Category Archives: Obstacle Character

The Influence Character

By Melanie Anne Phillips

What is an Influence Character?  First, let’s look at some wide-ranging examples of Influence Characters in well-known stories to show their use and effect, then a bit about how to put one in your story.

Example 1

In A Christmas Carol, the four ghosts – Past, Present, Future, and Progress (which is Marley, who tells Scrooge about the progress of his growing chain of sins) – share the role of Influence Character, each one taking one fourth of the story to try and change Scrooge, as if they were runners in a relay race.

Without the ghosts the story would just be about Scrooge learning on his own that maybe there’s a better way, but much of the passion of the story and the power of the message would be lost.  Message: Do well for yourself, but share some of your good fortune with the less fortunate.

Example 2

In the original Star Wars, the Influence Character is Obi Wan who eventually brings Luke to a point of change and trust in his new-found abilities with the force.  In Star Wars, Obi Wan’s Influence is very subtle and gradual and culminates with his disembodied voice saying to Luke just before Luke turns off the targeting computer, “Use the force, Luke.  Let go.  Trust me…”  And Luke is ONLY able to destroy the death star because he turns off the targeting computer and uses his new Jedi skills.  Message: We should also trust in our own abilities.

Example 3

In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter is the Influence Character who forces Clarice Starling to confront her personal demons (the slaughtering of the spring lambs) that led her to try and save others with a job in law enforcement – “Tell me, Clarice, are the lambs still screaming?”  Clarice does not change, cannot let go of her pain “You know I can’t do that doctor Lecter” and so she remains steadfast in her belief system.  The Antagonist is not Lecter, but Jamie Gumm – the man who kidnaps the women including the senator’s daughter whom Clarice is trying to save.  Message: Let it go, or be forever driven by pain.

Example 4

In The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones (Federal Marshall Gerard) does not care if his target is guilty or innocent: Kimble: “I didn’t kill my wife!”  Gerard: “I don’t care!”  But Kimble does care.  In fact, he endangers himself and risks his freedom to help others whenever the opportunity presents itself.  In the end, it is Kimble’s steadfastness that convinces Gerard that Kimble is innocent.  And in the process, Gerard (the Influence Character) is changed.  Message: No matter what the risk, don’t give up your compassion.

So, as you can see, without an Influence Character there is no story-long passionate argument regarding which way of seeing the world is the better way, and therefore there is no clear message to the reader or audience.

Now an Influence Character is not necessarily the Antagonist.  The Antagonist is trying to prevent the Protagonist from achieving his or her goal.  The Influence Character is trying to convince the Main Character to change his or her world view, belief system, or outlook.

Similarly, the Protagonist is not necessarily the Main Character.  The Protagonist is trying to achieve the goal.  The Main Character is trying to grapple with a personal issue, and is also the character through whose eyes the reader or audience sees the story – in short, we identify with him or her.

Often, the Main Character is the same “person” in a story who is also the Protagonist.  In this case, we create a stereotypical hero in which the reader/audience position is with the same character who is leading the charge to achieve the goal.

There is nothing wrong with that combination, but it is like always making the story about the quarterback in a game of football but never telling the story of one of the linemen or the water boy or the coach or the quarterback’s wife.  So, if you want a typical hero, make your Protagonist also your Main Character.  But if you want to tell a story where the Main Character is allowing us to look at the Protagonist from the outside and to observe him, then you end up with a story like To Kill A Mockingbird in which Atticus is the Protagonist trying to defend the black man wrongly accused of rape in a 1930s town in the South but the Main Character is his young daughter Scout, who gives us a child’s-eye view of prejudice.

Again similarly, the Antagonist is sometimes also given the role of Influence Character, but if you also have a hero who is both Protagonist and Main Character, that can be dangerous because then the opposition to the hero’s goal efforts is the same person who is opposing the hero’s personal belief system.  You can do it, but if you have a hero and villain doing both jobs between them, the logistic conflict can easily get mixed up with the moral argument in the minds of the readers or audience.  And worse, as an author, you can get so wrapped up in the combined passionate lines between these two characters that you don’t fully connect the dots on either argument, leaving gaps that will be seen (or at least felt by your readers or audience.  If those gaps aren’t filled, you essentially have a melodrama in which you don’t make either argument completely yet profess your message at the end as if you did.

