Weaving Multiple Throughlines Into The Same Scene

This post began as a response to a great thread over on Discuss Dramatica called RS Illustrations, in which Greg (Gregolas) asked how people tend to incorporate the Relationship Story, or RS, perspective into their stories:
I'm wondering how everyone else handles RS illustrations. Do you give them their own scenes, something that only shows MC and IC being pushed together or pulled apart? Or do you weave the illustrations for it into the IC scenes?
I wanted to give some examples of how my planned RS "moments" ended up incorporated into scenes that also featured other throughlines. But I had to move here as it got way too involved in my own writing!

My Process

In my current project, nearly all my scenes end up incorporating multiple throughlines. There are a few exceptions: scenes with neither Main Character nor Influence Character present are probably only incorporating the Overall Story perspective. I also have an early scene that focuses entirely on my MC Devin's personal issues, where his father tries to force him to play university football (he wants to do cross-country and track instead).

I haven't been using Dramatica to plot much, at least not directly. When I started the project I created a basic scene outline first, the shell of the story with lots of huge gaps, and used that to figure out the storyform. Once I had the storyform mostly down, that helped me understand all the characters' motivations better, which helped feed more scene ideas. But it took a long time to trust I have the right storyform (it still might be wrong after 115,000 words of the first draft!), so I shied away from using the Signposts much, and especially stayed away from the Plot Sequence Report. Both of those can change a LOT from just a small storyform tweak.

This process fits well with my "story/Muse first" approach. Basically, if I get ideas that seem cool and "feel" right, I go with them. Where Dramatica helps is in letting me see how all the motivating factors that go into the story -- the conflict-driving story points -- are working in those ideas.

Four Throughlines, One Scene

Here's an example of a scene that ended up having all four throughlines woven in. Before starting the first draft, I had planned for Becca to reject Devin immediately after he was interrogated by the Firelion Club. Initial synopsis (~May 2017):
After the Firelion agents finish interrogating Devin, Becca tells him to leave her alone. She doesn’t need his help; she can take care of herself.

I knew this rejection was important for the Relationship perspective, and also the Influence Character perspective. However, when writing the first draft I couldn’t make the rejection happen at that point. It just didn’t feel right, so I kept pushing it off. (Me: “Okay, instead of after the interrogation, how about she’ll reject him in the park after he tells her where to meet Cole.” I write half that scene, then: “No wait, she’ll reject him later, when he shows up unwanted at the meeting and spooks Cole.” I write half that scene, then “No wait…”)

Eventually a lot of different threads converged so that the rejection took place in a sort of mini-climax close to the book’s midpoint, affecting all four throughlines, and my reworked synopsis after writing it (Nov 2017) is:

After Becca shockingly blue-pills* Max in the empty hospital corridor where Devin and Becca first met, Devin tries to remain a Firelion recruit, but Becca says he's useless and doesn't want to see him again.
* injects him with a drug that erases his recent memories (yes, the Firelions have seen The Matrix too)

Let's examine this scene from each throughline's perspective.

Some Words of Warning
Below I provide a lot of detailed examples of various Dramatica story points found in the scene. I don't know how easy this will be to follow. In this other post I have included several 100-500 word excerpts from this scene (first draft), along with some notes about the story points. You may prefer to read that first to get some context!

Please note, I'm not suggesting my scene is somehow "great" because of all the story points it has. I'm a beginning novelist struggling every day to write stuff that I don't hate. The only reason I can point out all these story points is because I'm the Author, which is the ultimate perspective to have when performing a Dramatica analysis!

Note: Devin is the Main Character and Protagonist; Becca is the Influence Character and possibly Contagonist. More about Starfighters: Infection here.

