Subtext separates the idea of Characters from the concept of Players. Writers are familiar with the former--Characters are usually what brings most Authors to the party. Players, on the other hand, are something different. A Player is a vessel for context within a given perspective.
Context & Perspective
When it comes to the Narrative Subtext underlying a story, perspective outweighs individual characters. In A Christmas Carol, it is the shared perspective held by the Ghosts that eventually influences Scrooge to alter the way he sees the world. In Aliens, it is the shared perspective held between Newt, Carter, and Lt. Gorman that eventually drives Ripley to "man up" and save the day. In both of these examples, the characters holding that shared perspective are less important to the meaning of the story than the actual perspective.
In a complete story, perspective arrives in four different contexts:
- Objective Story (THEY perspective)
- Main Character (I perspective)
- Influence Character (YOU perspective)
- Relationship Story (WE perspective)
The conflict THEY experience is vastly different than the conflict I personally witness. While YOU may create problems of your own, WE struggle to develop a meaningful relationship with each other.
These four different perspectives as the Four Througlines of a story. Think of them as four separate stories that kinda-sorta have some familiar thematic issues in them.
Handing Off the Perspective
Subtext recognizes the importance of perspective over character by providing an opportunity for the writer to track these "hand-offs" from one Player to the next.
Simply drag and drop the Players you wish to share the same perspective into a Throughline, and they will appear as options within the Structural Detail of Storybeats within that Throughline.
Note: Believe it or not, you CAN drop multiple Players into the Main Character Throughline. Main Character is a perspective, not a character. Films like Stalag 17 or The Big Chill are examples of this rare—but perfectly legit—approach to framing a narrative.
A Word About Relationships
You may notice that you can drag and drop multiple relationships into the Relationship Story Throughline. What is this about?
Relationships, by definition, are constantly changing. What starts out as friendship eventually evolves into love or even devolves into mere acquaintances. What started out as a mentorship can evolve into a more level playing field as colleagues or fellow grandmasters. Regardless of the specific labels, a relationship is always in flux.
Subtext recognizes this reality by allowing writers to alter the key relationship in a story as the narrative progresses. Add a Relationship Player to signify the start of your Relationship Story Theoughline, add another to mark the evolution of the relationship. When you visit the Structural Detail for a Relationship Story Throughline Beat, you will be presented with the opportunity to define that Beat in terms of where the relationship started, or what it grows into at the end of your story.
Playing Dual Roles
Some Characters play different roles in different Throughlines.
Ripley is the primary Player within the Main Character Throughline of Aliens, while also playing the Role of Protagonist in the Objective Story Throughline.
E.T. is the primary Player within the Influence Character Throughline of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, while also playing the Role of Protagonist in the Objective Story Throughline.
Players drive Throughlines, not characters. Feel free to mix and match Players within different Throughlines in order to accomodate the story you want to tell.
You CANNOT assign the same Player to competing perspectives. In other words, you can't have the same player operating in both the Main Character and Influence Character Throughlines. That would create a schizophrenic story--and would be crazy for your Audience to experience.
Assigning Character Elements
If you’re a writer familiar with Dramatica, you may be wondering where the option to set Protagonist or individual Character Elements are in Subtext. The truth is—you won’t find them...
...and that’s because you really don’t need them.
Many writers new to Dramatica gravitate towards assigning Character Elements because it’s fun and a relatively easy thing to do. But it really doesn’t help you write a story.
Our years of consulting with screenwriters, directors, novelists, and executive producers taught us something very important in terms of developing a story: assigning character elements is a waste of time.
A more productive approach lies in developing the narrative itself, adding players where needed to hold the various perspectives, and seeing how the story unfolds from beginning to end. Then and only then dies it makes sense to start looking at the character elements behind the individual Storybeats.
And even then we would suggest holding off until you at least write your first or second draft. Only then can you truly see what drives a character, and determine what elements they represent and where you might need to add a character or two.
Protagonist and Antagonist
One caveat to this approach would be the selection of Protagonist and Antagonist. The Protagonist pursues the Story Goal, the Antagonist prevents it and is for the Story Consequence.
When developing the Storybeats for your Objective Story Throughline make sure you have a couple of them driven by the Protagonist and/or the Antagonist. These two are pitted against each other within the context of the Objective Story, so it only makes sense for them to drive the conflict from that particular perspective.
Reese tried to protect Sarah Connor in The Terminator, the Terminator tried to prevent it. Reese was the Protagonist, the Terminator was the Antagonist. Victor Lazlo tries to secure the letters of transit in Casablanca, the Nazis try to prevent that from happening. Victor is the Protagonist, the Nazis are the Antagonists.
Stick to these two opposing forces when developing the Objective Story Throughline and you’ll form the basis for a strong and meaningful story.