Often, authors avoid this problem by creating a dramatic triangle in which one of those two stereotypes (hero and villain) is split into the two parts and the other one remains combined.

For example, in the movie, Witness, with Harrison Ford, he plays the Protagonist – a cop trying to protect the only witness to a murder: the young son of an Amish Woman, played by Kelly McGillis, who is the Main Character: we see the story through her eyes, and through her eyes we observe Ford and consider leaving the Amish to go with him into the world of the “English.”  Ford, therefore, is the Influence character as well as the Protagonist, as it is his influence that draws her to a point of decision about leaving.  But, the Antagonist is Ford’s Character’s boss on the force, as he is the actual murderer.

And so, a dramatic triangle is created by making Ford both Protagonist and Influence Character with the other two points of the triangle being the Main Character of Kelly McGillis, and the Antagonist of his boss.  Fairly complex, it is, and yet it is also compelling and far from cliche, though still perfectly sound.  And the message is made: Sometimes it is better to stay in the safety of your extended family than to leave to explore the larger world.

The point being, without an influence character your story will lose the entire passionate argument leading up to the point of choice in which your story’s message should be made, but won’t be.

So how do you add an Influence character and message to your story?  Here are a few quick steps:

1. Make a list of all your characters

2. Write a one sentence description of how each characters beliefs or philosophy of life is in conflict with the Main Character’s view of the same thing.

3.  All of these different conflicts can be explored in your story, but one needs to be the central issue that will form your story’s overall message.  So, consider each, then pick one to be the primary philosophic of conflict of your story.

4.  Select the character who is in primary philosophic conflict with your Main Character as your Influence Character.

5. Find as many places in your plot as you can smoothly bring your Main and Influence Characters into conflict over their opposed philosophies, whether it be as advice from one to the other, as an argument, or just by example – having the Main Character see the Influence Character act in a different manner than he or she would in that situation.

6.  Over the course of your story, bring your Main Character to a point where he or she must choose either to stick by their guns and hold to their original outlook, believing that their troubles will be resolved if they just remain steadfast long enough,  or choose the Influence Character’s alternative view, believing that it holds a better chance to resolve the Main Character’s personal issue.

7.  In the end, your Main Character may grow in their resolve to remain steadfast or grow to a point of change.  But regardless of how they go, their choice may be right or wrong for resolving their personal issue.  This provides you with many ways to prove your message:
Change is good, Change is bad, Steadfast is Good, Steadfast is Bad.  Any of these are legitimate; it just depends on the flavor of the message you are trying to send.

8.  Don’t forget that if your Main Character Changes, your Influence Character will remain Steadfast, and vice versa.  The idea is that one philosophy will trump the other so that both character will, in the end, share the same philosophy.  And then you show your readers or audience if that’s was the right choice by showing how it all turns out at a personal level.

9.  Keep in mind that whether or not the goal is achieved in a story has no bearing on whether of not the Main Character resolves his or her personal issue.  So, you can have a happy ending in which success is matched with happiness, a tragedy in which failure is matched with personal anguish, or a bitter-sweet ending in which success is achieved but with personal anguish or failure is the result of the effort to achieve the goal but with the Main Character finding peace or joy in the end.

10.  Think of the passionate “argument” between the Main and Influence Characters about beliefs or philosophies as just as important and requiring just as many pages as the logistic “argument” of the plot about the best way to solve the situational problem of the story.

Now that you know a little more about the Influence Character and its function, hopefully you find a way to include one, as well as the passionate argument, in every story you tell.  For if you do, your stories will have heartlines as well as headines, and your readers or audience will be moved as well as entertained.

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The “Influence Character” in a Nut Shell

Stories have a mind of their own, as if they were a person in their own right in which the structure is the story’s psychology and the storytelling is its personality.

Characters, in addition to acting as real people,, also represent facets of the overall Story mind, such as the Protagonist which stands for our initiative to effect change and the Skeptic archetype which illustrates our doubt.

Yet in our own minds is a sense of self, and this quality is also present in the Story Mind as the Main Character.  Every complete story has a Main Character or the readers or audience cannot identify with the story; they cannot experience the story first hand from the inside, rather than just as observers.

