External and Internal Dependencies

As co-creator of the Dramatica theory, I often take some of the concepts so for granted that I forget to consider wider application of them.

For example, in my classes I often speak of the three kinds of character relationships: Dynamic, Companion, and Dependent.  Dynamic relationships are directly conflicting, Companion relationships have a tangential effect, and Dependent relationships are complementary.

And each kind of relationship has a positive and negative version.  For example, a positive Dynamic relationship is when two opposing view duke it out and through that conflict spark a new idea – a synthesis that would never have occurred without hammer to metal.  In a negative dynamic relationship two opposing character will simply beat each other into the ground.

In a negative Companion relationship, two characters have a detrimental indirect impact on one other, just as a byproduct of each doing what each is doing.  For example, a fellow building a toy for his son’s birthday in the garage unknowingly kicks up wood dust that causes his neighbor to suffer an asthma attack.  A positive Companion relationship might be that same fellow’s other neighbor who discovers the wood dust keeps pesky birds away from his garden.

A positive Dependent relationship is when characters feel that “I’m okay, you’re okay but together we’re terrific!”  The negative Dependent relationship is saying, “I’m nothing without my other half.”  And so the phrase, “You complete me” might be either positive or negative, depending….

But, I’ve said all this before.  What inspired me to write this article was, as I said above, that sometimes my familiarity with a concept gets in the way of my perceiving its implications.

In this case, what I’ve never considered before was that if characters in a Story Mind represent our thoughts – different attributes of our psyche, such as reason, emotion, confidence and doubt, then relationships among characters must be illustrating the kinds of relationships we have among our own thoughts.  If this analogy of the Story Mind holds true (and it should), then we must have thoughts within ourselves which share Dynamic, Companion and Dependent relationships.

And so, I began to question myself as to where I may have seen such internal relationships within my own mind.  I began with the Dependent relationship as that was the kind I happened to be examining in characters when this concept struck me.

What would be a Dependent relationship between two different thoughts of mine, I wondered?  And then I realized these relationships weren’t between thoughts, but between feelings.  The example I found within myself were actually several and initially all of the negative variety as illustrated thus: “If I can only finish this book I’ll be satisfied with my work as an author.”  Paraphrased, this means, “I won’t be satisfied until I finish this book,” or, “I’m incomplete without this accomplishment,” or “This book will complete me,” which is really a negative feeling re-phrased to sound positive so it is more palatable to myself.

Easily, I had many things for which I longed.  If I looked at them positively such as “Life is good, but that other potential situation would be even better,” then it was a positive Dependent experience.  But, if it was “I can’t be truly happy until X happens, is achieved or obtained,” then it was a negative Dependent experience.

Suddenly I found myself examining all kinds of relationships among my feelings – such things as “being of two minds,” in which my sense of self (the Main Character in my head) has it out with how things might be if I had a change of heart (the Influence Character in my head) over issue X.  And in so doing I realized that from the Main Character’s view is is not “who will I be” or “how will I be” if I change, but it rather seems more like “what will it be” or “how will it be” (my life situation) if I stick with my desires or abandon them from some replacement plan?

Sure we all have mental images of ourselves, which we spend inordinate quantities of time lovingly maintaining as if our selves were our prized automobile which we proudly display as we motor along through life (our personas, in actuality – our means of locomotion through the social highways of our culture, local and distant, within reach and   in the stars.  But though we may consider our image and make choices to change or not depending on how it will be affected, we also, emotionally consider how that our world feels might change, if we get or don’t get, embrace or abandon, commit or hedge in regard to those things for which we would find a positive enhancement to our lives or that the ongoing absence of those things leaves our lives negative until that lack is remedied.

And, naturally, my thoughts then drifted to the relationships among groups, each a different story mind, and saw that these same emotional, passionate, motivational relationships existed among them as well.

Snapping back to narrative theory again, I was now confident that these three kinds of relationships between characters had unveiled to me a new understanding – that while each character may represent a structural element in a quad that leads it into one of the three kinds of relationships with another character who represents another element in that quad, and while these relationships might be positive or negative from a structural view, for the characters themselves they are felt, not thought, and they are lived in an ongoing passionate experience, not simply attributes that possess.

As a final thought before my interest in this topic waned, I reminded myself that most characters have several elements they represent, all in different quads.  And therefore, they not only have Dynamic, Companion, and Dependent relationships with different characters in each quad, but may, in fact, have different kinds of relationships with the same character in different quads, and any of these may be positive or negative in any combination.

And so, the variety of character relationships already known (in our theory) to be complex structurally, has now also expanded to reveal the emotional complexity of how characters may feel about their many kinds of relationships, even between two human beings.  And, by extension, how social groups manifest complex emotional relationship in their feelings about each other, and how, but intension, we can come to better understand the relationships among our own feelings, each of us within ourselves.

Naturally, of course, this ebb and flow of passions is part of the Dynamic Model of Narrative upon which I am current working with full attention.  And ultimately, I hope to describe these pressures as undulating standing waves, eventually refined into a nice math model and an equation or two.  But, that is for another essay.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica