Throughlines | Perspective | Not Character

The Aha thread got me thinking about what makes Dramatica so difficult for me (no clue about anybody else) and it’s something that I think I’ve heard all the “in the know” peeps say one way or another. It’s something to the effect of OS, MC, IC or RS are perspectives on an inequity but they are not a character. And @jhull repeats this a lot, as if the phrase is self-evident. But instead of nodding dutifully like I get it, I want to raise my hand and say, I honestly I have no clue what that sentence means. If you don’t have a character(s) you don’t have a perspective. To me character is perspective…all the things we decide on for a character are what create that perspective and I don’t know how to divorce those storytelling decisions from the character to create some disjointed, disembodied perspective. And I really don’t get when someone says the whole deal about a storymind solving a problem. Again, this is like someone speaking Xhosa, at me. Huh? This is not how I solve a problem/puzzle – it’s not how my mind works.

I would love to have my aha moment! So if you have any gems, or a different way of explaining things (one of the reasons I’ve really been looking forward to @Audz blog thingie) , I’d really love to hear them. Thanks in advance. slips on dunce cap


I love this topic and hope I can add to it. I often feel like a bumbling fool when dealing with the practical side of Dramatica, and feel a bit like a crazy nonsense-spouting loon when I try to talk about the theoretical side. That said, I do feel like I get the idea of a Storymind pretty well, but that doesn’t mean I know how to explain it! But I’m going to throw my two cents in anyway.

The Storymind is referring to the mind of your story as though your story is a fully formed person (well, a fully formed persons mind). In this sense, the Storymind is not the same thing as the authors mind, but it may help to think of the Storymind, for just a moment, as the author of the story. The Storymind-or author-is telling you, the audience, her problem solving process (“I have a Situation that I’m exploring through Past,Progress, Present, and then Future”). This is what you read or watch as the story. Everything that takes place in the story, then, is all happening within the Storymind/authors mind (off topic: I’ve often thought about writing an article for one of those websites where you’d find articles like “Why _The Walking Dead Takes Place Entirely In Rick’s Mind!” or “Why Captain America: Civil War Takes Place Entirely In Tony’s Head!” and entitling it something like “Why every story takes place in one characters mind!”-the character in question being the story mind)

The four perspectives, then, are also all within that one mind. So instead of Coco being about a boy whose family hates music and he has to deal with other people, the Storymind/authors perspective there is I live with a family that hates music. Héctor, the IC, isn’t another person or mind with another perspective. He is the part of the problem solving process that the Storymind/author looks at to see if there is another way, perhaps a better way, to solve the problem. He represents the Storymind/author looking at the perspective of “no one is thinking about me and this is how to handle it”. It is the I perspective of the author looking at the You perspective of another possible process of solving the problem.

Imagine you are saying to yourself “I could relax tonight and tomorrow and do all the housework over the weekend, or I could do a little bit every day and not completely ruin my weekend”. You might place yourself as the I for the first option. The second option, then, would be the You perspective that is trying to influence you not to put off the housework. They are both you, but in a story, these two perspectives would look like two different characters.

So I could go on, but I probably need to get back to work for now. If that line of thinking is helpful at all, let me know. If it’s more confusing, I can step back.


I shouldn’t even respond to this, because I’m 0 for 171, but the way I reconciled this was thinking of them as gestalt characters.

I have written the first half of my first draft as pronouns (whenever possible) to try and force myself to stay in appropriate POV. The strangest first draft I’ve ever written. On the flipside, this is the most progress that I’ve ever made noveling. And I am generally positive.

I wonder if they mean these different Throughlines are not specific characters (except the MCT). That’s the way I interpreted it.

I hope you have your moment. I’ve had a few false moments… I was so happy to find my Storyform when I first got the software, but I just tweaked it tonight. I realized Interdiction suggests Destiny. Whereas my Storyform deals with Fate/Ability/Order.