This Main Character does not have to be the Protagonist anymore than we only look at the world through our initiative.  Sometimes, for example, we might be coming from our doubt or looking at the world in terms of our doubt.  In such a story, the Main Character would be the Skeptic, not the Protagonist.

Any of the facets of our minds that are represented as characters might be the Main Character – the one through whose eyes the readers or audience experience the story.  And in this way, narratives mirror our minds in which we have a sense of self (“I think therefore I am”) and it might, in any given situation, be centered on any one of our facets.

Yet there is one other special character on a par with the Main Character that is found within ourselves and, therefore, also within narrative: the Influence Character.

The Influence Character represents that “devil’s advocate “ voice within ourselves – the part of ourselves that validates our position by taking the opposing point of view so that we can gain perspective by weighing both sides of an issue.  This ensures that, as much as possible, we don’t go bull-headedly along without questioning our own beliefs and conclusions.

In our own minds, we only have one sense of self – one identity.  The same is true for narratives, including fictional stories.  The Influence Character is not another identity, but our view of who we might become if we change our minds and adopt that opposing philosophical point of view.  And so, we examine that other potential “self” to not only understand the other side of the issues, but how that might affect all other aspects or facets of ourselves.  In stories, this self-examination of our potential future selves appears as the philosophical conflict and ongoing argument over points of view, act by act.

Ultimately we (or in stories, the Main Character) will either become convinced that this opposing view is a better approach or will remain convinced that our original approach is still the best choice.

No point of view is good or bad in and of itself but only in context.  What is right in one situation is wrong in another.  Situations, however, are complex, and often are missing complete data.  And so we must rely on experience to fill in the expected pattern and to project the likely course it will take.  Entertaining the opposite point of view shines a light in the shadows of our initial take on the issues.  Psychologically, this greatly enhances our chances for survival.

This is why the inclusion of an Influence Character in any narrative is essential not only to fully representing the totality of our mental process but to provide a balanced look a the issues under examination by the author.

Four Points of View in Every Story

There are four essential points of view in every fully developed story.  They are the Main Character, the Influence Character (AKA the Obstacle Character), the Subjective Story, and the Objective Story.

The Objective story is the most familiar to audiences/readers for it is the view from the outside looking in, like that of a general on a hill watching a battle down below.  It is often thought to be the story’s plot, but in fact it the the objective (or must structural) view of characters, theme, and genre as well.

The Main Character is not necessarily the protagonist.  While the protagonist is the character leading the charge to accomplish the story goal, the Main Character represents the audience position in the story – it allows the audience to step into the shoes of the pivotal character to experience the story first hand and much more passionate in its danger and immediacy than the view of the general on the hill.

The third point of view is that of the Influence Character who represents a different philosophy, outlook, or moral code than the Main Character.  Just as in our own minds we balance who we are against who we might become if we change our outlook on a particular issue, so too the Story Mind struggles with this conflict of ideals which is made tangible in the structure of the Main and Influence characters.

Finally, we consider the nature of that struggle itself – the personal passionate skirmish between one world view or paradigm for living and its opposite.  This is the subjective story and it is where the story’s message or moral resides.

The Main Character, because of its first hand view is the “I” perspective.  The Influence Character whose view we might adopt is “You” for we have not yet become that person or shared its view.  The struggle between us, between who we are and who we might become (philosophically) is “We.”  And the general on the hill and all the other soldiers on the field who are not involved in our personal philosophic skirmish are seen as”They” – as if from the general’s “objective” eye.

Taken together, all four view provide the essential minimum parallax on the story’s issues so that they are fully examined from all crucial angles, leaving no whole in the story’s argument and no stone unturned in consideration of the central issues.

The Obstacle Character

There is one special character who represents the argument for an alternative point of view to that of the Main Character. This character, who spends the entire story making the case for change, is called the Obstacle Character for he acts as an obstacle to the direction the Main Character would go if left to his own devices.

As with each of us, the last thing we tend to question when examining a problem is ourselves. We look for all kinds of solutions both external and internal before we finally (if ever) get around to wondering if maybe we have to change the very nature of who we are and learn to see things differently. We can learn to like what we currently hate, but it takes a lot of convincing for us to make that leap.

