Struggling with Dramatica Theory

Hi all!

I came across Dramatica through Jim’s Narrative First blog and instantly found it to be what I needed to help me create a story. Problem is I am such an over thinker. Perhaps I’m confusing myself and just need to simplify it, but I am having a hard time with the Throughlines here.

The story I am creating revolves around finding one’s purpose. I’ve been trying to take that and make every other throughline and character in the story somehow argue how to find one’s purpose.

For example:

Main Character: Is in Pursuit of finding his purpose.
Impact Character: (right now I am completely stuck here as there are several options) The main character is stuck in a manipulated situation. He believes he isn’t good enough or qualified enough to pursue his true purpose. His father (who I have labeled as the Contagonist as he directly tries to Prevent and Tempt the main character that where he’s at is as good as it gets) influences his decision to stay where he’s comfortable at. Then there’s the Reason character who is actively pursuing her purpose. She’s very black and white and believes you either add something to the world or get out of the way. But then there’s another character, the Guardian character, who gives the Main character that final push.

Would the Impact character then be the Reason character? She forces her way into the Main character’s life on a favor by the Guardian character and has a very active hand in getting him to change his thoughts. So she’s Steadfast in her ways but the Main character changes. The same can be said for the Contagonist and Guardian character. Either way, its the Main character who changes.

How do you determine which is the strongest for the Impact character? Now I have to admit, writing it out here helped pull all of my thoughts together. My gut is saying the Reason character is the Impact character. But with that said, are the other characters tasked with arguing the problem of finding your purpose?

The Antagonist has found their purpose, but its through very pragmatic, almost ruthless means of realizing it. The Guardian’s purpose is protecting the Main character and getting him to become the person he’s meant to be. Does every single character have to speak on the Overall Throughline here? That’s what’s confusing me I think.

Have you separated out the Main Character and Protagonist functions? They can be held by the same character, but the functions are different. It feels a bit like you’re merging the MC concern into the Overall story.

The Protagonist pursues the overall story goal – the Main Character is the personal lens of the audience into the story.

Best question to ask: is the protagonist’s ‘manipulated situation’ something that everyone in the Overall story is concerned with? If not, then the functions of Reason, Contagonist, etc, are applied to a different end than you’ve described. If yes, then there needs to be a separate area of conflict that your MC solely inhabits. It’s a problem he brings to the table regardless of other throughlines.

Basically you need to decide where the “manipulated situation / finding true purpose” conflict resides: in the Main Character, or the Overall Story.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to help.

The manipulated situation/ finding true purpose resides in the Main Character. The rest of the characters are concerned with the Situation, but the Solution to Solving the Problem is the Main Character if that makes sense? I don’t think I’m quite grasping the theory if I’m having this much issue with the Throughlines.

If the Overall Throughline is How to Save the World, the Main Character Throughline being Finding Purpose, the Impact Character being directly concerned with the Overall Throughline, and the Relationship Throughline being Changing the Fixed Attitude of the Main Character, does this fall in line with the theory more?

Reading through your posts makes me feel like your thinking (from the POV of Dramatica) is muddled.

If I were to extract your MC from the middle of the second act and asked, “What is this character’s problem?” what would the answer be?

You’re more than likely right. Again: I overthink things severely.

To answer your question: His problem is he believes he isn’t good enough to ‘own’ his calling/ purpose. By this time he knows what it is, but Fear keeps him in place.

Thank you both for taking the time to write back.

I concluded that I wasn’t understanding the theory. I assumed Protagonist = Main Character and Antagonist = Impact Character. I did not realize that they could be 4 separate characters and that was choking the story up. Now that I’ve rearranged the characters to fit that model, things make sense in that regard.

I guess I’m still a little confused on what ‘archetype’ the main character fulfills now? He is our “I” perspective, but where does that leave him as far as Archetypes are concerned? Could a Main Character fit under Emotion or Reason character and still drive the story?

The Main Character can be any archetype / dramatic function in the Overall Story. It is not the Main Character’s responsibility to “drive the story” – that is the function of ‘Pursuit’ (protagonist). Good example of this is “To Kill a Mockingbird” – Atticus is the primary driver of the story events, but Scout is the MC and mostly acts as spectator.

The MC and IC are always on double duty – fulfilling their own story throughlines while also participating in the Overall Story. How they function in the OS is entirely up to you.


Uke, I want to second what LunarDynasty said. Here are a few of Dramatica’s insistent tenets that so many other theories miss:

  1. Enduring stories must always have External aspects and Internal aspects. These will overlap, of course, but they are running on different “levels” (or in different throughlines).

  2. The Archetypes’ functions are in the External, “upper” level of the story, where the characters focus on the Overall Story throughline (Goals, Limit, Driver, Outcome, Consequences, Prerequisites, etc.). This is where some character fulfills the Protagonist functions (especially Consider and Pursue). Which means this Protagonist “drives” the External part of the story.

  3. But the Main Character’s functions are in the internal, “deeper” levels of the story. Where, via the MC’s point of view, the audience connects emotionally with the story in a personal way, and where the MC interacts closely and deeply with the story’s Influence Character. (Together, these two share the Relationship Story throughline.)

  4. Yes, sometimes the Protagonist and Main Character functions can simultaneously reside in the same “player” (like Michael Dorsey in Tootsie). But other times these functions can reside in two separate “players,” like Atticus and Scout, or like Andy and Red in The Shawshank Redemption.

  5. Always remember the comparison and contrast between the External and Internal parts of a thorough story. Your Grand Argument should be fought on both “levels,” in both plot and relationships, both mental and physical activities, both internal and external expressions of worldviews, perspectives, and problem-solving approaches.

  6. Keep studying the successful stories analyzed here on’s Analysis page, and check out the monthly podcasts (also around here) of the Dramatica Users Group. This theory is tough, but it leads you to way-better-than-average stories!


Uke, do not beat yourself up over being challenged by the four throughlines. The concept of the four throughlines is the single most important and difficult aspect of Dramatica because it tells us that stories are not single threads of characters, plots, themes and genre elements woven together into complex patterns that we see in finished works. The understanding that there are FOUR major threads, each with a uniquely different frame of reference, that weave together characters, plots, themes, and genre elements within EACH of those threads and then further woven together into the single work experienced by the audience.

Many of us were taught that multiple threads in a story are optional ways for us to add complexity to a story. Optional means they can be there or not at the author’s discretion. The Dramatica approach removes that option and instead turns them into a requirement necessary to create a full and complete story. That is a huge difference between ‘traditional’ story paradigms and the Dramatica paradigm.

The second aspect to the throughlines that increases one’s difficulty in conceptualizing them is the fact that not only are the four perspectives explored in the throughlines unique, but that there are four domains (or lenses) through which the throughlines are explored – one domain exclusively paired with its own throughline.

So Dramatica tells you that there are four unique perspectives through which a story is explored, but also that there are rules as to where those perspectives are ‘looking’. Add the fact that pairing a domain (Situation, Activity, Fixed Attitude, or Manipulation/Psychology) with a perspective (I, You, We, or They) and the throughline looks and feels different than every other pairing.

Again, please do not beat yourself up over this. Dramatica takes a while to ‘grok’, but the rewards for doing so provide tremendous insights in narrative creation and analysis.