discovery described in this post) Yet I didn’t even notice it until I was working on the revision, over a year after I finished the draft! (And found it because of how the scene elements matched the PSR parent – how weird is that?)

I feel like focusing on one main storyform and one RS frees your mind, allows this to happen naturally, if or when the story calls for it. (It probably happened for me because my draft was so stupidly long, so there was plenty of room for this sort of thing.)


I just want to second what @mlucas said. I did, I think, have in the back of my mind that the RS is not necessarily between the MC and IC. But I never really got it until I read that article that Jim wrote about Back to the Future based on your discussions. That was absolutely a game-changer in my understanding of Dramatica and had immediate benefits in both story analysis and storyforming. I see now that rather than being the exception that proves the rule, having the MC/IC separate from the RS is actually extremely common. (See our Hunger Games analysis for what I think will be another example if I’m right). So thank you!

Okay me too I think.

I never thought about doing it this way at all! It makes sense – I’m going to have to think through more practically it means to encode meaning without characters.


I’m with @Lakis on this one. I’m not sure I understand how this could be done practically. Though, I also want to admit that this idea did help me realize that what I was writing for what I thought was my IC was actually my RS… And, my IC is handled by a totally different player! (Hmm… I guess that is common.)


So this is how I think about it in practice:

In short, I usually feel out some relatable dynamic to the one involving my characters. Like a “relationship simile,” and get in touch with the feelings involved in that dynamic.

If I don’t know which characters have the RS, I would just get a sense of what it is I’m trying to write about, and what type of relationships might be involved in that.

I know I want to say overall. Some premise like, “Keep moving towards preserving something and you can survive the day.” And one facet of that premise is the RS in Mind : Conscious : Doubt : Possibility > Probability

Which might roughly equate to something like:

An inequity over a determination of a fixed attitude… something that might be true while questioning validity without investigating to be sure.

So I might be dealing with whatever my MC or IC encoding might be, but I would want to ask myself questions like:

  • What sort of relationship dynamics do I know that feel like that description?
  • Why am I writing this?
  • What am I drawing from/exploring?
  • Have I experienced problems in a relationship that sound like that inequity?

I feel like if I’m trying to communicate to a wide audience I should probably be touching on some universal human condition relationship struggle. By finding some similar, relatable type of relationship:

“It’s just like that feeling you get when you think that person at work might have it in for you. You can’t prove that comment in the meeting was directed at you, and you’ve never actually talked to anyone about it–let alone them. But it’s probably true, but what can I do about it? I’m stuck working with them.”


“It’s like when your girlfriend is probably thinking of dumping you, even though you haven’t stopped to think about if that’s just in your mind. But what can I do about it? I’m supposed to meet them after school because they want to ‘talk’.”

Or anything, involving anyone or anything. Maybe in my novel/script/play/short that RS speaks to me as a whole other “story” that I want cut to during my main story… but I know thematically it fits perfectly.

Then write about the forces at play in that kind of relationship, in a very general sense. Get a little psychological about yourself or someone in that situation and start writing about how to deal with an inequity about that. What is it that’s going on in our human minds with that specific dynamic? What’s the journey? Were things growing together? Apart?

In my experience, the connections to whatever characters you might have in your encoding will suddenly jump out at you, and you’ll see their relationship almost like a separate entity. Except now you’re not writing “he said, she said.” You’re writing about the force at play between them and how that is growing.


Hey @Lakis I was thinking about August in the Vanishing City and wondering if there might be an RS between Elias and Petros? Figured there might be more conversation so I posted in that thread.

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I feel like a step is missing there.
In your two examples there, I only see the point of view of one person in the relationship. How do you get from there to the “force” or the relationship itself?

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So that’s because it’s not about the points of view about the people in the relationship. There are no “people in the relationship” … those “people” are your encoded bits of the storyform. Really, even those examples are too specific insofar as talking about the people IN the relationship. What I’m after in drumming up those examples is the “feel” of that relationship dynamic.

The single perspective you’re seeing is the “storymind” perspective. My perspective as the author. I’m trying to create a story so you can “download” the specific flash of lightning in my mind. The relationships in that flash of lightning are going to “feel” like those examples.

If an Author can relate to what those examples feel like, to the forces at work there, then they can better understand what type of relationship dynamics are at play in your story, and be able to write about the relationship itself, not the characters.

The idea is to not talk about the boyfriend Tom, or the girlfriend Jane. We’re talking about the growing marriage between them.


It’s focusing on the feel of the inequity in terms of your own singular perspective as Author. Think of it in terms of the relationship itself. Some better examples might be talking about the relationship almost as if it’s an entity:

An inequity over a determination of a fixed attitude… something that might be true while questioning validity without investigating to be sure.

  • The inequitable force driving the growth of the co-worker relationship is one of struggling with some determination without stopping to check if that feeling is valid.


  • The inequitable force driving the growth of the romantic relationship is one of struggling with some determination without stopping to check if that feeling is valid.

or even closer to what it should be:

  • There is a problem with the force of gravity between the Earth and Moon. The force of gravity seems to have worked out that it is getting stronger and will probably bring the Moon and Earth together toward total destruction, even though the force hasn’t stopped to see if any of that is legit.

I know those are often seen as being too heady and impractical in writing, but that’s how it’s helped me. Being able to describe the force as one would describe gravity or magnetism, but as if it had a consciousness.

So for me, just narrowing in on that singular perspective “feeling” is enough to divorce my mind from the players involved. I wouldn’t think of my examples of the RS as being the viewpoint of one of my characters in that relationship. I’d just pull out the “feel” of the dynamic between them.

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Demonstrating once again how language is limited, or at least that I cannot communicate properly: I did not mean that I was missing the other person’s perspective, but rather that I only saw a person’s perspective and not the relationship itself in those examples.

Anyway, I will think about your elaborations…

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Ahh, yes. So I guess the missing step is just zeroing in on the structural feeling of the relationship.

Like, “You know that feeling when you think your girlfriend is probably going to dump you? The feeling, or force in the relationship is akin to THAT.” Whatever forces are at play are similar to what it feels like when you’re in that situation.

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I have to second MLucas, @JohnDusenberry. Great stuff!

As for “encoding meaning without characters”, it’s just deciding what you want to say before applying it to the characters. “Approaching the inequity this way will cause relationships to grow stronger over this element”. If you have that info, you can build it into every relationship as it’s created. If you have characters and relationships before you know what you want to say, a lot of the work you’ve done may not fit.