Smoothing out the first act

I’m struggling on story weaving in Dramatica.
I want to write a YA novel. That novel must begin with the MC, because the story is told from the MC’s pov. But, that means that the other three Throughlines have to start later because I need space for the reader to develop a tight empathy with the MC.

Because it is the IC who brings awareness of the story problem to the MC, the reader can’t learn of the OS until after the IC makes the MC aware of it. It does not lie within the MC’s pov until the IC makes the MC aware of it. That, however, creates a different problem. I now need to cram a bunch of stuff (the three other through lines) into the second part of the first act.

This makes my first act feel herky-jerky. In the first part of the First Act, all we’ve got is the MC Throughline. Then, I’m cramming three different additional Throughlines into the second part of the First Act. What can I do to fix it?

You are not bound to having each throughline explored completely before delving into subsequent ones. They can, and often are, weaved together in a manner that gives causality from one to another.

If you were to look at the PSR, you’ll see each throughline has four elements to be explored. I think it’s easier to lay out all of these first in a way that makes sense to the telling of the story (with causality) than it does trying to tackle them four in a row. Doing that will ultimately make your story feel more episodic and henceforth herky-jerky.

Once you’re adapt at weaving your elements together, you can wrap the conflicting elements in a throughline around those of another which gives makes for a really dynamic scene (I believe Melanie wrote an article on this strategy.)

I could be misunderstanding what you mean, but reconsider telling the entire story from the MC’s POV. I suspect such as story cannot be a grand argument story. The movie Gravity did this.

EDIT: I italicized entire. I interpreted the original post to mean that the entire story is told from the MC’s POV.

Is that true? There are so many novels told in the first person – I can’t believe it’s not possible to tell a GAS that way.

However, I think the confusion might be what it means to tell a story from a particular POV.

I don’t think this follows. I think the novel can be told from a first person or close third that follows the “player” who is the MC in some cases and an OS character in others.

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Couple thoughts:

  • You could have a subplot. Switch back and forth between scenes from the MC’s point of view (told intimately) and scenes from the IC’s and non-subjective characters’ POVs (told dispassionately). That will let you start to seed the OS and IC Throughlines, even as the MC is unaware of the proceedings. This might even give you some chances for dramatic irony, which is always a plus.
  • You could tell the story out of order in some way. Again, you’re giving enough information to get the readers clued in to the OS and IC throughlines, even if we don’t get to them for a little while.
  • The MC Throughline can’t move forward until you have an IC. It doesn’t really make sense to say that the MC Act 1 finishes without the IC present at all. Perhaps you have some other player inhabiting the Influence Character position before your primary IC player shows up?
  • One thing you can do is what I’m going to dub an “OS Handoff.” For example, you might have a murder mystery that starts with a detective investigating a murder, but that investigation spirals into a citywide conspiracy that only the detective can stop.The true OS is stopping the conspiracy, but investigating the murder is part of that OS Throughline. Savvy?

Basically, the sentence that strikes me as the most incorrect is:

the reader can’t learn of the OS until after the IC makes the MC aware of it.

In general this is true:

That’s a great point. But of course, the issue here is that the MC player isn’t aware of the OS until the end of the first act.

I like this suggestion a lot:

You could have something like this as the order “on the page”:

  • First Driver (is the MC aware of this? maybe it can be in the news or something?)
  • MC Signpost 1
  • IC Signpost 1 (when he finally meets the IC)
  • Second Driver (if necessary, I think this could be part of the same event as IC Signpost 1)
  • OS Signpost 2, or part of it (maybe an action scene or something, fallout from Second Driver)
  • OS Signpost 1, which occurred earlier, is now recounted to the MC allowing the reader to find out about it. “Why’d we come knocking on your door now, you ask? Well, it all started when someone stole this ancient Viking shield from the museum…”

Note I left out RS for brevity but you would find a place for it once they’ve met.

Another option that might improve the above is to sprinkle small hints of the OS while you’re covering MC throughline in Act 1. TV reports, weird happenings, a door-to-door salesman who might be more than he seems, a homework assignment on Norse deities, whatever. Even the smallest thing to pique the reader’s interest, sometimes the smaller the better.

Before posting I went back and reread what everyone else said, and sounds like it’s all been covered. I’m posting anyway just hoping to provide a little more thought on what’s already been said.

The Dramatica MC is a perspective, not a character. That said, there are lots of ways to show other throughlines from the MC players POV. Let’s say your MC player is named John. John has a Universe problem that only he is dealing with. Everyone has a Physics problem that they are dealing with, including John. When John is dealing with Universe problems, it is from the MC perspective. When he is dealing with Physics problems, it is from an OS perspective. In that way, you can show OS and MC through one character.
Even so, your story still may have your MC player looking only at his MC problem until the IC shows up.

You shouldn’t have to cram act 1 stuff into act 1. All SP1 material belongs in a Dramatica act 1. It may not all belong in act 1 of a traditional 3 act structure, but those aren’t the same as Dramatica acts.

Also, all SPs take place in order (all SP1s followed by all SP2s), but it doesn’t matter when the audience gets that info as long as at the end they know what’s going on and that everything happened in the right spot. If as soon as the MC and IC characters meet is not a good time to go into OS SP1, wait until a better time. Look at Memento. The audience gets stuff all out of order in that movie.

Great post, Greg. I think this part could use some clarification though:

I love this example, except that the bolded parts could be confusing. Why? Because at the scene level any Domain’s problems can manifest as anything – states or processes, internal or external.

I think it would be better to give the throughlines context and apply that to the determination. Rejigging your example:

In this way, you can see that when the rival snowboard team locks John’s team in a room, even though that seems like a Universe problem (stuck in a room) it’s still part of the OS. Or the long-standing rivalry between teams might seem like a Mind problem (fixed attitude hatred) but it’s still part of the snowboarding competition, so OS.


Also if there is a bunch of “stuff” happening before you’re signposts, it’s probably backstory and NOT necessary.

If there’s a bunch of “stuff” in your story before SP1, it’s probably backstory and NOT necessary. But, in this thread, I’m specifically talking about stuff before SP2.

Ummm, define “need space for the reader to develop tight empathy with the MC.”

Because Hunger Games has the 1st Action Driver happens on page 28 of the trade paperback. The chapter is a total of 25 pages and empathy is well established for Katniss in that space. A quick estimated word count brings in that chapter at 4500ish words. It sounds like you are suggesting you need more room than that, but I don’t know why you would.

There are specific techniques that develop reader identification/empathy.
Here are 5 of the most common:

  1. Character is a good person (save the cat, pet the dog, help the neighbor)
  2. Character is the victim of undeserved misfortune (flat tire, hit by sprinklers, chased by a dog)
  3. Character is funny (Bill Murray in Stripes)
  4. Character is super skilled at something (Ice Skating, Survival, Science)
  5. Character is in jeopardy.

None of these take up a huge amount of space, best if you use at least 3…


Would you happen to have the link to this article? Thanks!

I wish I could remember where/what it was; she’s posted a ton of info in both video and print. I’m not even sure if she went into much detail about it, but did mention it was a more advanced technique. I documented the creation of a story using it on a thread here you might find useful, though.

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No worries. Yes, I read through your thread and it is a great demonstration! I use that cause and effect method too.

I’ll have a look around for the article when I get back home. If I find it, I’ll post it.