When a Main Character makes the traditional leap of faith just before the climax, he has explored all possible means of resolving a problem short of changing who he is. The Obstacle Character has spent the entire story trying to sell the Main Character on the idea that change is good, and in fact, pointing out exactly how the Main Character ought to change. The clock is ticking, options are running out. If the Main Character doesn’t choose on way or the other, then failure is certain. But which way to go? There’s no clear cut answer from the Main Character’s perspective.

Relationship Between Main & Obstacle Characters

The Main Character comes into a story with a tried and true method for dealing with the kind of problem featured in the story. That method has always worked for the Main Character before: it has a long history. Suddenly, a situation arises where that standard approach doesn’t work, perhaps for the first time ever. This marks the beginning of the story’s argument. As the story develops, the Main Character tries everything to find a way to make it work anyway, holding out in the hope that the problem will eventually go away, or work itself out, or be resolved by the tried and true method.

Along the way, the Obstacle Character comes into the picture. He tells the Main Character there is a better way, a more effective approach that not only solves the same problems the Main Character’s tried and true method did, but solves this new one as well. It sounds a lot like pie in the sky, and the Main Character sees it that way. Why give up the old standby just because of a little flak?

As the story develops, the Obstacle Character makes his case. Slowly, an alternative paradigm is built up that becomes rather convincing. By the moment of truth, the long-term success of the old view is perfectly balanced by the larger, but as of yet untried, new view. There is no clear winner, and that is why it is a leap of faith for the Main Character to choose one over the other.

Archetypes and the Crucial Element

A writer recently asked:

Is it necessary to have the main character as one of the archetypes?
No. The Main Character point of view must be attached to one of the character elements, not necessarily to an archetype. A story can have no archetypes if it uses nothing but complex characters, each representing one or more elements. In a perfect structure, the Main Character (first-person point of view in the story) should be attached to the Crucial Element. Each element represents a human quality or attribute. You can combine them in many ways, just as they are in real people. But one of those attributes will be the subject of the story at large – the human quality that is under examination by the author. That element must be possessed by the Main Character so that the readers/audience can stand in the shoes of that character and feel what it is like to possess the attribute in question. Naturally, the Main Character can also possess other elements, but the Crucial Element is a must.
There is one exception to this, and that is if the Crucial Element is possessed by the Obstacle (Impact, or Influence) Character rather than the Main Character. In this case, the Main Character will possess the “opposite” quality to that of the Crucial Element. (Whether the Crucial Element is with the Main or Obstacle Character determine where you are positioning the readers/audience in regard to the attribute under study – do you want them to feel as if they have the quality or are simply observing the quality – do you want them to be on the side of the quality or on the opposite side of the argument?
A second question:
Do you think it could work having the main character as the skeptic, whose sidekick provides the conflict as well as the support?
Actually, If you are using archetypes, the Main Character can be any archetype – even the Antagonist. As you surmised the Skeptic and Sidekick archetypes are opposites. The Sidekick is the faithful supporter and the Skeptic is the doubting opposer. So, if the Main Character were the Skeptic, the issue at the heart of the story’s argument would be doubt or opposition. The Obstacle Character would then be the Sidekick and contain the opposite element (or the reverse, if the Crucial Element is given to the Obstacle).
One problem that occurs with pure archetypes – the Crucial Element Main/Obstacle relationship forces the Obstacle Character to be the opposite archetype to that of the Main Character. For example, if the Main Character is the Protagonist, then the Crucial Element function will require the Obstacle Character to the the Antagonist. This causes difficulties because the plot struggle over the goal will be between Protagonist and Antagonist, and the same to people will duke it out over the Crucial Element as Main Character and Obstacle Character. This is hard to follow for a reader/audience since they have trouble separating the plot argument about the best way to go about achieving the goal from the personal argument about the best human quality to possess.
This often leads to melodrama, which occurs because (with both arguments intertwined) the author lets the excitement and energy of one of the arguments bridge the gap over holes in the other argument. In fact, both arguments often end up with holes because the passionate moments of one of the arguments masks holes in the other. So, neither argument is full developed and it is only the strength of the storytelling that carries the story forward, not a full logical exploration of the subjects at hand. And the, by definition, is what creates the feeling of melodrama as opposed to true drama.
To avoid this, writer’s often remove the counterpoint to the Crucial Element from the archetype who is opposite to the Main Character and give that one element to some other archetype. This effectively moves the Obstacle Character point of view from the opposite archetype to the new one. In this manner, the Main Character now has two separate relationships – a plot based one with its archetype opposite and the human quality argument with the archetype who is the new Obstacle Character. In essence the single relationship that held both arguments is now split into two relationships creating the classic “Dramatic Triangle”.
In this more refined arrangement, the Main Character and its associate archetype have it out with its opposite archetype in the plot and the Main Character point of view comes into conflict with the other archetype who now has added that opposite of the Crucial Element. That other character is often the “Love Interest” or some other personally connected character who argues with the Main Character about the proper way to comport itself, even as the Main Character is battling its archetypal opposite over the goal.

