Reviving Relationships with Dinner and a Movie

I’m stretching my head around the new idea that Relationship is a character in the story.

Outside of theory…talking “about” this… I’d love see movie clips that (flawlessly) execute relationship as a character of its own right. And please identify the “element/s” that is/are being spun.

Someone posted that the “Two Shot/Reverse” idea reflects the type of scene. So sitting and talking over something, like over dinner, might be the kind of scene.

But show me HOW and I’ll understand WHAT this means.

I’m guessing this is one.

And I’d postulate off the cuff that Pursuit/Avoid are the Relationship’s Problem. Can’t decide if it’s a tragedy or personal triumph, what with her pulling herself together within 30 seconds. Obtain, seems like the OS Goal.

The relationship has been hurting and being pulled and stretched to fit the selfishness of both people, but the relationship fails. There is no we. Avoid is the result, Scarlett is steadfast and Rhett realizes it.

But what does Relationship think about this? Poor Relationship has been straining for life, fighting to breathe, fighting to be real and meaningful. Pursue, avoid, pursue, avoid. One can only take so much abuse. And Relationship, like little Belle, was neglected at the wrong time. So Relationship chooses Avoid and that’s that.

If we can collect some examples of Relationship acting as a character, it would be really helpful. Any other ideas?

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(I don’t have any specific examples of relationship as a character, but from what I recall, How To Train Your Dragon is a film that puts a good deal of emphasis on the Relationship throughline and does it well)

As for the relationship throughline as a character… well, that’s hard to picture. To me that seems like picturing the Overall Story throughline as a character. I can’t think of a way to do that.

But I think the first thing you really need to figure out is: “what is a relationship???”

From my understanding (and I’m certainly not an expert), it’s that hard to define space between people. The two shot example is probably the closest you can get to “showing” the relationship, but even that might be misleading, because a relationship is not about the people within the shot so much as what’s going on between them.

Relationships are a lot easier to for me to visualize when I think about the change or growth of a relationship. For example, maybe two characters are forced to dance together in a weekly dance class. This leads to them growing from estranged dance partners to close friends. That’s a relationship that changes from strangers to friends. I can see that arc in my head.

I also want to note again that it’s important to not focus too much on the characters that are “in” the relationship. This is because relationships are not necessarily dependant on the characters and their opinions of one another. For example, I might love my dance partner and think highly of him. And he might feel the same about me. But if we stop dancing together, our relationship will never be the same. If we don’t find time to reconnect and maybe try and dance together every once in a while, we’ll effectively return to being strangers again.

So once you understand it’s not so much about the characters, and it’s more about dynamic between them, it then becomes easier to see how to work the RS throughline into your story.

It’s just like how the MC throughline conflict imbalances the MC personally, and the OS throughline conflict imbalances everyone. The RS throughline conflict should imbalance the relationship. It’s not about who is arguing with who, but how that arguing and conflict threatens to shatter (or save) a relationship.

In my example, I think that it would be a conflict of Doing, of not taking time to dance together, that threatens to tear the relationship apart. And it’s only through Doing that the relationship can be saved.

So, I still don’t quite understand relationship as a character. It certainly isn’t a character in the way I typically think of characters. But I think the idea of treating it like it’s own character is to separate it from the characters themselves. Stop looking at character X arguing with character Y. Start focusing on the “character” between them, the character of lovers turning into enemies.


The Christian faith helps me to understand this. There’s a Bible verse that says, “And these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” This refers to another verse that describes Love in a way that is not about ME or YOU. (It’s a well known passage in 1 Corinthians 13).

Please allow me to quote this to make my point.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

In Christianity, there is a huge emphasis on the sacrifice involved FOR THE SAKE of Love. @jhull mentions repeatedly the failure of relationships because one of the partners was not functioning as if “there is something between us that doesn’t include You and I” and “We as being separate and worthy of consideration.” Self-sacrifice is the awareness of this life that is not us but dependent on us.

The above description of the Relationship (that should be between people) is outward-focused. The description of love above is as its own Character. Love is not the actions. Love performs the actions. As a living thing, it must be nurtured and cared for, outside of me and you, teased to do those actions. But both parties are responsible for keeping that “Between us part” alive for the sake of the betterment of each people.

But…as should be obvious, the non-existence of the Relationship does not mean either MC or IC/whomever is non-existent. Its absence does not take life from the member. But once it’s there, if it is taken it does scar the individual.

