Just One or Multiple Throughlines

by Nancy
(Dexter, MI USA)

Question: Can each character have their own throughline, or do throughlines belong solely to the plot?

Maybe I don't understand the concept of throughlines, so could you please explain them for me.

Thank you,

Answer: Each character can certainly have his/her own arc, though in most cases these are closer to subplots as they are not fully developed (they don't have 4 throughlines). Minor characters tend not to change or be tempted to change the way the main character is. Sometimes all they have is their exits, their entrances, and some conflict or contribution to the story. In some books you might have many stories interlaced and minor characters have more developed stories.

What makes the four throughlines special is that they represent four different perspectives on the story in question.

The overall throughline is an objective look. It looks at all the characters and describes what "they" are doing. This throughline is concerned with effort to solve the Story Problem.

The main character throughline looks at the story from an "I" perspective. The reader tends to imagine himself as the main character and this throughline is about what "I," as the main character, am thinking, feeling, and doing. The arc of the main character's inner conflict is explored here.

The impact character throughline is a "You" perspective. It's about what "I," as the main character see when I
am looking at "You," the impact character. It's about what you do, how you do things, wondering what's going on in your head. This throughline shows the arc of the impact character's influence on the main character - what the IC does that pressures the MC to change.

Finally, the relationship throughline is a "We" perspective. It's about what "We," the main and impact characters, are arguing over, how our relationship is evolving.

Dramatica theory states that all four perspectives are required for a story to be complete.

The four throughlines also contribute to the drama through their relationships to each other. For instance, the overall throughline will contrast most strongly with the relationship throughline. (For instance, how we see things vs. how everyone else sees things.) There will be another strong contrast between the MC and the IC (my way vs. your way). These are both objective vs subjective conflicts and they provide different ways of looking at what's going on.

I fear I may be confusing you.

The easiest thing is to map out the four stages of each throughline's arc...
1. The effort to achieve the story goal
2. The main character's inner struggle
3. The impact character's influence.
4. The evolution of their relationship.

If you make sure these hang together as separate arcs, you will be amazed how well your story works when you weave them together

Comments for Just One or Multiple Throughlines

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by: Brent King

So what Dramatica is saying is that because the story is focusing on one theme, there will only be one Impact Character that it is necessary to map. Any others would be repetitive and perhaps go beyond what a human mind can follow, thus confusing the reader.

Said another way, to produce a rich plot, it is only necessary to map the MC, IC, Overall, and Relationship throughlines. To map more than one IC may be possible, but would be redundant to our purpose.

by: Glen


In a good story, the main character has to make one crucial decision at the climax, and this decision determines whether the story goal is achieved. The choice is between whether to stay steadfast and stick with the approach the main character's established approach, or to change and adopt the impact character's approach. It all boils down to this.

If you want to create multiple impact characters who offer additional options, how will the main character or the reader know if the best choice was made? Even if the outcome seems successful, one of the other choices could have been even better. So the story's message would be undetermined and possibly unsatisfying.

Of course, you can have subplots with their own message, but that's creating multiple stories.

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