Separating a Main Character of Activity from his role as the Protagonist

What I feel is very hard to wrap my head around is when the MC Throughline is in Activity and he/she is also the Protagonist in OS Throughline of Situation. I find it hard to create enough difference between these two roles since an Activity MC tends to have his Activity tied very closely to the rest of the story, and in describing what the Activity is, I tend to come up with vague descriptions, instead of the very clear descriptions of Situation MCs.

Even in official Dramatica analyses, Activity MCs seem to be very difficult to pinpoint compared to Situation MCs. Take Woody:

“It is the degree of this physical activity with which Woody defines his status and self-esteem. As far as the activities he himself initiates, Woody is very much a take-charge jump-into-the-fray kind of cowboy, calling meetings, plotting strategies, getting into fights, scaring the bejesus out of Sid, etc.”

How is the last sentence not precisely what a Protaginist is?

Darn it… Hit Enter in the middle of finishing my thought. This can be removed and I’ll post it again :slight_smile:

The key, I think, is to try to distinguish the Protagonist from the MC in your mind. Let’s call Woody “The Cowboy” when we’re looking at him as a Protagonist.

The Cowboy is the leader of all of Andy’s toys. His problem arises from the Situation he finds himself in: accidentally abandoned by his owner with the Space Ranger. The Cowboy’s Goal is to make it back to Andy’s house safe and sound, but he can’t do it alone. He’ll need the Space Ranger’s help to leave the gas station, escape Sid’s house of terror, and make it back before Andy loses them both for good.

Woody is the Main Character. Upon the introduction of Buzz Lightyear, he begins to struggle with the notion that he’s not the top toy anymore. This struggle comes through in what he does; specifically, his tendency to jump the gun and take the lead on Activities. Sometimes this gets him into trouble, like when he accidentally knocks Buzz out the window; other times, he’s invaluable, like when he pilots the remote car back home.

Perhaps you can imagine an alternate version of these two characters where Woody is a Be-er instead of a Do-er. The first story as the Cowboy would be exactly the same: the Protagonist pushes the other characters to complete the Goal. But as a Be-er instead of a Do-er, Woody would solve his problems through persuasion and belief rather than through activities.

Another thing you can do is note that Woody’s Critical Element, Determination, is actually a Contagonist Element, not a Protagonist Element. So while the Cowboy leads the toys Protagonistically, Woody struggles with Contagonistic forces inside himself. This Complex interaction leads to some of the conflicts in the story, like when he knocks Buzz out the window, Hindering any chance of creating peace in the household.

Does that make any sense?

Fake Edit: For some reason, I thought the storyform was very different, with Woody being a Steadfast character. In either case, the explanation should still hold.

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Remember that the Main Character throughline is all about their personal issues and perspective on things. So what you’ll see with an MC in Activity is that their physical activities get them into trouble and they usually resort to those problematic activities as a way of trying to deal with their angst or issues. Often they might be shown sort of “not being able to help themselves” from getting into further trouble through activities, like Dr. Kimble in the Fugitive going around putting himself in danger instead of laying low.

Another example, in Home Alone (which has MC Activity if I have the storyform right in the other thread), Kevin lashes out and pushes Buzz because he feels he’s being mistreated. Later, he burns off the steam that’s been building up over years of mistreatment by doing all sorts of crazy activities in the house (tobogganing out the door, jumping on the bed with popcorn, watching big kid movies, etc.).

With Woody being a Change character, he’s a little different than Dr. Kimble and Kevin because they use their Activties to show/prove that they’re right, while Woody needs to learn to give up being the “most played with” toy, an activity that is so dear to his heart. The official analysis quote you mentioned might have been a bit more helpful if it explained how those activities he initiates are sort of in response to his angst about not being the “most played with toy” anymore.

Also see this:, which argues that Woody is actually Steadfast. @actingpower that’s probably where you remembered that from (or you just sensed within your awesome dramatica enhanced memories)


Woody is most definitely a Steadfast character. The storyform included with the software is inaccurate.

Woody --> Playing with Andy is the most important thing in the world
Buzz -->Being the greatest Space Ranger is the most important thing in the world

Driven by that worldview, Woody does all kinds of selfish things to make sure he is the only one that gets to play with Andy and so it APPEARS as if he Changes at the end when he says he is sorry.

But he still ends up driven by that same worldview in the end and it is THAT worldview that ends up getting Buzz to Change his mind.

The rest of the storyform is pretty close, but the Resolve is definitely off.

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That’s an interesting thing to learn, @jhull, since I happened to use Buzz as an example of a “wavering” IC. I guess he wavered more than I thought! Actually, it makes way more sense, especially Buzz’s line at the end: “It’s falling with style”

Exactly! Buzz adopts Woody’s point-of-view.

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Thanks @mlucas and @actingpower for the thorough answers! I think I managed to work it out in my story: the MC clearly has his Throughline in Activity. I had instinctually created problems the MC had brought upon himself through his actions: he had caused an accident in his previous job, the company reluctantly re-hiring him in the first act. But I wasn’t sure if it was just noise in the Storyform or truly something that belonged in the story.

Even after almost seven years with the theory, all the books I read prior to Dramatica seem to occasionally have an effect on me: “your protagonist (MC) must be an underdog! (have his Throughline in Situation)”

I think being an underdog in the context of that quote is not so much descriptive of a personal issue, i.e. not related to the MC’s personal problem, so much as the relative position of the status of the OS character associated with the MC in the story world. For example, making a character an outsider or new to the world in which the OS exists gives it an underdog position. Even Scarface starts off as a lowly immigrant before his meteoric rise (and fall).

I mention this because I don’t think that quote is supposed to imply that the MC is supposed to be in the Situation domain, per se.

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Right. Still, I do think you can tell stories where the Main Character isn’t an underdog. (For example, Saitama in One-Punch Man, who–as the name suggests–defeats all of his opponents in one punch.) The trick is to make the story so that conflict still exists even despite their “overdog” status. Alternatively, if the MC is Steadfast, then the IC will be the one who changes, so they might be more underdog-y.

Not sure which author’s book gave me the impression, but I remember reading a paragraph or two about the protagonist (MC) needing to be in a sticky situation at the beginning of story. But yeah, I agree it could also be understood as the protagonist’s seemingly unsurmountable “task” of solving the story inequity, since protagonist and MC is often thought of as one and same thing and blended together in story theory.

One thing I’ve found is that other story structure paradigms / advice often act as though a certain arrangement of story points is the only proper arrangement. Like that all stories must have a Change Main Character, or that the Main Characters is always the Protagonist. Perhaps some even make the assumption that the MC must be in Situation.

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Exactly how I’ve felt. And even if a paradigm manages to approach a true holistic view of story, subjectivity always seeps into it. Robert McKee seems to come quite close, but his notion of “master the classical form, then break it however you wish” feels more like a cop out than something truly helpful in writing a story.