What is the MC?

What are your shortcuts/secrets to keeping a Protagonist/ MC from meddling with the wrong Throughline? If a MC has an issue and it distracts him from the OS Protagonist job, is that scene both OS+MC?

For me, The Great Gatsby makes the most sense to see a MC (Nick, narrator) vs Protagonist (Gatsby). But when they are the same person, there is a merging. The hero is ultimately the broken man.

I know Protagonist is the Pursuit, Proactive, Consider. That has to touch the MC throughline.

But my question is: What do you do in your head to keep these roles/categories separate? What is your mantra to understand this separation? (Please try to explain very concisely).

Think of it as keeping your car payment separate from dealing with that one coworker. Sure they seem connected sometimes. You can’t quit your job to get away from the coworker because you need to pay for your car. But for the most part, it’s pretty easy to keep those two problems separated.

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not sure what you mean by this. it doesn’t actually. the objective role of protagonist has nothing to do with an mc’s throughline even if they are the same person. objectively they may be proactive, but is that part of their personal conflict? not necessarily.


I used to worry about this but I don’t anymore. It makes sense to try to identify and keep separate the different throughlines up front. But once you’re weaving, there is bound to be crossover, MAMs, etc. For me, worrying too much about keeping the throughlines separate as I’m actually writing is distraction.


The MC perspective is in relation to his or her personal issues. The Protagonist role is in relation to the Story Goal. (If you’re at the point in story development where you’re not quite sure what the Goal is, just imagine there is a Goal the Protagonist is pursuing, which is crucial to the objective story involving most/all of the characters.)

It’s good to be able to separate the two in your head when needed. But I agree with @Lakis that once you know your throughlines and especially once you begin writing, generally you want to weave them together. It’s great when they keep impacting each other, and your gut may know things that are hard to see analytically (e.g. maybe the Protagonist role gets handed off for a while the character recovers from grief or a wound or something).


At the beginning of Midnight Run you see DeNiro grab a criminal (DeNiro is a bounty hunter) and then get too physical with him.

The first part is Protagonist, the second part is Main Character.

So, yes, they’re bound up in the same scene, the same action essentially.

I think things can be more powerful when they are overlapping—one thing, but multiple messages.


Could you possibly give names/titles to your throughlines?

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I think the easiest way to look at the protagonist role is to think of the character by their role in the story. For example, in “Star Wars” we have the ‘inexperienced farm boy’ join forces with the rebellion. In “A Christmas Carol”, the ‘hard-nosed money lender’ is shown the path of those that ‘keep Christmas in their own way’ by four ghosts. In “A Star is Born”, the young singer finds the triumphs and pitfalls of success, and so on.

The minute you start thinking of your main character by their first name it is virtually impossible to remain objective.


So the main thing that’s helped me (and the thing I try to illustrate in Conflict Corner workshop on Subtext) is really separating out the notion of Players and POV’s.

I don’t think about Nick in Gatsby, so much as I think of the universal source of conflict driving the perspective that’s the audience’s eyes. It’s almost to the point where Nick, the player, becomes a metaphor for moving through the processes in that Domain.

It opens up so many possibilities for me, using this technique, because you’re not bound to the notion that the MC is or isn’t the Protagonist. It really doesn’t matter. The Protagonist is a force in another Domain. Work out the sources of conflict from that different lens, get to the subtext of what you’re saying first… and then use that to inform your writing and creative decisions as to which Players will illustrate that POV.

We touched on this in today’s Conflict Corner… the weaving part. Personally, I find it an important step to pull the story apart before you put it back together–just to make sure you are successfully illustrating your Grand Argument.

@mlucas said:

The MC perspective is in relation to his or her personal issues. The Protagonist role is in relation to the Story Goal. (If you’re at the point in story development where you’re not quite sure what the Goal is, just imagine there is a Goal the Protagonist is pursuing, which is crucial to the objective story involving most/all of the characters.)

