- Visualizing the Four Throughlines
- Families of Conflict
- Video: The Four Narrative Families of Elements
- Visualizing Character Dynamics
Perhaps the most important decision you’ll make when writing a story—and the one that exhibits the greatest significant impact on the final product—is your selection of conflict for the Four Throughlines.
Two of the four you likely already know—the Main Character and the Plot. The other two, the Obstacle Character and the Relationship Story, you can figure out much later in the process. In fact, both of these will naturally fall into place given the first two.
Visualizing the Four Throughlines
Open the Premise Builder and find the section marked Four Throughlines. Here you’ll find four colored boxes, each signifying one of the four major Throughlines of a complete story.
There is only one rule when it comes to the alignment of these Throughlines: the Main Character Throughline must always be diagonally opposed to the Obstacle Character. This arrangement guarantees the greatest amount of diametrically opposed conflict in the two primary subjective characters and their points-of-view.
Subtxt helps you keep the integrity of your story by always making sure these two Throughlines sit across from each other. Give it a try. Select the blue Main Character Throughline box, drag it to a different position, and release. Note how Subtxt shifts the other three Throughlines to accommodate your selection. No matter what you do, the Obstacle Character Throughline will always sit across from the Main Character Throughline.
Subtxt won’t let you write a broken story.
You know that line you hear all the time, “You and I are both alike”?
It’s usually followed by someone else saying, “We’re nothing alike!”
That interchange exists because of this relationship between the Main Character and Obstacle Character. They’re nothing alike because they’re coming from two opposite points of view. For more on this, including a montage of clips showcasing this exchange, check out Two Sides of the Same Coin.
Families of Conflict
In addition to the Four Throughlines, there are four Families of Conflict that set the type of conflict in your story.
Each family consists of four Methods that sync with one another in terms of narrative focus. One family finds Past and Memory together; another puts Present and Conscious together. By keeping the conflict in your story “within the family” you guarantee thematic integrity.
You’ll find the current family selected in the grid of small boxes beneath the Four Throughlines.
If you don't see these four families, select the four-square icon located just below the Narrative Personalities and next to the box titled "What is the Goal of this story?". This will toggle the view from just the Story Goal in the Objective Story to the Four Families of conflict.
The results of your current selection are found beneath the names of each Throughline. For instance, if you have the Aspirational family checked, then the Methods beneath each Throughline will be Future, Obtaining, Becoming, and Subconscious. If you select the Profound family, the Methods switch to Past, Understanding, Conceptualizing, and Memory.
The positions of these Methods within the grid of Four Throughlines is fixed. If you drag a Throughline to a new location, the Methods stay behind to be “picked up” by a new Throughline.
This two-pronged approach of shifting perspective (moving the Throughlines) and anchoring conflict (selecting a Family of Methods) allows you to dial in the kind of story you want to write. With Four Throughlines and Four Families, there are 32 possible combinations for you to choose from.
How then, are you to possibly tell the difference?
Genre and Personality
Subtxt maintains an extensive catalogue of professionally curated Storyforms categorized, in part, by Genre. The arrangement of the four Throughlines by classification (Domains) sets the Narrative Personality of a story. By aligning the Source of Conflict experienced in the story with a particular perspective, the Author sets the overall feeling of what it is like to "hang out" with a story.
When you first open Subtxt's Premise Builder, you'll find the default Genre set to Action/Adventure:
There isn't anything special about this Genre above any of the others--just that it's the most common one used in Western storytelling today.
Note the placement of the Plot in Physics and the Main Character in Universe. Most Action/Adventures focus the central of their plot in Physics: all the characters come into conflict over doing things and trying to control situations through physical activity.
In addition, these Action/Adventures often position the Main Character in Universe: the central character is often one dealing with personal issues surrounding their physical status, or reputation, or special abilities (their place within the "universe" is most central to their conflict).
Selecting a Different Genre
Now, watch what happens when you switch Genres. Select the gold button marked "What kind of a story do you want to write?" prompt and select Courtroom Drama.
Both the Plot and Main Character exchange points-of-view with the Obstacle Character and Relationship Story Throughlines.
In a Courtroom Drama, we find the Plot in Mind: all the characters come into conflict over incongruent attitudes--more often than not, whether an individual is guilty or not.
And while the initial example of A Few Good Men finds the Main Character Throughline in Psychology (Tom Cruise's character Daniel Kaffee deals with a dysfunctional lackadaisical point-of-view at the start), not all Courtroom Dramas position the Main Character in the same way.
