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Finding Connections Between The Two Principal Characters Of A Story

Look for meaning in Dramatica's story points and you will be hard pressed to find it; look for an answer as to where to go next in your story and you will find nirvana.

Great authors don’t throw characters into a story and hope for the best. They purposefully develop and establish points of view that bounce off and influence one another through a process of growth. Instinctively, authors search for a better understanding of this connection yet find trouble when they look in the wrong place.

I recently received this question in regards to the relationship between the Main Character and Influence Character Problems:

I was wondering if you might elucidate the relationship between the MC character’s problem/solution and the IC character’s problem/solution. When the MC is a change character it means they’re changing their approach from the MC problem to the MC solution. But since the IC’s role in the story is to challenge the MC’s approach, then how does the IC approach (as defined by their “problem”) come into the MC’s change.

It’s interesting because I have always wondered this myself. I know there is no direct connection between Problem elements because these are, after all, not Dynamic Pairs. In Dramatica, Dynamic Pairs are everything—and the bias of the model itself.

But the writer inside intuits that there must be something more there. If this character is driven by this motivation and the one responsible for her or his paradigm shift is motivated by another motivation, it only makes sense that there should be some connection between them. Right?

And then you realize that it is the lack of direct connection at this level that makes the whole Dramatica model possible.

A Method for Determining Problems

When Chris and Melanie developed Dramatica they were looking for a way of understanding where problems exist and where to find solutions to those problems. They determined that—as humans with minds built to solve problems—we could see a problem existing either outside of ourselves or within ourselves.

Furthermore they determined that this problem could be a state or a process. External and internal states can be seen in Situations and Fixed Attitudes respectively. External and internal processes can be seen in Activities and Manners of Thinking respectively.

This bias or baseline setup by Chris and Melanie is Dramatica. The dynamic pairing between internal/external/state/process defines the labels found within the Dramatica Table of Story Elements. It reflects the difference between particles and waves (states and process), linear and holistic problem-solving, and even the difference between a noun and a verb found in the English language. The dynamic pairing is the meaning of the structure.

The Dynamic Pairs at the Domain level

Dramatica is a model of narrative that looks to stories as analogies of a single human mind trying to resolve an inequity. With that in mind you can see how this idea of dynamic pairs is essential to how Dramatica works. It also clues you in on how certain elements of structure are tied together—like the Main and Influence Character.

Structural Connections

As Dynamic Pairs, the Main Character and Influence Character Throughlines connect at all four levels of the Dramatica model.

At the Class or Genre level, the MC and IC Throughlines are connected by the dynamic pairing of their Domains. A Situation Main Character will find an Influence Character in Fixed Attitude. Joy in Inside Out is former captain of a ship she no longer controls herself and Sadness as her Influence Character is, well, eternally sad. A Manner of Thinking Main Character will find an Influence Character in Activity. Think of Main Character Stingo (Peter MacNicol) in Sophie’s Choice and his Influence Character of Sophie (Meryl Streep). Stingo is coming of age and maturing psychologically, while Sophie is the kind of character who rearranges chairs so she doesn’t have to deal with her own issues.

At the Type or plot level, one will find the Main and Influence Characters connected by their shared type of Concerns. A Main Character with a Concern of Memories will be paired with an Influence Character concerned with the Past. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) in Memento suffers from short-term memory loss and his Influence Character Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) is the man who knows the entire history of everything. A Main Character concerned with Innermost Desires will be paired with an Influence Character tied to the Future. In Moulin Rouge! Christian (Ewan McGregor) believes all you need is love, yet is paired with Satine (Nicole Kidman) who cares only for a comfortable and well-established future.

At the Variation or theme level, the Main Character and Influence Character will find resonance in the variations of the themes they explore. A Main Character saddled with Issues of Destiny will find themselves up against an Influence Character ensconced by Falsehoods. Think Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Inception and his issues with that train that is always coming and match that up against his wife Mal’s unwavering belief in something that was a lie. A Main Character struggling with Issues of Circumstances will naturally find themselves matching wits with an Influence Character bogged down by Interpretation. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in Field of Dreams struggles to mature in this coming-of-age drama because of the circumstances surrounding his tenuous relationship with his now dead father. Along comes radical author Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) who offers not only an interpretation of Ray’s wild and violent behavior, but also an explanation as to what this field really means for the people who encounter it.

It is only when we reach the bottom of the model that the differential between connection and influence begins to arise.

Direct Connections and Forces of Influence

When we get down to the Element, or character level, the Problem, Solution, Symptom, and Response of the Main Character and Influence Character Throughlines cease to be dynamic pairs. If they were the entire model would break down as both Main and Influence Character would be looking at separate things. Instead, these two Throughlines find a force of influence that motivates and inspires growth.

Next week’s article will cover this influence and offer a greater understanding of the various connections and influence that go on between these two Throughlines. For now, it is enough to appreciate the intimate qualities that these two characters share. They are not random. They serve a purpose, and that purpose is to jar the Main Character out of their own inert belief systems. Dramatica simply offers a language for understanding and interpreting the connection between these two perspectives.

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