Overall Story
This scene is very important for the Overall Story: the Goal is to “become the next generation of Firelions”, so Becca is getting in the way of that by rejecting Devin as a Firelion recruit. As the author I can see a lot of story points at work here.
  • OS Domain (Psychology: trickery and manipulation -- Becca tricks Max into prepping his own blue-pill dose and unlocking his phone; plus the whole thing is motivated by the bad-guys manipulating Becca with their cancer cure)
  • Concern (Becoming a Firelion... or not)
  • Issue (Max's Firelion Obligations are what lets Becca trick him; Devin thinks he's "safe" because of Becca's promise to recruit him)
  • Counterpoint (Rationalization: turns out Becca's real reason for recruiting Devin wasn't because of his qualifications -- it was to save him from getting hurt)
  • Problem (Max's willingness to help Becca lets her get the drop on him; Devin's misguided help is why Becca rejects him)
  • Symptom (Devin and Max are focused on getting a Logical explanation from Becca, and when she attacks Max, it doesn't make sense; Devin focuses on getting a reasonable explanation for her seemingly irrational behaviour)
  • Response (Feeling: Becca warns Devin not to "freak out"; Devin has a feeling something is wrong with Becca; Max's feelings for Becca make him hesitate; Becca responds to Devin's questions with anger; once he sees the logic behind her rejecting him, Devin feels lost and hurt)
  • Catalyst (Becca takes Responsibility for ensuring Max and the Club don't mess with the cancer cure, and this amps up the conflict)
  • Signpost 2 (Becoming: Devin is not good enough to become a Firelion after all).
    • PSR (3rd variation Reappraisal: Becca remakes her decision to recruit Devin, reassessing him and finding him wanting).
    • Note this leads to 4th variation Doubt in the next scenes: Devin, the Protagonist, has misgivings about becoming a Firelion, and almost gives up on the Story Goal.
  • Finally, this scene brings in the OS Inhibitor (rejection = Denial), so things in the overall story slow down immediately afterwards, which I blogged about here.
Influence Character
The scene is also important for the IC throughline. Becca’s main motivation for blue-pilling Max and rejecting Devin here has to do with protecting the miraculous, secret cure she’s just found out about that may help her dying mother. IC Domain (Situation: her mom is dying of cancer) and Concern (mom's Future) aren't directly present in the scene but motivate the whole thing.
  • Problem (Help: her drive to help mom becomes a drive to protect the cancer cure)
  • Symptom (Control: she focuses on controlling the situation, controlling the secrets from getting out; Devin telling Max her secrets threatens to take away that control)
  • Response (Uncontrolled: first she restrains herself and acts normal while manipulating Max, then she goes crazy, attacking Max, hitting Devin in the face, swearing, etc. She also gets annoyed with the Club's rules / military regulations, and breaks those rules by telling Devin more than she should.)
  • Unique Ability (Choice: she had selected Devin to be her wildcard recruit; now she takes that selection away -- he's no longer chosen)
  • Signpost 2 (Progress: Devin was getting closer to becoming a Firelion -- and getting closer to her; this scene reverses that, makes him backtrack. You can also see the slide/journey toward Future here, as she's taking away his future with the Club and with her.)
    • PSR (4th variation Fantasy: Becca influences Devin to see that his hopes of joining her secret world were only a fantasy)

Relationship Story
And for RS: up to this point they were doing all these things that were drawing them closer together. There seemed to be a budding attraction between them, but now this rejection tears them apart. RS can be tricky but I think I see:
  • Concern (Obtaining: the relationship's hopes of "getting together" are quashed),
  • Issue (their romantic, chivalrous Attitude caused all this trouble, and now the relationship faces difficulties with their haughty, contemptuous and negative attitudes towards it),
  • Problem (Consider: they keep flirting with each other and flirting with the idea of dating; when they weigh the pros and cons of this relationship, they find it lacking; doesn't this relationship mean anything to them, do they consider it worth saving?),
  • Symptom (Logic: looking at it rationally, maybe they shouldn't be together, and they focus on the reasons why)
  • Response (Feeling: they become emotional, hurting and getting hurt; the relationship ends up hurt)
  • Catalyst (Morality: each trying to protect and do what's best for the other has increased the tension in their relationship and led them to this)
  • Signpost 2 (Learning: Becca scorches the earth of the relationship, teaching the relationship a painful lesson)
    • PSR (Obligation → Rationalization): Becca breaks the promise that would have kept them together, saying she had ulterior reasons for making that promise. Also, by scene's end it becomes apparent that attraction wasn't the real reason for their kissing.
Also note the setting of the scene is meaningful to the relationship: the same hospital corridor where they first met.

Main Character
Finally, the MC throughline stuff mostly comes in at the end of the scene: once he begins to process her rejection it hits upon his personal issues.
  • MC Critical Flaw (Obligation – he relied on her promise to recruit him, but she breaks that promise -- and yet, he still doesn't tell anyone in the club about her wild shenanigans, failing in his obligation to report her), 
  • MC Concern & Issue (he has a huge crush on Becca, but Becca crushes his Hopes of dating her)
  • MC Problem (his friends have been trying to Control his dating habits, telling him not to pursue fanciful crushes like Becca; her rejection proves them right)
  • MC Symptom & Response (Becca's rejection proves Logically that he shouldn't be pursuing her, making him Feel sad and hurt)
  • and Becca’s abandoning him is his MC Solution/Demotivator (Uncontrolled; as a Steadfast character, this abandonment causes him to waver towards changing his perspective in some following scenes).

In Summary...

It's interesting how much came together into this scene. It was a difficult scene to write; I think my expectations were too high and I felt like I wasn't nailing it. But looking back, I'm actually pretty happy. (You know it can't be too bad when you can actually enjoy rereading it!)

Keep in mind I did not consciously try to put all these story points into the scene. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo when I was barely thinking about the storyform, and I was pretty surprised reading it afterwards at how much of the storyform made it in there. I think it's mostly because it's an important scene, and because of how the storyform sort of set everything up for me. (One exception: I was often aware of the various Symptom/Response pairs, since the characters themselves are usually aware of those.)

And in case you're worried, Becca's rejection, as much as it hurts, doesn't last forever. The bad-guys end up giving Becca another reason to get Devin involved again -- as her patsy, of course. Poor Devin.

Be sure to check out the excerpts from this scene.


  1. Great post, Mike. Thanks for sharing your experience with using Dramatica. Whitepaws.


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