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Understanding the Emotional Ladder of Relationships

Spiraling up from one emotional state and down to the next

For many writers in the Dramatica Mentorship Program, the Relationship Story Throughline is a revelation. Forced into thinking of the key relationship in their story as a character, they see beyond the individual to the bond itself. Required to remove all notions of he said/she said storytelling, these writers develop the intuition to define an unmentionable quality of conflict. This challenging process of diving into the Relationship allows writers everywhere to appreciate the space between as the seat of all growth.

1. Identify the Relationship

The process begins with identifying the kind of relationship. As simplistic a choice as it is, even this initial step proves challenging as writers move beyond subjective notions of “good” and “bad” to describe the relationship from an objective point-of-view:

  • paternal
  • siblings
  • romantic
  • platonic
  • mentorship
  • work colleagues

Anything that defines the scope of the relationship throughout the story works for this initial consideration—an umbrella of understanding for the growth to come in the story.

2. Plot the Rational Growth

Relationships are always in flux, ever-changing and never static; static relationships are dead relationships. Because of this, Authors must determine where a relationship begins, and where it ends.

For most, this involves a simple appreciation of the shift from separation as individuals, towards or from the unity as a family. The Author plots the trajectory of the relationship from one sub-category to the other:

  • individuals to family
  • family to individuals

One romantic relationship moves from strangers to lovers; another shifts from dating to going solo. A marriage grows from being estranged to being reunited; another falls from friends to divorced.

Label the relationship one way in the beginning, and another at the end. While the growth over time may waddle back and forth, the final appreciation of it within the context of the story will be a simple case of growing together or growing apart.

3. Know the Emotional Growth

The spatial relationship between two is not the only one to gauge growth. Another vital consideration lies in the temporal aspect of emotional growth.

While unfamiliar to some, emotions rest on a scale ranging from high to low:

  • 😃 Joy
  • 😁 Ecstatic
  • 😊 Happy
  • 😋 Excited
  • 😇 Hopeful
  • 😍 Grateful
  • 😌 Relaxed
  • 🙂 Content
  • 🤔 Unsure
  • 😐 Bored
  • 🙄 Annoyed
  • 😠 Frustrated
  • 😖 Irritated
  • 🙁 Worried
  • 😬 Anxious
  • 😡 Angry
  • 😣 Stressed
  • 😞 Sad
  • 🤕 Hurt

Relationships, by definition, grow. Emotions—feelings that grow over time—share this aspect. One doesn’t stay fixed in a state of happiness, but rather finds it a temporary stop along the journey. The Relationship Story Throughline is an objective account of this ride.

Appreciating Both Sides of Growth

Accounting for both space and time within a Relationship grants nuance to a nuanced point of view of conflict. A marriage may shift from partners to separated, yet the emotion may change from 😠 frustration to 🙂 contentment (think Marriage Story). Likewise, a romance may grow from strangers to married, yet the emotion may fall from 😍 gratefulness to 😡 anger (think the first season of Boardwalk Empire).

The current understanding of Dramatica theory identifies structure first, dynamics second. Because of this, one can only find indications of the first appreciation (the spatial plot consideration) within a storyform.

Visit one of almost 500 storyforms in Subtext to find a manifestation of this first kind of growth in narrative structure.

The first season of Boardwalk Empire finds the marriage of Enoch Thompson and Margaret Schroeder at the heart of conflict. The space between resistance (Non-acceptance) and allowance (Acceptance) stokes the fire of their relationship. The eventual balance of the two signifies a closeness as harmony frees up the sense of separateness.

Boardwalk Empire: Season One Relationship Thematics

Marriage Story tempers working together (Help) against wanton obstruction (Hinder). The marriage of Charlie Barber and Nicole Barber—while once assistive—is now resistive to growth. The eventual imbalance of Help (moving to L.A., and the tying of the shoes) portends a pulling apart towards individuality.

Marriage Story Relationship Thematics

The emotionality of growth in both relationships is foreign to the current Dramatica storyform. While indicated here in Subtext, the impact of these emotions on the Premise is not yet fully understood. Future development of the theory will incorporate these more dynamic aspects of emotion into the fabric of narrative structure.

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