I figure if I give you a terrible answer, someone more knowledgeable will be inclined to intervene and undo my damage. :wink:

I don’t know if this is correct, but for the whole “perspective-not-character” thing, I always think of situations in which there is an IC handoff in a storyform. So different IC “characters” could be very different in storytelling details and even personality (old, young, different genders, whatever) but all represent the same perspective. I guess the too-obvious example being the ghosts in A Christmas Carol.

I am slowly reconciling myself to the idea that it’s not really possible for me to write from both “inside” the story (storytelling) and “outside” at the same time and that in order to use Dramatica I have to figure out how to flip back and forth. There’s a weird and sometimes uncomfortable feeling with that – as a reader/viewer/creator I want to inhabit the world of story, not pontificate about the “perspective on an inequity”.

Regarding the whole idea of a storymind, when I first read about it I simultaneously thought it was a) weird and b) obvious and kind of self-evident. But I had also recently been reading some other writers who were theorizing about the central place of story in human cognition, so it’s not that far out there. Lisa Cron has a couple of practical books on this (Wired for Story). There are other writers who have argued that the only way we can understand anything is through what we think of as literary devices (e.g. metaphor) - I’m thinking of Mark Turner and George Lakoff. So I guess I think of Dramatica in that sphere.

But it is all a little meta to think about. I think this kind of “story reasoning” happens unconsciously/automatically for most people and is therefore hard to “watch” from the outside.

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Why I’m coming back for more.

Mulling it over, I feel like my answer above will just be more of the same for you. It is safe for me as a poster because it is vague and avoids specifics. However – for you – it doesn’t solve the problem of seeing the craft that Throughlines try to explain (or inspire).

I won’t let my fear of getting beat up on the forum stop me from giving you an answer that I value instead of one that protects my fragility. All information here is assumed (by myself) to be true at the time of writing. It is a good faith attempt to share my imperfect understanding. Be warned, if you come with me, “here be dragons…”

  • OST – the plot as it concerns the story goal

  • RST – The story as it relates to the relationship and conflict between the Main and Influence Characters

  • MCT – the Character representing the audience’s position in a story

  • ICT – the dramatic progression which builds the Influence Character’s pressure on the Main Character to change


Let’s immediately get OST out of the way. I’m going to get bopped in the head for this one. I already know it in advance. Every story needs a question, an argument, and an answer. Admittedly, one could say that with the proper argument, there is only one question and only one answer possible. But there are practical reasons to at least mention that other two in passing.

Craft is necessary to blend and embellish the OST. But, at the base of it all, points of progression exist as the OST. The OST is about the movement from one to another via hitting a checklist of processes (emotional, logical, skeptical, etc.).

From the beginning, I have felt that Dramatica clears the road and shows the path for the pure emotional experience. The OST is about quieting the skepticism of the mind and allowing for the heart to enjoy a bit of catharsis.

MR Units and Dwight Swain (Don’t Be Dismayed)

Though I might hear a collective groan, I want to reference Swain again. He talks about the MRU (motivation/reaction units) in his lovely little tome. The MRU has two parts:

  • Motivation Units (MU) are described by Swain as Objective. That’s a simplification. And I feel Swain knows that it is a simplification. However, he doesn’t want to throw writers into the deep end immediately. And I feel like Dramatica is the deep end.

  • Reaction Units (RU) can be described as the Subjective. That’s a simplification. And I feel like Swain knows that too. Once again, he is trying to let you come to a conclusion without telling you the conclusion you should come to.

Well, how are those statements simplifications?

Because both of those units can contain the MCT, ICT, or RST which would seem to be conflicted by his use of the terms POV. But somewhere in that nifty tome of Swain – he mentions that objectivity is a hairy concept. And he also mentions that rules are great for bending and breaking (that’s paraphrasing at its finest).

What can you do with the Motivation Unit that is supposedly objective?