I don’t need a relationship with you to be ME, and vice versa. If I never know you, I’ll live my life none the worse and none the better. But if I do enter into a relationship with you, and that thing dies, it is going to change me and you. In a way, the death of a child demonstrates this kind of thing. The “life” outside of us that demonstrates us but is not us.

I was thinking about posting about a similar topic, but part of it seems to fit pretty well as a reply here.

I was listening to a radio show yesterday morning that posed the question ‘if your spouse cheats, would you want to know?’ and the follow up was ‘do you cut and run or try to work it out?’

Female caller after female caller (I don’t remember a single male calling in) called and said that yes they’d want to know. The relevant part to this conversation is that they also said that while they would want to leave their spouse immediately, they felt they owed it to the relationship to at least consider the circumstances and try to work it out. This struck me as the relationship being a very strong character.

As individuals, these ladies all felt one way. But they each said that it was the relationship (not the spouse) they owed it to to try to stay together. That’s treating the relationship as something different than the spouse.

It was also an example of the relationship speaking up to have its say in the conversation. The caller would say “I’d want to leave” but the relationship would then say-through the callers voice-“We wouldn’t want to be immediately dissolved”.

Does that make sense?


My first thought when I read this was this from Romeo and Juliet.

The RS Concern here is Being – the relationship faces conflict because of the roles that that Romeo and Juliet are forced to play in their families.

As a functional process, I’ve done the following when dealing with the RS.

What direction(s) does the *RS(s) move in my story?

  • together (boy gets girl)
  • apart (boy loses girl)
  • together-apart-together (boy gets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl) (boy gets wrong girl; boy loses wrong girl; boy gets right girl) (boy gets right girl; boy loses right girl; boy gets wrong girl)
  • apart-together-apart (boy is alone; boy gets girl; boy loses girl)
  • together-together-together (us vs. the world)
  • apart-apart-apart (not in a million years)

*more than one relationship could be part of the RST

What adjective or phrase best describes the RS status?

  • hanging on by a thread
  • bliss
  • settling for less
  • et cetera

What’s the nature of the relationship?

  • familial
  • love
  • teacher/student
  • et cetera

What’s the intensity of the relationship?

  • slow and steady
  • roller coaster ride
  • low heat
  • et cetera

A change in the status, nature, direction or intensity of the RS can be accomplished by a believable beat. When reasonable, a double duty beat can push the MC (OS, IC) in the direction that I want, and – for example – a consequence of the MC (OS, IC) beat could push the RS in the direction along its path.

It is useful to create a snapshot of my RS at various points in the story (keyframing as Jim says) then try to believably manipulate these categories into that direction. This can be accomplished through a gradual shift during a long sequence or a hard beat that happens within a scene.

For me, calling the RS a character is useful only because it forces me to remember that the relationship should have characteristics that are definable, measurable, alterable, and so on.

I have no doubt that my terminology will evolve and this process might become more automatic, but this is what I currently use.


This is great, and makes senses as a relationship is all about the changing dynamic between two people.


Would you say there is apart-together-TOGETHER ? Increasing in intensity but starting as a nothing or an antipathy?


I have an edited video focusing on the relationship story from The Devil Wears Prada somewhere. I made it when @jhull added the relationship growth/dynamic to the Subtext analyses (‘boss/employee -> family’, etc.) and I wanted to see if I could condense a movie relationship into a 10 minute video that could maybe show a snapshot of the dynamic (with as little of the other throughlines as possible).

I’ll see if I can find it and upload it, maybe it’ll help someone else. It turned out to be the most helpful way I found to get your head around the idea of the relationship as a ‘character’ with its own arc. I’ll find it and upload it as soon as I can.


Oh wow! That’s awesome…can’t wait to see it :slight_smile:

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Found it and uploaded: The Devil Wears Prada – Relationship Snapshot. Ended up a little over 10 minutes, though. :rolling_eyes:

There might be one or two fragments in there that aren’t strictly RS (for example, the end of signpost 3 is more OS but provides the context for the growth in Signpost 4), but overall I think it’s a fairly accurate representation of the relationship’s growth from a boss/lackey dynamic to something more respectful.

I was going to detail how I would illustrate all four RS signposts, but I think it’s more interesting to just let you all watch it and see if it works for you.


This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’ve never put it on paper before. If a MC can be steadfast or change, then I see no reason that a relationship can’t be steadfast or change as well (in some aspects).