And yeah, while I totally agree with all of that… it reminds me of what attracted me to Dramatica in the first place… which is to say, the thing that drove me AWAY from things like the Hero’s Journey or Save the Cat. I came to realize those story theories and tools are really approaching story from more of a critic or audience’s point of view. I went through two film schools, studied all these great books… Vogler, McKee, etc. only to find myself staring at a blank page with no more insight into how to PRODUCE a story than when I applied to school years before. If anything, I was more confused, more intimidated by the process.

Dramatica seems to be one of the few (if not only) theory that forces the Author to stop and think about what they’re writing, why they’re writing it, and how it will AFFECT the audience. No one ever seems to talk about the last, and I think most important step with Dramatica–which is the Audience Appreciation.

I’ve said it before, that storytelling is Telepathy. An author has a vision in their mind of a story and its meaning, and it’s only through the process of storytelling that it can be transferred to an audience.

This is all to say that appreciating your Main Character player or Protagonist player and whether they’re the same person is, to me, not the most fruitful approach to storytelling.

Like Chris pointed out, the author should remain objective.

I had a lecture at CalArts (not @jhull) once from a story artist at Pixar who got a bit into what it is we’re really doing as storytellers. And basically, it was manipulation. We’re manipulating an audience to see, hear and feel certain things. Even on a scientific level… whether you’re using words or images of light… we’re screwing with the brains of the audience to force them to feel certain things, force their minds to consider certain things in a certain order, so they’re brought in alignment to what @jhull calls the Premise (or Grand Argument).


I had someone tell me that movies were the most totalitarian art, because they control these things


So here, do you mean that kid (however he is) is joining forces, fighting, obtaining, struggling. OS Protagonist.

But within the attributives, inexperienced + farm + boy, there is yet another rotation happening turning those into experienced + space + man, which is the MC?

So when he’s doing the second half of the diagram, the verbals, he’s the protagonist in OS, but when he’s rotating his adjectives he’s the MC? But ultimately this whole process of OS+MC=Luke?

I cannot get my brain around this yet. Is there an analogy in real life (besides the brain?). In economics, government, society, family …is there something else that you can make analogous with this?


Could this be things like The Poseidon Adventure?

Sort of. I think Luke’s MC throughline is about having untrained Jedi powers but seen as a nobody because most are not aware that he is the son of a Jedi knight.

His role in the OS is to join the rebellion to help destroy the Death Star – though much of that is revealed over time, not at the beginning.

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I am also not great with this, honestly, and always fight to have characters do things and not perspectives. It is a lot easier to see in other people’s stories.

Another way to learn how to see things this way is to look at things that don’t feel like character—catalyst, say, or inhibitor.

But if you want something from economics or society, think about…
Religion. Let’s say there’s an area with teen pregnancy. Their belief prevents them from teaching proper sex ed, and you can see how this comes out in different characters—even the science teacher who believes that giving away condoms for free and teaching biology and the reality of raising children is the better way to go.
Society. The arrival of electricity altered everything: people finally had real light at night, not crappy light. You could stay out late! But it also drove candle makers to figure out something new to do with their oil and wax reserves… hello vegetable shortening. But you can trace it all back to electricity.
Government. Everyone needs to get votes! So the Southern Strategy was created by the GOP back in the day to appeal to voters by appealing to their racism. Yes, there was an undercurrent they could draw on, but the drive for votes was behind it all.

Does that help?

If you want to think about what’s behind the characters, this is actually an okay place to start. Look at Princess Leia at the beginning and when they rescue her (and after). She is the proactive, pursuit character, not Luke. But when she’s not on screen… it’s Luke.

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When I look at MC vs OS this way, it severs them from being “Luke” and makes it two characters/ two perspectives.