  • Create comparisons/contrasts/parallels of the environment and character via specific imagery or active setting (MC Throughline, IC Throughline)

  • Create comparisons/contrasts/parallels of the environment and relationships via specific imagery, active setting, medium (RST)

  • Create emotion, mood, and tone for the MC, IC, Relationship via specific imagery, active setting, and medium (MCT, ICT, RST)

Specific imagery is important because the connotations involved. A Doberman draws a very different emotional response from us in comparison to a poodle.

Active setting gives a sense of motion, but it can also give a mood by contrasts, comparisons, and parallels in regards to the emotion, moods, and tones of verbs. It comes down to connotations again.

Objectivity is anything but objective. As a filmmaking, when you frame a shot, you look at everything in that frame and you decide if it is relevant to the scene. You will hardly see chaos in a frame unless chaos is useful to your story. Because chaos is distracting… unless you want to distract. On the other hand, order can be distracting as well… unless you plan on distracting with order. There’s always a balance.

In reference to the RST, Swain touches on it in passing I think. He mentions something called a WEENIE or BONE OF CONTENTION:

The paper clip lay on the desk between them. It was an old clip-discolored, somewhat bent, with a couple of small rust spots visible upon it.

Idly, Olivas reached for it.

In a voice dangerously gentle, Sheehan said, “Touch it, you son of a bitch, and I’ll cut your throat.”

Olivas’ hand stopped.

You see? Itself unimportant, perhaps, the paper clip is a symbol of the relationship between these men. Their reaction to it and to each other bring a host of elements into focus—the state of mind of each; their caliber and potential; all sorts of things. So, whether the paper clip itself is intrinsically of worth or consequence or not—and it quite possibly may be—it serves here primarily as a bone of contention between these two.

Does this paragraph talk about the individual characters? Yeah. But it is about the relationship. That short scene gives life to the CHARACTER that is the RST. I think you can use the term CHARACTER if you are willing to expand your definition of the word. The relationship is the character. You can use character to describe your scope of focus. POV (as it seems to be used) is about scope… not about who is looking. The audience is always who is looking, but what skin and what direction and vantage point are they looking from?

Imagine if you always saw your friend Tom and David together. For five years, you saw them together every time you saw them. Then, one day, you saw Tom. Where’s David? It’s like seeing half a person. Because the RELATIONSHIP has a life of its own.

Also, I think that most RST can be shown or told. People are always saying that crap all the time. Show! Don’t tell! Well, I like to look it as the craftiness of hiding the Omniscient POV. I disagree with the idea that Omniscient POV has been somehow removed from most modern novels. It’s become subtle. The author is talking to you ALL THE TIME. He is bonking you over the head. But he doesn’t want you to know he is bonking you over the head into submission to his argument. I’d say the Omniscient POV is the GAS.

Dramatica is like that to me. I’m tapping away my point. I’m just doing it in slightly different way the entire time. So it doesn’t feel like I’m hammering. It is more like subtle waves of urging someone to an answer.

What about the Reaction Unit? That’s just the MC right?

The RU provides us a very obvious outlet to express the MCT. As mentioned before, we can augment it and reinforce it with the MU through comparison, parallels, mood, tone, etc. Maybe the MCT is about vicarious emotion, the ICT is about witnessed emotion, the RST is about a witnessed emotional ecosystem.

My Short(er) Answer

I think that statement of “these are not characters” applies primarily to the RST and OST. The OST is our path through the Story with no embellishment other than broad strokes. The OST characters are only valuable in terms of how they are similar or related in the expression of the Storymind.

The RST cannot be about the MC or IC (characters) because they are already represented. It must be about something else. A third unnamed character (if you expand your definition).

I also feel like RST must be subtle and subtextual unless you want to blatantly use Omniscient POV or make some of your characters gossipy. I seem to recall an example that was given in one of the posts around here that illustrated two other characters yammering about the relationship between two people. And that was an example of exploring the RST. One of very specific usage I think… and one that could become tiresome really fast. Half the battle is still about understanding the craft too I think.