Mentors, Guardians, Obstacles & Star Wars

Here’s an unusual situation where both Chris and myself independently answered the same question from a writer. Comparing our two replies is both interesting and also sheds light on two different ways of looking at the same central story structure concept.

A writer asks:

In your book, Dramatica, you have Obi Wan as the obstacle character. This is counter-intuitive. In every other story methodology, Obi Wan is the mentor, and Dark Vader is the opponent. Darth Vader directly opposes Luke.

Please explain.

Chris Huntley’s reply:

Most every other story methodology does not identify the four throughlines and their significance.

In the “big picture,” the empire is at war with the rebels. The constant warring between the factions causes trouble for everyone. In that throughline, the empire, led by Gran Mof Tarkin, is shown to be the “bad guys,” the rebels are the “good guys,” the farmboy from Tatooine is the hero driving the story forward, the retired Jedi master is the guardian (mentor), and the emperor’s henchman is the one that seems to mess up everyone’s agenda. This throughline is the logical part of the author’s position.

Luke, as the Main Character, is someone who dreams of being a do-gooder, or saving the day, etc., yet he is stuck on a planet as far from the core (and action, he thinks) as is possible. He has Jedi blood, unbeknownst to him, which gives him skills and powers beyond his years. It is raw talent that needs training and focusing. He tests himself by putting himself in dangerous positions, which turn out to be far more dangerous than he can handle (e.g. the Tuskan Raiders, Breaking Leia out of the cell block, etc.). This throughline provides the personal side for the audience to empathize and step into the story.

Obi-wan is Impact Character. He is Luke’s trainer, not only in the use of the Force but in learning to believe in himself — to trust himself…to trust the Force. This throughline provides the influence needed to force Luke to grow.

The relationship throughline is about the Mentor/Student relationship that develops between Ben and Luke. This throughline is the emotional center of the author’s position.

NOTE: In Star Wars (1977), Darth Vader does not directly oppose Luke. In fact, the two only have one somewhat direct confrontation at the end of the story in the trench on the Death Star. In subsequent films, the two come into direct confrontation, but that is, as they say, another story.

Best regards,
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers Inc.

My reply:

The Obstacle Character, by definition, is the one who stands in the path of the Main Character approaching life in his same old usual way. He is an obstacle to staying in a mental rut. It is the Obstacle Character who constantly pressures the Main Character to change his ways, to alter his manner of thinking or of doing things. Clearly that is Obi Wan, not Vader.

Now, while Obi Wan may traditionally be labeled a “mentor”, that label doesn’t work for every Obstacle Character. For example, an Obstacle Character may not like, care about, or even be aware of the Main Character. It could be a rock star whom the Main Character will never meet. But, by following the disintegrating life of the drug-using rock star in the tabloids, the Main Character comes to realize that he must change his ways and does, perhaps. Therefore, this character has been an obstacle to the Main Character continuing down the same path – his original life course, but he would hardly be seen as a stereotypical “mentor”, which is far too limiting a label.

Further, in the original Star Wars movie, “Episode IV – A New Hope” (to which I believe you are referring) Darth does not directly oppose Luke. Darth opposes everyone. He chokes his own people. It is he who comes up with the plan to release the Millennium Falcon with a tracking beacon which ultimately leads to the rebels getting the plans that destroy the death star (“This had better work, Vader….”).

Darth is a character we call the Contagonist – a name we coined to describe this character who is not the head villain (the Emperor as represented by the Gran Mof Tarkin and all his storm troopers is the real villain of Star Wars, as we see even more definitively in the prequels. Darth, in fact, is diametrically opposed to his old master, Obi Wan. That is why the two of them must battle one on one.

