Subtxt 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 Subtxt underlying a story, perspective outweighs individual characters. In A Christmas Carol, it is the shared perspective held by the Ghosts that eventually obstacles 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)
  • Obstacle 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

Subtxt 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 assign 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.

Believe it or not, you CAN assign 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 assign 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.

Subtxt 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.

In order to be assigned to the Relationship Story Throughline, a Player must be of the Relationship type (the yin-yang symbol). You can't assign an Individual or a Group Player to the RS as those are antithetical to the idea of what it means to be within the Relationship Story Throughline perspective.

Playing Dual Roles

Some Players 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 Obstacle Character Throughline of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, while also playing the Role of Antagonist in the Objective Story Throughline (yes, I know this might seem a bit crazy to say, but E.T.'s presence prevents Eliot from letting go).

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 Obstacle Character Throughlines. That would create a schizophrenic story--and would be crazy for your Audience to experience.

The Four Categories of Character

The characters within a story exist to communicate thematic intent to an Audience. While incomplete themselves, they complete a story by collaborating in a collective transmission of the Storyform.

Characters fall into four categories, as per their relationship to the Storyform:

  • Fundamental
  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Tertiary

Fundamental Characters supply the thematic argument's main perspectives and include the Main Character Throughline perspective and the Obstacle Character Throughline perspective. The former offers a first-person personal point-of-view, while the latter supplies an objectified individual point-of-view. Both are essential components fundamental to the purpose of a story.

Primary Characters and Secondary Characters communicate the Objective Story Throughline perspective. The difference lies in their composition. Primary Characters consist of several Objective Character Elements, coalescing on occasion into observable Archetypes like Protagonist or Antagonist. Secondary Characters offer the same objective Elements but in a limited and individualistic capacity. Primary over Secondary refers to the number of Elements; the more Elements a character possesses in a story, the more critical—and primary—they feel to a story.

Tertiary Characters are those you could remove and see no significant impact on the story's meaning. Characters must contain at least one Objective Element to be perceived as relevant. Storyform is everything. If the character lacks a tie to the Storyform, the character is disposable.

A Player can function as a Fundamental, Primary, or Secondary "character"--simply by assigning the appropriate Throughline, or Elements, to them.

A story is not a storyform. Characters exist to communicate a message and to provide colorful illustrations of storytelling. This virtual chaos on the edge of meaning eschews the pop and crackle aesthetic of static that warms a radio broadcast. The message gets through, but invitingly and similarly to "real life."

Avoid sacrificing your imagination to the cold-hearted master of narrative structure. Recognize the throwaway status of those lacking apparent connection to a Storyform, but maintain your artistic integrity.You don't win a prize for writing an excellent story structure.
© 2023 Narrative First, Inc.