I’m feeling bold. I’m going add… I see OST, RST, ICT, and even MC as what we are looking at. But I see MC as fulfilling where we are looking from as well. MC is the only one that we look from (unless we break the rule and we surrogate for a specific reason). Other than the hidden GAS/Omniscient POV.

In a novel, we have to cheat to see the world through the eyes of someone other than the MC. But cheating is fine. At times. For certain effects.

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This really is the key to the entire thing. Brilliant observation and well-put.

You have to find a way to separate the romantic notions of what it means to be a writer from what you’re actually writing and saying. Don’t get rid of it entirely–because you’ll need it to make it breathe and to make it uniquely yours–but if you want to know what it is you’re saying with your story, you need to put away the fantasy.

That’s the only way to see your work objectively–but it’s generally not the reason why people become writers.

You’re really just substituting the arguments that go on in your head with plot, character, theme, and genre. A story is one thing–one argument–and the Throughlines are different points-of-view on the singular thing.

Conceptually, it’s really hard for writers to empathize with because it objectifies the magic.

The four throughlines are not real “things”, the four throughlines do not make an argument. The argument makes the Four Throughlines.


I think you may be imagining this idea of perspective is more complex than it really is. Maybe an example would help.

How well do you remember The Princess Bride? Can you see how Princess Buttercup and The Kid (Fred Savage) both share the exact same perspective? Or how Westley and The Grandfather share the same perspective?

That’s the perspective that everyone’s talking about. It’s what all the story points of a throughline describe. For example, a perspective that clings to Doubt, unable to shift its evaluations even when they bring personal hardship. Or, a perspective that causes conflict and influences those around it through its willingness to Attempt difficult things.

Of course, when it comes time to do the storytelling, you still get to use actual characters. At this level, Buttercup and The Kid are pretty different – she’s blonder and taller, for one thing, and probably not as good at Hardball! on the commodore 64.


The four throughlines provide four different contexts by which one may explore a problem (inequity). These contexts are most easily understood as I, YOU, WE, and THEY.

The way I see/approach the problem will differ from the way THEY see/approach the problem, because my experience/bias/frame of reference is different from theirs, and vice versa.

The same is true for the YOU and WE contexts considering the same problem.

Outside the context of a storyform (story), all four contexts – which I prefer to think of as perspectives because it makes it more subjective and easier to ‘experience’, but then also biases the understanding toward character (for good or ill) – represent alternative ways to see/approach the problem. None are more or less appropriate. A storyform ties the four contexts together and defines how they relate to one another. Which context is more or less appropriate for solving the problem is identified by the storyforming choices an author makes.

ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATION – From a Writer’s Perspective

I have a collection of different ideas for a story that may or may not be connected.

  • I have an idea for a man, BOB, who has personal issues with troubles in his career.

  • I have an idea for the difficulties a father has in his relationship with his son.

  • I have an idea for a young man, ERIK, who’s having difficulties leaving home.

  • I have an idea about an unstable political system that threatens to tank the economy.

I want to put them all in the same story but I don’t know how to connect them. Putting them in proximity to one another in a work does not connect them. However, I CAN connect them if I choose/identify an underlying inequity – ANY inequity – then assign each of these completely separate threads to its own context. The storyform provides the connective tissue of MEANING to these separate threads and forces them to interconnect.

Try connecting the above four threads to any four throughlines and you’ll find you can create a compelling story BECAUSE of the connection/storyform. Which storyform you choose lets you know the story YOU want to tell, but any storyform will do.


Geez, I feel kinda lame posting this below the bright beacon of Chris’s last post. :slight_smile: But since I already wrote it … (and this was specifically about the storymind question)…

For one thing, it’s how the mind solves really difficult problems, not simple puzzles. Ones where you’re not sure if you’re approaching it right, you might need to totally change your mind.