Now, this is not to say that Darth is the opposite of Obi Wan’s function as Obstacle Character. There are two kinds of characters in stories: Objective Characters who are seen by their function, such as Antagonist and Protagonist, and two special Subjective Characters who are seen by their points of view, such as Main Character and Obstacle Character. Luke and Obi Wan (and any Main and Obstacle Characters would) have two different perspectives on life, and it is the heart of the story to see if the Main Character will or will not be convinced to adopt the Obstacle Character’s view.

This is what leads to the leap of faith or moment of truth for the Main Character. In Luke’s case, Obi has been on his case for the entire movie to reach out and touch the force, to trust himself and his abilities, even so far as to put him in a helmet with the blast shield down during training so Luke could only rely on his own feelings. That is why just before Luke destroys the death star, he is using the targeting computer and Obi’s voice returns to remind him, trust your feelings, Luke. Luke finally let’s go, trusts in himself and turns off the computer, much to the dismay of the command center. And yet, it is that decision, driven by a story-long pressure from Obi Wan as the Obstacle Character, that brings him to that necessary step if he is to ultimately succeed. (Imagine how unfulfilling it would be if he turned off the computer and as a result failed to destroy the death star, or if that scene had not been even included with Obi Wan’s voice – the ending, though a success, would have lacked something that helped make it so fulfilling).

But, that is only Obi’s subjective character role. Obi Wan also has an objective character role – the Guardian (comprised of Support and Conscience and more). The Guardian is an archetype, meaning it is actually made up of a number of different character attributes that all share a similar flavor, just as in chemistry all the elements naturally fall in to families, such as the rare earth elements or the noble gases. That’s why chlorine and fluorine are so similar, for example.

When all the elements from one family end up in the same character, it is an archetype. So, the opposite of the Guardian is the Contagonist (made up of Oppose and Temptation, among others). By “nature” he opposes everyone, not just Luke. But, his function to oppose is in DIRECT conflict with Obi Wan’s nature to support. Similarly, Darth’s “Temptation” (of the dark side) is balanced and diametrically in conflict with Obi’s “Conscience” (to follow the force).

So, while Luke in the plot must get past Darth who, like many implementations of the Contagonist archetype, is essentially the empires guard dog, it is Obi who opposes Luke’s desire to be part of the system with all its tech toys and weapons and convinces him to trust his own inner abilities.

Of course, there is far more going on in Star Wars than this simple exploration. And, each of these concepts appears in different ways in different stories. But, this should at least outline for you the purpose of the Obstacle Character (also called the Impact or Influence Character) and why Darth, though dressed in black, is not the real villain of Star Wars, just the henchman of the villain.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Acts and the Obstacle Character’s Influence

The following  excerpt is taken from

The Dramatica Class Transcripts

Dramatica : Every “Act” in a four-act structure, is not really descriptive of an activity, but is a sign post on the path of that throughline. If your Act I for your Obstacle Character is Progress, then it means they are starting at Progress. In other words, when we come to them at the beginning of the story, Progress best describes the principal area of their efforts and concerns. For an Obstacle Character, we measure them most by their “Impact” as opposed to what they, themselves, are paying attention to.

So, the Obstacle Character’s impact concerns “Progress” in Act one. But that is just where they start. Their impact shifts from Progress to Future. That is really what the first act of the three-act structure is all about. The OC’s impact “shifts” from Progress to Future over the course of the act. When the OC’s impact is fully on the Future, that is where we feel an “act break” in the story. Now, an impact on Progress, simply means that the OC is having an effect on Progress, everywhere they have an influence. They might be speeding up Progress, or slowing it down. Whichever way the impact, depends upon what is needed to ultimately bring the Main Character to consider changing their approach.

By impacting Progress, the Obstacle Character forces the Main Character into a position where they must abandon their approach in one area, and therefore, by the end of the act, the Main Character has “grown” a little closer to addressing the central issue of the story… the Obstacle Character has forced them to grow a bit, in order to avoid having to deal with that issue right here and now.

But as soon as the Main Character thinks they can relax, the act changes, and the OC’s influence can be felt in a new area; Future. Future is just the thing that will force the main Character forward in their growth to that ultimate decision to remain steadfast or change. And, Future will be able to do that without allowing the MC to back slide to where they started. It is important to keep in mind, that the OC may not even be aware of their impact on the MC. They might, of course, but they don’t have to be.

