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Monday, September 28, 2020

How Plotlines Complete the Audience's Viewpoint

We talk a lot about viewpoint when it comes to writing the actual text, but we rarely talk about the different kinds of viewpoints the audience needs to experience to make the story feel "complete" or "whole." Surprisingly, they are much the same in a sense: first person, second person, third person, and their plural counterparts. Or, I, you, he/she, they, and we.

Sounds strange, doesn't it? 

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post on the 8 Archetypes of The Hero's Journey. In it, I explained that the reason archetypes are recurring and work so well, is because their inclusion mimics the human experience. This helps the story feel "whole." The following concept (courtesy of Dramatica, but I've added some of my own thoughts) works the same way.

When we include these different plotlines, it mimics our experience as human beings.

Warning: It might seem confusing at first, but hang with me, and hopefully you'll get the idea.

And remember, this is about completing the audience's perspective, not what the writer chooses to write in. 

And also, again, remember . . . there are always exceptions in the writing world 😅 but this is an interesting outlook.


The "I" viewpoint in the story is the protagonist. Now, this DOES NOT mean that the text is written in first person. What it means is that the audience identifies the protagonist as "I." The audience is becoming "I" by being asked to experience the story as the protagonist. In a book, we put on the thoughts, body, and actions of the protagonist and experience the story as if we were them. In a sense, we become them. (And this also helps ground us in a context for the whole story.)

The protagonist has his or her own journey and goals and obstacles, so has his or her own plotline through the story. 


Beyond the protagonist, there is usually another key character--often this is who the protagonist is in an important relationship with. Dramatica calls this the Influence Character, and I did a whole post on the Influence Character here. This is a character whose power comes from influencing the protagonist and the story. He or she is important because of the impact he or she makes. The Influence Character is someone the audience is not as close to as the protagonist, but not as opposed to as the antagonist. This may be a mentor, significant other, friend, classmate, or even rival.

Since the audience takes on the role of the protagonist, the Influence Character is seen as "you." "You impact me." "You do this." "You tell me this." "You suggest this."

The Influence Character sort of works like a backseat driver communicating where they think the protagonist needs to go. Sometimes this is a whisper, and sometimes it's them grabbing the steering wheel as well, to impact or influence the protagonist toward a different course.
While connected to the protagonist on the journey, the Influence Character usually has different methods, perspectives, and approaches. They create an influential plotline, in a sense, through the story.


Together, the protagonist and Influence Character form a "we" perspective for the audience. Since they are connected on the journey, they also work together as a unit, in some sense (even if it is reluctantly). If it's significant others, it's how the couple functions within the plot. But mentor and pupil, friends, siblings, classmates, or rivals--in some way they will function as a "we."
"We need to stop X." "We need to figure this out." "We need to obtain Y."

"You" and "I" are connected and have to navigate the conflicts. 

In real life, each of us are part of some "we" unit. How the "we" unit works together, sort of forms another plotline perspective in the story.


"They" is the societal/world level plotline. These are other characters, or rather, groups of characters tied into the larger scope of the story.
"They" is the Order of the Phoenix fighting against Death Eaters. Or the orcs against the humans, dwarves, and elves. Or the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire. Or a school, a business, a city, a country that is being affected in the story. 

These people are more distant, but part of the protagonist's world. Just as in real life, there are groups and entities affected by the same, or at least, similar things as us.

In the story, there is "I," "you," and "we," and then there is "they," which is bigger and broader. "We" may function within "they," but "they" is less personal and "they" surround us.

Essentially the "they" viewpoint is the society the protagonist and Influence Character live in



This is actually one I added--I feel it rounds this concept out, but Dramatica would probably argue that it's already included within the others (and I'll be honest, in many ways, Dramatica is much smarter than me 😅).

"He/she/(singular they?)" is more distant than "you." This is a character (and probably more than one) that isn't close enough to the protagonist personally to be a "you." It might be someone in a social circle, like a great side character, who's not the Influence Character. It is someone who functions more as an individual than "they."

In some stories, the antagonist fits well here.

He/she has a role in the story, but it's not "I," "you," or "we." Though it may possibly be part of "they." The plotline or story arc related to this person may well be quite minor. And he or she may not be as necessary to the story as the other parts.

What's the Point?

At first glance, this might simply be strange or interesting, but to reiterate what I said in the opening . . . because these components mimic life as we experience it, together, they can make the story a more powerful experience.

We are all "I"s with "you"s, "we"s, and "they"s (and "he"s and "she"s).

Ideally, "I," "you," "we," and "they" will each play a part through the story.

And even better, in the thematic story.
Because this helps create more cohesion and focus. Ideally, the theme topic will be touched on in each of these things, giving the audience not only a "whole" or "complete" perspective concerning the plot, but a "whole" or "complete" perspective concerning the theme. (More on that here.)

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  1. I loved this article. It really helped me gain a new perspective with the story I'm planning. Here's a question, can a 'He/She' character be a fake ally? I'm trying to understand how this person's plot fits within the audience viewpoint.

    1. Hey Refugio! Thank you!

      I view the He/She as someone a bit more distant than the protagonist's close contacts. It probably could be a fake ally, depending on how it is handled. Like . . . I think maybe I'd say Cedric in the 4th Harry Potter book works--he has his own sort of plotline, but he's not really closely tied to Harry, but still a key character. Cedric and Harry don't really function as a "we" unit, and Cedric is more individualized than "They."

      Sort of like how we as human beings have individuals we associate with from a distance, like that neighbor down the street we talk to once in a while. We aren't close, but they're still part of our experience as human beings.


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