Like your husband’s acting strange, you wonder if he might be cheating on you but you’re not sure if it’s in your head. You’ve been testing him in various ways and so far it’s inconclusive, yet even though it’s putting a strain on your marriage you feel the need to dig further. But no, a voice at the back of your mind tells you, you had these thoughts a couple years ago and it turned out to be nothing. You really just need to go out with him more often, reconnect romantically.

That kind of thing. Then imagine it turned out he was cheating on you, and it’s years later and you’re telling someone else the story. She’s wondering about her own husband, wondering if she should ignore the little signs and trust him, and you’re telling your story as a way of telling her to push harder. You’re making an argument with your story.

But as far as writing a story goes, you really don’t need to worry about the storymind or its problem solving. You might see the “argument” as something else like “depth” or “meaning” and I think that’s totally fine … probably better, actually. Just write stories and you’ll be good.


I just wanted to check in. I’m taking in everything y’all are saying, and I’m grateful beyond measure. I’m processing. I’ll be back soon.


I or MCT (epitomized by the POV shot in a film) - Places the audience in the story. A special relationship exists between it and Swain’s Reaction Unit. This Throughline is the most likely surrogate for the audience because it is the most rounded depiction of any character in the entire story. As someone said earlier, it puts you in the story.

You or ICT (epitomized by the Reaction Shot in a film) - Acts as an alternative perspective. The only difference is that the audience cannot be inside “you’s” head. The audience may form a connection, but it is still limited. In real life, this is like a best friend, mentor, parent. No matter how close, involved, or influential this person is in your life – he’s still not you. Will be in Swain’s Motivational Unit.

We or RST (epitomized by the Two Shot in a film) - Is different in scope because of the commentary that the shot/signpost makes is about the relationship and how it changes.

They or OST (epitomized by the Long Shot in a film) - The big picture. The reason that everyone is involved.

I think storytelling uses reflection, similies, metaphors, comparisons, contrasts, parallels, etc. to get the most out of each scope of shots. For example, an MC’s state of being or state of mind can be shown in the environment (Long Shot), the reaction of a friend (Reaction Shot), and the different relationships (Two Shot). But, it is just a reflection.

For example, check out Jim Hull’s article:

The bolding is my own emphasis, but it serves to show how a Throughline can bleed over and make commentary on another scope/POV of the story:

The other side argues that the Empire’s illegal boarding of a diplomatic ship begins the story’s investigation into a process known as problem-solving. They see that opening event as an essential component to a holistic understanding of what Star Wars is really all about. Remove it, and the rest of the film simply becomes sci-fi eye-candy. Why?

The Empire’s aggression in those opening scenes has a meaningful connection to what is going on inside of Luke personally.

I think that Scope and POV are thought to be interchangeable and this causes some problems. Each of the Throughlines involved scopes. But only one of them involves a complete POV: the MC.

I think what else can be confusing is the fact that a story is never just these Throughlines. Maybe the Throughlines represent the bones, mind, heart, conscious of a story, but there’s so much more.

For example, you have the RST in a story. But in most stories, there are bit players (characters that don’t represent a Throughline specifically) that create a number of different relationships that can illustrate specific signposts that you want to explore in the OST, MCT, and ICT. Even the RST can be illustrated by the inclusion of bit players that act as a reflection, comparison, contrast, or commentary of the RST. I think of these as the connecting tissue or redundant systems in a body.

The environment, surrounding bit players, reactions, commentary, etc. can all be used to point out and encourage audience understanding of a relationship, scope, or POV.

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This, right here, is how I write novels. I’ll be exploring different storylines, writing test scenes and noting ideas that feel meaningful or compelling, but the whole will never feel like a ‘real book’ to me until …

It’s this aspect of a novel that makes it feel like it’s worthy of taking a reader’s time. When I’ve got what Chris just described, I’ve got my story.

The challenge for me as a writer is navigating the technical aspects of what in an abstract structural sense (e.g. “accurate vs. non-accurate” or “desire vs. ability”) at the problem/solution and symptom/response levels connects with the very-specific-but-almost-impossible-to-translate-into-words essence that’s connecting the four throughlines.


