Relationship Story Throughline
Ask anyone to describe their closest relationship when it’s going well, and they’ll answer with “We’re doing so well together” and “We’re really happy.” Ask them that same question when things are rough, and they’ll reply with “He won’t talk to me” or “I feel like I want something more.” When there is flow, we naturally gravitate towards the relationship; when there are resistances and conflict, we see the individuals.
Is it any wonder, then, that Authors struggle to illustrate the Relationship Story Throughline of their story accurately?
Authors naturally gravitate towards conflict and therefore, write about the individuals. They participate in He said/She said storytelling, penning the grief and struggle each feels as they come together, completely missing the flow of dynamic conflict that exists in the space between them.
Write about the relationship as if it was a character, and you avoid the trappings of the individual and capture the essence of this dynamic flow.
simply saying “the partners want different things in life and so can’t progress” risks becoming so vague it’s not actionable from a writing standpoint (because it doesn’t speak directly enough to the intersection of those differences), which is why it’s hard not to write, “John wants a baby, Sally wants to be free to travel the world, and the incompatibility of those desires starts to split their marriage apart”
Conflicting lines of thought do not describe a relationship. They portray the nature of those opposing views, but they don’t speak of the emergent property arising when two meet.
I know it might sound like splitting hairs, trying to differentiate between the loneliness the relationship feels with the isolation the individuals feel, but there is a qualitative difference.
The best approach to capturing this essence is to write a relationship as if it possesses a consciousness. Speak of the relationship’s feelings and concerns, drive, and purpose. Treat the relationship as if it were a part of life, and you’ll begin to crossover in your understanding of narrative.
Think of those with marital difficulties. Can one of those marriages be happy if one or both of the individual within are unsatisfied?
There are many instances where one or both parties feels isolated and alone, yet the driving force between them is healthy, fortified, and happy. It may not be ideal for some—but to many, it’s more important than the individual concerns, which is why it is essential to be able to encapsulate it in a story.
That force between them—that marriage—takes on a life of its own. It is “happy.” And that’s what we would write about if we were Authors.
[a] relationship doesn’t have feelings. I can totally see why two people might feel isolated on their own and yet feel their marriage is strong, but that’s different from “the marriage” being happy.
Narrative functions as an analogy to our mind’s problem-solving process. Each area of the mind expresses its own form of consciousness. Stories replicate this reality through the various Throughlines, giving the Audience the experience of living within that mind.
Witnessing the space between things is an integral part of that experience.
A story is a person. A single mind.
Appreciating this connection between the mind and narratives helps us better understand the function of a Relationship Story Throughline in a narrative.
It also helps us appreciate the reality of our experience.
If a story is a model of the mind at work, then the individual Throughlines of that story represent the various perspectives available to that mind.
The Overall Story, or plot, offers a They perspective of the conflict.
The Main Character Throughline presents the first-person personal I point-of-view.
The Influence Character challenges that perspective by delivering the alternate You position.
Finally, the Relationship Story Throughline furnishes the We perspective.
As we began to see in the previous article, the Relationship Story Throughline does not have to be carried out by the Main Character and Influence Character. It certainly makes things more comfortable, but it is not a requirement.
Predominantly Linear thinkers struggle—if outright can’t see—that We does not include I or You. They completely understand the separation between I and They (walk a mile in a man’s shoes) but they labor to do the same within a place of subjectivity (drift a mile in our boat). If We included I, then there would be no need for We.
You and I are a part of We just as much as You and I are a part of They—which is to say, they’re not. The Main Character Player holds the unique and subjective I perspective. This Player also holds an objective view—typically as Protagonist—by performing a function in the Overall Story Throughline. While the Author may draw connections between the subjective and the objective, one can’t be wholly objective when subjectivity exists.
Except in a story.
The Overall Story Throughline provides the objective point-of-view. The Relationship Story Throughline offers the subjective point-of-view of that Overall objective perspective.
It’s easier for Linear thinkers to see the difference between I and They because they think in terms of separation and binary. They struggle to make the same distinction between I and We because they don’t consider in terms of holism and of the connectedness of things.
That’s why you can absolutely have a happy marriage where one of the parties is not pleased. It’s not about the individuals—it’s about that space between them—and that space has nothing to do with whether or not you or I am happy.
Or is a different way to look at it that we imagine the marriage as a third person and we put ourselves deep inside this strange etheric bubble and say, “if I were a consciousness that suddenly existed inside this marriage, how would I describe it”? In that sense, the RS isn’t so much a perspective on its own but a sort of judgment the author is making about the relationship.
Absolutely, 100% this.
It’s the exact same concept as a sunrise being an Optionlock or a Timelock. A narrative (storyform) is the author’s judgment on everything—objectivity, perspective, and yes—relationships.
That “consciousness existing inside the marriage” is you—the Author.
this struck me in an odd way because in a literal sense there’s no such thing as a relationship as distinct from the two individuals. Relationships can’t “feel” anything (I’m talking outside of Dramatica here.) Only the people involved can feel something. In fact, even when you and I use the exact same word to describe our relationship, we’re not actually feeling the same thing, nor is the space between us feeling anything because it’s literally not there. In this sense, a relationship isn’t an entity but rather an effect: it’s what happens when you and I interact.
I bet if you asked Yoda you might get a different answer. 😁
When people speak of “laws of attraction” or “The Secret,” they’re trying to put words to this sense that there is something between us that doesn’t include You and I. They’re driven to tell this story because they’re trying to give meaning to our relationships that exist outside of the objective Overall Story Throughline. They’re not being deluded or suckered into a scam, they’re buying into it because it reflects how they see the world.
These lines of thought sound like a religion or a cult because they’re doing the same thing religion does for us on the other side in the Overall Story Throughline of our lives—they’re giving us a context for understanding what it all means.
It’s just doing it from a We perspective, which is why it sounds so weird and kooky to the more rationally-minded.
A story, or a narrative, is an attempt to ascribe meaning to our lives. We can’t simultaneously be both within and without ourselves in the same context (I and They), but we can in a story. Personal relationships are an integral part of that understanding. Those who see the individual components of a relationship prefer the objective view of things. Those who see the dynamics between individuals prefer the subjective.
Many fail to see the difference between I and We or You and Us—all you have to do is look to the countless number of relationships that dissolved because someone took the relationship for granted. They literally didn’t see We as being separate and worthy of consideration.
So yes, as far as the Author is concerned, in trying to find and give meaning to our experience, a relationship has a “consciousness.”
And it’s worthy of writing about.