So far I don’t quite get any of the analogies people have shared, but I see that the second half of my diagram also has a rotation, as we see here:

I’m going to try an analogy. See if this works:

Marriage: You have you and your spouse on a personal level, highs and lows, joys and pains, closing in or separating, progressing like a ray with varying frequencies (RS) You have You as an individual with your issues, often private and reactionary, tied to your passions (MC). Your spouse has their issues, which always seem to center around trying to get you to change who you are or causing you to have to sacrifice your “wants” for their “needs” (IC) and you have your car payments, house payments, kids’ needs, home repairs, movie choices, guests visiting (OS)

I forgot the main point. My question is how to see a story like this. I’m writing about a shy boy who fixes the world’s problem.

A boy has a relationship (the ray that brightens and dims) with a dog; A shy boy turns into a brave boy, tied to his passions; An old man prefers the innocence of the boy; In the course of every day life, a meteor is coming and only one boy can program a meteor destructing ray to stop it.

But still, with either of these, I don’t understand the analogy of the Mind. How it’s solving the problem.

In economics we have bankers, money, stores and consumers. All of these work together for economics to work. The problem: Survival. Bankers manipulate, money moves, stores manipulate, consumers debate.


At risk of totally having misunderstood what you’re asking for as analogies, here’s a cool little bit I read this morning and the two sources it referenced which I thought sounds possibly close:

“Scientists like Einstein couldn’t do laboratory experiments. They relied on thought experiments, and a thought experiment is like a historical narrative. And a narrative is an investigative tool. It uses the mind to isolate variables in the effort to simulate how something happened, in science and in history, and to determine the causes.”
Historians Can Be Scientists Too(Complement with Thought Experiments )

If a thought experiment is a narrative that a scientist or historian or economist uses to model something that’s really difficult to prove directly, then the storymind model - and all narratives for that matter - also works nicely as a thought experiment.

You probably know way more about economics than I do, but am I close by saying economists used to model consumer behaviors using the “rational consumer”, and the collective actions of thousands of rational consumers would therefore deliver predictable effects? That would be a single OS-like POV. I would guess an economic report might try to be more relate-able by throwing in a case study modeling an individual consumer, maybe with their more individualized choices, and maybe even their less rational choices as well, maybe even trying out a subjective first person POV to really get inside that consumer’s head. So we’re coming closer to two or more POV’s instead of just one, and a demonstration that how the individual consumer behaves might see the problem of survival very differently than the average collective action of thousands of rational consumers does.

If that economist - or an historian - tries to do what you did in your model of the “You and your spouse” marriage above, they could easily model three different POV’s on the survival problem - MC, IC, and RS. But instead of the OS being the objective view of the economics of the single marriage as you have it, the economist would juxtapose “You and your spouse” and the marriage within the OS context of the big economic picture the economist is working with.

So… a storymind is a thought experiment that requires juxtaposing the results of four different thought experiments at once?

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For the majority of the time that I have worked with Dramatica, I also didn’t understand the analogy. It’s not that important. 100% don’t worry about it.

four interacting threads in one thought experiment, maybe


Okay. I can understand this.

I like this, too. :woman_facepalming:


Why the facepalm? There are so many wonderful tools to delve into.

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Not sure if it’s helpful, but non-Dramatica writing teacher Matt Bird has a “head - heart - gut” theory of how polarized character ensembles often work (e.g. Spock = Head, Kirk = Gut, McCoy = Heart). It seems to me that this is a less precise but possibly more approachable version of Dramatica’s OS characteristics. Anyway, according to Bird, the reason ensembles like this can work is that every argument/conflict in the show is actually “an externalized version of an internal debate”. This sounds a lot like the Storymind to me.

So another way to way to state this (maybe?) is to ask, what is important about this character from a given throughline perspective?

So from a panned out, objective perspective – like if you were telling Star Wars as a history – Luke’s importance is his role in taking over leadership of the rebellion and blowing up the Death Star. (Physics/Doing). But from a personal “I” perspective, what’s important is his Future (Where am I going? What will my life look like?), and the fact that he is secretly the son of a Jedi (Situation).

EDIT – Actually what’s important is Luke’s Progress, not his Future. :roll_eyes:

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