Just want to revive this temporarily for those who never saw it. Seeing it this way opens my mind to the throughlines in a tangible way. Thanks!

I’m trying to understand how a Relationship throughline is a “character in itself,” this helps solidify that a bit more.


That’s confusing to me as well. I think the RST lends itself to an arc better than to an activity that is completed. Every quad has an oddball. Is it the RST?

However, an activity could illustrate the status of a relationship. I am reminded of Biff/George in Back to the Future at the end.

I might change the MC/IC to a shot/reverse shot for the analogy. MC is certainly a POV shot rather than an over-the-shoulder shot.

Anyway, my Dramatica understanding is basic, I strive for a purely functional approach. For the reason, I just look at the RST as an arc plus statement.

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To understand the perspectives conceptually, I think it is better to think of them WITHOUT particular characters:

  • The objective perspective
  • The subjective perspective
  • The personal perspective
  • The impersonal perspective

…which correlate to…

  • They (OS)
  • We (RS or SS)
  • I (MC)
  • You (IC)

We labeled the “I”/personal perspective as the Main Character perspective because it is easiest to understand. The same for the “You”/impersonal perspective as the Influence Character perspective because it focuses on a narrative view missing from most other narrative approaches at the time we introduced Dramatica in 1994.


Very true, especially since the RS is more about the ebb and flow than the other throughlines. Recently, @jhull has started giving relationships in the RS a second title to reflect this. For example, the Kinship relationship between Marty and George McFly in “Back to the Future” is defined as moving “technically related to family.” Another example is the two relationships that fulfill the RS in “Good Will Hunting.” The Therapeutic relationship is defined as moving “from therapist/patient to friends,” while the Friendship is defined as moving “from brothers to old friends.”


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Cool. I imagine a relationship can have different facets, and that they can create conflict.

“Why did you call me out and embarrass me in front of all of the other employees?”

“I’m your boss first and your friend second.”

I think exploring different aspects can focus the story on the RST. Maybe, anything over two would be overkill, but the three categories that pop in mind are: professional, social and family.

I think the RS has a lot of room for enriching a story.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about what I call the currency of a relationship, which might be: love, respect, et cetera. Something measurable and comparable between both participants.

Also, I realize the conversation is probably more related to MC or IC, but maybe it could be described as a consequence of the dual relationship?

@museful - I really like this idea of “the currency of a relationship” - love and respect are good examples of a kind of currency or the matter-at-stake that’s being traded or bargained over, and how that series of transactions over that currency plays out is the measure of whether the relationship grows or falters? Could other currencies be forgiveness, vengeance, greed, trust, curiosity, loyalty, commitment - I guess just about anything that could be the subject matter of a story could also be the “currency” particular to an RS?

Could you please clarify this last line - it seems like there’s a good idea in here I can’t quite grasp:

The “it” is the concept of “currency”, right? But do you mean “consequence” in the Dramatica sense of Consequence, or just the regular non-Dramatica usage? How do you mean “dual relationship?”

If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t find any wisdom in this phrase until I already understood everything a different way. It made no sense to me, and I found it actively confusing. So, don’t feel like you have to rely on it.

Also, there’s no need to understand the idea of perspectives at first–at least not the abstract idea. If you have a character that you understand and you get that their problem comes from knowledge and you understand how the IC is persuasive to them because of suspicious behavior, then you’ll be fine.

My learning has always come from focusing on the push and pull between story points. Or on how some story points are lenses on parts of the whole, like the benchmark.

But, another dot of advice. It’s hard to think about the YOU perspective on its own. I mean, I can think about problems by thinking, “It feel different when I am broke than when YOU are broke,” but that isn’t how stories work–no push and pull. However, if I’m focused on trying to quash the chaos in my life, it is meaningful if I can’t get your assistance because you are experiencing the chaos differently because of how you think and have no motivation to quash the chaos in your life.

I hope that helps.