Monthly Archives: August 2013

Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart – Part 2

Part 2 of 3, from guest blogger Art Holcomb

By now you’ve had some time with the Relationship Chart for your own story and the example I gave from the movie DIE HARD.  Hopefully, you’re beginning to see some of the depth to be plumbed by truly understanding our characters.

Before we move on, I want to share with you something to keep in mind while you write. In both Story Physics and Story Engineering, Larry has laid out for you the building blocks of great storytelling.  Derived from his work, I want to offer you a universal short hand for describing the true mission of every story.

I got this particular verbiage from screenwriter William Martell and think it’s both elegant and powerful.

He describes a story like this:

A story is when a character is forced to deal with an emotional problem (usually within the character arc) in order to solve an external problem (plot) so as to prevent a catastrophic event from occurring.

Let’s break this down:

  • The Emotional Problem: The character arc as s/he moves from one state to another
  • The External Problem: The framework and mechanism for conflict and tension
  • The Catastrophic Event: The real-life reason to change

The point here is: the larger story (the plot) is there to serve the smaller but more vital story (the character emotional arc).  While things may happen in the plotline, meaningful change – the kind that strike home so powerfully with the reader – can only happen within the character arc, which is created by the conflicts within the story’s relationships. Understanding this is what gives you the power to tell great stories.

So – back to the Relationship Chart. Here are a couple of exercises you can do to deepen your understanding:

PAIR ‘EM UP:

Go through and consider each pairing for current and potential relationships. Mark each as they seem to apply.  Are they:

  • Current: Allies, Enemies, Strangers, Lovers?
  • Potential: Allies, Enemies, Strangers, Lovers?

What do these pairings suggest to you?

MAKE ME FEEL:

Now, let’s consider the effect that one character has on another – for each pairing, describe the emotional effect that each character has on another:

For example, from Box A, you would concisely describe:

  • How the Hero makes the Villain feel?  AND
  • How the Villain makes the Hero feel?

(Remember, relationships are rarely equal and never identical.  Look at each one from each character’s unique perspective.  This may take a while, but can be invaluable)

MATCH’EM UP: This one is about the absolutes in your story – the relationships that will not change. Write down:

  • “Peas in a Pod” – Which characters will ALWAYS get along?
  • “Oil and Water” – Which ones will NEVER get along?

(It’s easy to see how the “Peas “will always stand together but are there any circumstances that the “Oil & Waters” could ban together –say, against a greater outside threat?)

Compare this to the answer you gave from Part 1 of the series.  Do you see the patterns developing? Are you seeing how much more there really is to your characters?

HOMEWORK FOR NEXT TIME:

Take this new understanding of character and test it against that  little problem story idea you’ve been noodling with – the one you want to write but could not seem to get a handle on.  See if it now begins to reveal itself to you.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Next time, we’ll conclude the series with The Bonus Round – where the questions get more difficult but the insight are priceless.

*****

Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator.  This post is an excerpt from his new writing booktentatively entitled SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!

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Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart – Part 1

More goodness from guest poster Art Holcomb.

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Relationships are at the heart of all great stories.

They bond the reader to the work by giving them someone to root for (or against).  They are the foundation of the subplots which broaden and deepen our novels and films. And they supply the emotional reactions that propel the plot forward.

I first created The Relationship Chart to keep tract of the characters at work in my comic book scripts but I soon the discovered that it was a powerful tool for exploring and deepening the characters and forces within any story. When paired with what you’ve learned in THE RULE BOOK series, you will soon see the power you can create in your own writing by knowing who your characters truly are.

Before we begin: If it’s been awhile, please take a moment to review your Rule Book to re-acquaint yourself with the characters we’ll be discussing.

As a guide along the way, I have included a very basic RELATIONSHIP CHART-Die hard – 1a for the main characters in the film DIE HARD (1988, screenplay by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart). I use this movie as an example here because it is extremely well written and I find that most people are familiar with the plot.

As you complete your own Chart below, feel free to use the DIE HARD for comparison and inspiration.

Now . . . once you’re ready, let’s head straight to…

INSTRUCTIONS:

Attached here is the blank RELATIONSHIP CHART which is very similar to the one used for your own Rule Book.

First off, let’s replace the character types I’ve include with the names from your own story.  Make sure that each name appears twice – once across the top and once along the sides.  The dark squares in the Chart should correspond with the intersection to two identical names and don’t require any information.

Okay, once that’s done, let’s have some fun…

Part 1 – COMPLETING THE CHART:

FILL IN THE BLANKS: In each box, describe the relationship as best you can as concisely as possible. Follow the examples at the bottom of the Chart. The box will expand to fit whatever description you put there. (Remember, you may not use all the boxes, depending on the length and type of story).  Use the DIE HARD chart as an example.

(The point to remember here is that not all relationships are the same, in that how Character A feels about B will not be the same as the way that B feels about A. Perspective is everything.)

LABEL ‘EM: Now, take a look at each relationship separately and then make the appropriate mark in the box:

  • If the two characters are complementary (alike with common goals), mark it with a (+).
  • If they are adversarial and have natural conflict, put in an (-)
  • If neither is true, put an (=).

Part 2 – THE QUESTIONS:On a separate piece of paper or file, answer as many questions as you can:

GOALS: In this exercise, we’ll use the information you wrote down under the LABEL ‘EM section to create the following lists:

  • Which characters have CONFLICTING goals?
  • Which ones have COMMON goals?

THE HERO AND ME: The Hero’s Plan is the one that the readers are rooting for.  Show here how the two opposing sides might take shape.

Consider each character in relationship to the Hero:

  • “Is this person an OBSTACLE to OR is a PARTNER in the Hero’s Plan?”

(If neither is true, think twice about whether they’re necessary to the story.)

DIGGING DEEP:  Answers these questions as quickly as you can. If the answers aren’t on the tip of your tongue – or finger tips – deeper thought is needed:

  • What one word describes each character best?
  • What is the Hero’s flaw? How is it revealed? Is s/he blind to it?
  • What person/actor is the inspiration for the Hero? Villain? Others?
  • What does each character care most deeply about?
  • What is each character’s greatest fear?
  • What is each character’s motivationPossibilitiescan be:
    • Justice,
    • Revenge,
    • Connection with others/love/friendship
    • Home/Place in the World
    • Meaning or Purpose
    • Wealth / Security
    • Power over others / Control
    • Fame

SUMMARY: That wasn’t too hard, was it? And now you have the basis for understanding the depth of your characters and the possibilities of their relationships. Understanding exactly how each one relates to the other will make writing for them so much easier, and new possibilities for conflict, plot twists, and description will come to light with every review of the chart.

NEXT TIME: We’ll go even deeper into the heart of these characters and explore how this understanding can breathe new life into your story.

*****

Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator.  This post is an excerpt from his new writing booktentatively entitled SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!

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