The Conventions of a Genre
In storytelling, each Genre comes with its own set of conventions and trends. These conventions help define the genre and guide the development of the story. They often include character archetypes, story structure, themes, and tone, which work together to create a recognizable and engaging narrative. Understanding and employing these conventions can assist writers in crafting stories that effectively evoke the desired emotions and expectations associated with a specific genre.
One way to recognize these conventions is through the use of anchor icons, which can be found in the upper right corner of each Throughline. These icons signify the convention or trend associated with the Genre of the story. For instance, a conventional Action/Adventure story anchors its Objective Story Throughline (plot) in the Physics Domain, while a Courtroom Drama anchors its plot in the Mind Domain.
These anchors are useful for writers as they provide guidance on which elements to emphasize and explore in their story. By adhering to these conventions, a writer can create a story that feels authentic and resonant within the chosen genre.
The Variations within a Genre
Returning back to our example of the Courtroom Drama, note the anchor icon located in the upper right hand corner of the Plot Throughline. Again, this signifies that, for this Genre, the Plot should remain in the Mind Domain...whereas the Main Character Throughline has some leeway.
You can grab the Main Character Throughline and shift it away from Psychology and into Physics, and still maintain the same Genre.
Now, we have 12 Angry Men. The Plot still revolves around fixed mindsets of guilty or not guilty, but now the Main Character Throughline is less about a dysfunctional way of thinking, and more about the struggle to teach everyone in that room the idea of this boy's innocence.
Daniel Kaffee struggles with a dysfunctional psychology, where as Henry Fonda's Main Character Davis struggles with the physical nature of teaching others.
Breaking the Genre
You can, of course, break out of Genre and move the Plot Throughline into any one of the four Domains and call it a "Courtroom Drama."
Just know that in doing so, you will be playing against audience expectation--and usually, not in a great way. Most Audiences arrive at a story with a certain expectation of what hanging out with that story will be like. They expect Action/Adventures to be all about physical conflict, and they expect Courtroom Dramas to be about fixed attitudes.
Subtxt signals your modification by placing the label "Modified" under your chosen Genre. In addition, Subtxt lists the available Genres that match your current selection.
In the example above, shifting the Plot of a Courtroom Drama into Psychology switches the entire personality of the story over to something more closely resembling a Fantasy Romance, Historical Drama, Psychological Thriller, or Sci Fi Satire...
Now, you're free to always write whatever you want, a Sci Fi Satire Courtroom Drama may be just what you're looking for--just know that you might be creating a personality within a chosen Genre too strange for most audiences.
The complete list of Subtxt Genres are available within the Storyteller's Lexicon section of the application. Select Genre to see them all.
Video: The Four Narrative Families of Elements
Visualizing Character Dynamics
The Premise Builder is a grid of Throughlines that includes the Main Character Throughline (blue box), the Objective Story Throughline (gray box), the Relationship Story Throughline (purple box), and the Obstacle Character Throughline (green box). The location of the Main Character Throughline in the grid provides valuable information about the Main Character Approach, which is the first Dynamic that can be visualized with the Premise Builder.
If the Main Character Throughline is situated in one of the top two Domains (Universe or Physics), the Main Character Approach is that of a Do-er. This is because the source of conflict for the Main Character Throughline is in one of the external Domains (Universe or Physics). Conversely, if the Main Character Throughline is placed in one of the bottom two Domains (Mind or Psychology), the Main Character Approach is that of a Be-er. This is because the source of conflict for the Main Character Throughline is in one of the internal Domains, and the Main Character's preference for resolving inequities will be to change themselves first, before trying anything in the outside world.
The second Dynamic that can be visualized in the Premise Builder is that of the Main Character Growth. The MC Growth is shown by the relationship between the Main Character Throughline and the Objective Story Throughline. If these two Throughlines are in a horizontal relationship (either both external, or both internal), then the MC Growth will be that of Stop. This means that the Main Character's development is focused on stopping or preventing something from happening. If instead, these two Throughlines are in a vertical relationship (one internal, one external), then the MC Growth would be that of Start. This means that the Main Character's development is focused on starting or initiating something new.
The Premise Builder in the Subtxt Narrative Personality section provides advanced users familiar with the Dramatica theory of story with a powerful tool to visually represent some of the key Dynamics found within a complete Storyform. By analyzing the Main Character Approach and Main Character Growth, users can gain a deeper understanding of the story's structure and character development.
The choice of Do-er or Be-er and/or Start or Stop will have a slight impact on the Premise of your story, and in some cases you might not see any discernible difference.