Sometimes just their presence can force the Main Character to address issues they would rather not. And by their continued presence, as the OC changes their relationship in response to the overall story, their impact changes in just the right way to keep forcing that MC closer and closer to the reason they feel impacted at all. Then, the MC will ultimately be changed, or remain the same, whether that happens in a “leap of faith”, or in a subtle way, where the audience sees that the MC has been changed, but the MC just grows into that change: they never make it consciously. Well, that should open up some questions…

Main Character, Obstacle Character – Problem & Solution

The following  excerpt is taken from

The Dramatica Class Transcripts

Dramatica: As you know, there are two types of characters we see in Dramatica Theory. Subjective and Objective. Objective characters are seen from the position of a general on a hill, overlooking a battle. The general identifies the soldiers by their functions and positions, not by their names or personalities. In stories, most characters can be looked at by their dramatic function. But then, there is the point of view of the soldier in the trenches. The audience experiences the battle first hand through their eyes. This is the Main Character.

And coming toward them through the smoke of the battle is another soldier. The smoke is too thick to see if they are friend or foe, So the Main Character cannot tell if they are coming with a bayonet to kill them, or a friend coming to warn them they are about to walk into a mine field. Obstacle characters can be friend or foe, trying to help or hurt, but the M.C. only knows one thing: the Obstacle is standing in their path. The choice then becomes to keep going that way anyway, and run over the Obstacle character, or to veer off and heed the obstacle’s “warning”.

Now, that “warning” is about a particular issue in stories. There is a central issue that is the source of the Main Character’s drive. In Dramatica, this is the “crucial” element. The software calls it the “problem” element, because it is this drive that makes the story’s problem an issue. Now, it might be best for the M.C. to change paths OR it might be best for them to keep on the way they were going. The general can tell from up above, but the soldier cannot. The soldier is like us in real life: they haven’t got a clue! So, there is a relationship between what the general sees is the best thing to do and what the soldier thinks is the best thing to do, because both are using different standards of measurement but about the same battle. Success or failure hinges on the soldier’s choice for the general. Personal fulfillment or continued angst are the stakes for the Main Character.

It turns out, that there is a relationship between the nature of the Main Characters Drive (Main Character problem element) and the cause of the story’s difficulties at large – (the Objective Story problem element). If the soldier decides to stick with their drive and it leads to success and fulfillment, then they made a pretty good choice, but any combination of Success or Failure and Good or Bad can result from Change or Steadfast depending upon what the author is trying to prove.

Now, this soldier not only has their internal personal drive (or problem element) but they also have a function in the battle plan, as seen by the general. So, in a sense, they do double duty. All the functions of all the soldiers in the battle are represented by the elements in the Build Characters window. This is where you build your Objective Characters. But the “player” or “body” that you choose as your Main Character must also have an objective element attached to them as well. So that the “player” has both an objective and subjective role within them. It turns out, that in some cases both the objective story and the Main Character are “driven” by the same element in other cases, the Main and Objective story are related so that the Main Character is driven by one thing personally, but represents the opposite element (solution element) objectively, or vice versa.

But problem and solution are not all. The “quad” of elements that contains the problem and solution also contains two other elements. The Focus and Direction.

Think of it this way: If Problem is seen as the disease, Solution is the Cure but Focus is the primary Symptom of the disease, and Direction, the treatment for that symptom. Sometimes a body (the story as a whole) can only be cured by finding the exact cure to the disease. But sometimes, no direct cure really exists. In that case, you might be able to treat the symptom until the body regains enough strength to heal itself. Often, the body (story) can heal itself if you just take the pressure of the symptom off long enough.

So, that is the choice of Change or Steadfast for the Main Character. Do they remain steadfast trying to treat the symptom or change and try to find the cure? This will affect Build Characters as follows: In a change story, the Main Character and Obstacle Character will each represent objectively, either the problem or solution element in the objective story as well. In a steadfast story, the Main and Obstacle will be on either the Focus or Direction, in Build Characters. This means that as characters, they are diametrically opposed in either case, but in one kind of story, the audience attention is on what is driving the Main Character and in the other kind, it is on the Main Character’s response to the problem. Or in other words, what the Main Character’s drive cause them to do, by means of approach.