Who gets to be the Protagonist?

Brand new to Dramatica. Bought the software and have taken the advice and read the included Theory book. There’s so much here that I know will help me, but I’m still struggling to make sense of it. I’ve got the theory so muddled in my own mind that I’m not even sure which question to ask first. Just when it starts to make sense, it seemingly falls apart in my hands.

So here’s this. I have an idea for a novel. I’ve pantsed it for about 30 pages to flesh out some characters and set up a setting and tone and have put together a full synopsis, although I don’t have a complete scene outline yet. I ran my idea through the StoryGuide, answering the questions the best I could and got down to a single StoryForm. My question (one of many) is “does a lack of Archetypes signal an immediate flaw in my story structure?”

I have an MC and an IC–This is the clearest part of the picture for me.

Those two characters are waging a battle in my mind to be the Protagonist. My MC I envision doing most of the action, but he’s only in motion because of the IC, and I can justify to myself quite easily that it’s the IC’s story as much as the MC, as the MC is trying to fix the IC’s problem as much as his own.

And here’s the issue behind it. If I use my MC as the Protagonist, I don’t know what role the IC fills–possibly Emotion, but I could also see Reason (the polar opposite of Emotion, how can that be!!!.) But if the IC is the Protagonist, the MC is 100 percent the Guardian. Does this clarity mean that I should not try to pigeonhole the IC into another role and just make her the Protagonist and let the MC settle in as the Guardian?

In full disclosure, just simply writing this post is causing my head to hurt. Any help or insight you can provide is much appreciated. Thank you so much in advance.


What’s your story goal? Which character is the one chasing after that?


There’s a large sum of money up for grabs. The IC sees a chance at a new life. The MC sees a chance to get out of debt to a gangster. On his own, the MC would not go after this money, because the journey is dangerous, but the IC convinces him to do so. The money is the tangible goal, but the real underlying goal (theme?) is the quest for freedom.

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Definitely not – you very well may have complex characters. I wouldn’t worry too much about the archetypes or character elements at this point.

It is a good idea to figure out the Protagonist and Antagonist though. Note that the Protagonist role can be split between two or more characters (Pursuit in one, Consider in another) as well as change hands during the story (my go-to example is The Matrix – when Morpheus gets captured, Neo takes over as Protagonist).


No. Complex Characters are common.

As for the Protagonist, I wouldn’t worry too much about that if you know why each character is motivated. You don’t want to derail your story by getting jumbled in theory.

But, I’ll ask regardless… something is out of whack in the world of your story. Do you know what it is? (Maybe it’s the fact that there’s lots of money up for grabs.) Whoever is taking the strongest action to get that is probably the Protagonist.

If you have complex characters, you might not have a Protagonist, and then we usually default to “whoever has the pursuit characteristic”.


This I understand when referring to the standard Archetypes. I should have been more clear. Do all of the Elements (roles?) need to be present even if the typical Archetypes are modified to be complex creations?

And when you say “something is out of whack” do you mean there is, or there should be? You’re referring to the story problem?

Thank you for the quick responses, guys–great food for thought from all. The idea that seemingly anything is possible is conflicting with my vision of a tool that will help me fill in gaps and structure my story. I may just need to study the theory and read through more of these discussions for better understanding of the rules and definitions. I may be making more of my dilemma than is necessary.

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Yes, but this is not typically what people focus on when they are learning the theory.

I recommend only worrying about what the throughlines are, what the Classes really mean, and how the MC gets affected by the IC. The rest will come. You’ve made a solid investment; it will take time to pay off. No need to rush it.

Yes, this is the Story Problem. So, yes, it needs to be out of whack.

Welcome to learning Dramatica. It’s such a new way of thinking, there’s no way to avoid chaos when you start.


Something to keep in mind is that Dramatica is a model of how the human mind works. In other words, it’s already installed in your brain, so-to-speak. I can attest to this – I have the weird experience of having written a novel before knowing anything about Dramatica. Yet when we analyzed it here on the boards, we found a storyform which described my book perfectly.

Of course we also all have blindspots. There are many stories out there that are broken. You might be trying to write a story and feel stuck in a certain place, and intuitively understand that this is a structural problem. But the answer to this problem could be as simple as realizing that you need an influence character, or that you haven’t clearly articulated the Story Goal. Or you might realize that you’ve been beating your head against the wall because some other story theory told your main character needs to change, when the character you’re trying to write is Steadfast. Figure this out and your own storymind may just fill in the rest for you.

However, if you’re getting completely overwhelmed, or you find that you’re spending huge amounts of time trying to tie down every single story point in the Level Three Query System, it might be time to step back. Try to find one or two things that you can apply to your story immediately, and trust that the rest will come.

Most of all, if part of your story feels right, I would trust your intuition on that. Focus on the places where you know something isn’t working, and see if Dramatica can help you fill that hole.

I realize, of course, that this is a lot easier said than done …


Welcome to Dramatica. Please know that EVERYONE (pretty much) that comes in here has the same problem: they like Dramatica and intuitively know it can help them write better, more cohesive stories, BUT they’re having or about to have a brain aneurysm. Trust me when I say we’ve all been there, done that.

As hard as it is, don’t get lost in the theory.

I usually write a good number of pages to get to know my toons too.

As to you protagonist question…here’s a way to think about it.
The inequity is going to manifest as a yearning that will drive the character to be willful (<–driven to take action, and then another, and then another), So think about if one of them walked away, which one would say, oh hell no, I’ve come this far and I NEEEEEEEED my freedom. I can’t, I won’t walk away without trying. If I don’t try, I’m dead (internally for sure/externally maybe) anyway. Because it’s NOT the money that’s going to set them free, right? It’s the journey to get the money that teaches them about meeting obligations, or standing up for yourself, not letting other people control what you do, or whatever the lesson/solution is.

As far as which role a character fills. I agree with Mike [quote=“MWollaeger, post:7, topic:2890”]
I recommend only worrying about what the throughlines are, what the Classes really mean, and how the MC gets affected by the IC. The rest will come.

Anything else prolly isn’t worth worrying about now.

Again, welcome.

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Well I’m blown away by the positive (and quick!) responses. I can’t thank you enough. Everything everyone has said is helpful so far. I’m loving Dramatica theory; just need to take it slower and apply what I can until my understanding grows.

I’m sure I’ll have more questions.

Do you ever feel like you spend more time trying to learn about writing than actually writing? Ugh.


Yes —> Narrative First


Jim, thank you for the reply and thank you for all of your hard work. I’ve watched many of your videos and read your articles.

I subscribed to Subtext, but it confuses me even more than I already was. Something with it does not click with me. I think I’m either too early in my study of Dramatica Theory or haven’t answered enough questions about my own story, or possibly both, to reap the benefits of the software at this point.

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No worries, I’m always working on making it easier to understand so if you have any suggestions or recommendations–or even have problem areas–please send those requests my way and I’ll see what I can do about putting them in there.

You’ll find this is a very helpful community :slight_smile:


I found writing the first-draft’s end scene, before slogging through the middle, helped me, some.