Part of my functional concept is based on the idea that stories have shapes ( Kurt Vonnegut). He based this idea on charting happiness.

Some other folks have separated the idea of success and happiness/judgement (success, bad; failure, good – Dramatica). That’s basically what Shawn Coyne does as well with his Story Grid.

I think that RS throughlines have unique shapes depending on scope. Love-Hate-Love is going to look different than acquaintances-friends-lovers. And hate-love is viable as well (this is a tighter scope).

So, in answer to your question, I think that apart-together-TOGETHER can work because what you call it is arbitrary. It only matters that there:

  • are distinct status changes or…

  • distinct changes in intensity in driving forces or…

  • distinct changes in the nature of the relationship or…

  • distinct changes in the direction.

All of them are not necessary, but at least one of them is necessary (to be an interesting relationship).

**I just wanted to add that I think external dynamics would be things like understanding, doing, obtaining, learning, etc. It all makes sense to me until it doesn’t make sense. Some internal dynamics could be power, love, respect, et cetera.


Awesome. I think graphing your relationship is a GREAT idea, I’ve done it before and it’s an awesome way to visualize at a glance the entire RS.

The y-axis can be something like, the level of contentedness or satisfaction or fulfilment in the relationship (I think you will know what to call it for your own story.) The x-axis is story time, scaled so that each act is a quarter of the whole thing.

The one thing you don’t want is a flat line. Lots of peaks and valleys are good!

@crayzbrian had some ideas about Steadfast vs. Changed relationships, I think.


I’ve been thinking a lot on this. I feel that Belle encapsulates the space between Scarlett and Rhett. Turbulent, as @chuntley called it.

Her risk-taking character, her beauty, her daddy’s treasure and hope, tolerated by her mommy, conceived during manipulation, the birth of whom drove a wedge between them, the death of whom caused the death of the relationship, longing for mommy when apart. Because of them, but not them.

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I don’t need GROWTH with you to be ME, and vice versa. If I never know you, I’ll live my life none the worse and none the better. But if I do enter into GROWTH with you, and that thing dies, it is going to change me and you.

Is it possible to track relationship growth using dramatica story points for example:

Sam and Fred are growing from trusting each other to expecting nothing of each other while minding their own business.

@mlucas is it possible to say that,

The OS is about the nature and growth of a relationship between more than two people.

The MC is about the nature and growth of relationship with oneself.

The IC is about the nature and growth of the relationship one undergoes in themselves as they impacting someone else.

The RS is about the nature and growth the relationship of the relationship between two people.

Hi Samuel, I don’t think those summaries are all that accurate.

Consider that the Relationship Story Throughline may describe a relationship between several people – a team relationship, or a family, for example.

Also consider that the OS is more about objectively pursuing a goal, although it’s true that interpersonal relationships can certainly come into play in that; and in some cases the goal is relationship related, like everyone trying to find a mate in a romantic comedy.


Very true. However the examples in Jim’s series look at the relationship story througline as the dynamics or nature of growth or change between two people.

Are they any examples of an RS throughline with more than two people?

From Jim’s article

While the heart of a story often feels good and sometimes brings tears to your eyes, the purpose it plays within the context of a narrative proves to be something much more meaningful. This emotional center, portrayed by the intimate bond between two characters, serves as a subjective balance to the more objectified concerns and issues of the central plot. Capturing the essence of this relationship rounds out a narrative and gives the Audience a sense of fulfillment that works with the satisfaction of a complete story.

Also would the RS track things like relationships with oneself.

Guardians of the Galaxy, The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2.

Not in general – that sounds more like MC throughline stuff.

I think maybe you could do this, but it would be really difficult to communicate properly. Unless you used fantasy/sci-fi/time-travel tricks, like a relationship with your older or younger or alternate-reality self. Finding a way to represent both (or multiple) parts of yourself as different players would help. The key thing is you need some way to create that “between” space for the relationship.
@Greg any ideas here?


Hmmm…long answer:
In one sense, it’s hard to see I and myself being the same as We, in which case I’d agree that it falls within the MC-though possibly in a more “touchy-feely” super quad (T, A, or D based rather than the standard K)?

In another sense, the RS is happening in a single story mind already, and Dramatica is about the relationships between individual mental processes within that mind. So i don’t really see a reason why the storytelling can’t have John coming into conflict with himself over, say, Pursuing something.

Short answer:
I unno